Just the signal, not the noise

Hello 8bit'ers,

you read that email, and if you (like us) don't follow your calendar, let me tell you: It's Friday.

And because of this wonderful and indeed predictable event, it's time again for an update from the retrocomputing scene.

Not that the following is supposed to be a complete list. It's rather the topics that have stuck with us in the past two weeks, and definitely shouldn't be missing in our collection of to-be-remembered-retrocomputing-topics™.

By the way: In the meantime there are almost 900 of them to be found in our archive by now - maybe one of the most comprehensive collections regarding our favorite topic.

Anyway, enjoy Issue #71.


Commodore Connectivity

Commodore Connectivity
Imagesource: https://www.wic64.de/

There are quite a few platforms that have become obsolete over the last 40 years. Commodore's machines are definitely not among them. And if you didn't already know that, you probably wouldn't be reading these lines here.

But what exactly distinguishes an active hardware platform from a dead one?

A strong community, regular and fresh software releases and last but not least new hardware, right?

And this is exactly what we are talking about now. Bringing a Commodore online is - depending your approach - not as difficult as it sounds. In the 80s there were quite a few BBS based on C64 and other machines. But the question is, how comfortable you want it to be, and what online functionalities your would like to have at your disposal afterwards.

Robin Kearey - who writes for hackaday regularly - has brought a new solution to our attention. His article is about a small but beautiful piece of PCB plus components, that can be used to connect a C64, C128, SX64 or even the VIC-20 to a local Wifi.

The device named WIC64 comes with quite some software that adds new online capabilities to the beloved machines. Just one of them: Google Maps on the breadbin. 😯

The hardware is Made in Germany and if you are looking for a solution to a common Commodore connectivity problem, you might find it here.

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The Final Calculator

Anyone who regularly dances on the binary- or assembly-floor knows the problem: Conversion of numbers between binary, decimal and hexadecimal systems.

Of course, there are several solutions. But if you spend most of your free time in front of a terminal anyway, wouldn't it be ideal to have a correspondingly capable calculator available directly at the command line?

And what if this calculator could be customized to your needs, was open source, and available for download for all major operating systems?

Correct: Christmas 2.0 🎁

Our Santa Claus is called Rodrigo Mesquita aka @romesrf, but it is doubtful that he is wearing a red costume or bonnet. His project pcalc - or Programmer Calculator - is certainly on one or the other wish list, though. Get your pen already, because this entry can be crossed out directly.

Cool piece of software! Love it.

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Homebrew Computer Club Newsletter

Homebrew Computer Club Newsletter
Imagesource: https://www.cnet.com/

There's a lot more to running a newsletter in 2023 than meets the eye. Of course, it depends a little on your own requirements and objectives, but one thing is certain: at the end of the 70s of the last millennium, the word newsletter still had its very own - paper'ish - meaning. 📃

At that time, a typewriter, a few sheets of paper and a specialized analog-electronic device were enough to reproduce black letters on a white paper background.

One of the most beautiful, but not necessarily best known examples appeared last week thanks to the CNET team.

The Homebrew Computer Club is legendary and represents - probably rather unofficially - the cradle of many ideas in the area of hardware and software, which are still the basis of current computing technology. However, the club has become known in particular through the membership of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, who - as active members in the club - have both contributed and collected a whole range of ideas over there.

If you feel like taking a look at a newsletter of a completely different (but quite original) kind, you can find some scans of issues from 1975 here.

Coffee stains included! ☕️

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The Galaga Mystery

The Galaga Mystery
Imagesource: namco, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Hall of Fame of the first really successful Arcade games is not that huge. But one title that will definitely belong to it forever and ever, is Galaga from Namco. 👾

Released in 1981, the game comes from the hands of Shigeru Yokoyama and his small team and definitely made video game history. As the successor to Galaxian, released in 1979, this game has gotten ports for pretty much every platform that was hip at some point. And for a reason.

What's interesting is, that Galaga supposedly comes with a cheat, that allowed you to burn your name into the Arcade box's CRT at the gambling hall of your choice permanently. If you know how, you can turn off all enemy fire and enjoy the walk-through through all remaining levels. Jason W. Eckert - @the_unix_guru on Twitter - wondered, if this was actually a cheat or a bug. The answer required a disassembly of the original sources and is quite interesting in its result.

And if you are interested in Galaga, you might also like to study Galagino by Till Harbaum at home at www.harbaum.org. Galaga, Pac Man and Donkey Kong ported for the ESP32 and brought to life on a breadboard with a small TFT display and push buttons.

The hardware is extremely cool to sit with on the train ... I'd love to see the looks. 👀

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Two's Complement

Two's Complement is part of the toolbox of anyone using either hardware or software at one of the lowest levels of the abstraction tree. A binary representation of negative numbers that allows the use of a standard adder to implement subtraction. Only downside: the available space has to be shared by negative and positive numbers, which restricts the positive and negative value range by a factor of 2.

You are still on board? 🛥

In that case have you ever wondered, how this actually works on a binary level, and why?

If not, Pedram Hadjian - to be found on LinkedIn here - has not only a complete but also really comprehensible answer.

A wonderful resource to refresh your low-level knowledge.

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Inside the 1040ST

Inside the 1040ST
Imagesource: Bill Bertram, 2006, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Guilty. ATARI and especially the ST are definitely not among our most often cited systems in our little publication. One of the reasons could be a computer manufactured by Commodore in the 80s with a 500 in the name, then to be found in the room of one of the authors.

Nevertheless we will neither start a flame war, nor will we discriminate in any way. Therefore the following post by Paul Lefebvre aka @lefebvre definitely has to be part of that issue.

The hero of Paul's little story is the ATARI 1040ST as it was launched in 1986 and was to become, among other technological achievements, formative for a whole generation. Those who have owned an ST (I feel sorry 👹) won't necessarily find much new in Paul's treatise, but for everyone else a very rounded summary of the machine and its capabilities.

And if you haven't subscribed to Paul's newsletter yet, you should check out other articles from the past weeks and months. It's worth it.

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Ben Eater: Voltage Multiplier

Voltage Multiplier
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/4alV5LzHLE4

Ben Eater is back at it again. His publishing frequency seems to match the one of old times and the coming months you can certainly look forward to exciting content. It's always a little difficult to predict, which direction Ben will take right next. But with the current video he gets to the bottom of a voltage multiplier - even closer to electrical engineering.

The circuit required for this task is relatively simple to understand, but as always, almost inimitably simple explained and presented. The goal is to be able to derive higher voltages from a single available voltage level - presumably to make use of higher voltages for a homebrew RS-232 implementation.

As always lot's of information and fun to watch.

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Buses & 3-State Logic

Buses & 3-State Logic
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/_3cNcmli6xQ

@SebastianLague seems to focus on the important and right thing in life again: Retrocomputing! 💡

We won't complain, because his 4-part series so far has been in the works for 2 years. But the last two episodes have only been released by him in the last 2 months.

Sebastian's style is a bit different than Ben Eater's, but that's not a bad thing. He explores fundamental ideas behind CPUs and their design in detail and uses a self-written tool for simulation and visualization (which is also available as open source btw).

Current topic: Experimenting with Buses and Three-State Logic

More than worth seeing and a definite recommendation.

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Turrican II AGA

Turrican II AGA Version
Imagesource: https://sonicslothgames.itch.io/

Ahhh. Turrican. The graphics, the Hülsbeck sound, the gameplay. How many hours I personally spent in front of the 2D shooter ... sweet memories 🤤.

Turrican II was (at least on the Amiga 500) always inferior to the DOS version. Reason: the limited color palette. For me, this never really influenced the gaming fun, and an Amiga 1200 or 4000 with AGA graphics were unfortunately a bit out of my financial reach at that time. And in addition there was never an AGA port!

Until today.

Sonic Sloth aka @SonicSlothGames changed that a few days ago. His version of Turrican II has nothing to do with Factor 5, costs no money, but is true to the original and comes with flawless AGA color palette. Playable also in the well-known emulators, but really fun of course only with a Competition Pro connected via cable to real hardware and on a real CRT.

Big thanks. Great game, awesome graphics!

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Link to the Past
Imagesource: https://archive.org/

Another classic that might have been part of your youth or childhood is Zelda.

Among others, Zelda 3 - Link to the Past will be very well remembered by some. Unfortunately, only a console title. Right❓

Nope. Not anymore!

Thanks to an unknown creator to be found on GitHub as snesrev we can now play Zelda 3 on Windows, Linux and macOS. The reimplementation in C requires Python3 and SDL2 depending on the platform - but that should not be a problem.

A perfect match (though unfortunately only for the German speaking part of our audience) comes from the phantastic team behind archive.org. The Zelda 3 Guide is available in extraordinary quality. 109 pages with all the information you need to successfully complete the adventure. 🧑‍🎤

Those who want to relive old times, and for whom the Zelda series has played a real role in their own digital past, will certainly get their money's worth here.

Important: You have to have the original ROM, gamefiles and assets are of course not part of the project.

Game on!

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Space Travel

Space Travel
Imagesource: https://pexels.com/

Sometimes the way is the goal. Sometimes the goal is the goal. With Space Travel it is more a matter of personal taste, if you want to have fun with the game (the goal) or if you are more interested in how the assembly code written for the PDP-7, was ported to C (the way) by Mohamed Akram also known as @tixilite.

Both are possible. Both are interesting.

Although it should be said that real control of the game is only feasible (without further adjustments) if you have a numeric keypad on your keyboard. What you get then, however, does have a certain historical smell, and is at least as interesting for any space nerd.

The actual game was developed in 1969 by Ken Thompson (yes, the Ken Thompson). I guess it was probably a good year for space simulations. 👩‍🚀 Initially developed for Multics and later ported to GECOS Ken ported the code to the PDP-7. In order to do so, Ken developed his own operating system, which later formed the core of the UNIX operating system. What a legacy.

Thanks to SDL2, the thing should run almost anywhere, a C compiler feels at home. On our M1 we were only able to compile and run it with the help of Rosetta2.

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DOOM Glitch solved

DOOM Glitch Solved
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/T_5ZYJBgQyM

If you are a real DOOM fan or even a freak, the following should be nothing new for you.

The so-called All Ghosts Effect is interesting on the one hand, and apparently non-deterministic on the other. So far there has been no explanation as to what could actually cause this problem with the game, and how the effect - to be experienced then - really comes about.

Karl Jobst aka @karljobstgaming finally puts an end to this 30 years later. The result is a quite interesting video, which not only combines all details worth knowing about the topic, but is also fun to watch.

Whether you want to call it retro or not, is up to you. But a bug that is finally identified 30 years later, and that in a title like DOOM, should not be missing in this issue.

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All the PDP-11s

All the PDP-11s
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/e0FXy1Mho3c

If you've been following our issues over the past few months, you know that we're big fans of UsagiElectric. Hardly anyone puts so much enthusiasm and energy into restoring ... let's say slightly aged hardware.

His latest video is about the legendary PDP-11. A fan of the channel has provided a whole bunch of functional components, and UsagiElectric plans to use them, to build the Best-Mega-PDP-11 Ever™.

Enough said. The rest is cleared up by the (as always) very entertaining video

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As a German saying goes: Everything has an end, only the sausage has two. That was it again. We hope you enjoyed Issue #71.

If not, please feel free to send any criticism, suggestions or even projects for upcoming issues to us. A simple answer to this email will reach us directly and will always be answered.

And on another note: we are grateful for help. Schopenhauer once said: Man can do what he wants, but he cannot want what he wants. We say: how should someone discover love for retrocomputing if she/he doesn't know 8bitnews? Problem recognized? We're happy if you wanna help with that.

Regardless, you'll find our next issue in your mailbox in exactly two weeks. Until then - build something, and speak about it.

Jan & Bastian

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