Wed, 14 September 2016
Michael Boucher, MECC
Michael Boucher was a programmer at MECC — Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium — from September 1980 through August 1984, where he worked on educational software for the Apple // and Atari 8-bit computers. His projects included Oregon Trail and Odell Lake.
This interview took place on June 14, 2016.
Video of this interview: https://youtu.be/heuR8_eFFJI
"I had the honor of working with the finest group of dropouts I have ever had the pleasure of associating with."
"...Fairly sophisticated bit of code. And happily, nobody told us that it was hard, and being high school students, we didn't have the experience to know it was difficult. So we just did it."
Mon, 12 September 2016
Hung Pham, APX Game Show
Hung Pham wrote one program for Atari Program Exchange: Game Show, a game based on the Family Feud TV program (although the catalog never says that explicitly.) Game Show was first available in the Winter 1982-1983 APX catalog.
This interview took place on June 10, 2016.
"The reviewer was playing, and pretty soon he turned around -- a crowd of people was standing behind him, looking over his shoulder, trying to play. So, hey! This might have some potential."
Sun, 11 September 2016
Steve Stone, POKEY and ANTIC layout design
Steve Stone worked at Atari from 1977 through 1980, where he was a chip layout designer and engineer. He worked on the layout design for the POKEY and ANTIC chips. After Atari, he founded Macro Dienamics, Inc., a chip design firm that worked on custom chips for the Amiga computer.
This interview took place on August 29, 2016.
Video of this interview: https://youtu.be/JhGPasK_RmE
"The concept of someone flying in from Manhattan for the week, wearing thousand-dollar suits, being chauffeured around the valley and then flying out on the weekends -- was quite a contrast..."
Steve sent me a follow-up email after our interview:
"It was a pleasure speaking with you yesterday. The conversation jarred my memory. There is a few more comments, and some clarification that I would like to add.
I believe I stated that the disk capacity we used for the chip layout was 25-80KB. While it was literally as big as a washing machine, it was 25-80MB.
Also, I may have left out Warren questioning me about what I would put in that secret room. I told him that it should announce that the player had won a prize, and give them a phone number to call to collect.
I gave you a brief overview of the chip layout procedure used at that time. Our workload was driven by the schedule of displaying products at the CES. Our work-load had peaks and valleys. In the off-time (the valleys), I was allowed to do whatever I wanted, or do nothing at all. With some tutoring from Warren, and an APL programing book borrowed from Jim Huether, I spent my off-time writing programs to simplify the layout task. My code eliminated the drawing and digitizing phase, as the group became "on-line designers." My programs, then called "gate generators," were close to what is commonly used in chip design today, now called pcells. This is probably more information than you ever wanted to know about chip layout, but I thought it worthy of mentioning. The bottom-line is that, with these programs, we had a distinct edge over most companies that designed chips.
I'm really glad that we used Skype for our conversation rather than a phone call. Although, one could argue that if ever there was a FACE best-suited for a phone conversation, I may be it. But watching your expression, at the moment of epiphany, connecting the very old Star Trek game to Star Raiders, was enjoyable to see. I’m pretty sure Doug Neubauer would have got a kick out of that as well."
Thu, 8 September 2016
Gary Furr, AtariWriter Product Manager, Printer Drivers
Gary Furr was Product Manager for productivity software for the Atari home computer division, where his claim to fame was being the manager for the AtariWriter word processor. He also published a set of AtariWriter printer drivers, which were first published through Atari Program Exchange — the product first appeared in the fall 1983 APX catalog, with support for 10 printers — then was sold directly by Gary, and eventually grew to support about 150 printers. After Atari, he worked at Datasoft.
This interview took place on August 29, 2016.
"I left the meeting, went directly back to my cubicle, called the programmer, and said 'There's been a little hiccup.'"
Mon, 5 September 2016
Bob Frankston, co-developer of Visicalc
Bob Frankston was co-developer of Visicalc, with Dan Bricklin, and co-founder of Software Arts, the company that first published Visicalc. Bob was also involved with the Atari 800 port of the program.
If you're like to see our talking heads, a video version of this interview is available at the Internet Archive and YouTube, at the links below.
This interview took place on August 22, 2016.
"So we were really lucky there. But the important thing is to appreciate the luck factor ... A lot of people, especially in the .com boom days and everything, thought they were geniuses because the first thing they did worked. Well, no. They were lucky."
Video of this interview at YouTube: https://youtu.be/X2ksQXoump4
Bob and Dan wrote about the history of Visicalc for Creative Computing magazine: http://www.atarimagazines.com/creative/v10n11/122_Visicalc79.php
Bob's web site: http://bob.ma/public/?name=ImplementingVisiCalc
Inverse ATASCII podcast on VisiCalc: https://inverseatascii.info/2015/01/13/s1e8-visicalc/
Wikipedia on VisiCalc: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VisiCalc
Wikipedia on Bob Frankston: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Frankston
Sat, 3 September 2016
Brian Johnston: Manager, Atari Home Computer System Software Group
Brian Johnston was Manager of Atari's Home Computer System Software Group, where he worked on projects including DOS 3. He worked at Atari from 1978 through 1982, then moved to Fox Video Games where he programmed Atari 2600 games.
This interview took place on August 4, 2016.
"But Atari was poisoned by money,
And in death throes was free-falling up,
Lining pockets of sycophant beggars
Whose main talent, the art of the cup!"
Video version of this interview: https://youtu.be/WT5MRiQN9Z0
Thu, 1 September 2016
Bard Ermentrout, RAMbrandt
Bard Ermentrout was the creator of the popular Atari graphics program RAMbrandt. Subtitled "The Atari Design Studio," RAMbrandt was released in 1985 by Antic software. Written in ValForth, it supported joystick, keyboard, Koala Pad, and Atari Touch Tablet for input. He also created an add-on Solid Object Module which allowed users to combine mode 9 geometric primitives to make what appeared to be 3D-shaded objects. The predecessor to RAMbrandt was a drawing program called "Paint 10" which was unreleased.
This interview took place on July 25, 2016.
After the interview, Bard sent me a box of floppy disks — which appears to contain the source code for RAMbrandt, some picture disks, and the object module — but so far I have not been able to read any of the disks. It doesn't look good, but I haven't given up hope yet.
If you would like to see this interview as well as hear it, a video from this Skype conversation is available on YouTube and Internet Archive.
"I had some crazy ideas with the Atari 800 to get more colors, one of them which worked but gave you a really bad headache."
Video of this interview at Internet Archive: http://archive.org/details/BardErmentroutRAMbrandt
Video of this interview at YouTube: https://youtu.be/YFU4LaVUrXA
Bard's page at University of Pittsburgh: http://www.mathematics.pitt.edu/person/g-bard-ermentrout
Caramel Knowledge film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9VgU6vgi8dQ
Antic magazine review of Rambrandt: http://www.atarimagazines.com/v7n7/ProductReviews.html
Tue, 30 August 2016
In this episode of Antic the Atari 8-bit podcast, we reminisce about Atari Party and KansasFest, we bemoan the fate of the Atari 1200XL, and talk about Nir Dary’s one-man traveling Atari show.
What we’ve been up to
Deadline: Oct 22, 2016 (Portland Retro Gaming expo!)
New at Archive.org
Of the Month (Atari 1064 Memory Module for the 600XL)
Sun, 28 August 2016
Gigi Bisson, Antic Magazine
Gigi Bisson was an editor at Antic Magazine, one of the two major U.S. magazines devoted to Atari 8-bit computers. She was also editor of Antic Online, the magazine's forum on the CompuServe Information Service.
This interview took place on August 4, 2016.
"This indecipherable stuff written by these techie guys would come in and then I would have to massage the copy and make it seem like a story."
"They used to force me to play games. Again, I wasn't really a gamer; I was a writer. I remember, 'Oh, I've got to play a game. Ugh!'"
Fri, 26 August 2016
Richard Watts, Macrotronics
Richard Watts was a programmer at Macrotronics, a company that was primarily focused on the RM-1000 radio modem, hardware that connected amateur radio receivers to personal computers. The company also created Morse Code Tutor, programmed by Richard, which was published by Atari Program Exchange and first appeared in winter 1982-1983 APX catalog. Morse Code Tutor cost $22.95 and was APX catalog number 20092. Macrotronics did contract work for APX as well, including fixes to Caverns of Mars prior to its release. The company also released a parallel print interface, which allowed a parallel printer to be connected to the Atari 400 and 800 through joystick ports 3 and 4, eliminating the need for an Atari 850 interface.
This interview took place on July 28, 2016.
"You couldn't afford any of the inefficiencies of a higher-level language. Basically what you're writing is a software UART, so that you're taking the signal, and you're detecting a dit from a dah, you're looking at the spacing of all of that and you're trying to ignore noise."
California Historial Radio Society: http://www.californiahistoricalradio.com