First Steps

by Mark Hutchinson


Issue 24

Nov/Dec 86

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I remember when I first bought my ATARI several years ago, PAGE 6 had not started and I had to subscribe to an American magazine. This was a new publication and was full of hints and tips. Unfortunately, as is the way of the world, most of the authors moved on to different and usually more involved subjects and beginners did not get so much help. If you, as a beginner, were to start reading that magazine at (say) issue 24 you would think it was for experienced users only. In case you think that of this magazine, the Editor has asked for a column of useful tips for those just starting with their ATARI's so here are a few to be going on with.

The quiet cassette: When I was using a tape recorder I detested listening to the beeps of transferred data so I would press CONTROL 2 (that is pressing the CONTROL key and the 2 key at the same time) and switch off the TV sound. When the data was loaded the computer would recognise its master's wishes and check if I had pressed a key and act on it. Thus, when it found CONTROL 2, it would sound the buzzer (400/800 only).

The BASIC autorun: Alex Dewdney advises that he types in CLOAD then types RUN three lines below this. Then, moving the cursor to CLOAD, he presses RETURN three times. The first RETURN asks the computer to CLOAD a tape, the second means the tape is ready and the third is stored in the last key pressed memory location. When the tape is loaded the computer prints READY and looks at this memory location. Finding a RETURN and with the cursor on RUN, it will obey the command and, hey presto, you have 'autorun' a CLOAD tape.

Music while you work: If you use a tape recorder you may know that it works on two channels, one for data and one for audio. This is used in the language tutorial tapes. If you insert a music cassette and POKE 54018,52 the cassette motor will start and you will hear the music through the TV speaker. POKE 54018,60 will turn it off.

At this point I had better explain a little about POKE and PEEK. Consider your computer as a massive amount of pigeon holes. Each hole will contain a number between 0 and 255. Each number tells the computer to do something. As you load a program into the computer, these holes are filled one by one. Easy so far?
To find out what a specific memory location has stored, you ask the computer to look (PEEK) into that location and print the result. PRINT PEEK (54018) for instance. To make the computer do something else you must change the number in that location by inserting (POKE) another number as we did above. Often many numbers will do the same job. To get the best out of this method I would suggest buying a good memory map which lists the location, what they do and how to use them.

Changing colours: You may remember, several years ago, the black and white TV tennis games. After much use an image was burnt into the screen phosphor and this could not be erased. To overcome this problem ATARI built a colour cycle into the operating system. After several minutes the colours and intensities would change. This happens about every four seconds and will continue until a key is pressed. As far as I know, ATARI are the only computers to have this innovation. Not so good if you rely on joystick input only, however, you can stop this cycle with POKE 77,0. This will only last several minutes so you will have to make sure that it appears during the repetitive part of the program that scans the joystick.

Quiet keys: The 400/800 models relied on a miniature speaker for audio keyboard response but the new models send the tone to the TV speaker. Apart from turning off the sound (not a good programming technique!), you could POKE 731,1 (POKE 731,0 to turn it on). Obviously this is XL/XE only.

Faster/Slower keys: The ST has a control panel that lets you select keyboard response time (the delay before a key starts to repeat when held down), and the keyboard repeat time (how fast it will repeat when held down). All very good for ST owners but did you know that the XL/XE can do it too? POKE 729,X for response time and POKE 730,X for repeat time, where X is the delay.

Stop that listing: This hint is well known by everyone except beginners. When you ask the computer to LIST a program, it will list every line. If the program has dozens of lines it will push them over the top of the screen. You could hit BREAK but then you would have to LIST again. CONTROL-1 will temporarily stop the listing and pressing CONTROL-1 again will let the listing continue. I wonder how Jackie in Germany is getting on with this?

Re-run a program: Most disk programs that you buy will reboot when you press SYSTEM RESET. You can make your own programs reboot by POKE 580,1 but the disk will need some sort of AUTORUN.SYS file for this to happen.

Many of these tips came from Alex Dewdney and Mr. Pursglove for which much thanks. I also have two mysterious listings from 'Mitch' Mitcham that I will report on next issue. In the meantime if you have any tips or hints - not necessarily POKE statements - please send them to me so that I can use them in the next issue. Better hurry, it comes out sooner than you think. I know, I have to write for it!

A last tip from Mr. Pursglove. If you need a 1029 ribbon go to Boots store and ask for a (sacrilege) Commodore MPS 801, about 3.

During October I will be in the Stafford area (by coincidence!) on a course lasting three weeks so if you have been waiting on a reply from me, this is the reason it may be late. However, please do not let that stop you writing to me. I really enjoy the mail I receive.