Shortly after putting our newly aquired Nascom 1 out in the shop, there was
‘this ‘ere fella’ who used to wander in, dressed in motor cycle leathers, and spend a
lot of time making the Nascom do things that I had never dreamed possible. And so I
got to know Howard (he used to be on the committee, but resigned about a year ago).
Soon Howard came a regular visitor to the shop, and could be found on a Saturday
explaining the niceties of Z80 machine code programming to customers with far more
informed authority than I. What’s more, he was so dedicated to Nascoms that we didn’t
even have to pay him. It was Howard who first put me on the right lines as far as
programming goes. Up ’til then, it had been a case of “figure it out for yourself’.
Who taught Howard I do not know (perhaps I’ll ask him before this article is put to
bed), but it was under Howard’s guidance that some of the mysteries of machine code
programming were revealed.
So far I don’t think I have drawn any distinction between machine code
programming and assembler programming. To me they are one and the same. Purists will
argue that machine code is the result of assembler programming. The machine code
itself being the sequence of HEX codes that is generated by the act of assembler
programming. That sounds like the same thing to me, so there we are. At the time, I
would scribble the machine codes directly on to a piece of paper (Woolies Jumbo A4
work pad for 44p, incredible value) and then type them in to the Nascom. Howard
pointed out that this was bad practice on two counts. Firstly, it was difficult to
remember what more than about half a dozen codes meant, and secondly, if I practised
hard I would learn the syntax of the assembler mnenonics and by so doing increase my
vocabulary of instructions because I would be thinking of the descriptive action of
the instruction I wanted instead of fumbling to remember the code for the few
instructions I knew. After a while it became second nature to write a mnemonic for the
instruction I wanted, and then look up in the book. Low and behold, there it was.
Sometimes I would take this approach too far. Occasionally I would write assembler
mnemonics for instructions that don’t even exist. But in the main, it works. Think of
a way round the problem, write mnemonics to decribe the action to be taken, then
translate the mnemonics into machine codes.
I have already mentioned that there comes a time when the light begins to
dawn. I think I was past that stage, for as I remember, I felt confident enough to
start writing ‘HANGMAN’. Now that is an important part of learning to program. Simple
games are the very best thing to cut the teeth on, as the rules for the game are
already laid out, and you don’t have to draw up the specification of what it is you
are about to try to achieve. Games like ‘HANGMAN’ have very simple rules, and these in
turn are very simply broken down into their component parts. So deciding what each
individual part of a program is going to do is relatively simple. Be that as it may,
it was Howard who introduced me to such things as labels, flags and text strings.
So let’s re-examine the asterisks program from part 3. First of all lets lay
down the ground rules of what is to happen. In other words, let’s draw up the
- Put an asterisk on the middle of the screen
- Hang about a bit
- Replace the asterisk with a blank space
- Hang about a bit
- Go back to (1)
We don’t need to draw a flow chart of that, it’s too simple. A flow chart in fact
would probably confuse the issue. Now let’s take it stage by stage and write the
mnemonics for it.
LD A,2AH ; Load A with the code for an asterisk
LD (09E2H),A ; Put the contents of A at memory location 09E2H, which just
; happens to be on the screen (see last part to see how that
; was decided.)
Now notice that I’ve use a semicolon to separate the mnemonic instructions from the
comments. In other words, the program is already being written in two fields, the
instruction (or mnemonic) field and the comment field. Separating them like this makes
for easy reading and understandability.