Help for the New User
As a regular feature in ANTIC we try to provide useful, jargon-free information for the new user. As time goes by there will be many more of you opening a silver box to the world of ATARI. We would like to relieve you of any unnecessary anxiety and help you verify that your equipment is operating correctly.
Can I hurt my machine?
No, there is nothing that you can do from your keyboard in normal operation that will harm your ATARI. Feel free to press any key in any order. Experiment, try it, learn by example and by trial and error. One note of warning, always save a copy of your program on cassette or disk prior to experimenting. This way you'll have a copy to reload should the experiment fail, or someone kicks the plug out of the socket. Keep food and drink away from your equipment, and disks and tapes away from magnetic fields and dust or ash.
What does 32K mean?
In computing circles, terms like 16K or 32K are frequently heard. Numbers with the suffix K are used to refer to the amount of memory available in your machine. K is a metric abbreviation and refers to the number 1000. The computer world adopted K to mean 1024, the value of two to the tenth power. So, 32K RAM would mean that 32,768 bytes of memory are available. Most ATARIs come factory equipped with 16K RAM. Both the ATARI 400 and 800 can be expanded to 48K RAM, or 49,152 characters of information. Consult your local dealer about memory expansion products.
How can I be sure that all my memory is there?
To verify that your installed memory is being recognized, type the command PRINT FRE(0), and press [RETURN].
With the BASIC cartridge installed you should read: 13326 (if 16K) 29710 (if 32K) 37902 (if 48K)
How many characters will fit on the screen?
A maximum of 40 text characters per line, by 24 lines, can be displayed on your TV screen by the ATARI. In normal operation only 38 characters are allowed because of the two-character margin. This can be changed by typing the command POKE 82,0 (press [RETURN]). This effectively moves the left margin two characters left, giving you the maximum of 40 characters. Press [SYSTEM RESET] to restore margins.
BASIC can receive up to 120 characters per command line (three full 40-character lines). This is also called a "logical line." The normal margin reduces this to 114 characters. A warning buzzer sounds seven characters from the end. If you type more than the maximum, the excess characters are ignored.
Is there an easier or faster method of entering BASIC?
Yes, use abbreviations wherever possible (look at Appendix A of your BASIC Reference Manual). Using abbreviations will save typing time. For example use N. instead of NEXT or C. instead of COLOR. The BASIC cartridge will expand these abbreviations for you automatically. It is also legal to eliminate spaces wherever possible, once again BASIC will insert spaces for you. For example, 110REM is okay.
What color should my screen be when I turn on my ATARI?
Your screen should be blue when first turned on. This is one of 128 color possibilities available. There are 16 colors and eight hues on every 400/800. Look at page 50 of the BASIC Reference Manual for the color-range description.
What is Memo Pad Mode?
The ATARI will respond with this statement whenever you turn power on without either a language cartridge installed or the disk-system DOS installed. You can display characters on the screen with Memo Pad Mode, but that's about all.
What does screen editing mean?
This refers to the ability to insert and delete characters on the screen by moving the cursor around and by using several other keys. Press [CTRL] (the control key) and the up/down or left/right arrows simultaneously to see this effect. Errors can be corrected and lines inserted without the necessity of retyping entire lines. Look at Chapter Three of the BASIC Reference Manual for more edit features, and see the Screen Editing article in this book for an exercise.
Why does my screen change colors when I leave it for a while?
This is called attract mode. If there has been no input from your keyboard in the previous nine minutes, the colors begin to change on your television. This occurs to protect the color phosphors of your picture tube. Just press any key and the colors will return to normal for at least nine minutes more.
How can I be sure my equipment is operating properly?
Modern electronic equipment is extremely reliable. In almost all cases your computer either will fail in the first 50 hours of use, or continue operating for the next five years. Whenever you power on your computer with the BASIC cartridge installed, the friendly message READY should appear in the upper-left corner of the screen. Almost always computer failure will be total. It will either run properly or it won't run at all. If you should develop trouble, read the instructions and recheck your power and connectors. Begin to eliminate probable causes one by one. Be methodical! If your cassette doesn't work, try it on your friend's computer. Try to isolate the program. You can save yourself unneeded trips to the repair center by thinking through the problem, trying and retrying. These techniques work for professionals and they'll work for you.
by James Capparell
James Capparell is the publisher and founder of ANTIC--The ATARI Resource.