Monday, January 01, 2007

Return to Atari

Every Christmas I return to a little old farmhouse in Northern Minnesota and invariably wind up spending a little time reflecting on life.

In a closet, an old Atari 800 sits idly. Our first computer. On shelves above it, next to an old Carpenters album, are a collection of old manuals, OS source listings, software cookbooks--as you can see.

My brother and I used to write games to amuse each other. In retrospect, I'm surprised by how much we managed to learn through our autodidactic adventures in programming.

The biggest impediment to progress was a lack of information. Libraries containing books that would have been useful were at least an hour's drive. Our school was very small, offering just a couple BASIC classes. Issues of BYTE and Compute! were invaluable.

I can't help but wonder how much farther I might have gone with today's Internet at my disposal. Somewhere out there, I'm sure, there are kids learning at the speed of light.

The public good provided by the Internet in terms of information accessibility can't be understated.


Blogger Kilroy Trout said...

My first computer was an Atari ST, and my long time business partner wrote some interesting commercial graphics software for it. For your amusement:

12:51 AM  
Blogger metamerist said...

Thanks. In retrospect, I'm a little chagrined by all the considerations I had as a kid in choosing Atari. The other contender at the time was the Apple II, which I knew pretty well both inside and out.

I considered the Atari a much better system. It had a nice sound chip, a cool graphics chip ("Player / Missile" graphics, display lists, etc.) and an OS with a much more thoughtful and cohesive structure. (It was even pretty easy to write your own device drivers.)

At the time, it was a lot of money (especially to a kid), so all the careful considerations were in order. I remember always wanting another 16K RAM cartridge, which went for a few hundred dollars. 16,384 more bytes? Woo hoo!

6:15 AM  

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