First Steps

by Mark Hutchinson


Issue 22

Jul/Aug 86

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Another look at WRITE A GAME plus some problems

Cliff Winship from Gloucester has been a real eager beaver since 'WRITE-A-GAME' appeared. I have included his routine to allow the computer to choose and play. The first thing that I noted was that he had read my article on Boolean algebra (issue 10) and included a sample in line 10020. He also made use of the ON GOTO routine instead of separate lines using the IF statement (line 10030).

Unfortunately no-one seems to have tried the 'homework', i.e. storing previous choices and comparing them. Cliff used a random routine which will work well but will not give an intelligent game. So, in an effort to elicit some reader response I will offer a tutorial tape to the person who comes up with the best answer to this problem by 18th July. I would ask that the more experienced programmers leave this little problem to the novices, after all this is their column! Failing all this I guess I will just have to rack my brains and come up with some sort of solution - sigh!

Tape Problems

I noticed in issue 21 that Nick from South Wirral had a faulty 410. I would like to suggest some possible remedies for similar 410's (or 1010's, or even XC's!). The most common cause of tape failure concerns the read/write heads. These tend to pick up airborn dust and grease as well as the usual ferric dust from the tapes. This is easy to cure - just give them a wipe with a soft cloth or cotton bud soaked in a proprietary degreaser and then wipe dry. Make sure the cotton bud is not held on with adhesive! When my brother worked for Grundig he used carbon tetrachloride as a cleaner. This is carcinogenic (cancer causing) and is now banned, so be careful what you use and always wash your hands afterwards. At a pinch, he used lighter fuel - the aerosol variety! The heads can be cleaned more easily by opening the lid, pushing the little silver lever at the left rear of the tape compartment and pressing the PLAY button to extend the head platine.

Tape heads sometimes tend to hold magnetic flux (becoming a magnet and thus corrupting tape data). Manufacturers deny this with modern materials, but it is known to happen- why else can you buy de-gaussers? The de-gausser, a device used to remove the flux, can be a hand held device or come in the shape of a cassette. They can be borrowed from some hi-fi libraries, but they are cheap. If you know anything about the Philadelphia Experiment please do not panic, degaussing is not so cataclysmic!

The last item is seldom mentioned but is a contributing factor. The 410 is belt driven and the belt will age and stretch over a period of years. Belt slippage causes speed fluctuations and will make the tapes unreadable. Belts are only a few pence from most hi-fi or electronic shops (e.g. Maplin).

Drive Heads

I was recently asked by Stan Fallaize to recommend a good drive head cleaner. This is a real controversial subject, and whoever you talk to will have a different opinion on it. Although the drive head is extremely close to (but not touching) the disk and therefore not picking up ferric residue as will a tape head, the casing is open to airborn intrusion of dust, grease and other 'invaders'. I believe that the use of a wet cleaner applied for a few seconds, once a month, will not go amiss. The only bad bit is the dreadful 'snarking' noise your drive will make when it looks at the cleaning disk as, unfortunately, ATARI drives do not have a cleaning cycle. (Just to confuse you, I have never cleaned the heads on my drives and they probably get ten times more use than most people's do! Ed.)

To end this bout of spring cleaning I would recommend that the edge terminations of cartridges be cleaned with a liquid and soft cloth. Do not use anything abrasive with the contacts, they are gold coated to stop contamination and corrosive welding. My ATARI WRITER cartridge will some times do weird things and dirty edge connectors are the cause.


As an aside, do you know the origin of the words 'bug' and 'debug'? Well, when computers were in their infancy they were room sized and had to be very well ventilated. This left them open to various small insects which crawled or flew into the computer, landing on terminals and causing short circuits. Every so often the engineers had to go inside the computer and dust out these bugs. Fascinating stuff!

I look forward to some hints about future editions of this column, as well as answers to the above problem. Don't forget you can always write to me at P.O.Box 123, Belfast, BT10 0DB