ATARI AT WORK
Practical applications from imaginative Atariansby GIGI BISSON, Antic Assistant Editor
Use a little imagination ... and Ataris
can do anything. I set out to find practical Atari owners, on an electronic
quest via CompuServe e-mail and telephone that sent me to offices, laboratories,
garages and living rooms across America.
The discovery? A computer doesn't have to crunch numbers and crank out spreadsheets at large corporations to be "practical." A practical application might be anything that gets the job done faster, better and more efficiently than it could be done without a computer.
The uses range from fascinating to bizarre to mundane. All of the people in this story have just one thing in common-Atari computers. Some of these folks even swear they'd be out of a job if their Ataris didn't work so hard
It's no surprise that Atari users groups use Atari computers for everything from newsletter writing to mailing lists. So do users. In fact, newsletter production and keeping track of church or club activities are some of the most common Atari productivity uses.
James Porta, the Financial Secretary and Treasurer of Ironworkers Union Local 718 in Wheeling, West Virginia uses SynCale and SynFile + to keep track of members' records, cash receipts and disbursements, and to create Department of Labor reports. He does it all on an Atari 800 with double Percom disk drives and a Panasonic KX printer.
Daniel Warner Rhea uses his Atari to prduce the Browbeat, a newsletter for a local chapter of Mensa, the high I.Q. social organization. He writes it with the PaperClip word processor, creates subscription lists and maintains directories of local members with SynFile +.
ATARI HOME OFFICE
As one reader anonymously wrote on the back of an Antic survey form (see January, 1986 issue), "My wife and I depend upon the Atari to run our mail order business. We use Text Wizard for correspondence, SynFile + for labels on 1,000 bulk mail pieces a month, Print Shop for fast and dirty handouts and Atari Bookeeper to track our cash flow."
Like many Atari owners, Paul May-cock originally bought an 800 for his children to play games on. Now, the kids don't have a chance. As president of Photovoltaic Energy Systems, Inc., Maycock has been working out of his Alexandria, VA home for five years- on the same Atari he bought for the kids.
Maycock has written several books including Sunlight to Electricity In One Step, published by Brick House Press, Guide to the Photovoltaic Revolution by Rodale Press, and the self-published Photovoltaics in Japan-America Challenged." He uses the Atari mainly as a word processor. His software of choice is UK Letter Perfect-Version 6. He uses Letter Pefect to store 1,000 records of his newsletter subscribers, and prints labels with a Star Gemini l0-X dot-matrix printer.
With the Atari, Maycock also edits 'PV News," a monthly newsletter for the photovoltaic industry, a specialized branch of the solar power industry dealing with the conversion of sunlight to electricity. His writing and consulting services now gross about $250,000 a year, and he still does nearly all of his work on that original Atari 800.
Not all practical uses are limited to commercial software. For example, the Atari's many graphic modes make it a great video titler. Lee Whiteside uses his Atari with his VCR deck to make short films and music videos. He uses the Video Easel cartridge to generate a black screen for playing between segments of his recorded video and film clips-much more attractive than video noise. He even uses the Atari to print labels for videotapes. "I also used my video equipment and Atari to videotape my high score on M.U.L.E. so I could make a picture of it to send in to get a M.U.L.E. Skinner Certificate," says Whiteside. He is currently the second highest scoring M.U.L.E. player.
The Atari may even have commercial video applications. Lee Smith of Ohio designed a package enabling cable TV operators to use the Atari for creating program announcements. He used the Atari's graphics capabilities to power an $800 system that replace a $10,000 dedicated machine.
Frank Nagle is President of BAAUG, the Atari users group that serves the Silicon Valley area. He also works works for Sygnetics, a Silicon Valley microchip manufacturer. However, most days Nagle doesn't fight the valley's notoriously crowded freeway traffic to get to his job. He stays home and uses his 520ST to emulate a VT252 mainframe terminal and access the Sygnetics system. "It saves me half an hour commuting each way, he says.
Another BAAUG member, Dr. Bill Lynch, has put eight 520STs to work at San Francisco Veterans Hospital in a rehabilitation program.
With the 128K-memory Atari l30XE so inexpensively priced, why not put one to work at a single, dedicated task? George Lentz, of Toms River, NJ is an electronics engineer at Van Kel industries in Edison, NJ. He is responsible for the design of electronic test equipment used in the pharmaceutical industry.
Van Kel, a fairly small company, couldn't afford a dedicated 6502 microprocessor development system. So Lentz brought his Atari 800 to the office and hooked it up to an Eprom programmer and simulator through the RS-232 port. By using MAC/65 and writing an extensive BASIC program, Lentz put together a development system. "Our Atari system is not so fancy, but it's very economical and it's doing a great job," he says.
'I use Atari 800XLs professionally," says Gary Holder, a PhD candidate in neuropsychology, "In fact, that's how I got into the Atari world in the first place." Holder uses Ataris in the Cognitive Neurophysiology Research Facility at the Knoxville Memorial Research Center and Hospital of the University of Tennessee.
The research facility first purchased the Ataris for Cognitive Rehabilitation. This field involves the use of computers as a part of a rehabilitation program for people with thinking problems resulting from head injury, stroke or other brain-damaging disorders. The computer is used as a sort of surrogate therapist, available to the patient 24 hours a day at home.
The lab's main research efforts are focused on the study of computer-analyzed brainwaves (electroencaphalogram or EEG). The EEG analysis is actually done by a PDP-1l computer. But after struggling to create a visual simulation of flashing EEG wave patterns on the PDP-ll's $3,000 512 x 512 pixel, 256-color RGB monitor (which required assembly language programming), he realized that the Atari could do the same job with simple BASIC programming.
The center's 800XLs are used for monitoring any EEG changes that occur during the period of rehabilitation, which may last from six months to two years. "For example, do brain-waves become more normal as the patient improves? We have no definitive answers to that question...yet," he says. But with the help of the Atari, he may soon know.
ATARI FOR DISABLED
Gerry Feid of Chicago has been 100% disabled with rheumatoid arthritis since 1975. His Atari 800 is named Betsy, and he says, "By using Betsy, my brain was restarted. I realized just because I am disabled, that doesn't mean I am a human vegetable."
Feid joined the CLAUG and MACE Atari users groups, and has become particularly active with their bulletin boards and newsletters. He was one of the user volunteers manning Atari displays at last summer's Consumer Electronics Show. In addition, he has returned to college, started regular physical workouts, and was appointed to local government committee for the handicapped.
Robert Dewey is still trying to convince the rest of his partners at Lowry & Partners, a San Francisco public relations agency with clients such as McDonald's Corp.,to ditch their antiquated typewriters for Atari computers.
While the agency did PR for Atari during the reign of Ray "The Czar" Kassar, they were given a few Atari computers. Dewey was interested in using a computer to maintain a contact file of some 6,000 publicity outlets to receive media releases.
Existing Atari databases didn't allow enough space for names and titles of both reporters and publications. So Dewey, who had no programming experience whatsoever, read a book on programming and created his own database software. He now writes all his press releases and correspondence with the PaperClip word processor on an Atari 800XL and a dot-matrix printer.
"I only use my old 1924 Underwood for the one thing PaperClip can't do-addressing envelopes," he says. Dewey also uses an Atari computer to get online with Dow Jones and The Source for research, and he uploads press releases directly onto the Business Wire, a public relations wire service.
If anybody ought to know whether Atari computers are capable of running a whole office, it's Antic. Our visitors are often surprised to see so many Atari computers on desks here.
Antic's 16 Ataris are used primarily for word processing. The editorial staff uses PaperClip from Batteries Included (a few diehards still refuse to give up AtariWriter). Our 8-bit Ataris and 520STs are also put to work programming, reviewing program submissions and commercial software, printing the published listings-and occasionally playing games during lunch breaks.
As you'd expect, many Antic employees have their own Atari computers at home and log onto CompuServe or communicate with the office online. (Charlie Jackson recently hauled his Atari 800, disk drive and modem as carry-on luggage during a trip to New York, so he could send us e-mail.) When there's no time to wait for the U.S. Postal Service, Antic authors transmit their stories and programs online.
I am writing this article on an Atari 800XL computer with Paper-Clip software. When I'm finished, I'll pass the disk to my editor, who makes all revisions electronically. Then the disk goes to the art production coordinator, who inserts typesetting codes into the file and transmits it directly to our typesetter service via modem. There, their copy of the disk file will be loaded into a computerized phototypesetting machine that produces the actual typographical characters you are reading right now.-GIGI BISSON