spiritofatlantis.com | Duane K. McCullough

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My Computer Experience

by Duane K. McCullough

My first use of any computer was back in '63 when my father would let my older brother and I fly a B-52 flight simulator at Walker Air Force Base in Roswell, New Mexico. As an Air Force technician, it was my father's job to keep testing the one million-dollar computer simulator during maintenance hours. It was truly amazing how complex the engineering systems were even back then in simulating the flight of a large military jet.

In '75, at TIF Instruments near Miami Florida, while working there as a Graphic Artist, I saw the company's computer that was kept in a cool room. I remember the young computer operator telling me that very soon there will be small microchips available which uses sixteen thousand units of memory markers per microchip.

My first ownership of a computer was when my older brother and I bought an Atari 800XL home computer in '83. We chose it over the Commodore 64 because it was cheaper and seemed as good. Of all things a computer can do, the use as a comprehensive electric typewriter seemed perfect for my SPIRIT OF ATLANTIS book project I began back then. The Atari 800XL (2 MHz?) with its 64 K memory, worked with a TV as a monitor. It "gave up the ghost" after some two decades of use. An Antic software program called "Orbit: A trip to the Moon" by John Reagh was one of my favorite game simulators.

Late in '86, I bought an Atari 520ST for about $600 that only had half a million megabytes of memory. Feeling like a half a millionaire, I was happy to step into the modern Graphical User Interface world at much less cost than other popular computers. One of the main reasons I chose the 8 MHz Atari platform over the Apple and PC platforms was because I thought I could easily transfer my older Atari 800XL text files from my book project to the newer Atari system -- but, as it turned out, this was not the case. By the time I figured out to transfer my text files, I had completely recreated them again on the newer Atari. Also, the hardware and software for the Apple and PC computer platforms seemed way out of my price range. The Amiga home computer -- and its similar GEM operating system, was also an option, but the Atari slogan "power without the price" made sense at the time.

Using a 24-pin dot-matrix printer, the Atari 520ST did a good job in organizing my book project into a presentable layout. Both Atari computers did their job in consolidating my thoughts in print and thousands of hours were spent on learning how computers operate.

Acquiring another Atari computer in '89, an Atari 1040ST, I now had a full one million megabytes to explore more memory intensive programs. Among these were Tom Hudson's Cyber-studio and Degas Elite programs that allowed the use of 3-D graphics with my artwork. Music programs were also a strong side of the Atari platform. With a built-in MIDI hardware interface, the computer was very useful to musicians like myself. Better with a guitar than a keyboard, I did create several songs with the Atari ST -- and could still create more if I had the time.

The Atari 1040ST also came with a 20-megabyte hard drive -- but before I could take advantage of it in my work, it failed when someone "bumped the desk" and the drive head skewed across the drive platter. So without a hard drive, I had to publish my book project by using two floppies to transfer and compile my files. Software programs like PageStream 2.2 and Degas Elite were quite good in graphically arranging the many illustrations I created over the years. These home computers and a Star bubble-jet printer -- together with the use of a Sharp Z-70 copy machine, was all that was needed to create the first printings of my SPIRIT OF ATLANTIS book project.

During the early '90's I held off acquiring any new computers for two basic reasons -- the first, I didn't have the money, and second, I didn't need any more computing power. The Atari platform, although rapidly becoming an orphan system, did the job I needed. However, by the middle of the decade, what I needed was to get on the Internet and explore the many marketing options online. In '96, I could still access the online service of CompuServe with my Atari and visit many forums at 2400 baud. Sending E-mail across the Internet from my Atari by way of CompuServe may still be available even today -- although I have not tried it lately. Not bad for an old home computer from '89.

Before I finally decided to acquire a newer computer platform, I have to say that I'm sorry to see the Atari line of computers become orphaned. I always thought that the Atari OS would be reappear in some portable Apple clone computer because, like the Mac OS code, its 68030 Motorola CPU code was successfully transferred to the PowerPC chip by way emulation formulas. I should add that, although there are workable Atari emulators for both the PC and PowerPC platforms, I never bought any to fully test them out. I still on occasion, when I have time, like to fire up the old Atari and play space games like Frontier Elite 2 and Starglider 2. Other simulator programs like Flight Simulator, Orbiter and A320 Airbus are also still interesting.

As an avid reader of many computer magazines of the 90's like Byte, Computer Shopper and PC Computing, I was aware of the Wintel juggernaut phenomenon and was willing to join this mainstream computing system -- but still kept an open mind about the PowerPC choice of the Apple Mac OS option. The issue of compatibility is perhaps the most important issue in choosing a new computer platform. After experiencing what had happened to the Atari platform, it seemed like a gamble to choose anything but the common PC platform.

In December '96, the time was ripe for a new computer platform. Was it going to be the common PC option -- with its complex DOS set of command baggage smoothed over by Microsoft's Windows OS, or the unique Apple Mac OS option -- with its less complex set of RISC commands tied to hardware conformity. It seemed like the computer choice was either a business and pleasure machine or a business with pleasure machine.

Since most all of my existing software was not based on DOS or intensive spreadsheet database programs, and since the Mac OS uses a less complex CPU than other common CPU's associated with Microsoft's Windows OS, the choice favored the Apple platform over the common PC platform. I bought a Macintosh Performa 6360 PowerPC that operates at 160 MHz and still worked before I put it in a box in 2008 because of the lack of desktop space.

Actually, both the Window OS and Mac OS have their advantages and disadvantages. The way I saw it in '96 was, although there are several other OS's and CPU's systems that work for many, there were two primary CPU designs that are in serious competition for the harts and minds of future computer users -- the Intel/Windows and Motorola/Apple chips.

Graphical software programs by Adobe are good examples of the type of software writing that accommodate both chip platforms. I would not have bought certain 3D animation application programs like Ray Dream 3D or Amorphium if it were not available for the Mac OS. And game simulators like Micro Prose's Civilization 3 and Graphic Simulations' F/A-18 are just a sample of some software programs I also aquired because these software companies invested the time and money to write for both platforms.

Computers today are more than just the fancy electric typewriters of yesterday. Rising above all the great business and multimedia programs now available are certain entertainment programs that educate through simulated experiences of what happens aboard certain aircraft during flight. Flight simulation technology is perhaps why computers today run as fast as they do. The need to design the fastest and most effective electronic pathways on computer chips to answer the software commands of flight simulator programs is perhaps why we have over computers running at over 3 GHz today.

In '98, I acquired a 233 MHz WinBook XL notebook PC that allowed me to test my SPIRIT OF ATLANTIS book work in HTML code from the Mac OS on the Windows OS. I also acquired Microsoft's FLIGHT SIMULATOR 98 so I could enjoy the feeling of flying commercial aircraft without the cost and danger of the real thing. Other flight simulators like MicroProse Falcon 4.0, Parasoft's A-10 and Interactive Magic's F-22 were very educational in how they portray the flight of modern military jets.

And in '99, I bought AIRCRAFT FACTORY by Abacus - which allows the personal design and construction of many aircraft for FLIGHT SIMULATOR. X-PLANE by Laminar Research is a flight simulator program that can develop its own aircraft and scenery projects -- and it's found on both the Mac OS and Windows OS platforms. PRO-PILOT USA by Dynamix worked great on my 233 MHz WinBook PC. And the neatest astronomical time and space simulator is from Sienna Software called STARRY NIGHT - a fantastic and accurate way to study our celestial heavens.

At the turn of the Millennium, the new computer chip maker AMD was producing another viable option for the Window OS -- and the Mac OS was beginning to shift from Motorola's Power PC chips to Intel chips. After reading good reports about the AMD chip, I acquired a 500 MHz Hewlett Packard 6640C PC with a K62 AMD processor chip and experienced Microsoft's Flight Simulator 2000 program.

Electronic Arts' Flight Unlimited 3 was also a flight simulator program that implemented the first fully interactive, real time, Air Traffic Control System found on a home PC. And Terminal Reality's FLY! was one of the most detailed flight-sim I've experienced.

Late in '01, I acquired a 1.5 GHz HP 7959 with an Intel P4 for $950 that to this day is still working as one of my primary computers. The speed and cost of modern technology is absolutely amazing!

Perhaps my obsession with computer flight simulation can be traced back to my first exposure to computers when I flew the military B-52 computer simulator in '63 at Walker AFB near Roswell, New Mexico. Little did I realize back then that the evolution of computer flight simulation technology would become a primary means of educational entertainment in the home from computers costing a few hundred dollars.

Designing and testing theoretical aircraft designs that work from the water surface is also very interesting to me -- and what better way to do both from a computer workstation. Using a computer workstation and the free modeling program called Anim8or, I created a set of seaplane designs that could revolutionize global marine transportation someday. One design version simply "hops" from site to site using theoretical thermal-electric thrusters -- while the more advanced design uses sub orbital "jumps" through space between sites at subsonic speeds. Although years from actual production, I feel that these seaplane designs can help usher in a new age of aeronautical ships that could make more affordable travel between coastal communities without conventional major airports.

In early '03, I discovered a Direct X based program by Ilan Papini called Virtual Sailor -- which, over time, was united with another simulation program also created by Ilan called Micro-Flight, that became the program known as Vehicle Simulator. These programs allowed artist like myself to design over time all types of virtual vehicles, such as boats, planes, cars, and place them in custom scenery projects based within the program. In effect, I have discovered the means to design and create a virtual world using these programs where all objects -- including plants, buildings, and even animated animals that fly or swim, can be controlled.

The Vehicle Simulator computer program allows for very realistic simulation of vehicles within day and night operations using GPS navigation -- including underwater exploration activity. It also displays dynamic wave action movement in real time and is capable of simulating true aeronautical flight. It has online access to many free vehicle models and scenery projects in which to experiment with.

After nearly a decade of building 3D models and scenery projects for the Virtural Sailor and Micro-Flight programs, I created in '11 a "World Playground" scenery project for Vehicle Simulator that as of late '12 has been downloaded almost five-thousand times from the hangsim.com add-on library website.

Modern aerospace technology and aircraft flight simulation systems would not be what they are today without the number crunching ability of modern computers. Included in my SPIRIT OF ATLANTIS book project is graphical and historical data that suggest our ancient ancestors once used simple aircraft designs. It is interesting to note that the historical subject of Atlantis and the recent space shuttle named ATLANTIS reflect a unique special scientific link in our imaginations. Perhaps our scientific knowledge of modern aerospace technology can be traced to some ancient flying machines from the lost age of Atlantis.

And speaking of aerospace technology, there now exist a great space simulator program called "Orbiter 2010" that also can use 3ds models that I'm currently studying. Understanding other 3D space related programs like "Celestia" and "Universal Sandbox" are also on my study list.

Over the last few years I have also built three new computers that has allowed me to understand the complexities involved in matching computer software with computer hardware. Using Intel's high capacity I7 microchips and Nividia's high speed graphic's cards on ASUS and GIGABYTE motherboards, I have had no problems in visualizing any 3D model projects in great detail.

Someday soon, a virtual reality flight simulator machine of the future will be created and display wondrous views of a virtual world as fantastic as the real one we live on. I hope to be there when it happens.

In the meantime, some of my current 3D modeling projects use programs like Chief Architect's "Home Designer 8" and Google's "Sketch-up 8" to model several nearby cabin building projects. These projects can be seen from my therealmgallery.com website under the link of "Home Design Projects".

I should also mention that the HTML code of all three of my online websites -- therealmgallery.com, lostfountain.com and spiritofatlantis.com, were written by me using a simple text program. The HTML code used in my personal website at fineartamerica.com is created by a script program that comes with the service.

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