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Mini Saga: Restoring my Childhood 800XL

800XL restoration restoring

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#26 mytekcontrols ONLINE  

mytekcontrols

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Posted Thu Mar 23, 2017 10:54 AM

 

Thanks!  I did very well competing in a total of 12 science fairs with ongoing iterations of the project (3 smaller iterations per year of high school, with a major re-implementation or large new feature each year).  First and second place awards, and a fair amount of cash prizes and scholarship money which helped pay for some of college.  I believe I won a $500 prize at the science fair in this video, and it directly went into Atari stuff - a 130XE, XF551, SpartaDOS X, and ComputerEyes.  A couple months later I won a bit more money and was able to afford a very bare bones 286 PC, and that was the beginning of the end for the Atari as being my workhorse computer.   I remember distinctly it was a debate between a hard disk interface for the Atari or that PC... Bittersweet memories, for sure, but in terms of the potential the PC unlocked for programming languages and growth as a future engineer, it was the right choice.

 

By the final iteration, I had rebuilt the arm out of aluminum, built much better electronics (including an ISA card), made a primitive image recognition system which could automatically pick up objects placed on the table, programmed a GUI from raw graphics primitives in Turbo C, etc.  Super fun stuff, and it laid all of the groundwork for what would turn into a pretty enjoyable engineering career.  And it all started with Atari!

 

attachicon.gifarm_overall2.jpgattachicon.gifinterface.jpg

 

attachicon.gifph3_isa.jpgattachicon.gifguiall.jpg

 

Wow you are amazing! This is stuff I could only dream of when I was in high school, but certainly could never have pulled off (not withstanding the fact that there were no personal computers when I was in high school). Thank you so very much for sharing this.

 

Yeah I held on to my justification to use my Atari instead of a MAC or a PC up until the mid 90's, saying things to myself like who needs a PC when I can get onto Genie or Compuserv at 9600 baud with my A8 just as well. But then 1995 rolled around and I was introduced to what you could do with Windows and AOL (America On-Line), and much faster modems than the A8 could ever hope to keep up with. And the A8 looked very bleak and emancipated in comparison. Also I got a free copy of a DOS PCB layout program for the PC, as well as Corel Draw and a donated PC from my brother just a couple of years before that, and reality couldn't be ignored any longer. And much like you I went into Engineering as a profession, so there was no justifiable reason to pretend my A8 could compete in that world, and it was put aside. Well I'm glad to say that I stopped letting everything revolve around the idea of having to create wealth in whatever I do, and instead I just wanted to have some real honest to goodness fun again so I came back to the Atari. But now I wish I had taken pictures of my earlier A8 creations to share  :(  And yes I too butchered a few A8's in the experimentation period  ;)

 

- Michael

 

- Michael



#27 TangentAudio OFFLINE  

TangentAudio

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Posted Thu Mar 23, 2017 11:17 AM

 

Wow you are amazing! This is stuff I could only dream of when I was in high school, but certainly could never have pulled off (not withstanding the fact that there were no personal computers when I was in high school). Thank you so very much for sharing this.

 

Yeah I held on to my justification to use my Atari instead of a MAC or a PC up until the mid 90's, saying things to myself like who needs a PC when I can get onto Genie or Compuserv at 9600 baud with my A8 just as well. But then 1995 rolled around and I was introduced to what you could do with Windows and AOL (America On-Line), and much faster modems than the A8 could ever hope to keep up with. And the A8 looked very bleak and emancipated in comparison. Also I got a free copy of a DOS PCB layout program for the PC, as well as Corel Draw and a donated PC from my brother just a couple of years before that, and reality couldn't be ignored any longer. And much like you I went into Engineering as a profession, so there was no justifiable reason to pretend my A8 could compete in that world, and it was put aside. Well I'm glad to say that I stopped letting everything revolve around the idea of having to create wealth in whatever I do, and instead I just wanted to have some real honest to goodness fun again so I came back to the Atari. But now I wish I had taken pictures of my earlier A8 creations to share  :(  And yes I too butchered a few A8's in the experimentation period  ;)

 

- Michael

 

I was very lucky to be born at just the right time where cheap home computers were available at the local retail store, and even more lucky to have parents who sacrificed to buy me one even though money was very tight.  I'm thankful that my dad decided to buy me this 800XL instead of the 2600 I was asking for at the time.  I stand on the shoulders of giants, like we all do!  I was fortunate to have a few mentors along the way that introduced me to computers and electronics and steered me in the right direction at some critical moments.  And, while information was much harder to come by in those days, I was still able to find just enough material like the Forrest Mims books from Radio Shack, the Your Atari Comes Alive book, computer magazines like Antic and ANALOG, and electronics magazines like Radio Electronics and (later) Circuit Cellar that helped educate and inspire.

 

With the perspective I have now, I do still daydream about how things might have been different.  What if someone had introduced me to assembly language back then?  What if I had an Action! cartridge?  I never progressed beyond programming in Turbo BASIC XL on the Atari.  What if I had bought that hard disk interface back then, what would that have been like?  What if I was a little bit more advanced in my electronics knowledge and had built something for the PBI port on the back?  I suppose it's just a geeky form of midlife crisis.  I am in my early forties after all!

 

I think you're on the right path - as long as you've got your needs met, fun is more important than making money.  It doesn't make any practical sense to make a new Atari motherboard in 2017, but you did it anyway, and that's awesome!  Likewise, it didn't make sense for me to spend hours last night poring over the Atari PBI specifications, but I did it anyway, with a potential project idea in mind. :)

 

It must be amazing to be a kid interested in this stuff today.  Everything has become cheap, accessible and amazing - from 3D printing to Arduino and Raspberry Pi.  While I think there was a certain charm to the good old days, having to struggle to find information and resources was not charming at all!



#28 ClausB OFFLINE  

ClausB

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Posted Fri Mar 24, 2017 9:28 AM

Congratulations!

 

For those of us who only wished we did something like that in high school, it's not too late. You can become a mentor for your local school's competition robotics team. There are thousands of VEX Robotics teams around the world and very likely one near you. I am in my ninth year of coaching and having fun helping bright students get a start in this exciting technical field. My seniors did well at States this year and are preparing for the World Championship in Louisville next month where the top 540 high school teams will compete. If you can't find a team nearby then start one for under $3000. Grants are available from RECF.

 

http://www.vexrobotics.com/



#29 TangentAudio OFFLINE  

TangentAudio

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Posted Fri Mar 24, 2017 9:36 AM

Congratulations!

 

For those of us who only wished we did something like that in high school, it's not too late. You can become a mentor for your local school's competition robotics team. There are thousands of VEX Robotics teams around the world and very likely one near you. I am in my ninth year of coaching and having fun helping bright students get a start in this exciting technical field. My seniors did well at States this year and are preparing for the World Championship in Louisville next month where the top 540 high school teams will compete. If you can't find a team nearby then start one for under $3000. Grants are available from RECF.

 

http://www.vexrobotics.com/

 

Looks like VEX competitions are similar to FIRST Robotics.  I help run a large makerspace in New Hampshire (http;//www.makeitlabs.com/), and we hosted a FIRST team in-house this year.  I haven't seen mention of VEX locally, but we're a short drive from Dean Kamen's company and the schools may be dominated by FIRST due to the name recognition and financial support.


Edited by TangentAudio, Fri Mar 24, 2017 9:37 AM.


#30 ClausB OFFLINE  

ClausB

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Posted Fri Mar 24, 2017 12:51 PM

Yes, VEX is a bit like FRC but about one tenth as expensive per team per year. FRC is big here in Michigan too but VEX is growing fast. One thing I like better about VEX is that there is no limited and frantic build season. You can build and rebuild all season long so the time demands on mentors and students are more spread out.

#31 kiwilove OFFLINE  

kiwilove

    Dragonstomper

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  • Location:Dunedin, New Zealand

Posted Fri Mar 24, 2017 4:20 PM

Everything works in cycles - and at certain times in your life - opportunities will arise in which you can play the 'What if?' card - and it is up to you if you want to play it or not? Dependent upon what spare time you have - and what you are doing with your life, etc. 

 

Just like the first time round - things fell into place for that to happen.

 

The same things you learned in childhood - children today go through the same - as to what things they are interested in, and want to learn - and the hurdles to overcome in order to get a good start in their desired hobby or interest.

In many regards, it is the 'same old, same old' patterns present - but it's just the hardware/software that are different today --- but in spite of all the technical/scientific advancement there is - there is not the same advancement with the mental/spiritual side of living and life.

 

Harvey



#32 TangentAudio OFFLINE  

TangentAudio

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Posted Today, 11:40 AM

I tore down the keyboard again and gave it a thorough cleaning in an ultrasonic cleaner.  Reassembled and the keyboard is working 100%.  It's my original plastic parts (keycaps, plungers, plastic frame), most of my original springs (except for about a dozen of them), and mylar and backing metal from a donor 800XL that had the same style Stackpole keyboard.

 

No progress finding Chelco replacement plastic yet... but I started to look at the donor plastics I do have. This non-Chelco has screws inside so the brown piece can easily be separated from the white piece.  You can see how yellowed it is with the formerly covered plastic right next to the exposed plastic.  Maybe worth an attempt to retr0bright it, though the sun has been in short supply in my area lately.

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