Word Processing: With word processing software and a good line printer you can compose
a letter, resume', magazine article, etc.; correct spelling, insert and delete words,
sentences or paragraphs, change the sequence of paragraphs, add or delete headings
such as addresses, and then when all is perfect print it at the rate of about 120
characters per second.
Even though the Timex 2040 line printer is not suited to some applications, it still
saves an enormous amount of time because of the ease of composition and the print-out
is easy to read for re-typing. Without a printer you can still type the composition
yourself as you read the final copy from the screen.
Invoicing: A computer can write out bills at the correct time of the month, follow
inventory changes at shops, notify you of delinquent accounts, make out packing lists,
and generally keep track of cash flow and stock movements. With invoicing software
you could check the status of a galleries account find out that is it 60 days overdue
on the last invoice and due for another shipment this week, print a "second notice"
bill, and set up the next invoice for COD terms. This would only take a minute or
Equipment Control: Control functions require some sort of interface. For example,
electric kilns can be controlled with a stock A-D/ D-A (analog to digital and digital
to analog to digital) interface to change voltage to digital information, a thermocouple,
and a contactor. Writing the software is the most difficult part, but for approximately
$150 above the cost of the computer system you can program the exact rate of climb,
soak periods, and cooling rate for your kiln. An easier system involves a recording
pyrometer; the computer stores readings taken from a thermocouple (through an A-D/
D-A interface) for later recall and graphing.
What About Programming?
Personal computers come with manuals explaining the proper commands and programming
sequences for beginners; in other words you need to learn the computer's language.
A particularly nice feature of BASIC is that it is very much like English - commands
such as PRINT, RUN, GO TO, and END are self-explanatory.
Once you begin using any computer, you will invariably find the stock software good,
but just a bit different than you would write it; you always want something it doesn't
include. For those of us who can't live with this there are two solutions: hire
a programmer or write programs yourself. Learning to program is like learning to
handbuild or throw. You should watch what others are doing, practice a lot, and
have some patience; it won't take as long as you think. And remember you only need
programming skills for specific applications, not to use the computer.
The results of a computer's calculations and analysis are only as good as the data
with which it works. If you have a program which will read temperature from a thermocouple
signal and you are using the wrong type of thermocouple for the temperature range
you are measuring, the results will be quite inaccurate. Most mistakes blamed on
computers are the result of programming or operator errors. Few problems are directly
related to hardware. The major hardware problem with the TS1000, once you have it
rigidly mounted, involves having the volume control on the tape player too high or
low when you transfer programs.
By John Baymore
Originally published in Ceramics Monthly magazine, December 1983