The author is nuts

Debunking From little Acorns…

So the author has decided to write a post expanding on answers he gave to questions on his blog that we’ve already examined here… but it seems sensible to cover some of the ground again.

One of these comments/posts/replies was about the amazing Acorn Electron computer. This computer fulfilled two roles. It was a cheaper alternative to Acorn’s BBC Micro selling at £199 instead of £399, because it didn’t include lots of interfaces, while also being a follow up to and replacement for the Acorn Atom.

And yet that £199 price tag was higher than other machines which offered more memory, colour or sound, so how exactly does this make the Electron “amazing” exactly?

Later on, I was very annoyed with “The A-Z of Personal Computers”, after finding out how crap C64 BASIC V2 was and also when I found out that it was possible to get the Electron to play 3 notes simultaneously using Machine Code software instead of BASIC.

The author has previously whined incessantly about having to use machine code for three channel sound on the C64 (even though he was wrong about that requirement) but, hypocritically, doesn’t see it as an issue with the Electron – it’s almost as though he’s got some kind of bias, isn’t dear reader?

And we must pause to note that, whilst it’s possible to produce three channels on the Electron from machine code, doing so does require far more programming experience than a novice programmer could bring to the table and takes a significant wedge of the Electron’s processing power to execute.

Similar techniques can also push the C64 past the three channel mark, including routines that can play back four channel modules from the Amiga. The demo Vicious SID 2 does this and has several other routines which tweak what the SID chip puts out (wind forwards to 7:50 for the module from Amiga game Blood Money):

Some of the other tunes sound somewhat distorted but that’s a side effect of the processes used to produce the extra channels and a similar loss in quality is evident when other 8-bits like the Electron do it too.

Of course, the Electron wasn’t as expandable or as fast as the BBC Micro, but would have saved me all the stress of trying to learn programming on the Commodore 64.

We can, dear reader, only hazard guess at how much more stressful the author would have found the Electron in 1984 if, in his obvious technical naivety, he’d chosen a BBC Micro specific book to learn from where the programs didn’t work or failed to find a book entirely… and no doubt there would be tears before bedtime if he’d made the purchase based on the idea that he could do three channel music!

I should remind you here that computers are supposed to be mainly for computing, meaning working things out, not mainly for playing games, although they do have to work things out to play games as well!

Acorn squarely aimed the Electron at the gaming market so its primary function was games; trying to deny that gaming was the most common use for home computers is just farcical. The author has apparently confused the more general term “computing” (which is just processing data or performing calculations and that can be done in BASIC, other high level languages, assembler, via a spreadsheet or even using some kind of calculator application in a desktop-style environment) with “BASIC programming” as well.

After a few years of programming “Elite” on a combination of the Acorn Atom and BBC Micro, it was released by Acornsoft for the BBC Micro and Acorn Electron in late 1984. The Acorn Atom was discontinued in 1983 and only had 2K RAM. It would have been impossible to write this game in BBC BASIC and compile it, because it used the whole 32K RAM, while Simons’ BASIC leaves only 30K on the C64.

The sudden and random dragging of Simon’s BASIC into things is, presumably, because the author wanted to take a pathetic little pop at the C64 but couldn’t directly since there’s more available RAM to BASIC programs on a standard machine. But he’s also wrong because the space available to Simon’s BASIC programs is actually larger than what the Electron has to offer; that 32K is shared between user programs, over 3K of operating system space and what can be around 10K of screen memory depending on mode selected.

As to if it’s “impossible” to compile a program using all of the memory, your correspondent can’t comment directly since he’s never looked into compilers for the BBC Micro but would be surprised if it really were impossible – disk-based compilers and assemblers exist for the C64 and other machines.

It should be obvious from this story to anyone that David Braben and Ian Bell learnt how to program the Commodore 64 by programming Acorn computers. If they’d both had the Commodore 64 as their first computer, then I seriously doubt they’d have been able to program “Elite” at all!

Can we really make that tenuous an assumption? Of course not, it’s another ludicrous leap of faith on the author’s part because, as somebody who can’t actually program himself, he has absolutely no way to judge how difficult a game like Elite was to code on the BBC Micro or how hard it would be to do when starting with the C64.

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