Just the signal, not the noise

Hello 8bit'ers,

What a week, and it ends with a big, fat boom called Friday! Welcome to Issue #13, grab a seat, fasten the seat belt, there is plenty of stuff ahead.

Besides all that retro goodness waiting for you, there are updates, that we would like to share.

Remember the Tag Heuer fiasco 😭 regarding the Connected Mario Edition? Fortunately, Casio has decided to make amends. And with a slightly different price tag. ⌚️

Paul Nicolas set up the Pico 1K JAM. If you are into Pico-8 development, don’t miss this one. Last but not least there will be the Retrochallenge 2021/10. Not in your calendar? Now they are.

On topic: this weeks issue deserves the name Emuletter. Many of us don’t know where to hide that stack of old school electronics, when uncle Bob and auntie Alice come by for a visit. Lucky you, there are plenty of machines, that can be emulated. So instead of spending your hard-earned money on the next plastic box, consider an emulator instead. Or two.

We also cover a fantastic book, an outstanding vintage video player and … but read for yourself.

Don't Miss

The Zeloof Z2 - A Garage Made REAL IC

I am officially running out on superlatives with story number #1 today already. You built a retro computer on breadboard, make it work, program it, actually understand it and pat yourself on the back. Gotcha. Then you decide to take it one step further and build your own CPU. Whoa. (What is the cost of the world?) Then you read about Sam Zeloof’s work. (I think I'll stick with a Coke after all.)

In 2018 Sam - still a senior in high school at the time - built the first lithographically fabricated integrated circuits in … his garage fab 😱.

Let that one sink in. The Z1 dubbed device had 6 transistors and acted as an amplifier.

A few days ago - Sam is a senior in college - he announced, that he built the second iteration. The Z2 comes with 100 transistors created in a 10µm poly silicon gate process - the same technology that Intel applied during the creation of the 4004. IN HIS GARAGE! Intels first microprocessor had 2200 transistors, Sam built 1200 on the same piece of silicone. See the video.

Currently there is no functionality yet, since Sam created a 10x10 array of transistors to refine the process first. But one thing is sure. There will be a Zeloof processor at the heart of a future computer.

Go Sam go. 

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Xerox Alto Emulator

Xerox Alto Emulator
Source: Heinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum / Jan Braun (CC BY-NC-SA)

Many call the Xerox Alto the first computer with a graphical user interface. Actually, the idea of a GUI directly influenced the development of the machine from it’s inception.

After it’s introduction in March 1973 round about 2000 units were produced and sold. Despite the heavy price tag.

The machine’s user interface was kind of groundbreaking. And in 1979 Steve Jobs arranged a visit to Xerox PARC for a demonstration of exactly that technology.

As history has it, Apple engineers used the concepts they saw at Xerox to build the desktop operating systems for the Apple Lisa and Macintosh systems.

That is reason enough to keep this machine alive, at least as an emulation. The team behind LivingComputers thought so too and developed a JS based emulator, which runs in your browser. 

Batteries and software included! Give the HN find of the week a try. Fun stuff.

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C64 Kernal On Atari

Has anyone ever tried to port the Commodore 64 Kernal ROM to an 8-bit Atari 130XE? Let me answer this rhetorical and probably rather silly question with a piece of Shakespeare - Hamlet, act 4, scene 5, vers 28:


Believe it or not, Nick Bensema aka Nerd Butterscotch did it. The hardware of the two machines is quite similar, still, there were plenty of things to do.

You get more info and a link to a demo video in Joe Dorns article and you can read Nick’s build instructions directly on github.

I would love to know, what Nolan Bushnell would have to say about that. 😆

However, seeing the C64 Basic screen on an Atari machine … a picture for the gods.🟦

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Apple ][ Emulator v10.4

Virtual ][ - Apple ][ Emulator v10.4
Source: https://unsplash.com/

The creation of an emulator for whatever machine or CPU architecture is quite a task. You want it to be fully compatible with the original, cycle accurate, you want to support external hardware like gamepads and joysticks, you want sound, fullscreen mode and a graphical user interface, that does not suck.

You're on to one already? It’s an emulator for the Apple ][? Think twice, because you have a fully fledged competitor out there.

Virtual ][ is a commercial product, but for a good reason. Not only does it come with all mentioned features, it can emulate the Apple ][, ][+ and //e.

The creator Gerard Putter (not sure, whether this is his twitter) delivers a rock solid piece of 0s and 1s packaged into a .dmg file which currently only runs on a Mac. x86 and arm based hosts are supported, but only Gerard knows, whether there will be ports for Linux or Windows in the future. 

It is simply amazing how far we have gotten with emulation. I see myself emulating a vintage M1 arm CPU in ES2041 on a phone. 🤳

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Ahead of the Wave

Apple ][ On Voxels

April and Melody Ayres-Griffiths from paleotronic bring the Lets-build-an-Apple-II-emulator idea a number of steps further.

Their product microm8 is open source, built with go and (brace for impact) adds a voxel engine to the video output. That actually means, you can change your viewport, and get a still-flat, but 3-dimensional pixel representation on your screen.

A whole new experience and an awesome achievement!

What makes this emulator even better, is, that you can write programs, that interact with the emulated application at runtime. It comes with Applesoft and Integer BASIC and gives the programmer access to 3D video modes. 

Deep respect to the two creators, who also publish lots of cool retrocomputing content on a regular basis. 

Don’t miss this one. Just Don’t. 😶

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Turn An iPad Pro Into A Classic Macintosh

Remember Apple System 7? It’s been a while. To be exact, 30 years, 3 month and 7 days passed since it’s release. 

And of course there are people, who still use classic Mac OS 7 software today. One of them is Matt Sephton. Matt does cool things and writes about his journey in his worthwhile blog.

This time he decided, to run a Macintosh emulator on an iPad Pro. 📲

In fact this is kind of a challenge, because the simple ./configure; make; make install which translates into search in appstore; ignore the reviews; push the install button on iOS does not work here. Thanks to Apples policies. So Matt had to go back to Xcode and compile an emulator on his iPad from source.

Not only did it work. According to Matt the experience is fantastic. In his highly recommended article he details his journey and the time reading is well spent.

Have a look at Matt’s blog as well, might be something for your blog roll.

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Movies On Old Macs

There is one capability, that most vintage machines - no matter which brand - generally lack. Realtime video playback.

Not anymore. Heard of Macflim already?

If not, you need to give this a read. Frederic Stark the creator built a piece of software, that is able to play back fullscreen video with up to 21 frames per second on a SE/30 and up to 10fps on an upgraded Macintosh with 128kB RAM.

Of course, there are limitations. There always are 😉.

The video is black & white but has a wonderful esthetic. Frederick includes an encoder utility into the source available on github and even if you don’t own an old Mac, you can use the encoder with a MP4 backend to produce these so much retro looking videos.

We officially love it!

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Math For Programmers

One can have a successful programming career and a fulfilling live without ever having to touch mathematics in a depth. One can also try to become a formula 1 driver with only one arm. One can.

But lets face it, every program is a mathematical representation of a solution to a certain problem. Whether that program does highly complex matrix operations, or just changes a DOM-node’s value, does not matter. Both operations are ultimately reduced to instructions whose basic building blocks are nothing but math.

And there is a difference between programming and programming. Pick a certain topic (for example a 3D engine) and ask yourself, whether you have all the knowledge to implement one from scratch. Without any library support. I hear a yes? You are awesome!

But if the quietly whining voice in your head has just muttered a No, then there is a book for you. Make yourself familiar with it via the blog post by Keith Peters. He discovered and describes what is waiting for you in A Programmer's Introduction to Mathematics.

The books author Jeremy Kun does an outstanding job and slowly get’s into all that nitty gritty details of math, that you might have already forgotten. And if mathematical formulas in a text rather scare you, don’t worry. You’ll be a master as soon as you finish the book. And in addition you will actually enjoy reading it very much.

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Commander X16 Update

There are few retrocomputing projects that our community impatiently is looking forward to. One of those projects is the Commander X16 built by The 8-Bit Guy and companions. From time to time there is an update, and this week we have seen the latest one.

You are also waiting armed with your credit card? Relax, it’s not time yet. But you get the full update here.

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The Future That Was Not

History can be super boring. And history can be super fun. Especially when you can learn something about IBM’s 1960 ceramic hybrid technology, which ended up in the System 360 and other IBM computers, and was initially developed for NASA’s space program.

Your host for tonight - Fran Blanche - definitely knows, what she is talking about and Fran presents a number of super interesting facts in her video, which you eventually did not hear of yet.

You like the Discovery Channel? You’ll like Fran.

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Handheld Amiga & C64?

And an evergreen. Who does not wish for a handheld, that has the capabilities to fully emulate an Amiga and a C64? I mean of course not you Atari and Apple folks, but it is essentially the same story for you.

retrobitstv stuck his nose into the topic and eventually found something …

Curious? Rightfully so. Go check out his latest addition.

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C64 Kernal On Atari

You read it already above. It is possible to modify the original C64 Kernal ROM image such, that it can properly drive an 8-bit Atari system like the 130XE.

Robin from 8BitShowAndTell could not resists after the release, and gave it a try.

Too lazy to check on your own? Check out Robins latest video and see the seemingly impossible happen in front of your very eyes.

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The Rocket & String Paradox

We do rocket science. Don’t we? As soft- and hardware engineers we at least pretend to do so. And even though I am personally as much a rocket scientist, as my dog is a fighter pilot, I am attracted by everything, that has the words 'space' or 'rocket' in it’s title.

You can feel it? Then check out the fresh release of Henry Reich aka minutephysics.

To be honest, there is no relation to rockets, nor to space or computers. But what can I say, there is a 🚀 in the title. And the paradox Henry talks about, is a really interesting one.

Go watch it and grow.

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That is it for this week.

Satisfied? We’d love to hear from you. Not happy? Tell us, drop us a mail, use the suggest feature on our site or contact us directly via email. We love feedback. ❤️

If you liked that issue, please consider sharing it with family and friends. We do not give up, unless everyone in this world knows, how lovely and fulfilling retro technology is.

Enjoy the weekend. Build something. And speak about it!

Take care.

Jan and Bastian

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