Just the signal, not the noise

Hello 8bit'ers,

after our short and relaxing summer break we are happy to be back and enjoy all of what the 8-bit space has to offer. We hope you had an equally relaxing August and enjoyed the vacations to the fullest, as it should be.

In spite of our display-abstinence, the weeks have not passed us by without a few digital traces. Some of the most impressive ones have made it into our virtual TODO list, and should be looked at in more detail below.

Let’s get back into it…

Enjoy Issue #60!


Apple ][ BASIC in the Browser

Cyan][de - In-Browser BASIC IDE
Imagesource: https://paleotronic.com/

Melody and April Ayres-Griffiths from Paleotronic Magazine are always good for a real surprise.

After a somewhat longer break they are back with two projects, that might be more than interesting for friends of Apple ][.

Number #1 is their new Applesoft BASIC Editor. The WebAssembly implementation integrates a source code editor with a runtime environment, where you can directly start and run BASIC programs. Examples are available in 18 different categories, and invite to browse and play.

The second project is called Merlin and is virtually the same thing, but not for BASIC, but for assembler. Your very own work consisting of a an ordered collection of mnemonics, addresses and data bytes can be assembled directly into the virtual RAM and executed afterwards.

Quite a good number of Apple ][ emulators exists out there. But hardly any solution is so easy to use and fast to start. Here you can find all details about both.

Nice work.

Share the signal:

Amiga BASIC Compiler

AmiBlitz3 - Amiga BASIC Compiler
Imagesource: Bill Bertram, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

If you want to program for the Amiga, you will find quite a few options. BASIC doesn't necessarily sound like the first and best alternative, but AmiBlitz3 is definitely worth more than just a first look. 👀

Maintained by the AmiBlitz community for many years, it is compatible with all AmigaOS3.x versions, is actually a descendant of Acidsoft's BlitzBasic, and comes with a comfortable IDE, an instruction browser (think IntelliSense), and an everything but insignificant library of prebuilt functions.

The BASIC dialect takes a little getting used to. But the speed at which you can achieve presentable results on the Amiga is surprising.

You spend a lot of time with your girlfriend? Then this might be something for you.

Share the signal:

Microprocessor History

Microprocessor History
Imagesource: Thomas Nguyen, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Every now and then someone gets the wild idea to dedicate themselves to the topic of retrocomputing, and then also to start a newsletter on the topic. (I honestly do not understand why ... 😁).

In today's issue, an unknown user going by the pseudonym Babbage has positively struck us in this regard. Babbage rehashed the topic of the history of microprocessors from the point of view of a protagonist, who is typically not so often talked about in retro publications: Robert Noyce.

Noyce and Moore (yes, the one) founded Intel and changed the computer game forever with the development and release of the 4004.

The quite interesting history is nicely prepared, and may contain some facts, that you were not previously aware of.

Interesting reading material that fuels the hope for more.

Share the signal:


CRT Advantages

CRT Advantages
Imagesource: https://unsplash.com/

Running an 8-bit machine of the past on an LCD display of the future makes about as much sense as trying to eat a pizza with a spoon. 🥄🍕

One can do it. It's just poopy.

CRT filters to the rescue - most of them (and there are a few options) are more than appropriate for most tasks. Alternatively you just use a CRT right away. Who needs these modern, flat and power-saving things, when you can enjoy, and at the same time heat the workspace with a CRT ... 👹

But to stay on topic, CRTs do have additional advantages over their modern counterparts. David L. Farquhar has gathered some of these, and summarized them in his recent article.

Not groundbreaking, but entertaining and interesting.

Share the signal:

Float Toy

Float Toy
Imagesource: https://evanw.github.io/

Whoever deals with 8-bit architectures and gets beyond the first text output (Hello world 🤹🏻‍♂️), addition and subtraction, will sooner or later end up with the topic of floating point arithmetic.

And if the beloved piece of silicon doesn't have a corresponding floating point unit in hardware, the dazed aspirant has no other choice than to implement the whole thing in software.

In principle, this is not as difficult as it sounds at first. Once you understand the concept of representing floating point numbers in binary, operations on those are not too far away.

A wonderful little tool to create just this understanding has recently been put online by Evan Wallace.

His Float Toy visualizes 16, 32 and 64 bit floating point numbers and their binary representation right in the browser.

Great starting point!

Share the signal:


Imagesource: https://www.engineersneedart.com/

Many 8-bit homebrews come with the problem, that the connection of an appropriately large display is not necessarily easy, if you don't want to use a separate video chip or build a VGA circuit yourself.

UART is certainly an alternative, but the self-built machine only becomes really cool, when you don't need a fully fledged first-world machine, to do something useful with the box.

That's what John Calhoun must have thought as well. Consequently he provided a remedy with one of his projects.

ADAM74 is an ASCII display, which is based on the FIFO buffer principle, and therefore behaves similar to the video output of the Apple I.

The project may seem not quite pure to some, because it uses a modern microcontroller for the display control. To be honest though, it has to be said, that this is made up for by the coolness factor of the stand, that is part of the project.

Great stuff! 🖥

Share the signal:

VIC-II for Beginners

VIC II Programming
Imagesource: https://dustlayer.com/

We stay on the topic of video signal generation, but make a right turn into the C64 curve. 

The video output of the now 40 year old Commodore box is legendary and set new standards back in the days. Responsible for all the colorful glory was and still is the VIC-II video chip.

The possibilities of that particular piece of silicon were responsible for all kinds of visual delights, that the demo scene but also game developers brought into the 80s and 90s living rooms.

But according to the motto From great power comes great responsibility, you first have to understand what the VIC-II is capable of in detail, and how to actually persuade it to do just that.

Rocco Di Leo has put together all the details you need to know in a beautiful 5-part series. A nice package, that is a lot of fun to unpack.

You wanted to dust off your C64 for a long time? This series invites you to exciting experiments.

Share the signal:

NES Programming Course

NES Programming with 6502 Assembly
Imagesource: https://pikuma.com/

We stay on topic with the 40-year-old MOS CPU, but change the manufacturer and dedicate ourselves to the Nintendo NES in the following.

The 2A03 variant produced by Ricoh is not fundamentally different from the original 6502, but the architecture of the NES does differ quite a bit from other machines containing the MOS silicone.

However, programming the NES is just as interesting today as it was back then, and the market for new NES games is incredibly not only existent, but everything but insignificantly large.

Independent from commercial intentions the programming of the NES is an interesting cognitive challenge, which you should only dedicate yourself to, if you have a lot of free slots on your timetable.

A well put together course to the rescue. A really good one is offered by Gustavo Pezzi. In 22 hours of video tutorials Gustavo introduces the audience to all the details of the NES, builds examples and teaches everything you need to know, to make a complete NES game with video, audio, bells and whistles.

Gustavo offers other commercial courses in addition to this one. As always, no sponsorship here, we were just excited by what we’ve seen. If you want to see a sample for yourself, Gustavo has a free course on bitshift operations on his site.


Share the signal:



Imagesource: https://youtu.be/QuXJ3kXUCiU

If you actually studied CS, you will remember the YCombinator ... or not. And no, we don't mean HN here, but one of the most profound constructs of computer science, which has its advantages, once one understands it.

Getting to grips with Lambda Calculus and its implications means understanding languages and their implementation. 

The video by an unfortunately unknown author introduces the topic completely and comprehensively, but is not easy to digest.

The pause button, an old-school pencil and a piece of paper are your friends. If Lambda Calculus and you are not friends yet ... here’s your chance.

Share the signal:

Will it run DOOM?

Will it run DOOM?
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/OI6Q1r1TxuA

James Sharman will be a household name to pretty much everyone who has watched one of Ben Eater's video series’ at some point, and explored the extent of YouTube's recommendation algorithm.

We've criminally neglected James. Criminally because the machine he's built over the last 2 years is more than respectable. Especially since James was one of the few to implement pipelining for his homebrew CPU.

And now - two years later - after the thing can at least be called capable enough, the everlasting question comes up: Will it run DOOM?

You will get an answer in his video. And no, for those who don't know the series yet, no significant spoiler here.

But the result is quite interesting.

Share the signal:

Those were the topics that impressed us the most in the recent weeks. For the record: the coming weeks we will change the newsletter schedule. Our magazine will drop down in your inbox every two weeks now. There are plans to fill the void … as soon as we can speak about it, we’ll let you know.

Know someone who might find it interesting? Then feel free to forward a link to our magazine. We welcome every new subscriber.

If you have any feedback for us, we would be happy to hear from you. You can reply directly to this newsletter.

Enjoy the remaining summer, and in the meantime: Build something. And speak about it.

Take care.

Jan & Bastian

This email was forwarded to you? You can sign up here to receive it directly.

View our privacy policy here.

Made with 🍉 in Berlin

More content like that - only for subscribers. Free of charge. Free of SPAM. Rich in retro.