Just the signal, not the noise

Hello 8bit'ers,

Two weeks have passed. It's Friday. Hard. To. Believe. Maybe it's due to one's age and the associated perception that time seems to fly by faster, but let's not complain. Better this than not having experienced the 80s at all! 😜

Just after our editorial deadline (a fancy term for a 2-man show), a new – of course unofficial – release of Gianna Sisters came in, which had me fetching the nostalgia meter from the basement. In addition to that, the past 14 days brought a slew of topics that stuck with us, which together now form our Issue #87.



Mastodon for Apple II

Mastodon for Apple II
Imagesource: Bilby, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Amid the multitude currently discussing certain individuals (no names mentioned here), publishing platforms, the true essence of freedom of speech, and all the important daily topics, we don't wish to join in.

In my eyes, the debate around Twitter / X vs. Mastodon vs. BlueSky makes as much sense as ordering stuffed hedgehog knees at a vegan restaurant. 🦔

People are as individual as their opinions, which is a good thing. And for those drawn to the decentralized approach of Mastodon, not only is it well-deserved – but now, the retro-loving enthusiast also has the option to use the network of their choice on an Apple II.

This is thanks to Colin McMillen, also known as @colin_mcmillen@piaille.fr, and his brand new Mastodon Client.

The tool is compatible with various Apple II models, including the ][+, IIe, //c, and IIgs. It offers features like 2-factor authentication, timeline viewing, profile and thread views, image viewing, and interactions with toots.

However, it misses out on functionalities like polls, profile editing, and account creation – but who cares? It's somewhat like a wormhole between the 80s and the present time, making it all the more thrilling. 🤗

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EDAS Assembler

EDAS Assembler
Imagesource: Image by jcomp on Freepik

When comparing the way software was written in the 80s to today's toolchains, IDEs, and frameworks, it becomes clear just how far we've come in software development especially over the past 40 years.

While there's debate over whether the number of layers of indirection in current programming stacks are still efficient or even optimal, one thing is certain: Developing software today is vastly easier than it was back then.

But here's the thing: Back then, it was more fun. Anyone who's sat in front of a Commodore 64 using Turbo Macro Pro and worked on their own project in pure Assembly knows what I'm talking about.

Playing in the same stadium, but perhaps a different league than Turbo Macro Pro, was EDAS. Developed by Mike Webb, this cross-assembler churned out programs for the C64, C128, and NES. It can be considered one of the first real IDEs for the 6502.

Kevin Edwards, also known as @KevEdwardsRetro, has gone to the effort of providing both the source code and the corresponding .prg file on GitHub. Those feeling nostalgic can use EDAS to assemble EDAS itself. ♻️

A piece of history...rescued.

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Archimedes Emu

Archimedes EMU
Imagesource: https://arcem.sourceforge.net/

Today, anyone using a smartphone or tablet can pretty safely assume that an ARM CPU sits at its core, moving electrons around to enable essential life activities like Twitter, Instagram, lalala...

What many don't realize is that the architecture of a modern ARM CPU is nearly 40 years old! 👴

The Acorn Risc Machine architecture first saw the light of day in 1987, debuting in the Archimedes by Acorn. It was the first mainstream computer to use Acorn's ARM architecture, and the machine ran on the RISC OS operating system. Known for its exceptional graphics and sound capabilities, its performance was ahead of its time.

The Archimedes series offered several models, each with varying amounts of memory and storage. Many popular games and educational software titles were developed for this platform. Despite its innovative features, the Archimedes faced stiff competition and eventually found itself overshadowed by PCs and Macs. However, the machine and its architecture have been intriguing enough to inspire the development and maintenance of emulators.

That's precisely what the mystery team behind the Acorn Archimedes Emulator has been doing. This tool has been around for over 20 years, and the journey from its source code to its binary is quite an adventure. However, for some systems, you can find compiled versions of the emulator online.

But for those adventurous souls willing to build the tool from its source code, you'll be rewarded with a special kind of 80s charm.

xmkmf -a ... just kidding.

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About Byte

Depending on the year of birth listed in your ID, there were technical publications printed in the good old ink-on-paper-tradition that illuminated the daily life of a nerd long before the days of the World Wide Web.

One such publication, the Byte Magazine, set standards between 1975 and 1998. Even though some hardware reviews appeared in Byte quite some time after the actual release, the content consistently maintained extremely high quality and technical depth.

Paul Lefebvre, who blogs here, has channeled his own enthusiasm for the magazine to take a closer look at the Atari Coverage in his own newsletter.

It's relaxing reading material for a few quiet moments. And for those unfamiliar with Paul's newsletter, the archive holds a treasure trove of interesting gems.

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Build a CPU

Build A CPU
Imagesource: https://howcpuworks.com/

One of the significant advantages of our beloved 8-bit technology is that most of its hardware incarnations and instruction sets are relatively simple. This simplicity allows one to fit a comprehensive understanding snugly within the narrow confines of one's mind.

Interestingly, modern processor design, especially with RISC-V, seems to be reverting back to very reduced ISAs and relatively simple architectures. For those wanting to learn how to build a CPU from scratch today, a RISC-V architecture is by no means a poor choice — especially given the number of 8-bit candidates available.

For those who wish to tread a different path and understand everything at the transistor level, there's a wealth of materials available, in the form of readings or YouTube videos. Now, an online book has been added to that mix:

How a CPU works is still a work in progress, but currently boasts four completed and notably interactive chapters.

The, unfortunately, unknown creator uses Paul Falstad's circuitjs library to animate the key concepts. Testing one's own knowledge (or lack thereof) in the initial four chapters is genuinely enjoyable.

We can only hope the remaining content is soon fleshed out, giving life some final purpose. 😁

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Project Overflow

Project Overflow
Imagesource: https://punkx.org/

In Issue #46, we showcased a unique treat. Borislav Nikolov, who can be found on GitHub here, released his intriguing card game, Machine Code for Kids, almost two years ago. What a brilliant idea. ♠️

Now, Borislav is back with something even more compelling. His latest creation takes the complexity and fun a notch higher:

Overflow is designed to teach buffer overflows in computing.

Players aim to craft a shellcode in memory by copying instructions and exploit a buffer overflow to override an opponent's return address, leading them to a game_over() function. The game also introduces new strategies, like setting exception handlers or monkeypatching. 🙉

All participants share the same memory and execute the same program, taking turns to execute 10 instructions each. There's no virtual memory, and each player's stack pointer starts at a different point. The game can be played both on paper or online – either with a friend or solo.

It's an ingenious game concept that requires an appetite for complexity to truly appreciate!

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Imagesource: https://github.com/Kautenja/

Have you ever heard of VCV Rack?

The software is an open-source virtual modular synthesizer platform. It allows users to connect virtual modules similarly to how one would with physical modular synthesizers. This tool boasts a range of modules, both free and commercial, that emulate real-world hardware modules and also offer unique digital functions.

Users can craft intricate synthesizer patches, dabble in sound design, and even synchronize VCV Rack with other digital audio workstation software using virtual MIDI and audio connections.

And what could make more sense than integrating an NES module? 🫣

Exactly. Nothing. Christian Kauten aka @Kautenja has done just that. This isn't just a novelty – Christian has gone to great lengths to infuse the project with both life and quality.

So, for those who already spend their days in front of VCV Rack, cherish the NES as their favorite gaming platform, and are looking for an exciting new endeavor, RackNES comes highly recommended.

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PET Mario

PET Mario
Imagesource: https://www.youtube.com/@jimo9757

If there's one thing the Commodore PET has been missing, it's a Mario Clone! And the life of every PET owner would be incomplete had Jimbo – known for his game development on the Commodore PET – not unveiled his new game, PETSCII Side-Scrolling Platformer.

To be fair, the game isn't precisely a Mario clone. Instead, it's a fusion of PETSCIIMario, and Sonic. But this doesn't dampen the fun of the gameplay, and the fluidity of the play is particularly remarkable.

In the game, players can traverse various levels, run, jump, collect coins, defeat enemies, face off against bosses, and save their friends. With so much to do, there's little chance of getting bored. This game serves as another testament to the fact that engaging gameplay doesn't require gigahertz processors or gigabyte game engines.

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Apples first(?) CPU

Apples first CPU
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/v7dNorB47Qw

Apple is known not only for embedding its custom-designed silicon in mobile devices with the A processor series, but also for significantly disrupting the processor world with the M1 and M2 since 2020, which most people are aware of.

But what's less known is that Apple was working on its own multicore(!) CPU back in the 80s under Project Aquarius, a fact that remains a relatively well-guarded secret.

The details surrounding this project are more than intriguing. YouTuber @BytesRetro not only collected all relevant information but also crafted an entertaining stream on his publishing platform of choice to share it with the rest of the world.

The video offers a captivating slice of history, raising a series of what-if questions. It's perfect, relaxed entertainment for an evening without TV. 📺

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Learn 6502 Assembly

Learn 6502 Assembly
Imagesource: https://youtu.be/VlxyaP0NXR4

For those who find the aforementioned EDAS insufficient, or for those who haven't yet dipped their toes into Assembly on the C64 but have always been curious about looking beyond high-level languages, the following might be just right for you.

YouTuber MyDeveloperThoughts has dug up OCEAN's Laser Genius. An assembler, monitor, and analyzer by Oasis Software come together to form a complete software development package for those truly dedicated. And for those familiar with Turbo Macro Pro, it's definitely worth a look. Notably, the assembler is available in both a low and high memory variant, allowing users to choose their desired memory range for their own creation.

The video provides a detailed walkthrough of all the software components, and the obligatory border color cycling is, of course, included. Anyone intrigued by a low-level challenge with a high-level IDE for the small Commodore should at least check it out.

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That's it. Grab an ice cream, take one more trip to the bathroom, then off to bed. There won't be anything new on this channel for another 14 days.

If you value and cherish our publication, please help us and spread the word. Reading is silver, sharing is gold, and we are still looking for the next subscribers.

If you have content for one of our upcoming issues, or there's a topic close to your heart, feel free to contact us. Just click on Reply up there ⬆️ and off you go.

We'll be back for you in 14 days. Until then – build something and speak about it.

Jan & Bastian

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