Teaching kids about computers...

Ethan Dicks ethan.dicks at usap.gov
Sat Nov 24 20:24:41 CST 2007

On Sat, Nov 24, 2007 at 06:45:32PM -0500, Ray Arachelian wrote:
> Chris M wrote:
> > The C64 is a great machine, but you're not going to
> >learn many *deep* details about the hardware

I built plenty of add-on devices for the User Port and the joystick
ports when I was a teenager (I got my hands on my first C-64 when I was
15, and by 16, I owned one).  How deep do you mean here?  It's a little
tougher to find a cartridge-port proto board than it used to be, so 
building your own SCSI or IDE or Ethernet interface from scratch
might be somewhat advanced, but hanging LEDs or switches off of one
of the other ports is easy enough, and easy enough to control from
> C64 BASIC is pretty bad.  PET BASIC or better yet, C128 Basic were a lot 
> better.  I suppose with the Simon's Basic cart, C64 BASIC was quite nice.

How is C-64 BASIC bad compared to PET BASIC?  They are virtually
identical.  Do you mean because the PET lacks a SID chip and sprites
and bitmapped graphics, the BASIC is "better"?

> Then again, if you can master the peeks and pokes, you're better off 
> writing 6502 code.  I'm really partial to the C128 which had a built in 
> machine language monitor. 

As did BASIC 2 and BASIC 4 PETs (just not the original chicklet-keyboard
PET - on that one, you had to load the monitor from tape).

The ML monitor on PETs was nice to have - better IMO than a blue "READY"
screen - but anyone who was serious about it gave up one of their two or
three precious expansion ROM sockets for a better monitor.  ISTR SuperMon
was pretty good.  I forget what I have in my 2001-32N, but one nice feature
is that it would assemble and disassemble on the fly - scroll up or down
to rip though memory.  I used that monitor to write a ML Scott Adams
Adventure runtime in high school (i.e. - it's good enough for programs
larger than the cassette buffer, especially if you don't have a disk drive
and a proper symbolic assembler).

I think the PET is a great teaching machine for kids, but I admit that I'm
biased - the first machine I got to use, and the first machine I owned, was
a PET.  Given the costs, decreasing availability, etc., of the PETs and PET
peripherals, I would probably recommend the C-64 in its place.  There were
millions and millions of them made, they are still abundant and inexpensive,
and they have many of the same features that make the PET interesting, and
only lack a small number (like the built-in ML monitor).  

If you desire a greater hardware angle than a packaged system provides, there
are a number of recent reimplementations of classic designs - I've built the
Elf 2000, along with many of its peripherals, and I have a MicroKIM here,
and am gathering parts.


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Ethan.Dicks at usap.gov            http://penguincentral.com/penguincentral.html

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