By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
I previously wrote how I fired my corporate pharmacy and went back to basics. In my retrospective longings I decided to “go retro” in many aspects of life.
Some buy old muscle cars, others collect stamps, but I decided to throw out this notion of six month obsolescence of smart phones and other must have contemporary social electronics and return to the renaissance of computer geekdom. I bought a thirty two year old 8 bit, 6502 based computer–an Atari 800.
An elegant computer, for a more civilized age.
When I was around thirteen years old, I received one of the best Christmas gifts the early 80’s could produce, an actual home computer. My parents bought me a state of the art 16K Atari 800. I was overjoyed. Not only that but they also gave me a 410 tape drive and the BASIC Programming cartridge. I immediately set it up on my desk in my room, plugged the RF cable into a switchbox on my black and white television and went right to it. I couldn’t get enough and started writing programs with a friend of mine sometimes long into the night and weekends.
I became, however, tired of the dreadful amount of time it took to load and save programs to tape, especially since the time I spent five or six hours writing a game only to have a power glitch that trashed the program because I didn’t want to spend so much time writing to tape to back it up. So I worked all summer sorting cherries in a fruit shed to buy a top of the line floppy disk drive: an Indus-GT Drive for around five hundred dollars.
Floppy disks were around five bucks a shot back then; which was a lot of money when you made just over three dollars an hour in the sheds. But we soon discovered that some disk makers sold single-sided floppies that you only needed to punch a hole around the edge to make it double-sided. Twice the storage for the same price!
I worked my way up to buying a six hundred baud direct connect external modem and BBS’ became my friend. This was especially important after the move War Games came out and “War Dialing” became the thing.
One aspect that I can say for certain, that old computer opened up many doors for me later in life as in years prior I worked on some amazing technology in some great venues.
Yet lately, I decided to once again go retro and back to BASICs.
For the past couple months I began piecing together this old goat and buying a component here and there but this week I finally had my Atari 800 once again. This time I bought a screamer having 48K of RAM. I even managed to find an 410 tape drive, a printer, an external modem, an Indus-GT drive and a C Programming kit (Lightspeed C). These are mid-life crisis purchases for geeks. They are however much cheaper and more benign than expensive sports cars and mistresses pathetically bought by other men. And, they won’t result in divorces. And “crashes” for the geek is, alas, always survivable.
It was amazing what I remembered and forgotten about this computer. When I first plugged in the system and fired it up, the bizarre I/O sounds pumping through the TV speaker during boot-up was certainly nostalgic, as well as the fact that the printer actually had a typewriter style ribbon that somehow managed to eek out a little ink during a test run. Remember when printers actually had real metal parts? This was a beast compared to today’s. And it was slow…sooooo slow!
There is a cottage industry of folks who keep this Atari 8 bit tradition alive and I am going to delve deeply back to my new hobby. I bought a game I really liked on eBay. After over thirty years the 51/4 floppy still worked. It’s true: an elephant “Never ForgetsTM“.
By Darren Smith
Photo Credit: Bilby
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