Runner-up Prize Best Article
Medal for an Atari
XL cuts through red tape
by Chester Cox
Taegu Air Base is a combination airport/airbase operated by the Republic of Korea Air Force. I was stationed there for two years--and owe my survival to Atari and Dan Moore.
My squadron was a maintenance squadron dedicated to keeping F-4 jet fighters (later F-16s) in flying order. As Noncommissioned Officer in Charge of Administration, my job was to keep track of about 400 enlisted people and three officers, taking care of their personal and professional needs.
That meant processing leaves, passes, awards and decorations; creating orders; arranging and monitoring telephone calls back to the States; preparing (and rewriting) performance reports and nominations for awards and promotions; preparing and managing commander calls, training manuals, operational publications, files and suspenses; and handling disciplinary problems and actions, as well as family and stateside emergencies. And just about anything else that came up, or the commander needed.
U.S. Air Force SSgt. Chester Cox really did get a medal for his work with an Atari. His
family and former commanding officer shared the ceremony.
My weapon against the forces of exhaustion was (and still is) an Atari 800XL with a 256K memory upgrade. My ammunition was PaperClip, the classic word processor, and SynFile+ , the classic database, both by Dan Moore. (PaperClip was co-written by Steve Ahlstrom. --ANTIC ED)
In the beginning, we literally had nothing. There was no computer. My Atari was still in Oklahoma, and there were no records at all! The administrative building had blown up just before I arrived--seems no one knew that the Japanese buried airplane fuel deposits there during their occupation of Korea.
I immediately put in a request for an office computer and was informed that it would be about a year before its arrival. Our workload (as shown in a "manpower study" by the Pacific Air Force Headquarters) required at least three people, preferably four. We had two--an inexperienced airman and me.
For six months, we attempted to organize everything enough to find things, at least. The days were stretching to 15 hours each, with many weekends spent at the offices. Our headquarters was at the other end of the country. Quite simply, their records and ours didn't quite match up. Everything was being handled through the mail, and we had no immediate access to daily records.
In September, my Atari 800XL arrived. Normally, it would have been used to help me relax after a tough day. But what it became--quickly--was the office computer that the Air Force couldn't deliver.
It was portable enough to carry on the bus. I immediately began putting all data relating to the squadron on single density disks with SynFile. It took all the rest of my spare time for three months. Meanwhile, I had made templates on PaperClip for every document that passed through the squadron. By the time December rolled around, I was able to take a day off--the job was completed.
And it was completed just in time, as it turned out. Our headquarters at Osan had managed, with their expert, expensive superior computers and technicians, to completely erase all the data in their tape files dealing with performance reports and decorations. Suddenly every unit under Osan HQ was hit with "missed deadlines" that didn't exist--"computer errors," these were called.
My personal favorite was when the Personnel Office was positive that all our reports were 40 years overdue! During the time that headquarters reentered all the data, only one squadron in the entire country was able to meet deadlines, with all the correct data--dates, social security numbers, dates of enlistment, dates of return from overseas, etc. Because only one office had put everything on Atari disks.
It's amazing how many records you can get into SynFile+. It recognizes most memory upgrades and there was ample room for everything I needed. By the time I had typed the 300th entry it started slowing noticeably. But that proved little hindrance. Because it was my Atari, I was able to do some work at home--finally getting to see my family.
With my upgraded 256K memory, PaperClip let me keep around 2,500 40-column lines in my 800XL. With PaperClip's chaining capabilities, longer documents were no problem. For instance, the agreement between the Republic of Korea and the United States Air Force was typed, corrected and saved on an Atari, then transferred to an MS-DOS computer.
Yes, we finally did get our office computer--a Zenith Z-100 with twin drives. I quickly discovered that I hated the user-hateful interfaces of WordStar and PeachText so I continued to take most of my work home. Atari, PaperClip, and SynFile+ offered more power than the expensive setup in my office. All I sacrificed was a little speed. And anyone who has used MS-DOS databases without a hard disk can testify that the speed comes from the hard drive itself.
Today, my Atari is even more useful in my Air Force career in Denver. Not only have I learned more of what you can do with that extra memory--I love RAMdisks--but my 1050 drive has received a brain transplant. With the Happy 7.1 chip and software installed, I have been able to bring MSDOS disks home and work with a truly user-friendly word processor.
If you are in the Air Force Reserves or National Guard in Colorado, your travel orders or training orders were probably processed on my Atari. In fact, a Major at the Reserve Personnel Center prepared a videotape which trained people in the use of the Z-218 computer--adding animation and credits using his own Atari 800XL and a VCR.
I have access to powerful business computers and software on the job. Z-248, Burroughs, Enable, Lotus, Condor, Word, RBase, DBase, Multiplan--these are but a few of the places where our tax dollars go. People are impressed by those machines and software--even when they don't understand them, even when they don't quite work. Give me my Atari 800XL anytime. I've done more with it than any office with its more dignified computer ever has.
And I have an Air Force Achievement Medal awarded to me and my Atari to prove it.