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Atari and I: my blog of growing up with the 1st generation of Personal Computers

Gunstar

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My first experience with Atari, was the Atari VCS like many of my generation. Before that I had a Coleco Telstar Pong clone and I didn't even get the Atari VCS until just as the video game crash was starting in '83, when it was on sale and tons of games could be had out of the $.99 bargain bin. But also that same year I got a Timex/Sinclair 1000 with 16K rampack, also out of a bargain bin, and spent two years scraping for software for a discontinued line in the U.S. I was ready to upgrade to a Timex/Sinclair 2048 or 2064 (U.S. Spectrum's) until I read in The U.S. version of Sinclair User (was it called Times/Sinclair User?) that Timex was pulling out of the partnership with Sinclair and it would be another Sinclair machine with no support, if I could even find one for sale. And even if at the time, before the internet, I was able to get a hold of English Spectrum titles, they wouldn't be compatible with the U.S. 2048/64 models.

Backing up a bit for computer experience, I was first introduced to computers in Junior High. I took a modular class with just two other students on the libraries two computers, which were dark gray or black Bell & Howell Apple II conputers. I think they still had the Apple logo on them too, but also Bell & Howell. Later, in high-school, just about the time I got my T/S 1000, I took Basic programming class using Apple II+ and IIe's. So my next choice for an upgrade from my T/S 1000, was an Apple II. So I started saving to buy an Apple IIc.

But at about the time I saved up about half what I needed for the Apple IIc system, I read about the "New" Atari headed by Jack Tramiel, former head of Commodore with the C64's success under his belt. The new ST's I read about, were still at least as much as the Apple IIc, IIRC, if not more, but it was a new option. But after reading more, I came across the new XE line Jack was introducing, most interesting to me was the 130XE. Here was a computer with the same CPU, 128K memory, real keyboard, and better graphics than the Apple IIc for a fraction of the price. I had enough money to get the 128K computer I dreamed of now, and could expand with a disk drive later instead of being forced to pay for the one built into the IIc. And it had a Microsoft Basic II cartridge I could use since I had learned Microsoft Basic II on an Apple II.

So, I ended up buying a 130XE in August of 1985 (at the age of 17, and a junior* in high-school) with an after-market Taihaho tape drive and some books and magazines with type-in software, either Atari Basic or Micro-soft. About six months later I bought a 1050 disk drive, and six months after that I did my first ever Atari upgrade, by installing a an ICD U.S. doubler in my 1050. I fully believe to this day I made the absolute right choice with the most powerful and flexible 8-bit computer with the wonderful SIO smart peripherals.

Even with it being the underdog with little support by the time I got my first Atari 8-bit, I would make the same choice again. There was enough support for everything I needed and more than enough software choices, meager as they were compared to C64 or Apple II, for the money I had to spend. I was a lone Atarian where I lived and in my High School, with only a couple of computer dealers and Atari magazines to keep me linked into the world. And the only way I got software was to buy it. I didn't have a clue, or a source to copy from to do pirating or get my hands on pirated software. And all the copy upgrades were too expensive anyway. But I love the machine, and for many of my favorite software titles, it had the best versions, IMHO, anyway, compared to friends C64 and Apple II's.

Two things that always bothered me about my Atari system were the 130XE's mushy keyboard, and the mis-matched peripherals with XL and third party, due to pricing and availability at the time (No XF551 yet), I had mostly XL peripherals with an XE in the middle. I kept that system until the early 2000's when I bought a 1200XL off someone here on Atari Age, IIRC, and upgraded it to 256K and other upgrades. I fell in love with the style, size, port placement and keyboard of the 1200XL and sold off my 130XE after about 20 years.

I now own several 1200XL's, an 800XL, a 600XL for salvage only, and an original 48K 800. I have upgraded or plan to upgrade all of my machines and peripherals. But I've had Atari 8-bits in my possession and actively used for the most part of the last 34 years. 1985-2019. Both my 1200XL and 800 have been majorly upgraded now (2021), see my other blogs.

Though beyond my Basic programming class, my Atari was not used for more than games and graphic art until I went to college, at the age of 24 after working and traveling for several years. But I took my 130XE to college, with my 1050 drive and a Panasonic 24-pin printer, Microprint interface and Atari Writer+ and it was used for every paper I ever wrote through my college career.

After college, in '96 I did some more traveling and moved to Southern California. I lived in Huntington Beach for a few years, and learned to surf and do my art and writing (art and English were my major's/degrees) while working as a manager of a magazine stand on Pacific Coast Highway across from the Huntington Beach Peer, it was named Taxi's News. My Atari remained in storage for these years.

In the spring of 1999 I moved from California back to Wisconsin, where my parents lived, and where I went to college, at Ripon College, previously until 1996. At this point I decided to go to a technical college and get an associates degree in electronics while working nights, I was 32 by this point.

This is when I pulled out my old 130XE again, and also acquired my first ST and Amiga computers, and really started upgrading my classic systems. I sold off most everything in a move from Wisconsin to Texas in 2004, except for my Atari 8-bit and Jaguar systems. While in Texas I re-acquired ST's& STe's, a Mega STe, and a Falcon. Also a 400, 800, 1200XL and sold the 130XE. Most of it was eventually sold off again and I just kept what I "needed." I currently have 3 1200XL's (one massively upgraded) and a massively upgraded 800. I also have an 800XL. One 1200XL and the 800XL I'm restoring and upgrading and they will be given to friends.

*I was held back between grades 2-3 early on due to an un-diagnosed light case of A.D.D. But mostly I was bored and unchallenged, and unfocused because I learned so quickly and quit paying attention to the teacher because I didn't have too anymore and also didn't do homework because it was boring and not challenging, and I became a slacker in the system until I returned to college as an adult. Public school was too stupid for me. But that's a whole other story, though I've had my I.Q. tested many times over the years, and always scored low-end genius between 135-143 even though I was under the influence of Marijuana every time (it helps me focus so I don't get distracted). Maybe my I.Q. would be higher I didn't have A.D.D. and could be sober while taking the tests.
 

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