The archive. Confetti. Type in programs. Read.

syncmagAs part of putting together a package of materials for Half-Byte Tiny Basic, I came across several gems that either reminded me of my early computing days or are cool enough for me to write about.

One such site is the Internet Archive. (The link takes you to the magazine rack. From there, use the search bar near the top of the page, and search for, say, ‘Byte’. Or computer magazines.)

Now, this site has a treasure trove of material, including the Way-Back machine. The Way-Back machine allows you to enter a URL and then see it in various incarnation through the years. It’s really interesting to see how the Internet and web design have developed. But, that’s not what caught my eye, as cool as that is.

No, it was the site’s collection of magazines, specifically, computer magazines. You can download scanned images of whole magazines, going back to the mid 1970’s.  I remember quite a few and even had many of them. At one point, I had the first ten years of Byte Magazine, THE computer magazine of the 1970’s and ‘80s.

Now, the magazines I was looking for, Dr Dobb’s (another one that I had the first seven years worth, but, no longer) Journal and a bunch of Sinclair ZX related magazines. Unfortunately, CMP has Dr Dobbs, so you won’t find it here, however, you will find Byte and a whole slew of Tandy, Commodore, Atari and, of course, Sinclair related magazines.

The quality of the scans various widely. Some are really nicely done and care taken to line them up correctly, etc. BUT…some were not cared for very well. But, hey, they ARE scanned and there’s no charge to download them, so…all considered, it is a treasure trove that I’ll not complain about.

So, I did find a few things that I was looking for, namely some type-in BASIC programs.  I am putting together a booklet of short type-in programs-games-to use on the Half-Byte Console and Tiny Basic. And, the Sinclair flavour of BASIC is close and the ZX-81 lunarzx81specs are very close to the Half-Byte Console, so the conversion is pretty easy. I will also be writing about such a conversion process. The downside is that there are few examples of Tiny Basic software, or other BASIC for that matter.  Type in software is a thing of the past and pre-dates the Internet. 

I certainly remember the thrill of getting my next issue of Computer Shopper, Compute! or Sync Magazine and anxiously looking at the type in games or utilities and converting them to whatever computer I wanted to use them on.  I had my ZX-81, my TRS-80 Color Computer and, eventually, a Xerox 820 that ran CP/M and several flavors of Basic. Of course, the 32k Extended Microsoft Basic was my favorite, but the Xerox had no graphics, so I spent a lot of time on the ZX or the CoCo. 

Typing in games was great. I got to learn what the program did, hone my typing skills and felt accomplished when I typed that last line, saved and then type RUN.  Inevitably, of course, I would have made a mistake and would have to fix it. Sometimes, I made no mistake-the listing was just wrong. Other times, I made a mistake converting the code and would have to correct it. Sometimes, that took minutes. Other times…DAYS. Oh my. I remember one game that took me hours to type in on my CoCo. I had an original CoCo, which had a crummy key board. UGH.  I hated that thing.  Never replaced it though.  Should have. 

Anyway, I get through typing in this game. Saved it on two different tapes, just to make sure. I type RUN, press RETURN and…nothing.  The damned computer hung.  I had to TURN IT OFF! Now, this meant re-loading the game and trying to figure out why it choked.  Loading anything from a tape was a laborious and risky task.  Will it load? You pray, even if you don’t believe, you pray that the Tape Gods are  favorable to you today and will allow the software to load.  Fortunately, I had not upset the Tape Gods and all was good.  I figured out that I had reversed two numbers that were in some MACHINE CODE that was getting POKED into memory and run.  So, I fix that.  Re-save. On three tapes, this time. I want to be safe.

I type RUN.

Boom! Confetti!

It started. 

I followed the directions and pressed the space bar to start the game.

Boom! No Jimmy Johnson. No Confetti. Only a damned Syntax Error and that stupid multi-colored cursor blink at me.

This problem, a multi-statement line where I left out a bloody colon in the middle of the line. That…took a week to find.  I ended up just retyping the line. Three times! I mistyped that same line two different times. The third time was the charm.  This time, there was confetti. And, it was good.

Ah, those were the days. ‘Free’ and open source software before it was called that. Well, not totally free. You still had to buy the magazine.

So, sit right back my friends, you are sure to get a smile…or a chuckle. Once the console is out of the door, expect to see a few type in games or utilities on these pages from time to time.


Kindles, iPods and crappy ear buds…high tech is not always best

LD-660If you’ve read a few of my posts here, you probably know how tech centric I am. I am a geek. A tech fan. A tech fanatic. I love technology. But…

I get tired of technology every now and again. And, just because I love technology, does not mean I loathe non-techie things. Like magazines. And books.  And things analog.

As much as I love my Kindles and iPad, I like to pick up a magazine, fresh from the newstand. The feel of the slick paper. The smell.  Having to actually, you know, drive to a store and walk inside, gander through the magazines and find the one I want. Yeah, I like doing that. I miss it. I subscribe to several magazines on my Kindle. One of them is no longer in PRINT, but still publishes a digital edition. While the publisher has done a fantastic job replicating the print edition in digital, the digital edition just isn’t the same.  Oh, sure, it has the same features, writers and even ads, it just is not the same thing. It is convenient to carry around and receive wirelessly, but I miss the paper edition.

Digital cameras have replaced film. Traditional film companies like Kodak and Fuji have abandoned film altogether. Digital seems to have won.  Now, don’t get wrong, I’m not a photographer and I love my digicams, but there is something missing from the photos I take. I’ve not been able to quite pinpoint it until recently while playing around with my HTC smartphone. I discovered that the camera app has settings to reproduce the LOOK OF FILM. Yep. All of the technology that went into the digital camera simply isn’t the same as film.  A friend of mine, recently, lamented the loss film saying that most digital photos lacked ‘life’.  I dismissed it (sorry) as being old fashioned. But, while playing with my phone, I discovered what my friend meant.  You can get really sharp photos with even a cheap digicam, but, without help, those photos look kind of lifeless. Take the same photo with a film camera and the photo takes on character.  My HTC phone replicates it via software. The color pops and the slight fuzziness all add up to a certain character that they would otherwise lack. It is hard to put into words, put I do understand now. I still love my digicams, but have a new respect for the old medium.

One thing I will not acquiesce on, however, is vinyl albums.  While they are still quaint and have a unique quality of sound, I rather enjoy the full range of digital audio. My complaint with modern albums (of the CD type) is the harsh and overly modulated sound and it is not a fault of the technology but of the producers.  More specifically, it is Apple’s fault. Those crappy little earbuds forced producers to play games with the audio so the tracks would sound better in those damned little cheap ear buds.  They, correctly, figured out that the majority of listeners use those crappy earbuds and NOT quality sound systems. iPods and other MP3 players are capable of decent quality audio (my Zune HD has superb output) but most of them will be used, solely, with those crappy ear buds.  Did I mention they were crappy?

Television. A medium that, in the United States, changed very little for nearly 50 years.  The last major change was color, and that took nearly 25 years. Then it was stereo and that took about five years. Then, digital came along.  After several false starts, it finally was real.  Only problem was that most stations still treated their broadcasts like it was 1980.  Most stations were slow to adopt high definition technology to enhance the digital broadcasts. Those expensive HD televisions were, for a while, nothing more than expensive standard definition monitors.  As more and more HD programming hit the air, stations converted to HD and such, I found myself wanting to watch my older stuff.  Like my LaserDisc and, wait for it, my VHS tapes. I have programs I recorded 25 years ago. I have LaserDiscs I bought in 1989. I have video games that I only play on the last remaining CRT television (a Zenith, at that!) What the hell is wrong here? Well, the HD programming, for the most part, is just as bad as its SD counterparts. The technology got better, but content did not.  Sigh. 

Other technology that I thought would be a great thing but did not turn out that way…

Digital picture frames.  When I first saw them, I was enamored with them.  They were cool. You could have a live slide show in your bedroom, living room or on your desk. They were expensive at first, but the price came down. When I finally got one, I was…well, less than than impressed. The one I got, a Pandigital, was mediocre.  The quality on most was just OK. And that was part of the problem. Quality devices were, and still are, ridiculously priced. And then you have to rotate pictures out. And there’s the power cord. The reality of them was that they were just a pain in the ass.  It is a product category that needs fixing.

Digital watches. A fad that came, went, came again and is going away.  I want a nice, quality digital watch but they are hard to find.  A nice analog watch is easier to find and cheaper, so that is what I use. And, yes, people still wear watches.  Oh, and no, I don’t want an iPod mini in a watch band with crappy ear buds.

In the end, I’m still a techie, a nerd, a geek, a lover of things high tech.  Still, that technology is not necessarily the best thing all the time. Sometimes, it is just better to sit back, un plug and read a book while listening to some good music. On a ‘hi-fi’. No crappy ear buds in site.