8-Bit Software Online Conversion

HOW I BECAME A COMPUTER PROGRAMMER by Peter Davy This is an up-dated version of an article which appeared in the Summer 1988 issue of "Microwaveband", the journal of the now defunct organisation CABE - Computers and Adult Basic Education. Acquiring the all-absorbing hobby of computer programming was a direct result of my involvement with the Adult Literacy Scheme. For many years I was a volunteer literacy tutor at the Wakefield District College. It so happened that about sixteen years ago the classroom we used was next to the computer department. A member of their staff, seeing the sort of work we were doing, suggested that we could be helped by the use of computers. In those days my feelings towards computers bordered on the hostile. In the course of my work as a gas industry chemist, my experiences with computer people were not happy ones. They spoke a language I could not understand and made a speciality of telling me what I could have, which was always different from what I actually wanted. The suggestion from the computer department was that they would put on a short course in BASIC programming for volunteer tutors so we could write our own programs. I only learned later, of course, to spell "programs" that way! I couldn't see how computers could possibly be of help to us and it was with little enthusiasm that I enrolled on the course. Having enrolled, I nearly gave up without starting as I was unable to attend the first session because my work demanded that I was elsewhere that evening. I turned up, diffidently, for the second session. Having missed the first, the words of our lecturer meant little to me. After his talk we trooped into a room housing what I later came to know as computer terminals and to my astonishment each of my fellow students sat at one and started vigorously typing at its keyboard, filling the room with an unpleasant clatter as typing oozed out on what looked like kitchen rolls. Seeing my look of bewilderment, our friendly lecturer took me aside and quickly went over what he had covered the previous week. Things were a bit clearer but I don't think on that night I had the courage to type anything in at one of those terminals. Before the third session (my second) I happened to look in the window of our local Tandy's - the electronics and hi-fi chain. I saw what looked to be just what I needed. And so it turned out to be. What I saw (and bought) was a book called "Complete Programming in Basic for Everyone" by Thomas A. Dwyer and Michael S. Kaufman. All the mysteries of the BASIC language were explained. On my next visit to the computer department I had with me one or two short programs which I had written to try out. By now I was beginning to get hooked on computer programming. I was still doubtful that computers had a place in the teaching of adult literacy but now I wanted it to have a place because I wanted to continue with this fascinating occupation of computer programming. I had always had an interest in gadgetry and in my work had a reputation as a small time inventor of machines to carry out tasks which were usually carried out manually. Computer programming seemed to be an extension of this. Instead of a machine with levers, cams and sprockets you have a program with ideas, instructions and tests. The satisfaction when it works is the same whether "it" is a gadget or a program. Perhaps I should explain that the computer we were using was the college main-frame machine - a big computer serving a large group of what are known as teletype terminals, each of which resembled a large clattery typewriter. As the weeks passed, members dropped off the course until after about eight weeks I was the only one attending. I ceased to be a man attending a course and became instead a man writing programs to help adult literacy students. My first program was very crude. The student was given a sentence to read and had to supply a missing word. I had not discovered how the computer can be made to do things randomly. In my program the sentences came up in the same order each time and for each sentence it was always the same word which was missing. I was very gratified that my program was very popular with both students and tutors despite the slowness and noise and the text in capital letters only. In due course some visual display unit terminals appeared. These were better for our purpose as they were quicker and quieter and would display lower case characters. Some students did however deplore the absence of a piece of print-out to take home. As my enthusiasm for programming grew, my attendance at the computer department increased from a weekly two hour session to twice weekly three hour sessions. But even this was not enough. My appetite for programming could be satisfied only by having my own computer at home. I bought a Tandy TRS-80 Level 2 micro computer. Programs started to roll off the assembly line. I could write them at home, get them working and then translate them from TRS-80 BASIC to college computer BASIC. The two were very similar so not much translation was needed. Every jar of ointment has its fly. The happy state of affairs described above became less happy. Quite often the computer department needed all of its terminals for its own students. Then both departments were moved so we were not in the same building. Use of the computer for adult literacy almost ceased. Clearly the department needed its own terminals or, better still, its own independent micro computers. After prolonged lobbying, two BBC-B micro computers became a reality. I bought a BBC-B of my own. Then came the job of translating from the main frame to the BBC-B. I didn't translate all that many programs as it soon became apparent that it was better to re-write programs to make use of the many special features of the BBC computer. My present output consists of nearly 150 programs, mainly for literacy but a few for numeracy, occupying 19 40 track single-sided disks. I have supplied copies to more than 500 colleges, schools, hospitals, prisons etc. The software is free. Users pay only for the disks, postage and packing. My software is now available from the 8-Bit Software PD catalogue as 5 double sided 80-track disks TBI-46-1 to TBI-46-5. Many of the programs can be enjoyed by young children. Among readers who have continued to this point may be some who have access to a BBC computer, have no knowledge of programming but would like to have a go. Such readers should look out for my other article entitled: "An Insight into Programming".