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© Dave 'Spaz of TLB' Moss

TWO BOOK REVIEWS by Piper

Reprinted with permission from:
The ST CLUB Newsletter
9 Sutton Place
49 Stoney St.
Nottingham


GFA Basic Training Reboot Camp

(D. Brumleve, M. Marks. Michtron. £14.95)

When you first get GFA Basic, you can be somewhat overwhelmed:
The language is incredibly powerful and has an enormous number of
commands. If it's your first programming language, you can also
be in real trouble. The manual that comes with it is fine for
learning syntax, but tells you bugger all about programming. The
GFA Basic Training Reboot Camp (Reboot from now on) is a book
aimed at the person new to programming who's just got hold of GFA
Basic and wants to know what the hell to do with it.
The book is printed by Michtron USA and was definitely written
with an American audience in mind. The whole approach is very
"Playschool" ("This is a DEFFILL statement; we know a song about
that, don't we children."), which is, I suppose, in keeping with
the book's objectives of teaching from absolute basics, but made
things rather slow.
Reboot claims that "from the very first chapter, you are a GFA
Basic programmer". Now, since the only things that that chapter
teaches you are how to get around the editor, the PRINT statement
and a DO ... LOOP, you might consider that Michtron are slightly
overstating their case. Nonetheless, Reboot does introduce a
number of basic programming techniques and hint at one or two
others, all reasonably painlessly. Possibly a little too
painlessly. You don't really get the idea that you've learnt
anything.
The only exceptions to this feeling of "yes, of course you do
that" is when the book actually gets it wrong, and you have to go
searching for what's happened. Interesting though this is, it's
totally unforgivable in a book aimed at this level. Even buying
the extras that go with the book, a program disk (£7.95) and a
reference card (£3.95), doesn't really help you out much: The
program disk doesn't have exactly the same programs as the book,
it holds them under different names, and most of the program
examples are so short that there's not much point slowing down
long enough to load them from the disk, to say nothing of the
fact that most of the programs on the disk are not the final
version programs from the book, but rather early versions, making
them shorter still.
The reference card, which shows the general syntax for every
command, is listed in groups, rather than in full alphabetical
order, which is okay if you know what group to look under and
where that group fits on the card, but since the group headings
aren't in any discernible order whatever, it's still a bit of a
hunt around. Additionally this is a reference to GFA version 2,
not the latest version 3, and hence seems to be of little value.
The program disk has a similar problem: The listings aren't in
ASCII format, so if you don't have the old version of GFA, you
won't be able to load the programs. And if you have the old
version, you've probably had it for some time, and so won't be
too bothered about getting a book that is quite this
introductory. The only good programs on the disk aren't covered
by the book, and are, indeed, quite out of it's scope. One of the
programs is even there only in a compiled version, so you can't
have a look at it at all.
By the time you get to the end of the 250-odd pages, you're
just at the stage where you're beginning to think that you could
start to learn something, the same sort of feeling as when you've
been expecting a meal and end up with an entrée. Although it's
not a bad book, it does seem substantially over priced at £14.95,
and the associated extras that come with it are little short of a
rip off considering their lack of relevance to the current
product. Maybe I'll take another look through the manual after
all.

Everything You Need to Know Before Buying a Hard Disk for your
Atari ST System

(A. Bennett, M. Walsh. Frontier Software. £9.95)

This book (if you think I'm going to type the title out again,
you're crazy) is another introductory manual, written by those
nice young men at Frontier, the people who import the Supra range
of hard disks. Strangely enough, it isn't just a carefully
disguised plug of their own products; it does give fair mention
to most of the major manufacturers and distributors (Atari and
Eidersoft are frequently mentioned) even advising a search of the
PD libraries to pick up the relevant software.
Although it doesn't claim to be a DIY manual for constructing
your own hard disk, it does give a fair bit of information on the
subject, the major gist of which is "Don't!" since, as they point
out, you could end up with a whole heap of difficulties with
warranties and guarantees if you buy different parts from
different manufacturers, especially if you have to import them.
Terms are explained briefly when they crop up, and in more
depth in specialized jargon-blasting sections. The explanations
are usually logical and easy to follow, with one major exception
which tends to shake your faith a little: Apparently, each track
on a disk covers one complete revolution "just as does each
groove on a music record". Really? And here was me thinking that
each side of a record had only one groove. Silly me.
After telling you what all the advertising jargon means, giving
you guidence on what a hard disk can and can't be used for,
describing the bits necessary to build your own and telling you
what software you'll need to run it, the book goes on to outline
various ways of making your life easier once you've got one.
There's a trouble shooting guide for if (make that "when") things
go wrong so that you'll be able to tell your supplier a little
more than just "it don't work". There's also a guide to the best
currently available PD software for hard disk use, things like
making back-up copies (highly recommended when you've got 20
Mbytes of irreplacable data sitting in one not quite cat-proof
box) and getting past the 40 folder problem.
A short chapter towards the rear of the book gives a plug to
Frontier's newest storage medium, the FD-10 10 Mbyte floppy disk.
A justifiable move, since the FD-10 is a new concept in mass
storage and the only one of it's kind currently available. Anyone
in the market for a hard disk might well be interested in finding
out a little about it.
The final little treat for the reader is that there are various
vouchers in the back which are worth £35. The bad news is that
they can only be used for certain products from particular
companies. The worse news is that the majority of that saving
(£19.95 to be precise) is on Frontier's own hard disk software,
which you would get for free anyway if you buy a hard disk from
them. Still, that leaves about £15 to play with.
The book itself seems very much worth £3.50. Unfortunately, it
costs £9.95. With the vouchers, you could still save yourself the
entire price of the book plus more, but that's not usually why
you buy a book. It can also save you money by giving you the
information you need to make a reasoned decision about which hard
disk to buy and whether or not to build one yourself. Personally,
I'd have fully recommended it if it was cheaper but without
vouchers. As it is, you'll have to decide for yourself if you're
going to be able to recoup the extra expense.

Disclaimer
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.