Just the signal, not the noise

Hello 8bit'ers,

One swallow doesn't make a summer, but this mail in your inbox announces the weekend. Time to get to grips with some new, old technology, or learn something new.

A whole bunch of exciting projects popped up on our screens last week, and hopefully the following will serve as inspiration for the next two days.

Enjoy Issue #49.


8-Bit Atari Fonts

The less space is available, the more creative possible actors become. The more limited the framework conditions are, the more interesting the results will be. Perhaps this is also one of the reasons why 8-bit machines still exude so much fascination today.

Fonts are a very special topic at this point, because it was precisely here, that an extreme amount of creativity was required, when letters and numbers had to be displayed with only a few pixels in width and height, and also mono-chromatically. All the more astonishing is, how many variations of fonts the 8-bit community has produced over the last few decades.

A whole collection of ATARI fonts has been thoughtfully compiled by Steve Boswell.

The special thing about it: Not only does Steve provide PNG shots of the respective fonts, but he also compiled each font as a TrueType file in his GitHub repo for you to use.

Not only for friends of fine (but not so fine grained) typography. 

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Apollo Communication

Apollo Premodulation Processor
Imagesource: www.righto.com

The first Apollo missions are now more than 50 years ago. If you rewind the technical development in your own mind, it is hard to imagine that people set foot on the moon in 69 and the years that followed - something that can probably (and unfortunately) only be accomplished by philanthropists today.

Technology of that time sparks enthusiasm. Even though the first 8-bit CPUs would not appear until a few years later, it was precisely this pioneering spirit that kick-started a large part of the subsequent technical development.

Ken Shirriff is known for always getting to the bottom of technical relics in detail. This time he had the pleasure of taking apart the Apollo Premodulation Processor.

Communication on, from and to the moon was done via AM, FM and S-band modulation at the time. The device in question is accordingly quite complex.

If you're into the space theme, Ken's article is great reading material for a quiet hour, since he get’s into the details with his typical precision and clarity.

Enjoy the read.

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50 TIC-80 Carts

50 TIC-80 Carts in 2 Days
Imagesource: blinry.org

50 meaningful regular expressions in Perl in one weekend. Sounds mega exciting, doesn't it? 🥱

How about 50 TIC-80 carts in 48 hours? Quite an accomplishment. The unfortunately unknown author named blinry has taken on this challenge, and 50 working mini programs are impressive to say the least.

In the time, in which others do not even completely set up modern software development frameworks with all dependencies, blinry has written 50 working and independent demo programs for the fantasy console TIC-80. If you don't know it yet, we recommend our Issue #11.

The ingenious thing about it: For each cart you can directly view and manipulate the source code, and thanks to TIC-80 also execute it directly in the browser.

If you thought about learning Lua and and tinker with Pico-8, the free alternative TIC-80 is highly recommended. And thanks to blinry, the perfect introduction can be found here

Happy coding.

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FPGA Graphics

FPGA Graphics
Imagesource: projectf.io

FPGAs have a tendency to divide the community to some extent. On the one hand, there are those for whom FPGAs represent a betrayal of technology ... the devil's stuff. 👹

On the other side you find enthusiasts who recreate hardware, that no longer exists, based on modern FPGA technology. Preservation.

Choosing either side is more of a matter of faith, and ultimately everyone has to make the decision for themselves. The fact is, that FPGAs provide a wonderful foundation for learning about older technology by rebuilding it using Verilog, VHDL & friends.

Will Green is no stranger to this either. We've had Will represented in several issues already. This time he has completely refurbished and reissued a fantastic blog series on FPGA Graphics.

The result is one of the best learning resources you can find on the subject, especially because all the examples are directly related to real-world applications. If you want to learn something new and have always wanted to get started with FPGAs, you'll find the perfect introduction here.

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Apple ][ Gamecoding Howto

Apple ][ - Gamecoding Howto
Imagesource: nick.zoic.org

Programming on modern systems is kind of easy today. Just install the appropriate programming language, the framework based on it, standard libs, compilers or interpreters, a source code editor and enjoy at least 7 to 26 layers of abstraction, before your code is eventually executed by your Gigahertz bolide.

Alternatively, try an Apple ][.

Ideally you write something in assembly, interact directly with the metal and have the chance to learn something, that should also benefit you in high level languages, whether interpreted or compiled.

Help comes from Nick Moore. In a 3-part blog series, which is not quite fresh but nevertheless excellently written, Nick guides you through software development for an Apple ][. And if you don't have the hardware at hand, Nick has the appropriate tips for emulators as well.

The mini-series that starts here with part 1, is so detailed, that you can jump right into the topic even without any detailed previous knowledge.

Not participating is not an option. 

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RISC-V Simulator

RISC-V Simulator
Imagesource: Derrick Coetzee, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Quite unphilosophically, RISV-V has about as much to do with retrocomputing, as an ant has to do with an anteater. But since we are true animal lovers, and anteaters are typically underrepresented in the media, let's break a lance here. For anteaters and RISC-V. 

But seriously: as a modern ISA, RISV-V really has hardly anything to do with 8-bit CPUs. But if you take a closer look, RISV-V is the next logical step if you have left your own CPUs in software or hardware behind, and are looking for something fresh.

The open architecture, the comparatively low complexity and the implementability on FPGAs make RISC-V an interesting platform.

There are many entrants. A particularly worthwhile one comes from Stefan Metzlaf and his colleagues in the form of a simulator.

Their RISC-V Simulator - written in Java - is available as open source on GitHub. And with its simple examples it is perfect for your first experiments.

Any plans for the weekend? No? Well, now have at least one.

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Living Worlds

Living Worlds
Imagesource: www.effectgames.com

Low-res graphics with a limited palette have been elevated to an art form over the years. I'd rather not talk about the NFT craze here, as that's another question that the future will certainly have a (hopefully bloody 🧛‍♂️) answer to. Nevertheless, the art form is quite interesting. 

Especially when you breathe life into actually static images with the help of a rotating palette. Really nice examples of this come from Joseph Huckaby, even though the project behind it has since been discontinued. 

Inspired by Living Worlds by Mark Ferrari, Joseph and friends have created a series of landscape portraits, that are brought to life using sound, daylight moods and animation.

Impressively beautiful. 🌅

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Brand New C64?

Brand New C64?
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/2TSffXvmx3M

Is it possible to build a C64 in 2022 from brand new parts solely? An interesting question that connoisseurs of the subject would probably return relatively easily with … relatively different answers.

Therefore TheRetroShack dedicated himself to the topic, but did not take the obvious route "SixtyClone", but dared a build based on free Gerber files from PCBWay.

His journey and the result are well worth seeing. And if you're up for such a project, or like the kind of RetroShacks productions, this video is for you.

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Inside KIM-1

Inside KIM-1
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/fMxOWngmy8I

Most people will most likely know the KIM-1 in the form in which the machine is shown in most presentations - as a single extension board, which can certainly be operated separately. But the KIM-1 can also be connected with several add-on boards via an 8-bit bus and form a more complex construct. You just don't see it that often. 

Dave Plummer from Dave's Garage somehow managed the stunt, and got hold of exactly such a complete machine. Witchcraft. Black magic. Rich granny. I don't know ... 👵

In his current video he takes apart the machine completely, and feels the pulse of the individual components.

Worth seeing, if you want to have a look at the computer, which was initially planned as a 6502 demo board.

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MiSTer Handheld

MiSTer Handheld
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/EYQDqnJT0Lk

And there it is again: the FPGA question of faith. To burn or not to burn. The MiSTer project is an excellent testament to how FPGA technology can be used, to keep beloved systems of the past alive.

But here there's something new: the Portable MiSTer MultiSystem

ctrl-alt-rees takes more than just a look at the upcoming system, and spoke with Heber's Richard Horne about the details last week. 

A charming idea, to make the systems supported by MiSTer portable. Interested? Watch yourself.

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That was it. The last issue before the magical 50th. We are excited about the topics for the next issue.

If you have one, we are always grateful for a corresponding message. Feel free to reply directly to this email, or use our anonymous suggest form on our site.

We are also always grateful for help. If you think of someone who might also like 8bitnews, feel free to forward this email directly. The "Forward" button is your friend.

If the earth continues to revolve around the sun, we'll be back in your inbox next week. Until then - build something, and speak about it.

Take care.

Jan & Bastian

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