Last month I put a bit of effort into fixing BINSIC – the collection of Groovy scripts that allows the execution of Sinclair ZX80/81 BASIC programs – and I have been thinking about the thing that they offer that modern computers don’t: the ability to switch on and just write a simple program to solve a problem.
The obvious thing to do would be a browser plug-in that replicates the straight-to-coding environment: particularly for Chromebooks and the like.
BASIC lacks expressive power but it is simple to use and would be a good choice, though I guess the line numbers abstraction would have to go.
Conway’s Game of Life has long fascinated me. Thirty years ago I wrote some Z80 machine code to run it on a Sinclair ZX80 and when I wrote BINSIC, my reimplentation of Sinclair ZX81 BASIC, Life was the obvious choice for a demonstration piece of BASIC (and I had to rewrite it from scratch when I discovered that the version in Basic Computer Games was banjaxed).
For me, it’s just fun though. When I wrote my first version of it back in 1981 I merely used the rubric in Basic Computer Games – there was no description of gliders or any of the other fascinating patterns that the game throws up – so in a sense I “discovered” them independently, with all the excitement that implies: it is certainly possible to spend hours typing in patterns to see what results they produce and to keep coming back for more.
“Life.bas” should run on any system that will support the Java SDK – for instance it will run on a Raspberry Pi – follow the instructions on the BINSIC page. A more up to date version may be available in the Github repository at any given time (for instance, at the time of writing, the version in Git supports graphics plotting, the version in the JAR file on the server only supports text plotting). On the other hand, at any given time the version in Git may not work at all: thems the breaks. If you need assistance then just comment here or email me adrianmcmenamin at gmail.
At the risk of being attacked as an enemy of all that is good, I have to confess to being less than riveted by the Olympics, so far. So I have made far more productive use of my time in seeking to recreate the computing experience of 30 years ago – by working some more on BINSIC – Binsic Is Not Sinclair Instruction Code, my reimplementation of Sinclair ZX81BASIC.
I have finally got PLOT and UNPLOT to work – not on the same screen as ordinary output, but on a separate graphics console.
As the above – from Conway’s Game of Life – shows, this has all the sophistication and élan of the original ZX81 experience!
It’s just in the Git repo now (at Github under mcmenaminadrian) but an executable JAR will follow shortly.
Actually, I ran BINSIC, my very own dialect of BASIC on the Raspberry Pi – it is very slow (a bit slower even than a ZX81 back in the day) but it does work.
Haven’t had a chance to investigate what happens if I tweak the settings on the thing – possibly I might be able to speed execution up. Could be that Java and Groovy is just too much bloat, could be that BINSIC just demands a lot of computation (I refuse to consider that it might be poorly designed and executed).
IF ... THEN ... ELSE GOTO GOSUB ... RETURN LET FOR ... TO ... STEP ... NEXT DIM A(x, y, z) (and array derefencing) CLS PRINT
Still one or two difficult areas to get through and I have had to make one compromise – unlike on the ZX80 one cannot have a variable and an array with the same letter designation – just too difficult to implement on Java/Groovy.
I have a new software project now … BINSIC … Binsic Is Not Sinclair Instruction Code.
Instead Binsic is my attempt to reimplement Sinclair’s ZX80/ZX81 BASIC (with a few pieces that were deeply frustrating through their absence all those years ago) as domain specific language using Groovy.
I have spent a fair bit of yesterday and today on this and have not got very far as yet … not even enough to pin up a few dozen lines of code on GitHub.
I have been spending my time trying to get the PRINT command to work. And, well, it doesn’t. I can print some things, but generally only by imposing constraints on the language that were not there in BASIC and so are self-defeating.
And I haven’t even begun to think seriously about how I can tackle the line number problem.
Not everything about computing is on the internet.
Sometime around this point thirty years ago my brother and I went to a computer exhibition in London – “Breadboard 81”
There are a couple of references to it findable through Google. But not much.
It was a fantastic experience – but perhaps also the end of an era: the computer that feature most of all was the “UK 101” – a kit based effort with a real keyboard (unlike the ZX80 Conor and I were using).
It is impossible to describe the thrill one could get from being able to see, use and program (in either BASIC or assembler/machine code) any of these devices: everyone was a pioneer and everyone was equal. (Though this book this book captures the feel of the era that was dying even as it peaked.)
Perhaps there are others who will read this who were also there and who can share their memories of this moment… reminding me of where it even was would be a start? Olympia?