One billionaire flew to space. 🚀 The other week another billionaire flew to space. Both following a billionaire, who … flies to space - more regularly but not personally. If reincarnation really exists, why not return to this time? Why not? 🤔
In the meantime here on Earth someone managed to get Linux running on an ESP32, and information processing (yes computers) has been supplemented with a completely new option. In addition someone heard me crying about the Tag Heuer Connected Mario Edition being sold out and just re-released the Casio F-100 - the iconic time piece Sigourney Weaver aka Ellen Ripley wore in James Cameron’s Aliens.
Since everything was so spacey this week, we decided to use this as a theme, and due to the fact that everyone and their grandma seems to be in holidays, we also dug up some 8bit projects that are not brand new no more, but you might not know yet.
We cover the first ICs in space, a Russian calculator marvel, a really cool piece of hardware for the ZX Spectrum, more hardware to probably build, more lectures to probably watch and a number of videos which include a bit more fun stuff today.
We hope you enjoy issue #09.
What happened this Week in 8Bit Land
Russian Space Tech
Source: Wikipedia - CC BY-SA 4.0 - Binarysequence
When it comes to space, there have been many firsts in the history of Russian science and engineering. And without opening Pandoras Box of for and against, good and bad, success and failure of Russian versus American space technology, there have been some true marvels of Russian engineering that went down completely different paths compared to their western counterparts.
If I ask you for the first programmable calculators, I guess, names like Texas InstrumentsTI-59 or Hewlett Packard 41-CX immediately spring to your mind. But did you ever hear of the MK-52?
This Russian programmable calculator with reverse polish notation and an EEPROM to store written programs was really a thing in the 80s and inspired many people, before personal microcomputers became more widely available. And not to be neglected, this piece of hardware flew to space as part of the Soyuz TM-7 mission as a backup for docking trajectory calculations!
Manual docking trajectory calculation on a 32 key calculator when sitting in a spacecraft with an orbital speed of 30.000 km/h! This just screams for a Chuck Norris joke.
Imagine, it is the year 1961. You are an engineer who got recently hired by the NASA and the task to which you are assigned reads as: design a line of digital logic ICs to replace the SN502, but with 10 times the speed and one-tenth the power requirements to help NASA reach its goal of increased computer power and reduced weight. And NASA wanted it in 10 months.
The official Texas Instruments Story is a perfect fit for our Spaceweek™ and lines out all the facts about Charles Cook and Jack Kilby developing the first integrated circuits to ever orbit the Earth.
This wonderfully curated piece of space history by an unknown author is a short read. Nevertheless absolutely worth your time.
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Apple Tech History
If you were like me, you slept in history lessons in school. Of course, things of the past, why would I worry. It was the other way around with math and physics but today we found a gem which combines all of them.
Pete Foley is one of the early Apple engineers who worked at Apple’s IC Technology Group in the beginning of the 80s. He sat in the same building as the Mac 1 team and was involved in the development of the Macintosh Clock Chip, the Apple Sound Chip and a number of other projects that you can read about in this detailed insight into the personal development of an engineer at Apple at that time.
What differentiates this article, is first hand memories regarding Steve Jobs and the somewhat colorless presentation should in no way hide the extraordinary quality of the writing. In case you think of your history teacher right now - do her and yourself a favor, wipe the sleep from your eyes and check out the article.
It is amazing to see, how much love old school platforms like the ZX Spectrum and its processor Z80 still receive today. And rightfully so, it is one of the outstanding devices of its era. Since - like most other 8-bit machines of the time - it came with an expansion port. And plenty of peripherals have been available. A special one is the Dandanator Minibuilt by an individual going by the name Dan Dare. Buy it or build it yourself, plug it in and immediately your dated beast awakens ready for new deeds.
The device comes with 512k of fast access memory and provides numerous features. You can load programs instantly from a simple menu, load new games and programs easily, you can pause, snapshot and restore every game state you wish and the homebrew cartridge can be used as a CP/M plug&play system as well as a Hard Disk of 460Kb. So exciting! 🤩
The Youtube channel More Fun Making It just published a very relaxing introduction video, which you definitely want to see, if you own a Spectrum or one of its clones. Should that be your cup of tea, also have a look at Multiply built by mad3001 which provides an SD card add-on and is a perfect fit here.
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Ahead of the Wave
Time to learn something new
Sudoku & Prolog
Do you remember Prolog? If not feel highly encouraged to delve into this '72-ish language. What makes Prolog special and noteworthy, is that it is a declarative language in which the program logic is expressed in terms of relations, represented as facts and rules. After entering those, one can dynamically query the system and have it compute everything that can be successfully derived from the … facts and rules. Cool stuff. And since especially declarative programming is a thing today, you might want to check out the language.
brew install gnu-prolog immediately gives you a runtime environment on a Mac and there are implementations for every red, green and pink processor architecture, that you can imagine.
Be warned, it definitely takes some time, but is absolutely worth the effort.
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MIT - Assembly & Architecture
MIT students are amongst those, who change the world. MIT Professors on the other hand plant the seed, nurture and care, water and protect their students. And eventually one of their protégés becomes exactly that, a person to change the world … when she/he has dried off again from the water.
Charles Leiserson is one of these professors, and he is a really cool one. Quote: That's the great thing about algorithms. As long as you are rigorous and precise, you can be as sloppy as you want. 😏
This video on Assembly Language & Computer Architecture is a must-see for everyone getting into how computers work. It is an introduction to how assembly - or better machine code - is actually executed on a CPU. It is part of MIT OpenCourseWare and even if I assume, that you studied CS and know how that works, give this lecture a try. You will like it. Very much. Indeed.
Time for hardware again. Yeah! Are you familiar with the COMX-35? No? It was one of the few early micro/home computers, that were powered by an RCA 1802. This chip - which is less capable than for example the later Zilog Z80 or MOS 6502 - was actually the first CMOS microprocessor. And in 1983 (when I was still running around the Christmas tree with the drums in my hand) Hong Kong based COMX World Operations Ltd. releasedthe machine into a number of countries from Australia over Europe to the former Republic of China!
And another one to make you nervous. The MSX2 was a lovechild of Microsoft and the ASCII Coproration and was conceived in June 1983. The purpose of the machine and architecture was to somehow unify different standards among various home computing system manufacturers of the period. Imagine: Like VHS but for home computers.
The MSX later became popular especially in Japan, where around 5 million MSX-based units were sold. Holy Moly. Today of course, very few machines are to be found in working condition.
Sergey Kiselev to the rescue. My hero! The CPU is a a Z80. Garnish it with numerous 74XX series logic chips, add a little bit of time to the mix and profit. When you eventually make it, you'll be rewarded with a series of games that were initially developed only for MSX (I only say Metal Gear).
Whoa, Jim Butterfield! When you hear the intro music of this one, you immediately want to buy a cinema ticket for E.T. get your BMX bike out of the garage and charge up the batteries of your WalkieTalkies. And for those who don’t know, what a BMX bike was, yes, these vertical black bars in Youtube fullscreen mode somehow resemble our TV viewing pleasure of those times. Aspect Ratio: 4:3. 📺 Who the heck needs 21:9?? Seriously … don’t get it.
In Issue #08 last week you had the chance to build a brand new Apple ][. This week we travel back further in time. Retro Hack Shack aka Aaron Newcomb started to build an Apple 1. This machine is truly one of the most iconic pieces of hardware and was sold for $666.66 in 1976.
Even though this was 45 years in the past, you can still build one. Aarons video is more about the history and tips for builders, but there is more to come. Give it a try.
MS-DOS on an 8-bit Commodore? Never I hear you shout. Still, it is possible but needs some hardware. Michal Pleban does the trick and eventually you will see Norton Commander running on Commodore hardware! What a feat. Very well done Michal.
Since we are a little bit more on the fun side of things today, it needs to be Mario again. Who does not love Mario?
CodyCantEatThis - a gentleman with a whopping 372.000 subscribers on Youtube - was obviously bored again. And so he decided to build a version of Mario Bros. In 3D. Yes … 3D.
In this short videohe goes into surprisingly many details of the implementation. Imagine only to re-create a 3-dimensional voxel version of Mario from a 2D bitmap. Unfortunately he can not release the product - for obvious reasons. But just watching him during development is plenty of fun.
No, that is not a joke. Do you see Chuck Norris anywhere? See. The lovely team of element 14 presents did just do that: They developed their version of a working Tricorder.
Ha! Should not you know, what a Tricorder is … No, it was not Star Wars!
James - your host for the next 19 minutes and 17 seconds - builds what he calls the Baldcorder 👨🦲. Inspired by the Tricorder’s design, his device can measure light levels and temperature. Decide, whether this is for you. It is definitely funny.
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Before I get back to Jim Butterfield (love this guy and his shirt) let me thank you for making it to the end of this weeks issue. 🙏 It means the world to us if you really enjoyed it.
In case you like our weekly magazine, feel free to spread the word, share the link, print out the coverart, make stickers from it, add our URL and pave your whole city with it. 🚏
In case you did not like something particular in this issue, please contact us. Just reply to that email or use our suggest feature on the site. We are also more than happy, if you find a topic that we could cover in the next week. Feel free to contact us with something you personally built, found or want to talk about.
Enjoy the geekend. Create something & speak about it.