Just the signal, not the noise

Hello 8bit'ers,

even if the perception of time and its flow does change, when you travel from place A to place B using flying machines powered by liquefied dinosaurs, it has to be said: it's Friday.

And against all odds, we've searched, found, cleaned, rehashed, polished, ribboned and packaged the 12 best topics of the last two weeks into the following neat little box.

As always, we hope a few will resonate with you, and save the weekend.

Have fun unpacking Issue #74.



Imagesource: https://arstechnica.com/

An interesting piece of writing for history buffs came the other day from Cameron Kaiser –besides other things known for floodgap.

Cameron's latest article is about a system from the 60s, that probably few people have ever read, seen or heard of: Plato.

The special thing about Plato back then was the direct user feedback - and that at a time, when computing time was usually only allocated in batches. But much like PARC's Xerox Alto, reviewed in the last issue, Plato already shaped software technology back in the 60s, that we still use today in its basic principles. Examples: forumsinstant messaging, or multi-player videogames.

Looking back from today, it's hard to believe how creatively people were already using our favorite technology 60 years ago.

Interesting reading material for in between. 📖

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Imagesource: https://unsplash.com/

If you hand a compact cassette to someone on the street today, you're likely to get just about any reaction - depending on the age group - from a dreamy smile to questioning, unsuspecting looks.

Of course, it was completely different in the 80s - who didn't give away their own mixtapes then ? 💔

But besides music, you could also store zeros and ones with the help of magnetic magic on a chromium dioxide or iron oxide plastic strip. And if you didn't have a rich uncle back then, who gifted you a 5.25'' floppy disk drive, you saved your (of course never pirated) games and programs on exactly these cassettes.

Only logical, that there were cassettes also as addition to magazines - Yps for nerds so to speak. One of them was Commodore Format, and the team behind Commodore Format Archive aka @CommodoreFormat lovingly takes care of the digital preservation of the printed gems from back then until today.

I didn't know Commodore Format until today - but luckily I had that rich uncle.... 👴

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Learning BASIC

Learning BASIC
Imagesource: https://twobithistory.org/

To be fair, home computers in the 80s came from a whole bunch of manufacturers whose listing here makes as much sense as upgrading an 56k modem for a faster dial-up connection.

Fact is: The best-selling home computer of all times is and remains the Commodore64 (*should Microsoft/OpenAI not decide to sell ChatGPT-in-a-box™* 🙄). My first really own machine was a C64, though due to certain walls in some countries and also in people's minds, only around anno 1987. But my little Commodore came - as far as my memory doesn't deceive me - with the USERS'S GUIDE and the rest is part of my personal history, which would have been shaped permanently by this very event.

The interesting question is: How many of us were shaped by this or competing technologies at the time?

There is at least a second person: Sinclair Target tweeting as @sinclairtarget. The story of his first encounter with the C64 and BASIC is so congruent with my own experience, that I'm sure, there are more people who may find themselves in there.

Commodore is your middle name (sorry, but it sure looks funny in your passport), BASIC your second mother tongue? Then this piece of nostalgia is definitely something for a few relaxed minutes of reading.

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NeXT Emulator v2.6

NeXT Emulator - Previous
Imagesource: https://previous.unixdude.net/

Another project that we did'nt know off so far and just discovered this week. It's not exactly brand new, but chances are, you have'nt seen it either.

What do we talk about? The best project name in a long time (Chapeau Daniel), and one of the coolest emulators, where one can actually argue, whether it belongs to retro technology or not.

The project: A NeXT Emulator currently in version 2.6 - and the thing is called Previous. 👏

Responsible for wordplay and software is an individual named Daniel from Raleigh, NC better known as unixdude. And Daniel has done a great job. The thing supports everything from NeXTstep 0.8 to OPENSTEP 4.2, audio and video implementation are complete, network access works and up to 7 SCSI disk drives can be simulated.

Whether the NeXT machines count as retro technology or not, is a question that makes no sense to argue about. Fact is, NeXT still influences software decisions in pretty much all devices that carry the bitten apple as a logo. That alone and the fun of running NeXTstep on your Mac make Previous a piece of software worth installing. You have to bring the ROM dump yourself.

So hurry down to the basement and get up the NeXTcube and the Microscope ... 🏃‍♂️

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The 5th Byte

The 5th Byte
Imagesource: https://unsplash.com/

We stay with BASIC, but raise the level and standard a few notches.

Norbert Landsteiner aka @mass_werk has once again delivered a masterpiece, and pursues the question, which data types actually exist on the machines of Commodore BASIC. Nobrainer, isn't it? 🧠

Float, Integer, String. Right?

Nope. In The Case of the 4th BASIC Variable we are taught better. (And that's a good thing, because I personally just ran out of pub betting material).

In fact, there's a fourth type, and with it – once again – something to learn. Without prejudging anything – it's exciting and instructive to see, how data types are represented in memory.

Want to go deeper? Here is your ticket. 👆

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ROM Dump with a Microscope

ROM Dump
Imagesource: https://github.com/travisgoodspeed/

Dumping ROM's with the help of a microscope is nothing new. My memory of the end of the 90s is still somehow linked to smartcards, encryption systems and PayTV ... I have no idea, what that had to do with ROM dumps 😇.

Travis Goodspeed aka @travisgoodspeed has chosen a much more exciting target than PayTV: The GameBoy.

With the help of a metallurgical microscope at 50x magnification, a digital camera and the MaskRomTool he built himself, he manages relatively quickly to extract and decode NINTENDOs secrets contained in the chip of this iconic handheld.

And off into the emulator ... or so. 🎮

For those who have never done or seen something like this before, there is a lot to learn in Travis' github repo.

Happy ROM hacking.

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UNIX on RasPi Pico

UNIX on Raspberry Pi Pico
Imagesource: https://www.pinterest.de/

What about a small session on a UNIX v5 or v6 workstation on a Raspberry Pi Pico?

Sounds bonkers? It's not.

Ian Schofield – publishing on github as lsysxp – has surprised exactly with this in the last days – however, due to the actually somewhat limited processing power of the RasPi, one rather has to remove the word workstation from the above sentence.

But to get a PDP11/40 emulator running (independently from SIMH) on the Pico, and afterwards also UNIX on top - that's quite an achievement.

Since the Pico is neither expensive nor Unobtanium, the experiment is largely risk-free. Only a little patience and time are necessary. All a bit hacky so far - but it wouldn't be fun if it was easy.

Have fun tinkering!

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C64 Secret Colors

Commodore64 Secret Colors
Imagesource: https://unsplash.com/

In 1983 Hewitt D. Crane and Thomas P. Piantanida made interesting tests on the perception of so-called impossible colors.

The described phenomenon is known as reddish-green or yellow-blue, where test persons saw colors, they could not describe and which are outside the physical color space according to color theory. (By the way, Wikipedia has details on this).

These effects, caused by manipulation of the visual cortex, are quite individual in their expression, and thus set up differently from the subject of Aaron Bell tweeting as @aaronbell.

Aaron – in contrast to impossible colotrs – has been excited by the idea of expanding the limited color palette of a C64 by using rapid alternation between two colors to create a third, that is not part of the official palette.

The idea is as old as possible - but definitely interesting in its implementation. And since eye-candy for the breadbin is still a big topic today, the interested mind will find plenty of fodder for the brain in Aaron's article.

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Microsoft Unix

Microsoft UNIX
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/YUxaLP6bI00

Did you know that at one point in time Microsoft was the seller of the most UNIX licenses in the world? And did you know that Microsoft successfully developed and distributed a UNIX OS called Xenix, which was licensed from AT&T?

What kind of world could we live in today ... 🤔

The whole thing is no joke. And those who are old enough, will still have vivid memories of Xenix.

Back in 1978, Microsoft, wisely anticipating, that PCs would soon dominate the market, bought a UNIX v7 license from AT&T. The plan was to equip all upcoming 16-bit micros with Xenix.

In the years that followed, Xenix certainly came to fame by being ported to a wide variety of CPUs and platforms and sub-licensed to other manufacturers. But as history has it, everything was to turn out differently.

Alistair Ross better known as @AlsGeekLab has collected all the interesting details about Xenix in a recent video. If you don't know Al yet - his YT channel belongs in every well-maintained I-have-subscribed-list™. ☑️

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JS Amiga Emulator

AMIGA Emulator in Javascript
Imagesource: https://scriptedamigaemulator.net/

Amiga emulators exist quite a lot, and considering the years since the hardware platform was released, and the possibilities of modern machines, the emulators today are so good, that they can emulate any of the Amiga machines sufficiently well and accurately.

UAE and friends also come in appropriate binary formats, so you can indulge in gaming and demoing on almost any host platform imaginable – if you want.

But what about an emulator in Javascript for the browser?

Not new, but aged like a good wine is ScriptedAmigaEmulator. The project, which exists for more than 10 years now, is incredibly versatile as far as the emulated platform is concerned. 4 variants of the 68k, OCS, ECS and AGA chipsets, up to 4 virtual floppy drives, as well as full audio and video implementations make the project a fast loading, no-install-alternative.

Either you bring your own ADF files, or you start the available tools, games or demos from the interface. Kickstart ROM's can be added by yourself, alternatively AROS is available.

Great project by Rupert Hausberger to be found on github as naTmeg. Who does not know it yet ... here you go.

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Potatis - NEX Emulator
Imagesource: https://github.com/henrikpersson/

The next fun project sounds like old hat ... but what in the retrocomputing world can't adorn itself with this predicate? 🎩

Henrik Persson – at home at github as henrikpersson – is a friend of the MOS6502 CPU and has written his very own emulator in Rust. But because that wasn't enough for him, he implemented a NES emulator called Potatis on top of it. And although it is not yet complete, it really looks good.

Besides the emulator there is an SDL based version, a WASM port for the browser, an embedded version for the RasPi Pico and a version for Android.

But especially cool is the cloud version - NES-as-a-service. How does it work? Quite simply with the help of netcatSixel and a little magic, instructions are executed remotely, keystrokes are sent to the cloud, and graphics data is sent back.

Honestly, the cloud variant is (at least in our tests) too slow for serious gaming fun - but what counts here is the concept.

Nice thing, that.

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Imagesource: https://github.com/zajo/

The following project is also one of those, that you should have on your most-important-things-in-life-list™, but are not necessarily known to everyone.

We speak about one of the first - if not the first - Apple ][ emulators: Appler.

This very special piece of software was developed in 1990 by Alexander Patalenski (probably @Patalenski on Twitter) and Emil Dotchevski, and runs exclusively on MS-DOS. The special thing about it is, that Appler is written entirely in Assembly and is therefore very fast.

Even cooler is the integrated debugger, which shows the disassembled program, registers, stack and memory, allows stepping, and thus not only makes bug hunting extremely easy, but also helps you to understand the (nowadays considered simple) architecture of the machine.

If you don't have MS-DOS available on hardware, you can also get there with Dosbox. Mac -> Dosbox -> Appler -> Apple ][ ... so much for layer-of-problems™. 🤓

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And that was it. The first European edition of this year. Long months of traveling are over, and so from now on the label Made in Berlin is correct again. Unfortunately there's no (local) melon right now - but that's stuff for another newsletter in another time.

We hope that this issue has also made your adrenaline level shoot up at one point or another. If that's not the case, you can always criticize - just reply to this mail.

And if you liked this issue: Rejoicing is silver, sharing is gold.

The next issue will go to virtual print in 2 weeks from now. Until then – build something, and speak about it.

Jan & Bastian

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