Feeds

Basic instinct: how we used to code

In praise of Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

Retro Week

I’ve recently caught myself, like some horrific solo re-write of the Monty Python Four Yorkshiremen sketch, waxing lyrical to my two iPod-wielding young ‘uns about the good old days; when men were men, computers were effectively clockwork, and computer games… well, come to think about it, they still cost about 69p. But you didn’t download them from an app store. Oh no. They came bound into computer magazines and had to be typed in by hand. And oh yes, they were in an arcane language called Basic.

1980: that last year of primary school when I was shown my first computer, a Sinclair ZX80. Sixth-formers from the local comp were there to test our reaction times using a necessarily simple program they’d written. Themselves. Wow. Heady stuff. Only four kiddiewinks were allowed in at a time, and even then we were only allowed to touch one key on the bizarrely colourful, flat keyboard. But it was a computer! Just like on Tomorrow’s World!

A basic Basic program

Admit it, YOU wrote this on a shop's demo micro, didn't you?

Fast-forward a year: home computing hit the big time. At senior school, various tribes formed round newly-acquired weapons of choice: parentally-purchased ZX81s and Vic-20s, with a smattering of TRS-80 (dads in technical jobs) and the occasional Commodore Pet (dads managing the dads in technical jobs).

Oh, and that one guy whose dad was an electronics engineer who owned a 64K SuperBrain that came with a built-in green screen and something called a database. Actually it was my Nanna who bought me that 1KB ZX81, and my sister the small B&W rotary dial TV to run it on. You can imagine the bargaining that ensued…

Pretty much every home computer in the early 1980s came with a Basic interpreter as standard. The exception? The Jupiter Ace running Forth in 4KB. Weird, but fun.

Program the Sinclair ZX Spectrum and BBC Micro

Choose your weapons: which platform did you pursue?

However you stored your programs - cassette, Microdrive or pages ripped out of Your Computer – even the most disinterested luddite almost certainly started their games with a variation of LOAD and RUN, the programming equivalent of mono-linguists strangling 'dos cervezas, por favor'.

Even when the program was a machine-coded version of Space Invaders shoehorned into 1KB, you invoked it by typing this arcane Basic on an actual keyboard.

It didn’t take a mammoth chunk of Basic code to fill that paltry 1KB of memory - ah, how we pined for the wide open spaces of a 16KB Ram Pack - but only having a single kilobyte meant that any viable program you found could pretty much be copied blindly, assuming the faultless coding of the author (ahem).

Program the Atari 400/800 and the CBM 64

A dialect for every machine

And thanks to the ZX81's and later Speccy's per-keyword command entry, debugging was just a simple matter of your mate reading the code v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y as you moved your finger across the screen checking what you’d written. Understanding was there none. And if that failed, and if you were lucky, you saved your masterpiece-in-progress to tape, to fix next time he was allowed over to play. Heaven help the numpty who jogged the power cable.

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
4K video on terrestrial TV? Not if the WRC shares frequencies to mobiles
Have your say with Ofcom now, before Freeview becomes Feeview
iPad? More like iFAD: We reveal why Apple fell into IBM's arms
But never fear fanbois, you're still lapping up iPhones, Macs
Sonos AXES support for Apple's iOS4 and 5
Want to use your iThing? You can't - it's too old
You didn't get the MeMO? Asus Pad 7 Android tab is ... not bad
Really, er, stands out among cheapie 7-inchers
Apple winks at parents: C'mon, get your kid a tweaked Macbook Pro
Cheapest models given new processors, more RAM
YES, iPhones ARE getting slower with each new release of iOS
Old hardware doesn't get any faster with new software
Leaked Windows Phone 8.1 Update specs tease details of Nokia's next mobes
New screen sizes, dual SIMs, voice over LTE, and more
Nintend-OH NO! Sorry, Mario – your profits are in another castle
Red-hatted mascot, red-colored logo, red-stained finance books
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Maximize storage efficiency across the enterprise
The HP StoreOnce backup solution offers highly flexible, centrally managed, and highly efficient data protection for any enterprise.