Getting a sinking feeling

Debunking Shipwrecked with Commodore PETS

The author is trying his hand at fiction again, this time with a Gilligan-esque tale of how “he” was shipwrecked on a desert island. But, rather than offering more than the scantest detail of the events leading up to the shipwreck or the desperate struggle to survive that presumably took place after, the entire focus of the piece is on the Commodore PETs that were aboard and, somehow, made to work in the uncharted wilderness.

And as always, the author refuses stoically to let facts get in the way of a good (or in this case terrible) story, failing to explain how his hero was washed ashore with Commodore PETs fitted with green monitors before Commodore had begun shipping them or even getting to the bottom of the how a stock of what are particularly heavy microcomputers didn’t simply sink since the PET 2001 could hardly be described as a floatation device.

We used to while away the long wait for a ship to rescue us by writing quiz programs, as well as creating ASCII art, because the Commodore PET came without hires graphics.

And yet it would seem that nobody amongst the survivors, Chief included, spent those six years marooned learning machine code, the logical step after experimenting with BASIC. Apart from the whole survival thing which was so well in hand that it warranted a mere two sentences, that’s a seriously long time to be sat there travelling in small BASIC circles. The machines presumably washed up with manuals for the castaways to learn BASIC from so the option was there, the provided guide to 6502 and machine code monitor were primitive but more than enough to write simple action games.

Oh, and the PET has PETSCII rather than ASCII.

Not long after I arrived back home in Britain, I started watching a TV series called “Me & My Micro”, presented by Fred Harris. This showed simple techniques for creating games in BASIC, pointing out that this language had different dialects for different computers.

It did indeed, although the show started a year after the fictional rescue. And the biggest question posed by the entire story is why would anybody who had six years of experience working with a BASIC dialect rather suddenly require a guide to computing that was squarely aimed at beginners?

I also discovered there was also a great new command called INKEY$, which enabled the keyboard to be read a lot more quickly and simply than Commodore’s old GET$ command.

INKEY$ is Sinclair BASIC’s equivalent of GET and functions in a similar way, so this discovery shouldn’t even be approaching the levels of excitement exhibited by the author.

Thankfully, not everybody writing about Commodore BASIC recently has been quite so caught up with indulging their own history-rewriting fantasies or making up “facts” as they go along; 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10 is, essentially, a group of ten writers with some impressive-looking credentials who have riffed on the titular one-liner from the C64 (and indeed VIC 20) manual that produces a maze on the screen from two diagonal lines in the PETSCII character set and the random number generator. Your correspondent is waiting for a Kindle edition to be released.

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