Just the signal, not the noise

Hello 8bit'ers,

for us, space and time are currently bending exactly to a 4 dimensional sphere, so that the Fridays every two weeks directly overlap. It's that time again, two weeks have passed, the sphere we live on has continued to rotate, and even if AI (or as I prefer to call it for #reasons: Machine Learning) seems to dominate all news at the moment, that will never be the case for us.

As always, all of the projects below are manually researched, described and illustrated, and you can rest assured, that all of the opinions that follow are genuine, sprung from a biological brain and are authentic.

The last two weeks we have found 10 topics for this issue, which will hopefully sweeten your weekend a bit, and which should not escape the attentive observer of the 8-bit retrocomputing universe. As always, we are not quite strict with the 8 bits ... but so far there have been no complaints about it.

So enjoy our Issue #70.


Medley Interlisp-D

Medley Interlisp-D
Imagesource: https://interlisp.org/

Every time I read or hear something in connection with Xerox PARC, the same neurons fire in my brain, that kick in, when AREA-51 is the topic. Boooo ... Mystery!

In this technology forge concepts were developed as early as the 1970s, some of which are still fundamentally influencing modern system design, languages, UX, UI and other things decades later. And it seems to have developed in an almost conspiratorial way, or at least these people had a time machine.

Not only I had an alien moment 👽 with the current project. The gentleman who made us aware of the following project (thanks a lot by the way!Paolo Amoroso aka @amoroso apparently felt the same way.

So what is it all about? Medley Interlisp-D.

Those who already know it, know. Period. For those who haven't had their fingers on it yet, getting started is almost a must! The special feature about Interlisp - which is of course a Lisp dialect - is, that there are quite a few special features. (how recursive ...) In Interlisp you don't write programs in the form of source files, which are then stored somewhere on a hard disk. Instead, the operating system kernel, development tools and your own programs are all extensions of one and the same runtime system, which you can access directly with the help of a GUI.

If that sounds strange at first, then getting started via Paolo's article definitely makes sense. But beware. Once you've tasted this sauce, you won't be ordering your fries with ketchup in the future.

Tip of the week! But massive timesink.

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TRS-80 Emulator

TRS-80 Emulator
Imagesource: Rama & Musée Bolo, via Wikimedia Commons

An emulator in the 8-bit segment ... sounds somehow like a grain of sand on the beach. 🏝

But the following grain of sand turns out to be rather a small gem, which was found only thanks to HN.

George Phillips doesn't necessarily make a big fuss about his projects, and that's actually a pity. Because besides his TRS-80 Emulator, there are quite a few other interesting things going on on his site.

But let's stay on the topic. Of course, there are a number of pieces-of-software-that-wants-to-be-hardware™ for the Trash80. But at least we haven't found anything that(!) complete yet.

Model I, Model II, Model III, Model 4, Model 4P, Model 4D, Model 12, Model 16 and Model 6000 are all supported more or less accurately. The list of features is longer than my Christmas wish list, and besides a backward compatible Windows version the ZIP archive also contains versions for MacOS, Linux and the RasPi.

Reading is silver, testing is gold. Nothing to lose here, only to gain. Thanks George and Peter! Great stuff.

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Browser BASIC

Browser BASIC
Imagesource: https://joystickandcursorkeys.github.io/

Julio Merino's EndBASIC gets competition. The idea to implement a BASIC interpreter via JS in the browser is not new. And of course, besides Julio's EndBASIC there are other incarnations of this small but mighty approach to dealing with the past. But in this case it's none other than Dusty Wilhelm Murray aka @chaos51 who throws his own implementation into the ring.

B3 BASIC (Basically Browser BASIC) definitely comes with a cool name. But it also comes with a set of features. A complete BASIC implementation is the (basic) basis. There is the possibility to load demo files from a virtual filesystem. Saving is possible via an export functionality and with the help of the 'menu' command a fine developer console is available, which provides some extras, cookies and sweets.

All around a round thing. If BASIC is your turf and you'd like to tinker with a fresh approach, take a look.

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Public Lisa

Public Lisa
Imagesource: Rob Janoff, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The story of the Apple Lisa is a bit sad, almost tragic. Launched in 1978, it was supposed to revolutionize pretty much everything on the market up to that point. However, the repeated delays made the product more or less obsolete, when it was launched into the market at virtually the same time as the Macintosh.

And the Mac was also a cheaper and more focused version of the Lisa, since Steve Jobs had taken over the Mac after the kick out of the Lisa project.

The stories are manyfold. But fact is, that the Lisa was ahead of its time in some respects, and several of its concepts have found their way into mainstream computing.

On January 19th, 40 years ago, the Lisa saw the light of day in the waiting market. Today, all the software that defined the machine is available as open source.

The Computer History Museum makes it possible. The download is available if you give your name and email address, but that should not be an obstacle. There is a lot to learn, and if you are interested in the history and/or the code, you are in good hands with the corresponding article of the CHM.

That's what I call proper preservation.

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Dockerized Altair 8800

Dockerized Altair 8800
Imagesource: Swtpc6800, Michael Holley, via Wikimedia Commons

Real PRO's don't use a 75%, 60% or 40% keyboard. No, they get by with two keys: 0 and 1, or with a switch that can represent one of the two states.

And what machine can we think of - besides the PDP/8 - for which such a procedure was actually unavoidable? Clearly, the Altair 8800!

If you are interested in this very basic and simplistic machine, like hardware and don't want to burn your fingers while soldering, the Altaid 8800 Project might be just the right thing for you. For everyone else, there is finally a Docker container based alternative.

Jim Bennett to be found on Twitter as @jimbobbennett and Dave Glover aka @dglover should not be strangers to most. For Microsoft they both present the Altair Simulator in a video worth watching, and the matching article by Al Williams aka @awce_com offers a few lines of additional information.

Great project for anyone who has always wanted to play with the Altair 8800, but is at war with the soldering iron. (Hi 👋)

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Self Contained FORTH Machine

Forth Machine
Imagesource: https://udamonic.com/

What the Scamp is a Scamp? And what does that thing have to do with FORTH? And why does someone actually make use of that language in 2023? All valid questions, so let's dive right in.

Scamp is a powerful and easy-to-use computing engine that doesn't require any complicated IDEs, compilers, or development tools. It comes preinstalled with FlashForth, so all you need is a host computer with a USB interface and some terminal software and you are good to go.

Responsible ... or better Scamp's father is John Catsoulis also to be found on his Facebook Group

What makes Scamps so special? It's incredibly easy to interface with external devices. Scamp's I/O connector allows you to easily add switches, buttons, control knobs, LEDs, and other electronics modules. Plus, it can interface with many of the modules available for Arduinos, embedded systems, or ... homebrew 8-bit hardware. And here we go! 🎯

A fresh but also backward approach to hardware tinkering that seems really lovely.

Don't take our word for it - check out Scamp for yourself.

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FORTH on Steroids

FORTH on Steroids
Imagesource: Carlos Baraza, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

And because it's so exciting, we'll stay with FORTH for a moment and turn our attention to a variant, that has nothing whatsoever to do with 8-bit systems, but could at least whet your appetite.

How about a FORTH compiler and interpreter in WebAssembly?

Remko Tronçon alas @remco has implemented exactly that. And recently he also wrote about it. The idea is not that far-fetched. Compiler and interpreter for the language are not mega-complex to implement, and WebAssembly is quite a worthwhile target.

For those who couldn't or didn't want to get started with FORTH so far, Remko's article is highly recommended. Because once you've eaten the FORTH hook, you won't be able to get off this special fishing line anytime soon. Although the language itself dates back to the 70s, it is anything but outdated. Especially because of its flexibility and simple structure as well as the possibility to insert your own custom control constructs into the language. (Hello Lisp).

If you want to try hardware-software interfacing with something like Scamp and FORTH, first steps with waforth could be the foundation.

Have fun.

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Grayscale on 1-Bit LCD

1 Bit Grayscale
Imagesource: https://www.zephray.me/

A bit is a bit. It can be 0. It can be 1. And as long as we do not speak of quantum systems, it is always exactly one of these well-defined states in which we find a register. At least in our universe.

But what about 1-bit LCDs? In principle it's the same! A pixel is either on or off. In between there is not much - actually nothing. And if you get the crazy idea to display graphical content under these restrictions, then you either have a screw loose or no other choice. And if one of the above is the case, then there's not much left to do besides dithering.

Or is there?

Zephray Wenting aka @zephray_wenting proves us wrong. Grayscale graphics on 1-bit LCD displays are possible! 🖼

We don't want to give away how this works, because Zephray's post clarifies all questions in detail and is definitely worth your time.

Super interesting read.

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JAVA on the N64

JAVA on the N64
Imagesource: Oracle Corp. | Nintendo

Unfortunately, people tend to regard technology as old instead of mature, that has a few years or even decades under its belt.

And JAVA is certainly one of them. I myself am neither a big friend nor an active user, but the JVM with its many applications is one of the best pieces of software mankind has ever produced. You disagree. Fine. 😎

Michael Kohn alas @mikeakohn is definitely a friend of the language. He is also a friend of the Nintendo64. In his current project Nintendo 64 Java, he has spared neither time nor effort to actually implement a runtime for the console.

Sounds strange at first, but it actually works pretty well. If you are fond of JAVA yourself, Michael's toolchain and approach at least open all doors for your own JAVA-based N64 development.


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First 100% New Commodore 64?

First 100% New Commodore 64?
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/Qhdc-jgwqVQ

In our last Issue #69 we raised the perennial topic of a brand new C64 in 202x twice, because the question comes up as often as I trip over my own feet. 🚑

Chris Simpson better knows as Perifractic has (coincidentally at exactly the same time) raised the same question for the second time, but brings two completely different projects to the light of day ... or better that of the lamps of his production studio.

If you like Peri, you'll find 34 minutes and 48 seconds of relaxation in the video as well as potentially new information about options for a brand new C64 in 2023.

Happy watching! 📺

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There they were again. In our opinion the most important news in retrocomputing of the last two weeks.

It's a real problem for us as well, that we actually don't have the time to deal with all the projects in detail, that actually deserve it. But that's life. Prioritizing does the magic.

If you want to help us with that: We are always open for suggestions, projects, mails, opinions and of course criticism. Feel free to directly answer to this email.

And if you don't mind, also feel free to share this issue with pretty much everyone you know. Eternal thanks will be yours. (At least ours 😈)

Issue #71 should go into the virtual printing press in exactly 14 days. Until then, enjoy the time, build something and don't forget to speak about it.

Jan & Bastian

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