Ten Best from APXby Jordan W. Powell
If you are interested in inexpensive custom software that can help you learn about your ATARI, then you should consider programs from APX. The Atari Program Exchange is a separate company, formed by Atari to stimulate the production of programs for their computers, and there are many advantages to using it.
One big advantage for intermediate and beginning programmers is that most APX software is written in BASIC and can be studied, modified and backed up. Other software frequently costs more and is not accessible. You can learn a lot about programming and about your computer by studying and modifying programs. The following APX programs are the ten best I have encountered. I won't repeat the descriptions in the APX catalog but will reference the page number in the fall issue. If you don't have an APX catalog you can get one by calling APX at 800-5381862 (California 800-6721850).
The first problem I had as a disk-drive owner was in keeping track of a rapidly growing collection of files on my diskettes. The Diskette Librarian (p.67) was the answer. This program automatically creates a catalog of diskette files by reading your diskette directories and adding some data via the keyboard. The catalog locates those elusive programs and data files. You can search for files not only by name but by file description, type of file (basic, assembler, data, etc.), date of creation, or even by file size. Suppose you wanted to find a demo you created last month but can't remember the name. Do a catalog search for all files with the filename extender of demo, read the description of each file, and pick the one you were looking for. The Librarian will tell you which diskette it is on and will even run the demo for you if you would like. Also, you can learn about disk I/O and screen formatting, from reading the Librarian program. Suggested modifications include: adding an option to print diskette labels; expanding the size of the date field to eight characters; adding an option to go directly to DOS; and adding an option to print the catalog.
One of the most useful applications yet found for computers is the data base. A data base is a collection of information together with some method of adding and retrieving information from the collection. The Data Base Report System (p.12) is such a system. A simple use of this program would be to keep a list of credit cards and appliance serial numbers in case of loss or theft. A more sophisticated use could be a birthday / anniversary data base. You could store names and dates along with gift preferences. This APX data base has a somewhat limited search capability but it is the best inexpensive way I have found to learn about data bases. Some ideas for using a data base are: stamp and coin collection catalog, coupon file, magazine article or literature index, property inventory for insurance purposes, addresses and phone numbers (if the list is sufficiently long) or a ham radio log. This product is also instructive about the creation of records on disk, screen formatting, and passing control between programs.
You've undoubtedly heard about the GTIA chip and you may be wondering just what it can really do. The GTIA Demo Diskette (p.73) will show you, if you have the GTIA chip in your computer (see ANTIC #2). Watching the demo is the best way to understand the three new graphics modes provided by the GTIA. The documentation contains an excerpt from the book De Re ATARI, and there is a brief discussion of three of the programs on the diskette.
Getting control of your life probably involves getting control of your money. Family Cash Flow (p.10) can help. Enter information on your income and expenses and the program generates reports, both summarized and detailed, on exactly where your money is coming from and going. If you've never taken a good look at your cash flow you're probably in for a surprise. Learn about "user-friendly" programs from this one. User-friendly means that the program requires you to know little about handling the program itself so you can concentrate on the problem you are using the program to solve. The program accomplishes friendliness through the clever use of menus.
BLIS (p.71) is a program that prints other BASIC programs in an easily readable format. Most BASIC programs are compressed to save memory. Unfortunately, this makes them very hard to read. BLIS will help you read BASIC programs, to learn from or modify them. You will have to modify this program in order to use printers other than ATARI (Centronics) because they use different control codes.
Eastern Front 1941 (p.42) is a game master piece, a brilliant simulation of battle conditions on the eastern front in WW II. You are the general in charge of the German invasion of Russia in 1942. You also command individual units in tactical battles. The game is played on a scrolling map which, while changing with the seasons, graphically conveys information about the terrain, unit positions and strengths, supply lines and troop movements. This game is written in Assembler and the source code is available as a separate product (p.43), useful for study. Would-be game programmers can learn a great deal about game engineering from this program.
Snark Hunt (p.38) is a game of logical deduction. You are given the simple rules of behavior of vorpal beams as you shoot them into a grid. By their behavior you must determine the whereabouts of the hidden sparks. Don't be fooled by this seeming child's game. Techniques similar to this were used in deducing the structure of DNA. This game, though a bit noisy, is absorbing and fun to play. Reading the BASIC code offers information on the use of sound, the joysticks, color, alternate character sets and BASIC graphics.
To show off ATARI's musical capabilities you need Jukebox #1 (p.51). This is the best ATARI musicplaying program I've ever heard; it has actually increased my interest in learning about music. As a demonstration to impress friends it is a sure thing. This diskette was created using Advanced Music System (p.21) and can be used to see what that program can really do.
You won't get musical quality out of the ATARI's tone generators, but if you learn about music you'll be able to actually write your own music and play it without having to master a musical instrument.
If the music bug bites you as it did me, you might find Music Tutor (p.34) useful. This is a basic course in music. You will need at least the knowledge presented here to use Atari's Music Composer or the APX Advanced Music System previously mentioned. It's more fun than reading a book on the subject. Be sure you load it exactly as the instructions tell you.
The Atari Program Text Editor (p.62) is a powerful microcomputer tool. It has many features found on large mainframe text editors. Suppose you wanted to find a particular POKE in a BASIC program; instead of getting bleary eyed searching through the code you have merely to enter a short search command and it will find your POKE for you. If you want to change a variable name, you can change it throughout the entire program all at once. Atari BASIC has an unfortunate bug in that it locks up the machine if you try to delete too many lines of a program. The Text Editor makes such deletions easy. You can copy part of one program into another or create a file with part of a program in it, then you can build a new program around it or just save it for use in other programs. For creating data files or program source code, this is the way to go. This program is very good and useful but the manual sometimes is hard to understand. Once you learn and use the Text Editor you'll never want to be without it.
I hope I've given you some ideas which will enhance your enjoyment of your ATARI computer. I've found this APX software both useful and educational.
APX actively solicits software written by ATARI users, publishes it and pays royalties to the writers. Perhaps we will see your programs there some day.