My twenty years with computers – Part 3 – by Jakey G3JKY

Once I had the Datasette tape recorder working with the Commodore 64, I had to think of something useful to do with them! At the time, XYL Joyce was working as a locum telephonist at Hither Green Hospital. On many of her shifts she was working alone on a Sunday and had to rely for information about on-call rotas, bleep numbers and such like, on handwritten scraps of paper pinned up all around the switchboard, in no particular order. It seemed that some sort of quick access information file would be helpful.
In W.H.Smiths I bought a book of programs for the 64, which included one called “Info-file.” This offered up to four fields of information, which I thought would be suitable for Name, Department, Phone Number and Bleep Number.

I typed in the program and recorded it as a Program File on the Datasette. After a few false starts due to typing errors, all seemed to be well. I started entering the information from the scraps of paper into the fields and recording it as a Data File. In an early file I made an error and amended it successfully. All went well until I made another (inevitable) error and tried to make an amendment. It didn’t want to know!

Going back to the start of the data entry I found that the program would not allow an amendment in any file which had a number one higher than the Field number I was trying to amend. Thus only the first four files could be amended!

I rechecked the program against the book and could find no fault in my typing. (There’s a first!) W H Smith had no knowledge of any errata sheets for the book (here we go again) so I set out to discover the source of the problem. The lines of the program had to be numbered at intervals of ten, which enabled me to insert some extra “PRINT” lines to find out how the machine was getting on at various stages of the game. “PRINT” in this case of course means “DISPLAY” as the info came up on the screen, not on a printer.
After several tries at this, adding more and more lines, I discovered that the chap who had written the program had used the letter ‘J’ to signify two different variables.

I re-titled one of the two variables, altered the program accordingly and it all began to work properly. I wrote to the author of the book, care of the publisher and was rewarded with a pack of errata sheets. They not only covered “Info-File” but almost every other program in the book!

By this time Joyce had given up her telephonist job and I was so sick of the wretched program I put the tape in its box and never used it in earnest.

Much later I tried a program whose name I forget, that I found in a 1984 “Personal Computer” It had loads of machine code in it, a typing nightmare. That one didn’t work and I hadn’t the patience to find the next month’s copy, assuming it was suffering from F.J. Camm syndrome. Old-time readers of “Practical Wireless” will know what this means!

Return to the index of Vital Spark articles.

Jakey – (G3JKY). From VS November 2006.

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