Just the signal, not the noise

Hello 8bit'ers,

Fridays have this unique charm. You come home from work, shed all the stress along with your pants, grab the cold drink of your choice, and look forward to the fact that after the next 2 free days, the whole rat-race cycle starts again. 🤷‍♂️

But on the bright side, there are those two days ahead of us. And we should make the most of them. And what could be more important than 35 to 45-year-old hardware and software? Well?

Exactly. Nothing!

Accordingly, over the past two weeks, we've gathered a range of topics that, along with the nuts and chips, could be the perfect fodder for the next 2 days.

We hope there's something for you. Enjoy Issue #86.


Clock Signal Update

Clock Signal Update
Imagesource: rawpixel.com on Freepik

Thomas Harte might be a familiar name to some enthusiasts. His emulator CLK or Clock Signal can undoubtedly be considered a standard – or even the standard. This is not just because of the number of systems it emulates, but especially due to its simulation accuracy, software stability, frequent releases, and exceptional user-friendliness. 🥂

CLK isn't just any ordinary emulator. Far from it! It's akin to a time machine snugly integrated into your contemporary tech setup. Imagine owning a DeLorean, but without the need for plutonium or reaching 88 miles per hour! CLK prides itself on its meticulous attention to detail, replicating the exact timings and peculiarities of machines from the past.

In Issue #21 nearly two years ago, we first introduced CLK. Since then, a lot has evolved.

All the emulators have received numerous updates and bug fixes. Tom has managed to maintain the simplicity and usability of his remarkable piece of software at the same high standard as before. It's almost hard to believe that this is a passion project done in his spare time... ⏱️

While there's no shortage of emulators for classic systems, anyone who's tried the latest release of CLK on any of the supported systems would find little reason to look for an alternative.

Share the signal:

ZX Spectrum Quake

ZX Spectrum Quake
Imagesource: Bill Bertram 2006, CC-BY-2.5

It never stops. Somehow, someone always tries to run DOOM on any device whose ALU can even remotely add two numbers together. And if it's not DOOM, then it's Wolfenstein or Quake.

Is it a healthy obsession? Who knows? But often, it's just pure fun. 🥳

Of course, fun is subjective. For some, the thrill comes from pushing the hardware limits for their implementation as low as possible. Enter the recent project showcased by @SabermanYT on his YouTube channel some time ago. The folks over at hackaday.com recently spotlighted it, and you can read about it here. Thanks to them, or we might have missed it. What a travesty...

Anyway, the release presented here is for (drumroll) the ZX Spectrum – albeit the 128K variant. The core engine was developed by Alone Coder while Dragons' Lord enhanced it with level data and gameplay to transform it into a complete game.

Surprisingly playable! Ready for a monochrome pixel brawl?

Share the signal:

DIY Retro Terminal

DIY Retro Terminal
Imagesource: John T. Kennedy

After planning, designing, soldering, programming, and debugging your dream machine for weeks and months, the end result is a gleaming blue PCB that you handle with the utmost care, hoping not to cause a cold solder joint.

Heartbreaking. 😢

So how about a suitable case for that masterpiece? And what if there's an option that a) matches the era of your retro creation, and b) won't break the bank? Sounds enticing?

John Kennedy, aka @JohnKennedyEsq, has taken all the hassle off our shoulders. His retro-style terminalFT1, is not just a beauty but also versatile. It's designed to accommodate virtually any custom project that can be connected to a keyboard and monitor. Along with a Raspberry Pi, an affordable LCD screen, and a sturdy mechanical keyboard, all you need is someone skilled with a laser cutter to shape a few acrylic sheets and some knack for assembling everything together with hot glue.

If the latter points aren't deal-breakers, then there's nothing stopping you from diving into this DIY adventure. The outcome is genuinely impressive, though it might not lure the younger generation away from their mobile screens. But: Who cares? 🤷‍♂️

Share the signal:


Reinette II

When you wade through the fervent debates of the programming community, you'll undoubtedly find many advocates claiming that Python has won the so-called language wars.

What exactly there was to win, the nature of this conflict, who the opponents were, and why this supposed battle even took place remains shrouded in the mists of history. Nearly every programming language (well, not every single one... 😉) has its ideal use-cases, which means the arguments and discussions often boil down to a matter of personal preference, diminishing their significance for real-world decisions.

Regardless, Python currently boasts an abundance (to put it mildly) of use-cases. And that's a good thing. But is Python suited for building an Apple ][+ emulator?

Why not? That must have been what Arthur Ferreira, tweeting as @reinette_II, thought as he graced us with his creation, Reinette II Plus.

It's true that you might be able to build a more efficient emulator with fewer real CPU cycles per simulated cycle. However, considering how powerful modern machines are today, that's hardly a concern.

This SDL-based emulator is as stable as it is capable. It accepts .nib files of all kinds and supports all the original video modes at 30fps. With joystick and sound support included, the only thing standing between you and some retro fun is setting up a new Conda environment and executing a simple pip install.

Share the signal:

Beeb Virus

Beeb Virus
Imagesource: Kerfin7 on Freepik

Alan Pope, also known as @popey, is one of those individuals whose sense of humor I deeply resonate with. Born in '72, Alan is, at the very least, considered vintage. Like many from his era, he seems to have a fondness for the good old days.

The fusion of this sentimentality with a series of intriguing events from his past, as well as his passion for writing, has given birth to a blog that's sheer joy to read.

One of his recent articles, A Virus for the BBC Micro, recently made its way to the HN front page and, consequently, onto our radar.

The story he recounts dates back over 30 years. In the context of that time, it wouldn't have been seen as out of the ordinary. Boot sector viruses were often more amusing or annoying than they were dangerous or destructive. Alan's tale is no exception. While seasoned Beeb enthusiasts might not find groundbreaking revelations here, those yearning for a dose of nostalgic reading will find themselves right at home with Alan's post.

Share the signal:


Imagesource: https://github.com/agkaminski/

Ever thought about having a 6502 microprocessor right in your pocket? Sounds impossible? Think again!

Aleksander Kamiński, whose GitHub profile you can find here, nearly slipped past our radar with this nifty little project. Thankfully, due to a fortunate turn of events, we didn't miss out, paving the way for this unique mobile experience.

Who hasn't dreamt of breathing life into the MOS 6502 while on a bus or train, armed with a hex keypad and an OP-code table?

Equipped with a 12-digit 16-segment LED display, a 24-button keyboard, 8 kB of ROM and RAM, an integrated Li-Po power supply, and a monitor program, this dream is now a reality.

As a bonus, Aleks has thrown in a simulator, ensuring you don't have to get your hands dirty before diving into programming. But for those itching to get hands-on, Gerber and 3D-print files are readily available in the project repository for Pocket265.

What a fantastic piece of tech!

Share the signal:


Disassembly for Beginners

Disassembly for Beginners
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/mR1G9ZA2UfQ

How many people do you know who, when handed a binary file, can execute a hex dump using xxd and then explain in detail what that binary does?

Admittedly, with modern x64 or even ARM binaries, this isn't as straightforward as it once was. The complexity of even reduced instruction sets makes it a challenge to commit them fully to memory. However, manual disassembly of a binary is definitely doable in principle.

If one targets an older system, like the Commodore PET, the task becomes more feasible. The instruction set of the MOS6502 CPU is succinct enough to memorize. And this is precisely where Dave McMurtrie of the Commodore International Historical Society – also known by his handle @commodoreihs – steps in.

Rather than just feeding the PET binary of Space Invaders into a disassembler, he meticulously goes through the sources step-by-step using a debugger. In his latest video, he guides viewers around potential pitfalls like jumps, subroutine calls, and returns.

While this might not be groundbreaking or novel, it's undoubtedly intriguing to watch.

Share the signal:

Why Silicon

Why Silicon?
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/m6pJNW_jpw0

How do you go from a pile of quartz sand to a machine intelligent enough that one can converse with it, often receiving surprisingly accurate responses?

Well, the answers to this question either encompass the contents of a roughly five-year computer science degree, or a mere 6 minutes and 35 seconds of your time on YouTube.

Sounds a bit crazy? It is. But it's also incredibly entertaining.

YouTuber Pleni_2.0 has done just that, attempting to straightforwardly trace the path mentioned above in his recent video. Admittedly, there are some shortcuts taken, but that doesn't detract from the experience. The entertainment value more than compensates for any lack of detail. 😁

So, if you've ever wondered how we transitioned from a shovel of sand to something like ChatGPT, this video will provide both insight and amusement.

Share the signal:

Acorn Electron Story

Acorn Electron Story
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/SrayIPh22Dk

The Acorn Electron celebrated its 40th birthday a few weeks ago and has been unfairly underrepresented in our magazine.

The younger sibling of the BBC Micro had an impressive presence in the market with an estimated 200,000 to 250,000 units sold. However, Acorn ceased its production in 1985. After Sinclair heated up the competition with the ZX Spectrum, the Acorn executives decided to launch a stripped-down version of the Beeb into the mass market, aiming to outpace the Spectrum but without cannibalizing their own BBC Micro.

The resulting machine was surprisingly capable. If it weren't for its mere 4-bit wide access to RAM, the Electron could have easily rivalled the Micro in almost every respect. Notably, the machine's graphical capabilities were impressive for its time.

@BytesRetro, known to some from his eponymous YouTube channel, used the machine's birthday as an opportunity to pay it the tribute it deserves. The video competently covers the history and technical details of the Electron, and it's so engaging that we can wholeheartedly recommend it.

Share the signal:


Imagesource: https://pippinbarr.com/

PONG – even more than 50 years after its initial release – such a simple game concept can still captivate. However, it's hard to describe the genuine fascination, especially for the home versions of PONG in the 70s and 80s, in today's terms.

Back then, the television was just a display device – directly beaming from the electron gun into our brains. The idea that it could also have an input device, made from flesh was revolutionary, something that took a while to sink in. We see where that idea has led us today. 😌

PONG holds a special place in my heart. It must have been around '83 or '84 when I traveled half of Berlin by subway and bus, all alone, to retrieve a broken PONG console from my uncle. After a successful soldering operation, it took all my parents had to pry my brother and me away from the black-and-white TV in our living room.

It seems Professor of Computation Arts at Concordia University, Pippin Barr aka @pippinbarr, shares the same fascination for the game. Back in 2012, he released 36 versions of the game as Flash variations. He recently redeveloped all versions in Javascript using the Phaser 3 library and made them available for free to play in your browser.

If you fancy a round of PONG, or Laser PONG, or Shit PONG, or … any other version, you can find it here.

Share the signal:

Up here in the North, autumn is coming. I accidentally dropped my Christmas cookie into the pool when I heard the news. 😂

But the cold season is actually approaching and it starting knocking more persistently. Despite the rather unpleasant accompanying signs, it traditionally also means that the important variable retro projects per unit of time should increase in the coming weeks.

If you have a contribution related to this, please let us know. A short email in response to this one will do.

And if you haven't indulged your helping syndrome sufficiently this year – we can use all the help. New subscribers are always welcome, so feel free to forward this email to everyone you know.

Meanwhile, we're busily gathering content for Issue #87, which will be out in exactly 2 weeks. In the meantime, build something and speak about it.

Jan & Bastian

This email was forwarded to you? You can sign up here to receive it directly.

View our privacy policy here.

Made with 🍉 in Berlin

More content like that - only for subscribers. Free of charge. Free of SPAM. Rich in retro.