Even less warning

Debunking De debunking “without much warning”

First of all, some Acorn Computer staff in London told me that there was software which enabled the Acorn Electron to produce 3 channel sound. I never planned to attempt this in Assembly Language/Machine Code.

Just to add the appropriate context dear reader, the author previously chided one of his magazine sources thus (relevant part highlighted):

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.

So in the previous post he stated that The A-Z of Personal Computers was a cause for great annoyance because it failed to mention the option of three channel sound but it apparently stops being an issue by his next post.

A famous two page Acorn Electron ad promoted it as using BBC BASIC, the same language as used in most schools.

As the author demonstrated in his own post, the Electron’s BASIC was only similar and, since there are commands missing or implemented differently, a book on BBC BASIC not specifically retooled for the Electron is going to frustrate and demotivate users unaware of those differences.

The author also needs to bear in mind that advertisements shouldn’t automatically be considered accurate sources of information as well since there was no computer company out there beyond a spot of hyperbole and most relied on ad agencies and copy writers who had little to no understanding of computers to actually produce the adverts. Take this early example from Sinclair…

Orange... on a Spectrum?

Orange… on a Spectrum? A misleading early advert from Sinclair.

…where the display coming from that 48K Spectrum appears to be both overscanned and using a colour not in the machine’s palette[1]. The full advert is available online and note the not entirely serious comment from a poster called “irregular shed”.

Secondly, I was searching really hard for some techniques that would enable me to program graphics on the Commodore 64, but I never even heard of “The Transactor” until a couple of years ago.

That doesn’t automatically mean that the information wasn’t available, just that the author failed to find it. As a reminder dear reader, many other people managed to locate the information they needed to learn programming on the C64 quite happily so we’re only really left questioning how hard the author was actually looking again.

As usual, TMR, who first learnt to program on a Commodore VIC-20 instead of the much more complicated C64, has tried to undermine and dismiss my posts, this time about the fact that most Commodore 64 buyers were unaware that they were getting a computer which couldn’t be programmed in the way that nearly all non Commodore computers could be programmed, by which I mean programming simple graphics, sound, and games in the BASIC built in on ROM. This was because they hadn’t read or heard any warnings about it.

The author regularly undermines his own posts, your correspondent merely adds to that process. For example, since the author has barely touched the VIC 20 he is very obviously incapable of making any decisions about how much easier or indeed otherwise it might be to start with compared to the C64 or indeed how either fare when it comes to producing simple games. Your correspondent knows from experience that, from a BASIC perspective, the two machines are remarkably similar at least for the things the teenage version of your correspondent was trying to do with them, including simple action games and text adventures. Whilst the C64 has more features in hardware which sometimes require a few more register writes, it’s also easier than the VIC in some respects such as handling moving objects on screen.

The author has repeatedly tried to make some kind of “point” about people learning other 8-bits before moving on to the C64 as though it were a necessity, but that blatantly ignores those tens of thousands of people who managed to pick the C64 up as a first computer. He is once more assuming his own inability is the norm without any actual proof to back that assumption up.

As far as I remember with my amazing memory, back in 1984 there was a serious lack of magazines not dedicated to one make or model which published computer reviews.

And at least one of the reasons for this is very obvious; the author is talking about a very small niche market so there wasn’t room for more than a handful of magazines fitting that specific bill. And if there’s not much of a market the advertisers are going to be less interested and their money is the lifeblood of any publication.

I’m not counting American magazines which were available, because they featured nearly all American computers, due to trade protectionism. […] No computer magazines in other languages seemed to be available, due to language censorship.

This was more down to magazine publishers not seeing the point in spending extra money to import magazines that covered computers not available in their territory. An American publication wouldn’t write about the Spectrum for example because it wasn’t on sale in the USA or compatible with televisions there and, whilst they might discuss the TS2068 which is a modified version of the Spectrum for that market, there would be no point importing that magazine to the UK since the machine similarly wasn’t available to buy here and wouldn’t work if imported.

Of course, various computer journalists either didn’t know much about computers but had been told by their publisher to try and write about them after reviewing video recorders, or they were experts who had built kits and been using computers since about 1978 or even earlier, who thought “BASIC is for wimps!”, or they were open to suggestion and persuasion by computer manufacturers, or perhaps they just didn’t care, so all this could easily explain why not many warnings were published about the Commodore 64 with its crappy BASIC V2.

Yet more rather feeble guesswork and over generalising on the author’s part (again accompanied by his misuse of the word “various” when he actually means “some” or more accurately “I personally believe that some”) and it would seem that he has forgotten that the very broad brush stroke he’s painting will also apply to the magazines with “warnings” about the C64 in them too.

If it had been a car or motor bike with a very complicated, or crappy driving system compared with other cars or bikes, or a brilliant hi fi system but with controls so complicated that most people couldn’t use it, then it would DEFINITELY have been mentioned!

And if the majority of magazines didn’t mention something it has to be assumed that it wasn’t seen as an issue by them. As previously noted dear reader, the majority of computer users didn’t want to program and instead purchased a computer to play games, run their small business, word process documents or one of the other myriad uses a home computer could be put to. And we’ve already pointed out in this post and countless times elsewhere on C64CD that a huge number of people learnt to program on the C64 over the years, a point the author has completely and utterly failed to address.

The early Commodore 64 KERNAL ROMs were buggy, as mentioned by “The Transactor” in Volume 4 Issue 2 Page 21. They were summed up as “TAB and SPC”, “Prompt Suppress After CONT”, and “Screen Editor Crash”. The screen colour RAM setup was changed and the INPUT command also had a bug, as described in the article “The INPUT Glitch” in Volume 4 Issue 5. This means that if the question in your INPUT command is too long, then you get the error message “?REDO FROM START”.

But the important question here is how often anybody would actually hit those issues. For example, the colour RAM setup problem (which is what your correspondent was referring to previously) only happens if you write to the display without using PRINT after clearing the screen with it, nobody sensible did that from BASIC because it just wasn’t viable (and the author certainly wouldn’t have used it anyway since we’re talking about POKEing to the screen) so for BASIC users it’s a non issue.

Of course, various other computers brought out before and after the C64 also had different ROM versions and the manufacturers gave programmers guidelines about using jump tables and techniques to avoid so that their software would still run on later ROM versions. These computers included the Atari 8 bit range, the Sinclair Spectrum, and the Amiga, which was largely a follow up to the Atari 8 bit range.

Ignoring the second use of “various” in the one post being used to cover up a lack of actual knowledge, we have to note that all three suffer from software compatibility issues that users will have been aware of. This is precisely what your correspondent has been talking about previously dear reader, too many drastic changes to a computer’s firmware create incompatibilities which will frustrate and scare away beginners far more than having a weak implementation of BASIC.

[1] Some more mature readers might consider the option of the computer being connected an amber screen monitor, but that model of Spectrum only has RF output and there doesn’t appear to be a lead connected to it anyway.

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