Sleep 20: Outpost Atari

20 September, 2022

ON HIATUS

David Small and Art Leyenberger bring news from a recent visit to Atari and about new books of interest to Atari users. From the July 1984 edition of the Creative Computing Magazine.

Transcript available
[Music] Helping you fall asleep. I'm John Chidjie. You can follow me on the Fetiverse at [email protected], on Twitter @johnchidjie, all one word, or the network at engineered_net. Sleep is supported by you, our listeners. If you'd like to support the show, you can do so via Patreon, with a big thank you to all of our patrons and a special thank you to our silver producers, Mitch Bilger, Kevin Koch, Lesley, Shane O'Neill, Hafthor, Jared, Bill, Joel Maher, Katerina Will and Dave Jones. With an extra special thank you to both of our Gold Producers, Stephen Bridle and our Gold Producer known only as R. Visit engineer.network/sleep to learn how you can help. Thank you. So now that's out of the way, let me talk to you, Just for a few minutes. Outpost Atari. In this month's Outpost, an old friend, David Small, shares the honours with columnist Art Leyenberger. David brings us news gleamed from a recent visit to Atari, and Ark talks about the books of interest to Atari users. David starts, "In March, I visited Atari to try to make some sense of what I had been hearing about the company and its products. Among the people with whom I spoke there was Sherwin Gooch, a manager and the driving force behind the 1450XLD. "What?" you ask. "The 1450 has been cancelled." Ah, read on. And remember, you heard it here first. Sherwin is the head of a small, very talented group of people working on the 1450. When I visited, they were putting the final touches on the design. In spite of parts availability problems, politics, layoffs and resignations, Sherwin hung on, dedicated not only to doing a fine machine design, but in his words, to "getting the 1450 out the door". It's just like "the soul of a new machine". What doesn't matter is the politics, the problems, all the hassles. What counts is getting the machine out the door. That is what the computer companies are judged by. Not the rumours of grandiose machines under development. But what goes out the door, and if it kills me, the 1450XLD is going to get out the door when? He could not say, officially. I will say June this year. And my, what Sherwin had wrought. This machine can sing, that's right, and talk, better than any speech synthesizer you have heard. It can also answer your phone with its speech synthesizer, or dial the phone itself and use a built-in modem. The internal processor is still the 6502, not a 16-bit variation as rumour had it. The onboard memory is 64K. And onboard BASIC is supplied. Disk drives? I bet every Atari owner wants speed and more storage on the disk. The 1450 has true parallel double-sided, double-density disk drives. 256 byte sectors. This gives around 360k of data per disk and access to it is very, very fast. It takes just 36 seconds to transfer the data from the entire disk into memory. A disk copy takes twice that or 72 seconds. The operating system is very sophisticated yet manages to stay compatible with software for the 400/800 series machines. It is an extremely significant and intelligent move. It means that the 1450 will be able to run all sorts of software at the time it hits the market. When I was at Atari, I saw Sherwin working through an idea to make the output from Poky, the sound chip, to be the input to the speech synthesizer so you could get a really neat talking sound effect. I don't know if this will be included or not, the machine was near close date, the time when things are not supposed to be changed. If it is there, you will surely see some really neat software using this effect, just as soon as software houses figure out how it works. Some other changes at Atari include the dropping of Apex, the Atari Program Exchange. This was a low cost distribution centre for user written Atari software, unfortunately it was too low cost. Atari did not make much money from it, and that is why Apex was dropped. The top 20 or so Apex titles will still be sold, but the rest of the products will be shelved. Since the original authors retain rights, they can be distributed elsewhere. Kudos to Fred Thorlin, the manager of Apex, for all this time he helped many people publish their first programs and got a wide variety of software out the door. Fred is no longer with Atari, but his contribution should not be forgotten. Another interesting Atari product you may be hearing about is the Star Network. The Star allows up to 64 Atari computers to be tied to a few common disk drives and printers. This makes it absolutely ideal for classroom situations, for it means a group of students can share a resource. The star was originally developed by the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium, and Atari bought the rights. The project then languished because of internal disruption at Atari. But if you are an educator looking for an inexpensive, well-engineered method of setting up a classroom full of Ataris, it would behoove you to write Atari and ask them to make this product widely available. Hundreds of books on computing have come out so far this year. Just as sales of Atari computers represent a small fraction of the computer market, the number of books pertaining to the Atari is equally small. Still, the titles number in the dozens, so some recommendations in this column are long overdue. There are two books that every Atari computer must have. The first one has been around for almost two years. Still, its content and organisation represent the best single reference for Atari information. Your Atari Computer by Lon Poole, Martin McNiff and Stephen Cook is published by Osborne McGraw-Hill and affectionately called "The Purple Book". This $16 book covers the Atari computer system and Atari 8K BASIC. This section on introductory and advanced graphics is one of the best I have seen. Anywhere. Although the Purple Book does not discuss the XL computers, the information is still relevant. The appendices alone are probably worth the price of the book. They include material on memory usage, error messages, functions, peak and poke locations, and conversion tables. Also there are numerous programs and examples that reinforce the written information. The other Atari-related book that is a must-have is a new one published by The Book Company. by Gary Phillips and Jerry White. The book is titled The Atari User's Encyclopedia. It is an up-to-date compilation of useful information for the Atari 400, 800 or XL computer owner. Everything from basic to action is discussed. The format of the book is alphabetical entry by subject. Entries include descriptions of programming languages, one paragraph summaries of software, and listings of publications and user groups. There is also a basic tutorial at the beginning of the book complete with program listings and explanations. This 267 page $20 book is a valuable resource. Hayden has several titles on programming your Atari computer in BASIC. Aimed at children 3-7 years old, the Atari Playground by Fred D'Ignazio contains 23 programs covering a broad range of subjects. Each of the programs has a story associated with it to reinforce the learning of word and number skills. The book explains how to participate in a spelling bee, draw with a computer crayon, watch ghosts appear and disappear, and play games against the Atari. Fred has written another similar book called Atari in Wonderland. This book is meant for children aged 6 to 10. Here they learn how to write a book report, create songs, test reflexes and count in French and Spanish among other things. Both of Fred's books cost $9.95 and include in addition to the program listings instructions for using the Atari graphics keys. Suggestions for program modifications are also given. There will soon be a cassette tape of the programs in both of these books. Another new book from Hayden is Basic Atari Basic by Jim Cohen and Richard Kushner. This 1495 book is not simply another variation of Cohen's basic programming text which has been adapted to several computers, rather it has been extensively rewritten to include Atari-specific information on such subjects as Excel graphics modes, 12 through 15, sound and player missile graphics. An interesting new book is Jack Hardy's Adventures with the Atari, published by Reston. No, this is not a book about getting software to run on the XL machines. Instead, it is a book about writing adventure games in three different programming languages – Pilot, Microsoft Basic and Atari 8K Basic. Hardy gets you started designing and writing your own adventure games by including numerous examples of techniques and several complete games. A systematic approach to adventure game writing is stressed, and the following subjects are covered – the game scenario, the objects, the map, the flow chart, keying the program, and play-testing the game. Although this book is not for beginners, if you have an interest in adventure games you might want to check it out. 14.95, in paperback. Atari Programming with 55 Programs by Linda Schreiber is another basic programming book that has the advantage of giving you dozens of programs in addition to teaching you basic. Although some of the programs are trivial and meant only for illustrating certain aspects of basic programming on the Atari computer, there are many useful programs. Some are most useful as subroutines in your own programs. This is especially true for routines such as using the console keys, using the joysticks and paddles for input and generating random numbers. A description of each of the programs is given including what specific basic statements are used in the routines and how they accomplish the objective of the program. Atari programming is published by Tab Books and sells for $14.50. The last learn how to program book I will mention is called Atari Player Missile Graphics in Basic by Philip Sayer. This 1495 book is also published by Reston and is a good introduction to this sometimes difficult to understand topic. A step-by-step approach is used, and plenty of examples illustrate the various aspects of PMG. A general book that I think is one of the best introductions to what computers are all All About is called Through the Micromaze, written by Wayne Creekmore, and published by Ashton Tate. At first glance, $9.95 for a thin 64-page glossy-look intro into computing may seem rather steep. But from the moment you begin to read page one, you start to learn. The text is brief, but well-written, the visuals are numerous and extremely easy to read, and each page is chocked full of information. The material is far from being Atari-specific, but the basics of computing are well covered. The best way I can describe this book is to quote the author's brief dedication. This book is dedicated to those of you who are curious about computers, want to buy one, are scared to death of them, don't understand the one you own, and don't like to read for hours. Excellent job, Wayne. The last several books will not necessarily teach you how to program, they will not tell you the secrets about making your programs run 30% faster, nor will they give you a list of poke locations in the appendix. What they will do is expand your mind if you read slowly and carefully digest the information when you're reading. One such book is Genesis 2 by Dale Peterson. The appropriate subtitle of the book is "Creation and Recreation with Computers". This thought-provoking book covers the gamut of computer-related topics from painting, music and literature to games and the power of computers. The relationship between technology and the arts is explained by using many examples of how computers have added a new dimension to the visual arts. Other highlights of the book include a layperson's guide to computer graphics, a short history of computer games and their impact on society, and interviews with leading computer artists. Genesis 2 is well worth reading. Another thoughtful book that will have you reaching for your thinking cap is The Art of Computer Games Design by the one and only Chris Crawford. And premier game designer for Atari, and until March of this year, Atari's manager of research. In this book, Crawford emphasises the artistic dimension of computer games. In this way he reveals computer games design as a creative process rather than merely a technical one. He states that the central theme of the book is that computer games constitute a new and poorly developed art form that holds great promise for both the game designer and the game player. The book is must-reading for anyone interested in game design, or even those who would just like to play computer games? Written well, it reads more like a novel than non-fiction. If you really are interested in why people play computer games, you may want to look at Geoffrey and Elizabeth Loftus' Mind at Play – The Psychology of Video Games. Both authors are cognitive psychologists, which occasionally makes the book a little bit technical – but the material is provocative nonetheless. Here is a sample, quoting the well-known psychologist Philip Zimbardo. The video games that are proving so addictive to young people may not only be socially isolating, but actually encourage violence between people. The authors discuss this point, and mention games such as Frogger and Donkey Kong, as evidence that the current crop of video games is turning away from violence as the central theme. You may not agree with everything in the book, but you are sure to read logical arguments for what is being proposed.
Duration 15 minutes and 51 seconds Direct Download

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John Chidgey

John Chidgey

John is an Electrical, Instrumentation and Control Systems Engineer, software developer, podcaster, vocal actor and runs TechDistortion and the Engineered Network. John is a Chartered Professional Engineer in both Electrical Engineering and Information, Telecommunications and Electronics Engineering (ITEE) and a semi-regular conference speaker.

John has produced and appeared on many podcasts including Pragmatic and Causality and is available for hire for Vocal Acting or advertising. He has experience and interest in HMI Design, Alarm Management, Cyber-security and Root Cause Analysis.

You can find him on the Fediverse and on Twitter.