Monday, 18 July 2016


"What on earth is he doing now?"  This was me preparing for a photoshoot.  Well, I say "photoshoot" but really it was me balancing precariously on the very edge of that sofa trying to keep my iPhone steady as I took what turned out to be great photos of things I'd put on top of that white blanket, all the while trying not to fall on them and cost myself a lot of money.  There's reason to my madness.

I'm not only a fan of the Commodore 64 and all its associated paraphernalia, I'm also a keen user of modern day Apple products and on the blog before now I've equated my fondness for them to the fondness I felt for the C64 back in the day (click here).  Hence my little logo of the Commodore 'C' with an Apple-shaped chunk taken out of it that you'll see pop up now and again.  I follow quite a few people associated with both streams of technology on Instagram and while the Commie users share quick photos of their desks and play areas strewn with their goodies, the Apple fans seem to take quite a bit more time setting up some very beautiful and creative shots.

As a result there are many people who have set up accounts on Instagram to collect together such photos and share them with a wider audience.  In many cases people tag these accounts to get their photos shared and get feedback from other fans, which gave me an idea.  But first, here's some examples from just one such feed called ApplesFresh.

To begin with I figured these were always professional photographers who used their Macs etc. for their work, as I'd seen many similar photos on the covers of magazines such as Mac User.  But the more I saw the more I realised that while it may have started off that way a long time ago these were now regular fans.  Just like me.

But I wasn't thinking of photographing my Apple equipment.

Now the most popular form of these seems to be setting up everything in straight lines inside a square or rectangular shape and taking a bird's eye shot, such as this following one for example.

For an idea I have for the Commodore and a possible future project I was thinking I'd need some good photographs of my setup.  I've taken a few here and there for this blog but nothing I've spent too long in setting up.  I see such photos as the ones above on a daily basis and suddenly the idea came to me.  A fun idea which I thought would make an eye-catching photo, but for now I just wanted to see if I could pull off something similar to what I had in mind, to see if I had the photography chops as it were.

Taking a closer look I saw you didn't need a professional studio, a lot of the Apple photos seemed to be taken on top of plain white blankets or tabletops, so I soon found myself in the situation you saw at the very top of this post.  After going to all this trouble it'd seem rude not to take one of my Apple equipment to begin and compare it to the ones I see on Instagram.  This was the result.

I was very pleased with how it came out!  As you can see my iPhone is in the shot so I had to use an old digital camera and spent ages trying to tinker with its settings and must've taken dozens of photos before I got one without shaky blurring.  I then processed it through my Gimp art package on the Mac Mini you can also see above and this was the end result.  I was ready!

I now knew what was needed and that I could do something similar to all those other Apple photos and I'm sure you can see where this is going now.  So with the iPhone now taking the photo (which made it much, much easier and quicker to get a good result) I set about taking apart my Commodore equipment and finding a way to set it all up within the same space and within the same kind of rectangle.  The reaction I got on Instagram was brilliant and many saw the funny side of what I was trying to do.

I was extremely pleased with the end result.

But why am I doing all of this?

Well for a bit of fun really and to share it on Instagram as a little joke on all the Apple photos I enjoy so much on a daily basis, while also sharing the Commodore 64 love within the setting of the modern world, which is central to the idea I've had for a future project.  If it comes to fruition it'll all make sense.  Before then I've got other bits of writing lined up I need to concentrate on first of all, but in the meantime this almost feels like a proof of concept.

Watch this space.

Now back to your regular blog experience.    

Thursday, 14 July 2016

B.A.S.I.C.A.L.L.Y. SPEAKING - Part One

Surely someone who programmed on the 64 all those years ago wouldn't need a full course on BASIC?  Would the Commodore's manual not do?  Especially since I have it already (click here).  Well, yes that's partly true but surprisingly this is turning out to be both an education and great fun!  Well, fun in a really nerdy way, but what did you expect?

In a previous post I rambled on a little bit about how I was working my way through the Commodore 64 User Manual and teaching myself BASIC programming all over again.  Well I got through to the final chapter on sound and stopped dead in my tracks due to a combination of time constraints at the time and a severe lack of understanding about what the hell it was suddenly talking about.  But what I took away from it all was a keen interest in learning more about the workings of the C64 and how to make it tick.  Well tick, bleep, sing, boogie etc.

I used to hate flowcharts at school but I'm enjoying them this time
around (not sure what that says about me)

I'd seen the above book, 30 Hour BASIC by Clive Prigmore and converted to the C64 by Paul Shreeve, on eBay several times on my daily browses through the auction site and it reminded me of a great book I'd read about ten years ago called HTML 4 in 24 Hours (trust me, I read regular books too).  That book was split into twenty-four chapters, each to be covered in one hour and by the end you'd be a master of creating brilliant websites, although I only ended up reading about half of it before making a site for a friend's jewellery business, before then deciding web design wasn't for me.  I assumed this book would be along the same lines and so when my User Manual trawl stalled I ordered this up to give it a go.

It went hand-in-hand with BBC programmes at the time and was part of the National Extension College which still runs today.  I'll go into more about it as time goes on but for now this is an introduction to what I'm doing myself.  It's not the massive book you'd expect, instead being roughly A5 but it makes up for that in its length.  A satisfyingly thick book split up into ten units of varying size I can only assume each unit was designed to be covered in three hours, ending with an assignment to do at home (and post off to a moderator for marking no less!) before moving on to the next chapter.  A bit like a weekly night class really when you think about it.

A programme from the Unit 2 assignment that I'm strangely proud
of, but with no one to send it to I'll just say it's correct

Now I could rush through this book, devouring it and I'm sure I'd enjoy the experience immensely, but I've got an awful lot I want to cover on this blog as well as my project I'm currently working on.  In fact recently you'll have noticed a lack of new content here.  This was due to that pesky thing called life getting in the way and my project had stalled too, but I'm getting back into both and am very aware of just how much of a time commitment they are, so I simply can't devote that solid block of time to this course at the moment.  But that doesn't mean I'm not working on it.

By happy coincidence the book arrived exactly thirty weeks before Christmas.

Last year I was binge-watching my enormous Knight Rider box set when I realised the twenty-one episodes of the fourth and final season coincided with the amount of weeks until the big festive day.  It was a great way to count down to my very favourite time of the year and so it felt natural to do the same with this.  I've split up each chapter into three manageable chunks, so my thirty hours will be completed one per week.  It sounds like a very slow way of going back over something I already knew a bit about as a teen, but there's method in my madness and it's paying off bucketloads.

I'm wanting to dedicate as much of my time as possible to enjoying the 64 and writing up about it on here.  Already I'm way behind in covering what I've bought and have been playing on it and the new project idea I'll be getting to at some point on here.  But I didn't want to get to the stage where I could dedicate time to programming and creating on the Commodore and have to then start from scratch.  So by giving myself one hour a week it means by the time I can dedicate myself to it I'll already be up to speed on BASIC, I'll know a lot more about the inner workings of my favourite computer and be ready to start creating and moving on to more complex coding etc.

But that happy coincidence is just brilliant!

Quaint programming saving ahoy!
Desperately need some diskettes

As I said it's paying off too.  The C64's manual takes different topics such as the basics of memory, graphics, sound, arithmetic etc. on the humble machine and gives the user the fundamentals of each.  Back in the day the next natural step would've been to buy programming books to start learning the more advanced features of each topic, but by working through this book I'm learning those advanced features of each before moving on to the next.  It's much better structured and laid out like a proper educational course and since it's about a topic I'm interested in I'm really enjoying it.  Having an hour set aside once a week builds anticipation in advance and a sense of satisfaction after each hour into the bargain too.

Already my programming structure and planning is much better than the make-it-up-as-I-went-along way of doing it I had the first time around and I'm learning new things in the basics of the language, which will make it much easier to understand the computer moving on.

Um, it really is a book of its times...

I've completed the first two units and have done my bit for this week too so I'm seven hours in with twenty three more to go.  It's tempting to sit down and plough through it in a few days but I'm containing myself and remembering everything else I'm wanting to do around this wonderful machine.  (Not to mention the Christmas part of it!)  The two assignments I've done so far have been a good test too; the first was very minimal and easy, but the second took quite a bit of logical thinking.  It involved flowcharts which I thought initially I would sail through with quick sketches but I actually ended up drawing them properly as you can see, because the problems posed by the assignment demanded it or I'd have been lost is a mess of code just like twenty-odd years ago.

I'll come back with little updates on how it's going now and again, as well as to go into more depth on the book's contents and then I'll review it after I've taken its whole course.  You may think in this day and age it's crazy to dedicate so much time to learning to code on such an old machine, but with the scene so alive it's a terrific hobby and I want to learn, learn, learn about it in more detail than I ever did before.  It's certainly off to a great start!