Williams Hicks, who most of us call Milli, is what I call a “super-fan” of the ADAM computer. He doesn’t just use it, he makes games and hardware for this rare system. On Milli’s YouTube page, you can find his videos on how to repair ADAM computers, revisit old computer magazines and look at some software. He also has a Store for those necessary ADAM components. Milli is also working on an ADAM archive which he needs the community to get involved. He even has his own Coleco ADAM blog. Lets get to know Milli.
When did you get your first ADAM?
I got my first Adam in 1989. I was living in Anchorage Alaska and I got the basic system at a garage sale. I then ordered a disk drive, from a company in Michigan I believe, one of the great lake states, but even with that I couldn’t do much. No local stores supported the Adam and I couldn’t really find software listings in magazines; I only had the single Smart Basic DDP and a copy of Disk Manager. Eventually the data pack failed from me leaving it sitting on the system when I turned it on (true story, so here is one person it happened to) and I sold the system but I kept the disk drive. After selling it I went back to using the Atari 8 bit systems that I was really fond of and the following year I had BBS running on an Atari 800 with an 810 drive, an Indus drive that allowed you to daisy chain other drives which I plugged into the drive mechanism in the Adam Disk and used it minus controller board.
In 2015 while on a 500 mile bicycle ride through New England I saw an ad on eBay for a complete system and I told my, at the time, fiance, that I always wanted to get another one. He surprised me the following month by getting me it for my birthday. This is still the system I use today, he is 2 years gone but the Adam is still here.
Was it your first computer?
No, back in 1983 when I was in 11th grade I purchased a Timex Sinclair 1000 (the US version of the ZX81 sold in the UK) at the local K-Mart for $99 and the 16k ram pack for another $49. I also brought a cheap tape deck at the same time and had a complete working system!
This was by no means my first foray into the world of computers; I had been using a number of systems in school that included Apple ][+’s, time share terminals and Commodore Pet’s. So in a way, the Timex Sinclair 1000 was a step down!
One thing I didn’t get for my Timex Sinclair 1000 was a TV! So to use it I had to use the family TV or borrow a portable TV from my grand parents! Over the next year or so the Timex Sinclair 1000 got used less and less because of this and eventually I got rid of it and moved on.
I have literally had over 200 different types of computers in the last 35 years. The majority of them have been 8 bit. I will say though, I have never had an Atari ST or an Amiga, on principal.
Did you get schooling on programming?
Depends on your definition of schooling. Does ditching every class in high school for a semester so I could sit in the home economics department (with the home ec teachers blessing cause she had no clue how to use them) and program on their Apple ][+ considered schooling? If so then yes, else it comes from actually spending 2 or 3 hours a day almost every day for 20 years just programming for programming sake. I can program in dozens of Basic dialects, C++, Perl, PHP, Pascal, Z80, 6502, and *86 assembly and many other obscure languages like C–, Visual Dialog Script, Citedel Scripts (a BBS system for CP/M) and more. Am well versed in the various ROM’s on the 8 bit systems, CP/M, MP/M, MS-DOS and Windows. In my Windows 3 days I used to write 80286 assembly code to work natively with Windows – that was fun writing programs that are only 2 or 3kb in size when others 100’s of KB or more at the time. I wrote my first shareware game called OctoTile in assembly for MS-DOS and Windows which I uploaded to AOL in 96. One person sent me a check, $9.
Are your electronics skills self taught?
Yes, I heat up things and hope they stick. I can deduce issues, R & R (repair and replace) but I am not a very skilled solderer. I think repairing computers is not knowing how to repair electronics as much as knowing how the computer works and being able to deduce what can be wrong. A TV repairman can fix a bad solder joint but can he determine why you get garbage characters on the screen?
Does your interest in vintage computing relate to your career or job?
I have been self-employed since 1997, at first designing websites but for the past 13 years I have been heavily into writing code for psychological testing online using Perl and PHP. This gives me a lot of free time to pursue my hobbies, such as the Adam. I can honestly say I have been very lucky to have worked myself to a position where I work an hour or 2 a week and make a very good income. When I first started I worked 16, 20 hours a day but now I can relax.
You’re working on a power supply to replace the ADAM’s printer, when will it be ready to ship?
I will have the finished model ready by mid-September and if all goes as designed I will be able to ship by end of September. I have to stop thinking of things to add onto it, ie feature creep.
Are you working on any other hardware or software products?
Hardware I am still working on AViD (Adam Virtual Drive) that lets you plug an Adam Net cable into a PC and it will be seen on the Adam as a disk drive, though the project has evolved into CAPE (Coleco Adam Peripheral Emulator) along the lines of the Atari APE. Once I am able to get the bugs worked out of communicating at the non standard 62,500 baud that the Adam uses and the standard USB port does not support. With CAPE you would be able to plug a PC into a bare bones Adam, no printer, no data or disk drives, just a keyboard, and have a full system with printer, 2 data drives and 2 disk drives. These would be emulated by the PC. Of course you would need a power supply to do this, which I happily can provide.
Outside of the ADAM, what other computer systems fascinate you?
The Timex Sinclair 1000 for its simplicity and the way it forces you to really know what you are doing to get anything out of it. I also love CP/M systems for their power and the fact that you can know everything about them. This is something you can no longer do with computers, you can not approach them from a programming stand point as an individual programmer with the confidence that you know everything the system will do when you program it.
When you’re not rescuing retro tech, how do you spend your time?
Working on my home in Western PA and bicycling. In 2010 I quit smoking after 26 years and 2 1/2 packs a day. To help me get over it I would get on my bike and ride around the block. 8 years later I have ridden over 10,000 miles on bicycle through all of New England and lost 75lbs doing it. I also enjoy reading SCI-FI and alternate history books. Harry Turtledove, John Haldeman and Larry Niven are 3 of my favorite authors.
What would you like to say to fellow ADAM computer owners?
This is easy. Take any and all of the Colecovision cartridges you have and put them away where you can’t see them. Then put in a Smart Basic tape, disk or image, or if you do not have it, Smart Logo or CP/M with even the built-in ASM. Then using the manual and / or the internet, write a program. Start out with Hello World and work from there. Try to make a tic tac toe game, a number guessing game, a simple demo. Do something to feel how you have power over the computer, that when you sit in front of the keyboard you are “god”. What you say matters, and if it doesn’t work, there is always the reset button. And when you are done – take a picture of it and post it online. These days we have the ability to share everything with people who have the same interests. The Adam and other 8 bit computers give you the ability to understand and actually control technology, don’t use them for entertainment, use them to empower yourself, to increase your knowledge of the computer world we live in.