Classic Computer Magazine Archive ANTIC VOL. 7, NO. 7 / NOVEMBER 1988

8-Bit Toolhouse

The Mouse, Disk Emulator, Print Buffer and more.

Your Atari 8 Bit comes alive!
Did you ever get the urge to open your Atari and attach some esoteric piece of hardware to it? If you're like me, you hesitated due to your inexperience with electronics or your awkwardness with tools.

Your Atari 8 Bit Comes Alive is a 207-page book, with a disk that has 18 BASIC programs plus source code for all the machine language subroutines. This package offers you the chance to experiment with less fear. Though soldering is often required, no detailed soldering is needed. I could just "slop it on" and still have these projects come out right.

When opportunities for damage do exist, the book carefully takes us by the hand and leads us to the desired result. (Just remember that you void any Atari Corp. warranty left on your computer, as soon as you open up the case.-ANTIC ED)

Richard Leinecker's book presents lots of projects, although most of them are "merely" of the experiment sort. How often will most of us find a practical use for a home-built oscillator? However, there are a few projects which you can get real use from.

Building your own light pen not only could give you a sense of accomplishment, it can fill a gap left by the lack of available commercial pens. As an added benefit, your home-made light pen can be used in place of the Atari Light Gun (available only with the XE Game System!). The pen you'll build works in Graphics 7, which is a nice drawing mode.

The book starts out assuming you really know nothing about electronics. Detailed definitions and illustrations of basic equipment such as solderless and perforated breadboards are given. Necessary test equipment such as a multimeter and logic probe are defined in clear, understandable English. Schematics, incredibly, are made understandable. Schematics were the one thing which used to lose me almost immediately in electronics before.

Projects include connecting the joystick ports to sundry devices such as door alarms, event detectors and device controllers. From the examples given, it would seem that almost anything electrical can be controlled by your Atari.

book presents
lots of projects,
although most
are ''merely"

This book is not meant to be merely read. It should be used and kept handy during each experiment and project. The sort of experimental kits you wished you could afford as a kid (Remember "Brainiac" and the "33 Electrical Experiments" packages?) are far outclassed by the unsung little Atari which sits upon your desk. All it ever required was the specialized knowledge provided by this outstanding book.-CHESTER COX

$25.95, 207-page book with 48K disk. Computer Spedrum, distributed by Horizon Computers, 695 S. Colorado Boulevard, #10, Denver, CO 80222. (303) 777-8080.

The Mouse
I'm a little tired of articles and letters telling how to use the Commodore mouse with the Atari 8-bit computer. There's a mouse made expressly for the Atari. It's called the Mouse (original, no?) and behaves as well or better than the Commodore mouse.

Just as the Commodore mouse does, this Mouse acts like a joystick. Plug it into either joystick port and start using it. A true mouse (such as the ST's) scrolls across your screen in an entirely different, smoother manner. The pixel-by-pixel jumping of a joystick seems a bit jerky in comparison. Knowing the limitations enables us to use the Mouse for tasks at which it works best.

Its best use is, as you might have guessed, with drawing programs. RAMbrandt works delightfully with it. As a matter of fact, RAMbrandt permits you to use the Mouse (in place of a joystick) and a touch tablet at the same time. Detailing with the Mouse is easier for those of us with unsteady hands, especially when the magnifying option is used. Blazing Paddles, Micro Illustrator, Micro-Painter and its public domain clone- in fact, every art program I tried works better with the Mouse than with a joystick.

Not all games work well with the Mouse. Playing Star Raiders with it is sheer suicide! But games which require instant locations are much more fun. Missile Command becomes almost winnable, Chessmaster becomes simpler. Software which has an interface similar to GEM works very well. Ogre, Gunslinger, Phantasie, and Lords of Conquest seem to have been made for the Mouse. XLEnt's First Word Processor is the only WP that takes advantage of the Mouse, a feature I wish PaperClip had.

The Mouse looks pretty much as you'd expect a mouse to look-palm-sized, sloped in the middle, two buttons that each read just like a single joystick button. It's all in XE gray color and very sturdy. My Mouse has been dropped a few times since Christmas and I've taken it apart to check it out. The rolling ball is exactly the same as the ST mouse ball. In fact, I switched them a few times with no changes in performance.

Just as
the Commodore
mouse does, The
Mouse acts as a

A mouse seems to be relatively expensive. IBM users pay up to $200 for theirs. So we get off cheap with the $59.95 price tag (frequently discounted to $49.95). It makes drawing with your 800/XL/XE downright pleasant.-CHESTER COX

$59.95. Horizon Computers, 695 S. Colorado Boulevard, #10, Denver, CO 80222. (303) 777-8080.

Many Atari owners have more than one 8-bit computer. Some, like me, couldn't bring themselves to sell their faithful (and high-priced) old 800s when they bought an XL or XE. Others found used machines for less than $100 and couldn't pass up the bargain. Now B.L. Enterprises has come up with ways for you to put those extra Ataris back to work! PBR-Print Buffer Routine-turns your second computer into a printer buffer of just under 40K. DER-Disk Emulator Routine-turns it into a RAMdisk.

PBR is a very workable printer buffer. The file you print goes quickly into the buffer and your computer thinks the printing is finished-so you and the computer can go on to other tasks. Meanwhile, the buffer continues sending your information to the printer. Multiple files can be chained for sending to the buffer and will be printed in succession.

Cable used by Disk Emulator and Print Buffer

Through no fault of the manufacturer, PBR is inconvenient to set up for use. The Print Buffer Routine consists of a disk for the first computer, a cable to connect the machines through their joystick ports, and a cartridge for the second computer. Difficulties arise because the first Atari must be told to send the printer data out of the joystick port instead of the SIO port.

This configuration requires a small chunk of code to be squeezed somewhere into the main computer. If the main computer is an XL or XE, you can run the Translator or FIX-XL (not included). That frees 4K memory to hold the code. Then you boot your printing program. This should work with almost all software, but you have to boot three disks to get there. If your main computer is an 800 or 400, the process may be even more complicated and the system will be incompatible with more software.

Disk Emulator and Print Buffer cartridges

PBR has several special features. With the console keys on the second computer, you can send a form feed, a single line feed, or a double line feed. You can also abort the printing and clear the buffer. It would be nice to also have commands that pause and restart the printing, print multiple copies and abort printing without clearing the buffer.

DER, the Disk Emulator Routine is much easier to use. Just plug in the special SIO cable (the DER computer must be last on the daisy chain). Then insert the cartridge in the DER computer to turn it into a solid-state disk drive. It's much faster than a regular drive, but because it's limited by the 19,200 baud rate of the SIO port, it's slower than a built-in RAMdisk.

A 48K computer gives you 293 sectors of RAMdisk space, a 64K computer gives you 403 sectors and a 128K computer gives you 914 sectors. The best part of this RAMdisk is that it retains its information when you turn off the main computer-but not if you turn off the DER computer.

B.L. Enterprises recommends Atari DOS 2.5 for the system. A quick check showed that MyDOS and DOSXL also work, although TopDOS, SpartaDOS and SuperDOS don't. (According to the manufacturer, the newest version of DER does support SpartaDOS. Also supported are DOS XL and SmartDOS.-ANTIC ED) The DER drive can be configured as drive 1-8 and you can boot from it.

Some bonuses are included. The first is a quick Translator if your main computer is an XL/XE and your DER is a 400/800-it actually copies the operating system from the 400/800. The second bonus is a sector copier that uses all the memory in both computers. The final bonus is a routine to move DUP.SYS and MEM.SAV to the DER drive.

B.L. Enterprises has hinted that since DER is programmable from the main computer, future software upgrades (like a RAMdisk printer buffer) may be forthcoming.

Both products work as advertised and increase your system's productivity. DER gets an enthusiastic recommendation, PBR a more reserved one. If PBR fits your work style, you'll love it, otherwise you may find the setup routine annoying.

Finally, can you use both of these products at the same time? Yes...if you have three computers.-CHARLES CHERRY

$39.95 each. PBR and DER both require two 48K Atari computers and one disk drive. B.L. Enterprises, P.O. Box 7881, Louisville, KY 40207.

You must like nice pictures in vibrant colors-after all, you own an Atari 8-bit computer. Undoubtedly, if you enjoy drawing on an Atari, you have your favorite art program. However, there are those great pictures done with other art programs- which your program can't read..

Picture Plus is a package of utilities by Chet Walters. It loads at least eight different kinds of picture files and will then save to any of the eight types. It's one of the few products which will load light pen files.

With Picture
Plus, I'm
able to use any
picture in
any format.

Picture Plus also enables you to manipulate a picture in strange and arcane ways while it's in your Atari's memory. The picture can be rotated, flipped upside-down, moved about, merged with another picture, recolored (almost instantly), or rain-bowed with scrolling bright colors at different parts of the picture. You can change the color registers and/or luminance. Text can be added or overlaid. The l30XE RAMdisk is directly supported and I've been experimenting with the SpartaDOS 256K RAM-disk to good effect.

Picture Plus directly supports Epson and Prowriter printers, and it has options to customize it for any other printer you might have. Detailed instructions and software support are given for printing in four colors using colored ribbons or carbons on a normal dot-matrix printer. There is also an option to switch to low-res graphics on your printer and create huge posters.

Three extra programs are included on the Picture Plus disk. One, PICLOAD.BAS, can be added to your homemade BASIC programs to load Micro Illustrator or Micro-Painter pictures, distinguishing between the two. EXPAND.BAS converts any font on disk to double its original width. Most useful (okay, most fun!) is PlCSHOW.BAS, a slide-show program which loads and displays any Micro-Painter or Micro Illustrator pictures with a time delay of your choosing. It can rainbow your pictures, add a gong to let you know when they change, even permit you to switch disks in the middle of a run. With little effort, I changed the program to read files from a RAMdisk, saving my drive during displays.

A word should be said about the documentation. All of The Catalog's 5 1/4 inch disks have the documentation included on the disk with a utility for printing it on paper. Too often the manuals are obscure or skimpy. This, happily, is a major exception- the programmer actually writes a good manual! One read-through and you will be able to access any feature of Picture Plus with no difficulty. All commands are arranged in a logical order. Walters has a chatty style that makes the manual seem like a personal demonstration. I demand a lot from documentation. I want it to include every possible answer to every possible question I might have. This manual does.

With Picture Plus, I'm able to use any picture in any format. On its own, Picture Plus is almost essential for my printing work. Bundled as it is with another useful program-Lister Plus, which prints any special programming symbols displayed on your screen), the $19.95 price is an incredible bargain.-CHESTER COX

$19.95, 48K disk. The Catalog, 544 Second Street, San Francisco CA 94107. (800) 234-7001