Behavior Modification

WHY SHOULD foreign-policy experts be the only ones to talk about authoritarian versus totalitarian regimes? The distinction is every bit as sensible when applied to the personal-computer business.

IBM, for example, is a totalitarian force. Since the introduction of its Personal Computer, two years ago, it has pulverized many competitors and destroyed others’ will to live. Those that survive have assumed a captive-nations posture, outdoing each other with abject claims of “IBM compatibility.”

But WordStar, the most widely used word-processing program, is merely authoritarian. I often think of it as being like a military junta someplace in Latin America. It may be unloved by its subjects; it may have stripped them of their illusions; but still they go about the business of daily life, and they keep their hopes alive. The crowning virtue of authoritarian regimes, of course, is the possibility that they will change. To that cause—reform from within—this article is dedicated; it is addressed to the tens of thousands who live under WordStar’s sway.

Dozens of word-processing programs have come onto the market, but the major contenders fall into two camps. One includes Perfect Writer, The Final Word, MemoPlan, and other descendants of EMACS, a program developed in the 1970s at MIT. These programs feature a number of gee-whiz options, such as the ability to divide the screen in two and display rough notes in the top half and the final draft in the bottom. The EMACS systems also offer an extremely useful “undo” command, which lets you recover paragraphs or pages of typing you mistakenly erase. The Final Word goes even further. If the power blows while you are using this program, you don’t lose everything you’ve neglected to store on a floppy disk. When the power comes back on, you will find yourself right where you were. (The Final Word automatically saves data on a disk while you write.)

The other camp consists of WordStar. This program, which is the mainstay of MicroPro International, of San Rafael, California, can’t perform tricks, but it allows you to do almost anything you’d want to do while writing and printing a letter, a memo, or a book. More important from the commercial point of view, it was there first: when other software companies introduced dictionary programs, grammar checkers, and other geegaws, they first made them compatible with WordStar. In the year and a half since I traded in my venerable SOL-20 computer for a Victor 9000, I have risen above my gripes and relied on WordStar. I chose it because at the time it was the only word-processing program compatible with the Random House Electronic Thesaurus.

I know one man who is truly enthusiastic about WordStar, in the way some people are about cars and most computer-owners are about their machines. But he is the exception. The standard complaint is that the WordStar commands are more complicated than they need to be. Complicated they are, but after a week’s use they come automatically. The real problem with WordStar is that its philosophy represents a denial of the computer’s most fundamental merit: adaptability.

A computer, after all, is nothing more than a group of circuits through which electrons flow. Certain limitations are built into the hardware itself, but the most important limits on a computer’s performance are those designed into the programs it uses. Some programs give you great flexibility to alter those limits; WordStar, though, seems to have taken its lessons on flexibility from Procrustes.

As WordStar users know, each time you turn on the program you are placed in an environment that may be pleasing to MicroPro but isn’t very convenient for you. First, you find yourself looking at a MicroPro copyright message, which monopolizes the screen forever (i.e., for almost twenty seconds). Then, as you begin writing, you are confined to the lower half of the screen, since the upper half is filled with a trot sheet explaining the complicated commands. The right margin is set at 64; the screen is set to produce justified columns, which leaves big gaps between words and looks unnatural on most letters and documents. A device called “Hyphen-help,” the frustrations of which are difficult to explain but familiar to WordStar users, is always turned on.

True, you can switch these and a dozen other features off and move the margins and tabs to where you want them. The point is that you have to readjust the settings every time you turn the computer on. Most other word-processing programs, including those in the EMACS family, encourage you to change the “default” values of the program—the settings for margins, justification, and the like that the program assumes each time you begin work.

You can do that with WordStar, too, but it’s no picnic. Buried in an appendix to the program’s manual is a partial listing of the program code, presented in chilly terms sure to frighten off anyone who is not comfortable with computer programming. The manual announces with a grumble that the listings are “supplied for the convenience of the occasional user who may need to install WordStar for an unusual terminal or printer.” Where the other programs invite you to tailor their specifications to your desires, WordStar dares you to try.

This is churlish behavior, especially considering that WordStar is far from cheap (its list price is $495). MicroPro offers one solution to the problem: you can buy its impenetrable “Customization Notes” and try to figure out how to change WordStar. Fortunately, there are better solutions. One involves buying an additional program; the other, tinkering with WordStar.

The additional program is SmartKey, marketed by Lifeboat Associates, in New’ York. It is inexpensive by industry standards ($60), and it exemplifies what adaptability is all about. SmartKey does not interfere with the operation of other programs, but it allows you to redefine any key on your keyboard to mean anything you want.

This can lead to outlandish diversions.

I frittered away most of a month turning my keyboard into a “Dvorak” configuration, in which all the vowels are on the middle row under the fingers of the left hand and the most frequently used consonants are under the fingers of the right. This layout is supposed to be more efficient; indeed, the regular QWERTY keyboard was designed to slow a typist’s fingers, because the keys and connecting rods of early typewriters could not keep up with rapid typing.

I had to give up, defeated, when I found I couldn’t overcome twenty years of familiarity with QWERTY. If you want to try it yourself, though, here is the Dvorak layout:

But SmartKey can also be quite practical. As a means of repairing WordStar, for example, it allows you to program one rarely used key, such as the “ = ” sign, to handle all the setup commands you have to give when you begin a session with WordStar. You can program other keys to do things that ordinarily take from two or three to a dozen keystrokes with WordStar, such as moving to the beginning of a paragraph, or deleting everything from w’here you are working to the end of the sentence. Because you can change the assignments of the keys at any point while you’re writing, you can temporarily program, say, the “ + ” key to type “WordStar,” as I have been doing here.

The other solution, delving into the WordStar program code, takes a little more initiative but is more satisfying in the end.

WHEN WORDSTAR IS first loaded into the computer, it looks to certain sites in the computer’s memory to see what values it should assume. Where should the right margin be set? The number in memory location 380 determines the margin. How long must you stare at the copyright messages and other reminders—such as “new file,” which appears when you begin working on something new? The value in location 2D2 controls the duration of the aptly named “long delay.”

The easiest way to get at the innards of the program so as to change these values is to use the Install program that comes on the original WordStar disk. Under normal circumstances, you deal with Install only once—the first time you run WordStar on your computer and specify what printer and terminal you will be using.

After you’ve provided that information, Install asks whether your modifications are complete. Usually you answer Yes, but if you type No, you will have a chance to enter new values for the program. If, for example, you want to get rid of the “long delay,” you enter its location in the program, 2D2, and then the value you want, which (for reasons to be explained below) should be 1.

Using Install is easy, because all you do is answer the questions that appear on the screen. I’m aware of only one circumstance in which Install won’t work. If, like me, you use the Random House Electronic Thesaurus or some other program that itself modifies WordStar, many of the changes you have laboriously made through Install will be undone when you apply the new program. In that case, you must move on to DDT, the Dynamic Debugging Tool.

DDT is a feature of the widely used operating system known as CP/M (for “control program for microprocessors”). It can be found on the operating-system disk, often labeled “Master CP/M,” supplied with most computers that run CP/M programs. Using it is not easy, nor is it safe, because unless used with care, it allows you to destroy your copy of WordStar. (So does Install.) In our litigious society, I will attempt to protect myself by urging you to study a CP/M manual before you do anything else.

Under DDT, you can change any part of any program. You put the CP/M disk in one drive and WordStar (a backup copy you have made, obviously) in the other, and then type DDT followed by the WordStar program name (for example, “DDT B:WS.COM”). To make one of the alterations listed at the end of this article, you type S, followed by the memory location you want to change, followed by a carriage return. Then you type in the new value you want to enter at that location, followed by another return. (For example, “S2AE,” return, then “00,” return.) When you’re finished making changes, you must save the revised version of the program on a disk. There is a technical complication to bear in mind. Before you can store the revised program on a disk, you have to specify how many “pages” of memory it occupies. For most versions of WordStar, the right number of pages is ninety-six. Therefore, when you’re done making revisions, you should type “SAVE 96 B:WS.COM.” If you’re using the Random House Electronic Thesaurus, you should increase the number to 105.

One final technicality: the numbers to be inserted into the program must be in hexadecimal notation—the base-16 form of counting, in which the sequence from 8 to 10 is 8, 9, A, B, C, D, E, F, 10. Hexadecimal numbers are often written with an H after the digits. Thus, 40H means 40 hexadecimal, or 64 in normal decimal numbering. If you want the right margin to be 64, you don’t enter 64, you enter 40. A right margin of 62 would be two less, or 3E.

WORDSTAR COMES in slightly different versions for different machines, so some of the changes listed below may not work on every computer. The items on this list, which have been gleaned from various computer publications, especially Channel 9000, published by James Lesher, of Los Angeles, should work for any computer that supports the commonly used VT52 terminal protocol. Anyone still reading this article will know what that means.

Long delay, location 2D2. By changing this to 1 (its normal setting is as high as 40), you can reduce by 98 percent the time you spend looking at MicroPro announcements. A must. Also, if you are using the Random House Electronic Thesaurus, you can speed up its copyright message by entering 01 in locations 4798 and 4799.

Cursor speed, locations 2AE and 2AF. By entering 0 in both places, you will allow the cursor to move more smoothly and quickly across the screen as you type—another big improvement. On a few computers, setting this value too low may cause the program to drop characters when you type. If this happens, raise it a little.

Screen appearance, locations 284-286 and 28B-28D. At their normal settings, these locations direct WordStar to display its messages in “inverse video,” with dark letters on a bright background. If locations 284-286 are changed to 02 1B 29 and 28B-28D are changed to 02 1B 28, the messages will instead be shown on most computers in an easy-onthe-eyes “half intensity” of delicately shaded grays or greens.

Initial help level, location 360. Set this at from 0 to 3, depending on how much helpful advice you want to look at while you’re writing. Three, the normal value, gives the most, 0 the least.

Insert, location 362. WordStar usually operates in “insert mode”; if you enter new characters in an existing line, the existing words will be shoved over to the right, rather than replaced. If you prefer “overwrite mode,” which replaces the old characters with the new, change this from FF to 00.

Print style, locations 37C and 37D. Most printers can produce tightly spaced printing, at twelve characters per inch, or looser printing, at ten characters per inch. If you want the tighter (and, to my taste, more attractive) type, change 37C to 0A and 37D to 0C. If you prefer the looser look, don’t change anything.

Printing offset, location 37E. Your printer will ordinarily move eight spaces in from the edge of the page before it begins typing. If you’d like something different, change this value from its normal 8.

Left margin, location 37F. The normal value, 0, sets the margin at the left-hand edge of the screen. If you want the margin five spaces over, for example, increase the value to 5.

Right margin, location 380. Same principle. Usually set at 40 (hexadecimal, i.e., 64), it can be adjusted in either direction.

Column justification, location 386. The normal value, FF, produces columns with a justified right margin, newspaper-style. For nonjustified text, both on the screen and in the printed document, change the value to 00.

Hyphen-help, location 389. To eliminate this feature, enter 00, replacing the normal FF. For those times when automatic hyphenation is useful, consider changing location 39A also. When a word is too long to fit within the margin on one line, WordStar will push the entire word down to the next line, in a procedure known as “word wrap.” That will leave a gap at the end of the first line; the value in location 39A determines how large that gap can be before WordStar will recommend hyphenating a word instead of “wrapping” it. The normal value is 4; if you change it to 6 or 8, you will have to deal with many fewer hyphenations.

Ruler line, location 38B. If you like to see the bright bar display margins and tabs at the top of the screen, leave this at FF. To eliminate the bar, enter 00.

Page numbers, location 3D3. The normal value, 00, gives you a page number, centered, at the bottom of each page you print. If you don’t want page numbers, change it to FF.

Program storage, location 2DC. WordStar and its associated “overlay” programs must usually all be on the same disk, and that disk must be in Drive A of your computer. If you’d prefer to make space on Drive A, for the Thesaurus or other programs, you can move one of the overlays, WSOVLYl.OVR, to Drive B. After doing so, you must change the value in 2DC from 01 to 02.

Horizontal scrolling, location 2DD. If, for special printing situations, you are working on a line longer than the width of your screen, WordStar usually lets you “scroll” out past the right margin in twenty-character bursts. If you would like to scroll more smoothly, change this value from its normal 14 (hexadecimal, i.e., 20) to a higher setting. Also, memory location 2D3 determines how long the program will wait before updating the screen when you scroll out along a line. Its normal value is 9; a lower value will lead to quicker redisplay.

More changes are possible, but these will do for now. Freedom doesn’t come overnight.