Just the signal, not the noise

Hello 8bit'ers,

what a time to be alive. Even though I personally avoid the term AI when talking about machine learning, the latest developments for Stable Diffusion, MidJourney & friends are just astonishing. However, this tweet from Chris Albon summarizes, what we’re likely to witness in the coming years 😆.

Not that the 8-bit bubble will be affected in any way, but we might see more and more cross-over projects that make use of machine learning to achieve a certain goal in our beloved 8-bit world. Today we start with an interesting contender in this field (not really), but also collected a few more topics, that flickered over our screens during the last 2 weeks.

We hope, there is something in here for you. Enjoy Issue #61!


Chafa ANSI Art

Chafa ANSI Art
Imagesource: https://hpjansson.org/

The last few weeks of news have been dominated by Stable Diffusion. And not without reason, because the technology will certainly more or less change entire industries in many respects in the future.

However, at the other end of the scale for computing power (…over here), people tend to think less about inference, unless they want to wait months for a visual result. And we don't even want to dream about training on a huge data set. On our side of the rainbow, the creation of pixel- and ANSI-Art is much more realistic, and the latter has been enriched by a new, exciting project in the past few days.

Hans Petter Jansson has added another star to the universe of ANSI generators. Take an image, have it processed by Chafa, and enjoy the result. In contrast to other converters Chafa uses an extended character set and thus achieves higher quality results.

Now combine Chafa with SD in a small pipeline and you have a fun evening entertainment at least until the end of September. 🖼

Share the signal:



Octo CHIP-8 Assembler & IDE
Imagesource: https://johnearnest.github.io/

Someone once said that you only become a real-programmer™, if you have implemented a CHIP-8 emulator at least once. Whether or not this is true, we don't want to judge here, but John Weisbecker's Micro-VM for his RCA 1802 design is a more than perfect target for an emulator. And the instruction set is so small, that within a short time you have a working emulator, for which there are plenty of games and other programs available even today. 

But what if you want a little more? John Earnest has taken an in-depth look at CHIP-8, and his project Octo was supposed to go into one of our issues a year ago. (Somehow got lost…)

🐙 Octo is a high-level assembler for CHIP-8 and introduces a number of macros, that make programming much easier. However, Octo is also a complete IDE including an emulator that runs directly in the browser. 21 sample projects make it easier to get started with the language, the speed of the emu can be adjusted, and your own creations can easily be shared via a URL.

Kind of like PICO-8 but in simple.

If you want to get to grips with CHIP-8, you should definitely not miss Octo. Ingenious project!

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ATARI 2600 on a Breadboard

ATARI 2600 on a Breadboard
Imagesource: https://chester.me/

Unfortunately nothing is heard or seen from the master of breadboards - Ben Eater -  for many moons now. And even if they say hope dies last, it's always nice, to stumble across exciting projects, that follow the same line but with a different topic.

And since ATARI entered its 51st year this June, Carlos Duarte Do Nascimento thought, why not combine the good with the beautiful, and rebuild an ATARI 2600 on breadboards? 🧯

Doesn't sound that difficult at first, but comes with a whole series of interesting challenges, that Carlos has bravely taken on.

The result is a 6-part blog series that is more than fun to read. You learn about the CPU, the cartridge port, the TIA, the clock and video generation, RAM, IO, timers and of course joysticks and switches.

Looking for a Tinker project for the fall? 🍁 Love ATARI? This might be it.

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Modula-2 on CP/M

Modula-2 on CP/M
Imagesource: https://unsplash.com/

Modula-2 should still be a term for some. Swiss creator Niklaus Wirth developed the language in 1978, when he was looking for solutions to two of PASCAL's fundamental problems: modularity and multithreading.

Even today, Modula-2 compilers are available for a wide range of architectures. Among them are PPC and M68k but also x86. And if you have made your first steps in programming with PASCAL (👋), you will quickly feel at home in Modula-2.

And should you also own a CP/M system, then the whole thing becomes exciting, because there are several Modula-2 compilers available for CP/M. Which one is the best option?

Lawrence Woodman has looked at all the contenders in detail, and summarized his learnings in an informative article.

CP/M is far from irrelevant even in 2022. Modula-2 is a great option to program in, and here you find all the info you need, to get started.

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CRT Controller Handbook

CRT Controller Handbook
Imagesource: https://archive.org/

If you tinker with your own hardware, sooner or later you can't avoid the question of how to produce multicolored pixels in an organized fashion on a CRT display just with the help of a few digital circuits.

A problem, which was already solved at the beginning of the 80s, and to which some manufacturers dedicated themselves in very much detail. Accordingly, a good number of chips were and still are to be found, which do exactly the work of driving a CRT, but bring along some complexity themselves.

Gerry Kane has published a fantastic book about those, and he did that back in 1980 already. The CRT Controller Handbook covers 5 different chips from NS, Intel, Motorola, Synertek and TI, some of which are still available today.

Besides these the book also introduces the reader to the basic functionality of CRT displays, and is an excellent foundation, even if you plan to look into VGA or HDMI afterwards.

Thanks archive.org! 🤩

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How Transistors work

How Transistors work
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/CQtSS6g00h0

Back to the basics. How does a CPU work? How does a register work? How does a logic gate work? Even further down the line, you arrive at the metal, and the question arises as to how and why a transistor works.

Probably the most important component of our current time is indeed part of most curricula already at school. And every CS student once learned on the basis of which effects a NPN or PNP transistor works, but who still remembers the details today? 🤷‍♂️

Paul Evans aka The Engineering Mindset has grabbed the topic, and presents it in a visually as well as logically wonderful way. The video fits wonderfully into his how-electronics-work-series and conveys the necessary knowledge in just 9 minutes and 30 seconds.

Beautiful and informative!

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Booting from Switches

Booting from Switches
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/DM4rZZBqXVM

Once you have completed the ISA and the basic architecture of your own CPU as well as input and output devices, you quickly face the next challenge. How do you boot your machine, as long as input and output devices can't be addressed yet, because no software can be pulled through the CPU byte by byte for exactly this task. Chicken & egg. 🐥

The solution nowadays is called BIOS, and when this did not exist yet, one packed basic routines into a ROM, which was placed in the address space in such a way, that the entry vector of the CPU pointed to these as the very first.

But what about machines built, when ROM was extremely expensive?

Dave Plummer from Dave's Garage asked himself this very question, and took up the challenge with an IMSAI 8080. The solution: addresses as well as data bytes of the boot code are manually poked into the machine's RAM using switches. Another exciting video after which you might be a lot smarter. 

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NetHack Retro

NetHack Retro
Imagesource: https://nethack.glitch.me/

NetHack turned 35 this year. Happy Birthday 🎂. And despite the age, there is an active community that still appreciates the gameplay and keeps game servers running.

If you want to play NetHack today, you have a whole range of options at your fingertips. But now - thanks to Huy Tr. - there is also a brand new one.

NetHack Retro is a JS client, that connects to a NetHack server and takes care of the graphical presentation in a browser. Of course in traditional ANSI gfx … and if you like, with a retro-like CRT filter. 🤩

Fancy a round?

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And that concludes our latest issue. As always we hope, the one or the other project was a perfect match and you enjoyed #61.

Should you have some content for the upcoming Issue #62, please do not hesitate to contact us. You can just hit Reply and answer to that email.

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The new issue will touch down in your inbox in exactly two weeks. In the meantime enjoy the Indian Summer, build something and please speak about it.

Take care

Jan & Bastian

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