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!Strike - A Killer App?

In the beginning

Several years ago, the Nascom 2 that I had built from a kit back in 1979 died and its corpse was respectfully cocooned in the loft. I had long since moved all my word processing to the A5000, and I only used the Nascom on training courses I run to teach bell-ringers how to listen more accurately. That might sound a bit odd ball, or even unnecessary, but many ringers find it a difficult skill to acquire, and traditional teaching methods offer little help.

I converted the program from Nascom Basic to Acorn Basic, but it did not look very good. My son suggested I ought to convert it to run under the WIMP with a decent GUI. That was rather beyond my capability, but he offered to help and set about cannibalising the 'messy bits' of a sample program he had. I designed the interface using Glazier, and redesigned and extended the main code. When we began integration we had a row of asterisks half way down the listing. Above it was his, below it was mine. In fact when it came to the Help text, I found myself writing some monster nested CASE statements 'above the line',

I first advertised !Strike (so called because listening is all about the accuracy with which you can 'strike' your bell) in late 1994 in the bell-ringers' journal 'The Ringing World'. Orders trickled in for a few months and then dried up, so I stopped paying for advertisements. Since then most copies have been sold by personal contact at training courses.

What about Windows?

This was the time when the masses were starting to buy Windoze, and not surprisingly, people started asking me when !Strike would be available for PCs. After some initial resistance, I decided to swallow my pride and talked to a few ringing friends who wrote PC software for a living, about the possibility of a joint effort to port !Strike to the PC. The plea of being too busy was predicable, but I had not expected the technical reservations. In essence, the message was that it would be very difficult to do, because the PC is a horrible machine to write software for, and Windows would probably mess up the timing.

As an Acorn fan, that made me feel good, but it did not help me to sell !Strike to misguided PC owners. I should perhaps explain a little more about what !Strike does. It has a nice exterior, with real bell sounds, variable speed and pitch, scores and league tables to see how good you are, and so on. But the core component is one that generates the sound of church bells ringing with a completely even rhythm, and can then generate small but repeatable perturbations of the rhythm. The user's task is to detect the errors (by ear) and correct them by 'moving the bells' with the GUI. The built in centi-second clock obviously helps, but !Strike goes one better and runs a millisecond interpolation, based on a calibration of the machine when it first runs. That precision is necessary, given that a trained ear can hear errors down to about 10 milliseconds in ideal conditions.

If you can't join them, beat them

At one point, I received a very enthusiastic phone call from a one-time president of the Central Council of Church Bell-ringers. He had seen (and heard) !Strike in action on a course and wanted a copy. He felt it was so good that lots of people should have one. He did not welcome the news that it wouldn't run on a PC. I decided to suggest that he should buy an Acorn computer to run it . After all, people do that for Sibelius, so why not for !Strike. Old machines were becoming quite cheap. He said he would think about it but I heard no more.

The first time I know someone bought an Acorn machine just to run !Strike was late 1997. Since then, I have quoted him, and pointed people to the Small Ads pages of Acorn User, but had no more bites. Then last month, I saw that AJS had early machines with RISC-OS3 starting at £30, and monitors from £20. After checking that this was likely to be a long term supply I added a note to the !Strike publicity leaflet.

I exhibited !Strike last Saturday, at The Ringing World Road Show in Tewkesbury (a bell-ringers' equivalent of what Acorn World would be if it were still going). To my delight I sold one copy, I had two people come and ask what other ringing software there was for Acorn, and two people went away intending to contact AJS about getting an Acorn to run it on. I don't know whether they will, but it was all quite encouraging.

John Harrison, April 1999

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