Isn’t it amazing how just the right amount of news happens to fill the newspapers? Obviously not, because Editors pick and choose which news stories to publish. Here’s a story which could easily have happened, but AFAIK never appeared in any newspaper. Of course, this story is fictitious, but to give it a more authentic feel, a magazine and a computer dealer mentioned in it actually existed. The quote from Commodore is based on a letter I received from them about my complaint to the computer magazine that conned me into buying the Commodore 64, as well as their quotes in the computer press and a phone call I received from them offering me a 1541 disk drive after I’d sold my Commodore 64. I took great delight in telling them this over the phone that I didn’t have a Commodore 64. I forgot to add “any more”. Their reply was “Have you got a VIC-20?”, an even worse computer than the Commodore 64, with a 20 column display and no high resolution graphics., which I think was also compatible with the 1541 disk drive. I then said “I’ve got an Amstrad CPC664”, to which they replied “Oh YOU!!” before slamming the phone down. The 1541 disk drive was painfully slow, although it offered random access instead of sequential access. In theory, this could have made it possible for someone to write an extended BASIC compiler that produced a machine code program which would run without a copy of the extended BASIC being needed. Of course, this wasn’t possible using cassette. A compiler called PETspeed 2 was available which as the name suggests could only compile the crappy Commodore PET style BASIC, such as Commodore BASIC V2. The story was mainly inspired by me being kept behind after school by a nasty maths teacher with instructions not to go home before I’d finished a certain set or a page of problems which I didn’t know how to do. This meant I could have been there all night, or at least until the night classes began at about 7:30PM in the school. Luckily, I made sure I got his agreement that I could go home after half an hour before he left me there. There was another boy sitting in the same room doing absolutely nothing at all, while I was staring at my book with a pen in my hand racking my brains about how to do the maths problems I’d been set and just waiting for the half hour to end. After I went home, I had to get my Dad to show me how to do that particular type of maths problem, which used to happen a lot with that teacher. Our story takes place in May 1984


C64ISOviewA Commodore 64, the computer involved in this incident

A schoolboy at a school in SE London, was recently subjected to a four hour long unsupervised detention, which ended with him on the verge of a nervous breakdown!

Mr Wells, a maths teacher at the school, had a creative idea for a detention, which according to him, was supposed to be educational and could even have been completed in less than the standard half hour long period for detentions. Mr Wells said “Our school has recently bought computers of a few different types, instead of teaching pupils about just one type of computer. These computers are the BBC Micro, the Sinclair Spectrum, and the Commodore 64. I put three pupils each in front of one of these computers, gave them the accompanying User Guides, plus some other books and manuals for each computer, and told them to learn how to draw any geometric shape on the computer they were using, then print out the result, as well as the program listing before handing them in to the School Secretary, along with their computer, which would then be put away in a storage cupboard. Two of the pupils managed this, but the other one didn’t. I think that modern computers make programming very easy on youngsters today. I started programming in COBOL and PL/1 on mainframe computers”.

The Headmaster, Mr Smith said “This wasn’t actually an official detention. All our detentions at this school are supervised by a teacher. The incident has brought to my attention this maths teacher’s practice of keeping pupils behind after his lessons when they occur just before the lunch break, as well as at the end of the school day. The School Secretary, as well as some other members of staff, were also told to keep an eye out that pupils didn’t leave before he said they were supposed to. I’ve told him not to do this any more and suspended him for the time being”.

Steve Green, the schoolboy who ended up with the four hour detention, said “At home I’ve got a Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Mr Wells asked us all first if we owned a computer and if so, which one it was, then we weren’t allowed to use the same computer we owned. We had to use a different one instead, to learn about it. I was put onto the Commodore 64. I’ve been doing lots of things on my Spectrum, including writing some simple games, quiz programs, and programming graphic art, so I felt sure I’d get the hang of it, but I couldn’t find any way of plotting points or drawing lines on the Commodore 64. I couldn’t believe it! I had to start writing down and memorising 5 digit numbers representing memory locations. Most of these numbers seemed to begin with 532, representing the letters L, M, and N in a memory system I’ve studied. I thought up bizarre mental images featuring lemons to help me remember. Then, before I knew it, my head was swimming with 5 digit numbers and lemons!” Another pupil, John Sweeney said “I looked through the manuals for the BBC Micro and drew a square using the commands MODE, MOVE, and DRAW. It was all fairly quick and simple”. The other pupil, Amanda Parker, said “I read parts of the manuals for the Spectrum, and wrote a short program to draw a right angled triangle, using the commands PLOT, INK, and DRAW, but had problems typing it in because of the way the keyboard works. You have to use various key combinations instead of typing each command in letter by letter. Steve spent a few minutes showing me how to do that. He really seemed to know what he was talking about. I couldn’t believe it when I heard what had happened to him!”

Eventually, Steve was rescued from his ordeal when the Caretaker found him crying his eyes out in the toilets as people were coming into the school to attend night classes.

The magazine Popular Computing Weekly, which covers just about every make and model of computer told us “Unfortunately, the Commodore 64 has a very old fashioned dialect of the programming language BASIC built in. It contains no commands for colour, graphics, or sound, so it’s much more complicated to learn how to program these features on it. It would certainly take a lot longer than 4 hours and most Commodore 64 users never learn how to do it. If you look through various magazines specialising in Commodore computers, or in the Commodore 64 specifically, then you’ll soon come across comments such as ‘Neanderthal BASIC’, as well as lots or articles with listings to extend the BASIC, plus reviews and adverts for extended BASIC packages. There are several of these at least, but there’s no real market for any programs written using these extended BASICs, because people buying any such programs would need a copy of the same extended BASIC to run the program. This could encourage software piracy, as extended BASIC programmers may try to write a special loader which first loads a copy of the extended BASIC from cassette, while trying to cover up that this has been done, including preventing the name of the extended BASIC and the Copyright message from being displayed. Word would get round, then before you know it there would be stories such as ‘Buy this cheap game or application, don’t follow the loading instructions, but do this instead, then you’ll find you’ve got a free copy of UltraBASIC’, which is one of the most advanced and expensive extended BASICs for the Commodore 64”.

SilicaAdatari800xlISOviewAn Atari 800XL computer, one in a range of several models which are fairly compatible

A spokesperson for local computer dealer Silica Shop said “We specialise in Atari computers, but we sell various other computers as well, including the Commodore 64. We try and tell people what to expect with each individual computer, but we also stock current as well as back issues of specialist Atari magazines, which emphasise the power, creativity and ease of use of the Atari range of computers. Of course, the Commodore 64 is totally different, with far fewer colours and a very backward version of BASIC. This incident would never have happened with an Atari computer, because the problem would only require the commands GRAPHICS, PLOT, and DRAWTO. Additional commands such as SETCOLOR and COLOR could be used to select any particular colour from the palette of 256”.

Commodore_Plus_4ISOviewThe forthcoming Commodore Plus 4 computer

A spokesperson for Commodore Business Machines (UK) Ltd said “It can take thousands of hours to produce any piece of software, but it’s well worth persevering, because the results make it worthwhile. There are various graphic editor software packages for the Commodore 64 which enable users to draw any geometrical shape quite quickly. Some of these are available on disk only, but we often have special offers on disk drives for registered Commodore owners. We’ve taken on board criticisms of the BASIC supplied with the Commodore 64 and these have been addressed in our two new models the Commodore 16 and the Commodore Plus 4, which will go on sale in September. We advise people to learn Machine Code for serious programming anyway. I personally think it’s as easy as quantum theory”.

Posted July 30, 2013 by C64hater in Uncategorized

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