Classic Computer Magazine Archive ANTIC VOL. 4, NO. 2 / JUNE 1985



Ron Luks of SIG*ATARI

by MICHAEL CIRAOLO, Antic Associate Editor

Once you read this latest issue of Antic, log onto CompuServe and type GO ANTIC-you'll see a preview of the magazine's NEXT issue!!
   In the ANTIC ONLINE preview, you'll find a comprehensive look at all the stories and programs in the next Antic Magazine-the July Computer Challenges issue.
   You'll even find a major excerpt or two from the upcoming issue's featured articles-such as our Atari chess software tournament or our interview with the boss of Strategic Simulations, Inc.
   And as a special CompuServe bonus, you can now download from SIG *Atari the complete program that won Antic's Color-The-Cover Contest. This scrolling two-screen picture won't be on the monthly Antic Disk until next issue, even though you'll find its photo in the current magazine. To download this file, type DL4 at the SIG *Atari prompt. This puts you into Data Library 4, where BRO WINNER.* is what you type next. If you're using an Xmodem protocol program (such as HomePak or Chameleon) choose the WINNER.XMO file. With TSCOPE, use the WINNFR.BIN file.
   ANTIC ONLINE special bulletins may be downloaded for reprinting in newsletters of users groups affiliated with the Antic Worldwide Users Network. Officers of Atari users groups may write to the Antic WUN Coordination for details.

Back when the IBM PC had just come out and Ron Luks was thinking about buying one, a friend showed him Atari's classic Star Raiders game. Luks bought an Atari to play with while he was on the IBM waiting list. As it turned out, he never bought an IBM PC.
   Instead Luks, 33, became the system operator (sysop) of SIG*Atari on CompuServe-the world's largest Atari bulletin board, with some 6,000 enrolled members.
   At the time he bought his Atari, Luks was a stockbroker and money manager who traded options on the American Stock Exchange. Previously he had taught scuba diving in Miami for a few years. "Fooling around with the Atari was light and fun, like a puzzle, after a high-pressure day in Wall Street," he said.
   One of Luks's first peripherals was a modem. "I got the Hayes Smart-Modem, an 850 interface and the original TeleLink cartridge, which came with a CompuServe Starter Kit."

Back then, CompuServe wasn't primarily concerned with sponsoring special interest groups (SIGs). So when Luks first logged onto the system, he "looked all over for the word Atari." It wasn't there. Luks then began to spend time in the Popular Electronics magazine online edition.
   "In those days, the network had no online sysops, no help. It was like a big puzzle," Luks said. "I kept leaving messages-How can I do this? Why can't it do that?" The messages were picked up by the sysop about once a month.
   CompuServe finally collapsed under Luks' badgering. "They made me an assistant sysop and gave me a free flag," which meant he would have free access to the network. This was a good deal for a man who had monthly connect bills "approaching four figures".

One thing led to another, and Luks was soon allowed to set up an Atari board. "They said 'There are some empty pages at PCS-132' and I got to fill them up." Luks took as assistant sysops a few of the most active members interested in Atari-such as Michael Reichmann of Batteries Included and programmers Steve Ahlstrom (SynFile +, PaperClip) and Russ Wetmore (Preppie, HomePak).
   After an all-nighter over cappuccino in Greenwich Village, Luks came up with the name SIG*Atari. "It's different from 'the Atari SIG,' the 'Radio Shack SIG' and so on. Atari is a word from the Japanese game Go, and SIG*Atari has an oriental sound," said Luks, pronouncing the name quickly and sibilantly, as one monosyllabic word.

SIGs are now the second or third largest moneymaker for CompuServe, bringing in millions of dollars a year, Luks said. And he has a well-defined niche in that enterprise.
   Luks, the "Godfather of SIG*Atari", now works with a CompuServe sysop school and a test SIG where new SIG software is beta tested. He also helped launch the IBM SIG and works eight other boards besides SIG*Atari-as well as being OnLine Editor of the Antic CompuServe Edition.
   Of course, all that takes a lot of time, "60 to 70 hours a week," Luks figured. As we've found out at Antic when we try to get in touch with Luks, the phone at his Greenwich Village apartment routinely gives off a busy signal till after 3 a.m.
   And during regular working hours, Luks is a freelance computer consultant to a major Wall Street brokerage firm.
   "Nowhere else can you find a more knowledgable group on the Atari world than on SIG*Atari," Luks said. SIG*Atari members gave constructive input to Synapse Software during its development of the Syn Series. More recently they've done the same for Batteries Included's HomePak.
   "Our users decide what service they get and dictate policy," Luks said. However, Luks insists that users maintain a sense of decorum on SIG*Atari and that the board not become a haven for pirates.

Luks is committed to bringing the SIG to as many Atari users as possible. If a large users group has never been in SIG*Atari before, Luks said he would try to arrange free access to the SIG for a weekend so the group could discover the magic for themselves.
   "If we could get a new machine from Atari, we could have 50-60 public domain programs for the ST on the SIG*Atari," Luks claimed. Nor does it appear an idle boast. "On the Macintosh SIG, we had 50 programs when there were only five for sale in the stores."
   "All they have to do is ship it. We'll do the rest," Luks promised.
   Luks sees his demanding work with CompuServe as an investment in the future. "We're shaping the technology Also I want to be able to live anywhere, to be geographically independent and able to work over the phone."