1) Hi Karl, please tell us a bit more about yourself. Who are you? And what do you do in life?
I am from County Wicklow in Ireland, living today in Dublin with my family. I am a full-time Dad right now, but my wife gives me the weekends off :-)
2) Tell us about your history in computing. How did it start and when did you become a total Atari addict?
I saw my first computer when I was living in England in the 1970s. I still remember watching my father loading programs on punch cards and saving them on those large reel to reel tape drives! When my parents moved back to Ireland my father was working for DEC
(Digital Equipment Corporation) and I loved going into his office and playing with VT-100
terminals and sitting inside the big "computer room" that hummed with the sound of climate control fans, large VAX computers
and whirring magnetic drives. As I mention in the introduction of Volume One of the book ('We Love Atari - Volume 1
'), my first computer was a Rainbow 100
with a green screen VDU, not exactly something your friends wanted to come around and play with! My first "real" computer was an 800XL
and 1010 cassette drive, when I loaded Star Raiders
, I couldn't believe how amazing it was. So, 1984 was the year of Atari addiction for me! I worked for the official Atari (and Commodore) distributor in Ireland for a time after college, it was the closest I got to really working for Atari! I sold a lot of Atari STs instead of Amigas!
3) Please forgive me if I'm mistaken, but I think you have been an Atari scener for quite a while now. You are also the author of the Atari Explorer website, and I remember this site from way back? Is that possible? Can you tell us about this project?
I was at work one day using a odd unsupported Microsoft product to develop an internal hyper-text based "intranet" support system and had access to the early animated GIF ridden internet where I was looking for better software to do the job. During a search (using Altavista for anyone who remembers!) I stumbled upon a website called "Atari Vapourware and Prototypes", which I immediately clicked on. Then I contacted the site owner who turned out to be Curt Vendel and we've been friends ever since. I set-up a website called "The Atari Time Machine" in 1998, and it turned into a project called "Atari Explorer" and I was the European contact for Curt's new Atari Historical Society, and helped him update his website. Interesting fact, I broke the news about Infogrames buying Atari from Hasbro because I was working for a company who was dealing directly with them at the time and he knew I was an Atari nut :-) The Atari Explorer website was something I put together to broaden the reach of Atari history on the internet, and I think the old website is still available online if you search for it.
4) I recently acquired your amazing books 'We Love Atari' volumes 1 & 2 and I'm totally blown away by the magnitude and depth of it all. Why did you want to create this series? And how long did it take to gather all this information?
Thank you for the kind words about the books, Maarten! I suppose it was the natural progression from the website to a book that made me want to do it. As much as I love the internet and its value as a resource, I am a book lover. Nothing can beat a book sitting on your shelf which requires no internet or electronic device to access. I've been collecting Atari ever since I got my 800XL in 1984, I kept as much paperwork as I could over the years, lost a lot during various moves unfortunately, but kept on collecting on as best as I could. So nearly 25 years of collecting and saving Atari machines and paperwork!
5) When did you know you wanted to write these books? Can you tell about the origins of this project?
Of course, there is no point collecting all this stuff and putting it in a box, so I wanted to share it. Some collectors out there hoard their Atari treasures, whereas I wanted to show them to all those Atari nuts like me who didn't collect anything, but loved Atari. The website was a way of doing that, but I felt a book was even better. The other reason I wanted to make a book was the lack of Atari history out there, and the lack of any real acknowledgment of Atari's history by the mainstream IT historians. Atari was always some footnote to Apple or IBM history, that always bothered me. In 2004/05 I approached Curt Vendel about doing a book and he liked the idea. I started putting some ideas on paper, but some other projects we had been working on such as "Bidiots!" (a retro collectors eBay), "Awesome Arcades" (Curt's arcade machine business), and a short-lived re-launch of "Microprose
" (as a hardware peripheral business) got in the way of the book project. Then we both had kids during these years and life goes on. Curt began a book called "Business is Fun
", and I started work on my own book "We Love Atari". Although Curt wasn't involved directly in the design or writing of my book, he shared some great images with me as can be seen in the credits section of both books, and am I very grateful for his help.
6) Microprose? Can you tell a little bit more about that project?
The IP of Microprose was available and a contact Curt Vendel knew developed a relationship to firstly sell high-end cables such as HDMI etc, and cable/satellite boxes, using the Microprose branding. The money from this may or may not have helped develop the brand further and perhaps utilise the IP for software again. I built a website for the products, but that is a far as I went with it. I'm not 100% sure what happened after that, but it obviously didn't get much further.
7) Have you met big names from the Atari world while writing these books?
I've never met anybody "high-up" directly from Atari unfortunately, and I missed Atari at CeBit
in 1994 by one lousy year (although I did see the Commodore stand!). I have been very lucky to communicate with the late Les Player, and other Atari management such as Ira Goldstein, Richard Miller, James Grunke, Tracy Hall and Tim King among others, all who were extremely nice people and helped as much as they could. I find peoples' memories aren't as good on details some 20 or 30 years after an event, mine included! I got some great insights into Atari and some key information for the books from these ex-Atari people, and many others.
8) You self-publish the books using the Zafinnbooks brand. What does Zafinn stand for? And are you planning to write more Atari-related content?
You have to have a name, so I used Zafinn, which is simply my children's names "Zak and Finn" = Zafinn :-) I have a little Atari project I am working on for 2020...
9) Care to share a little detail of that new Atari project?
Let's just say it is for ST lovers :-)
10) Was the 'We love Atari' project a hobby thing? You didn't do a Kickstarter I believe? Or did you?
Yes, it was a hobby thing really. I didn't use Kickstarter
because I didn't want to take people's money for a product that I didn't have, and I think a lot of the projects on Kickstarter are sometimes overpriced and don't deliver for the backers who funded the original products, especially some of the books on there. That is a personal view, but I have backed a Kickstarter project before which delivered a solid end product. So, I funded the books, which was risky, but as long as I paid my costs I was happy to share the books to whoever wanted a copy, and I have been humbled at the response so far.
11) What is your personal favorite Atari machine and why?
The Atari ST
. I love the story of its creation and the way it brought powerful computing to everybody for a great price. I think it is still underrated as a milestone in home computing, but it was a great machine and I love it even if it makes me sad to think how much better it could have evolved if it had been better handled by Atari Corp.
12) You told us you are not a collector, but you gotta have some machines, right?
I don't collect Atari hardware anymore, although I am still looking for a Stacy and a Megafile 44 :-) I have a 2600, 5200, 7800, XEGS, XL and XE computers, Lynx, 130/260/520/1040 ST and STE. Mega 1, MegaSTE, TT030, Falcon030, dead ST Book, Video Music, Touch Me, CDAR504, various peripherals and software, calculators etc. So, I have a few bits and pieces :-) I love Atari memorabilia, so if you have anything interesting including old computer adverts etc, let me know! (Especially looking for anything Atari Corp. in Europe, like ST ads etc).
13) Are you a gamer? What is your favorite game of all time?
Not as much as I was in the 80's! My main claim to fame is finishing Tomb Raider
on my Playstation! My favourite game on my Atari is Star Raiders (Rescue on Fractalus
a close second) and on the ST it has to be Elite
a close second). The modern games I like best are any of the Fallout
series, except Fallout 76, so I am hoping Bethesda with do a Fallout 5 single player sometime in the future.
14) Do you still use Atari today?
STeem and a few other Atari emulators are on my PC! As for real hardware, I am currently planning on setting up one of my STs with a nice SM144 and SC1435 very soon - when I clear my office a bit more!
15) To me, 'We Love Atari' seems like the most amazing thing but ... is there something else you would really like to accomplish in life?
Good question! I just want to be happy and healthy, anything else is a bonus. I've always wanted to be a better musician, and I have plans to write a novel one day if time allows.
16) Oh, so you are a musician as well? Can you tell a bit more about that? What instruments do you play? Did you also use the Atari for this job? You want to write a novel, about your music?
I say musician, but I definitely make some noises! I played a bit with a Yamaha PS-680 hooked up to my Mega 1 back in the early 90's, but didn't do anything else music-wise on the ST - apart from admire all the amazing chip musicians who made the YM2149
play some amazing tunes. I have a few synths here, my favourites being an Alesis Ion
and Waldorf Blofeld
, and even a nice little Twisted Electrons AY3 (dual AY 6-Channel) and a nice TherapSid (Dual MOS SID) which are fun to play around with. The DAW I use is my trusty Sony Acid Pro 7.0, but I'm slowly figuring out Reason and moving into a more modern music making environment. I also have a lovely Les Paul
guitar which keeps staring at me. The novel is definitely not about my noise making!
17) What is your biggest idol in the world of Atari, or in the computer world in general? And if you could pick any person to have a nice conversation with in the pub, who would it be?
The late Jack Tramiel
was my idol in the Atari world. In the computer world there are so many pioneers, so that is impossible to answer. If I was in the pub tonight, I'd actually love to spend some time with Shiraz Shivji
, the drinks are on me!
18) Do you have any last words of wisdom? Or perhaps tips for beginning writers out there?
I could not possibly provide any words of wisdom, but if there was one it would be plant a tree.
Never be afraid to write if it is something you want to do. If you do, my advice is to proof your work as much as you can (it is soul destroying when you see stupid errors in your work, I should know!), and write from the heart and ignore the people who are always negative about your work, they usually don't have anything positive to contribute anyway.
Thank you for the interview Karl!
For those who like to get more info on We Love Atari or buy a copy of the books, make sure to visit the Zafinnbooks website.