Monday, 13 June 2011

Resurrecting the Software - 4

Good progress on one front – and a very frustrating time on another.

In the last report I said I would make copies of selected publications available online. I have been through a mountain of paper and chosen the most representative papers and scanned them, with the exception of a few which were already available online – such as the three important Computer Journal papers. A summary of the key papers, is now available as An Introduction to Publications on CODIL. The search has turned up many things I had forgotten – and I will now be going through The History of CODIL – adding in links to the relevant papers – and clarifying a few points.

Getting the software up and running has been another problem. As reported three weeks ago I acquired a replacement machine, which had a more flash memory unit added – which promised to be a great boon as I could load the hundred or so floppy discs onto it and recover not only the software but also all the data files and many text files. When it arrived it looked fine but there were two problems. One was that my software wouldn't autoload which would not normally be a serious problem. The other was more serious – and very annoying as in technical terms it was a very ordinary component fault.. One key was not functioning – and it a rather frequently used one – the space bar. As I had only brought this system because I had incapacitated my own in simply replacing the power cable I did not want to carry out the repair myself so returned the computer to the seller – and the carrier lost it in the post over the Bank Holiday weekend.

The replacement arrived on Friday and I installed it in the spare bedroom on the deck where my old BBC Computer had been standing. I loaded the first module of the CODIL software from a floppy and identified what needed tweaking to get it to work. Because the space was cramped, and I wanted to make notes of what I was doing on my PC, I decided to make room in my office and very carefully installed the BBC computer on the desk next to my PC. And after the move the computer will no longer talk to the floppy disc drive. Whether the fault is in the disc drive, the cable, or the computer, is far from clear – but effectively I still do not have a working BBC computer system on which I can run the CODIL software, or to copy the software so that other people with access to a BBC computer can run it.

I have decided to pause and think for a day or two and perhaps try and find someone living nearby who still has a working system to test out the disc drive to see where the fault is. Until I have a working system I cannot run the software myself, transfer files to my PC, or supply copies to people who have access to a working PC.

The work that I have done has shown that even if I moved the MicroCODIL package on the PC – using a BBC Basic for Windows package, the result would be limited because it was very much designed to run on a BBC computer using a teletext screen. It would be fine as a demonstration but would need a lot of work to give it a more modern look. The trouble is that a significant part of the package is conventional software engineering between the keyboard and the display as described in The Use of Colour in Language Syntax Analysis. If you strip out all the “driver” code for the keyboard, the display, the disc operating system, the Basic arithmetic facilities, the help facilities, etc., there are probably only a few hundred lines of code which do the proper “CODIL” work. With this in mind I have just started work on a demonstration version on my PC with very simplified interface – and a significant improvement in the way the central routine has been implemented. More information shortly.

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