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Tom Hunt Atari memories

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  1. The following is a rambling narrative, based upon the recollections of Tom Hunt. The first revision of this document was published on June 24, 2000.
  2.  
  3. ===============
  4.  
  5. Outline:
  6.  
  7. The Beginnings - The First Computer
  8.  
  9. First Contact: The BBS
  10.  
  11. First Contact: The User Group
  12.  
  13. Running a BBS: Carina I
  14.  
  15. Running a BBS: Oasis
  16.  
  17. Running a BBS: Pro
  18.  
  19. The Pro Sysop Wars
  20.  
  21. Transition To The Internet
  22.  
  23. Some Final Thoughts
  24.  
  25. Recent Hobbies and Interests
  26.  
  27. ===============
  28.  
  29. The Beginnings - The First Computer
  30.  
  31. I remember when Popular Science first published their articles about the first personal computers back in the '70s. I wanted one so bad, but my wife and I were recently married and had no money to spare. So the years went my and finally I was able to buy a VIC-20 with a whopping 4k of RAM. With it I was able to explore custom character mapping, graphics, and BASIC programming. Eventually I acquired extra RAM expansion cartridges. I think with the expansion cartridge that I had 16k of memory.
  32.  
  33. I had a friend at work that by that time had bought an Atari 800. We would frequently compare notes about our two computers, and his 800 clearly had much more capability. But once again I found that I could not afford to buy such a computer. In a little while the XL models were being sold and after they finally came down in price I bought my first one. I remember typing in the GTIA Highway BASIC program and being amazed at the range of colors produced. Soon I purchased a dataset recorder so I could save my own BASIC programs. Eventually I bought a 1050 floppy disk drive and a 1030 modem, even though there were no BBSes to call in my local calling area, or so I thought.
  34.  
  35. First Contact: The BBS
  36.  
  37. Then one day at a local Atari repair center I noticed a small sign, a index card actually, advertising a local BBS. I wrote down the number, drove home, and dialed the number on my old rotary phone. When I heard the whistle of the carrier I got very excited. A local BBS to call! The name of the BBS was The Balloon Works BBS.
  38.  
  39. The Balloon Works BBS was running AMIS BBS software. Eventually it switched to BBS Express!, then BBS Express! Professional, by Keith Ledbetter. This BBS played a big part in the advancement of my computer hobby. The sysop was Mike Brown, who became a good friend. Mike was always willing to try and help with advice and encouragement. I learned a lot by reading the public message bases on the BBS, too.
  40.  
  41. First Contact: The User Group
  42.  
  43. One day Mike invited me to go to a local Atari user group called MAUG, which was the MidOhio Atari User Group. I really liked attending and was able to join it and attend the meetings with Mike. Mike also invited me to ride with him up to the Lakewood Peekers user group, which met at the Case Western Reserve. There I met Tony Ramos of Parrot fame, and my long-time friend Russ Gilbert. They used a large projection screen for their demos. One time they were demoing a new game called Behind Jaggilines. When the alien jumped up in front of the space ship everyone's head jerked back and a collective gasp went up from the auditorium. Pretty dramatic stuff for the time.
  44.  
  45. Running a BBS: Carina I
  46.  
  47. There was never a lot of Atari 8-bit users in my area, and by 1986 all of them were gone except for Mike. Soon after that Mike left for Chicago and once again there was no local BBS to call. By seeing all the work that Mike put in to The Balloon Works BBS I knew that running a BBS required a lot of time and effort. I didn't know if I wanted to invest that much in to setting up and running a BBS myself. So after a couple of months of deliberation, my friend Russ Gilbert donated Carina I BBS software, which I used to start The Closer To Home BBS. It started out running on a single U.S. Doubled floppy drive and a 1200 SX-212 modem. It served mainly as a host for message bases and email for local users, who were mainly Tandy and IBM users. I also had one or two of my own programs available for downloading, ParrotQXL and MTOS.
  48.  
  49. Running a BBS: Oasis
  50.  
  51. To my knowledge, Oasis BBS was originally created by Ralph Walden of A8 C fame. Ralph also released the original Arc and Unarc for the A8. Then Leo Newman took it over, followed by Glenda Stocks, then Alf. The Zmagazine BBS used Oasis BBS software for quite a while, and of course bacause Zmag was carried on so many BBSes at the time, it was great advertising for Oasis BBS.
  52.  
  53. Around 1989 a person that went by the handle of Rat White contacted me. Soon we were talking about Atari stuff at least once a week on the phone. He ran the RatCOM BBS, which ran Oasis BBS software. He frequently praised it for all it's versatility and power. He even talked Glenda Stocks in to giving me a courtesy copy of the newest version of Oasis, which was version 4.3. Soon I was running Oasis BBS using four U.S. Doubled floppy drives and a blinding fast 2400 baud modem hung off of a P:R: Connection. Shortly after this Rat White switched to running an IBM BBS. By then I had been introduced to BBS networking on Rat's BBS and had become acquainted with many old-time Oasis sysops, like John Haines and John Oreo. Soon calls were coming in from all around the world.
  54.  
  55. I remember more than one three-way conference call, hosted by Rat White, with him, me and Glenda Stocks. As I recall, she wanted me to get MTOS working with Oasis BBS and I said I would to do so. I was able to get them to work together after a fashion, but because of the way MTOS wanted programs to live and run within certain boundaries in memory, I had to recommend to Glenda that it wasn't feasible unless she made Oasis only use memory within those boundaries. Sometime later she wouldn't allow me to receive Oasis upgrades because she felt I didn't uphold my end of the agreement. We could not come to terms because of an obvious miscommunication/misunderstanding. This occurred during the time that Glenda was getting in to message base fights with various Pro sysops. Whereas Keith Ledbetter never engaged in such petty message base fights, Glenda took on all challengers. These networked message base fights were broadcast around the world through the various BBS networks of the time. Many sysops felt that this detracted from the BBS experience and some dropped the network feed. Some bailed out and switched to a different platform at that time.
  56.  
  57. I continued running Oasis BBS after Glenda sold it to Alf. I had written several modules for Oasis, including an Action! programming interface with the collaboration of Al Renauld. One interesting thing I might mention that happened around this time was that there was an Oasis programmer/sysop that went by the handle of Zark Wizard. He had written some games and utilities for Oasis, one of which was a logon module. I usually take a look at any program I intend to run on my system. This means I examine the code. I couldn't believe what I found, a back door! Zark had his module look for a few control codes followed by a certain logon name, and if this was detected it gave the caller complete access to the computer running this code. Talk about a major breach of security! So I disassembled the code and posted it with a message warning people not to run this module if they didn't want to have their system wide open for destruction. I thought I had done something nice by doing this, but the reaction from Zark and his followers was vehement toward me. They actually accused me of being the security problem by my action of warning other sysops of this back door. I just held my head high and said anyone that puts back doors like this in their code is the one guilty of deception and deceit, not myself. I was hoping Alf would take some action by at least admonishing or disciplining Zark, but he kept his silence and allowed these people to go on and on ragging on me. I decided that if Alf would tolerate programmers putting back doors in their code that I wanted to get out of Oasis.
  58.  
  59. Running a BBS: Pro
  60.  
  61. Around that time the programmer for BBS Express! Professional (not Keith Ledbetter) had placed a few phone calls to me and was trying to talk me in to running Pro. Eventually he recommended to Bob Klaas that Bob send me a complementary node number and BBS software, for which I am very grateful to Bob for doing. Soon I was immersed in writing Pro BBS modules. Mostly utilities and replacement modules for the default ones that came with the BBS. The thing I hated the most about Oasis, at least while Glenda had it, was how that the entry points for the various BBS routines would change each time she tweaked the BBS core code. This meant a steady stream of changing BBS equate files that had to be be assembled in to each and every Oasis BBS module. In other words, with every new version of Oasis, every BBS module had to be reassembled. With Pro the entry points for the core BBS routines were held in a fixed memory location that continued JMP vectors. This meant that every Pro BBS module ever created will still run on any version of Pro. This is just one of the great things that Keith Ledbetter designed in to Pro from the very beginning. Keith made Pro so that BBS modules could be easily programmed for it using either MAC/65 or Action!. Soon, sysop/programmers were cranking out all kinds of cool online BBS games, utilities, and the like. For me, that was the "Golden Era", where creativity was flourishing among the sysop/programmers, and community was flourishing among the online community. Sysop/programmers of the likes of @ircular Logic (Bill and Tom McComb), =kc=, Craig Carter, King Arthur, and a host of other prolific programmers cranked out a steady stream of new programs.
  62.  
  63. The Pro Sysop Wars
  64.  
  65. But alas, all was not perfect in paradise. Misunderstandings and miscommunications, coupled with incompatible personalities and short tempers soon resulted in "The Pro Sysop Wars". This war resulted in severely hurt feelings which for some people are still sore to this day. Many Pro sysops bailed out and switched platforms because they didn't want to get caught up in that whole scene.
  66.  
  67. As a side note, it is not my intention to remember the bad times or to try and churn the muddy waters of the past. But to not mention The Pro Sysop Wars would be like trying to ignore the American Civil War. It was a big, no huge deal at the time. There, enough said.
  68.  
  69. Transition To The Internet
  70.  
  71. Eventually my BBS had a Black Box hard drive/serial port adapter with two hard drives. It had a 14.4k baud modem and networked message bases. It was run on a home built (Bucholtz) 256k ram Atari 800 XL. But sometime around 1996 BBS traffic had dropped down to one or two calls a day. It was obvious that the internet was having an impact on the BBS. That's when I decided to shut down the BBS, at least as a dial up, and I created The Closer To Home Web Page. I was surprised to find that there was a Closer To Home down in Australia, by a former user of my Closer To Home BBS. Imitation is the best form of flattery!
  72.  
  73. Most people that are still interested in the Atari 8-bit are aware of my recent forays on the internet, so I don't think it's needful for me to go over all that now. Suffice it to say that I maintain the CTH Archive that is hosted at ftp://ftp.spudster.org/pub/Atari/CTH , run the Closer To Home Web Site at http://cth.dtdns.net , and also host the Closer To Home BBS at telnet://cth.dtdns.net .
  74.  
  75. Some Final Thoughts
  76.  
  77. Some final thoughts: On the positive side, I enjoyed having my BBS play a part in getting people connected. The free networked messages helped to bring people together around the globe. I also enjoyed providing downloads so that users could enjoy their Atari 8-bit computer. Eventually, I completely abolished any type of download ratio. In spite of that many users still uploaded files. I really enjoyed meeting all of the interesting people I came across while running the dial-up BBS. Of course, people can still call CTH BBS at telnet://cth.dtdns.net .
  78.  
  79. On the flip side: There's one thing that griped me the most. It was when Atari 8-bit users jumped ship to the IBM and then raved about how it had a command line dos, hard drive support, etc. It's obvious that they never considered the Atari 8-bit as anything more than a game machine and that they could never "think out of the box" in that respect. They never gave Sparta DOS a try, never connected an MIO or Black Box to their machines so that they could use hard drives, etc. Essentially, they never gave the Atari 8-bit computer a chance to be all that it could be. The Atari 8-bit had an impressive lineup of great software, peripherals and modifications that allowed you to use high speed modems, run great BBS software, BBS networking, spreadsheets, databases, etc. There are still some things that the Atari 8-bit can do that cannot be done on an IBM clone even today! Don't believe me? OK, show me one text processor that can do everything that TextPro can do. Show me one BBS that supports ATASCII cartoons, ATASCII terminal emulation, and LMODEM downloads. Enough said!
  80.  
  81. Recent Hobbies and Interests
  82.  
  83. Recent hobbies and interests? I enjoy nature; observing the transition of the seasons here in northern Ohio; going for long walks through the fields and woods. And of course, occasionally writing Atari 8-bit programs. I no longer have any real A8 equipment set up so I use cross assemblers/compilers and emulators. Although the latter will be repugnant to purists, I view it as if Atari had ported their great O.S. and software to run on an Intel platform. After all, the 65c02 goes through a type of interpretation/emulation when it natively decodes each opcode in it's chip matrix. There's not that much difference between that and what A800 or Atari800Win does. Besides, it's great just having one power cord to plug in!
  84.  
  85. I have worked for Bell & Howell's Publishing Systems (soon to be renamed ProQuest) division for 25 years. I am currently a data processing specialist and software engineer, specializing in processing over 200 different input streams in to the company's databases.
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