The author gets distracted

Debunking De debunking “Debunking Happy 30th anniversary to the Amstrad CPC664!”

I’m sorry I haven’t posted here recently. I’ve had a lot of distractions, including my fantastic, banned or censored from all English speaking countries (meaning countries where English is the main language), MSX2 computer‘s on/off switch breaking. This means I haven’t been able to use my MSX2 computer for a couple of months, but I‘ve just managed to get it repaired!

There are potential jokes to be made about build quality here of course (even more so when we consider that your correspondent regularly uses a 1984 issue C64 which is older than the author’s MSX2) but your correspondent will gloss over those. It is however important to reiterate once more that the MSX2 was neither banned or censored from English-speaking countries despite the author’s bogus claims; it didn’t appear in those territories because the manufacturers took the decision not to release it in those territories.

And we do have to wonder dear reader how the author’s MSX2 computer was such a distraction when it was broken?

Meanwhile, here’s a de debunk of TMR’s last debunk. It was getting too long, so I decided not to quote TMR at all.

I never said that TMR was a hacker, just that a document I remember writing about MSX BASIC 2.0 sprite collisions and joystick use has mysteriously disappeared.

And, since the author didn’t quote your correspondent, the context around what was very obviously a joke is misrepresented by him. We’ll give the author the benefit of the doubt and assume that was merely stupidity on his part rather than actual malice.

TMR often likes to pretend that it doesn’t matter that these cartridges couldn’t produce stand alone programs, because years later someone produced a compiler which could compile these programs. Of course it DOES matter because this compiler came out years after the C64 and probably required a disk drive as well.

The author falsely believes that the commands offered by such BASIC extensions are important; your correspondent disagrees and points to a huge body of user-developed software that doesn’t even rely on those expansions.

I didn’t have a disk drive for my C64 and I don’t remember seeing anyone at my local computer club who had one either.

This is the author once more trying to pass off his personal experience as the norm – some communities might well have been in the same boat, but others like the one your correspondent was involved in during the mid 1980s were well stocked for disk drives with some people even having multiple units for fast disk-to-disk copying.

Meanwhile, owners of other computers, such as the Sinclair Spectrum, BBC Micro, Atari 400/800/XL, Spectravideo 318/328, MSX, etc, who didn’t even have disk drives, were running rings round Commodore 64 owners who couldn’t even draw a line across their graphics screens!

“Running rings” in this case meaning doing less actual programming than the C64 owners.

                Not many books or articles ever appeared about Simons’ BASIC (although it was used a lot in INPUT magazine), let alone Commodore’s very own Super Expander 64 extended BASIC, which seemed to be less popular than Simons’ BASIC, or the Turbo BASIC which I bought, the more expensive Ultra BASIC, etc.

Because books or articles are usually written for the “lowest common denominator” since the sensible thing for any publisher to do would have been to write about the BASIC that every C64 has rather than a dialect which only a small percentage of users have access to. They want to sell to as many people as possible after all.

We’ll lightly skip over the extremely long and badly written paragraph that talks about new BASIC commands added to interpreters that appeared two or three years after the C64’s release because there’s really no point in commenting.

TMR was waffling on about a quite different couple of computers, released years later. These computers were called the Amstrad 464 Plus and the Amstrad 6128 Plus, not CPC at all.

And yet they started up in Locomotive BASIC and ran CPC programs because they were compatible with the earlier machines bearing the same model numbers; the point which was apparently being deliberately avoided by the author this time,was that the Plus features weren’t grafted into Locomotive BASIC in the same way the Commodore BASIC V2 didn’t gain commands for sprites and this is Amstrad doing the exact same thing that the author despises Commodore for. It was presented as yet another example of the author’s bias and his vain attempt to class it as “waffling” holds water like a sieve.

My post about the CPC664’s 30th anniversary, is nothing to do with what Amstrad did years later on the Amstrad 464 Plus and 6128 Plus! By this stage, Alan Sugar and Amstrad had gone way past the “sharp practice” which was how a magazine I phoned described his stunt of discontinuing the CPC664 after only 4 months.

And yet this and the further tirade that accompanied it still rather hypocritically fails to earn Alan Sugar or Amstrad anywhere near the levels of hatred that Jack Tramiel and Commodore receive from the author. Despite describing Amstrad’s actions as “a severe blow to [the author’s] confidence and self esteem” (and Commodore didn’t scrap the C64 six months after the author purchased one) there is no blog from him called “Amstrad CPC664 Crap”.

I don’t think any dirty trick like this had been played by any computer manufacturer before then, although someone out there may know different.

There weren’t many blatant examples (so, again, why Amstrad doesn’t receive at least as much abuse from the author as Commodore is something of a mystery that we might have to ponder at length later) but companies regularly produced upgraded versions of their machines which left at least part of the user base behind without an upgrade path for their existing hardware.

I didn’t lie to my Dad about the Amstrad CPC664 not having 128K, I just kept it to myself, because I thought my Dad would prevent me from having one if he found out it didn’t have 128K.

This is called lying by omission since the author deliberately misled his father by not mentioning the difference in RAM size between what he was meant to be choosing and the CPC664. It’s worth noting that, since the CPC664 was discontinued very soon after purchase by Amstrad in favour of a 128K machine, that the author’s father was right.

TMR confessed that with the C64 some users were forced to buy second hand disk drives because they were so expensive.

In the UK during the 1980s there were a lot of people who had to buy their computer equipment second hand regardless of platform because the country was in recession; a new disk drive for an Atari 8-bit didn’t cost much less than one for the C64 and the Amstrad CPC6128 was out of reach for many as well. For some people, even the humble Sinclair Spectrum with a cassette deck was a major investment brand new that couldn’t be taken lightly.

The drives ran painfully slowly, and used the old fashioned 5.25″ really flimsy floppy disks, which had to be stored in envelopes, and users weren’t allowed to write on the disk labels when the contents changed! They were easily damaged and corrupted, while Amstrad’s disks were quite secure.

Nobody in their right mind should be surprised that computer from 1982 used the disks that were most common around the time it was released; the C64 shares the 5.25” floppy disk with the Apple II, Atari 8-bit, early IBM PCs/compatibles and other popular systems.

Robustness does depend somewhat on the quality of the disks themselves (there were a lot of cheap and very cheerless floppies doing the rounds from less reputable vendors) but the better brands matched Amstrad’s 3” floppies for data retention. Your correspondent owns 5.25” floppies which survived a postal journey from Australia in the 1980s in a jiffy bag packed with just a sheet of cardboard that still work to this day and has spoken to several people who recovered old Atari, Commodore and Apple projects that were stored on decades old 5.25” disks.

When it comes to transfer speed, as has been mentioned previously the C64 is only slow if used without a fastloading scheme and there were lots of those available with quite a few being free software distributed user to user or via dial up services such as Compunet.

I started to learn Z80 Machine Code even before buying the CPC664, but I often read letters and articles saying how it was essential to buy “The Concise Firmware Manual” by Amstrad, which I didn’t think I could afford, so that held me back. I eventually got hold of a cheaper book called “The Ins and Outs of The Amstrad” by Melbourne House, then I was suddenly able to read about and use lots of or even any of the many ROM firmware routines, which the C64 had hardly any of, which enabled me to draw lines on the screen in Machine Code.

There were books for the C64 with small machine code libraries that could have taught the author pretty much exactly the same thing. Please note once more dear reader that the author didn’t put the same effort into the C64 which once more displays his almost irrational bias.

Whatever new releases have appeared for the C64 since mid February 2015 doesn’t prove anything.

To restore the context again removed by the author, February 2015 was chosen in that previous post because that was roughly when the author had last posted; despite the author’s claim it proves that people aren’t struggling to program the C64 as he has continuously and erroneously claimed, which essentially undermines his main “argument”. And that’s before we’ve remembered that the same website catalogues user-generated content from over thirty years.

The article that the author claims is needed very obviously isn’t because people are not only quite happily picking up and programming the C64, they’re doing so in as large or often larger numbers than for other 8-bit systems.

One thing I’ve realised in recent years is the absolute necessity of flowcharting. It’s impossible to create anything more than a short, simple program without doing a flowchart first. I read about flowcharts in books, but there were also articles and comments from people like TMR who said that flowcharts didn’t matter, or weren’t that important.

Apart from issues with documenting programs running at multiple levels of interrupt which can and usually do interact with each other at unexpected moments, the process of producing and maintaining a flowchart merely gets in the way of a large, expanding project.[1] The author has yet to complete a “long and impressive program” with or without a flowchart and is therefore unequipped to comment.

The aftermath of all these computers with BASIC on ROM instead of an operating system, most of them using either a Z80 or a 6502 CPU, or a CPU which was compatible with the Z80 or 6502, which have now been replaced by PCs or Macs running an OS such as Microsoft Windows, Mac OSX, or Linux, is that lots of people are desperate to program anything at all on a computer in a simple programming language, and even to somehow take control over a computer, instead of the computer denying them access to its hardware. This is the thinking behind the astounding Raspberry Pi computer. Users are recommended to program either in Scratch, which is totally graphic, or in Python, which can easily do graphics

There’s some very twisted “logic” going on here; Python or Scratch are freely available to be installed on a Windows or Linux machine (your correspondent assumes the same is true of OSX but isn’t a Mac user since the PowerPC days so can’t comment) so the Pi doesn’t deliver anything that isn’t available elsewhere in that respect. It’s also hard to argue that Scratch has much to do with the ROM-based BASICs of the 1980s since it very deliberately moves away from that programming model whilst Python programming uses extension libraries which have more in common with C64 BASIC using extensions or indeed C than the feature laden ROM-based BASIC dialects the author tries to champion.

Finally, I’d like to a wish happy 30th anniversary to the Amiga computer again! The Amiga was designed by ex Atari engineers, and was a “super Atari” computer. They planned to sell it to Atari, but meanwhile Jack Tramiel’s price war had turned Atari into a loss making division of Warner Brothers.

It was Warner’s mismanagement of Atari that turned it into a loss making division of Warner Brothers; it might be somewhat “breathless” in the writing style, but Atari Inc.: Business Is Fun by Curt Vendel and Marty Goldberg is worth reading for the actual story of how the majority of Atari’s eggs ended up in the 2600’s basket and why this pushed what would become Amiga away.

Commodore bought the Amiga computer and hired the team who created it, but of course Commodore didn’t understand the Amiga because it was a “super Atari” computer, not a Commodore computer. After this, they were quick to get rid of the Amiga’s creators and got their own Commodore engineers to repackage it into the A500 and A2000 versions.

So they “didn’t understand” the Amiga but managed to redesign the motherboard several times for the various Commodore-produced Amigas…

What Commodore couldn’t do was redesign the graphics, sound and other chips, because they didn’t really understand them. All they did was increase the amount of RAM the chips could directly access (Chip RAM) from 512K to 1Mb. Eventually, in 1992 Commodore managed to release an upgraded graphics chip in the new A1200 and A4000

…and couldn’t redesign the chips apart from those times they redesigned the chips for the various Commodore-handled upgrades during the Amiga’s lifespan such as the ECS chipset which the author has glossed over. As “arguments” go this is particularly flimsy and should only be treated with contempt.

Post-Tramiel Commodore’s mistake with the Amiga was similar to pre-Tramiel Atari’s with the Atari 2600, it sold well enough that they rested on their laurels rather than upgrade right up to the point where their competition went roaring past. And we do have to remember that the PC predated the Amiga and had a far better commercial foothold from the business side of things before it was launched, so trying to compete against a behemoth like that is always going to be an uphill battle.

[1] Your correspondent hasn’t drawn a flowchart since the 1980s when it was part of the GCSE Computer Studies curriculum and even then he tended to draw the flowchart up after the program was complete because it was easier that way.

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7 Responses to The author gets distracted

  1. darkborn says:

    I’m not sure my comment is accepted so I will c&p again.
    I tried to replay to troll’s “Was the C64 ever fixed” but it is not allowed to. So I’ll do it here.

    This is the most crappiest blog I ever heard of. Full of failed “facts” – desinformations packed into a quite weird attitude. This is a school example of TROLLING. I suppose that you were thinking, desperately, “how do I make my shitty blog popular”? So, you find out *best-selling computer ever*, with *hundred of thousands of games* and *millions of users* and – start the attack!
    My dear, tell me one thing: if tens of millions of people thinks one way, are they really “wrong” just because – you’ve got opposite attitude? OMFG.
    And now, let’s go to the facts. C64 BASIC was kind of crappy because – it was NEVER intended for serious programming, it was just to *introduce* you with possibilities. There is a reason why is this done like that, no need to explain.
    Just to show you how wrong you are:
    “I really don’t care about various software released by third parties or even by Commodore themselves which went part of the way to alleviate the situation.”
    When you buy Windows for example, do you get Visual Basic or C# included, or Photoshop, or even Office? NO, you have to – buy it – IT IS NOT INCLUDED. This is how things works.
    Replacement hardware that will extend possibilities? Yeah, there were a plenty of them (and still are), but it is the same thing: if you want to play with e.g. music at PC, you HAVE TO buy a decent sound card. And probably MIDI adapter – same as on C64. and so on.
    And what about this:
    “the sound was distorted through any TV”; ” especially as I used my C64 with a B&W mono TV set most of the time, as did lots of other people, including all C64 owners I met at my local computer club.”
    This is totaly BS. I really don’t know why do you need B&W TV in 1984 – most people at 1984, even in the poorest countries like SSSR satelite countries got – color TV. SID is analog synthesizer and sound that is produced by it is great, probably better then today – through emulation and digital sound card.
    I heard it at dosens of cheap TV, it sounds at least very good.
    Btw, SID synthesizer is mono – so it was like that; at Amstrad CPC you have “stereo” buzzer instead of real chip which had HARDWARE mono output, which is impossible to fix it.

    So, you’ve stucked with BASIC. Let’s talk about it.
    I’ve got mine C64 with “Spectrum basic emulator” included, I even managed to load/save Spectrum tape BASIC games with it! I programmed some simple demos that I run on real Speccy. Unfortunately, even this BASIC is crap. No serious game could be produced with it. Same thing is with most 8-bit computers – afaik only CPC got Locomotive Basic which was NOT “just a BASIC” and was sold SEPARATELY as ROM extension (old version that were in ROM were buggy and shitty, so if you got 464 -you were stucked). Those extensions ROMS were simmilar to numerous cartridges for C64. Just for example, Graphic Basic or Simon’s.

    C64 was designed as expandible machine, through cartridges / ports or disk drive software (1541 etc disk drive is actually almost complete another C64!). It was natural thing. Although, those thing were too expensive for this time. But today they are not – they are “virtual” and mostly free, so you can try it.

    So, what will you say about “DECENT BASIC”, fast, expandable (!), with mouse support, menu support, graphic & sound support, and virtualy no memory limits – because it could swap with 4 disk drives as a virtual memory (as Windows, Mac, Linux, Android and most modern OSes today do)?
    And programs made by it could be run at EVERY C64/128 machine, real or virtual, WITHOUT any kind of “interpreter” or any “super expander bs” cartridge?
    It is called DotBASIC+, it was commercial but it is free for some time. Also, included is great manual, editors for graphics (patterns, fonts…), SPRITES and music. All of them are written in – DotBASIC itself. And many other examples: Sudoku, Minesweeper and so on.
    “Loadstar” e-magazine was made with it, people are using it for stuff like that (mouse, menus, graphic & sound, fast disk load / save).
    If you’re stuck I’ll be glad to help you, just no more hate speech & foolishness, please.

    Regards, DarkBorn

    • TMR64 says:

      He’s got a history of ignoring or deleting comments he disagrees with and that’s pretty much how this blog got started, as a means to respond and correct the personal opinion and hyperbole being presented as facts. I’ve no idea why he fixates on BASIC so much and it’s not as though he’s achieved anything substantial with any other dialect either.

      Just for your information DarkBorn, both of your posts made it to the moderation queue so I trashed the older one (it appeared to be identical, my apologies if not) and left this standing.

  2. dhyvd says:

    I think I will follow you both, because you seem to strongly argue about things that shouldn’t really matter anymore, but still do. Apparently. Also, I basically didn’t have the budget to do anything re: computing until the PC era, so although I had a C64, I only got a Disk Drive and got into programming finally because of closing-down sales in the early 90s as “emme esse dose is taking over everything”.

    Behind the scenes, the imperialistic drive to server a strong, evil, overlord, won out, which is why I say it doesn’t matter anymore. Humanity has chosen SkyNet as its leader and the only saving grace is that they coded it in LISP and thus, it is slower than paint but “knows that the architecture is correct: (in its words) so it won’t convert to something practical.

    • TMR64 says:

      I’d say that these things sort of matter to some degree in a historic sense even if this or t’other blog don’t and probably never will. I honestly don’t have a problem with that personally because this blog is mostly done for my own amusement and it comes as an unexpected but pleasant surprise to know other people are reading, but my “opponent” is a different matter and I really can’t put my finger on his motivations… I doubt anybody who knew about home computers in the 1980s wasn’t aware that the C64 came with a weak dialect of BASIC so he’s preaching to the converted there, but anybody who really wanted to program just sat down and did it anyway.

      Ultimately the computer industry boiled down to Wintel machines on the high street, hipsters running Macs and more hardcore geeks with Linux or BSD boxes (said for “comic effect” of course and I’ve owned all the t-shirts at some point) but the route it took to get there is varied and interesting; Commodore were a major part of that journey and loved by millions at the time but often get forgotten in the history books despite the C64 basically being the machine that large chunks of what would become the software industry learnt on.

      • dhyvd says:

        I think it matters not only in an historical sense, but also in a business sense. If we want to learn from the “false history” that is being said, that Apple and Microsoft started it all, forgetting Commodore, MOS, Motorola, Zilog, and their influence on what is now ARM, Nintendo’s electronic entertainment devision, the SNK/Neo Geo, and so forth…. is a reminder that sometimes people who shout the loudest often know the least, and maybe we who know better (a C64 was my first programmable machine, and despite my half-sleeping rants I did actually learn a lot on it – not as much as I would have liked, but that was for more social and financial reasons than technical) should also speak up (or at least, write up) and set the record more straight, and also, learn a bit about the difference between a great technical system and a great business system.

      • TMR64 says:

        Churchill said that history is written by the victors and it was Wintel and to a lesser degree Apple who ultimately came out on top, but although most of the books out there now have a particular company as a focus they do at least tell part of the story. Anybody wanting to really know the history of the 8-bit computers needs to go through several different works and the relevant titles vary depending on geographical location too, all the while remembering that authors tend towards telling a good story rather than being a hundred percent accurate.

        As to if this blog is fighting that greater fight for historical accuracy… I’m not sure. It certainly wasn’t meant to head down that road and what is loosely referred to as “the plan” was always to be a counterpoint to my “rival” presenting corrections and facts where they’re available and an alternative personal opinion to fill the gaps when they’re not. I’d like to think it’s a more accurate representation than C64Hater’s version of events but it’s not an objective historical source.

      • dhyvd says:

        As you say, no historical source is objectively accurate, it takes several to tease out a solid picture, just as it takes a jury or panel of judges and such to tease out the justice in a matter.

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