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Electronica MK-85 page

Front of MK-85

Elektronika MK-85 is, perhaps, the most advanced Russian/Soviet handheld calculator that ever hit the markets. There were rumors about MK-86 (that was supposed to combine calculator and notebook/databank features), and I have seen a prototype of MK-90 myself, but, still, MK-85 is the most advanced thing that I ever saw on the shelves.

When MK-85 came out, the pricing politics in Russia had already changed from old socialistic stubborness. To put it simply, the rouble was rapidly falling down, and the shops were free to increase prices accordingly. I have seen MK-85 from 300-420 roubles all over 1991, and when, finally, I persuaded my parents to lend me some money to buy it (in the winter of 1992), it cost 600 roubles - about $100, if I remember correctly. The price given on the back of machine is 145 roubles.

MK-85 was a modification of all the typical western BASIC machines. It had 9 slots for user programs (P0-P9), user could run (switch to) any one of them by pressing S(hift)+P0...P9. The immediate (program running) mode was called by MODE-0, program writing by MODE-1. Sound familiar? Right, I've seen tons of CASIOs that used the same sequences. Trust me, MK-85 was copied from one of those. I've never encountered 1221 memory bytes on a western machine, though, so THAT at least is our own doing!

Now, to differences. MK-85 actually could adress any pixel on its 12-symbol display separately (unlike all CASIOs I've seen). Of course, the "symbols" on the display stood apart from each other, so the graphical display was NOT pretty. I did use it in my differential equation class, though, and I did write a shoot-them-up game for it. So that was one cool feature, at least.

Another cool thing thing was the sheer number of various special-key combinations. I think that here MK-85 would overpass everything I've ever seen, including (!) even russian ZX-Spectrum. See for yourself:

You could simply press a letter-key : QWE
You could press S(hift) and then a letter-key : !"#
You could press F(unction) and then a letter-key : SET MODE VAL
You could press MODE and then a letter-key : qwe

And, if you did not have enought, you could also enter "extended" mode (MODE+".") and then try all the same variations :

Letter - small russian ones ("ja-w-e", translated as "to Java" :)
Shift+Letter - special symbols (%'@, not printed on keyboard)
Function+Letter - strangely, big latin letters again (QWE)
Mode+Letter - big russian ones ("JA-W-E")

Of course, that doesn't cover those four russian letters to the right of the calculator (there are 33 Cyrillic letters, if you didn't know!) Those were entered sligtly differently : for example,

MODE+"*" gave you "big" CH letter
MODE+"." MODE+"*" gave you a little one.

Neat eh?

Another thing I liked about MK-85 is CHR$() function, that could translate a 1-191 (note the range!) number into a symbol. Strangely, I've never seen that one on a western handheld machine.

Well, that would be enough about the good/cool sides of russian BASIC computing. I must tell the world about the BUG. I think it was a bug in its ROM card; certainly all others MK-85 I've seen did not suffer from it. Still, when I tried to contact the manufacture and fix it (change the fucking card), they said that they can't do anything because they're out of stock for ROMs. Sad.

So, here's a description of this Bug. When you entered any line into the computer and pressed EXE (that's ENTER for PC kids), it appeared to check its length. And, if it was more than 32 (!) characters - OOPS! Instead of doing anything with the line, it scrolled your text to the right (too quickly to read), and when, after half a second, display settled, you could read an Apocalyptic Message from Nodding God : <9000e2001, with cursor blinking happily in the rightest position (you could clear this line by AC). Whatever that means, think for yourself. I'd quite sure that the meaning is that our world existed for 9000 years, and the End will come in 2001. So - let us pray. Pray that every bastard who allocates a buffer for 32 characters, when his own ROM includes an editor for 128-char line, should be drawn, tortured and forced to use Windows-95. Jawohl, Amen, or Slava KPSS - whatever!

Soon to come : my MK-54 page, with recollections, tips-n-tricks and even, perhaps, a few programs! Remember : MK-61 and MK-52 were, are and always shall remain but functionless abominations of the Great MK-54 (B3-34)!

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