DEBUNKING TMR’S “PI FOR TEA”   Leave a comment


raspberry-pi-model-b-plus-case-800x533A Raspberry Pi Model B with one of the many types of cases, available in various colours

TMR of the Commodore 64 bootlicking blog had the cheek to try and debunk my previous article about the rebirth of programming on the Raspberry Pi computer, in his post “Pi for tea” , so here’s what I think of that!

Of course, all computers of the “home computer boom” in the 1980’s were designed to make a profit, but Commodore were more miserly, ruthless, and extortionate than other manufacturers by refusing to incorporate a custom version of BASIC in the Commodore 64 or VIC-20 computers to support their hardware. Other manufacturers, such as Acorn, Atari, and Sinclair, created or commissioned their own dialects of BASIC, while Tandy, Dragon, and MSX were happy to pay Microsoft for a version of their BASIC customised for their computers. Commodore made even more profit with a double whammy of selling cartridges such as Simons’ BASIC (by David Simons) and the Super Expander 64 (by Commodore), which contained commands that should have been built in, but couldn’t produce stand alone programs which would run on other C64’s without one of these cartridges inserted. Simons’ BASIC cost £50 in Britain during 1984, while the C64 itself cost about £199.

As for my “body of work” since selling the C64, that’s another matter. I started out on the Amstrad CPC664 by doing things such as trying to draw a portrait of someone in BASIC, which certainly isn’t possible in C64 BASIC, as well as experimenting with the language LOGO. I suffered a big blow to my confidence as explained in the second paragraph following this one. Not only that, but this blog is about programming, so I would actually have to show you some programming techniques which enable you to program something interesting, amusing or useful in a particular dialect of BASIC, in Z80 Assembler, 6502 Assembler, or 68000 Assembler, instead of just showing you a video of something, then claiming I’d programmed it. TMR has posted very little about programming in his blog, in spite of claiming that it’s easy. Of course, you should start any program by making a flowchart of what you want it to do.

ToshibaBestBitsToshiba’s “best bits” ad from 1984

The Amstrad CPC664, my second computer, seemed to have all the best bits of most other computers on the market at the time. It had 64K RAM, the same graphics chip as the BBC Micro giving it individual pixel clarity instead of colour bleed or colour attributes, advanced BASIC with more commands than BBC BASIC, including very powerful SOUND and ENVELOPE commands to control its AY-3-8912 3 channel sound chip, a built in speaker to avoid interference, interrupts from BASIC, a palette of 27 colours, a monitor and a disk drive included in the package, a stylish keyboard with MSX style diamond shaped keys in a cluster, as well as a copy of CP/M 2.2 with the LOGO programming language. Likewise, Toshiba claimed that MSX computers, in particular their HX10 model, had the best features of other computers, with 64K RAM, a cassette interface, two joystick ports, a built in PSU, 16 colours, 73 full stroke keys, a cartridge slot, a printer interface, sound output through the TV, and a separate 16K video memory. Unfortunately, they also made the mistake of claiming that its 32 sprites were more than any other non MSX computer, although this feature was shared by other computers using the same or compatible video chip, such as the Texas Instruments TI99/4A, Memotech MTX, and Tatung Einstein.

Unfortunately for me, soon after the CPC664’s release Amstrad showed the CPC6128 at the CES, then dealers and developers in Britain demanded to have this machine ASAP. Amstrad’s response was to quietly release the CPC6128 earlier than planned, in September 1985, without an announcement before this, as well as to discontinue the CPC664 instead of reducing its price or discontinuing the CPC464 with its built in cassette drive. This was a big blow to my confidence! The Spectravideo X’Press was one of many MSX computers on the market, so this may have been why it didn’t get the attention it deserved.

TMR also had the cheek to claim…

“since the C64 had at least the same percentage of its user base programming as the machines mentioned by the author, that equates to more programmers too”

Of course, I have no idea where he gets this information from, or what type of programming they were doing.

NOOBSinstallA Raspberry Pi OS installation in progress, selected from the NOOBS SD card image file

Linus Torvalds from Finland is the creator of the operating system Linux, which is based on a kernel, meaning collection of routines, he wrote to work in a similar way to UNIX or MINIX. The first computer he used was a Commodore VIC-20, but this was his Grandfather’s computer, not his own. It’s quite likely that his Grandfather didn’t have a clue what he was doing when he bought a VIC-20. Apart from this, there was poor availability and distribution of computers and software in Finland. Linus started programming the VIC-20, because it was difficult to get software, and it was all he had access to. The Commodore VIC-20 was crap for having only a 20 column display, using a graphics chip that Commodore had failed to find a market for, and most of all for using Commodore BASIC V2 recycled from the Commodore PET range of computers. It was bad, but not as complicated as the Commodore 64 which succeeded it. It’s quite significant that when Linus Torvalds got his first computer, using money he’d saved up, meaning that his parents had no say in the decision, he rejected the obvious C64 upgrade path and chose a Sinclair QL instead of the Commodore 64 which was very popular in Finland. In an interview he also said that he had considered buying an Acorn Archimedes as well, but he couldn’t find one in Finland. It seems he didn’t like mail order, so when he saw a Sinclair QL in a shop, he decided that was the computer for him. He wrote some software for it, claiming this was because there wasn’t much software available for it in Finland, but actually there wasn’t much software available for it in Britain either, although it attracted a fanatical fanbase, inspiring hobbyists to continue to produce more software, upgraded QL computers such as the GST Thor, as well as newer computers based on the QL from , but with 68040 and 68060 processors.

What these the Sinclair QL and Acorn Archimedes computers had in common were that both Acorn and Sinclair were based in Cambridge, England, both came with an advanced BASIC, influenced by Pascal, and both were internally 32 bit. Later, in 1991, Linus Torvalds bought an 80386 based PC, which represented a break from his previous programming in BASIC, 6502 Assembler, and 68000 Assembler. It was on this 386 PC that he started to use MINIX, a small clone of UNIX, used to teach students how UNIX worked. He used MINIX as the basis of Linux.

So, I think that’s all I need to say about TMR’s latest debunk. Look out for some more information about programming in the near future!

Posted November 27, 2014 by C64hater in Uncategorized

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