As a relief from
programming tutorials, and the fact that this issue will be on
widespread public sale, I thought that I would share with you some
of my letters which I receive from beginners. Most come with an
s.a.e. so answers will be returned directly. Those that do not
enclose the necessary s.a.e. just have to wait for moments like
For those of you not
familiar with this column, let me explain the idea. I try to help
out those people who are just beginning their ATARI computing. I
write about the basics of computing and try to keep it at a low
level. I cannot please everyone with my level of writing even
beginners progress! but I hope that the column has been
instrumental in getting a few new Atari owners on the road to
writing their own programs.
I have often conversed
with the Editor, Les Ellingham, about the magazine listings. His
biggest headache is people who ring him about a listing that they
cannot run, yet lots of other people can. I can verify that after
many hours of typing and proofreading a type of word blindness
occurs. It is very hard to spot the mistake at the time, yet next
day the error is so obvious. The moral is to rest your eyes and give
it another try much later. Another good point is to read the
instructions when all else fails!
I received a letter from
a reader in Co. Meath who asked about TYPO 3, a great debugging aid
when typing in programs. The two letter code printed in the magazine
is only for comparison with the code that appears on screen when you
use TYPO 3. If the codes are wrong then you must find the error and
correct it yourself, the computer will not do it for you! The
program and directions are in every edition of the magazine.
SOME COMMON ERRORS
Error codes can be very
frustrating if you do not know what they mean. Issues 21 and 22 of
PAGE 6 carried an explanation by Steve Pedler of these codes and are
worth getting hold of. As an example, in the same letter ERROR 130
was quoted. This means that a non existent device was specified.
This could be as simple as CLOSE #11 instead of CLOSE #1 double
typing a character. It could be more involved such as CLOSE #N1. N1
is a variable that should have been set at the start of the program
and either has not been set or has a wrong value.
A really common error is
143 AT LINE 0. When the program has loaded a mistake has been found
by the computer. Getting to know error codes is important. If
possible try to get hold of the issues mentioned or a photocopy of
the relevant pages and pin them up somewhere handy to your computer.
This will save a lot of time and frustration.
Remember to LIST the
program often to cassette or disk, press NEW and RETURN then ENTER
the program back again and continue typing. This may not fully
combat the infamous ATARI lockup (some other computers are prone to
this as well) but at least you do not have to type the listing from
the beginning again.
THE WIDER WORLD
Several months ago, all
fired up after reading 'Going Online' by John Davison in PAGE 6, I
obtained a modem and tried out some bulletin boards. I would like to
thank Ian Hillen for his letters and kind words about PCW, and for
his help during the time I wandered around 'The Gnome at Home'. If
you are interested then you could contact him at the BBS, 01 888
8894 (ST Phone Home). I consider it an interesting experience.
I had a letter from a man
in Littlehampton who had trouble writing programs. I diagnosed his
problem as trying too hard! The secret for beginners is to type in
very small programs, then amend one bit at a time and see what
happens. Get to know the commands and how to use them before you try
out any long listings. If you are a slow typer, or are not used to
the control characters or even if like me you prefer the easy life
(who mentioned the word lazy?) why not consider a subscription to
PAGE 6 on disk?
WHAT BOOKS TO READ?
I have often been asked
about a good book to start off a programming hobby. I have always
recommended 'ATARI BASIC a self teaching guide' by Albrecht
(called the Wiley manual) for outright beginners and 'Your ATARI
Computer' by Len Poole and 'Revised Mapping the ATARI' by Compute!
Books which are books that everyone who wants to program should
I have sometimes been
asked to debug or write programs for readers. This is very time
consuming as you can imagine and it is something I do not undertake.
I will however write small programs, say four or five lines, to
demonstrate a particular point. It is then up to the readers to
investigate this and try to amend it to his or her own use. One
letter prompted me to start the 'Write a game' articles (issue
18 onwards), causing sleepless nights for Cliff Winship! Sometimes I
receive disks; these give me problems if they are double density as
I still use an 810 (small hint to Paul Rixon).
Having just used the word
'her', why is it that we see very few female names in PAGE 6? What
is Linda Tinkler doing now? one asks. ( Look out for programs by
Sarah Keates and Linda Naysmith in forthcoming issues. Ed.)
On odd occasions I have
received responses from people whose letters I have answered. They
are nice to read, as they give me an idea of how much help I have
been. One such letter Mark Hutchinson's column for those new to
was from Mrs. Ellen Barnes whose son wanted to purchase a computer.
It was a very nice letter, but what made it better was to see an
article from Warren in Page 6 so that just proves that you can do it
If you care to write to
me at the address below, remember the s.a.e. if you want a reply.
THE FIRST STEPS COMPUTER DICTIONARY
Over the next few issues
I have decided to write definitions of some common words found in
computing circles. Many beginners don't understand the jargon and I
hope this will clear up some of the mystique. Unfortunately the
definitions will be quite short due to lack of space (the Editor
keeps cutting my column!) but I hope they help.
Address A number identifying a specific
location either in memory or, with a peripheral, a specific register
within the peripheral interface.
Algorithm A sequence of steps to be followed when
performing a task.
Alphanumeric a character from either the 26 letters or ten
Analog Relating to continuous quantities.
ASCII The American Standard Code for Information
Interchange. A 6, 7, or 8-bit code used to represent letters,
decimal numbers and certain control functions.
BAUD One signalling element per second. The measurement of
the signalling rate on a data channel.
Binary digit (bit) The smallest unit of information that
can be used in a digital computer. Either a 0 or 1.
Byte A group of bits considered as a unit. A byte is the
smallest unit of information that can be addressed.
Bootstrap loader (boot program) A short
program that allows more complex program to be loaded through an
input device, i.e. cassette.
COMING SOON IN FIRST STEPS ......
reading and saving screens and more dictionary definitions.