Just the signal, not the noise

Hello 8bit'ers,

It’s Friday, it’s the third of June and a not so eventful week lies behind us. Weekend, next please. ☀️🕶🍹

And what could be more natural than turning to our absolute favorite topic, alongside family and friends? Old technology.

This week we have dug out a few quite dusty articles, and make a small departure about 90 years into the past in the DIY area. Exciting either way, and we hope there's an article or two in there for you.

Enjoy Issue #51.


No Fab Chip Design

No Fab Chip Design
Imagesource: https://efabless.com/

In Issue #13 we reported about Sam Zeloof. Sam has been fabricating his own chips in his garage (to be exact, his parents' garage) with his Z1 and Z2 home-brew chips. To accumulate the design and fabrication knowledge necessary, is quite an accomplishment. But to actually implement the whole thing in reality is quite another.

Now, for the third time, this possibility is open to all those, whose parents don't have a garage. 😏

efabless.com sponsored by Google goes into the third round with their Open MPW Program.

8 shuttles each 40 slots are available - arithmetic says that this means 320 open source designs will find their way down onto a silicon waver.

In the last two MPW-1 and 2 runs, processor cores, SOCs, crypto miners, FPGAs and all kinds of custom chips went into production. Designs that will be registered now, should actually be in the hands of their creators by mid-October.

The highlight: Google bears the costs. 💳

Chosen designs will be integrated into a prefabricated Caravel - so that IO and a RISC-V management SOC are available directly on-chip, to let the own creation communicate with the outside world.

The only hard prerequisite: the entire design must be made available to the general public as open source. It is doubtful, that an 8-bit design will be included in MPW-3, but there is still some planning time until MPW-4 ... 🪛

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Macintosh Garden

Macintosh Garden
Imagesource: https://unsplash.com/

We usually treat sites with a bit of caution, that make software available for download. Because the term "abandonware" is very elastic, and is sometimes interpreted in one way and sometimes in another.

Nevertheless, Macintosh Garden impressed us so much, that it had to make it into the current issue. The site has been around for nearly two decades, except for a longer break in the middle. Accordingly, the offer of Mac software and especially games is huge. 

Among the offered are heaps of gems whose initial developers and publishers apparently don't want to have anything to do with the software anymore. At least that’s what the MacintoshGarden Team assumes. We have no reason so far to not trust their judgement.

In any case, perfect for working images of the no longer working CDs that you bought many moons ago and missed until today.

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Newton Emu

Einstein - Apple Newton Emulator
Imagesource: https://apple.com/

Remember the Apple Newton? Well, this device - which actually coined the term PDA - was announced nearly exactly 30 years ago. Time to celebrate! 🎉

On the one hand, the Newton was ahead of its time as a mobile device. But the problems with its main feature - handwriting recognition - brought it a lot of ridicule, and after his return to Apple, Steve Jobs immediately discontinued this project. This was probably not least because the Newton was a project of John Sculley, who had previously forced Jobs out of the company.

However, the Newton is alive! And its place in history is not only that of an early forerunner of the first iPhones. No, the Newton came with an ARM 610 RISC chip, and was at least one of the founders of the success story of the underlying architecture.

This chip and the other innards of the Newton can be emulated very well thanks to the wonders of modern technology in 2022. And Paul Guyot has published exactly that with his project Einstein. Neither the first nor the only, but a very good emulator.

With the right ROMs you can run the Newton's OS on Linux, Mac and Windows. 30 years later neither comparable nor massively impressive. But for sure, there are use cases. 🤓

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Game of Life in APL in Forth

Game of Life in APL in Forth
Imagesource: https://unsplash.com/

Game of Life is a classic, and if you haven't implemented a version of it yourself, you've missed out on a lot of fun. Alexander Serkov decided, to build a very special version. 

Alex's initial idea was to implement the simulation in APL. If that's not enough (🤪), Alex has one more. And that is with his own APL interpreter in Forth.

This super cool project is not only completely functional. Alexander has made the development documentation available on the Github repo that goes with apl-life.

Forth programming itself is kind-of-exciting™ in its own way. But the APL interpreter is the cherry on top and a nice exercise for a rainy weekend. The question is, when will there be another one of these? ☔️

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Imagesource: http://blog.notdot.net/

FPGAs have a certain magic in their own right. On the one hand, they cannot be compared with CPUs or microcontrollers, even if they ultimately simulate them. On the other hand, they have the advantage over ASICs, that they can be reconfigured - allowing you to cast virtually any of your own designs into hardware.

How exactly an FPGA makes this possible, is an exciting question. The answer to which can be found in many thick books on information technology and computer science. If you don't feel like studying books and are looking for a shortcut, the following may help.

Nick Johnson has (admittedly already several years ago) accepted the challenge to build his own mini-FPGA based on LS7400 chips.

His project does inspire despite its age and is no less up to date. In a short demo video Nick tests two configurations and solves different problems in hardware. Impressive.

Certainly, this is no option to build a fully fledged FPGA based on the 74XX’s, but testing and understanding the basic principles with it, is definitely real fun.

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Mechanical Color Television

Mechanical Color Television
Imagesource: Hzeller, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The following has absolutely nothing in common with 8-bit systems. But it is such a cool revival of a really old technology, that we just had to include it in this issue.

Electromechanical TV actually existed, and was amazingly capable round about 90 years ago. And back in the days there have been real broadcast providers in Europe distributing their program via the magic of electromagnetic waves. 📺

We are talking about devices based on the Nipkow Disk

The author of the IEEE article Markus Mierse has built a working device using a 3D printer, an Arduino, a motor and some smaller parts and wires.

The functionality is surprisingly simple but the resulting moving image is quite respectable (even if small). Depending on the configuration and design, a Nipkow Disk can display only a few lines of an image. If you put the disk in a vacuum and increase the RPM, you can get a higher resolution. But there are purely mechanical limits to the system. I guess, that’s why we abandoned them. 😬

Nevertheless exciting, and Markus provides the necessary files for 3D printing as open source. In addition he demo’s the whole project in a short video.

A project for more than just a weekend, but definitely a worthwhile one.

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Mega65 and CPUs

Mega65 and CPUs
Imagesource: https://mega65.org/

Wiebo de Wit is one of the lucky ones, who will get to enjoy a Mega65 very soon. Unfortunately, the machine is only ever produced in pre-ordered batches, which is perfectly understandable considering the non-commercial nature of the operation and team.

The documentation for the Mega65 is freely available, detailed, and should be sufficient for most to get their feet wet with the machine.

Wiebo was apparently missing a bit of information there, so he compiled it himself and posted it on his blog. In his post he looks a little closer at the history of CPUs of popular Commodore machines. In detail these are the C64, the C128, the never released C65 and finally the Mega65 (of course not being a Commodore).

Certainly nothing groundbreaking for those familiar with the subject, but a helpful comparison of the capabilities of the CPUs of these machines and a quite informative read.

Thx Wiebo.

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Q*Bert Postmortem

Q*Bert Postmortem
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/FhkLfz0GKYU

Q*Bert is history. Released in 1982 as Gottlieb's fourth arcade title, the game has been ported to just about every gaming platform that has seen the light of day since the 80s. Finally even iOS, the PS3 and PS4 have seen their ports.

However, listening to the initial developer Warren Davis talking about the creation of Q*Bert makes you realize, why the 80's were so different and so lovely.

Warren was breaking new ground himself, not knowing how to implement many of the proposed features, and had ultimate freedom with the gameplay. The brief was simply, "Build a game..."

Warren told his story at GDC 2022, and the thoroughly funny video is well worth the lost lifetime.

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Ingenious 3.5 Inches

Ingenious 3.5 Inches
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/tJCMzdzh4Tw

3.5'' floppy disks are surely still known to everyone. How often did I come home from a copy session at a friend's house (of course nothing illegal going on there…) with a stack of these things, only to find out, that disk 23 of 24 had a parity problem... 😫

Basically, the 3.5'' were superior to the 5.25'' floppy disks, and not only because of the capacity, but because of clever design features, which one might not notice at first glance.

VWestlife took a closer look and summarized the most interesting features of the small magnetic disk in an equally interesting video. No groundbreaking news here, but there are things that you might not have been aware of before.

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Exactly one issue to go, and mathematically (not calendar-wise) we have thus filled a whole year. It's hard to believe a whole year passed by, but we're still surprised of how popular our little magazine has become until today.

We still go to our secret 8-bit prayer shrine in the basement and light a candle every time a new subscriber decides to join the party. If you know someone for whom we should light the next candle, just send her or him this email. The gods of automation will take care of the rest.

If you would like to see a topic in one of the upcoming issues, please let us know. The Reply button in your mail client is your friend.

Until next time - build something. And don't forget to speak about it.


Jan & Bastian

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