Just the signal, not the noise

Hello 8bit'ers,

one of the very clear signs that the weekend is upon us is the loud (or not so loud) bang with which this issue landed in your inbox.

It's that time again, 14 whole days have passed, a whole bunch of topics have surfaced and even though the news is filled with other stuff right now, we've been able to filter the important-things-in-life™.

As always, a colorful mix awaits, in which hopefully you'll find something to your liking. If not ... get yourself an ice cream. 🍦

Enjoy Issue #73.


New NES Programming Language

NESFab - New NES Programming Language
Imagesource: https://pubby.games/

Let's start with a new programming language for the NES and hence the 65XX and let's dive right in with a bold claim: The language is more ergonomic to use than C, while also producing faster assembly code. We are talking about the newcomer NESFab.

NESFab seems to be a small revolution for all those, who like to write software for the almost 40 years old console - or at least plan to do so.

Patrick Jordan Bene going as pubby on github has at least 3 very serious arguments to support his claim:

  1. NESFab is fast. If you trust the benchmarks, LLVM-MOS, GCC, Kick and CC64 don't stand a chance.
  2. Automatic bank switching is transparently handled for the developer. Nice one!
  3. Easy asset loading - no more conversion and fiddling with gfx, tiles or sprites.

The whole project is open source. Let's see, whether it holds up to the claims. But for now 10 out of 10 rubber points to chew and collect. Great project, check yourself.

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4am Apple Collection

4am Apple Collection
Imagesource: http://ascii.textfiles.com/

The archive - archive.org - is one of the best (if not the best) resources when it comes to finding software and games for the platforms of our past. But far too little is learned about those, who do the work of preserving these sometimes rarely found artifacts of our digital hisitory. And preserving is in most cases not simply a combination of inserting a disk / copying files / creating an archive and uploading to some server.

No. Often the issue of copy protection comes into play, and there are only a few, who do the very work to undermine it in a mostly invisible way.

Jason Scott Sadofsky aka @textfiles has dedicated himself to exactly this topic, and looked at two collections of Apple ][ software from 4am. His wonderful post not only goes into detail about the gems to be discovered. No, he also teaches us, that there are quite different ways to archive an original disk for the Apple ][ - especially regarding copy protection.

And if you are already running out of patience, take a direct look at the 4am Library, or the wozaday Collection, both fueled and maintained by 4am.

As usual, every piece of software can be run directly in the browser thanks to the emulator. (I wonder if we will ever be able to load current pearls of modern software culture in the browser in the same way?)

Love the Apple ][? Don't miss!

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Amiga Tool Jam

Amiga Tool Jam
Imagesource: https://itch.io/jam/amigatooljam

You are a friend of code jams? The Amiga is your daily workhorse? You definitely have too much free time?

If the answers to these questions produce a triple yes!, then an Amiga friend known as Zooperdan and tweeting as @zooperdan may have just what you've been eagerly waiting for all along:

The Amiga Tool Jam.

In the 5 categories Utility, Tool, Commodity, Most Useless Tool and Other submissions of almost any kind can be made within the next 6 months.

Prices? According to the current status, not even a wet handshake, but who needs something like that? 🤓

Sponsors are still being sought, however. Maybe also something?

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50 Years Later

Xerox Alto - 50 Years Later
Imagesource: https://spectrum.ieee.org/

In Issue #13, we last talked about PARC's Xerox Alto. Long time. Way too long. ⏰

The machine, whose basic concepts can still be found today, not just influenced and shaped modern system's GUI as cited so often. There is much more. Ethernet, Smalltalk, Laurel, WYSIWYG ... so many ideas that were born during development of this marvel still influence our handling and understanding of technology today.

spectrum.ieee.org is known for taking a closer look at just such notches in the universe of computing history. And in the case of the Xerox Alto, David C. Brock aka @dcbrock has done us this much-appreciated favor with a great deal of dedication, precision and time.

The result is his latest article, which is not only well worth reading, but also brings to light enough content that was not necessarily common knowledge until now.

Great reading material.

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Toy CPU Sim

Toy CPU Simulator
Imagesource: https://jimhall.itch.io/

Jim F. Hall aka @jimfhall might be familiar to some. At least to those who like to spend their time with machines that typically render white text on a black background as the communication medium of choice with the user. We are talking about FreeDOS - Jim is initiator and maintainer and fights for the continuance of the product until today.

But we don't want to talk about FreeDOS at all ... much too young and a few bits too much in the requirements. Rather Jim also teaches basic functionality of computers in university courses and was looking for illustrative material ala the Altair 8800 but in hardware form.

Since none of what he could find, was simple enough, Jim simply pulled his own ISA out of the hat and implemented it in several iterations in the form of the Toy CPU Simulator.

This gem runs on every DOS system, that has ever seen the light of day, and has an interface based on the Altair's frontpanel ... (mmmhhh LEDs and Binary ⚫️⚫️🔴⚫️🔴⚫️🔴⚫️).

The source can be found on github but downloading on itch.io will probably lead to faster success. If the combination of simulated CPU / minimal ISA / DOS makes your saliva drip from your teeth, you've come to the right place.

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AnsiArt Recreation

ANSI Art Recreation
Imagesource: https://bert.org/

Regret is one of the strongest emotions a human being is capable of. And what is worse than the regret to have thrown away a certain 8-bit hardware in the 90s 🫣 or to have left the first own successful attempts of programming really-cool-stuff™ on some 2.5 inch hard disk in some black/white LCD screen equipped laptop somewhere at some time 😫 ... (not that this is personal experience).

Something similar happened to Bertrand Fan - to be found on Twitter as @bertrandom. However, in his case it was not a piece of software, but beautiful, hand-created ASCII art, which he had had designed for his BBS.

At least Bertrand still had a screenshot. 🥂

But it only gets exciting, when he tries to reproduce the original with the help of the code page 437 characters. And that's exactly what he did here. And we are allowed to witness it.

A beautiful implementation with an equally beautiful result. My personal envy is definitely assured.

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Pixel Sizes

Pixel Sizes
Imagesource: https://unsplash.com/

Textmode, tilemaps, framebuffers and sprites all have something in common. They were (and still are) basic concepts used for the display of bright pixels on otherwise black monitors.

Modern graphics technology is, of course, several iterations ahead. But its capabilities for parallelizing matrix multiplication are being used for other exciting topics today.

Enough digressing.

Nicole Branagan known to most as @nicole_express is one of the constants when it comes to retro hard- and software research. Her latest post is about the Arcade version of Popeye ⚓️ and all the challenges one faces, when trying to convince slightly aging hardware, to play back their video signal using current digital upscalers.

Not an easy task. But if that were the case, we wouldn't have such excellent reading and learning material from Nicole.

If you haven't bookmarked her blog yet, now's your chance. Free of charge.

Oh, and fun fact: Popeye is still alive!

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Retro Papercraft

Retro Papercraft
Imagesource: https://rockybergen.com/

What if you could just print out all the dream machines of the 80's and put them on your workbench at home? I mean literally. 😳

Sounds funny? Sure, because in this case we're not talking about 3D printing, but rather the laser-based 2D-process on ordinary, thin paper. Does it ring a bell?

Rocky Bergen aka @rockasoo is a Canadian designer, who has taken on the work of turning all those wonderful boxes made of PCB, metal and plastic into wonderful boxes made solely of paper. Print, fold, glue, be happy.

Currently there are 20 different models on Rocky's site. If we're lucky, there may be a few more.

My fingers are already hurting. 👉👈

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The Forgotten Commodore

The Forgotten Commodore
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/PbVjNInzrw8

The Commodore 900 has somehow become a little known mystery. Designed in 1983 for the business market, the machine based on a Zilog Z8000 never really made it beyond the prototype phase.

The potential was there, but it is questionable, whether a shift into the business market could have saved Commodore later on. 📉

Anyway, every now and then someone picks up the story around the machine, remakes it into a new and fresh piece of sausage, and if you're lucky, there are a few details you didn't know before.

The hero of our current story is Neil from RMCRetro tweeting as @RMCRetro, who gives us the details of the machine in a whole 28 minutes and 11 seconds in an entertaining way as always.

Fancy some history?

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New One-Liner

New One-Liner
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/VC-lbd8mTOs

Robin better known as @8BitShowAndTell hasn't been featured by us for quite a while. Faux pas.

But this week Robin is back with one of his favorite topics, which we just couldn't resist:

A new Basic Oneliner.

And it's - after you've seen it for the first time - so good and obvious that you wonder why nobody came up with the idea long ago.

There's a quite a bit of eye- and brain-candy waiting. As always, aptly and competently prepared by the master himself. Enjoy.

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Sphere Computer

Sphere Computer
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/dFOKQoWlpGk

Have you ever heard of the Sphere Computer? No? Then it's about time. This rather unknown machine was quite significant. Built in 1975 and based on the Motorola 6800, it was in direct competition with machines like the Altair 8800, but instead of Blinkenlights and switches on a front panel, it already came with a CRT output module, that allowed the connection to a monitor.

But what made the box really special, was the IDE consisting of a scrollable text editor and integrated assember, which made software development really easy for that time.

Why didn't the concept make it? Ben Zotto aka @bzotto doesn't have an answer to that question in his recent video yet. But on sphere.computer you can find an emulator and the necessary documentation.

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AGON Light Review

AGON Light Review
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/PRcipJ-k_aY

Quote: Agon light™ is the fastest and cheapest 8-bit microcomputer ever made. @BernardoKastrup is already busy with a completely different, new project at the moment, but the community is still rubbing eyes over his 8-bit speed boat.

Agon Light - never heard of it? Then check out the latest video by Jan Beta - to be found on facebook. Jan puts the thing under the X-Ray and leaves out pretty much no detail.

Whether this can now be counted as retrocomputing? You decide for yourself. In any case, it's an interesting piece of hardware.

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And you have reached the end again. Instead of credits and outtakes, the usual stuttering is waiting here again - but for us it's bread & butter of newsletter writing.

On the one hand, please help us with ideas for content. A quick reply to this mail is enough, and your topic will be in one of the upcoming issues.

On the other hand, we have spared no expense or effort to buy a few more seats from our trusted mail provider ... so if you think of someone who would benefit from a subscription to 8bitnews.io, just forward the current issue to that individual.

If everything works out as planned, the next issue will again have a European return address again and should hit your inbox in two weeks from now. We are curious ... that is, whether everything will work out. 🙄

Seize the time. Build something and speak about it.

Jan & Bastian

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