Del McCool interviews Sijmen Schouten
This month I want to cover one of the hottest upgrades for the 8-bit Ataris and it comes from the Netherlands, not the USA. Sijmen and Sandra Schouten, (Mr Atari and Jar Jar on the chat pages) donate a lot of their spare time to their hobby involving Atari computers.
Sijmen Schouten hard at work
I have been fortunate to have my Atari 130XE on loan to Sijmen right now for the MyIDE upgrade, and this allows him time to work on reworking the code for the XE version. I asked Sijmen if he'd mind doing an interview for this month's MyAtari Magazine.
Del: Can you give me a brief background of how you got started with the Atari computers?
Sijmen: Best you can read my article in ilife magazine too, www.atari.myweb.nl/camfotos/ILIFEUK.jpg. But why I chose Atari, I don't know. It was the best computer to buy at that time and it cost me only $700.
Del: When did you decide you'd like to create hardware modifications for the 8-bit Atari line?
Sijmen: Many years ago, in fact just after I got my Atari. But I must say, I never intended to develop hardware for the A8-line. The main goal was to satisfy my need to explore and learn from experiments. The first item I made from Lego could scan pictures. It used a light source, a photo-cell and a magnifying glass.
It took over one hour to digitize one picture. I even tried to have it patented.
The whole program was in BASIC and adapted for the C64 by a friend, too. The hardware was driven via the joystick ports and runs on any computer with these ports. The real hardware-making started when I converted the scanner to my Star LC-10 printer.
The printer was too fast for the 50 Hz sampling of the A8. So I designed and made my own A/D converter (from 2 555-timers, a counter and a flip-flop), 8-bit 256 Hz or 4-bit 4 KHz. After that I built my own EPROM-burner, which I still use.
A modification on a 320 KB memory expansion for A8 (had a refresh bug from the magazine I built it from) and a low-cost (Centronics) printer interface that used only two chips. I like to develop simple but powerful hardware, and most recently the MyIDE-interface. I made the (only) prototype (Atari 800) for my good friend Greg Goodwin. It had the OS built-in. The XE cartridge versions I make sometimes for a good trade (www.atari.myweb.nl/hardware-intro.htm).
Del: Your 8-bit IDE interface opens a door that was once only open to the SCSI hard drive with a Black Box for the 8-bit computers. Why is an IDE hard drive such a useful tool with an Atari 8-bit computer?
Sijmen: Good question. I think simplicity is the main answer. The interface consists basically of three logic ICs and is very easy to build. The software version patches the OS and drives the IDE port via the standard SIO routine.
The OS version has some deeper and more powerful routines, for booting, image loading and copying disks to hard drive and back.
Del: With all this work on the interface and code, how do you have time to stay so involved in your other Atari ventures?
Sijmen: Hardly. I must find a compromise between "things I must finish" and the "fun part". I even started working one day less per week to get enough time for my hobby; luckily my boss was so nice. Mostly I go for the fun part and leave the must finish things to the last minute :-)
Del: Your wife is also heavily involved with you in the Atari world; does this help you stay more focused on your hobby?
Sijmen: Yes. If my wife wasn't that much into my hobby too, I think I would never have taken my hobby to the extent it is now. Sometimes I think I have gone too far and my wife always backs me up then. Love my wife!
Del: Is there anything else you'd like to share with the readers of MyAtari Magazine?
Sijmen: Besides collecting Atari, it is great fun to play, too.
Unfortunately there aren't (many) games released anymore for the Atari platform. But I find Atari games fun, great game-play and have a catchy topic. Most collectors forget this part of Atari... "Have you played Atari today?"
Del: Thank you for the interview.