Listing at the Ram and Buffer
The following scan is from the June 1986 issue of The Micro User, a British magazine for BBC Micro users, and I just thought I would share it with all the other retrocomputing fans out there. No-one else is likely to understand it!
My apologies for not writing before but things have been rather hectic recently and it’s all Clive’s fault.
Every year the Rogues hold the ZX81 Memorial Meeting, an excuse for a drunken evening that ends with everyone agreeing that it was much more fun when we only had 1k. (I suspect that’s all some of us have anyway.) It’s great fun, or it was until this year.
As a result of lengthy negotiations involving barrels of beer I’d managed to get the whole of the Beeb team to attend the meeting. It was my job to write the words for the poster and Clive’s (who understands GCOL3) to do the actual art work.
The trouble was that where I put “Dress Optional” Clive decided to put “Fancy Dress Only,” on the grounds that he fancied seeing people in dresses. (He was in one of his more liquid states at the time.) Sometimes I wonder if he’s got the full RAM.
Of course everything would have been all right if Andrea hadn’t heard of it and decided to help with the organisation.
“What can I go as?” I wailed.
“How about a bug?” she retorted nastily.
“No”, interrupted Clive, “He’s got to dress up like the rest of us. And he can’t let the side down. The Beeb team are coming down and we don’t want to be shown up”.
“What are they coming as?”
“Listings?” I queried.
“Well, that’s what they say. Just take them to the bar and soon they’ll be listing”.
I spent weeks worrying about it all. What if a bug meets a debugger? I needn’t have bothered. It was all much worse than I imagined. The sight of people arriving at the Ram and Buffer was enough to drive a man to drink.
Especially when I was the back end of a double disc drive, with A at the front I had a pretty bad time explaining to a very nice young man that his his idea of 40/80 switchable was a misconception.
The crowd was amazing. There was one guy in a flying helmet and wings claiming to be Baron Von Ribboncable, squirting everyone with a water pistol.
Mind you, he was fairly sane compared to what came to be known as the communications section. These consisted of a pair of modems vainly trying to make contact. Telephone Bill – who’d come as a wrong number and had an arm around a delectable RS232 interface he insisted on calling his “parity bit” – said they needed hardwiring. I’m not sure what this meant but at the mention of packet switching I left them to their baudy games.
By this stage I’d separated myself from A (who’d just intimated that I needed a separate power supply) and mingled. I would have gone for a dance but at my age you’ve got to be careful of disc problems. In the event I made a BBC line straight for the pretty young thing from the Nice Byte who’d come dressed as a User Port.
Unsurprisingly she was surrounded by all sorts of peripherals all wanting an acknowledgement. Before I could get to her, however, I was intercepted by the Beeb Team (listing to a man) who showed me Mike Cook’s latest invention. It’s a device that not only unfailingly points in the direction of the nearest bar, but also helps you track down the bottles people have hidden away at parties.
Before we could test it out Clive, dressed up as a mouse, announced the party games. The first was a bit of a failure. You had to think of an advert for the BBC Master that was even more boring than the ones in the papers. No one could.
The second was much more of a success. It was a variant of one of those maze games where you rush round gathering up energy pills. Only in this case it was alcohol, and through the screens, getting caught didn’t sound as bad as it might be.
About the last thing I can remember was when someone wanted to play Hopper on the bypass. And after that a vague memory of seven dwarfs, each with an interface lead over one shoulder, marching in singing “I/O, I/O, it’s off to work we go”. It was then I suffered a disc fault and was taken home.
The following definitions may help with understanding BBC Micro–specific terminology.
- The default amount of RAM fitted to the Sinclair ZX80 and ZX81 computers
- 40/80 switchable
- A 5.25″ diskette could be divided into 40 wide tracks or 80 narrow tracks, with 80 track being a later innovation; a 40/80 switchable drive has a switch on the front or rear to select how far the stepper motor moves the head when changing track (note that writing to a 40-track disc with an 80-track drive head will render the disc unreadable to a 40-track drive!)
- disc fault
- Make sure your 40/80 switch is set correctly. Otherwise, you may need a backup disc!
- double disc drive
- The BBC Micro only had one floppy drive socket, that—just as with the IBM PC’s internal floppy port—could address up to four (in theory!) single-sided or two double-sided drives; a double drive unit provided a pair of single- or double-sided drives in a single case for dual-drive operation, internally wired to the same cable (a DUCK—dual-up connector kit—could be used to connect two single drive units to a single cable)
- full RAM
- The maximum amount of memory supported by a computer, which could be as low as 160 MB (1997 Motorola StarMax), 32 kB (BBC Micro) or 16 kB (ZX80); in the case of the BBC Micro, the Model A had 16 kB fitted and the Model B had its maximum of 32 kB fitted with no possibility for expansion without involving a second processor unit
- Graphics colour and plot mode command in BBC BASIC (applies to the next point, line or triangle drawn); GCOL 3 requests exclusive-OR plotting, which seems unlikely to be used for artwork!
- separate power supply
- BBC Micro floppy drives were frequently connected to the auxiliary power socket on the bottom of the computer, but—especially with machines with the original linear power supplies—it could be preferable to power the drive directly from the mains
- User Port
- The BBC Micro’s low-speed general purpose digital I/O port, used in particular for mice; unlike the 1 MHz Bus, the User Port did not support daisy-chaining and only one device could be connected at once