Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 76 / SEPTEMBER 1986 / PAGE 111


Bill Wilkinson

Five-Year Retrospective

This month marks my fifth anniversary writing "INSIGHT: Atari" for COMPUTE!. In the course of the last five years, I've covered a lot of different topics. Just for fun, I decided to look back through the last 60 issues of COMPUTE! and engage in some healthy self-criticism—listing the worst of Wilkinson as well as the best.

You may or may not agree with my assessments. But the point isn't simply to rate what's been done. After five years of writing about the same family of machines, it can be difficult to come up with a fresh topic every month. As you read these lists, let me know about some new topics you want me to cover, or some old topics that could stand further explanation or a fresh treatment. Not all of you have been reading COMPUTE! for a full five years, after all. And even long-time programmers can grow rusty in certain areas. This column is designed to serve you, the readers, so please provide some feedback in a card or letter addressed to:

Bill Wilkinson
P.O. Box 710352
San Jose, CA 95171-0352

The Brightest And Best

First, here's what I consider the best of "INSIGHT: Atari." Whether you agree will depend on your own viewpoint and needs. I have listed articles chronologically within broad categories.

  • Getting more out of Atari BASIC: 9/81, 10/81, 12/81, 4/82, 5/82, 2/83, 1/84, 2/84, 3/84, 12/85, 3/86
  • Calling I/O and GRAPHICS routines from assembly language: 11/81 through 2/82, 7/82 through 10/82, 8/85 through 10/85
  • Assembly language techniques, with or without Atari BASIC: 12/81, 4/82, 10/82, 12/82, 7/83 through 9/83, 1/84, 12/84, 1/85, 3/85, 2/86, 4/86
  • Converting BASIC programs to assembly language: 12/81, 2/82, 8/82 through 10/82, 5/84 through 7/84
  • Atari BASIC internals: 1/82 through 7/82
  • Bugs in Atari BASIC: 11/81, 5/85, 6/85
  • Benchmarks: 9/82, 1/84, 11/84, 2/85, 3/85
  • Playing music and sounds in background while a BASIC program runs: 3/82
  • User definable function keys: 5/82
  • Undocumented graphics mode: 10/83 and 11/83
  • Using the extended memory of XL machines (with pictorial map): 12/83

Not So Memorable

Now for the less memorable columns. Some of my self-appointed projects have met with less than enthusiastic response. Perhaps the worst of these was "BAIT," a pseudo-BASIC interpreter written in Atari BASIC. The program was supposed to show you how language interpreters worked: It was so slow that you could literally watch the FOR-NEXT loops plod along. I prolonged the agony for four months (March, May, June, and August 1983).

Then I tried to rescue 1050 disk drive owners with an enhanced version of DOS 2.0S. It worked, but I doubt that more than a couple of dozen readers managed to get it installed properly. This series appeared May through September 1984. Less than four months later, we reworked DOS 2.0S for Atari to produce DOS 2.5. More time and energy down the drain.

My April Fool's columns have always received mixed reviews. This year, I got distracted and actually forgot to do a joke column. A couple of readers wrote me to compliment me on my restraint. Thanks, folks.

Some of the funniest installments of "INSIGHT: Atari" were unintentionally humorous, consisting of various predictions regarding future Atari products. I could have done better with a ouija board.

In addition to the obvious honkers, I've omitted from this list several columns which were relevant at the time they were written, but have since become outdated. One general regret is that I covered certain topics in less depth than now seems desirable. But that's a difficult factor to measure. When I invite you to explore a subject, do you ever sit down to research it further? If so, then I have succeeded. If not, perhaps the topic is inappropriate, or the treatment needs to be refined. Again, the more feedback you provide, the better I can meet your needs.

Truth Stranger Than Fiction

Since I just made fun of my precognitive powers, it's only fair to mention that one of my predictions is actually coming true. In July 1984, Jack Tramiel and company had just bought Atari. I wrote a column (published in October that same year) containing several predictions about what the "new" Atari would produce. On some points, I was correct: The 1450 died quickly, and the "Atari MAC" was already under development (it became what is now the ST).

Though it caused chuckles at the time, I also stated that Atari would continue to produce game machines and that they would soon come out with the already-designed 7800. As it happened. Atari sold over a million 2600 game machines in 1985. And, at the 1986 Summer Consumer Electronics Show, Atari announced that the 7800 will be available this autumn. Now, how would you like to know what's in store for 1988?