Written by David Tebbutt, MicroScope 01/85 item 01 - scanned


Home computer users lead a dog's life. Take the case of a man with a popular machine who couldn't get it working properly with his television. He took the computer back to the supplier who told him there was nothing wrong with the machine, it must be his telly. After much pleading and getting nowhere, the man with the problem confessed he was a journalist. With great presence of mind, the dealer suggested that the scribe brought in his television and he would see if he could tune it properly. "Anyone can do it sir, but seeing as you're a journalist . . ."

The television was duly presented and the dealer said "Oh, it's one of them is it? Won't take a jiffy." And, whipping the back off, he proceeded to snip out resistors and replace them with new ones of different values. He plugged in the computer and, lo and behold, it worked.

Why on earth aren't computers designed to output the same sort of signal as that received through a television aerial?

Or take the case of me last weekend. I was evaluating the graphics quality of another make of home computer. The manufacturer had kindly supplied a particular game which would show the graphics off to best effect. The first tape obviously had something wrong with it: it sent the television haywire. No amount of adjustment would remove the grey and white streaks all over the screen when the game was in progress. Sadly, a second tape did exactly the same thing. The welcome screen came up fine, it was when I switched into the action part of the game that things went wrong.

I telephoned the manufacturer's resident expert and I was told "You haven't adjusted your television properly." I pointed out that my television had worked over the last three or four years with a wide assortment of different computers and games and it still worked perfectly well with any game other than their one. The expert then said he'd call me back. Much to my astonishment, that's exactly what he did. But then he did know I was a journalist.

"Yes, it's definitely your television. You obviously haven't adjusted it properly. " The fact is that I had twiddled every external knob in sight and the only things left to touch were under cover (NO USER SERVICEABLE PARTS INSIDE). When I pointed this out, the expert confessed that in order to create the whizzo graphics, the game writer had used a number of illegal graphics commands. It obviously didn't occur to him that they're probably illegal because they turn the television screen to mush. Just because a program works well on the development system monitor, it doesn't follow that it will work equally well on Tebbo's rented telly.

I could go on. I've got a program on yet another home computer which just won't load. The tape recorder is the same one that I've used for years. I have tried hundreds of incremental variations of pitch and volume controls. I suspect that the tape has its own loader because it loads okay for a while then goes to pieces while loading the main program.

I have come to the conclusion that ownership of a home computer takes a special kind of courage. It's a quality that I clearly lack. How on earth can users of such machines take the continual setbacks and the telephone equivalent of the blank stare when they phone to complain? Is there anything that we should be doing about it? Can you see hard bitten software suppliers offering money back on tapes that just won't load? No, they'll give another tape of the same game and, if it uses 'illegal graphics', where does that leave the poor old punter?

In America, cassette tapes are regarded as quaint, old-fashioned ways of loading programs. At least a move to disks would get rid of most of the program loading problems. Copy protection too is more viable on disks and, for games, that's probably no bad thing. I reckon that a bit of forethought on the part of the whizzo programmer, some attention to the signal strength put out by the computer and the advent of low-cost disk drives, could do much to alleviate our users' frustration and we could all be in for a happier Christmas this Year.