Monday, November 30, 2009

Life changing magazines #4

So this one is a little simpler. It's my first published work. I was 16 when I sent it off, so in the 2 years from reading the WORMS program listing, I had learnt basic Z80, gotten a spectrum, written a Database for my Mums work, was without a computer for a almost a year(spectrum went back to my mums work), and then gotten a Plus4 and learnt 6502. I find this frightning as these days, YEARS seem to slip by without anything appearingto happen!

So here is the letter I wrote, the reply I got, and the final article. I was well miffed that they didn't put my name on it however - everyone else got that! Story of my life that.... everyone's always taking credit for my work in some shape or form....

From now on, they're not that "life changing"... just important, or funny. There was one other one, but I appear to have lost that. It was a turbo loader for the Commodore Plus/4 which I used a lot, but I then adapted it to be an interrupt driven one on the C64, which then allowed me to play a game while things were loading. Aside from this one, the rest were all after I "turned pro", and so weren't important, just funny/cool/etc.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Life changing magazines #1

I guess every programmer has a genesis moment. One where everything starts to make sense and it's the true begining of their love of programming. This was mine. I was 14 and must have had my ZX81 for about 6 months or so when I bought this magazine. I was at my grans in reading this and suddenly all those HEX numbers I'd been typing in made sense. There in front of me was a true assembler listing. I suddenly realised what all the codes at the back of the manual meant, and how you used them. I poured over this article for days, playing with it, trying new values, changing little bits to see what would happen. Up until now I'd been doing ZX81 BASIC and was getting on okay. However when I got this article I saw the routine that drew the border and called it directly.


Unlike Basic, it popped up instantly. I was gob-smacked! It was SO quick. Basic would have taken over second to print that much! I played around with it, changing the character it drew and so on.

This showed me just what computers were capable of, and how these games I bought actually managed to do what they did. Now I could see how it all worked, I started to learn it all...

Put it simply... this is what got me hooked.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Life changing magazines #3

So, I got this I think around 1985, second hand again. This was very cool though, it showed how to make your own turbo loader! Now I still didn't really understand it at this point, but I was able (with the aid of an amazing tape deck) to make a screen grab load at an amazing 6,000 baud! This is microdrive speed; from a NORMAL tapedeck! It just blasted in! I was also able to load data in via a slightly odd pattern so the screen would come in backwards, and even from both directions at once! Normal spectrum turbos were 3,000Baud (with the original ROM routine at 1,500), so I had great fun fiddling with these routines.

I've still to track down the No.1 magazine. I do still have it, but I've no idea where!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Life changing magazines #2

Yes I know... I'm starting at #2, I need to track down the No.1 magazine. So this one was published when I was just 13, and it had the key equations for doing very basic 3D and perspective. I used these equations for years before real full matrices were possible, but it still holds a special place in my heart. And yes... theres a chunk missing from it. I got it 2nd hand, and someone had sent off for something ripping a big bit out of the article. Fortunately, it wasn't important as I didn't really care about the program, just the method and equations.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


I've just received my original Oli Frey ZZap64 artwork! And I'm pleased as punch! It's from issue 9 of ZZap64 and it's a beauty! It's actually draw at the original size (or very close) to that of the magazine, which I'm astounded at! Normally artists will draw x2 or larger so they can get the detail in, but he hasn't! How the hell did he do that! The detail is amazing on it. I've also discovered I have that magazine, so I'll now get them framed together and it'll take pride of place in my workroom.

I can't wait to see what other ones he'll put up for sale, who would have thought all those years ago I could own an original! Very cool....

You can go buy your very own original at the ZZap superstore: CLICK HERE!

(must now stop using exclamation marks to end every sentence...!)

Monday, November 23, 2009

KISS - Keep it simple, stupid.

I'm a big fan of simple code, probably because anything more complex confuses me and I'll never understand it. This is a hard lesson which I learnt when I was about 15 or 16. I had written a very clever platform routine in assembly on the spectrum. It would draw a Manic Miner level using likes and some king of direction control. However, it was so clever, that after I had written it, debugged it and it was fully working - I had NO idea how it worked. Not a clue. Now, I'll cut myself a little slack here... I was only 15 or so, and had hadn't been doing assembler that long really. Still, I had written it, so I should have understood it! Since then, I've followed the KISS philosophy. Keep it Simple, Stupid. Although the original was apparently Keep it simple and stupid, I prefer the newer interpretation, as you really don't have to be clever to be an engineer these days (particularly a software engineer), and we love to complicate things; so I prefer the insult. If you haven't kept it simple, then you're stupid.

I see this everyday at work, coders who think the latest shiny blog posting about some cool new method is the absolute BEST way to code, and anyone that doesn't is mad! MAD I TELL YA! Well, thats obviously rubbish. If you follow every posting by some new publicity hound, then you're codes going to be terrible, plain and simple. The only real rules for coding is that its got to be clean, readable, fast (enough), maintainable and extendable.

Outside of these simple guidelines, nothing else matters, and it's simple a personal choice. You can throw other things into this mix, like testable, abstracted etc. but these can cloud the code to the extent that its none of the things it should be. I've see code thats been abstracted so much, it's beither readable, fast, maintainable OR extendable. A little abstraction is a good thing, but only when you need it. If you're writing a bit of code for windows, and it's never gonna be moved onto any other platform, then why abstract windows calls? If your going to add value to them (but having them do more, or make the API easier), then thats fine. But never add layers for the sake of them. You should never end up with an API that just passes things through directly unless theres a damn good reason (moving platform it a good reason, as you're wanting to hide the underlying OS calls).

However, desire for coders (especially a novice/junior) to complicate things is pretty high, as is the desire to make a perfect API. Take it from me, thats an impossible dream. You might think it's great, but others will always want something different. The idea is to make an API as good as you can right now, and adapt as time goes on. In the world of professional development, it's all about getting products out the door, not going back over API's trying to make them absolutely perfect. They have to perform the job, and do so with an API that was as good as you could make at the time, otherwise, you'll simply never finish and go bust.

In the end, there's 2 types of coders.... Those that want to get things done and out the door (and this doesn't automatically mean bad code!), and those that want to polish things and write docs, and make things pretty, but ultimately cost you dearly.

Oh...and if you've never seen the second kind, then your one of them!