Just the signal, not the noise

Hello 8bit'ers,

Should you not spend this wonderful Friday floating in a wonderfully cool pool with a drink of your choice ... sorry! ⛱

However, in contrast to reading on a mobile you then have the advantage of trying out some of the following projects on your desktop right away. Whether or not this makes sense, given the current temperatures, is probably rather a matter of personal preference ... and should be left up to you.

But whether on mobile or desktop, the topics we've come across this week are exciting and almost every one of them is more than suitable to pass the hopefully long summer vacation.

Enjoy Issue #58!


Tiny Emulators

Tiny Emulators
Imagesource: https://floooh.github.io/tiny8bit/

As of today Andre Weissflog is considered the official savior of this summer. Why we haven't noticed his project so far, will forever remain a mystery. But we've already touched on the topic of dark-matter-programmers™ a few times. ⚫️

So let's shed some light on the subject. 💡

Andre comes - more or less precisely - from the gaming corner, and has combined his knowledge of C++, Python and Webassembly with his love for 8bit machines. The result is the most complete collection of 8bit Webassembly emulators we have seen so far.

Tiny8Bit lets you run a variety of beloved machines directly in the browser. And the special thing about it: Besides the classic C64, VIC-20, the ZX Spectrum and various CPC models, you can also find emulators for machines like the KC85 and KC87, the LC-80 or the Robotron Z9001.

Besides the emulators Andre has linked the emulator to a lot of demos and games via autoload. So you can enjoy Rick Dangerous on the CPC, Nebulus on the C64, Rainbow Island on the ZX and many more directly from your browser.

My personal favorite: Isometrikum.

If all this isn't enough for you, take a look at Andre's Blog.

Awesome collection. The source on GitHub invites you to build all the stuff locally as well. Andre … Thanks! 🙏

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Imagesource: https://www.lego.com/

You can think about Lego™ whatever you want. For some the manufacturer is one of the most ingenious toy producers in the world, for others a shabby monopolist with sometimes macabre marketing tactics. 🤨

However, there is one thing Lego does right, and that is license management. And once again this means, that friends of broken fingertips can expect something special this summer: 

The ATARI 2600 LEGO™. 🧱

Pre-orders are not open yet. But if you want to get rid of your colorful paper rags or their digital equivalent, you'll be happy from August 1. And better park a reminder in your calendar right now.

Happy crafting, should you get one!

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BBS on a Mac Plus

BBS on a Mac Plus
Imagesource: https://jcs.org/

If you put your own BBS implementation in Ruby on the digital floor in 2015, you're either a Ruby enthusiast or a BBS lover. Or Joshua Stein.

This isn't the first time Joshua has been a guest in our magazine, but we just couldn't leave out his current marvel.

BBS on a Macintosh Plus is Joshua's successful attempt to re-implement his very own BBS in C, and get it running on the Apple Mac Plus powered only by a Motorola 68k at 8MHz accessing only 4Mb of RAM.

The inclined adventurer tries a `telnet klud.ge` and learns, that communication does not necessarily need the HTTP protocol. All that is missing is a little ASCII art, and ... I’m sold.

Officially love it. ❤️

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Zuse Gates

Zuse Gates
Imagesource: https://fjkraan.home.xs4all.nl/

Caution: Controversy ahead! Which was the real first programmable computer?

Wikipedia says: With his development of the Z3 in 1941, [Konrad] Zuse built the first functional, fully automatic, program-controlled and freely programmable computer operating in binary floating-point arithmetic, and thus the world's first functional computer.

Until 1998 it was believed, that the Z3 was not Turing-complete, and therefore its architectural concept was not pursued further. Later it turned out that Turing-completeness was actually given, but even without that, the machine was the first functional universal computer in the world. 

The mentioned Z3 was based on electromechanical relays. The initial predecessor machine - Z1 - was purely mechanical. And here it gets interesting. Because F.J. Kraan took a closer look at the functional principles of the machine, and was especially interested in how Zuse implemented the basic logic operators like NOT, AND, OR, XOR and XNOR from 1935 to 1938 just using mechanics.

His post additionally goes into detail about a memory element and a 3-to-8 decoder. Exciting to see how you can build a working computer without electrical fields and electrons pacing around in semiconductors.

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Imagesource: https://unsplash.com/

This week the Microcode Decryptor for x86 CPUs surfaced. But for historical and other reasons, we'd better not go into it. 👹

However, anyone who tried to come up with their own CPU architecture will be familiar with microcode and its challenges. Do you decode instructions directly using circuits on hardware level like in early CPUs like the Z80 or the MOS8502? Or do you choose a ROM based approach like in the SAP architecture? Or do you take a completely different path in order to transplant the own instruction set into the hardware?

In the end microcode controls exactly those devices of a CPU, which for a certain operation either put something on address, data or ALU buses, or read from them in every single clock cycle.

Mark Smotherman can be called an expert in this field. And if you feel like expanding your knowledge, you should read Mark's excellent essay on the subject.

Recommended read. 📓

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Imagesource: https://bbcmic.ro/

Dominik Pajak and Matt Godbolt are both some lovable weirdos. Their fondness for the BBC Micro is is legendary. On the other hand that fact it has been documented not only by us several times already.

Therefore, the following is rather a necessary addition than breaking news.

BBC BASIC is a wonderful example of what can be done with BASIC even or especially in 2022. The in-browser-micro-IDE allows direct input of BASIC code, and of course direct execution as well.

In addition there are a number of different examples available, which can also be executed without further ado using the underlying emulator VirtualBeeb.

Fancy some basic BASIC? Here you go.

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Imagesource: https://unsplash.com/

With DOS there is always the question, whether it counts as retro or not. It is definitely not an 8bit topic either. Nevertheless, when was the last time, you visited a website, that made a point of being Lynx-friendly in 2022? 🤟

Furthermore, the author - who is presumably Richard Bonner aka Doctor DOS Betamax - has assembled one of the most complete collections on the subject of DOS we've ever had the pleasure of browsing.

The DOS OS summarizes tips, publications, variables, switches, fallacies and much more. And if you are in the mood for bright colors, repeating background tiles and slightly weird color gradients, you will definitely enjoy it.

Actually, only a few animated GIFs are missing. 😁 But seriously - great resource for all topics around DOS.

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DIY Chip8 Handheld

DIY Chip8 Handheld
Imagesource: https://github.com/kurtjd/

If Joseph Weisbecker had known what influence his COSMAC ELF or his VM Chip8 would have, he probably would have designed at least Dxyn somewhat differently. But these are details... 🙄

Probably no other language / VM has been implemented that often and in pretty much every programming language. No matter whether your current topic of interest is Assembly, CPU Design or Digital Architecture, somewhere you always make a turn into the Chip8 street.

So it has happened for Kurtis Dinelle. His DIY Chip8 Handheld is not only open source. It is also beautiful in addition to being complete and minimal. A red PCB might have suited the console skeleton even better, but add a transparent case, and the dream DIY console is ready.

If you are still looking for a hardware project for the summer, you might find it here. If you've never written a Chip8 emu before ... you're only a Google search away from an exciting project.

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Duke Nukem Parallax Scrolling

Duke Nukem Parallax Scrolling
Imagesource: https://lethalguitar.wordpress.com/

Parallax scrolling can be considered an old hat. But back in the days when 2D platformers were the predominant genre, this technique was considered real eye candy.

Depending on the target platform hardware features could be used for the implementation. But on a PC parallax scrolling remained kind of a rarity. Background: An implementation of different scrolling speeds of background and foreground layers in realtime was nothing that would have been easy to implement, even at the beginning of the 90s. 

Nikolai Wuttke-Hohendorf aka lethal guitar recently approached the topic, and picked one of the best examples: Duke Nukem II.

In his article he sheds light on the underlying technology in detail - which is more than interesting. Especially implementations on some virtual game consoles (no name dropping here) could certainly benefit from the basic ideas.

But also beyond that his post is more than interesting reading material.

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Turing Complete

Turing Complete
Imagesource: https://turingcomplete.game/

Sometimes implementing your own hardware design in a program like Logisim or Digital can be a first step before tackling hardware or an FPGA implementation. But it can also a bit dry and … boring. (Not that I have done this before...).

So it's rather surprising that not many more developers have come up with the same idea as the project author Stefan:

Turing Complete is a game and picks up exactly where Logisim and Digital leave off. Nice graphics, ready-made challenges and the possibility to "click" together your own assembly dialect make the whole project quite enjoyable. 

The game is still in early access mode and costs a bit of money. But the price seems fair for what you get.

As always - we are not sponsored or affiliated with the author. Just impressed by the execution.

Happy fiddling!

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Here's the end. At least for #58 … no other topics made it into this issue.

If none of the above rang a bell at you, or if there is any other reason to complain, feel free to send us a message via Reply.

We would also be happy if you support our plans for world domination, and forward this issue to friends, relatives, colleagues and anyone else who might find it interesting.

We'll be back next week before the summer vacation. Until then. Build something. And speak about it.


Jan & Bastian

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