Cut that cable

After I worked myself through the first three chapters of the Applesoft textbook it was now time for graphics. The high-resolution screen counted 280 x 160 pixels. But oddly enough the Pearcom did not respond to the HGR and HGR2 statements. I thought that it could be a lack of memory because it should have been at least 24 Kb. But when I checked it I saw that we had 48 Kb on board so it should work. However, I could not find the problem and I got in touch with engineer Schröder by telephone. I told him about the HGR problem. His answer was that he would call me back. A few hours later he called me back with a rather basic but also terrifying question ‘Do you have a pair of cutters?’

Engineer Schröder continued his explanation: ‘Is your computer on? Than turn it off! Open its cover. See the motherboard? Do you see the 14 slots? On the right of those you can see the CASSETTE DATA IN (K12), CASSETTE DATA OUT (K13) and the VIDEO OUTPUT (K14). A bit below them you will see the AUXILIARY VIDEO OUTPUT CONNECTOR (J14B). Do you see that cable at the right of it? Yes? Cut that cable! That’s it. Now put the cover back on the computer and start it. Type HOME. And then VTAB 24. And try the HGR statement!  Do you see a blinking cursor at the bottom? Than type: HPLOT 0, 0 TO 279, 0 TO 279, 159 TO 0, 159 TO 0, 0. If everything is typed correctly you should have a big rectangle on your screen now. Is that correct?’ Yes that’s right!

After we had done some experiments on the screen of the Pearcom, we got more insight into the limitations of the system. The resolution of the screen was still far too low for us. And all the text you typed, or any line you had draw was stored in the Pearcom and you could never get the data out of it. You could save it to a floppy. But that was all you could do. We tried a way to work around it. We decided to take pictures of the screen. Therefore, we did some testing. We made photographs and recorded the time and settings of the monitor and camera. Brought the negatives to a photo developer. Than you had to wait for two or three weeks. Get the photos and make conclusions. This too was an unsatisfactory situation because you did not see immediate results. Photography was also quite expensive. Especially if you wanted to order enlargements of the pictures in a later stage. You could make Polaroids. But finally we thought that the image quality was not good enough and large prints were out of the question anyway.

Then we came up with the idea to buy a printer. We got back in touch with TriComp’s engineer Schröder. It was an EPSON FX-80 dot matrix printer. Picked up by train in Eindhoven. At home in Amsterdam we first checked whether we had all the parts in the box (including the FX Series Printer User’s Manual). That of course we should have done in Eindhoven. But everything was complete so we could install the printer. This was a lengthy process of making the printer ready including determining the printer’s place in our room. Very important due to the noise it produces during printing. Checking the paper separator, covers, manual-feed knob, DIP switches, ink ribbon and paper loading tractor feed. Check top of form position, paper thickness lever. Also checking the control panel and finally the FX self test. Printer on. Followed by a little dance from the print head. Three lights came on. POWER, READY and ON LINE. I turned the printer off. Pressed the LF button and turned on the printer during which I held down the LF button for the self-test.

Next step was reading the tutorials in the FX Series Printer User’s Manual. It started with an introduction intended for everyone. What followed was only for experienced users (they wrote). But we were so impressed that we could now print roman and italic. With a speed of 160 characters per second! And we had the choice of six different print pitches plus two options for bold print. We also could use the underline, sub- and superscript functions. Plus three fonts: PICA, Elite and Compressed. There was also a possibility to create user definable character sets. So now we also could design our own fonts.

While working myself through the manual I found out that with using the backspace function you could make overstrikes. The backspace function moves the print head backward one or more characters. You could combine two or more characters to form completely new ones. So I did a small project which had the intention to make typographic structures using special characters only. The FX 80 also had the possibility to use variable line spacing. It was also able to generate line feeds from varying from 0 to 85 dots. The 0 dots option was especially interesting because you could do multiple strikes on one line. It could also do reverse feed. The FX 80 moved the paper but it had the effect that its print head was moving. So I think I’ve made the following structures with only using the backspace and line feed function. I have found nothing else from this small project because no data has survived. Only these 10 prints. Since the last print is numbered DAT.09.06.1983 STRUCT.NO.28. DISK.NO.11 I think that I have at least 28 structures made.

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