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This web page contains the text of the first issue of TI*MES, for owners of the TI-99/4a, dated Summer 1983, published by Clive Scally. It is of use to users of the TI-99/4a emulators and of historic interest regarding home computer use in the UK in 1983.

TI*MES Issue 1, Summer 1983

Introduction You could be on our pages

It's taken some weeks and a bit of head scratching to get our first edition of TI*MES to press, but I hope you will agree that it was all worthwhile and that you will find many things of interest to yourself and your family.

We are an independent club and as such rely on our members to contribute something towards this newsletter. Even a beginner to computing will have made discoveries by trial and error, so please share your ideas, opinions, and mistaken with others so we may all learn.

Reviews of software would be welcomed as it is difficult to judge a cassette by its cover. Isn't it annoying to find you've wasted your GBP 5+ on a glamorous-sounding game only to discover a simple game that becomes tedious after a few runs. Your opinion would be appreciated by us all.

I'm pleased to say we have already had a couple or interesting articles from members, one of whom is 16 years old, and they are included this month.

The newsletter is entirely non-profit making so we are unable to give you anything except a smile and a thank you.

Our next edition is due in October so that should brighten up those foggy Autumn days for you. Should you ever find you have computing problems please call us and if we don't know the answer then we will find out. That's a promise.

Happy computing.

We welcome programs articles and tips from our readers.

This newsletter is published quarterly, Membership for overseas is GBP 9.

Review of TI99/4a by Peter Freebrey and S.M. Gee From Microchoice, published by Argus Specialist Publications Ltd.

Although the Texas Instrument's Home Computer, the TI-99/4A, has been around for quite some time, it's only recently attracted the attention it properly deserves. There does not seem to have been the pressure advertising that one would have expected for such a machine and the software and accessories at present available for it.

The TI has been subject to a pretty massive price reduction in the past year and at its present cost of around GBP 150, it would appear to be well worth considering. Another point in its favor is that it is also widely available in the High Street — at outlets such as Rumbelows, Currys, Greens, Comet, and Argos — and through mail order. There is no doubt which sector of the market that the 99/4A is being aimed at — the all-in-one computer for the home environment. It has facilities for the accessories that we have come to expect with this sort of machine (joystick controls, plug-in modules, etc.) and is intended for use with your color television.

Overview

The 99/4A is a compact unit measuring only 15" by 10" by 1.5" which comes complete with a separate UHF modulator pre-tuned to Channel 36 and a separate power supply unit, measuring 8" by 3.75" by 2.75". The power supply unit and modulator have acceptably long leads to enable you to sit at a comfortable distance from the TV — rather different from some setups requiring you to crouch uncomfortably close to the screen. The modulator has a very short lead for the UHF output, sensible from an electronic point of view but could pose problems with free-standing television sets. For instance, how do you balance this not particularly light box near the set? Certainly, you must not let it hang in mid-air … must you?

Until recently, my main criticism of the TI system was the way in which it consisted of lots of separate items. The proud owner of the TI-99/4A and its associated printer and disc drive (they call it disk … you'd think the Americans would have learnt to speak English by now! 1) would have been faced by six separate units (eight, if you include the Speech Synthesizer and the television). Now all that has changed and if you opt to buy TI's purpose-designed expansion box (see below) you'll be able to keep up to seven peripherals — including memory expansion card and interface unit — all together.

Now, let us look at what we have got and see what we can do with it. The keyboard unit is neat and straightforward with a standard QWERTY layout, the numerals positioned on the top row of keys. I prefer a separate numeric keypad but this is purely a matter of personal preference and one quickly becomes familiar with whatever system is provided. Just a few hours of key-bashing and size, position, and dual function keys soon slot into your subconscious. The keyboard is a little smaller than some but perfectly easy to use, even by someone with fingers as clumsy as mine. On the review model, two or three keys were a little sticky and although they had fully returned to their rest position before I got to pressing the next key, it did leave a nagging worry as to whether one day they would stay down!

Good quality sockets are used to connect to the power supply, modulator, tape recorder, and remote controls (joysticks, etc.). The sockets for tape recorder and remote controls are the same type and size and, although I'm sure TI will have protected the appropriate circuits, it surely would have been more sensible to use a different type. Neither are the sockets labeled in any way and, bearing in mind that this is aimed at family use, I think some form of unique connectors should be the rule.

Hardware

The case is made from metal covered plastic and as it does not seem to have any brittle areas, it should be safe for children to use — an important consideration for a home computer which all the family are likely to want to use. Another point on which it cannot be faulted is the keyboard mounting — it's well supported and so will stand up well to the treatment it's likely to receive. Are you wondering what I have in mind? Well, imagine playing an exciting game of zap the alien — you don't exactly stroke the keys with kid gloves.

As already mentioned, in general, the connectors on the TI-99/4A are of a high quality. It is especially worth commenting, however, that the program module plug-in slot is very well engineered and that I had no problem inserting or removing program modules.

Inside the case there are two PCBs. The smaller is the power supply, which appears to be switched mode. In any case, it runs cold and is well made, which is the point to note. The larger of the two boards constitutes the computer itself and one of its important features was apparent the moment I took the lid off — it's actually shielded by a metal casing. What a wonderfully simple way of reducing radio interference and thereby improving picture quality. Full marks to TI for a good idea. But won't it run awfully hot? Well, TI have taken the steps necessary to cope with the problems as I discovered once I lifted the tin shield off — two of the chips had been coated with a sticky white substance which I guessed served to make thermal contact with the metal in order to transmit excess heat through it.

Only after removing this shield do you get to the main board itself. The board is dominated by the huge TMS9900 16-bit microprocessor which in itself is rather a puzzle. Why, when TI has had a 16-bit microprocessor — yes, the type we're now getting excited about — available all this time hasn't it beaten all-comers to producing the super-micros which are only now appearing on the scene?

To return to our examination: Although there were a number of long jumper wires on the review model, this did not seem to indicate last minute modifications and overall I was impressed by the layout of the board. The 16K of RAM is provided by eight 4116 chips and there are two 128 byte RAMs for use as temporary storage. There are also two ROMs containing the Basic.

Software

After connecting up and switching on, I must admit to being quite impressed with the display. The initial display consisted of a number of colored rectangles, together with the Texas Instruments' trademark (logo) and the words: HOME COMPUTER READY, PRESS ANY KEY TO BEGIN. The colors were stable with a small amount of color fringing and, unlike some experiences with other computers, gave the impression of a steady businesslike display. On pressing "ANY KEY" you are presented with a menu:

PRESS

1 FOR TI BASIC

Should you have any of the TI software plugged in, the menu will, of course, be extended to include the options available. The "plug-ins" are called command modules and are plugged in by sliding the cartridge into the recessed tray at the right of the keyboard.

Command modules should only be inserted or removed when the machine is in its initial quiescent/waiting mode of "PRESS ANY KEY TO BEGIN" (known as the "Master Computer Title Screen"). You may return to this mode at any time by pressing the FCTN and = keys simultaneously, or by entering BYE. The latter is recommended as it first closes all open files, then erases all programs and variables in the memory, finally resetting the computer ready to return it to Basic when required. The FCTN = (QUIT) command does not close any files but is used when you have a command module in operation and no opportunity to type BYE (most of the keyboard is disabled for many of the games).

The full display area of 32 characters across by 24 high may only be used by graphic symbols, and an area of 28 × 23 can be used for PRINT statements or LISTings. Any program line may be up to four screen lines in length (112 characters including the line number). The computer is fairly user friendly although it does demand spaces in the right places. For example:

20PRINTA
20 PRINTA
LIST30
EDIT40

are all unacceptable, whereas:
20 PRINT A
LIST 30
EDIT 40

are acceptable statements. It will display a number of error messages should you ask it to do something unacceptable.

Certain errors are detected on entering a command in a program line. Entering:
LIST100

gives the message INCORRECT STATEMENT as there is no space between LIST and 100, and entering an edited line which exceeds the memory capacity, gives the message MEMORY FULL. The computer will accept program lines which are incorrectly written and entered, but when you RUN the program, it will come to a dramatic halt (crash) on reaching the line. These errors may be detected in two ways. First, on RUNning the program but before the program lines are actioned, the computer scans the program in order to establish a "symbol table". This is an area of memory where the variables, arrays, functions, etc, are stored. If the computer detects an error during this scan, it will display an ERROR message, e.g. FOR-NEXT ERROR, telling you that the program has a mismatched number of FOR-NEXT statements.

While displaying this message, the screen remains in its programming mode color of light blue. Should this memory scan prove acceptable, the program is then RUN and the scan becomes a light green color while the program is RUNning. During the program RUN, PRINT statements, etc, are displayed as black letters on the same green screen, unless programmed for a different combination. At this point, the computer has accepted the scan but, in the process of RUNning the program, further errors can still cause a crash. The screen then reverts to light blue and an error message along with the line number at which the crash occurred will be displayed For example:

BAD LINE NUMBER IN LINE 320

indicates that a jump was made to a non-existent line in the program.

One fact which you cannot help but notice if you've used many other microcomputers, is that the TI-99/4A is slower than a number of machines on the market today (see Micro Choice results of the benchmark tests) but for the vast majority of uses it will be put to, I doubt that the users will mind too much. Nowadays, a lot of stress is put on the speed a computer will work at. Of course, this is important, but what are you going to use this computer for? As a dedicated scientific computer to work our formulae containing hundreds of steps … I doubt it. (However, if accuracy and precision are qualities you are looking for, you'll be glad to know that your calculations will be correct to 13 digits!)

Commanding respect?

TI Basic has a number of commands/statements which some machines do not have, and one or two that are not in its vocabulary. I was pleased to find: RESEQUENCE, renumbers program lines; TRACE, lists the program line number as it executes that line; NUMBER, gives you automatic line numbers when writing a program; as well as ON … GOTO, and IF … THEN … ELSE which are not always present in micro Basics.

The string handling capabilities seem to be quite reasonable and the arithmetic functions all that one normally expects. A slightly unusual array handling command is OPTION BASE allowing you to set the lower limit of an array to either 0 or 1. This can be quite useful to those of us who get confused dealing with complicated array handling while trying to remember that the 15th element in an array is represented by A(14) and not A(15)! OPTION BASE is definitely the easy way out!

Missing from what is otherwise a pretty comprehensive line-up of commands/statements are PEEK and POKE. This is nowhere near as desperate as some people make out, because users of this machine would probably not be wanting to delve into memory locations. However, for those of you who may wish to interrogate the display screen, TI Basic presents us with CALL HCHAR, CALL VCHAR, and CALL GCHAR, of which more shortly.

To clear/erase the screen, whether in immediate or program mode, the CALL CLEAR command (TI Basic calls it a subprogram) is used. CALL in TI Basic can be followed by a number of keywords:

CALL CHAR
Allows you to define your own special graphics characters. You may redefine the standard set of characters and codes 128-159. The characters are made up of up to 64 dots in an 8 by 8 grid allowing a varied set of special characters to be used … memory permitting.
CALL HCHAR
Allows you to display on the screen a specified character at a specified location (defined by row and column) and will repeat that character horizontally for a specified number of times.
CALL VCHAR
Similar to HCHAR, VCHAR repeats the character vertically rather than horizontally.
CALL SCREEN
Defines the screen color on which individually colored cells are displayed (CALL COLOR) then defines the foreground and background colors of that cell).
CALL KEY
Allows you to transfer one character from the keyboard directly into your program. It is similar to GET or INKEY in other Basics, but is slightly more sophisticated as certain keys may be disabled if required.
CALL GCHAR
Allows you to read a character from the screen, the location required being specified by row number and column number.
CALL SOUND
Allows you to generate a tone between 100 Hz and 44,000 Hz. You may define the duration in milliseconds and the volume on a scale of 1 to 30. Further, you may generate up to three tones plus one noise to be played for the same duration at the same time (i.e. three-note chords, etc.) all with their own specified volume levels! You also have the option of various "white noise" effects.
CALL JOYST
Allows the input of information based on the position of the joystick lever or the fire button on the Wired Remote Controllers which are an accessory for the TI-99/4A.

The TI-99/4A will allow assignment in both the now somewhat obsolete LET A=n or in the more common form of A=n. In which case, why bother to type in those extra letters?

The TI-99/4A has 16K of user RAM expandable by an additional 32K to 48K — or even to 52K by the addition of the 4K Mini Memory plug-in module. However, this is only accessible to an appropriate command module or accessory.

Expansion

TI suggest a domestic audio cassette recorder at the top of their list of accessories you might like to add to your TI-99/4A. They recommend two inexpensive, readily available tape recorders for this purpose. They are the PYE 9110 and the Sanyo Slimline, both available for around GBP 20.

If as well as saving programs you want to list them as "hard copy", you'll be pleased to discover that there is the TI Solid State Thermal Printer which can be plugged in directly to the computer. This uses a narrower than usual paper which is heat sensitive and will accept 32 characters per line. Its useful features include 32 pre-defined graphics symbols and the ability to cope with plotting.

As previously mentioned, the latest development is the Peripheral Expansion System which is a unit measuring 20" by 15" by 14" and has eight slots for peripheral cards. one of these is used to connect the system to the computer console, which means you have seven left for use. The 32K RAM memory expansion card is one which could be slotted in. Another is the RS232 Interface card which includes a parallel port suitable for driving a printer with a Centronics-type interface. The RS232 card really opens up the world of other manufacturers' printers to the TI owner. There is also a p-Code card containing the UCSD p-Code interpreter in ROM. This, used with the UCSD Pascal software package, changes the machine into a Pascal development system without using up any additional RAM.

The PEB provides space for installing one TI disk drive but another two disk drives can be added externally. The current disk controller is for 5.25" single-sided, single-density units, although double-sided, double-density units are to be catered for in the future.

The TI Solid State Speech Synthesizer plugs directly into the right-hand side of the computer itself. This contains a vocabulary of words and phrases, permanently stored on chips. It can be used in conjunction with a command module — see below for comments on Speech Editor — and speech can be incorporated into the user's own TI Basic programs.

On the soft side

As far as software is concerned, by Autumn 1982, TI offered 66 packages, cassette tapes, and plug-in modules. The plug-in command modules range through various games, a number of educational titles, and a Speech Editor to a Disk Manager and TI Extended Basic.

The games include the inevitable "TI Invaders" and various other "shooting" games set in different scenarios. All offer more than one difficulty rating and all start at a difficulty rating high enough to make them interesting and reasonably addictive.

Car Wars is simply two cars in plan view racing around concentric tracks, one car "eating up" a series of dots as it goes. You may change tracks at north, south, east and west and the second car is programmed for a head-on collision … you have to avoid it! A very simple game but requiring quick reactions and very definitely addictive.

Hunt the Wumpus is a game of logic to find in which cavern the Wumpus is hiding. You get clues as you explore the caverns … it isn't difficult but the Wumpus seems to eat up its opponents all too often! Good fun and it certainly makes impetuous youngsters think ahead.

Video Chess has good graphics and although it sometimes plays some very strange moves, you cannot afford to take it lightly. You may choose its type of play (aggressive, normal, or defensive) and the level of play. A good club player should be able to beat it, but may get the occasional surprise. Connect Four is a real brain-teaser and, like several of the other games, may be played by either one person against the computer or as a two-player game. Against the computer you have several levels of difficulty and I enjoyed it immensely. My only criticism is that of its psychological one-upmanship … when you place a 'token' on the grid it sounds a minor "ker-thonk" but every time it places a token, you get a little tune that gives the impression of "rah, rah, rah … so there, beat that!". An excellent game.

The Speech Editor is fun, but although its vocabulary is quite large (more than 300 words) I'm afraid I found this the least interesting of the plug-ins. The words are clear (with American accent) and it is possible to build words from those already built in, but I found that whenever I wanted a special word, it was not possible to make it up. Obviously I am a visual rather than audio oriented person.

The child education tapes are rather repetitive to a grown-up, but delight the little ones especially when they get a gold star and some stirring music when they solve their problem. These cover Pre-School Early Learning, Early Reading, Beginning Grammar, and Arithmetic.

Household Money Management is quite involved, with many questions regarding how much you earn and where it all goes. It takes some time to set up accurately, which, of course, you must do if you wish to take full advantage of its capabilities. It is a little depressing as, although I know I only have about one pound at the end of the month, I'm not so sure I want to see it boldly stated on the screen. Also, I'm not so sure it wouldn't be quicker to work it out on the back of an envelope!

The Disk Manager enables you to use the TI Disk Drive via the Disk Controller and in the brief time I used it, it seemed to function perfectly. The drive is a little noisy in operation and when it read my first disk I had visions of the floppy being shredded, but nothing untoward has happened so far.

TI Extended Basic offers a number of additional commands/statements and facilities which make it a very useful extra. Multi-statement lines are allowed — which make life a little simpler when writing a program. It has an interesting command called CALL SPRITE. This enables you to create moving graphics very simply. This module also has a PEEK subprogram which, with other commands, allows access to Assembly Language subprograms 7 (of little interest to the initial buyer of the TI-99/4A but could be of great value as his/her computer awareness grows).

In all, there are more than 40 new or expanded commands in TI Extended Basic and although the standard TI Basic is quite comprehensive, this module will certainly open up new horizons for the addict.

Documentation

Did someone mention instructions? Home computers are notorious for their poor instructions/manuals but here Texas Instruments have produced something definitely in the superior bracket.

The User's Reference Guide (A4, 170 pages) starts with. Section I, General information, explaining clearly and with a number of diagrams what you should have to do to get the system up and running: how to interconnect the various units, what additional accessories are available and, most important of all, a brief explanation of keyboard and special function key operation.

The special function keys have a further short section to themselves amplifying the previous information. These keys, FCTN and CTRL, are used as special shift keys giving such operations as cursor control, insert and delete character and erase line. Entering control characters (CTRL key) also enables to TI-99/4A to link in with various telecommunications devices.

Section II, entitled Basic reference section, takes the reader through such basics as numeric constants, variables, string expressions, reserved words, etc, to a complete listing of all the TI Basic words understood by the TI-99/4A. These are grouped together under sub-headings such as "Commands", "General program statements", "Color graphics and sound", "Built-in string functions", etc. Each TI Basic expression/word is explained clearly with plenty of examples to hammer the point home. Section III, Appendix to Basic reference section, contains such items as ASCII character codes, keyboard mapping, color codes, error messages, and some applications programs.

There are eight further short sections. One worthy of mention is a fairly comprehensive index providing such information as a glossary, how to use pre-recorded software, various addenda, very simple fault finding (e.g. have you plugged into a mains outlet?) and the UK guarantee!

Conclusion

In conclusion, I can only say that I have enjoyed having the TI-99/4A in my home. My children, aged six and seven years old, have enjoyed both the games and the educational modules. Although the younger child could cope rather easily with all but the grammar module, it has been educational to see just how the use of the computer can hold the interest and, in turn, make young children aware of computers.

The TI-99/4A is certainly a good contender for a home entertainment unit. Whether it stands up as a complete computer system is, however, still an open question. The advent of the PEB and the variety of peripherals now available suggest that TI want you to consider it seriously as a fully expandable machine. — With thanks to Argus Specialist Publications Ltd.

Your Letters From Texas Instruments, Bedford:

Dear Mr. Scally,

Thank you for your most interesting letter.

I think a club such as yours will serve a good and important purpose and I wish you every success. I have added your club's address to our list and will ensure you get periodic updates of our activities. In answer to your question about new developments, let me tell you about some new peripherals and software.

Firstly, there will be a series of 3 new micro-peripherals that will interface with the TI-99/4A, with the aid of a small adapter. These peripherals will be available in June and are: 4-color printer/plotter (around GBP149.95 including VAT), RS232 and Centronics Interface (GBP 119.95), and a Wafertape Microdrive (GBP 109.95).

We are also making available a TI Program Recorder (GBP 44.95) to provide for high quality, inexpensive cassette storage. During the next 8-10 weeks there will be approximately 12 new modules brought on the market as well, plus an interesting software promotion. So, as you can see, a lot is happening.

I wish you every success with your club.

Yours sincerely

R. Frowd

Home Computer Program Manager

We were happy to receive this letter from Robin. I am sure for the benefit of all our TI users, Robin Frowd will keep us posted.

Arcade Games By Howard Greenberg

Hello and welcome to a new writer in a new user group magazine. My name is Howard and I'm the cheapskate's answer to Computer and Video Games monthly. Those of you who don't care for my style of writing needn't feel inadequate for finding it trivial /unreadable/nauseating/not worth the paper it's written on. I'm simply not a professional writer. Since some of you may wonder why I've picked the easy job, my qualifications are simply that I work in the amusement industry. As such I have access to all the latest games, news, and developments to and within the video games industry. I know what's next in amusement arcades and what's likely to appear on home computers.

Certain games will never appear on home computers. Many will never appear on the TI-99/4A — at least not in their original form. Copyright is being more clearly established and with one half of the industry suing the other, no one is looking to market someone else's game. At least, not without going through the proper channels first. For example Atari now have first refusal to adapt all Williams games (Defender, Robotron, Joust) for their own computers. If someone wants to write a program to play Joust on their TI-99/4A that's fine. But if you try selling that program … well I'll come to your trial and wish you well.

Some of you may be unfamiliar with some of the older games, so I've listed here those games that had a significant impact on the amusement industry, together with any own comments.

Pong (or ping pong). First coin-operated game. Similar to a game of tennis. Eventually made as home machines. No longer made, probably no longer played.

Breakout (Super Breakout). First game to capture the public's imagination in a big way. Similar to Pong except that the object in hitting the ball was to dislodge a brick in a wall. Still available for Atari VCS.

Space Invaders. A particularly nauseating game. You either love it or hate it. Now synonymous with video games. First entry from Japan to score well in the West. Still available for probably every machine capable of playing games.

Asteroids. Atari's best seller so far. Their first game to use the X-Y monitor. small ship in the middle of the screen surrounded by asteroids moving at random. Shoot one of the rocks before it crashes into you. Available for Atari computers. TI version, Pesteroids, from Stainless Software (needs XB).

Lunar Lander. One of Atari's worst sellers. The object was to land a lunar module on the Moon. (Where else would a lunar module be going?) The program, although heavily modified, was originally written by NASA for a use not dissimilar to the name of the game. I'm not kidding. Despite poor sales in amusement machine form (so poor that if you want one they can be bought for as little as GBP 50), it has proven very popular with home computer users. Only the TI-99/4A doesn't have a version. Well, it does, but it's in Basic and that's just too slow.

Night Driver. One of the many driving games made by Atari, this was one of their best despite poor graphics (by today's standards). The car was printed on the screen front, with the road represented by cat's eyes. The object was to stay on the road. Available for VIC-20.

Monaco Grand Prix. Made by Sega and definitely one of the best driving games made. Viewed as a plan (looking down on the car and road) you had to race your car through Monaco, passing kamikaze drivers, going through tunnels with only headlamp vision, through chicanes, and various other obstacles. Fantastically expensive due to very high component count. It had no fewer than seven logic boards. Not available for home computer use although various parts of the game have been used.

Missile Command. One of Atari's best and my personal favorite. You are given six cities to defend with three launching bases. Each base has 10 missiles to knock out the attacking missiles thrown at your cities. Probably so enjoyable because each game was a new test. Available for Atari and BBC.

Defender. Williams' first entry into the video game market. A well-established pinball manufacturer, they decided to enter the video games market with spectacular results. Probably the video game with more controls than any other.

Scramble. Konami's major contribution to video game history. The game appeared similar to Defender but was not nearly as good. Available for most home computers. TI's Parsec is a combination of Scramble and Defender.

Pac-Man. The first game in a long time that didn't involve blasting space ships to atoms. If you haven't played this you haven't lived. Its appeal probably is in its humor. Available to everyone with a computer. TI-99/4A version is Munch Man.

Donkey Kong. Couldn't be called King Kong because of the film of the same name and plot. Rescue the damsel in distress from the top of the Empire State Building while the big ape is chucking barrels down at you. Great fun. Available for most machines (but not TI).

Tempest. Atari's first color X-Y game. Basically Asteroids in reverse, with you on the outside defending yourself against the enemies coming out from the center. A superb game, not much appreciated mainly because so few were brought into the country primarily due to Atari's lunatic pricing policy. So far only available for the Dragon. (Yuk.)

Astron Belt. I must confess to not having seen this game yet. Nonetheless, it must rank as a very big first for Sega. This is current state-of-the-art technology. It is unlikely to ever appear on home computers except in very cut-down form. Why? Because it uses interactive video discs to give a picture as good as your television set. There are only four in the country at present (One's in Brighton Clive!) and they're very expensive. 40p a play is a bargain considering their purchase price.

That's just my list of games. You may feel I've ignored your favorite or glossed over it. If that's what you think, write in and say so. My address is under the Arcade Hardware advert. Never mind being alert, we've enough alerts for the time being. What we need are writers. I don't know who else apart from Clive and Audrey are doing the writing in this rag, but a few extra articles wouldn't go amiss. Or a Ms. or a Mr. Whaddya mean you don't know anything technical? Did you see anything technical in this article?

Just a little note to all of you who do play video games. If you can't make it to the fourth screen or that last little demon just won't lay down and die decently, don't abuse the machines. They represent a considerable investment on the part of the owner. Would you like your TV smashed because a guest couldn't watch his favorite program? If you think that we're coining money hand over fist, anyone who wants to is welcome to buy shares in our company. If you enjoy playing games, all well and good, just don't play with them.

I'm not signing off here as there are a few other points I want to raise and hopefully raise a response from someone out there. Is there anyone out there?

Stop Press. Atari is converting three of its computer games to run on the TI-99/4A: Pac-Man, Centipede, and Defender. These will be on sale by the end of 1983 in cartridge form. — Ed.

For Women By Howard Greenberg

(Note that this was written in 1983)

Girls. Women. Ladies. Are there any ladies interested in home computing? Or is it a purely masculine hobby. I do know of a few ladies interested in computing. But they do it as a career. They spend their lives programming the likes of the Sirius IBM and super-brains. Don't any of you play with the TI-99/4A? If you do let's hear from you. I only ask because I'd hate to make someone blush by sharing a rude story. Seriously though, everyone with a home computer seems to be male. Why?

Howard writes Do you watch a lot of television ? No, not really. I suppose I watch the occasional program but I wouldn't say I watch a lot. Not so long ago this seemed to be a standard question and answer. It makes me wonder why people bought television set: if they were determined to show off how little they watched it. Most of us watch far more than we'd care to admit. Is there something dishonorable about watching TV? I can't answer that. I suppose psychiatrists have their opinions but I'm really not qualified. So why have I brought that old chestnut up? Well, there seems to be a similar attitude towards home computers.

It's almost as though you're some kind of social leper if you can't dash off a spreadsheet in a morning and go on to do a database in the afternoon. If you can't write a 16K program, who cares? Do you feel inadequate? I can't program well. I can only just about manage badly. I don't feel an idiot, even though virtually every article in every magazine is trying to show me the error of my ways. Maybe older computers were made for programming, but today's are made with a wealth of software available.

You only need to know how to use the program, not to write it. Are you criticized for only playing games on your TI. Big deal. Did you buy the machine with the intention of writing a program that would solve the world's problems. Maybe you did, but just because you haven't got round to it doesn't mean that you can't enjoy using the machine playing Munch Man. Whatever you use your TI-99/4A for, enjoy it.

Bad news for newcomers to the TI-99/4A. Those of you who are wondering how to write a program using high-speed graphics. Without the Extended Basic module, sprites are not possible. I know the impression given with the advertising is that you can write those flashy arcade-style programs on the console alone, but the sad fact is that it simply can't be done. Although expensive, XB is probably the cheapest method of producing good software. The Mini Memory module gives access to machine code but it's not for the faint hearted. Also don't believe adverts for console only software that claims to give these professional results. All the cassette-based software I've seen has been either of the adventure-style games, which the TI-99/4A is very good with, or it no way matches up to the claims made for it. Sorry.

Module prices seem to be on the way down. But beware one "discount shop" whose prices are dearer than many much smaller retailers. Congratulations to Mr. Parrish at Parco Electrics in Devon. The prices of modules there are substantially' cheaper. I wish him every success with his venture. Normally I wouldn't appear to advertise on his behalf, but it would be a shame if his store were to close through lack of custom.

By cutting his profit margin he needs the extra custom. Support the smaller and independent retailer. The likes of Currys and Rumbelows will get by without us. Try asking them what a FOR-NEXT loop is. One chain store didn't even know why anyone should want to connect a cassette recorder to their computer. Obviously if all you have is a High Street multiple, then you have little choice. Just don't expect much help.

Many's the time I've been in my local Micro-C and just chatted. Most of the specialists are enthusiasts too. They enjoy talking about computers. Sad to see that Micro-C are phasing out the TI-99/4A and handing it to Currys. Not that they're being biased. With the explosion of the home computer boom, Micro-C want to concentrate on the business side.

Certain hardware lines are coming down in price too. Not from TI. At last third-party hardware designers are appearing on the scene. See my advert under Arcade Hardware

Views By Howard Greenberg

What do you think of the following attitude? I have a friend who shall remain nameless. He is very highly placed within a multi-national video games manufacturer. I suspected that his company would be following Atari's route by entering the home computer market. When put to him he agreed. His company were indeed about to market their own home computer. So far this story isn't unusual. Now read on.

The company were prepared to virtually give the machines away, selling them at cost price and make their money on the add-ons. Now believe it or not the company is not the worthy Texas Instruments. But do you see the similarity? The price of the TI-99/4A has dropped to the point where TI can't be making much on it. But just look at the price of the add-ons. And, once you're stuck with the machine, you have no choice but to buy those add-ons.

Is there a law against a magazine printing a bug-free program? I haven't typed one in yet that worked first time, or second, or third, etc. I know my typing isn't something to type home about, but having listed them all umpteen times and checked them against the magazine I know who's wrong. I have the feeling that:

a. They're never checked for errors.
b. That the idea of printing them using a matrix printer is supposed to inspire the idea that what you're reading is really a computer printout and therefore must be correct.

Congratulations to Computer and Video Games with Ski-ing. Apart from being so illegible a blind man stood as much chance as the rest of us, it didn't work when they printed the bad parts in black and white and with the "corrections". It was so bad I thought of calling in Rentokil to remove the bugs, there were that many.

User groups. Now I don't know what Clive's opinion on this is, but I'm sure that some people out there read Tidings. Very good it is too. (Even if they did publish my article.) The snag is that I'm sure some people feel they have to choose between the user groups. Why? Information is information. You probably buy more than one monthly magazine. Different groups serve different functions but the sum of the whole has to be greater than only having one of the parts.

It's likely there will be some duplication. Even so, if you didn't understand something the first time round someone else's way of explaining something might make more sense. So where is all this leading to? Well, I know of someone in Manchester who is trying to start a local user group. So far I'm the only person he's met, but we both had something to offer to each other despite our beliefs that we were both totally unknowledgeable. If you live in the Greater Manchester area and want to meet other people with the same interest, get in touch with Terry Grimshaw, 21, Allingham St, Longsight. Neither Terry nor I are trying to undermine any other group. But if people can't get together through their hobbies there really isn't much hope for us all. (Wow, very profound.)

99'er Magazine. A pig to get hold of, but a very, very good publication. Apart from being the only magazine to have bug-free programs (swoon), it is a mass of useful information. Despite it's high price it is worth every penny. To give you an idea of just how good it is, they haven't asked me to write for them.

Well that's it for the first edition from me. Doubtless elsewhere in these pages you'll find something worth reading. If you didn't, write something worth reading. Don't worry if you can't type. My index finger is ground down to the bone. And it's getting shorter with every line I type.

Until next time, enjoy yourselves. Be good and be good to your TI-99/4A. It will be good to you and for you.

BYE.

Review: Joystick Arcade Hardware Joystick

This single-player joystick is described by the manufacturer as follows: "Designed to be the most substantial joystick on the market, no consideration at all has been given to looks." I wholeheartedly agree.

The joystick is presented in a gray plastic box bolted together. It has a steel shaft and mountings with sprung pivot sealed and mounted in grease. Lever-operated micro-switches give 8-way movement. The sealed fire button is side-mounted on the block.

We own a pair of Texas Instruments joysticks and the Arcade joystick compared more favorably for:
1. Computer speed,
2. Construction, and
3. 8 directions given, useful for your own programs.

During prolonged use it was found that the position of the fire button caused some strain on the thumb joint. Smaller hands suffer in particular.

When one has such a good-looking computer it is a shame that "consideration" was not given to looks as this is such a well-constructed joystick.

The joystick is available by mail order from Arcade Hardware, 211 Horton Road, Fallowfield, Manchester M14 7QE. Price is GBP 19.50 including p&p.


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