Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Have You Read The Reviews?

Atari's New Word Processor Ad
Antic Magazine
January 1984
Inside Front Cover

This Atari's New Word Processor advertisement appeared inside the front cover of January 1984 issue of Antic magazine. By the time this issue of Antic was published, AtariWriter wasn't particularly new anymore. Print ads for AtariWriter, with and without high profile Atari spokesperson actor Alan Alda, had been appearing since at least September 1983.     

AtariWriter was reviewed on page 83 of the May 1983 issue of Antic magazine. A more extensive review can be found starting on page 107 of ANALOG Computing magazine, issue #11, from May 1983. Wade Ripkowski over at the Inverse ATASCII Podcast covered AtariWriter in Season 2 Episode 1 of his podcast.

AtariWriter In Action

AtariWriter was not the first word processor package published by Atari.  That honor goes to the aptly named Atari Word Processor, a hefty software package shipped in a thick black binder. The Atari Word Processor was announced in Issue #2 of ANALOG Computing magazine in March/April 1981. The Inverse ATASCII Podcast covered the Atari Word Processor in Season 1 Episode 1. More information is available on the AtariWiki as well.

I had the original Atari Word Processor software. My mother bought it cheap when the local J.C. Penney department store where she worked decided to get out of the (in-store) personal computer hardware and software business, deeply discounting and selling off their entire line of Atari 8-bit stock. Add in my mother's Employee Discount and we got it for pennies on the dollar. I found the software to be extremely complicated at the time. I never really used it that much. It seemed to have been developed for professional typists, not some uneducated punk kid from the mean streets of Jersey.  If I remember correctly, we purchased the word processor software before we even had a printer*. Heck, I might of had that software before we even had an Atari 810 Disk Drive. How many times can you listen to the prerecorded audio tutorial on the included cassette tape? I guess it wasn't really as useful at the time as it could have been, but man, it sure looked sexy and impressive on my bookshelf ... "You know, the smart kid down the block, the one with the Atari Word Processor on his bookshelf.  I want that kid on my team, Smalls!"

*Technically, you could say we had a printer. My father and my oldest brother, both amateur radio enthusiasts, decided to wire up an ancient teletype machine to my Atari 400 through the Atari 850 Interface Module. It was more of an experiment in can we do it rather than should we do it. That contraption was louder than a washing machine with a bent agitator and those bells, those damn bells. Yes, it printed ink to paper, but the printing was barely readable and the rolled-up cracking, yellowing-paper seemed to be left over from the Great War. It was like something Caractacus Potts would build for his kids or a rejected (or accepted) machine from the Rube Goldberg School of Industrial Design. It worked great for program listings, BBS session dumps or verbose Zork script-ing, but not something you wanted to hand in for a grade at school, at least not a good grade.

Atari released multiple versions of AtariWriter, all programmed by Danger, DangerWilliam Robinson. Along with the original cartridge-based release of AtariWriter, Atari also released AtariWriter Plus and AtariWriter 80. AtariWriter Plus contained additional features including Proofreader and Mail Merge. AtariWriter 80 was an 80-column version of AtariWriter that required the Atari XEP80 Interface Module and an 80-column compatible monitor. AtariWriter 80 was thoroughly reviewed by the late, great Mat*Rat Matthew Ratcliff in the December 1989 issue of Antic magazine. A review of the Atari XEP80 Interface Module peripheral can be found on page 26 in the July 1987 issue of Antic magazine.  

Thinking about giving AtariWriter a try? Need more memory for your Atari 800XL home computer for those advanced features of AtariWriter Plus?  Check out the improved and upgraded Rev. G Version Wizztronics 800XL 256K RAM Board from Brad Koda over at Best Electronics released in April 2016. It's amazing to me that Mr. Koda keeps churning out new products. I am still waiting for him to come out with a new character wheel for my Atari 1027 Letter Quality Printer to replace the big black glob of stinky inky goo I have now.

Wizztronics 256K 800XL REV G. RAM Board - Released April 2016

According to the Best Electronics' Revision 10 Catalog, "The AtariWriter Plus software drivers were programmed to access the extra 64K RAM bank on the Atari 130XE computers.  The same AtariWriter Plus software drivers will also access the Wizztronics 256K RAM banks on the upgraded Wizztronics 800XL computer."

Best Electronics, based in San Jose, California, has been specializing in hardware, software, replacement parts and accessories for Atari home computers and game consoles for well over 30 years.

My AtariWriter floppy from the early 80s
and the AtariWriter cartridge

AtariWriter was one of the most useful non-game software packages that I had for my Atari 400 and later my Atari 800XL home computer during the early to mid 1980s. It was right up there with The Print Shop and whatever programming language or terminal program I was currently interested in. I suspect it was Atari's best selling and most pirated piece of non-game software for the 8-bit family. I extensively used AtariWriter and my trusty Gemini 10X printer to prepare and produce many assignments for both my high school and college classes.

The Gemini 10X printer by Star Micronics was a relatively inexpensive dot matrix printer that had the added bonus of using an easily found, cheap and common universal typewriter ribbon. Typewriter? The Gemini-10X is reviewed in the March 1985 issue of Antic magazine.

Gemini 10X Printer by Star Micronics

This blog post was not written with AtariWriter or Atari Word Processor as the coin mech on my Atari Time Machine is currently malfunctioning.

-- @BillLange1968

Friday, May 13, 2016

Instant Analysis

Atari 800 And VisiCalc Ad
ANALOG Computing Magazine
January 1981
Page 42

This Atari 800 And VisiCalc advertisement appeared on page 42 of the premier issue of ANALOG Computing in January 1981. The ad features an Atari 810 Disk Drive, an unbranded monitor and an Atari 800 Computer running VisiCalc, the electronic worksheet software package.

Like Space Invaders on the venerable Atari 2600 and Star Raiders on the Atari 400/800 computers, VisiCalc was truly the first killer app for the burgeoning microcomputer market, particularly for the Apple II series of computers on which VisiCalc was originally released in 1979, helping to change the perception of the industry from one of expensive toys for hackers and hobbyist to that of the serious business tools that we know today. At the time of the software's release, people were buying Apple II computers just so they could run VisiCalc. As it was only available for the Apple II for over a year, it gave Apple a huge lead in the business computer world to the detriment of other 8-bit machines of the era.

VisiCalc was a perennial best-seller software package for half-a-dozen years. It was ported to many of the popular personal computers of the time.  While it had a few competitors, it maintained it's huge market share until Lotus 1-2-3 was published for the newer, more powerful IBM PCs. By the mid 1980s, VisiCalc would fade away and disappear from the marketplace altogether. Lotus 1-2-3 would eventually suffer the same fate at the hands of Microsoft when Microsoft Excel began dominating the market in the early 1990s. You can still see the influence of VisiCalc on the modern spreadsheet software packages of today.

VisiCalc Running On An Atari 1450XLD
The November 1980 issue of BYTE magazine contains an extensive and thorough review of VisiCalc by Robert Ramsdell beginning on page 190. Wade Ripkowski over at the Inverse ATASCII Podcast covered VisiCalc in Season 1 Episode 8 of his podcast. If you use Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets or LibreOffice Calc, you already know the basics of what VisiCalc can do, though it did it in a much more archaic and clunker way.

The Best Electronics' Revision 10 Catalog states "... VisiCalc for the Atari 8-bit computers.  Whether you are working with Investments, Cash Flow, Inventory Estimates, Budgets, Forecasts, Plans-nearly anything Numerical, the VisiCalc program can help you work better, smarter and faster.  Your spread sheet capacity is 63 columns wide and 254 lines deep!  You can use the CX85 Atari keypad with driver program for entry of numbers..."

If you are interested in exploring a little bit of computer history and trying VisiCalc for yourself, Best Electronics still seems to have the Atari 8-bit version of VisiCalc in stock. They also seem to have the Atari CX85 Numerical Keypad in stock but for a few dollars more you can get the complete The Bookkeeper Kit (later known as The Atari Accountant) which also contains the keypad. The May 1983 issue of Compute! magazine has a review of the Atari CX85 Numerical Keypad on page 112.

ATARI CX85 Numerical Keypad

The Atari 800 And VisiCalc ad also featured some artwork of a businessman working late at night crunching numbers. The artwork is similar to the entertaining, cartoon-like artwork in the early and unique Atari 2600 catalogs. Notice the similar male chins. If you look closely, the artist's initials are in the lower right corner of the artwork. I enjoy this style of classic Atari artwork. As such, I'm looking forward to the release of the new book Art of Atari by Tim Lapetino. More than 300 pages of classic Atari art! Art of Atari is published by Dynamite Entertainment and will be available Oct. 25, 2016. It should be a good one.

Left: Black Jack Artwork from Atari 2600 Catalog
Right: Businessman  Artwork from Atari 800 And VisiCalc Ad

The fine print at the bottom of the ad mentions that "An Atari 810 Disk Drive or Atari 815 Dual Disk Drive is required to use VisiCalc." While the Atari 810 Disk Drive is a very common peripheral, the Atari 815 Dual Disk Drive, an absolute beast of a peripheral, is another one of those very rare products which Atari designed and manufactured in a small run, but, sadly, very few actually made it on to the desks of customers.

"The Beast"
An Atari 815 Dual Disk Drive

There is an article about Visicalc starting on page 122 in the November 1984 issue of Creative Computing magazine with a photo of Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston, co-founders of Software Arts, the company that created the software.

Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston
Creative Computing
November 1984
Page 122

I had the opportunity to be an exhibitor at the Vintage Computer Festival East in April 2015 in Wall, New Jersey. As Bob Frankston, one of the co-creator of VisiCalc, was one of the guest speakers, I decided to exhibit VisiCalc on an Atari 800 and Star Raiders on an Atari 400, two killer apps. When Mr. Frankston stopped by my exhibit, my wife Lucy asked him to autograph a copy of the Atari 8-bit version of VisiCalc, which he graciously signed. Thanks Bob!

Mr. Bob Frankston, Co-creator of VisiCalc
Vintage Computer Festival East, April 2015

Back to work ... oh wait, it's Friday!

-- @BillLange1968

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Choose Your Own ATARI Adventure

Inside UFO 54-40 Ad
Inside UFO 54-40

Bantam Books

The Inside UFO 54-40 advertisement appeared in the promotional teacher's copy of the 1982 Choose Your Own Adventure series book Inside UFO 54-40 written by Edward Packard and illustrated by Paul Granger. Inside UFO 54-40 was the 12th book in the series. In the Choose Your Own Adventure series of books, YOU are the hero of the story and YOU get to make choices leading to multiple endings in every book. The series was first published in 1979. With almost 200 unique titles, it now has over 260 million books in print in more than 40 languages.

Promotional Teacher's Copy of
UFO 54-40

The advertisement was for a contest. Bantam Books was holding a contest for educators in which they would submit their ideas for using the Choose Your Own Adventure series of books in the classroom.  All contest entries had to be postmarked by December 31, 1982.  The winner would receive an Atari 400 home computer, the Atari Educator and the Atari PILOT Educators Package.  

The Atari Educator was a package that contained the Atari BASIC language cartridge, the Atari 410 Program Recorder, the States & Capitals educational software on cassette tape and a manual.

The Educator by Atari

The Atari PILOT Educators Package was another behemoth software package by Atari shipped in a large black cardboard-reinforced binder almost three inches thick. It contained the Atari PILOT language cartridge, two cassettes tapes with demonstration programs, four manuals and a reference card. As a "simple programming language" for children, PILOT sure came with a lot of manuals!

In an interview with Choose Your Own Adventure book series founder R. A. Montgomery, he mentions that  "... we were on the Atari set top box in 1982. Bantam, our original publisher, actually started a little software division just for us. It was the text of a story interspersed with some early eye-hand coordination games and some puzzles."   

In a 2014 Gizmodo article commemorating the passing of  R.A. Montgomery, Alissa Walker states that "Here’s what I didn’t know when I was devouring piles of his books back when I was nine: Montgomery also was a pioneer in children’s gaming tech. He adapted two Choose Your Own Adventure titles for Atari in 1984, and went on to create CD-ROM games for Apple in 1990 (he was an early and enthusiastic Apple fan). It makes perfect sense: In many ways, the books were like the role-playing games Montgomery had designed. This was a way to bring that idea full circle when the technology emerged to make it all possible.

Sadly, despite what these two quotes mention, no Choose Your Own Adventure titles seem to have been completed and/or released for the Atari 8-bit home computers or any of the Atari game consoles. Two games based on the book series, The Cave of Time and Escape were written for the Apple II and the Commodore 64 home computers and released in 1985.

The Cave Of Time
for the
Commodore 64
I bought my first computer, an Atari 400 in March 1982 when I was in the 8th grade. During the summer of 1982, between 8th grade and my freshman year in high school, I attended a two-week summer computer camp at the local community college. We spent most of the day learning BASIC programming on the Apple II computers in the lab. I can clearly remember one of the other student/campers converting the book The Cave Of Time, the first book in the Choose Your Own Adventure series, into an Apple II BASIC text adventure. Good times.  

ESCAPE for the Commodore 64

[2018-09-24 Update] In the summer of 2018, a new board game based on the Choose Your Own Adventure book series was released.

Thanks to Giann Velasquez for some late night back and forth texting to complete this post. See the Spanish translation of this ad and more on his Peruvian Atari blog Atariteca.  

Monday, May 9, 2016

Late Closing

Bloodhound Ad
U.S. News & World Report
September 6, 1982

The Bloodhound ad for the Atari 400/800 home computers is an advertisement that appeared in the September 6, 1982 issue of U.S. News & World Report magazine. There is also a similar two-page version of the ad, publish location and date unknown to me, as shown below:

The ad features a man, his dog and his Atari 800 home computer with an Atari 810 floppy drive. Strewn about his desktop are the Bond Analysis, Stock Charting and Stock Analysis software packages, all part of the ATARI Investment Analysis Series. Not pictured, but also part of the series is the Mortgage & Loan Analysis software package. All of these software packages are Control Data CYBERWARE products developed for Atari and manufactured under license from Control Data Corporation. There is a short review of Bond Analysis and Stock Analysis on page 33 of the premier issue of ANALOG Computing magazine. Wade Ripkowski over at the Inverse ATASCII Podcast thoroughly researched and meticulously covered the Stock Charting program in Season 1 Episode 10 of his podcast.

Featured at the bottom of the one-page version of the ad or on the second page of the two-page version of the ad are various software packages as well as pictures of the Atari 400 and Atari 800 home computers. Some of the other software packages prominently mentioned in the ad text are examined below.

First up is SCRAM, a nuclear power plant simulation. SCRAM is an educational game program written in Atari BASIC with machine language subroutines. It was programmed by Chris Crawford of Eastern Front (1941) fame. I enjoyed playing this game when I was a kid. It usually took five or six minutes to load from cassette on the Atari 410 Program Recorder. That is if it loaded successfully at all. BEEP...BEEP...BEEP...READY. It sometimes took a few tries to get it working. In this game, it was just as much fun to successfully manage the power plant as is was to lose control of the reactor core and cause a meltdown. This was usually do to an earthquake and loss of one or more of the various water pumps, not unlike the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan. SCRAM was shipped on cassette media with an extensive 50 pages almost textbook-like manual. SCRAM, Start Cutting Right Away Man!

ATARI SCRAM by Chris Crawford

Up next is Atari Music Composer which was an early 8K ROM cartridge release in 1979 for the Atari 400/800 home computers. There is an essay on page 85 of the classic 1983 book The Creative Atari titled Atari Music Composer that reviews the cartridge, highlighting it's strengths and perceived weaknesses by a pair of educators.

The ad also features two of the four languages in the Atari Conversational Language Series.  Conversational French and Conversational SpanishThe other two languages in the series are Conversational German and Conversational ItalianThe titles in the Atari Conversational Language series included ATARI's unique ability to mix a voice track on one track of an audio cassette tape with an Atari BASIC program on another track of the same cassette tape. As such, each title was released on cassette tape media and required an Atari 410 Program Recorder and the Atari BASIC language cartridge (or built-in Atari BASIC on later computer models). Each software title was developed for Atari by EMI Audio Visual Services, Ltd. and the Longman Group Publishing Company and came packaged with five audio cassette tapes and a manual/workbook in nice plastic binder. Paul Waxman wrote a informative review of the Atari Conversational Language Series starting on page 28 of the January 1984 issue of Antic magazine.

If you are ready to learn a new language such as Conversational Italian, Brad Koda over at Best Electronics may still have some of these Atari Conversation Language Series titles in stock.

PAC-MAN, a faithful port of the 1980 hit arcade game and 2015 World Video Game Hall of Fame inductee makes an appearance.

Atari PAC-Man Getting Some Screen Time

Centipede, another authentic arcade port based on the 1980 hit arcade game of the same name is also mentioned. Unless you have been living under a magical mushroom for the last thirty years or so, you know that Centipede is a vertical shooter where you must destroy various bugs invading your garden. The Atari computer version uses a joystick instead of the arcade trackball.

The two-page version of the ad has a screenshot of the game Caverns of Mars. Programmed by then teen-aged hobbyist Greg Christensen, this was one of those rare titles that was originally submitted to the Atari Program Exchange and then, because it was so good and sold so well, Atari licensed it and added it to their main catalog, first as a diskette-based product and then later as a cartridge-based product. Caverns of Mars was eventually backported to the hackable Atari 2600-like Atari Flashback 2 console released in 2004.

Rob McMullen over at the Player/Missile Podcast covered Caverns of Mars in Episode 4 of his podcast. You can find additional information in his show notes.

Christensen followed up Caverns of Mars with the similar titles Caverns of Mars II and Phobos.  Then, as Chris Crawford writes in his essay A Grain of Sand, A Gust of Wind in The Journal of Computer Game Design Volume 5 (1991-1992), Greg Christensen went off to college and "disappeared from the gaming scene". Who knows, maybe the guys over at the Antic - The Atari 8-Bit Podcast will track him down one of these days for an entertaining and enlightening interview.

Caverns of Mars, Caverns of Mars II and Phobos by Greg Christensen

Interested in creating new levels for Caverns of Mars? Rob McMullen also created Omnivore, the Atari 8-bit Editor, which can be experimentally used to possibly edit maps of some old Atari 8-bit games. You can find an informative discussion of the editor over on the AtariAge website.

The ad goes on to state that the "..Atari Home Computer systems also take you outside your home, via simple telephone hook-up, with up-to-the financial new and stock quotes..."  By simple, might the ad be referring to the Atari Communicator Kit with the Atari Telelink I cartridge, the Atari 850 Interface Module, the blazing fast (I jest) 300-baud Atari 830 Acoustic Modem (a rebranded Novation CAT product), associated spiderweb of cables, technical manuals and desktop real estate requirements, along with the CompuServe and Dow Jones Information Services ephemera? It was so simple, even dad could figure it out.

Atari's "The Communicator" Kit

There are many other software packages pictured in the ad, and yes, I had to get out a magnifying glass to read some of the titles:  Graph-It, Missile Command, Energy Czar, Stock Charting, Conversational Spanish, Atari Word Processor, Mailing List, Star Raiders, Statistics I, Music Composer. Most of these are early Large-Black-Box format titles, my personal favorite. Two of them, Conversational Spanish and Atari Word Processor are packaged in user friendly binders.    

Compu$erve? Well, that is an expensive story for another day. !GO GAM-105 ... Welcome to MegaWars III.

-- @BillLange1968

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Only Atari Delivers...

New Atari 1200XL Ad
Antic Magazine
April 1983

Inside Front Cover

Announced at a New York City press conference on December 13, 1982, the new Atari 1200XL home computer was presented at the Winter Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which ran from  January 6th to January 9th, 1983. The Atari 1200XL home computer began shipping to customers in March 1983.

The New Atari 1200XL advertisement introduced the beautiful, sleek and stylish Atari 1200XL home computer to the computing magazine reading world.  It was presented on a two page spread inside the front cover of the April 1983 issue of Antic magazine.

In issue #10 of ANALOG Computing, publisher/editor Lee Pappas gives a review and his thoughts of the Atari 1200XL home computer beginning on page 32.

There is another article, The New Computer, on the Atari 1200XL, beginning on page 11 in the February/March 1983 issue of Antic magazine.

Some notable new features and differences from the existing Atari 400/800 models were 64 KB of RAM, built-in self test, redesigned cable port layout, loss of two controller ports, and the redesigned keyboard (featuring four function keys and a HELP key).

Only Two Controller Ports - No More Four Player M.U.L.E.

In fact, many Atari aficionados believe that the Atari 1200XL home computer had the best feeling keyboard out of all of the home computers that Atari manufactured.  Over time though, the Mylar film and other parts inside the Atari 1200XL keyboard degraded and failed causing keyboard issues for long-time users.

For many years, if you wanted to repair your Atari 1200XL keyboard, you had to resort to trying to redraw the keyboard traces with a conductive ink pen such as CircuitWriter.  At some point, Bob Woolley documented the process that many users, myself included, have followed.

In March 2016, Best Electronics began shipping an upgraded replacement Mylar film and other parts so that Atari retro computer enthusiasts could repair their aging Atari 1200XL keyboards.

Unfortunately, the Atari 1200XL was priced at too high a price point compared to competitors and it also had compatibility issues with older Atari 8-bit software.  The release of the Atari 1200XL actually caused an increase in sales of the older Atari 400/800 computers.  The Atari 1200XL was not produced for long and was soon replaced by the less expensive Atari 600XL and the Atari 800XL models.