Letters From Our Readers
A Few Complaints
I have a few complaints concerning START. First, why is there so much white space? If you compare your text format to, say, the ones used by BYTE, Business Week, or Scientific American, you'll notice immediately that there's a lot more spacing between the lines of text in your articles and around your titles. In addition, you waste entire pages on meaningless pictures and large blown up text excerpts.
Secondly, your articles and reviews often lack any real depth and usually don't provide much technical information. An example from the August 1989 issue is your Pogo article which devotes less than one third of a page to how the Pogo compiler actually operates, what kind of code it generates or how it might be improved. Wasn't this supposed to be a "Special Programming" issue?
There are as many magazine designs as there are magazines, but there are some basic design principles here. In order to make magazines visually interesting and less difficult to read, all publishers--START included--use illustrations, subheads and white space to help break up large "gray" blocks of text. Both the leading (line spacing) and the ragged-right justification in START were conscious design choices to make START attractive and readable. We have dummied up pages here with full justification and less leading, but found that there was a surprisingly small gain in text lines per page and a notable loss in appearance and accessibility.
The ST and Mega are versatile computers whose owners are of all levels of skill and technical sophistication. It's a daily challenge to strike that perfect balance in editorial content so that it is accessible to most of our readers, most of the time. We try to aim START primarily at intermediate users, but at the same time include a wide range of features designed for beginners or experts. We're constantly faced with editorial choices; for example, should we use, say, 10 percent of our editorial space for material that might be of interest or use to only one percent of our readers?
See Ray Mulford's letter below for another view.--START Editor
I Go Pogo
I've had my ST for about two years now, but I hadn't read an issue of START until I bought the August 1989 disk/magazine. Wow! I find it hard to believe that I managed this long without you guys. I just had to write to tell you what a great product you have. It is a welcome change to read well-written (and typo-free) articles as well as intelligent, diversified reviews. And your broad base of advertisers leads me to believe that your excellence goes way back and will extend far into the future.
I would like to thank Jim Kent for giving us Pogo. Until I began playing with Pogo, my programming experience consisted of dabbling with a limited knowledge of BASIC, taking a few Pascal courses in college and writing a few simple procedures in Logo for the high school geometry classes that I teach, But something about Pogo intrigued me and I started fiddling with it. In about 12 hours I hacked out a game called Kamikaze Spaceships. Now, I'll be the first to admit that it's a tired game with a tired premise and code that probably isn't the best, but, hey, it's far better than most of the other stuff I've done. I've enclosed a copy, hoping that if others see what a non-programmer can do, then programming will be seen as a pastime and not a chore.
Thank you again for a fantastic magazine.
Ray's game is a derivation of the classic Missile Command scenario and our first submission in Pogo. While its gameplay is not up to what we've published in START in more mature languages such as C or GFA BASIC, it's an interesting illustration of the power of Pogo. Want to see it, readers? Oh, and thanks for the words of praise, Ray. START Editor.
Test and Modify
I enjoyed the many useful suggestions in "Secrets of a Good User Interface" in the August 1989 issue. There was one very important piece of advice, however, that was overlooked by all three authors: test and modify the interface based on actual experience. A sensible strategy is to write the initial version of the program with a relatively simple user interface, but allocate development time for additions and improvements.
I would also like to comment on Tim Oren's concern about restricting menus to five to nine items. The limits to shortterm memory occur when recalling items in a list after a brief exposure to that list. This is simply not the situation when using a menu. The user does not need to recall any items other than the one to be selected, and the menu does not disappear before the task is done. Obviously, short menus can be searched faster than long ones, but I would be very surprised if any study shows that menus become dramatically harder to use when they contain more than seven items.
St. Paul, MN
A Hard Drive Misconception
There is a misconception that high-performance drives are limited to the IBM world. Wrongo! A stock XT or AT can't handle the data rate achievable on an ST. For instance, in "Small Tools" of your July 1989 issue, it states that "No one is doing anything with ESDI in the ST world . . . restricted to IBM." Someone is.
Berkeley Microsystems has (and can configure) custom formatting software for ESDI drives. The folks at BMS were extremely helpful when I set up my 150Mb ESDI drive last Spring. Admittedly, a 150Mb drive is a bit spacious for typical users. Yet those in the market for "rolling their own" shouldn't be discouraged from investing in high-performance drives just because they only see slow 20-30Mb drives in stores and magazines. The ST is a performer--let it perform!
Berkeley Microsystems has been an ST stalwart since its earliest days. They were one of the first to offer "roll your own" hard drive kits and have an excellent reputation for quality products and support.--START Editor.
Expansion Connector Forgotten?
START magazine is great and always informative. I think your monthly section on what's happening in the Atari world is great because it makes me feel that Atari hasn't just laid over and died on us loyal ST users.
Being that this could be Atari's year, with the release of the STACY laptop, the upgraded laser printer and the long awaited TT, I have one major question that I haven't heard addressed yet. On the first page of the Mega 2 owner's manual, it states that the Mega has "an internal expansion connector direct to the computer's main processing unit [which] allows for future expansion of the Mega ST's capabilities." Well, I've been to a few computer stores that didn't even know this. What's going on? To double-check this fact I opened up my Mega 2 and--lo and behold--there was this monster connector sticking right up saying "howdy!" Did Atari forget about this?
Atari didn't forget about the connector; they're just not advertising what they know. In fact, the computer maker has produced a 60881 math coprocessor board for that internal port. A few third-party developers have found other uses for the special connector: Moniterm Corp. of Minnetonka, Minnesota uses it for their big Viking monitors and John Russell Innovations of Pittsburg, California uses it for Genlock. Contact these companies directly for more information. --START Editor
If Every ST Owner Would Just . . .
You still read a lot these days about software piracy, not just on the ST, but on many other systems as well. I think it's high time we Atari users change all this! How you ask? Simple--by purchasing software. What I'm suggesting is that we all go out and buy that program that we've put off buying for far too long. This way we can all do our part to combat software theft.