Monday, March 20, 2006


Hi, my name is Pab Sungenis. Some of you, especially those of you with an old Atari 130XE sitting in the back of your bedroom closet, may recognize my name.

From 1982 until 1994, I was the proud owner of and programmer for an Atari 800, then later an Atari 130XE. Like most people in those early, simpler, days of home computers, I was a firm believer in the theory that if you couldn't find a program that did what you wanted the way you wanted it to do it, then it was your responsibility (if not your privilege) to write a new program yourself.

Two programs best demonstrated my response to these necessities. In 1985-1986 I wrote and eventually released the AtariLink BBS software. This came out of necessity, since most Atari BBS programs at the time (especially FoReM and its bastard children) didn't fully support the 1030 modem that I used (or the XM301 that followed afterward). I eventually adapted the program to work with Atari's 1200 bps SX212 modem when that was released, and in the process threw the program open to just about every modem out there. AtariLink floated in the wild, passed from BBS to BBS for a while, before an Atari magazine (I forget which one) distributed the software as its disk of the month.

Shortly after AtariLink 2.0 was released, I went away to college and most of my programming took a back seat to academic and other concerns, especially my burgeoning career as a broadcaster. Back from college in 1991, I resumed my love of on-line communication, which at that time still meant BBS's. This was when I first discovered national networks like FidoNet and ILink, which meant that discussions which used to take place between 5-10 people on a local basis could involve 50 or more people around the world. This meant a lot more messages to read.

IBM users (which is still how I think of DOS/Windows users in the back of my mind, since that's what DOS users predominantly were in the late '80's and early '90's) had an answer: download messages and read them off-line, then upload your replies. They used a file format called QWK to do that. I wanted to do that, too, but was reassured time and time again that you could never condense a QWK reader to an 8-bit, 128K system.

That sounded like a gauntlet being thrown down, and PabQwk was the result in 1993. Two major releases took place, 1.1 and 2.0 (which was a complete rewrite of the program into Action!), before disaster struck.

My 130XE, by then upgraded to 576K and using a hard drive through Bob Puff's Black Box interface, finally died. I don't know whether it was a memory problem or the CPU itself, but it just stopped working. By that time I had appeared on the nationally syndicated game show Jeopardy!, where I came in second to a guy who would later go on to be a five-time winner back when they only let you win five times before retiring you. My prize for coming in second was a ZEOS 486DX laptop, which arrived in the spring of 1994. When the Atari finally died during the summer, I transitioned on to the laptop and you could say an end of an era had taken place.

Unfinished Business.

One unfortunate result of my Atari's death was that some major projects of mine had to come to a halt, including one I really wanted to be involved in. In 1993, ICD (manufacturers of the R-Time8 cartridge, the US Doubler, and SpartaDOS) sold out to a company called FTE. (I found, and still do, their full name to be ludicrous and prefer to use the acronym.) The founders of FTE had seen some of my SpartaDOS utilities and articles I had written (for "Atari Classics" magazine) on the internals of that DOS. Their head honcho contacted me, and offered me a deal I couldn't pass up: I was going to be part of the team developing the planned SpartaDOS 5!

My first big job was going to be writing the hard drive defragmenter for the new SpartaDOS. I was just handling some finer points of memory management (which threatened to be a bitch) for the defragger when the machine went boom. As a result, I had to drop out of the project (I ended up not even having a chance to sign my NDA before leaving the company) which is just as well since the next generation of SpartaDOS never saw the light of day, anyhow. A few of my utilities (like MOVE and I think MAP) made their way into later releases of SpartaDOS X 4.1, but I sometimes wonder if I had been able to stay at the wheel, might SpartaDOS 5 have been finished in time? The world will never know.

Rising like a phoenix....

Not long ago I finally downloaded the Atari800WinPlus XE emulator, and started tooling around. One of the first ATR "disks" I got ended up having a copy of PabQwk 2.0 on it, and all my memories started flooding back. I resolved, then and there, to once again start programming for the Atari 8-bits. I started up this blog to document my "work" (it really is, and always has been, play for me, even when tackling a major project) as it progresses, and to share my thoughts, and occasionally some code, on my upcoming "projects." You might be surprised at what I have up my sleeve, or at least in my dreams, and I invite you all along for the ride.