I came across this post on Boing Boing showing an Atari users desk circa 1983.  While it looks like a moment from an era gone past, it brings back so many memories of my father.  The picture below has a familiar if uncanny resemblance to  what my dad’s desk would ultimately become as our family became an “Atari Family”

BangfoAtarisdesk

The Atari 2600 days

b_Miner2049er_frontIt was the 80s, and I remember the nights of my mother and father trying to help “Bounty Bob” in Miner 2049er get a high score on the Atari 2600. Some of my friends had ColecoVision, but we were an Atari family through and through.  I remember my dad taking apart the broken joysticks and soldering the broken wires and switches after too many play sessions.

The Atari 400 days

atari400openatari400 I remember one night going with my dad to Service Merchandise to buy the Atari 400, and the first “computer game” we both would ever play, Centipede.  I remember him flipping open the hatch on the computer, and sliding the cartridge in and wait for it to boot up.  The membrane keyboard seemed so cool and futuristic compared to what a type writer. I don’t quite remember what year it was, but it had to be in the early 80s based on the release timeline of the machines.

The computer was originally taken out of it’s box and used in the living room on the living room table, having the cables draped across the living room floor to plug into the TV.

I think as my dad’s hobby progressed, he needed to has his own area of the house that would hold all the computing power he had.  I remember a faux wood desk just as the one in the picture in my parents bedroom which had the Atari 800 on it.  The beige/cream color of the case, the disk drives almost as big as the computer itself, the tape drive loading mechanism that was sensitive to vibration when you walked on the floor near it while loading.  Heck, my dad had those same Jedi glasses from Burger King!   Maybe this was the what all the cool nerds thought of as their rigs, the way case modders display their prize PCs today?

The Atari 800 days

atari800I remember the Atari 800 having these huge keys for my child sized fingers.  My dad had an acoustic coupler “modem” which I wouldn’t understand what it was till years later, or what he used it for.  I also remember some sort of touch/drawing pad my sister and I would fool around with, making silly pictures on the computer.   I also seem to remember some kind of light pen gadget that allowed my dad to touch to the screen, and the Atari would know where he was pointing.  To me this seemed like some sort of magic, but I still didn’t see computer for more than just game machines.

atari800xl We would later have the Atari 800XL, which looked like a sleek item from the future compared to beige cream bulky look of the earlier 800/XE.  I remember if you hit a certain key combination, it would boot into the built in ROM Basic, where as in the 400/800 you had to use the Basic Cartridge.  My dad would subscribe to all these Atari magazines, which had games written in Basic you could enter so you could play.  Some of my early computer games, started with me hovering over the keyboard, while reading the magazine to type the commands just so I could play.   I wonder what my dad would say now, that I “program” for fun and curiosity, which may stem from him having go through all of that in basic as a kid.  I also remember printing in “color” on the Okidata 800 line printer, where you had to print with one color, roll it back, change the ribbon for the next color, and print again until you had your picture in color.

The Atari ST days

atari520st-left atari_TOS_1_0If the 800XL seemed futuristic, the 16-bit Atari 520ST was just out of this world.  It was sleek, and white/gray (the original cool white?), and had these angular function keys.  Most of all, it had a mouse you used to operate GEM desktop on the TOS operating system with.  We had 2 (360kb) 3.5 inch drives which was a luxury because you could have 2 disks in the system at once, and not have to swap disks all the time just to play a game. I remember having to have a “clock card” just so the system would maintain the time when the system was powered off.

It was on the Atari ST that I had my first taste of what “online” would be like, as my dad was an early user of Compuserve and Bulletin Board Systems (BBS), where you would call other computers with your computer over the phone lines.  My dad had friends from all over who he met online, before most of the world even knew what online was (I remember Bob, who my sister and I would call “Bounty Bob” because of Miner 2049er) I would say the discovery of the computer world that could be explored through the phone line is what really sucked me into a life of computers, as the possibilities seemed endless at the time.  My dad worked in the city,
where he would stop at computer shops and bring home magazines from overseas about Atari computers, that I remember sneaking out of his briefcase to read (yeah, total geekiness there!).

 

 

 

lynx1box I also remember my parents taking me to Lionel Kiddie City to pick up the Atari Lynx portable gaming system, where I convinced them it would help with my hand eye coordination if I had it.  (yeah…sure!)  I remember how cool it was you could use it if you were a righty or a lefty by hitting a button to flip the screen around, and flipping the unit over.

stacy-name

I never had an Atari Stacy computer, but kind of fitting as my wife’s name is Stacy! 🙂  Who Knew!

Thanks Dad

Looking back, my father was so cutting edge with computers, which for him was truly a hobby as he had nothing to do with with them in his career.   It’s only in my adult years, that I really understand what gift he gave me by sharing his hobby with me, and igniting my own curiosity that has me have such a wonderful life that I have today.  I often wonder what I would have done with my life if I didn’t have that influence of my father and his love of computing and gadgets.  For my father and I,  we bonded over our interest in computers, and it was something we both would share.  I still have a “5 use” ticket we never completely used from the computer shows (My dad once bought army ponchos at a show just so we could still walk from table to table when it was raining) we would go to on weekends together.  I guess I keep it as a reminder of the days gone by, but I guess you never forget where you started.

The Atari STs would give way to PC Compatibles (I remember when the morning they delivered my dads first PC from Gateway), but for me, it really all began on the Atari platforms, and that’s what I remember the fondest.

  • Rick

    Great blog Jef. I think your story mirrors that of so many of that era of computing. I also miss the camaraderie of the BBS scene. The internet is great, but it's missing the soul that the BBS had.

  • Rick

    Great blog Jef. I think your story mirrors that of so many of that era of computing. I also miss the camaraderie of the BBS scene. The internet is great, but it’s missing the soul that the BBS had.