Just the signal, not the noise

Hello 8bit'ers,

Reading these lines, at least one thing should be clear: It's Friday! 🎉

And considering the few hours of sunshine per day, it must be somewhere a few weeks after the beginning of the year ... 😶

Nevertheless, this week there were some topics that caught our attention. As a result, today we may present 12 of them, and hope, as always, that there is something for your taste.

And without further ado, enjoy Issue #34.


IBM 360/50 Sim

IBM 360/50 Simulator
Imagesource: IBM

Ken Shirriff should be a household name to just about any retrocomputing enthusiast. Ken usually takes apart anything that isn't nailed down or welded tightly into a steel shell somewhere. But even that would be no obstacle for him.

Today is all about his latest project, and this time Ken has built something. Namely, a simulator for an IBM360/50 mainframe. Boring? Not so fast young Padawan - anything but.

In addition to the simulator itself, Ken goes into the details of the challenge in his usual detailed, informed, and skillful manner. And in doing so, he knows what he's talking about. The idea of microcode, conceived in 1951 by Maurice Wilkes, is the basis of the 360. And why and how the implementation was done for the machine, is the most interesting reading piece of the past week.

Processor design and architecture are your thing? Then don't miss this article.

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Lies behind PONG

In 1984 - at the age of 7 - I drove alone through the city visiting my uncle who lived about 1 hour away in East Berlin. (In the 80's the 'alone' part was not a problem in East-Germany.) I was excited because my uncle owned something I had never seen before. A video game console! And I was allowed to borrow it, because ... it was broken. The cables of both paddles were torn off.

When I got home, my brother excitedly and immediately got to work with a soldering iron. Then we hooked the thing up to the black and white TV, and turned the analog channel search knob until we had a crackly picture. That game was PONG.

As simple as it may seem today, we had so much fun with this game in the days and months to come. For me personally, it became groundbreaking and shaped my later career. 

The real story behind PONG is well known to the most. But Tekla Perry has added a few details that are quite interesting. The Lies that powered the Invention of PONG is a bit click-baity, but the story is as short as it is entertaining.

Worth reading!

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Atari 800 Networking

ATARI 800 Networking
Imagesource: HomeComputerMuseum / Dylan van Voorthuijsen

In Issue #28 we already spoke about a very special piece of hardware for 8-bit Atari machines: FujiNet.

Unfortunately, due to the lack of a test system, we couldn't take a closer look at the cartridge ourselves. Lawrence Popa from AuvikNetworks has now taken care of that for us, and he took a look behind the silicone scenes of the mighty dwarf.

The task: Connect an Atari 800 to a modern network.

The result and a whole lot more insight can be read in Lawrence's article. Assuming that the release of the 800 will soon be 43 years ago, I'm personally looking forward, to what the next 40 years will bring in terms of hardware and software for 8-bit'ers!

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ZX Compendium

Sinclair ZX Spectrum - Visual Compendium
Imagesource: https://www.bitmapbooks.co.uk/

Chance find. And what a great one. But more for friends of the two letters Z and X in exactly this order.

The Sinclair ZX Visual Compendium comes with 304 colorful pages, contains contributions from over 65 authors (I hope I haven't lost count), and reviews all known and successful games from A like Automania and Avalon to Z like Zynaps

Sam Dyer, the founder and publisher behind Bitmap Books is in charge of the book. And as with any commercial project: We are not sponsored and have no relation to the book or publisher... The only real relation is the emotional attachment that will cause financial overhead for the 8bitnews editorial team once again. 😮‍💨

Great book. Maybe something for you.

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C64 Debugger

C64 Debugger
Imagesource: https://github.com/sunsided/

Thanks to this week's Tweet from 8-bit Hero, our attention has fallen on a really neat bit of software that hasn't had the pleasure of sending a few zeros and ones through the innards of our own silicon-based calculating machines.

We are talking about the C64 Debugger. The clean interface of the software impresses at first sight. Based on VICE, it supports visual debugging of C64 machine code, but can of course also be used for Atari XL/XE and NES code.

The software created by Marcin Skoczylas is supposed to run on Linux, Windows and MacOS. In a short test at least the Linux version was no problem. Definitely the software find of the week and certainly worth a look if the 6502 / 6510 combo controls a large part of your daily routine.

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MSX Custom Fonts

MSX Typography
Imagesource: https://www.oddbitmachine.net/

It is amazing how big the fan community behind the MSX architecture is. On the other hand, it's understandable, because the machines have sold like hot cakes in all parts of the world and are as versatile as competing products from Commodore, Atari and others. (Maybe even better? 😉)

But one thing all the 8-bit'ers have in common are the default fonts, which are not so acceptable based on today's Zeitgeist. And since typography in particular plays an enormous role in the perceived quality of a digital product, Matheus José Geraldini Dos Santos has taken on this topic for the MSX. 

How to actually implement a custom font yourself can be read in detail in his article. And if you don't have MSX hardware at hand, you can use one of the many MSX emulators out there.

Great article Matheus!

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DIY Mega Drive Dev Kit

SEGA MegaDrive DevKit
Imagesource: https://nestenius.se/

In 1988, SEGA tried to dominate the video game console market in Europe with the Mega Drive, and attack Nintendo's superiority in North America and Japan at the same time. The result is history, and the Mega Drive still enjoys a large fan base today.

With a Motorola 68k CPU as well as a Z80 as co-processor, the device was very well equipped for its time. But the overall architecture was so little complex in relation to today, that one can completely understand the whole system - given some effort.

Reason enough for Tore Nestenius to get into the subject, and actually build a Mega Drive Dev Kit himself.

The details of his adventure along the way are as interesting as they are exciting. And those who enjoy building their own hardware may find a new challenge in the article.

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Reversing NeXT Keyboard Protocol

This week's HN-find-of-the-week™ comes from Spencer Nelson. Topic: Keyboard protocols. And no, it's not about PS/2 or USB, far from it.

Spencer took apart the keyboard of a NeXT machine, and found himself trying to understand the protocol, buying an Arduino, an oscilloscope, and a logic analyzer. 💸

It is interesting to note, that NeXT has actually gone its own way with the protocol here. And why 455 kHz in particular plays a role in this, can be read in detail in Spencer's article on the subject.

Exciting and entertaining.

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Navy Electricity & Electronics Training Series
Imagesource: http://www.compatt.com/

If YouTube videos such as those from EEVBlog or Ben Eater float into the inquisitive mind more like small gentle feathers, this thing comes across more like an anvil from a 10m drop. 💥

The United States Navy Electricity & Electronics Training Series is one of the most concentrated collections of electrics and electronics knowledge we have found in a long time. 

James M Patterson is responsible for the version online, and currently provides 24 different modules. Energy, voltage, current, conductors, motors, waves, microwaves, radio, radar, computing up to fiber optics … all topics are discussed in very much detail.

The individual modules are available as PDF files. And for those who either don't have a job, or are already retired, the course provides the concentrated basic knowledge for electrics and electronics.

Free of charge!

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Gameboy WiFi Q&A

Gameboy WiFi - Live Q&A
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/yCe_vuNdJOE

In last year's Christmas issue we had a very special treat in store. A WiFi cartridge for the Gameboy.

If you remember the article, you also know that the project was the brainchild of Sebastian Staacks. He has now decided to host a Q&A on his YouTube channel.

The event is planned for January 28th. And because of the thing with the rotating planet and the time zones 🌍 we leave out the time here. 😁 If you are interested, you can get all the information about the start of the broadcast here.

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Ultimate64 KeyCap Kit

Ultimate64 KeyCap Kit
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/5UX-gqylYgQ

Christian Simpson aka Perifractic is still busy, pumping out relaxing content with his usual regularity. As almost always, it's all about Commodore hardware. More precisely a remake - the Ultimate 64. And even more precisely about the rebuilding of the keyboard. I only say LEGO ...

Without giving away anything else, the video is highly recommended to the interested viewer.

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C64 Debugger Intro

C64 Debugger
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/nwriuuShSDU

Above we introduced you to the lovely C64 Debugger. If that’s your cup of tea and you would like to see it in action, before spending so many … eehhhm pardon me … zero bucks.

Fortunately Shallan50k has got you covered, in 2020 he released an assembly programming series for the C64 which starts at this video.

Not only do you get an intro to the software, you can also learn a ton about the little Commodore as well as how to use the debugger properly.

Long, but very good. Take a look at the rest of the series.

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The Homecomputer Course

The Home Computer Course
Imagesource: https://archive.org/

And the last goodie for today is for once of a different nature. The lovely people behind archive.org keep coming up with scans of old magazines all the time.

But the double issue of The Homecomputer Course is a real gem, and must have been released sometime between ’83 and ’85.

Fancy a bit of nostalgia on the weekend? 40 pages of pure reading fun ahead.

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Free time is a scarce commodity. That's why we try to filter out exactly what might be of interest for the interested retrocomputing friend from the huge amount of information.

We succeed from week to week, but if you have topics, projects, books, articles, videos or the like that you would like to see in 8bitnews, just contact us. You can press the Reply button and get started. If you want to protect your privacy, feel free to use the Suggest feature on our site.

And if you like, feel free to share 8bitnews with everyone you know. Yes, with everyone! You can forward this mail directly to each and every person you know. Yep, all of them. No problem. 😏

We hope a project for the weekend has been there for you. Build something. And speak about it.

Take care.

Jan & Bastian

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