First Steps

Mark Hutchinson, Belfast


Issue 6

Nov/Dec 83

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(Following the threatened disappearance of First Steps last month we now have an offer from Mark Hutchinson to write the column but he needs some reader response. It's up to you.)

It is a wonderful sensation when you rip open the wrapping paper to reveal your ATARI computer. You cannot wait to plug into the mains, turn on your TV and get stuck in. Then comes the big problem - 'What do I do next?' Well, to be honest, just play about first and get to know the layout of the keyboard. Don't be afraid of doing any damage - you can't. If something peculiar happens just switch off and start again. When your little heart has stopped pounding, sit down with the manual and a cuppa and soak up a little knowledge. You really need to learn the basics before you start anything intricate. Let us suppose you have had your computer for about a week and you are now looking for some help. If you decide to purchase ANALOG or a similar magazine, you will find them good but perhaps a little over your head at this stage. The solution is to send an immediate subscription to PAGE 6 and look out each issue for FIRST STEPS. I hope in this column to write articles to aid beginners to computing and the ATARI, based on my own frustrations from three years ago when I purchased my 400 and could find no help.

Where can I start with this column? Probably by getting some reader response sent either to the Editor or to myself. I will not publish your letters, so do not feel embarrassed about asking questions you feel are too silly to print. You may see you questions in print, but not your name. I will even answer enquiries sent directly to me, but you will need to enclose a stamped addressed envelope. Do not worry if it seems ages for an answer, I am honour-bound to reply to an s.a.e.

Now that the preamble is over, let's find something to say for this month.


If you insist on saving more than one program per tape, then the best way is to save just one program on each side. If you want more than this, then try to get a tape with a short leader and zero the tape counter at the start of the tape and make your first CSAVE. At the end of the first program leave a good gap, say twenty digits, and note the counter setting, then save your next program. Always, but always, keep a backup. Use a thick non-chrome tape to avoid stretching and always release the play button to avoid kinks in the tape. Keep your tape heads scrupulously clean but use only a cleaner designed for the job, never use anything abrasive. If you cannot find the start of a program at a later date, play the tape on your stereo. When a constant whistle starts, that is the start of the program. Economy is easy with a 410 and a cheap C90 tape but when you start getting load problems ...

A disk drive gives greater flexibility and speed. For common routines or unimportant programs you can economise by using both sides of a single sided disk. Unlike many other inferior machines, the ATARI does not need the timing hole, it writes its own timing marks during format. All you need to do is to carefully cut out a write notch on the other side of the disk. I recommend that you format both sides at the same time as I would not trust the print through resistance of some disks unless guaranteed double sided. Again, always keep backup copies and always write protect your completed disks.

In general, buy yourself a good store for your recording media and keep everything away from dust, dirt, direct sunlight, dirty fingers, magnetic fields and harsh temperatures. Buy dust covers for your machines and peripherals, you will find the expense well worth it in the long run. I keep all my manuals and magazines in four-hole plastic envelopes in a ring binder and after some three years they are as good as new.

That's it for my first column. Let me know what sort of things you want to know, and look out for some answers to those problems in forthcoming issues.

Write to Mark at BAUG Software, P.O. Box 123, Belfast, N. Ireland BT10 0DB.