Questions Beginners Ask
Tom R. Halfhill, Features Editor
Are you thinking about buying a computer for the first time, but don't know anything about computers? Or maybe you just purchased a computer and are still a bit baffled. Each month, COMPUTE! will tackle the questions most often asked by beginners.
Q I have recently purchased a computer with a cassette recorder. In a recent issue of COMPUTE!, an author stated, "Remember that the safest way to make sure that your program is not lost forever is to save it at least every half an hour that you work on it." Does this mean that, when typing in the extra long programs, you should stop half an hour into the program and save it, then continue typing from that point on?
A To be safe, yes. You might want to stop and save the program even more often, or less often – depending upon how much of your work you are willing to reconstruct in the event of a disaster.
Remember that programs loaded from disk or tape, or typed on the keyboard, are kept by the computer in Random Access Memory (RAM). RAM holds this information only while the computer's power is on. If you are typing in a long program and a thunderstorm suddenly knocks out the electricity, or if someone kicks loose the power cord, all your work will be lost. You would have to start over again from the beginning.
That's why most people "safety save" the program they are typing or writing. Admittedly, if you are working with a cassette recorder instead of a disk drive, this can be inconvenient because of the waiting involved. A very long program might take ten minutes to save. If you save your work every half-hour, you could spend one-third of your time waiting for the recorder.
A good compromise might be to save to tape once every hour. Decide for yourself: If there are no storms brewing, if the power cords are safely hidden from passing feet and pets, and if no one else is around to accidentally turn off your computer, you can probably get away with saving your work less often than someone who must put up with such hazards.
Q I own an Atari 800 (48K) with a 410 Program Recorder and my brother owns an Atari 400 (16K) and a 410 also. Is there any way to interface the two computers in order to play a program through both at the same time?
A It is possible to hook up two (or more) computers to share a program – even two computers which are normally incompatible – but there are several complications involved.
First, you would have to buy or make a cable to hook the two computers together. One way would be to use the parallel or serial ports on a pair of 850 Interface Modules, or the built-in serial bus on each computer (although the latter method would interfere with access to peripherals, such as your cassette recorders). I know of no cables for this purpose, and making one would be a task for a knowledgeable technician.
Perhaps using a pair of modems would be the easiest way to hook up the computers. Each computer would require its own modem and telephone. You would call up your brother's computer and link them together over the phone lines. Of course, this would also require the proper terminal software – a program to allow each computer to act as a remote terminal, communicating with the other. Whatever you typed on your computer would appear on your brother's screen, and vice versa. In effect, you would be "sharing" a program on both computers – the terminal program.
But to do anything more would require a special program to take the place of the terminal software. You don't mention in your letter what type of program you want to share on both computers. There are only a few programs designed for this. If you want to play an interactive game – with you and your brother making moves and countermoves from your own computers – you'd need a game program specially designed for this. The only one I've heard of is Commbat by Adventure International. This is an interactive tank battle game with simple graphics that can be played over the phone lines between even normally incompatible computers, such as a Radio Shack TRS-80 and an Atari.
Be aware, however, that such games are limited by the speed of data transmission over the phone lines. It is very difficult to program fast action and flashy graphics. For more information, see "Telegames: Computer Games By Phone," in last month's COMPUTE!, and "Telecommunications: How To Get Started," elsewhere in this issue.