ANTIC Interview 321 – Databar OSCAR

Databar OSCAR This is a story about the rise and fall of a compter peripheral and the company behind it. The company was Databar, and the product was called OSCAR, which was short for Optical SCAnning Reader. In 1983, it wasn’t easy to get inexpensive software for your home computer. Floppy disks were expensive. Modems were slow and expensive. You could get software in magazines — a variety of computer magazines offered computer program listings that you could type in. You might spend hours laboriously typing in a program, and it might work. Or more likely, it wouldn’t, because of a typo or because of errors in the published listing. It wasn’t easy to get inexpensive software for your computer. One solution that a couple of companies came up with was to distribute software in books and magazines — but instead of printed listings that you’d have to type in, the programs were distributed as bar codes — long collections of black and white dots. You could use a bar code scanner to read the programs into your computer. The best known solution was, perhaps, Cauzin Softstrip. And although Softstrip may have been the best known, it was by no means a success. I’ve already published interviews with the people who created Softstrip. Another contender in this niche — and the one that this episode is about – was the Databar OSCAR. OSCAR was released two years before Softstrip. OSCAR had two parts — the hardware, the Optical SCAnning Reader that would connect to your Atari 8-bit computer, or your Texas Instruments 99/4A, or your Commodore 64. And, the bar code software, which was to be published in a special magazine, called Databar. First, let’s talk a little about the hardware. A silver plastic device, a little smaller than a loaf of bread, was the brains of the operation. A hand-held removable wand, connected via a telephone-style coiled wire, held the optical reader. That’s the part that you would roll over the bar code to read the software into your computer. Finally, there was an interface cable that connected the main device to your computer. This is the only bit of hardware that’s different in the Atari, Commodore, and Texas Instruments versions of the product. The Commodore version, for instance, connects to the C64’s cassette port. The Atari version also emulates a cassete tape drive, and connects to the Atari’s SIO port. The hardware alone cost $79.95, but it wouldn’t do much good without the bar-code printed software, which was the Databar magazine. A 1-year subscription to the Databar magazine would cost an additional $120. So let’s talk about the software: the magazine. “Databar – The Monthly Bar Code Software Magazine” which was published in 1983, and turned out to only have one issue published, so it wasn’t very monthly after all. Databar ran some advertisements in the Atari, Commodore, and Texas Instruments computer magazines. I’m going to read a bit from one of them. [ad excerpt] The magazine was published in three versions: one for the Atari 8-bit computer, one for the TI 99/4A, and a version for Commodore 64. The cover and front part of the magazine was the same in all editions, with general-interest articles like “Computer Gaming,” “To Your Health – Your Health Is Up To You,” and “Climbing the Slippery Financial Hills.” The second part of the magzaine was different in each edition. This was the part with the bar codes. Each version has pretty much the same set of programs, but customized to the dialect of BASIC used on that particular computer. The selection of non-confrontational, milquetoast programs includes OSCAR’s Match (a memory game), Financial Quiz, Math Challenge, Health Assessment, The Law and You, and Miles Per Gallon Calculator. Only 9 programs were ever published in this format for the Commodore and TI, and they are all in the magazine. 13 Atari programs were ever published in this format, in the Atari version of the magazine. The OSCAR box claims that the hardware is also compatible with the Timex Sinclair 1000, 1500, 2000, and the TRS-80 Color Computer. But I haven’t seen any evidence that versions of the magazine were created for those systems, nor the hardware adapters to connect to them. One of the benefits of the reader was that it was supposed to be faster than typing. My favorite ad for the OSCAR reader says “Programming the Home Computer — Expert Typist with Keyboard vs. Eight-year-old with OSCAR.” The task: entering a two-page BASIC program. The expert typist with a 100 word-per-minute speed and a degree in computer programming can do it in 1 hour and 9 minutes. The little girl with bows in her hair and bubble gum in her mouth, with no prior computer experience, can enter the program using OSCAR in 8 minutes. Now that we’ve set the stage, it’s time for the interviews. There are three: first, Don Picard, the Executive Editor of Databar magazine; then Kim Garretson, the publisher of the magazine; and finally Neal Enzenauer, the principal engineer for OSCAR. ## interview 1: Don Picard Don Picard worked for Webb Publishing, a large printing company that owned a number of magazines. Don worked in a division called Creative Communications, that was a custom publishing house for corporate clients. The division did work such as in-flight magazines for airlines, and custom magazines for Farmer’s Insurance and the American Automobile Association. He was the Executive Editor of Databar magazine. Teaser quotes: “Concept was basically dead before it got born.” “When money’s invested there becomes a sort of momentum involved. Nobody wants to say, ‘This was a mistake.'” ## interview 2: Kim Garretson The next interview is Kim Garretson, the founding editor and publisher of Databar magazine. Teaser quote: “Sometimes you had to go across a single line of code three or four or five or seven times to hear the little beep.” ## interview 3: Neal Enzenauer Our final interview is with Neal Enzenauer, the principal engineer for OSCAR. Teaser quote: “We thought we were going to set the world on fire and make magnetic media obsolete — but I guess we didn’t.” ## closing Thanks to Don Picard, Kim Garretson, and Neal Enzenauer. Thanks to Allan Bushman for scanning the Atari version of the Databar magazine and OSCAR instructions; @doegox on Twitter for writing the python script to decode the barcodes without the scanner, @paulrickards for wrangling the Commodore software, and @travisgoodspeed for the PoC||GTFO ‘zine, which was instrumental in bringing the pieces together. Thanks to the Internet Archive for hosting scans of the magazines and all the software. The interview with Don Picard took place on April 5, 2016. The interview with Kim Garretson took place on June 27, 2016. (A “>video version of that interview is available, including an extended version where we also discuss CD-ROM publishing and the Prodigy online service.) The interview with Neal Enzenauer took place on April 12, 2016. ANTIC interview with creators of Cauzin Softstrip, another software bar code system PoC||GTFO Databar Magazine – Atari edition Databar Magazine – Commodore edition Databar Magazine – TI 994/A edition Decoded Software from Databar Magazine – Atari edition Decoded Software from Databar Magazine – Commodore edition Decoded Software from Databar Magazine – TI 994/A edition An Introduction To Oscar And Bar Code Scanning – Atari Version Databar OSCAR Box scans “>Databar OSCAR unboxing video Databar OSCAR Software Binder “>Kim Garretson interview, extended video version More background on the format Decoding software in python Databar Bar Code Reader patent Expert Typist with Keyboard vs. Eight-year-old with OSCAR Databar ad in Antic magazine Another ad in Antic Databar mention in JACG Atari newsletter Databar article in Enthusiast ’99 magazine PC Magazine article about OSCAR

Source:: ANTIC Interview 321 – Databar OSCAR


Robert Jaeger, Montezuma’s Revenge

Robert Jaeger, Montezuma’s Revenge Robert Jaeger is best known in the Atari community as the programmer of the popular game Montezuma’s Revenge, which was published by Parker Brothers in 1984. He also programmed Chomper, published by MMG Micro Software; and Pinhead, published by Robert’s own company, Utopia Software. This interview took place on December 2, 2017. Digital Press interview with Robert Montezuma’s Revenge group on Facebook AtariMania’s list of Robert’s games Gary Walton interview Wikipedia on Montezuma’s Revenge Google DeepMind AI learns to play Montezuma’s Revenge

Source:: Robert Jaeger, Montezuma’s Revenge


ANTIC Interview 319 – Tay Vaughan, Atari Connection and Antic magazines

Tay Vaughan, Atari Connection and Antic magazines Tay Vaughan used Atari computers in his school for maritime skills and as a marine surveyor. He was featured in that capacity in a 1983 Atari catalog “Atari Home Computers — The Next Generation.” Next, he was hired by Atari and was an editor of The Atari Connection magazine, where he wrote the Bits & Pieces column. Later, Tay was senior editor at Antic magazine, and he edited the book The Best of Atari Software, published by Consumer’s Guide. In this interview, we discuss Ted Richards and Jim Capparell, whom I have previously interviewed. This interview took place on December 4, 2017. “Those guys came to the school, the Atari marketing people, and said ‘we’d like to give you a couple of computers to let your students play with them and so forth. In exchange, we’ll come and take some pictures and maybe use you for marketing.” Tay Vaughan in Atari computer catalog Tay’s web site Bits and Pieces Tay’s articles in Antic magazine Interview with Ted Richards Interview with Jim Capparell The Best Atari Software book

Source:: ANTIC Interview 319 – Tay Vaughan, Atari Connection and Antic magazines


ANTIC Interview 318 – Linda Schreiber: T.H.E.S.I.S. Software and author

Linda Schreiber: T.H.E.S.I.S. Software and author Linda Watson-Call is better known to Atari users as Linda Schreiber, which was her name at that time. Linda was the founder of T.H.E.S.I.S. Software, an educational software publisher for the Atari 8-bit and Apple II computers. The company was best known for her game, Big Math Attack. She wrote several books about the Atari 8-bit computers: Atari Programming with 55 Programs, Advanced Programming Techniques for your Atari, and Atari Fun & Games: Discover New Heights in Game-Playing Excitement on Any Atari, as well as books about the TI 99/4A and Atari ST computers. She also wrote the Education column in very early editions of Antic magazine. This interview took place on November 25, 2017. “Oh my gosh, I was like kicking out a program every other month. That was a lot of coding.” Linda’s blog Atarimania’s list of Linda’s software Atarimania’s list of THESIS software Linda’s articles in Antic magazine ATARI Programming with 55 Programs Advanced Programming Techniques for Your Atari ATARI Fun & Games Antic magazine review of Big Math Attack

Source:: ANTIC Interview 318 – Linda Schreiber: T.H.E.S.I.S. Software and author


ANTIC Interview 317 – Richard Taylor, Digital Devices Corporation

Richard Taylor, Digital Devices Corporation Richard Taylor was an employee of Digital Devices Corporation. DDC built a number of adapters for the Atari 8-bit computers — it’s most well-known product was probably APE-FACE, an inexpensive ($90) device that connected the Atari’s SIO port to standard parallel printers. The company’s other products included UPRINT, a printing buffer; and the Ape-Link Serial Peripheral Input/Output Expansion Cable. Richard’s job? He said in an AtariAge message board message “I was the warranty repair department, shipping department, prototype builder, janitor, etc. while I was going to Georgia Tech in 1984/85.” This interview took place on November 14, 2017. Teaser quote: “The printer buffer was just a huge hit. It blew me away. Wow, look, it’ll take it all in 10 or 20 seconds and just sit there and spool it out to the printer!” Richard on AtariAge Ape-Face Fact Sheet AtariAge discussion about Ape-Face

Source:: ANTIC Interview 317 – Richard Taylor, Digital Devices Corporation


ANTIC Interview 316B – Dave Comstock, part 2

Dave Comstock, part 2 A couple of days after our interview, Dave Comstock (who worked at Atari on E.T. Phone Home, Superman III, and Clock & Dagger) e-mailed me saying he had remembered more stories from his Atari days. So we set up a second interview. This interview took place on November 14, 2017. “The project team was actually treated to a meal with Ray Kassar and some other executives in the executive dining room … it was like, one of the fanciest restaurants that you’ve ever been to.” “>Video version of this interview

Source:: ANTIC Interview 316B – Dave Comstock, part 2


ANTIC Interview 316 – Dave Comstock: E.T. Phone Home!, Superman III, Cloak & Dagger

Dave Comstock: E.T. Phone Home!, Superman III, Cloak & Dagger Dave Comstock worked at Atari from 1980 through 1984, first as a software and hardware tester, then as a programmer. Dave worked on three games for the Atari 8-bit computers: E.T. Phone Home!, Superman III, and Cloak and Dagger. A “>video version of this interview is also available. This interview took place on November 8, 2017. “He said ‘We’ve got to go out tonight, and it has to be a comedy.’ … He’s like, ‘I have something to tell you, and if I tell you we could both be fired.'” AtariMania’s list of Dave’s games Antic magazine article on the E.T. game Programmer Dave Comstock Talks About the Atari 5200 Version of Cloak and Dagger

Source:: ANTIC Interview 316 – Dave Comstock: E.T. Phone Home!, Superman III, Cloak & Dagger


ANTIC Interview 315 – Sarah Haskell, Computerized Weaving

Sarah Haskell, Computerized Weaving There’s a column in the November 1983 issue of Family Computing magazine, by Jon Zonderman: “Home Business — Compute, Control, and Create. A weaver combines the traditional skills of her craft with a computer and reaps more than one reward.” The article is about Sarah Haskell, a weaver who used an Atari computer to design patterns for weaving, and also to computer-control her loom. [Excerpts from the article.] My interview with Sarah took place on November 13, 2017. Teaser quote: “But with the electronic system, you did not have to get down on the floor and physically re-configure all of the treadles with these little metal hook things. You would basically just change it.” Article in Family Computing magazine Pictures of Sarah with an Atari 800 Macomber Looms and Me blog About Sarah Macomber Looms

Source:: ANTIC Interview 315 – Sarah Haskell, Computerized Weaving


ANTIC Interview 314 – Randall Lockwood, Choose-A-Pooch

Randall Lockwood, Choose-A-Pooch There’s an article in the August 1984 issue of Family Computing magazine, by Bill Camarda — Behind The Screens: Family Dog. It’s about Choose-A-Pooch, an Atari computer program created by Dr. Randall Lockwood, to help match people with the breed of dog that will work best in their living situation. I interviewed Dr. Lockwood on November 10, 2017. “Trying to get away from the fact that people were often choosing dogs based more on just appearance, without knowing that much about the breed.” Family Dog article in Family Computing magazine Randall Lockwood bio Bid-A-Wee Animal Shelter

Source:: ANTIC Interview 314 – Randall Lockwood, Choose-A-Pooch


ANTIC Interview 313 – Frank Schwartz and Richard Lewis, Virtusonics

Frank Schwartz and Richard Lewis, Virtusonics Last last year, I received a batch of Atari disks. One of the disks was labeled Virtuoso Play Mode Sampler — a music demonstration disk from Virtusonics, a company I had never heard of. Thanks to some old articles in Antic magazine, I learned a bit about the product and the company. In 1985, Nat Friedland first wrote about the Virtuoso software: “Virtuoso is such a unique new approach to musicmaking that it’s not easy to describe. … Virtuoso gives you a user-friendly method of tapping the extremely fast and powerful changes that a computer can control in every aspect of music performance. It bypasses the limits of traditional musical notation and uses an almost self-explanatory color graphic display that delivers mathematical insights into the structure of music. … In technical terms, Virtuoso is a sound generator that produces four voices from the POKEY chip. You can make instant real-time changes in the voices in any of six parameters. Four computers running Virtuoso can be linked together to have up to 16 independent channels controlled by one Atari.” Virtusonics was primarily three people: Frank Schwartz, the programmer; Joseph Lyons, the music guy; and Richard Lewis, the CEO. I have interviewed two of them. First you’ll hear my February 15, 2017 interview with the programmer/R&D director Frank Schwartz. Then, you’ll hear the February 10, 2017 interview with CEO Richard Lewis. I haven’t been able to interview the other partner, Joseph Lyons, who is serving 24 years to life in prison. After our interview, Richard Lewis sent me an envelope of Virtusonics papers and disks. The material includes the preliminary version of Virtuoso Software, and the final release which by then was called Virtuoso Desktop Performance Studio, boxes, manuals, flyers and advertising slicks, and stock prospectuses. I scanned and digitized all of the material, which is now available at the Internet Archive. Teaser quotes: Frank Schwartz: “Change the curvature of the sine wave just via software. And that was a concept which was revolutionary in those days.” Richard Lewis: “We were criticized by a lot of the top names in computers back in the ’80s. As, how that this small company in an apartment in New York City come up with something that we’ve been working on for years and we cant do?” Virtuoso Desktop Performance Studio software and scans Virtuoso Software Preliminary Version Virtuoso Play Mode Sampler demo video Virtusonics advertising slicks Virtusonics Stock Prospectuses Desktop Performace Studio unboxing Play it Again, Atari, Antic magazine The Story Behind Virtuoso, Antic magazine Desktop Video for Atari XL/XE, Antic magazine Joseph Lyons news (2000) Frank Schwartz, DJ Feral

Source:: ANTIC Interview 313 – Frank Schwartz and Richard Lewis, Virtusonics