The author’s hypocrisy (part 7)

Debunking Buyers’ guide liars!!! (part 7)

I think that TMR with his site is hypocritical by saying that it’s not important for computer owners to be INTERESTED in, let alone ABLE to program their computers, because he’s obviously a programmer himself, but he seems to want to make it as difficult as possible for other people to program! I think this is because it makes him feel superior.

What your correspondent actually said was that, for the majority of computer users who don’t have an interest in programming, it isn’t important to know how or even be able to. Anybody wanting to just play games, word process, create graphics, feed numbers to a spreadsheet, compose music and so on simply doesn’t need to know anything past how to load the appropriate program for that task.

Anybody who wanted to know how to program on these machines could do so but computers are like any artistic medium; the number of authors or actors writing books or performing plays is always a small percentage of the population compared to the number of people reading those books or going to the theatre and it takes time and talent to move from consuming to creating, something the author believes he should have been magically allowed to skip.

I also think that TMR and various other Commodore 64 owners liked and still like to try and overcome or fix the deficiencies of the Commodore 64, a bit like my Dad buying and repairing, or just playing with, used cars, or “old bangers”, or various characters on the soap opera “Coronation Street” constantly repairing or restoring old motor bikes!

There’s that misuse of “various” again… and, as usual, what the author believes and reality are at variance. Your correspondent and many of the people he talks to enjoy writing games and demos on the C64, but none of this can be seen as fixing the machine’s “deficiencies” (as defined by the author rather than any kind of consensus) and the same is true for people currently programming for the Atari 8-bit, Amstrad CPC, Sinclair Spectrum, Apple II, BBC Micro and many other old computers and indeed consoles.

There are people developing hardware-based expansions for the C64 which could perhaps be seen as fixing “issues” with the machine itself, but again that’s true for most other 8-bits as well; the SIO2SD the author has mentioned owning previously for his Atari 8-bit wasn’t made in the 1980s for example and neither were the network interfaces for the Spectrum or floppy drive emulators available for most 8-bits. And whilst there is some hardware servicing of those machines required, we’re talking about twenty to thirty year old hardware so that shouldn’t come as anything even approaching a surprise.

“The A-Z of Computers” lied about how good or bad the computers in the section under £500 were, but the main way they did this was by being economical with the truth, or even twisting the facts, or not checking them properly.

The irony here of course is that the author has repeatedly done exactly the same thing with his blog, going as far as writing about specific machines based on what can be read about them online and his own guesses as to how they actually work. And to date the author has failed to produce evidence of an actual “lie” from The A-Z Of Personal Computers that is bigger than some of his own whoppers have been.

According to Issue No. 1 in the Atari reviews on the right hand page under “STANDARD PACKAGE”, the Atari 400 and 800 computers had “16 colours; each with 8 intensities”, or in other words 8×16=128 colours, but it seems they didn’t want to draw too much attention to this. This issue went to press in August 1983, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the upgrade chips with 256 colours had been released by then.

It’s a lot more complicated than the author “understands” dear reader. The original 400 and 800 shipped with the CTIA video chip which had 128 colours so claiming this about the original machine is correct. Many 800s (but if your correspondent is remembering correctly, only some 400s) were upgraded to GTIA either at the factory or by users, but that doesn’t simply add an extra 128 colours; the original CTIA graphics modes still only display 128 colours because the palette only kicks when the GTIA-specific 4:1 ratio pixel modes are used and even then there are caveats as to how colours can be used.

The majority of Atari 8-bit software therefore tends to use 128 colours because developers aimed for CTIA-equipped 16K and later 48K machines to make sure that they covered and could therefore sell to as many users as possible.

These statements, as well as the lack of a multicoloured rainbow effect or a “screen on fire with colours” like in the game “Ataroids” on the cover of Issue No. 2 obviously played down the Atari’s 256 colour palette, so that lots of people wouldn’t notice this feature at all.

Ataroids is using a CTIA-based mode that can’t display 256 colours.

In 1984 the only BASIC compiler I heard about was the PETspeed Compiler, which I think was disk only, and could only compile the commands present in Commodore BASIC V2, so that was no use to me, because even if I’d had a disk drive, it had no commands for colour, graphics or sound!

For a start, the author is once more confusing what he personally wanted to do in 1984 with what programmers wanted to do in 1984, these two aren’t the same as demonstrated by the significant number of people who didn’t struggle in the same way as the author and produced BASIC and then machine code software. And these kinds of compiler generally don’t have commands themselves because they’re not BASIC extensions but, as noted previously, the Abacus 64 Compiler was available at the same time which could compile Simons BASIC and other extended dialects. The author’s ignorance of it is irrelevant, this and other solutions were there.

As supplied, the Spectrum only had a rubber, calculator type keyboard and a sound chip with just one channel, which could only produce beeps of different pitches and lengths. In spite of this, the Sinclair ZX Spectrum was so popular that it had massive software support, as well as a cottage industry that grew up around it, offering various peripherals and upgrades not made by Sinclair Research themselves, but this isn’t mentioned in the review.

This is all the same kind of thing that the author was poorly attempting to deride earlier in the same post, comparing it to Coronation Street characters fixing up a motorbike. And properly playing Devil’s advocate for a moment, your correspondent has to ask the obvious, rhetorical question about why the Spectrum needed so many hardware upgrades…

There was a DK’tronics 3 channel sound interface containing a General Instruments AY-3-8912 synthesiser chip which removed my main objection to the Spectrum for only £29.95 according to a defaced pic I recently found on an auction site!

Once more the author is guessing as to if this solution is “amazing” or not (it’s described thus in a screenshot caption). The Crash review (spread over page 95 and page 96 of issue 18) doesn’t mention an extension to graft any new sound commands into the Spectrum’s BASIC so accessing this add-on is all done from OUT commands, essentially just POKEs to registers that aren’t directly mapped into memory. The review also says (with emphasis from your correspondent to highlight the part that would crush the author’s dreams) that:

From the musical point of view, the unit is definitely a lot of fun, but is not really capable of generating the more complex sounds that a musician might expect. The attack and decay isn’t quite true to form, altering the pitch of sounds rather than the amplitude (volume), which is a little naughty, and not the way a true music synthesiser works

The final line of the review actually recommends that if Spectrum owners “really want to be a computer musician, then there’s probably not much of an alternative to lashing out on a Commodore 64(again, your correspondent’s emphasis) which, coming from the Spectrum-centric Crash, pretty much destroys any “point” the author thought he was making.

And let us not forget dear reader that this device was a hardware upgrade; a similar item existed for the C64 called the SFX Sound Expander which bolted a Yamaha YM3812 in via the cartridge port to give an extra nine channels of FM sound not too far away from what would soon afterwards be included on Adlib sound cards for the PC. Here’s a video of it having a go at playing Patrick Phelan’s title tune from Lotus 3 on the PC (the music starts just after the one minute mark):

According to the “Memotech BASIC Tutor, Reference and Operator’s Manual”, which I found on , it confirms that these computers actually did have FOUR LANGUAGES built in!!!! These were MTX BASIC, GRAPHICS/LOGO, NODDY, and Z80 ASSEMBLER!!!!

If the author’s claims that programming was important to more than a minority of home computer users were true, those machines with several high level languages like the Memotech MTX512 would have been selling faster than anything else. They didn’t.

Memotech were eventually bankrupted after the USSR government backed out of a deal with them to supply lots of computers for schools, then they couldn’t pay back the loans they’d taken out to finance the deal. Mrs Thatcher’s government refused to step in to save Memotech, in spite of their amazing, innovative computer systems and good reviews in the USA!! This was typical of Mrs Thatcher!!!!

Your correspondent had no love for Margaret Thatcher as a politician but, without knowing just how badly holed Memotech was financially at that point in time, it isn’t possible to know if the government’s decision to let it sink rather than trying to shore it up with taxpayers’ money was wise or not.

I think the Atari 800XL is the computer I should have got, because it has 256 colours, more than 38K accessible just by pressing a certain key combination before loading software

Dear reader, we’ll have to stop the author there because he’s deliberately mixing up “facts” in order to mislead his readers. That 38K figure on the C64 is available to BASIC programs and larger than the space on offer with the Atari 8-bit. If that key combination is used before loading software on the Atari 8-bit it will indeed free more RAM but does so by disabling ROMs including BASIC and the C64 can do something similar without the need for a keypress and freeing up more overall RAM into the bargain.

I thought this was because the TVs I was using were fairly old and crap. I only found out in 2013 or 2014 from reading a letter in a magazine published before I even bought the Commodore 64 that this meant my Commodore 64 needed to be retuned! I didn’t see this information in my Commodore 64 User Manual or Programmers’ Reference Guide! Of course, my Commodore 64 had already been “sent back for checking” so I had no reason to think there was a fault!

To paraphrase for a moment, the author is saying that he expects the user manual or Programmer’s Reference Guide (both written well before 1984) to, somehow, magically be aware of future manufacturing faults. Even if he could prove that his machine had a fault in the first place, that is.

You can also look forward to more articles in the “DRAWING THE LINE” series, as well as about how the Commodore 64 was designed!

The author has previously demonstrated that he has no clue whatsoever about these subjects so we’re presumably going to be “treated” to yet more half-arsed rubbish based on something he’s cherry picked from an article on the internet. Oh joy.

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