Just the signal, not the noise

Hello 8bit'ers,

Here it is, the Friday of the current week. And here it is - the Nifty Fifty.

That makes the first unofficial issue a year ago, but we'll save the celebrations until the real birthday. But for this issue, we again ran across a number of topics that we just had to share. As always not strictly 8bit, but we guess, you gonna enjoy it. 

So have fun with Issue #50.


Motion Controlled VCS

ATARI VCS Motion Controlled
Imagesource: https://www.hackster.io/feitgemel/

It's sometimes incredible to see how the fusion of modern technology with beloved 8bit nostalgia can breathe new life into game ideas long thought to be outdated.

Controlling a console game on a TV with hand gestures is something more for the current generations of game consoles, isn't it? Usually you have some form of controller in your hands, and I'd be interested to know, how many flat screens have died because a WII controller has materialized directly inside of the panel at a 90 degree angle. 😬

All the more exciting is the current project of Eran Feit.

Eran adds gesture control to a VCS, using a cheap Raspberry Pi with a camera, and gesture recognition using a little Python for the ML.

An ingenious extension for the ATARI console, and a great project for a long weekend. Full details of the build can be found here.

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Anyone still on Assembly?

Still on Assembly?
Imagesource: 8bitnews.io

Mastering a technology and using it efficiently is one side of the coin. But to understand this technology at least in its basic principles is quite another. The enormous complexity of modern software is a good example. Working with it, and getting results at the top level, is great. Understanding the details underneath, knowing how code of a high-level language is converted to machine language, what paradigms prevail at the assembly level, and how individual machine instructions are then actually executed at the hardware level, creates a deep form of satisfaction.

And knowledge of assembly and programming has equally enormous potential to produce better code in high-level languages, because you better understand the fundamentals of the machine as well as its limitations.

Clive Maxfield has written a wonderful essay on this topic. Un-opinionated as far as that’s possible, and a nice read for a few quiet minutes.

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Bomb Machine

Bomb Machine
Imagesource: https://people.ece.cornell.edu/

Long before the development of symmetric and asymmetric encryption technologies, an enormously lot has happened in the field of cryptography already. Classical encryption methods have been developed, broken, improved and discarded en masse throughout history.

One of the more interesting technically approaches of the last century was - among others - the German Enigma encryption machine, which was mainly used for secure U-Boot communications. Who knows the history, knows that a team around one of the fathers of modern computer science - Alan Turing - designed and built an electro-mechanical machine in the 40's, with which the Enigma algorithm, which was unbroken until then, could be broken in realistic time - game changer for WWII.

The Enigma is part of many lectures and exercises for CS students, but Angela ZouRobby Huang & Kathleen Wang from Cornell University got to the technical bottom of not only the Enigma but also the so-called Bomb machine.

The three implemented the Enigma using Verilog and C. Subsequently they realized an FPGA implementation of the Bomb machine, and then tested the decryption with the help of a test program.

The entire project is documented in very much detail, and the code is available on GitHub. Interesting not only for crypto nerds. (I mean the other crypto nerds.)

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Low Level Concurrency

Low Level Concurrency
Imagesource: https://unsplash.com/

Concurrency and parallelism are two concepts that are unfortunately often confused with each other. That's fine, since most high-level languages have abstraction concepts that take this cognitive burden off the shoulders of modern programmers. 

Nevertheless, it is interesting to take a closer look at the topic. Felix Winkelmann has done just that, and you should definitely not be put off by the simplistic design of his site. It's the inner values that count!

With his project MicroFLENG Felix has developed a PROLOG-derived cross-compiler that allows the implementation of concurrent logic programming on computers with extremely thin resources.

Target platforms are the Z80 in CP/M mode, the C64 and the ingenious Uxn.

An exciting topic excellently presented and some knowledge that should not be missing from a modern developers tool belt.

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8088 on a Pi

8088 on a Raspberry Pi
Imagesource: Kunszabo, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Unfortunately, the developer of the following project could not be identified, but the project is no less interesting because of that.

The Intel 8088 CPU from 1979 can be seen as one of the great grandfathers of modern x86 architecture. In contrast to the 8086 its external data bus is only 8bit wide (perfect), but it has the same execution unit as the 8086.

Experimenting with this CPU today without a suitable board is not trivial. But with the help of the Raspberry Pi PCB you can quickly make the steps, that would otherwise take you time on breadboards.

With 0.3 MHz the CPU doesn't run away within this construct, but it's enough for interesting experiments. Especially because a C library allows interfacing via software, and with the help of NASM assembly code can be executed directly.

In progress: a GUI, which should enable CGA/VGA graphics output. This would make the combo a very interesting target for low level development.

Exciting project.

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Copy Protection

Copy Protection
Imagesource: https://unsplash.com/

Software development costs time and therefore money. Personally, I never understood the consumer sentiment that said, "It's just a little mobile app, it can't cost $49!"

Software piracy is much less of an issue today than it was in the 80s and 90s, but the real problem behind it - copy protection - is quite interesting.

What developers came up with during that time to obfuscate licensing mechanisms in such a way, that hacking effort and benefit were no longer in healthy proportion to each other, is really exciting.

The article by Andrew McFadden goes into detail about the Apple ][, and is one of the best low level reads of the last week.

Decide for yourself.

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Intels Worst Nightmare

Intels Worst Nightmare
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/P1aqtfXUCEk

LowSpecAlex has a super relaxing and high quality style of video creation. About 3 months ago he took on the history of Zilog and the Z80 processor.

Some of the historical facts will be new even to die-hard fans of the Z80. In any case, these 18 minutes and 30 seconds are just plain fun. 

For those who haven't had enough of the video, the somewhat fresher one on the subject 6502 is also highly recommended.

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Gameboy Graphics

Gameboy Graphics
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/txkHN6izK2Y

You are planning a low spec game for the Gameboy? Or you are just interested in technical details of the mobile game console from 1989?

Jesse Doherty doesn't have everything worth knowing in his latest video, but starts with one of the basics - Gameboy graphics. Short, precise and informative. And with far too few views. 

Jesse has a number of other videos on the subject in his collection as well, and if we're lucky, more gonna come soon.

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Vacuum Tube RAM

Vacuum Tube RAM
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/ViUaaX6UsCU

Usagi Electric is a regular guest in our magazine. And rightfully so. Because what this gentleman produces in his free time, makes the heart of a retrocomputing fan beat faster.

This time it is about vacuum tube based RAM. A monstrous 4 bits of RAM!

The whole project is so ingenious, that it is just fun to watch. You can be curious what comes next.

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Defrag Yourself

Defrag Yourself
Imagesource: https://github.com/LostTrainDude/

Do you still remember the defrag.exe from MS-DOS? No? Then you are definitely missing one of the most essential life experiences of the last century.

Christopher Sacchi came up with the brilliant idea to make a game out of the defrag mechanism. Not only does the thing look like the original, it also has the same, calming character.

You can either defrag yourself, or you can activate the automatic mode, and let your brain be sprinkled.

Ingenious idea.

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50 issues, over 600 individual projects and articles - with our first unofficial issue a year ago, we never thought we'd get here.

If you enjoyed the last year with us as much as we did, feel free to share your joy. We are happy about every new subscriber.

If you have a topic that would fit into one of our future issues, please let us know. You can reply directly to this email.

Issue #51 is already in the works. Until then - build something, and speak about it.

Jan & Bastian

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