The Tri-City Commodore Computer Club
On-line edition, June 1999 - Issue #195, section 2

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Welding the Hoot Shut: A look at 15 years of personal computing -- Roger Long

   A blue-white flame creeps along a seam. After a moment it stops, and the camera pulls back to reveal a man lifting up his welder's mask while the announcer tells us that because the engine has a 100,000 mile tune-up schedule, you could almost weld the hood of the car shut. No computer or software company has an ad like this, but for modern computers the effect has been the same: what goes on under the hood isn't accessable to us any more.

   My first computer was a Timex-Sinclair TS-1000. It was a Christmas present that my parents had me go on a treasure hunt to find. The TS-1000 had a membrane keyboard and a memory expansion unit that was so heavy that the movement of computer while typing on the keys would sometimes cause the memory unit to wobble and lose contact momentarily, crashing the computer. I remember seeing an ad for a flexible cable to plug in between the computer and the memory unit to solve this problem.

   By today's standards, the graphics were primitive, being just black and white with a very low resolution. But I spent a lot of time typing in programs, and the 16 kilobytes of memory and efficient nature of the built-in BASIC allowed for some very useful programs and fun games.

   A year or two later, Timex got out of the computer market. PayLess cleared out their inventory by selling the computer, the memory unit and packages of program for $10 or $15 apiece. I then looked around at what other computers were available. Spent a lot of time testing (playing) the computers on display in the stores. There was the Timex-Sinclair 2068 (with full color, sound and a real keyboard), several models in the Atari 400 line, and the Commodore 64. The C64 eventually won out, and I began saving up for it, with my parents' help. I still remember what the Montgomery-Wards catalog store looked like when dad and I went there to pick up our order late in 1984. At the time, they had a "bundled" package of a C64 and 1541 drive for $440.00.

   Having the disk drive was an improvement over the tape recorder that the TS-1000 used. If the volume on the tape recorder was too low or two high, the program would not load. The disk drive was more reliable and faster.

   That C64 provided many hours of learning and fun. Games, of course, constituted a large portion of my interests since I was in my teens at the time. But I also learned how to program in BASIC, devised a way to fit more programs onto a disk than traditional methods allowed (which was published in one of the TC-Cubed newsletters), and figured out how to issue commands to disable a FastLoad cartridge and then continue loading a second program. I had books on BASIC, machine language, how GEOS worked, how DOS worked, what every memory location in a C64 did. Not only did I use the computer, I knew why it did what it did. When it broke down, I found out how to fix it.

   By the end of the 1980s, I was the newsletter editor for our club and my interests had shifted. I began collecting information and articles for use in the newsletter. After only a few more years, I had most of the games and programs I needed or wanted, so there were only a few times where I had to write a program. I had changed from a programmer to a user.

   This continued until about two years ago, when I began creating Web pages. A web page contains programming of a different type. I'm still in the "middle school" level of creating web pages--I haven't branched off into having the pages make decisions based on input the reader supplies. For most of my web pages, I don't want them to be complex since the intended target, C64/C128 users viewing them with Lynx, wouldn't see the niceties that complex pages allow. But for other pages which I'm working on now, I'm starting the transition into "high school".

   The computer industry itself has followed a similar path during the past 15 years. Though personal computers were more powerful and easier to use than the big main- or mini-frame computers, they still required you to know _how_ a computer operated. Calling a BBS, for instance, sometimes required manually setting the speed of your modem, how many bits it would send at a time, how many bits it would use for error-checking, what type of error-checking to use, and issuing special commands to make your modem compatible with other brands of modems. Even after you had done all that, you still had several different protocols (methods) of sending/receiving text, and several different protocols for sending/receiving programs.

   The hardware has become more advanced since then while dropping in price. Programs are more sophisticated, automating many tasks or making them easier to do. This has had two effects.

   The first effect is that most people don't need to be programmers. Most of the programs they are likely to need have already been written. For those who do desire to write a program, it's both easier and harder to write one. The programming tools available make writing the program easier, but since modern operating systems are so complex, it's not an easy thing to make a program that doesn't cause problems with other programs or hardware inside the computer. As a wise man once said, "The more they overtake the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain."

   The second effect comes into play when problems occur. Troubleshooting no longer requires you to find out what circuit or chip isn't working. The components inside the computer are so complex that you simply ask, "Is this component working?" If the answer is "no, it's failed completely," you replace the whole component--it's usually more cost-effective than getting it repaired. If the answer is "it works, but not properly," you call up tech support and see if they can help you locate where the incompatibility lies. In both cases, most people don't know why something works, just whether or not it does work. Going back to the car analogy, when one of today's cars "won't go", most people would just take it to a mechanic--there isn't much you can check on your own.

   Where are we going from here? The only guess I can offer would be similar to what we see in the "Star Trek" shows: computers with voice and context recognition systems that perform their own maintenance. It's going to take a lot of work to get there, however, since the current trend is to overcome bloated operating systems by making the hardware run faster. Hardware naturally becomes more powerful and less costly as time goes on, so if we can combine that with people who write compact and efficient programs and operating systems, we'll be a lot closer to those Star Trek-like computers.

Roger Long

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Commodore News -- provided by

     This can only be GREAT news for the C64 emulation scene - another games production company has relented, this time it's the nice people at Magnetic Fields, who say: "Anyone wishing to use any of (their) 8-bit titles may do so providing that they are not used for commercial gain. Also, if anyone has these titles available for download on the internet, we would appreciate a link back to the Magnetic Fields website." Now that's not too much to ask, is it? :-) Their list includes such lassics as Cosmic Causaway, Kikstart II and Pacmania!

     Johan Fitie has announced the release of the first beta of the Win32 port of Come Back 64! It already features 6510 emulation (same as CB64/DOS) and VIC textmode emulation (same as CB64/DOS v0.91). This is not a fully working beta however, since keyboard emulation is not done yet - this is in fact the incomplete port begun by Martin Dufour. If you are interested in possibly continuing with the development, please send an e-mail to

     Joe Forster of Star Commander has found someone who can professionally produce adaptors which can transfer files over to d64 format for emulators. To decrease production costs, he would like to be able to produce as many adaptors as possible. The adaptor itself is a small printed circuit board with three plugs on it:

When set up correctly with the Star Commander you can transfer a whole 1541 disk side in about 25 seconds or a 1571 double-sided disk in about 35 seconds! Production will be done within a couple of weeks, and the price will be somewhere between US$10-15 plus shipping. If you're interested, please send a short e-mail to Joe himself, with the subject "XEP1541". Joe will collect these e-mails and the senders will get a note when the adaptors are finished - then you can make your orders; orders cannot be taken yet.

     Peter Weighill has announced the release of MUSplay v2.0. MUSPlay is a program designed to work in conjunction with SidPlay for Windows. When you open a MUS file with MUSPlay, it will display the 5 line description contained within the music file exactly as it would look on a C64 and then start playing the tune using SidPlay/W. It will also display a Words or Extended Words file (.WDS) if one exists. NOTE: You need to have MSVBVM50.DLL, version 05.00.4319 (SP2) installed on your machine.

     According to John Elliott, the makers of the prominent C64 magazine LoadStar have announced that it will definitely continue its C64 life at least to the end of 2000. The 128 final issue just shipped, although they are still open to issuing a new 128 edition if enough material can be submitted to them. But, this means at least 18 more months of LoadStar disks. Might be worth considering a subscription! :-)

     Christian Janoff tells me that his excellent Commodore FTP Search site is currently in the process of expanding into different languages! At present only English and German versions are online, but Christian tells me that plans are in place to add support for other languages in the near future such as Hungarian, Finnish and Polish. There's also a new wildcard feature added to the search routine itself!

     Two of the Internet's most well known C64-related sites, Arnold and Project 64 are in need of outside assistance. Webmaster Hackrat says while he has no problems hosting the sites, he just doesn't have the time to maintain them any more. Any change in ownership could possibly be timed to coincide with a proposal to clean Arnold up, renaming files and deleting duplicates, etc. If you think you can help, send an e-mail to

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