Just the signal, not the noise

Hello 8bit'ers,

After 80 issues, you might just run out of cheesy Friday jokes... which is all the more dramatic, as this eagerly awaited last day of the work week has finally arrived. The best sign of this: This email in your inbox.

In the current issue, we have some real crackers again, and we hope that the spring lull won't be replaced by a summer slump. Friends of Z80-based machines are in for a treat today, as we have a bit of hardware, a bit of software, and some AI-free, colorful, and entertaining audio-visual pixel streams on our streaming platform of choice, which could make the upcoming weekend even more enjoyable.

Intrigued? Rightly so! 😉

Enjoy Issue #80.


The Timex / Sinclair Compendium

Timex / Sinclair Compendium
Imagesource: MarcoTangerino, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Every now and then, one stumbles upon something special. Occasionally, this special thing might not appear extraordinary at first glance, but its true, inherent values constitute its real, radiant beauty.

And sometimes, such beauty is also paired with a series of most successful home computers of the 80s - the Timex / Sinclair machines.

What are we talking about? It's about the most extraordinary and comprehensive compendium centered around the Z80-based machines by David Anderson, the mastermind behind the platform and creator of the YT channel @timexsinclairfans.

At timexsinclair.com, you'll find just about everything worth knowing about these machines. Currently, there are 162 publications, 1,550 issues and 11,863 articles indexed, along with 215 books - all meticulously and competently curated by David. Besides this content, he regularly hosts Zoom meetings with Timex veterans and enthusiasts, which can be found on his YT channel.

For anyone who has one of these machines stored somewhere, or plans to start a new project this summer featuring the Z80, you'll be hard-pressed to find anything that David doesn't have covered.

A fantastic compendium. Don't miss it.

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ZX81 Mechanical Keyboard

Mechanical Keyboard for the ZX81
Imagesource: https://github.com/swetland/

If there's one thing about the ZX81 that could be considered... let's say less than thrilling, it's the keyboard. (Well, apart from the color scheme, the form factor, the peculiar instruction set of the CPU... but what would I, a 6502 fan, know about that. 😜)

OK. Keyboard we said.

Well, one could solve that by simply building their own. And what if you wouldn't have to reinvent the wheel completely to do that?

Great, right? Then you should send a thank-you note as well as a bag of chewy candies to Brian Swetland aka @dnaltews. Because he did exactly that. He spared no expense or effort to provide the little machine with a large, fully functional, mechanical keyboard. And he's sharing all the necessary design files. On github. Incredible. Right?

But let's get back to the serious side of things, as we're talking about the ZX81 here. 😐 The machine's modern reincarnation - the Plus38 is also supported, so there's really nothing stopping you from having some DIY fun.

So, if you happen to be an owner of a ZX81... your life can only get better (the one or the other way). 😘

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RP2040 Speccy Emu

RP2040 Speccy Emu
Imagesource: https://www.raspberrypi.com/

And for the third time, we remain in the same stadium, but we're playing a slightly different sport this time.

unrealspeccyp may already be familiar to the initiated. Graham Sanderson aka @kilograham5 has been building and maintaining the Spectrum emulator for a few years now.

What's new is that Graham now also has a port for the Raspberry Pi Pico aka 2040.

Game changer?

Meh. But being able to run the 48k or 128k version with VGA and Beeper output on the small RasPi is quite a thing.

Unfortunately, we couldn't test the setup due to a lack of hardware, but given the maturity of the project itself, usability can probably be assumed with good conscience.

I'd rather not add another joke about the Z80 on top (there are already enough lying around), but if you want to unnecessarily complicate your life... here's a great project that simplifies at least THAT for you.

(Still love you Speccy fans! ❤️)

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C64 RPG - 40 Years in the Making

C64 RPG 40 Years in the Making
Imagesource: https://twitter.com/ravenwolftech

Who hasn't experienced this? In the 80s, you had the game of your dreams conceived, designed, documented, and practically sold already – but then... a thing called reality got in the way.

So far, not so unusual. However, when nearly 40 years later, you get the idea to dig up that exact concept from the dust, and this time to actually implement it, you've at least reached the next level. Lucky is the one who still has access to resources like notes, code, and documentation from back then. This happened to Mike Brixius aka @RavenwolfTech.

Mike's project was an RPG that was almost revolutionary for its time. Ultima IV gameplay, D&D maps... what could go wrong? (well...) 😎

The current plan is to actually complete the RPG by 2024. It would only be 41 sweet, short years until the release. But seriously – it's a great project with more details available on hackaday, and we're definitely looking forward to it.

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CHIP8 Emu Adventures

CHIP8 Emulator Adventures
Imagesource: https://pexels.com/

CHIP8 holds an enduring fascination. In just about every generation of computer science students, 28% come up with the idea of building a CHIP8 interpreter. And that's a good thing. How else would current game consoles experience further development if they didn't feel the ... heat on their necks 👹

But jokes aside, it is indeed the case that a whole range of CHIP8 games are genuinely captivating. Especially the limited resolution places the game principle itself at the forefront – not the graphics. (A few wonderful examples can be found in the equally wonderful CHIP8 IDE Octo, which we introduced in Issue #61.)

And anyone who has once built a CHIP8 emulator has also come a big step closer to understanding how a CPU works.

Currently, Ben Calderon aka @benjcal is dedicated to this topic. Instead of the 8496th variant in JS, he implemented his interpreter in a modern and stable language, that is not Rust: C. And Part 1 as well as Part 2 of his corresponding documentation are anything but boring.

Feel like a software adventure? Here you go.

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Mini Mac
Imagesource: https://apple.com/

Take a Raspberry Pi of whatever model, install it in a self-printed case that reproduces one of those much-loved vintage machines, inject some software and configuration with the help of a MicroSD card and – Voila, the youthful dream from 40 years ago, which couldn't be brought into the home youth room is now a reality. (I can still hear the arguments: X-thousand whaaaaaaat? Do you have a fever?)

An unknown user going by the pseudonym The Old Wolf finally makes this dream come true. Based on a Pi Zero 2 or Pi 4, you can build the Mac of your dreams, and even if the total number of working hours multiplied by your own hourly rate makes the thing practically priceless, it's the experience that counts. Right? Right? 🤔

If you're up for this experience, or at least want to get a feel for it, you can find the entire project adventure wonderfully documented over on instructables.

Enjoy your crafting.

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Imagesource: https://xc-basic.net/

Imagine you're programming in BASIC, have a cross compiler at your disposal, and the available targets are none other than:

  • Commodore-64
  • Commodore VIC-20
  • Commodore-16
  • Commodore Plus/4
  • Commodore-128
  • Commodore PET series
  • Commander X16 (beta)
  • MEGA65 (beta)


Impossible? Not at all.

Creator Csaba aka @xc_basic provides exactly that with XC=BASIC – and it's free of charge.

Statically typed, advanced control flow statements, local, global and shared scopes, static or recursive subroutines and functions, forward declaration, overloading … and the list goes on and on.

Even though there might not necessarily have been a need for another BASIC for Commodore machines, being able to cover the entire fleet with a single implementation is more than appealing.

Great project, but judge yourself.

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WozMon on the BE6502

WozMon on the BE6502
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/HlLCtjJzHVI

And the story continues – or rather: It's being written further, with no end in sight. After Ben Eater – @ben_eater on Twitter – has equipped his BE6502 breadboard computer with a serial terminal adapter, it's now time for the software side of the next logical step.

A tool that makes it easier to get software into the thing. And what could be more suitable than the machine monitor known as WozMon, written by Steve Wozniak for the Apple I?

The direction that Ben is taking with this video is interesting – WozMon, along with SWEET16, are milestones in the history of software development, and studying the sources of both is more than worthwhile. For the BE6502, there could also be other directions than Cupertino ... but maybe the current video is just a brief discourse, and we can look forward to something completely new with the next one.

As always, wonderfully prepared by Ben, although a real walk-through of the diff would have been even even more interesting.

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Lisa's Final Act

Lisa's Final Act
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/rZjbNWgsDt8

Primetime. 📺

The history of Apple and the early machines of the 70s and 80s is well known to most. The same applies to the main characters – the two Steves. The air gets a bit thinner when it comes to the development of the Lisa, Steve Jobs' pet project. But even here, there is a lot of information online, and those who search ... well, they find.

However, the story that the fine folks behind @verge have literally dug up here, might not be known to everyone.

And the following 30 minutes are not only researched in depth, they are produced at TV level. A great documentary, of which I would wish for more. If I could.

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The Most Powerful Diagram

The Most Powerful Diagram
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/4xnRZqD7rAo

Our final piece of today's delicious cake may at first glance seem more like a cookie. But… hold on. Isn't computer science the application of mathematical science to machines built from rare earths, metals and liquified dinosaur remains? (The things that make up for our lives?) I would say yes.

Hence, the following discourse in mathematics is not only incredibly enjoyable. No, those unfamiliar with the topic will come away significantly more enlightened.

But what is it about?

It's about one of the most powerful diagrams in modern mathematics, which directly influences a range of topics that matter to us every day: Group Theory, Combinatorics, Error Correction. (And a few other topics you might rarely encounter, like Sphere Packing.)

Without giving anything away, this upcoming video by Alex - the creator behind the YT channel @AnotherRoof - definitely belongs in the top 100 of personal must-see videos. With a duration of 45 minutes and 48 seconds, it provides just the right depth of insight.

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If there was nothing for you in this issue, we can only apologize and promise the upcoming edition is already in the pipeline.

If you have a topic for us, don't hesitate to contact us. We don't pay money, but eternal gratitude and a few gummy bears are yours for sure.

And if you want to help us further with our plans for world domination, feel free to forward this email to absolutely everyone in your address book. Karma. You know. 🤓

Otherwise, enjoy the start of summer in the northern hemisphere. Take pleasure in it, build something, and speak about it.

Jan & Bastian

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