Tips 'n' Tricks
Attention Beginners: many new users have begun their Atari 8-bit computing interests with systems obtained second-hand from garage sales, swap meets, or family hand-me-downs. XL/XE systems obtained in this manner are nearly always bereft of manuals, leaving the novice user in a state of bewilderment upon arrival home with the newfound treasure. The situation is especially frustrating for the XL owner even if his second-hand system came with a manual: Atari's manuals for the XL machines were all worthless fluff, a pathetic joke. Fortunately, Atari's manuals for the XE machines were excellent, and AC recommends that anyone seeking basic user information on the XL/XE series computers should obtain the manual for the 130XE. That manual contains detailed descriptions of keyboard functions, pinouts of all the hardware ports, connection diagrams, and a splendid introductory tutorial on BASIC programming complete with a good-sized library of type-in programs. The information in the 130XE manual is 98% applicable to XL owners, the differences being in different physical locations of things like the function keys and various hardware ports, plus the differences in RAM capacity between the XL/XE. Try shopping around for this manual at Best Electronics (408243-6950), B&C ComputerVisions (408-986-9960), Toad Computers (800-448-8623), or any of the advertisers in this magazine.
MONITOR CABLES: we've received several inquiries from people seeking monitor cables for their 8-bit. These cables are readily available from most of the advertisers in this magazine. From Dave Paterson, an 8-bit user on GEnie, comes the tip that you might be able to get an Atari-compatible monitor cable from Radio Shack, catalog #42-2394. According to AC's Hardware Editor this item was deleted from the 'Shack catalog about five years ago, but you might luck out and find one still on the shelf if your local 'Shack store does a slow business.
Atariwriter-80 Weirdness (will it never end?): when running AT-80 under SpartaDOS 3.2d, if you're using an AUTOBAT file (for preventing, say, reformatting a RAMdisk when RESET is pressed), execution of this batch file upon pressing RESET will cause AT-80 to lock up upon loading. Until someone in the 8-bit community gets around to writing a SpartaDOS utility for AtariWriter-80 similar to the LVAUG Patch for AtariWriter+, the only cure is to remove (or rename) the AUTOBAT file from your AT-80 disk.
Another AT-80 oddity is seen in EDIT mode when the cursor is in the extreme upper left-hand corner. If you hit BACKSPACE, the poor little cursor goes blinky-crazy trying to go back one space even though there's no place for it to go (if there's text on the screen, it will commence re-writing the screen over and over). The cure is to just hit any character key. This will get the cursor moving in the forward direction it seems to prefer and relieve the hiccups.
XF551 Socket Snafu: recently one of the guys here at AC rediscovered- the hard way- an old problem with the SIO sockets on the XF551 disk drive. The controller board in the 551 is the crummiest piece of junk Atari ever made, cheap phenolic substrate with foil traces so thin you could probably see through them were it not for the green foil mask and sticky gobs of solder flux residue. To make matters worse, early production runs of the 551 used cheap rivets to fasten down the SIO sockets (Atari installed heftier sockets in later production units, fastened with screws). The rivets were undersize and incompetently installed, so the brunt of force applied when the user connects/disconnects cables is borne by the socket pins themselves. The pins are secured by solder connections to the thin foil traces, which soon work loose and break after a bit of wiggling by the user. The broken foil traces disrupt communication between the computer and the drive, giving rise to a host of devilish intermittent problems until finally the computer just gives up and refuses to acknowledge the presence of the drive.
The cure requires some skillful surgery (if you're the impatient/butterfingered type, find a friend with the necessary skills and equipment). Open the drive case and remove the controller card (you'll have to remove the drive mechanism first). Drill out the rivets from both sockets. This is best done working from the foil side of the board using a Moto-Tool equipped with an emery cutting wheel. Holding the card foil side up, gently wiggle the sockets while observing the SIO pin solder pads: a very strong light and magnifying glass will be indispensable here. Sometimes the pads themselves are lifted completely off the board, and foil breaks typically occur where the trace meets the pad. Make notes of which traces appear loose or broken, then fasten down the sockets with #4 hardware (screws, lockwashers, and nuts). Screws should be installed from the foil side of the board, with the washers and nuts visible on the component side. Then carefully re-solder all the broken pads and foil traces, taking care not to create solder bridges between adjacent pads. You might need to employ a razor edge to scrape the green mask off the trace to expose fresh copper for soldering; this requires considerable skill due to the delicacy of the foil runs. A short length of insulated wire can be used if the foil trace is mangled.
If the drive still misbehaves following this treatment, re-check your work. Sometimes the foil breaks are fiendishly difficult to see, especially with the unaided eye.
We want bugs! If you have a hot tip on hardware/software usage or an undocumented bug in a program, we want to hear about it!