Atari BASIC, My First Programming Experience

drawingAs I try to mine the depths of my mind, I can recall many early experiences with programming.  Borrowing the 3.5″ floppies for a C compiler from school…  Writing “DoubleComm”, a small C application that married the input/output from two modems for a simultaneous “browsing” experience with your friends…  My first HTML…  But those are from later.

Atari BASIC was my first programming language.  Of course I probably typed in the standard 10 PRINT “HELLO” / 20 GOTO 10 / RUN and other random snippets on my own.  Those would have been the absolute first programs–my very beginnings as a software developer. But my best programs were copied directly out of books.

Memories of three main books from my Atari days stand out here. One was just the Atari BASIC manual (I think).  It was spiral bound with a plastic binding that sometimes let the pages slip out of it.  I think it had some program in it the played music, or showed a bird flying, or something like that.  The next book definitely calls for a more in-depth blog post than just this off-hand mention, but they were adventure books that had you type in a BASIC program that did something that went along with the story.

BASIC Computer GamesThe one I want to focus on here was probably my first programming book.  Filled with goofy illustrations and lines and lines of BASIC program code, I have a feeling I spent a lot of time with this.  I think I can almost remember being driven home from the bookstore in the mall, book on my lap.  Probably Waldenbooks at Alderwood Mall.  Thumbing through the pages… Trying to decide which program to invest all of that typing time into first (could I touch-type at that age?  I really doubt it).

Some of these programs I definitely remember inputting.  Hamurabi, for instance, I know I did.  Probably Blackjack (much to the chagrin of my then church if they had known).  I’m almost sure that I probably did the Star Trek one, and was almost certainly incredibly frustrated with typos and all of the almost unreadable gibberish of that lengthy program code.

The kids of today will never know the joys of typing in a BASIC computer program from a book like this.  The feeling of accomplishment at finishing the last line and typing RUN.  I probably never will, either.  I tried to type one of these small programs in to an emulator emulating an Atari 130XE in BASIC and couldn’t even do the first line without getting an error message.  Maybe I’ll try again later…

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