Knowing me, knowing EU

Debunking The Commodore 64 the EU and Brexit

The author’s latest little missive is something of a stretch considering the author’s self-stated topic of “explaining why the Commodore 64’s BASIC V2 was crap and how some people managed to program the C64”; the post being examined here completely ignores the stated aim (although that hardly comes as a surprise) and steps well outside of the author’s self-imposed 1984 to 1985 window at the same time! And, considering how inaccurate his posts are generally, it’s hard to believe that anybody sensible would take notice of his political commentary without at the very least double checking the facts.[1]

Unfortunately, things didn’t go entirely according to plan. Lots of foreign computers were widely sold in the EEC and at one stage Commodore was the largest supplier. Of course, there were also lots of computer manufacturers native to the EEC, including Sinclair, Acorn, Tangerine with their Oric and Microtan computers, Thomson, and Olivetti.

And, because the C64 and other Commodore hardware for the EU was manufactured within the EU, we have to include Commodore on that list as well dear reader, unless we’re holding some kind of pathetic, childish grudge of course.

 I remember Ian McNaught-Davis (RIP) on the BBC’s Micro Live TV series presenting some charts which showed how there was a lot of trade protectionism in the USA

It’s probably fun for the author to throw terms like “trade protectionism” around but actually demonstrating it is far more difficult since there are so many factors in play. For example, the American home computer market had a significant head start on the UK so taking a 48K system like the Sinclair Spectrum over as the Timex Sinclair 2068 in 1983 when companies like Apple and Atari had been doing the same general kind of computer since the late 1970s and were already moving beyond even the expanded machine’s specifications was, even if we’re being charitable, a questionable idea at best.

Obviously, the EEC should have blocked Commodore from ever setting up a subsidiary inside the EEC, then set up some kind of quality control or non tariff barrier to stop Commodore computers from entering the EEC, but they failed to do either of those things.

No dear reader, obviously they were right not to block Commodore in that way because these rules aren’t made for a single company and the same “logic” would also have applied to the UK arm of American company Timex who manufactured the Spectrum for Sinclair or indeed other companies whose headquarters were outside the ECC like Atari or indeed the MSX consortium.

The EEC could have made up some rules such as that foreign computers sold in the EEC would have to have a minimum spec before getting a permit to be sold. Computers made by companies in the EEC all seemed to have quite advanced versions of BASIC, so Commodore and Sharp (whose MZ80K had NO language on ROM), could have been required to have the same. Unfortunately, they weren’t.

That net would also catch a lot of other hardware on sale which didn’t come with BASIC in ROM or didn’t match the author’s requirements; remember dear reader that, even if we ignore all of the non-consumer systems such as mainframes or minicomputers, a ruling such as this would also have outlawed sales of the Jupiter Ace, earlier models of the Atari 8-bit series (where BASIC was on cartridge), blocked the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga… some of which are machines the author has previously championed for one reason or another!

And companies are endlessly resourceful when it comes to finding work-arounds for these rules anyway, look at Amstrad’s Spanish distributor Indescomp who released the “72K” CPC472 simply to get around tariffs aplied to systems not meeting certain criteria which had 64K or less; that extra 8K of RAM was a single chip that wasn’t electrically connected to the computer and therefore useless!

In Sweden there was a quite well thought out computer called the ABC80  , which came out in 1978. This was based round the Z80 CPU and had its own type of BASIC, which was self compiling, so ran much faster than other dialects of BASIC, at a similar speed to Assembly Language/Machine Code.

Natively compiled BASIC (or, as the linked Wikipedia article describes it in the case of the ABC80, semi-compiling) will be faster than the original, fully interpreted BASIC program but simply can’t be expected to produce machine code execution speeds. It’s also worth remembering that compilation has memory overheads, reducing the available memory for programs as well.

Unfortunately, this computer wasn’t very successful outside Sweden, which was probably due to Sweden only being part of EFTA instead of the EEC.

There is no “probably” here and the author is merely guessing once more. But since we’re on the subject of the ABC80, here’s video of a recent demo called Hires Invasion created by members of Genesis Project which uses precise timing to create high resolution graphics on a machine not equipped for them:

(Genesis Project are primarily a C64 group dating back to the 1980s, hence the link above to their profile at the C64 Scene Database.)

After this, there might actually be a lot of manufacturing in Britain by cottage industries, making copies of foreign computers because most people wouldn’t be able to afford the real thing, the same as happened in the USSR, where there were lots of Sinclair Spectrum clones. Of course, no other countries would buy these goods.

This merely demonstrates a lack of understanding as regards what goes into a modern computer, dear reader; home computer development and manufacture wasn’t a small scale, cottage-style industry in the 1980s and now things are in a completely and utterly different league.

Of course, I advise everyone against subscribing to Sky TV, or to unsubscribe if they already do, because it’s owned by Rupert Murdoch, who brainwashed lots of people in the UK into voting Leave, because “When I go to Downing Street they do as I say. When I go to Brussels they usually take no notice”.

Your correspondent wouldn’t head anywhere near as far down the tinfoil-hat-wearing path as the author does by suggesting that the media broadcast by Murdoch-owned companies “may contain brainwashing and even subliminal messages”[2] (because everything is broadcast digitally and conclusive proof of such shenanigans couldn’t remain concealed for any extended period) but, generally speaking at least, your correspondent actually agrees that Murdoch’s influence on the United Kingdom isn’t a positive one.

Just imagine what a difference it would have made! If the Commodore 64 had been banned in the EEC.

We can easily imagine some of the effects dear reader; Commodore employed a huge number of people in those territories who would otherwise have not been in work and their computers were the starting point for an equally large percentage of the home grown game development and other IT-related industries throughout Europe. Taking them and other US influences (as we’ve previously noted, the author’s suggestion of an ECC “rule” to remove Commodore would also have impacted on Atari, Sinclair, the MSX consortium and others) out of the economy without anything else to fill those voids would have been a complete and utter disaster.

[1] Your correspondent may also be offering a personal commentary on socio-political matters, but doesn’t expect to be taken seriously or avoid being fact checked where appropriate, even in the current “post truth” environment.

[2] The author rather subversively suggests using illegal means to watch the Fox productions he feels may contain subliminal messages but, if that were actually true, obtaining said media outside of Fox’s control wouldn’t remove said subliminals so they’d still be a danger to the viewer!

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The comments return

Since there’s been some activity from the author and “Old C64 etc. Programmer” in the comments for a September 2015 post; this exchange has quite the word count, so for brevity we’ll start with the author’s first ejaculation where he says:

You point out that the SID sound chip has 29 registers and the VIC-II has 47 registers. That’s a total of 76 registers.

This was written in response to “Old C64 etc. Programmer” commenting that:

Of those 29 registers three blocks of 7 registers had same function but just for different voices of the SID chip so all one had to remember was 7 registers and continuous block they were in memory. Rest had volume, filter etc.

In other words the author was given a simple way to remember twenty one of those SID registers but ignored that part of the post completely when replying! Presumably the same thing happened when the author was reading the C64 documentation as well because, as “Old C64 etc. Programmer” would later point out, the same applies to a large chunk of those forty seven VIC-II registers with the first seventeen dealing with sprite X and Y positions, nine more for sprite colours and five controlling border/screen colours. And then there’s the way that sample programs in the C64 manual set a variable to the base address of the VIC-II and use easy to remember two digit offsets, something else the author has apparently been ignoring.

Since the Atari ST is mentioned in passing, the author goes off topic and outside his self-imposed 1984 to 1985 window whilst commenting that…

I recently saw a video by Dan Wood of Kooky Tech which revealed that there was actually a version or distro of UNIX specially written for the Atari ST, but then Jack Tramiel was so tight fisted that he refused to pay the price for it, so that was why it came with CP/M 68K rebranded as TOS with the GEM Desktop.

According to Landon Dyer – an Atari employee who was involved with the software side of the Atari ST’s creation – the Tramiels actually negotiated an exceptional per seat price for an AT&T flavour of UNIX and wanted the Atari ST to run it; the reason it wasn’t used is technical[1] rather than financial, so nothing to do with Jack Tramiel. It’s also worth reading Dyer’s two posts from about the Atari ST’s development dear reader, because the author’s claim that the Atari ST shipped with “CP/M 68K rebranded as TOS with the GEM Desktop” is debunked by the second where the move from CP/M to GEMDOS is documented; since the latter was a work in progress, it can’t be described as “a recycled CP/M”.

This is because the PEEK and POKE commands aren’t limited to those 76 locations. There are even one or two books dedicated to PEEK and POKE on the C64. One of these is called “PEEKs & POKEs For The Commodore 64” by HJ Liesert published by Data Becker in 1984, but the English language edition by Abacus not until January 1985. […] This book is 197 pages up until the Index, so it’s no good pretending that a page or two listing some memory locations would be enough.

The book in question is indeed 197 pages to the index but isn’t merely a list of locations to PEEK or POKE as the author is falsely implying here; merely skim reading the index demonstrates this dear reader since there’s a whole chapter dedicated to machine code, hexadecimal and binary arithmetic, and we’ll have to conclude that the author failed to even look past the cover.

And whilst the claim that PEEK and POKE commands aren’t limited to the seventy six video and audio registers on the C64 is true, it’s also the case for other 8-bits and anybody who has tried to use the hardware sprites from BASIC on both the C64 and an Atari 8-bit should have noticed that the latter is more involved and requires more POKE commands overall; moving a twenty one pixel high, three colour sprite-based object vertically takes 84 POKEs compared to one on the C64.

Now we return to “Old C64 etc. Programmer”, whose most recent post at the time of writing poses an interesting question to the author:

Mind telling how you had to set things as Amstrads sounds for? I recall it had Sound command that took metric fuckton of parameters. Why you feel it was different to separate them just after SOUND command with comma, instead of just poking them?

Your correspondent hadn’t previously looked at the BASIC SOUND command on the Amstrad CPC, but after a little research over at the CPC Wiki, the parameters for the aforementioned are:

SOUND Channel, Period, Duration, Volume, Volume-Envelope, Tone-Envelope, Noise

So that’s seven values with some of the numbers used being four or five digits long. The duration can be anything from 0 to 32,767 whilst the frequency is between 0 and 4095[2] and the channel value is selected via binary with bits one, two and four referring to the three channels. These parameters, their ranges and how they interact with each other are no easier to commit to memory than the C64 registers.

[1] The 68000 CPU used by the Atari ST doesn’t have memory management and any attempt to port UNIX would have ended up with a slow and particularly unstable operating system. The cost of adding an MMU to the design would have cranked the Atari ST’s price up to unrealistic levels since even the more affluent Apple Macintosh didn’t ship with one as standard at that time.

[2] The author has previously complained at great length about how he hates mathematics but calculating the note frequencies will require, for the first time at least, some number crunching. Have a look again at the CPC Wiki page dear reader, in particular the part about calculating the Period.

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The hills are alive – part 2

Debunking Making music – part 2

It’s been over four months between the first and second instalments of “Making music” on the author’s blog and your correspondent was starting to think that Brexit had done for him or something! Granted your correspondent hasn’t posted since late November either – on that front, the CSDb competition that Clonetro was entered into had over fifty entries in total and there’s a YouTube playlist for those interested – but, since the primary task of this blog is to react to the author’s bile-laden missives, not having any posts over there will have at least some impact on what happens here as well unless your correspondent finds alternatives to amuse himself.

Unfortunately, it seems that WordPress have now disabled the preview thumbnail for YouTube videos, so I can’t do anything about that without paying.

Presumably the author hasn’t done his research properly again in order to realise that the sharing options on YouTube provide a URL which can be pasted into WordPress blogs…? Update added late on 20/01/2017; the author revised his post to remove the quoted paragraph above and include some embedded videos after your correspondent “went to press”; either the author saw your correspondent’s advice here – in which case “you’re welcome” and it’s nice to know the author is at least paying attention some of the time – or another method presented itself after some actual research. At the time of writing, the original version of the author’s missive is available from Google’s cache but that may not remain the case for long.

For example, here’s an embedded YouTube video of X’2016 demo competition winner The Phoenix Project by Bonzai.

(That competition had over twenty entries, along with a large number of graphics and music releases; as we’ve noted before dear reader, there are a lot of people out there not finding the C64 difficult to work with in the way that the author has.)

Eventually, I found out that I could use a computer to play all the instruments. It wasn’t a really good idea on computers which had only three or even four channel synthesizer chips, but the Yamaha CX5M Music Computer was much better with its eight channel synthesizer module.

In 1985 when the author presumably made this purchase, the C64 also had an FM option available from the manufacturer; the SFX Sound Expander which came with a nine channel Yamaha YM3526 OPL sound chip. Here’s a picture of your correspondent’s SFX Sound Expander connected to a passing C64C…

Your correspondent's C64C with SD2IEC and SFX Sound Expander

Your correspondent’s C64C with SD2IEC and SFX Sound Expander

…and we’ll also include an embedded YouTube video from 4-Mat[1] of Ate Bit’s release FMSid Demosong which combines the expansion’s output with the C64’s onboard SID chip.

There’s also a video on his channel of tunes from various arcade soundtracks using the same Yamaha audio hardware being played on the C64, as well as examples that simulate the sound hardware of the C16, Atari ST, BBC Micro and Atari 8-bit with the C64’s SID chip.

Software which enabled people to program a synthesizer to play different instrumental parts at the same time was in general called a sequencer.

The majority of the diatribe from this point is completely and utterly irrelevant to the author’s stated topic of “explaining why the Commodore 64’s BASIC V2 was crap and how some people managed to program the C64”. Including something about how to program the Yamaha hardware from BASIC might have been tangentially relevant but the author didn’t even bother with that topic despite hypocritically complaining about his own issues with controlling the C64’s SID chip from BASIC.

 However, it’s also the 30th anniversary of the release of the Amiga A500, the computer which enabled lots more people to afford an Amiga. Don’t forget that the Amiga has nothing to do with the C64 except that Commodore bought the company.

Let’s pause to remember that the author has repeatedly tried to keep things within the 1984 to 1985 window when he owned a C64 previously; the Amiga 500 didn’t come out until 1987 and it wouldn’t be until 1988 when it gained real market traction so it was sales of the C64 which were keeping the company afloat in order to make that investment in the Amiga!

 The Amiga is based on Atari 8 bit computers, both projects headed up by Jay Miner (RIP).

There are some similarities between the two but also some significant differences as well; there are no character-based display modes on the Amiga which meant the machine would later struggle to hold its own when up against the tile based 16-bit consoles and those bitmapped displays are built from bitplanes rather than combining bits within the same byte for each pixel as the Atari 8-bit does.[2]

Just imagine how things could have been if Amiga A500 owners could have plugged in an amazing third party graphics card which could have given the graphics edge back to the Amiga over PCs, instead of just keeping up with PCs when the AGA chipset was released.

What made the A500 popular was, as the author has already pointed out, being sold for an affordable price; the kind of expandability referred to here would have significantly increased the price and moved the machine out of that lower end of the market. We don’t have to imagine either dear reader, because users wanting to a more expandable Amiga could choose the desktop models which do have expansion slots and a range of third party options such as the Video Toaster or Picasso 4 cards. These slots were actually added to the Amiga’s design by Commodore, the original Amiga has the same 86 pin edge connector that features on the A500.

[1] Yes, that 4-Mat dear reader, the one who composed all manner of excellent Amiga modules including those for the games Chuck Rock and Leander as well as ridiculous numbers of demo and menu tunes for groups like Share And Enjoy, Red Sector and Anarchy.

[2] The Atari 8-bit doesn’t have expansion slots either, but the author was presumably hoping that everybody would ignore that difference too.

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