Just the signal, not the noise

Hello 8bit'ers,

Time flies. The summer solstice is history already, although it felt like it was winter on the northern part of the globe just yesterday. And somehow, it's Friday again.

However, it's a pleasant one. Not just because this issue has reached its final stage, but more so because the spring lull seems to have finally been filled, and a hefty load of topics has hammered over it in the past two weeks.

Whether there's something for you in it is – of course – up to you. But a few really sparkling little thingys are waiting in the following lines. Start off unorthodoxly with Hans Otten's Kim-1 Emu – nothing brand new, but now available as an x86 MacOS version thanks to the support of Michael Doornbos.

Of course, there's more. Enjoy Issue #81.


Hardware Design AI

Flux Hardware Design AI
Imagesource: https://www.flux.ai/

Sooner or later, there's no avoiding it. You design your own PCB for the 8-bit project, after 863 others have already designed their own PCB, released it for free, and fully documented it using KiCad. Because... just because. ¯\(ツ)

Then you send the whole thing off to PCBWay, wait a few weeks, burn all your fingers soldering the through-hole components, finally hook up a power source, and then TADAAAAAAAA:


Sounds familiar? 😋 Especially delightful when you didn't just order one PCB for prototyping... but enough about that.

What if you could get help with your PCB design from an AI like ChatGPT? What if it could assist you with component selection, wiring, and testing right off the bat? Sounds like: currently not possible, but as of a few days ago, it's the exact opposite.

Say Hello to flux.ai.

The team behind flux.ai, tweeting as @BuildWithFlux, has done a fantastic job. Essentially, this tool is a commercial product, but the free version supports up to 10 private projects.

It's practically begging for a test drive! So... what have thousands of people already built...? 🤔

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Gameboy Studio 3.1

Gameboy Studio 3.1
Imagesource: https://www.gbstudio.dev/

Whether one would call the Gameboy retro hardware depends either on personal taste or a bit of simple mathematics. For some, this handheld was their gateway into mobile gaming, while for others it's a device that's been around for more than 30 years.

What makes the Gameboy interesting for retro technology enthusiasts is its ecosystem, the vast number of development studios and indie developers, as well as the sheer number of titles that are genuine hits for both newer and older versions of the console.

There are quite a few options when it comes to a suitable development environment. Following the not-so-recent NoCode trend, Gameboy Studio in its latest version 3.1 is a pretty compelling candidate. The IDE, developed by Chris Maltby aka @maltby, is available for all three major operating systems, allows you to assemble prototypes via drag & drop 🔥, and comes with all the essential tools needed for your own homebrew production.

While the IDE itself isn't brand new, what makes the current release 3.1 particularly interesting is the fact that you can now export the software embodiment of your dream for the Analogue Pocket.

Fancy creating your own Gameboy adventure? Here you go.

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The Macintosh Creators

The Macintosh Creators
Imagesource: https://computeradsfromthepast.substack.com/

In the 70s and 80s, there were undoubtedly quite a few computers that not only made history, but also significantly influenced the way we spend our days courting backaches and short-sightedness.

One such machine was the Macintosh – obviously. And there's hardly a story about its history that hasn't already been told.

Still, John Paul Wohlscheid aka @JohnBlood took a 1984 issue of BYTE, and completely reworked an interview with the creatives behind the machine.

The result is absolutely worth reading. Not only do we learn how the Mac was able to dramatically reduce the price point of the Lisa without significantly sacrificing performance. There's also a host of technical details and decisions the team made at the time that, in retrospect, enabled the machine's success.

Alongside the compelling article, John Paul's newsletter is absolutely recommendable! Give it a try.

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Imagesource: Microsoft / OpenAI

Ok. Ok. We simply can't avoid it. AI has embarked on a journey into the past, and we will have to live with the fact that at least some aspects of our favorite topics will be influenced by it in the future. 😩

But true to the motto Pick your fight, we prefer to turn to the brighter side of things and admire the creativity of those who can actually make something meaningful out of it. In this case:

WinGPT a ChatGPT client for Windows 3.11! 💥

An anonymous author going by the handle @DialupDotNet has seemingly dedicated a great deal of their free time to the project. Not only is the result fully functional, but the TLS termination is done directly on the Win3.11 host, which is quite astonishing.

Alongside the download, all the crucial details of the development can be found in the associated blog post.

(Ah yes. And if you want to, you can also communicate with ChatGPT. 😶)

Enjoy exploring!

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Chunky Screens

Imagesource: https://retream.itch.io/

Are you the lucky owner of an AGA Amiga? Do you know the difference between Planar Graphics and Chunky Graphics?

Both times No? That's okay. 👇

In the context of computer graphics, planar and chunky refer to two different ways of storing pixel data in memory. (I must always think of chunky bacon, but that's for another story. 🚆) In planar graphics, the data for each color plane of an image is stored sequentially in memory. This was the method traditionally used by Amiga computers because it made certain operations very efficient. However, it was less efficient for operations that required changing individual pixels, such as 3D rendering.

In contrast, chunky graphics store all the bits for each pixel together in memory. This makes operations that involve changing individual pixels more efficient, which is why this method is generally preferred for 3D rendering and is commonly used in modern graphics systems.

Got it?

So how does one now enjoy pseudo-native chunky screens? Quite simple: You download PED81C and enjoy the brilliance of others, upon which you can then build your own demos and show off to your friends. 😲

The team behind @R37R34M is responsible for this fantastic piece of software. The thanks is owed to them.

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Two's Complement Explained

Two's Complement Explained
Imagesource: https://neugierig.org/

Some say: Math is a jerk. I personally don't subscribe to this crude theory as, ultimately, at the most fundamental level of our modern digital world, it's nothing more than math. It's the diligent electrons, driven by electromagnetic fields and racing through exotically clustered metals, that keep our world ticking.

What remains incredible – to me, at least – is the idea that one can design a modern computational servant to be Turing-complete on the hardware side in such a way that it only masters the addition of two numbers, plus a little bit of branching and stuff. Yet, on the other hand, based on that ability, it can solve any computable problem.

Computer Science. I love it. ❤️ And those who feel the same way have ascended the abstraction tree in their minds. They know that after addition comes subtraction, which makes multiplication and division possible purely in software... The rest is then simply a laborious task for anyone with too much time on their hands. Absolutely impractical, but possible.

But how do you implement subtraction when the hardware can only add? The answer is first semester CS and it's called Two's Complement. Working with it is one thing, understanding how and why it works is another.

A truly great explanation attempt comes from Evan Martin aka @evmar. Sometimes, brief and to-the-point means effective. This is sometimes.

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All New ZX Spectrum

All New ZX Spectrum
Imagesource: https://www.lostretrotapes.com/

Congratulations! 🎉 The All-New-Your-Machine-Here-From-New-Parts-Only-List™ has just received another wonderful addition.

And in this case, the part with Your-Machine-Here is the ZX Spectrum. What a time to be alive. 😛

But let's get back to the seriousness of the situation. If you're not keen on scouring Ebay for a used piece of hardware, possess the necessary soldering skills, and are ready to fork out approximately 480€(!) for the BOM, then you might end up being very, very happy here.

The actual challenge of the build is predominantly the ULA chip. But the individual behind lostretrotapes.com tweeting as @lostretrotapes relies here – like many others – on the work of Charlie Ingley. Therefore, nothing should stand in the way of your soldering pleasure and subsequent gaming with a somewhat quirky color palette (Sorry!).

Fancy a hardware adventure? Here you go!

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Turing Pacman

Turing PacMan
Imagesource: https://spectrum.ieee.org/

Dr. Matthew Regan has been the man of the hour in our little magazine a few times already. His videos might not be as legendary as, say, those of a Ben Eater. However, they match these in terms of informational content and originality.

The Doc tends to delve deeper into specific issues, which admittedly, isn't everyone's cup of tea. This could also be the case with one of his most interesting exploits, which he wrote about a few days ago here for spectrum.ieee.org.

What's it all about? The seeming incompatibility between the concept of a Turing machine and that of a von Neumann computer.

Sounds intriguing? It is. What Matthew does is simulate the instruction set of the MOS6502 on a Turing machine in such a way that any software compatible with the 8-bit'er can subsequently be run on it.

If that isn't meat on the bone! 🍖

In any case, both the article and the accompanying video are a very clear recommendation!

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10 VCS Secrets

10 VCS Secrets
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/JfgNxjOUW8Y

The ATARI VCS is not just a piece of hardware that has been in existence on this planet for a while, but it's also a machine for which a significant number of developers have created an equally significant number of games and other programs.

Aaron Newcomb aka @retrohackshack is sticking his neck out quite a bit when he talks about 10 TECHNICAL Things You Didn't Know.

But if you're willing to give him a chance, he might just surprise you.

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Apple vs. IBM

Apple vs. IBM
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/_GX7wQQmolM

Jon Y, who should be well-known to most here under the name @asianometry and its associated YT channel, has consistently delivered over the past 6 years. And this is not only referring to great content, but particularly the quality of the presentation that makes each of his videos a pleasure.

Current topic: Apple‘s Struggle to Survive the IBM PC. I know, I know … it's all history, right?

Jon has worked out all the details chronologically, and even for the initiated and real hardcore fans of the brand and the hardware, there might still be something new to discover.

Also interesting for ordinary mortals.

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I²C Devices for 6502 Breadboard Computers

I²C Devices for 6502 Breadboard Computers
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/i7q0P9-wszM

Anders Nielsen, tweeting as @AndersBNielsen1, has built a MOS6502-based computer on breadboards. So far so good.

Thanks to Ben Eater, we've been able to get to know protocols like PS/2, USB, SPI, and others at a very, very low level on such a machine. But Anders is now going one step further:

I²C on a 6502 Single Board Computer should be interesting for anyone who has a BE6502 build of any kind on their home desk, and for whom the integration of I²C components is an unfulfilled dream of a lifetime. (I could imagine other things, but why not …)

Anders installs a small display and implements I²C at the assembly level. Next stop: a font, and voila, you're almost done with your mobile 6502-based device. 😎

Definitely worth checking out!

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Lightbulb Computer

Lightbulb Computer
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/FU_YFpfDqqA

Derek Muller and his YT channel Veritasium should be part of any bookmark collection (no matter how anachronistic that may be…).

Derek's approach to getting to the root of physics and math problems is why his documentaries are purchased and broadcasted by major TV channel players.

A few weeks ago, Derek touched upon our thematic world again: Why The First Computers Were Made Out Of Light Bulbs is all about just that – the relationship between computers and light bulbs.

Sounds strange at first? Apart from the fact that that's certainly intentional, the video is, as always, informative and of exemplary quality. If you don't know Derek: It's time.

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New game, new luck. Let's see what the next two weeks will bring, and how our article backlog will fill up.

But no matter what happens, Issue #82 is already in the works. If there's someone you can think of who is really close to your heart, why not give them an 8bitnews subscription as a gift! It's free 😎. Well, almost, it only costs you the effort of forwarding this issue.

And if you have content that you'd like to share with a small but very fine audience, feel free to contact us at any time. A reply to this email will always get a response.

Enjoy the beginning of summer. Build something and speak about it.

Jan & Bastian

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