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Classic Games (Games) Entertainment Games

A History of Atari — the Golden Years 170

simoniker writes "Over at Gamasutra, Steve Fulton has published a massive 23,000-word history of Atari from 1978 to 1981, encompassing '... some of the most exciting developments the company ever saw in its history: the rise of the 2600, the development of some of the company's most enduringly popular games (Centipede, Asteroids) and the development and release of its first home computing platforms.' Best quote in there for Slashdot readers, perhaps: 'Atari had contracted with a young programmer named Bill Gates to modify a BASIC compiler that he had for another system to be used on the 800. After that project stalled for over a year Al was called upon to replace him with another developer. So ... Al is the only person I know ever to have fired Bill Gates.'"
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A History of Atari — the Golden Years

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    We had a 2600 with a whole bunch of games. It was played with often.

    One day we left it out and attached to the TV. My father said if he saw that we left it out once more, it would disappear forever.

    Sure enough, 2 days later it disappeard forever. We never even asked him about it. We knew it was history.

    Looking back, we never really missed it. It wasn't all that important to us then. (1980 - 6th grade)

    • Have you ever mentioned to your father that he was a complete douchebag?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by PitaBred ( 632671 )

        Because he enforced consequences for actions, and stuck to his word? I don't see a problem with that. I only had to lose a few toys I really liked before I started learning how to pick things up. There's no saying that their father threw it out... perhaps he just sold it or gave it away. Either way, it's called "parenting".

        Just because the Atari cost more than other toys shouldn't make it any less susceptible to the rules.

        • "Because he enforced consequences for actions, and stuck to his word?" No, because he lacked a sense of proportionality. How about "leave it out again, and lose it for a week... and the next time it will be for a month"? He's as bad as the Russians in Georgia. Or the US in Iraq. "Just give me an excuse to show you how tough I can be."
          • No, because he lacked a sense of proportionality. How about "leave it out again, and lose it for a week... and the next time it will be for a month"?

            WTF? Are you competing for having the biggest loser dad? Let's see how your argument stacks up against life:

            * If you don't clean those grease traps, you're fired. (Damn--your boss should have had a sense of proportionality and just sent you to time-out for a few minutes.)

            * If you drive drunk, you go to jail. (Damn--that officer should have had a sense of proportionality and just told you to 'It better not happen again'.

            * If you don't pay your rent, you get kicked out. (Damn--your landlord should

            • 1) I imagine if I ever had a crap job involving grease traps and I didn't clean them, I would probably get a warning before I got fired. I will defer to your grease trap cleaning experiences, though.

              2) I would hazard to guess that more than half of the people who get busted for DUI get off with a fine and/or suspended sentence. No jail time.

              3) If you are late with your rent, there are normally laws that allow for some level of protection against being thrown out for being one day late with the rent once

  • There was a space flight simulator for the 2600 that resembled Battlestar Galactica, except that you could turn on your shields that tinted the screen blue.

    Does anyone know the name of this game?


    • Would that be the one that had the additional control pad? I recall a space flight game that I had with an additional controller with at least a dozen buttons on it. If we're thinking of the same game, I'll check through my collection when I get home and see if I can find it again.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Star Raiders.

    • by lymond01 ( 314120 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @06:22PM (#24696799)

      Star Raiders []

    • I have the opposite problem. I have a Star Raiders cartridge and a working 2600, but I don't have the special controller needed to play the game. (So as a child, I'd plug in the game periodically, see only the 4x4 grid, die, think "this game sucks", and play Adventure or Jungle Quest instead.)

      Is there any way to get the special controller? Or better yet, homebrew one?
      • Correction: By "Jungle Quest", I mean "Jungle Hunt". A short and simple game, but lots o' fun.
      • You want the Atari Video Keypad []. You should be able to find it on ebay pretty easily. I have a local game shop that trades in every system they can get hold of, so I was able to buy mine there for around $4.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by steveha ( 103154 )

      As others have noted, the classic space combat game is Star Raiders []. But Star Raiders was excellent on the Atari 800 and 400 computers; the official Atari version for 2600 was, IMHO, very poor.

      Happily, the Activision folks made an excellent knockoff of Star Raiders called Starmaster []. The most important parts of the Star Raider experience are there: you can raise and lower shields, you have a galactic map, you have multiple star bases, the enemy will surround and destroy the star bases, you can get damaged

  • who would of thought (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 21, 2008 @06:15PM (#24696689)

    that today they sue their fans [] and anybody who gives a negative review of their games []

    oh how the mighty has fallen

    • by eln ( 21727 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @06:22PM (#24696795)

      To be fair, the company now known as Atari has virtually no relation to the company known as Atari in the late '70s and early '80s.

      • by AceofSpades19 ( 1107875 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @06:51PM (#24697235)
        so its like SCO?
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Right. The current Atari was Infogrames

    • by Nursie ( 632944 )

      Yup, they're now in bed with a very dodgy outfit that get their intelligence from a company who've been widely discredited across the EU. But not the UK yet.

      Sending out thousands of "pay us or go to court" fishing mails, suing people and crowing about a 16K judgment made in absentia (that's right, she'd moved and the judgement was a default - ie not worth the paper it's written on as a precedent and open to a range of appeal options).

      yay atari!

    • by Chyeld ( 713439 ) <> on Thursday August 21, 2008 @07:27PM (#24697625)

      The original Atari has been dead and buried for a long time now.

      Atari is a corporate and brand name owned by several entities since its inception in 1972. It is currently owned by Atari Interactive, a wholly owned subsidiary of the French publisher Infogrames Entertainment SA (IESA).[1]Atari Interactive has in turn licensed the brand name and assets to Atari, Inc. (NASDAQ: ATAR), a 51% majority owned subsidiary of Infogrames Entertainment SA (IESA), encompassing its North American operations.

      The original Atari Inc. was founded in 1972 by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney. It was a pioneer in arcade games, home video game consoles, and home computers. The company's products, such as Pong and the Atari 2600, helped define the computer entertainment industry from the 1970s to the mid 1980s.

      In 1984, the original Atari Inc. was split, and the arcade division was turned into Atari Games Inc..Atari Games received the rights to use the logo and brand name with appended text "Games" on arcade games, as well as rights to the original 1972 - 1984 arcade hardware properties. The Atari Consumer Electronics Division properties were in turn sold to Jack Tramiel's Tramel Technology Ltd., which then renamed itself to Atari Corporation. In 1996, Atari Corporation reverse merged with disk drive manufacturer JT Storage (JTS), becoming a division within the company.

      Atari Interactive started as a subsidiary of Hasbro Interactive, after Hasbro Interactive acquired all Atari Corporation related properties from JTS in 1998.IESA in turn acquired Hasbro Interactive in 2001, and proceeded to rename it to Infogrames Interactive. In 2003, IESA then changed the company name entirely to Atari Interactive.

      The company that currently bears the name Atari Inc. was founded in 1993 under the name GT Interactive. IESA acquired a 62% controlling interest in GT Interactive in 1999, and proceeded to rename it Infogrames, Inc. After IESA's acquirement of Hasbro Interactive and its related Atari properties in 2001, Infogrames, Inc. intermittently published Atari branded titles for Infogrames Interactive. In 2003, Infogrames Inc. licensed the Atari name and logo from Atari Interactive and changed its name to Atari Inc. Currently, Atari Inc. develops, publishes and distributes games for all major video game consoles, as well as for the personal computer, and is currently one of the largest third-party publishers of video games in the United States.

      The current "Atari" is actually a company that used to be known as Infogrames and mostly changed their name to get out from under their rep of being purveyors of crap.

    • Today's Atari is an insult to the historical company. Now it is nothing but a brand name, maybe some long-lost trademarks/IP and a bunch of dirty corporate slugs who are milking the name to death.

      First they got bought out by that idiot Tramiel, the guy who pumped and dumped Commodore. They still managed to produce the 520ST and 1040ST, which were kind of proto-Macs. Then came the underpowered Jaguar and Lynx, both huge flops!

      "Classic Atari" was pretty much dead by then, no good console to sell, and no de

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by mattack2 ( 1165421 )

        Umm, the Lynx was a color handheld, released over 9 years before the GameBoy got color. (According to wikipedia, Atari Lynx was introduced September 1989, and the GameBoy Color was introduced October 21, 1998 in Japan.)

        (No, I'm not a huge Atari Lynx fanboy -- I bought one used, a long time after they stopped selling them, on the net for like $50.. I only ever got one or two games for it.)

        • by genner ( 694963 )
          The Lynx was the only good thing Atari made in the 90's. It flopped because of the priceing. It was the Neo Geo of hand helds. Awesome but out of most people's price range.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by sesshomaru ( 173381 )
          Which games did you buy for it? I can give you a top five list:

          1. Gates of Zendocon: I really like this shooter, it's both relatively mindless and pretty creative.

          2. Chip's Challenge: I think this is probably the best puzzle game for the Lynx.

          3. Zarlor Mercenary: Well, if you like Shoot 'Em Ups, this one is a good one.

          4. Ninja Gaiden III: It's a duplicated of the NES version, if you liked the NES Ninja Gaiden games you'll like this one.

          5. Xenophobe: There are a few different choices I co

        • by Ilgaz ( 86384 )

          If you look at Apple history, you see they made stuff like Apple TV and even digital camera before anyone could imagine it. I think they were too early to ship Lynx or Jaguar and their usual "so bite me" attitude to Developers paid back.

          I remember 65xx ASM/C developer friends trading "super secret" like documents between them. The big secret? POKEY chip! Yes, they had to find some secret hacker documents to program the sound chip of machine (800XL). Atari also almost sued their turkish distributor for print

          • It's true... the problem is that Atari was, much like Nintendo, a major player in the software market. Giving away open documentation would have enabled 3rd parties to compete with Atari on the software front, which they saw as a threat.

            Meanwhile, the PC flourished not on technical merits, but on developer support. Where would the PC be today, if the average VB moron didn't have the ability to write and distribute random apps ?

    • After reading TFA (I know, I know), that seems pretty damn in line for Atari. Any time someone started making games that competed with theirs, they sued.
  • How Atari Failed (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 21, 2008 @06:32PM (#24696947)

    My father was a die-hard Atari user back in those days. I remember asking him why Atari was not as popular as it used to be as the years went by, and I'll never forget his answer:

    "Because Apple went to lunch with the schools, IBM went to lunch with the companies, and Atari didn't go to lunch with anybody."

    I never learned how much truth there was in that answer, but I really liked his response! That, and his "Join the Revolution! Buy an Atari!" stamper.

    • Wrong. Atari went to lunch with Stephen Spielburg. []

    • Atari found out with the 5200 that nobody wanted to buy a new system unless it ran the old legacy games, so the 7800 was made that ran the old 2600 games, but by that time the Intellivision, Colecovision had 2600 adapters and dozens of 2600 clones were being sold and anyone and their dog could make a 2600 game because Atari did not handle the game licensing properly.

      By the time Atari got their act together, Nintendo ate their lunch with the NES or Famicom systems and Atari had millions of ET 2600 games they

      • crushed them and put them in landfills in New Mexico near Devil's Tower

        Devil's Tower is in Wyoming. :-) The landfill where all the E.T. cartridges went to their eternal sleep is in Alamogordo, NM.
        • Thanks my son had an allergic food allergy while I was writing it and I had to finish it up fast because I couldn't figure out what my wife was talking about because it was thundering outside at the same time, and I thought she was trying to tell me to shut off my computer before it gets fried. I later learned my son developed hives from eating some snack with whey and milk cultures in it and might be allergic to milk, though he's eaten the same food before without a reaction. Might be something else instea

      • landfills in New Mexico near Devil's Tower

        Ya know, having been there, I'm pretty sure Devil's Tower is in Wyoming. :)

        Trippy place, everyone should visit it if given the chance. And since you'll be nearby, check out Mount Rushmore, just over the border in South Dakota (then leave South Dakota as soon as you're done). Other things to see in Wyoming include the Grand Tetons (which make the Rockies look rather sickly in comparison), and Yellowstone National Park (where Old Faithful is, among other things). Oh,

        • by Pope ( 17780 )

          The Grand Tetons are part of the Rockies, FYI.

        • With all the things to do in South Dakota... the fact that you'd single out Mount Rushmore as "the best" shows that you aren't aware of the beauty of the area surrounding it. Next time you are out that way, skip the stop at Rushmore and drive along the nearby section of Route 16-A that traces curves around the Black Hills. Then head into Custer Park and see over a thousand buffalo on the Wildlife Loop. After a few hours of driving on this path, you'll take back what you said about turning around in SD af
          • With all the things to do in South Dakota... the fact that you'd single out Mount Rushmore as "the best" shows that you aren't aware of the beauty of the area surrounding it.

            Don't try to fool me. I drove across the entire state, thus my advice to see Mt. Rushmore and immediately leave. Unless you like playing with Buffalo or tumbleweeds, it's basically frickin' Mars. Some people like living in desolation, but I'm not one of them. At least on Mars, you'd have some fun with the lower gravity.

            • I don't disagree that the majority of driving in SD sucks, but I was through that area last week and can assure you that there's more to see than tumbleweeds. It isn't just a matter of getting off the main roads. You need to get off, and also know which side roads to take. And it's doubtful that your GPS will guide you through the right ones because the best ones have speed limits set to 15 MPH.
          • Don't forget the Corn Palace! I drove my family from northeast Nebraska to Rapid City to visit some friends, and the Corn Palace billboards became a running joke: "Only 36 miles to the Corn Palace!", then "Only 34 1/2 miles to the Corn Palace!", etc.

            Oh, and same for Wall Drug, except that it was interesting on its own and not for ironic reasons.

  • And what's best (Score:5, Informative)

    by 4D6963 ( 933028 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @06:32PM (#24696951)
    30 years later they still have people making brand new original games for the Atari 2600 like this one [] or that one []!
  • by CrazyJim1 ( 809850 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @06:32PM (#24696953) Journal
    I played Atari from when I was 3 until I was 8(1984-C64+ 1985-NES). I can't see anyone having played more hours of it than I did. I don't know. For some reason, I wanted to be the best video game player in the world. A video game allows children an outlet to their problem solving and reflex desires. I saw Atari 2600 as something new to my generation, so I played it as hard as possible. I figured that I may not be able to compete at games that have been around longer than I have because people had the age advantage on me. But video games were fresh so I put all my effort in them to get better. I was #1 in Starcraft for a while, and #1 in Warcraft 3 for a while too.

    But as cool as it sounds to be the best in video games in the world... It really is hard to rate a video game player. You have all different genre of games.

    No one probably cares, but I have memories. One of the memories was 1983 when I thought Atari 2600 should just keep making games. I never thought to myself that the video games could get better though with more powerful computing. Just breathing in today's world is living the dream for a video game player. And once you played out all the video games, you have the potential to make games too.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Chyeld ( 713439 )

      I too was addicted to the Atari. Both the 2600 and later the ST when we had one. But for me it was always the deeply held belief that if I could just last a bit longer, I might reach the end. Or at least 'something special' would happen.

      I wanted to beat Pitfall. I wanted to see if there was an end to River Raid.

      Cosmic Ark, Riddle of the Sphinx, the Swordquest games. These all surely had to have some sort of ending... and I wanted to know what it was. The 'stories' that came with the games certainly implied

    • This is absolutely true - when I was younger and the Commodore-64 was just going out of style in favor of things like console games, or even "IBM-PC" games, I swore a solemn oath that when I grew up and became a real videogame programmer, all my games would support the Commodore 64.

      I grew up to write financial software instead... and it all runs on the Commodore-64!

      Ok, no, that last part is a lie.

  • Atari AGAIN? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 21, 2008 @06:36PM (#24697003)

    Listen, could you pseudo-gamer-journalists stop writing about Atari's history? We've all heard and read about it a million times. We ALL know about Atari. We all know about Ralph Baer, Higgenbotten, and that Centipede was designed by a woman. Now, how about some REAL history even us old gamers don't know about?

    What was it like working for Cinematronics? What was their culture like? Why did they go out of business? What was it like being on the Dragon's Lair team (and I don't mean just talking to Don Bluth and Rick Dyer; that's been done to death. What about everyone else like the tech developers? Did they think it would take off? What about the teams involved in vector games? What was that like?)

    How about Universal? What happened to them? What was it like working there? The art department must have been a trippy place considering the fascinating psychedelic art their arcade game cabinets had. Who designed Mr Do? Lady Bug? When could they sense the writing was on the wall? Why couldn't they compete?

    How about Stern's video department in 1978-82? At least you know where to reach Gary Stern today...

    How about Williams video department? They made such cool games (Robotron, Defender, Sinistar...) What was their workplace and culture like?

    Write about something new for fuck's sake.

    • i agree with you except i think you mean "write something new about something old"
    • Well, I have a tiny little bit of trivia to offer - a few years back I had to spend some time on-site at Cherry Electrical's plant in Pleasant Prairie, WI, and the lead engineer there had previously worked for Williams, and was on the team for the High Speed pinball game. He's a big muscle car fan, and one of his cars was the source of some of the audio in the game. I really miss High Speed, and several others of the Williams titles.
  • one page version (Score:5, Informative)

    by maj1k ( 33968 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @06:40PM (#24697063)
    in case you don't feel like clicking through 20 pages of ads, you can view the article as one page here: []
  • When I left MS back in 'bout 81, I had an extra ROM pack for the Atari 400/800. Wow, I wonder if I should give it back?
  • I bought a used Atari 800 to play games on after my IBM PC (original) proved pathetic for this purpose.

    1986 was a GREAT time to own one of these old 8 bit systems. Software was still being made for it, and the slightly older hardware (8xx series printers, disk drives, serial interfaces, etc.) was available for firesale prices from mail order joints. The general audience computer magazines covered the platform, and there was at least one slick magazine with you-type-it program listings.

    I played lots of the o

  • "Massive" is Gibbon's Decline and Fall in seven volumes. 23,000 words is about 2-3 times as long as a typical article in the kind of magazine that doesn't have recipes or pictures of Paris Hilton. That a lot of words, but it isn't enough to fill even a short book (about 75,000 words). Hardly "massive".

  • This Al [] ?
  • Leonardo Dicaprio is making a movie about the history of atari...

    yes - I know - dicaprio... titanic... *yuck*
    but after "catch me if you can", "aviator" and now this project i start respecting him... (yes, i just said jehovah! stone me!)
  • The first computer I ever owned was a Radio Shack Model 100, in 1980. It was wonderful, came loaded with BASIC, made sound and had a fairly decent screen. I still have it somewhere. The software and OS, however, were not that impressive today. The Model 100 is famous for having been the last software written by Bill Gates himself. I suspect he also wrote the computer's manual, which was a mess. It had references to non-existent sections, did not ever make sense and was just in general a joke. I was g
  • or Golden Showers?

    All bow down before Custer's Revenge [].

  • by digitalhermit ( 113459 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @07:30PM (#24697667) Homepage

    I remember getting my first Atari 800... Then after that the 800XL, 130XE, 520ST, 1040ST, etc.. The 800XL was my first real chance to learn to program. Previously it had been on a Commodore Vic-20 at a cousin's house. I actually owe my career to those days spent writing little BASIC programs to do simple things.

    At the time there was a magazine called Compute!. It had program listings for multiple machines including the Atari, Commodore, Apple IIe, and later on, the PC, ST and Amiga lines. Many of the programs were written in BASIC, but as the magazine progressed more and more were written in 6502 assembler. It was tedious to key in those listings (essentially typing in HEX dumps with a checksum) but we managed.

    In middle school I was in one of the first programming classes in the school and district. The computers were all Apple IIe and Franklin Ace 1000s, but the instructor had a soft spot for the Ataris. For the end of term project I wrote a little quiz program that flashed a question on the screen in one of the Atari graphic modes, then read the 8-bit joystick port to see which answer was selected. I also tried to write an Infocom-like game, but it proved much harder than I had anticipated. I did get the user to be able to navigate a map though :D

    For a long time I missed those days... Luckily Linux came along and all is well again...

    • Interesting that you mention Compute! magazine - that was back during the time when Byte was still available, and PC Magazine was actually informative and interesting instead of the glorified advertising insert it's become. Nibble was another of my faves, being an Apple II geek, but I almost mourn the loss of the Byte of the early/mid 80's - it was bar-none the best computer magazine of the time.
      • by LMacG ( 118321 )

        I'm old and I'll tack my reminiscence onto this thread since Byte was mentioned. I was working at my first job out of college and Byte was delivered to the office each month. It was their serialization of De Re Atari [] that convinced me to buy an Atari 800. Before I ever even owned the machine, I had read a thorough explanation of display lists, player-missile graphics, and so on. I bought my system from a tiny hole-in-the-wall Mom & Pop shop where I eventually ended up working part time to be able

    • by slapout ( 93640 )

      I remember Compute!. It used to be one of my favorite magazines. You can get the content of some of them and other old computer magazines online at []

      • Awesome link..

        I remember the Antic magazine also. One of the issues had a utility to build a WeFAX (Weather facsimile) decoder. I was able to build everything but missed the ham radio part :)..

        Magazines were much broader in scope then. Besides the software and hardware reviews there were in depth articles on how to do interesting things with your computer. For example, the STart (Atari ST magazine) had information about MIDI interfaces and how to fix the MIDI ports on the back of the Atari ST.

        Then there was

    • by Ilgaz ( 86384 )

      I bet you miss the feeling of the amaze when someone comes up with a new demo, game which doesn't remotely ensemble anything you have seen before. It is missing from current computers.

      For example I remember watching Alternate Reality (The City) intro of Atari 800XL completely amazed. Not a big surprise that same guy ended up coding the actual B2 Bomber software when his distributor didn't pay for his work. []

  • ... was coin-op. Atari Games is dead. Long live Atari Games!
  • It was my first console, courtesy of Kentucky Fried Chicken. The eight games that came with it kept me satisfied until I got my C64.

    Let me see if I can remember them: Ms Pac-Man, Galaxian, Bezerk, Missile Command (my Dad managed to roll-over the score), Haunted House, Yar's Revenge. I think my cousin had Adventure because I don't recall it much, but that freakin' duck gives me flashbacks. So that leaves one or two, but the list [] doesn't give me any ideas. Must have been the lame ones that I didn't play.

  • by Bill, Shooter of Bul ( 629286 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @08:06PM (#24698035) Journal

    "I felt that the computer system should not be a closed system, we needed to have third party software developers. I could see Steve Jobs out evangelizing, and Atari was saying that if you write software for the Atari computers, we will sue you. I just thought that was foolhardy. They were from the record world, where you sue people."

    - Nolan Bushnell

    You know, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

  • by fitten ( 521191 )

    my... girl Atari ST ;)

    Actually, I had the Atari ST when I was in college... I really liked it and I could do my assembly projects on it (our assembly and hardware classes were all based on the M68K).

  • All this coverage truly brings a tear to me eye :'(. I am surprised no one here has mentioned The Flashbacks []. The Flashback2 atleast can be hacked to take the original 2600 cartridges :D

  • Al is the only person I know ever to have fired Bill Gates.

    Every time you install an OSS system or buy a Mac, you fire Bill Gate.

  • atari mail (Score:2, Interesting)

    Here's 10 Years of Atari/Atari Games VaxMail, this is history!!!! []

    Description from the site:
    Jed Margolis got his hands on something precious: a decade of internal mail from the now-defunct Atari Games corporation, makers of some of the more beloved arcade games in history and one of the more amazing stories in computer history. Buried among these large collections of e-mails from the Atari Corp. VAX are discussions of programming, trivia, jokes, and some real i
  • Has everone seen these? []
  • Does anyone remember bowling with the Atari automatic scoring system?
    I think I played on an Army base in New Jersey in the very early 1980s.
    Today, automatic scoring is everywhere, but in the early 1980s it was nowhere. It had video screens and even let you print out your frames on paper roll printers.

"I don't believe in sweeping social change being manifested by one person, unless he has an atomic weapon." -- Howard Chaykin