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ComputerAnswers Column 16


Copyright 1984-1989 Simon N Goodwin


We're making a few changes to Computer Answers this month, in an attempt to make the column more readable and more relevant.

Computer Answers is PCW's help column. Simon Goodwin has experience of almost all popular small computers (and a good many of the unpopular ones!). He offers advice about all kinds of hardware and software problems, through the pages of the magazine. Most problems are shared by many readers, so the column is not just aimed at prolific letter-writers. We also welcome letters from readers in response to published queries.

Two points should be noted. Firstly, we can't answer abstract questions like 'what computer/printer/monitor etc. should I buy?' - just as a real 'agony aunt' can't tell you who you should marry. The question depends entirely upon your abilities and needs, and these can't be assessed sensibly by post. Secondly, we can only reply through the pages of the magazine; please don't send SAEs.

That said, we can answer a vast range of questions and we do find space to reply to most of the queries you send in; if anything, we could do with more, to avoid repetition and help us make our replies more general. So, if you're 'stuck', drop PCW a line. We should be able to help, and your enquiry may help someone else, indirectly.


I am involved in theoretically starting a small business dealing mainly in software, as a project at university. I have come across the problem of promoting my efforts. When you review software in your magazine, do you approach the supplier to get the software, or does the supplier approach you?

Also, could you explain how the copyright system works for software?
David Kelsey, Coventry, West Midlands.

Some firms send software to PCW 'blind' - they just post the package to us and hope that we'll take an interest. Alternatively, other suppliers send a concise summary of the features of their product, together with a contact address and number - we contact them later if we feel that we'd like to see the program. In either case, correspondence should be directed to the Editor, Peter Jackson, who will pass material on to the appropriate reviewer.

British Copyright law is embodied in the 1956 Copyright Act and the 1985 amendment to the Act, which confirmed the fact that computer software could be copyrighted in much the same way as literary or artistic work. The law says - in essence - that you are entitled to a monopoly over the exploitation of your original work (expressed in some 'fixed form', like a program listing) until 50 years after you die. During this time no one else may reproduce your work, or a direct adaptation of it, without your permission.

Copyright law expresses the fact that ideas are 'intellectual property' once they have been expressed formally. Of course, you can't copyright the ideas themselves, but just the expression of them, and the work must have been done in your own time, with your own tools. You cannot copyright programs that you write 'in the course of your employment' unless your employer says otherwise.

You don't need to 'register' copyright work in the UK - it is copyright as soon as it is expressed in 'fixed form'. However, you may have to sue other people in the Civil Courts if you believe that they are reproducing your work without permission and you want to defend your rights. This can be expensive, and most cases are usually settled 'out of court'. If you feel that your copyright is being infringed you should start by sending a solicitor's letter pointing out your claim, and follow your nose from there.

You must be able to prove that there are striking similarities between your program and the copy, and that the copier had a chance to see your program. It is important to be able to prove that your work pre-dated the copy. You can establish this when you finish the code, by posting the listing to yourself by registered post, and then keeping it in a safe place, or by sending a copy and an appropriate fee to a 'software registry'.

In many other parts of the world you have to indicate that a program is copyright, by writing your name, the year and the copyright symbol - a letter C in a CLOSED circle - in a prominent place. Some countries - such as the USA - also require you to send a copy of the program to an official registry.


I have recently purchased an Amstrad PCW8256, and I have a spare 'Byte Drive 500' 3 inch disk drive. Is it possible to connect this up as drive B of the Amstrad?

Do you have any information about the extra memory sockets inside the computer?
R.A Jacob, Hampton, Middlesex.

The socket for 'drive B' is specifically set up to accept Amstrad's 1 Megabyte drive, so it won't accept a 'normal' 40 track 3 inch device. You might be able to connect the Byte Drive internally, but I don't know how and I wouldn't like to try it, especially as you might have some trouble getting the software to recognise it.

The RAM sockets are similarly hard to use. They were intended for 64K of chips, back in the days when the PCW-8256 was designed to be a PCW-8128, with two 64K banks of memory. In the event the price of 256K chips fell to the point where it was pointless to use 64K parts, and the machine was shipped with a single 256K bank. The other sockets are not properly driven or decoded to cope with memory in addition to this, according to Amstrad. This does seem plausible when you consider that Amstrad themselves have not announced an upgrade using the sockets, and nor has any third-party supplier. As Amstrad put it: "if it was easy, we'd have done it by now".

Engineers within Amstrad and outside are working on the problem, so it might be worth waiting to see what turns up. But, in the meantime, I would not advise you to dive in, soldering iron smoking - you'll probably just break the 256K you've already got.

2011 update: my later article in Amtix magazine in July 1986 showed how to 'fatten your Joyce' from 256K to 512K using those sockets. But that was after the introduction of the PCW512 so maybe Amstrad were not bullshitting when I asked, and might even have followed up by adding decoding later. Or perhaps they were just stalling... For lots more info see ComputerAnswers column 20 and ComputerAnswers column 23.


Could you please tell me what I need to make my Atari 800XL into a word processor? All I want to do is display and alter words on the screen and then have them printed out in Elite (if that means large type) letters, on A4 sheets. At present I have the Atari keyboard, a TV and an Atari recorder.
J. Chapman, Erdington, Birmingham.

I have an Atari 800XL with disk drive. I have just purchased a word-processor program but unfortunately do not have a printer. I borrowed a friend's Atari 1027 but have not found it to be completely reliable. A friend has recommended one of the Epson printers but the interface would cost an extra #70. Unfortunately money is limited and I can only afford #200-250.
J. Bryant, Frodsham, Cheshire.

You can put together quite a useful word-processing system around an Atari 800XL; the cassette system is not really fast or reliable enough for this application (though you can do anything with a cassette system if you're stuborn enough!). You'll probably need a 1050 disk drive, which gives you 127K of storage for £129.

You can't really avoid using Atari's own drives and printers, as the machine doesn't have standard Centronics or RS-232 interfaces. You can add these, but - as you have found - the cost is probably prohibitive. Atari's own add-ons use the non-standard, rather slow, serial bus, via the large wedge-shaped socket on the side of the computer.

Once you've got the drive you can buy a disk copy of the standard word-processor, Atariwriter, for £14.99. This used to cost £65 on ROM cartridge. The Atari 1027 printer, at £137 or thereabouts, is the only low-cost letter-quality printer that you can plug directly into your machine. It is slow and rather fragile, since it is based on a typewriter mechanism, but it should be reliable if you treat it with care. The letters are normal typewriter-size - the term 'Elite' refers to the fact that there are 12 characters per inch, across the page.


What is the address of the English 'supplement' QL User? Could you tell me how to contact QL groups or clubs in the UK?
Julio Pereira Proenca, Lisbon, Portugal.

The QL publishing scene has had a fairly traumatic past and it is still in a state of some confusion. First Sportscene published a magazine called QL User, then EMAP came out with another magazine with the same title. A few threats were exchanged and EMAP emerged victorious, only to close their title down 18 months later. In the meantime a rather poor 'free' magazine called QL World had started.

The publishers of QL World have now taken over QL User, and re-christened themselves Sinclair QL World Incorporating QL User (SQLWIQLU for short?). At the time of writing (late January) they had not yet published an issue of the new magazine, so it is a bit hard to know whether or not the title can be recommended. The publishers are based at 80-82 Upper Street, Islington London NW1 0NO. I hope the last part of the postcode is not prophetic.

Even the non-profit-making Independent QL User Group has suffered an identity crisis. It started out as IQLUG, and then changed its name to QUANTA. The group publishes a disorganised but informative monthly newsletter, and organises regular 'workshops' and regional meetings. The Chairman of QUANTA (and the UK 'C' User Group) is Leon Heller and he can be contacted at 8, Morris Walk, Newport Pagnell, Bucks MK16 8QD. His 'phone number is 0908 613004.


I am interested in buying an Amstrad CPC-6128 as a replacement, of sorts, for my Oric 1. However I already have several programs for the Oric and have no wish to sell it - not that it is worth much anyway.

Would I be able to use the Amstrad monitor (from a colour system) and the built-in power-supply with my Oric?

When using the cassette recorder as a backup, will I be able to use the Oric lead?

Could the Amstrad load text files generated by programs such as Tansoft's 'Author', at the Oric's 2,400 baud speed?

Would it be practical to use the Oric as a peripheral, such as an intelligent printer buffer, maybe by swapping data between the cassette ports?
Timothy J. Ruffle, Sperrymoor, County Durham.

The Oric RGB port should drive the Amstrad monitor without any problems. The monitor expects four signals - one for each colour, red, green and blue, and one for 'synchronisation' - to tell the display when to start a new line or frame.

The Amstrad computer varies the relative intensities of the colour signals to give more than 8 colours - the limit if you just turn the colours on and off in combination - but the Oric can't do this, so you won't get any of the 'new' colours available from the Amstrad.

The monitor supplies power to the CPC-6128, but it produces two smoothed supplies, nominally of 5 volts and 12 volts. I think that the Oric expects 9 volts (though you should check this) so it doesn't seem likely that the supplies will be compatible. You could try running the 5 volt rail into your Oric power socket - it might work and would be unlikely to cause any damage, so long as you get the polarity right - but the 12 volt supply will probably cause the Oric to overheat.

The Amstrad uses a similar lead to the Oric, but the connections at the computer end are different - you'll need a five pin DIN plug. Appropriate leads, designed for use with the TRS-80 Colour Computer, are available from Tandy shops. Your recorder should be fully compatible.

The format used for Amstrad tapes is quite different from that used by the Oric, so you will not be able to read them unless you're willing to write some quite complicated machine code. You'd also need some kind of 'buffer' amplifier, so this is not a sensible solution unless you're a brilliant hacker with a lot of time on your hands.

Amstrad tell me that someone HAS written a routine that allows their computers to read Spectrum data tapes, but the technique is of limited usefulness - it is no good for transferring programs.

The ideal way to transfer data between the machines is via an RS-232 port, but even this can be tricky - this is probably the favourite topic for 'Computer Answers'! RS-232 ports are optional extras on both machines, so it would be cheaper to buy a 'dedicated' printer buffer.


I have access to a Sirius and an Apricot Xi. Is there any simple interface and software I could obtain to allow me to create titles and other graphics on a colour TV?

I make educational slide material, as a hobby, and I find decent slide titles difficult to make - I'm fed up with Letraset, good though it is. I have in mind taking still photographs of the colour screen.
Peter Hogg, Hartlepool.

Neither the Sirius or the Apricot Xi support colour as standard - there used to be a colour option for the Sirius, but it was expensive and I cannot trace anyone who stocks it nowadays. You can plug an Apricot 7220 colour board into an Xi, but it slows down the system very noticably and it only works with an RGBI monitor, such as the Sony model that Apricot supply. The colour cards for the Xen machine should work in an Xi, at a sensible speed, but you'd be well advised to try before you buy, and once again there's no TV output.

The second problem comes when you try to draw your slides. Not all graphics programs are compatible with the colour cards. The GEM system, for the Apricot F1, works in colour, but a version is not available on the Xi as I write.

To be honest, you'll be much better off buying a cheap colour graphics home computer and using that to make your slides. The hardware cost will be smaller and the software should be cheaper too. Consider obsolescent machines like the Atari XE series or the Acorn Electron - these can often be purchased for £50 or less, and graphics software is widely available.

When you come to take your photo you should use a long exposure - perhaps a quarter of a second - in a darkened room, for best results. The long exposure evens out the 'roll bar' effect as the display is refreshed. You'll need a tripod or some other support for the camera.


I have recently become the owner of a Texas Instruments TI-99/4A computer. Can you give me a list of dealers for the above? Do you know of any magazine for users of the Texas?
R. Cutler, Newton Aycliffe, County Durham.

The TI-99/4A is obsolete (as you may have guessed from using it) and I don't believe there is a dealer chain any more. However there are several TI user groups in the UK, and they should be able to supply you with software and information.

The Oxford TI Users group is run as a business; it has members all over the world and issues a monthly newsletter called TI-Lines. The secretary is Peter Brooks, of 96 Banbury Road, Oxford, OX2 6JT. The Amateur Computer Club have given me details of three other TI groups, although some of them may have closed down - the record of their existence is a couple of years old.

The British TI Users Club used to be run by Philip Rowley, of 2, Woodside Crescent, Clayton, Newcastle under Lyme, Staffs ST5 4BW. In the London area, the TI-99/4 User Group was run by P.M Dicks, of 157 Bishopsford Road, Morden, Surrey SM4. Finally, if you're keen on machine-code you might write to the 9900 User Group, c/o Chris Cadogan at the Department of Computer Science, University of Manchester, M13 9PL. This group concentrates upon unravelling the mysteries of TI's rather unconventional processor.


David Rose has written in with further help for Ken Campbell, whose Wordstar problems were addressed in the January PCW. Apparently you can access two 'spare' daisywheel characters by typing Control P F and Control P G, for the characters corresponding to Escape Y and Escape Z, respectively. The other optional characters can be generated with the following hex codes:
Escape H 03 1B 48 08
Escape I 03 1B 49 08
Escape J 03 1B 4A 08
Escape K 03 1B 4B 08

In these sequences the first code indicates the number of values thereafter (3), then come the escape characters, followed by a backspace code (8). David says that this technique has the disadvantage that it does not advance the printer before printing, so an extra space must be typed before the character required. You might be able to get around this by removing the backspace character or adding a normal space, adjusting the first value to 2 or 4, respectively - the hex code for a space is 20.

Triumph Adler can supply a daisywheel of mathematical symbols - the part number is 38141, 'General Scientific 10'.

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