Just the signal, not the noise

Hello 8bit'ers,

what a Friday. What a week for friends of fast zeros and ones on old webs of metal on silicon. Either there's nothing going on at all, or new projects are just piling up like crazy.

This week was more the latter, so like always we've gathered the most exciting projects from our own timeline and summarized them below.

Since you're most likely not living under a rock, did you catch that Ron Gilbert announced Return to Monkey Island, the actually unexpected sequel to MI2! 🏝🐒

Here is the page for the project. So excited about it!

Anyway, enjoy Issue #44.


System 7

Syse, 7 & Mac OS 8 in the Browser
Imagesource: https://system7.app/

Most friends of slightly aged Apple hardware and software will know Basilisk II. Christian Bauer first released the initial version in 1999, and since then different ports for various platforms have been developed by a huge community.

From James Friend later came a JS port for the browser, but Mihai Parparita was not satisfied with some of its shortcomings.

In particular, issues like CPU load, memory usage, persistence and ease of loading programs were more or less well solved problems for example in macintosh.js by Felix Rieseberg.

And so Mihai decided to optimize Basilisk II for in-browser use, and upgrade it. The result is impressive.

On system7.app and macos8.app the emulator is available directly in the browser with System 7 and Mac OS 8 respectively. The loading times are extremely short, file exchange via drag&drop works like a charm and the performance is impressive.

Mihai has documented what happened in detail,  and if you want to know the background of his fantastic work, you get all the details.

What a time to be alive.

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mass:werk Spacewar!

mass:werk Spacewar!
Imagesource: https://www.masswerk.at/

Almost exactly 60 years ago in April it happened. Steve Russell in collaboration with Martin Graetz, Wayne Wiitanen, Bob Saunders, Steve Piner, and others breathed the first life into Spacewar! on one of the most modern computers of the time - the PDP-1.

The gameplay is simple. Two players, two spaceships, one star having gravity. Each player has limited fuel to change the orbit and some torpedoes at her / his disposal. If your orbit gets too close to the star, or you get hit by a torpedo ... you're screwed.

The gameplay is as simple as it is addictive, and Spacewar! definitely had a lasting impact on subsequent computer game history.

As a tribute to the game, Norbert Landsteiner from mass:werk has now taken on the game, and released a browser port with a lot of attention to detail. Besides the 9 versions of Spacewar! there is also the probably first pixel art demo SnowFlake online.

If you are interested in the history of the game, you can find the answers in Benj Edward's howtogeek article.

In any case, a piece of history worth knowing and a game worth spending some hours.

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Imagesource: https://www.applesqueezer.com/

When we wanted to try out the Dragons Lair version for the Apple IIgs last week, we realized that we don't own an Apple IIgs at all. Bad luck. Bad luck. 🥹

So we had to use gsplus on the Mac, a somewhat older but very stable emulator. Nevertheless the procedure was a bit ... painful. Find an HD image, mount, format, install GS/OS and get Dragons Lair into the machine. In the end it was worth it, but we probably would have had a lot more fun with the real hardware.

It would have been even more fun, if we had the AppleSqueezer available. The project replaces the original 65816 CPU of an Apple IIgs and brings along a dramatically increased clock speed as well as an expansion of the RAM to 14Mb.

The installation is very simple. Extract the original CPU, put the AppleSqueezer in its place, and you're done. To enjoy the martial 14Mb of memory, you need a patched version of GS/OS, but otherwise all software should run as before. Only better. 🙌

The project by Niek van Suchtelen and his Apple II GS Enthusiasts is indeed a great enhancement for the IIgs. And if you - unlike us - own the hardware, check it out.

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Portal for Apple II

Imagesource: https://unsplash.com/

Vince Weaver is what we called a dark-matter-programmer™ some time ago. He doesn't glow brightly, he’s not loud, you barely notice him if at all, but he develops massive gravity when you get near him.

Vince is an Associate Professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering at the University of Maine and seems to have an amazing amount of time on his hands. 

A few days ago we stumbled across one of his latest creations - Portal for Apple II. The whole thing is more of a proof of concept, and Vince only actually implemented the first two levels, but if you're triggered by that, and look a little further, you'll find some more, unfortunately seemingly unknown gems from him. 💎

For example, you can find an Apple II version of Another World / Out of this World and a number of other demakes such as Kerbal Space Program for the 1970s Apple II! 😳

Great projects Vince!

It's hard to waste your time in a more fun way. 😆 (Maybe I should have pursued a career in academia after all).

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Imagesource: https://unsplash.com/

FPGAs are your thing? You have an IceStick, an IceBreaker or a ULX3S lying around unused? And with unused we also mean the BlinkenLights example. And you always wanted to design and implement your very own RISC-V CPU?

Then the following could be very interesting for you.

Bruno Levy is the Director of Inria Nancy Grand Est Research Center and published a complete RISC-V Guide on github just 2 weeks ago. 

Honestly, a little prior knowledge of digital design as well as how to use Verilog is helpful. And the tutorial doesn't take you completely by the hand. But if you've ever wanted to build your own processor in the form of a RISC-V architecture, this is a near-perfect starting point.

The result of the tutorial is a Mandelbrot renderer, but once you get there, the real fun only begins. 

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Pico-8 Edu Version

Pico-8 Edu Version
Imagesource: https://www.pico-8-edu.com/

Pico-8 - the mother of all fantasy consoles - has been our guest several times. The same goes for competitors like Tic-80 and others, which offer similar functionality. But in terms of completeness and portability, Pico-8 is unbeaten.

A small drop of bitterness is the price of $14.99, which in my eyes is more than fair and absolutely justified. So it is even more pleasing that the developers of lexaloffle have now decided, to offer a free browser-based version for the education sector. 

And voila: Pico-8 Edu ⬅️

Those familiar with Pico-8 will get to grips with it straight away. And the Edu version has a number of demos available to load, run and inspect.

The genius of Pico-8 is the easy programmability in Lua as well as the integrated editors for sprites, maps, sounds and tracks. You can hardly build anything faster and easier. And thanks to the edu version now also for all those, whose pocket money stint hangs on the goodwill of parents. 🤑

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In-Browser Windows 3.11

In-Browser Windows 3.11
Imagesource: Microsoft

Do you know Jeff Par? But you know PCjs, right? A Javascript based emulator that can bring an IBM PC to life in the browser, along with CPU, ROMs and graphics card.

Jeff is the author. 👏

What does all this have to do with Windows 3.11? At least enough, that the initial release of Windows 3.1 was on April 6, 1992, almost exactly 30 years ago this week. And thanks to Jeff's work, you can still use the (almost) last release 3.10 from 1993 right in your browser:

PCjs Windows 3.10

Besides this last, distinctive Windows release before Windows95, Jeff also provides a number of other ready-made environments. A real time sink. Especially because Wolfenstein is also included ... 🔫

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Zero to ASIC

Zero to ASIC
Imagesource: https://zerotoasiccourse.com/

FPGAs are one thing. A little bit of Verilog, a little bit of time, build, load, fail, repeat. The classic cycle. For ASIC design, that's not quite so true, since once an ASIC is made, it's not easy to fix via an update like an FPGA.

Matthew Venn says of himself, that he is on a mission to make ASICs more accessible. And that's great, because there's not nearly as much material on ASIC design as there is on FPGAs.

Matthew offers a commercial course Zero to ASIC, and if you are curious about the topic, you can find some interesting teaser material on his YouTube Channel.

We’re not sponsored, just thought, this could be interesting.

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Modular DIY Z80

Modular DIY Z80
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/JD_VTdSlTJk

Joshua Coleman's project is super refreshing and equally exciting. His ColemanZ80 christened system is a Z80 based computer, consisting of a whole bunch of individual modules.

CPU & clock, RAM & ROM, address monitor, PIA, serial port, sound card, LCD screen ... all separate and simple modules.

Joshua walks us through his thought and build process and it's a joy to watch. Makes me want to build one too. Give it a try here.

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Compute Everything

Compute Everything
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/4NsZES_rQ7U

Chris Rose approaches our favorite topic from the very, very bottom. 

If you know NandToTetris, the question of the video is crystal clear very quickly. How can we actually calculate everything that can be calculated, when our hardware only implements the most simple logical functions on the lowest level?

Rather less something for full professionals, who build their own digital designs. But interesting for every hobby computerista, who want to go a little deeper into the matter. 

In any case well done and entertaining and to be found on YouTube.

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That was a respectable package! If there was nothing for you, then we are sorry! 

But if you liked the current issue, feel free to give us feedback. We can be reached directly by email, and you can always reply directly to this email.

If you want to do something for your karma, here's your chance: just take this email, click "Forward", select your entire address book as the destination address, and off you go. 📫 Eternal gratitude of your fellow friends will be sure for you ... (probably) 😬

Enjoy the beginning of spring, build something and speak about it.

Stay confident.

Jan & Bastian

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