Readers can find quite a few posts on this blog about my enjoyment of modern-day BBSing — “dialing in” to online Bulletin Board Systems that can still be found out there on the net. I consider BBSing to be a wonderful opportunity to sit down in front of the various systems in my collection and spend time with them — to put them to use. The process itself, involving vintage hardware, I find to be quite satisfying and the online discussions I’m part of in the message areas of these BBSs are a lot of fun as well. As such, there are certainly times when I want to login and check messages but it’s not possible or convenient to go down into the cellar and fire up an old system.
Being primarily a Mac user (when it comes to modern systems), I will usually use my MacBook Air and iTerm 2 or, if I need something beyond VT100 emulation, SyncTerm to login. These work well enough, but I need to have my Mac with me to use them, and of course I often don’t.
A while back, I spent a considerable amount of time (and money, actually) trying out various enterprise-targeted terminal apps in the iOS / iPadOS App Store that claim to offer some of the emulations I need for proper BBSing, but not a single one of them ever managed to pull it off. Some have ANSI emulation but lack the extended character sets needed to render the “ANSI art“-style login screens and menus used by many of the BBSs out there. And, you can just forget about emulation of anything like the Commodore 64’s PETSCII or the Atari 8-bit’s ATASCII character sets. So, proper BBSing on the devices that I do have with me most of the time has been a no-go.
That is, until now.
A new terminal program called MuffinTerm has recently appeared in the iOS / iPadOS App Store and the Mac App Store that is specifically designed for telnet BBSing. Oh, and it’s free.
‘Tis the season, and that means it’s time to push out the eleventh annual Byte Cellar vintage computer Holiday demo roundup so everyone can feel that warm, fuzzy, pixellated holiday glow (which I think we could all especially use this year). With scanlines. Enjoy!
I’ve been a computer geek for a long time now, but I’ve been enjoying The Holidays even longer…
I got my first computer, a TI-99/4A, on Christmas morning in 1982. I was 10 years old and from that Christmas on, it was nothing but games and computer hardware that I wanted Santa to leave me under the tree. On through my teenage years, part of my ritual for getting into the Holiday spirit was downloading and watching Christmas demos on whatever system I had at the time. And, apparently I wasn’t alone in this, as Benj Edwards explains in his piece, “The Oddball, Nostalgia-Inducing Christmas Tech Art Of The 1980s And 1990s.”
Enjoying these demos is a personal tradition that I had, sadly, long left behind until 2010 (the year before I began writing these posts) when I was inspired to seek out the demo I remember best, Audio Light’s 1985 musical slideshow for the Atari ST. With the help of an emulator, I captured it to share online with readers. A year later, I fired it up again and watched it run through it’s 16-color, pixellated images and 3-voice musical holiday greetings. As I watched, it occurred to me that it might be nice to gather a few of the other demos I remember from the good ole’ days and present them here, in order to try to share some of the holiday cheer that they used to inspire within me.
The following list of demos ranges across a variety of platforms of olde and is sure to bring the warmth of the season to the hearts of any and all retrocomputing enthusiasts who behold it. Happy holidays, and I hope you enjoy the shows!
As I type this we are in the middle of the tenth annual Holiday Music Week over at r/Retrobattlestations. For this season’s contest, I decided to interface my wife’s Radio Shack music keyboard with my Atari 520ST using its built-in MIDI ports and let the system do a bit of caroling.
One of the first programs I ever had on my original 520ST back in 1986 was a Christmas slideshow and music demo from Audio Light, Inc. The graphics in the slideshow were drawn by Peter Wickman with Audio Light’s N-Vision paint program and the music was surely created with some iteration of The Music Studio, a music composition program also created by Audio Light.
Back in 2010 I wrote a short post on this blog about this demo and uploaded a video of it running under emulation. In fact, it was that post that kicked off my yearly Holiday Demos posts that have been going for over 10 years now. One thing in this demo that always got my attention was the last line on the final, informational slide that says, “If you have a MIDI instrument, plug it in!” And, so, I bought some cables and have done just that!
Without further ado, for Holiday Music Week X I present the 1985 Audio Light holiday slideshow and music presentation, as played by my Atari 520ST and the Radio Shack MD-981 MIDI keyboard (which was likely produced for Radio Shack by Casio).
Here’s wishing all of my vintage computing readers a wonderful Holiday Season and a bright New Year!
Visit a gallery of all my r/Retrobattlestations entry photos. A complete list, with links, of the fun I've had with challenges in that subreddit over the years can be seen below. Good times!
As regular readers are aware, I enjoy spending time logged in to a few personal favorites of the myriad telnet bulletin board systems that are presently online and serving as discussion communities for their users. As often as I can, I use one of my vintage systems to “dial” in and read the latest gossip rather than a modern Mac or PC. I use serial-to-WiFi bridge devices to make the process simple and as clutter-free as possible.
Another “modern day” (if you can call it that) use of these vintage systems I like to engage in is keeping an Internet Relay Chat (IRC) instance open on this or that system to glance at across the room and occasionally wheel my chair over and chat a bit on said system. (I hope you didn’t learn about IRC on TV…) This pursuit is less well served by the aforementioned serial-to-WiFi bridges given that many of the systems on my desks lack a proper IRC client. If I want to use such systems to IRC, the best way to go, from my perspective, is to telnet into my always-on desktop Mac and launch my go-to IRC client, the terminal-based irssi, which works quite well as accessed from a remote VT100 terminal. And, nearly all of the systems in question have VT100 emulation supported by a several software terminal emulator programs such as ProTerm on my favorite vintage IRC system, the Apple IIe to my left.
For years (and on many different systems) I would achieve this by utilizing a USB-to-serial adapter on the Mac and running a serial cable from the vintage system in question to said adapter on the Mac. But it was a cumbersome process. And, several OS updates ago Apple redid the USB stack in macOS and rendered the adapters I had on-hand inoperable. To get around this I setup a Raspberry Pi connected via WiFi to my network, specifically to serve as the host system for the remote terminal, as it maintained support for my adapters — it worked (video), but it was a configuration I was never really happy with.
So, I headed to the Apple II Infinitum Slack channel and asked if it was possible to setup a listener on the desktop Mac to allow a vintage system equipped with a serial-to-WiFi adapter to “dial in” to the Mac and be granted a wireless terminal connection. It turned out, it was.
I learned that in a few simple steps you can setup a listener macOS daemon that will allow an incoming telnet connection to a specified port and present a shell session with a login prompt where you can login and execute terminal commands. When I do so, I’m usually there to launch irssi and connect to an IRC server, but other commands work nicely, such as the system monitor top, if you want to keep an eye on how things are doing when fullscreen apps are hogging the displays. (Another nice terminal-based IRC client is WeeChat, by the way.)
I currently have this arrangement up and running on my 2022 Mac Studio (M1 Max) but I originally set this up on the 2017 5K iMac (Intel Core i5) — it will work on either Apple Silicon or Intel-based systems. Here’s how to do it.
Rosetta 2 is the ahead-of-time compile translator that’s part of macOS Big Sur (and later) that, upon launch of an x64 Intel binary, translates it to 64-bit ARM code for execution on ARM-based Apple Silicon processors before execution. It is not a real-time emulator. It translates the entire binary — once — at launch time, making best-guess choices along the way. Dougall delves into various aspects of Rosetta 2 in an effort to explain why it is so performant; in many instances the translated binary runs faster on Apple Silicon than on the fastest Intel machines that Apple has ever released. It’s impressive.
It’s a fascinating read for a tech nerd like me that has a particular interest in OS technology. But one detail of the post really grabbed my attention.
Apple’s secret extension
There are only a handful of different instructions that account for 90% of all operations executed, and, near the top of that list are addition and subtraction. On ARM these can optionally set the four-bit NZVC register, whereas on x86 these always set six flag bits: CF, ZF, SF and OF (which correspond well-enough to NZVC), as well as PF (the parity flag) and AF (the adjust flag).
Emulating the last two in software is possible (and seems to be supported by Rosetta 2 for Linux), but can be rather expensive. Most software won’t notice if you get these wrong, but some software will. The Apple M1 has an undocumented extension that, when enabled, ensures instructions like ADDS, SUBS and CMP compute PF and AF and store them as bits 26 and 27 of NZCV respectively, providing accurate emulation with no performance penalty.
Intrigued by mention of this “secret extension,” I reached out to the author and asked if he could expand on what Apple has done here. And, he obliged. As he explained in his multi-part Mastodon response:
I found myself posting this information so frequently on forum threads and in video comments that I wanted to put it all together in one place so that I can share my experience and what I’ve learned with a single link. And, while this is primarily a vintage computing blog, not every post is of that nature. Apologies to my retro-only readers. (Well, there is an Amiga and a Lisa in that second photo down the page, there, so…)
I recently replaced my aging 2017 5K Retina iMac with a Mac Studio, powered by an M1 Max processor and 32GB of RAM. Some months earlier I upgraded my aging laptop to a 2022 M2 MacBook Air. That iMac’s beautiful 27-inch, 5K retina display was hard to part with, and so I wanted to give the new desktop system a very nice screen. And I have, in the form of an LG DualUp 28-inch display.
It’s an unusual display; it is a 16:18 aspect panel with a native resolution of 2560×2880. It is “tall” in its normal orientation, but I’ve chosen to use it rotated which makes it look rather square. A perfect screen for my use cases as a general UNIX system and web development workstation. (I do not game on my desktop Mac nor do I watch feature films, so a more traditional 16:9 aspect ration has little value to me here.) I’ve had this system up and running for two months now and I can say that, of all the displays I’ve ever used, this one is my favorite.
Doing research to spec out the screen for this iMac replacement, I encountered a large number of people lamenting the use of 4K displays with Macs, noting that the Apple 5K displays, with a 218 pixel/inch density, allow for a computationally easy halving of the native display resolution to achieve an ideal desktop rendering. A 5K Apple display has a native resolution of 5120×2880 and the default view mode is a “looks like” 2560×1440 desktop — razor sharp. Halving the native display resolution is easy peasy for GPU hardware — a small lift. This is, presumably, why Apple’s Retina displays are 5K rather than 4K. The thing with 4K displays is that in their typical native 3840×2160 resolution, they present the UI elements far too small, while the system-suggested half-resolution rendering is a sharp “looks like” 1920×1080 display where the UI elements appear too large — there’s too little desktop real estate.
The way around this is to have macOS “scale” the display to a more ideal lower resolution, but choosing that option in display preferences presents a warning: “Using a scaled resolution may affect performance.” What the OS does here is to scale up the chosen resolution to double height and double width (4x the pixels displayed) and then scale them back down to the display’s native resolution — 60 times per second. Indeed, this can be too much for certain older systems out there. But, as you will see, modern Macs should be able to handle the task just fine.
My display, which has a ~140 pixel/inch density (close that of a typical 4K display), is scaling to a “looks like” resolution of 2304×2048. This means that macOS renders my desktop at 4608×4096 (18.9 million pixels) and then scales it down to the panel’s native (rotated) 2880×2560 — 60 times per second. (The “looks like” target for a standard 4K display with a native resolution of 3840×2160 will typically be 2560×1440 and, thus, it gets scaled up 5120×2880 (14.7 million pixels) and then back down to the panel’s native resolution.) This all sounds harrowing, and many threads of concern have been created, talking about the dramatic performance impact that this scaling busywork necessarily has on the system. Among them is this frequently cited video created by a person who indicates that the performance of their M1 MacBook Pro was so dramatically impacted by a scaled 4K display that they returned it and got a more traditional, low-DPI 2K display.
I’ve been an active IRC users for nearly 25 years now, and for many of those years I was a denizen of the #a2c.chatchannel on the irc.a2central.com IRC server. (IRC stands for Internet Relay Chat, a channel-based internet text chat system that was introduced in 1988.) That’s where I met Tony Diaz. Long a key figure in the yearly KansasFest Apple II gathering and possessing of an enormous personal collection (there were palettes) of Apple II-related hardware including the extremely rare, Tony was a fervent Apple II enthusiast and an absolute font of knowledge regarding all things Apple II. Regrettably, Tony died unexpectedly on October 27th near his home in Oceanside, CA. As I write this post, we have been without Tony for exactly one year — a year that the Apple II community has been bereft of one of its brightest stars, a friendly figure quick to lend a hand.
I met Tony in person but once, when he stopped by my home on a larger trip in order to pick up a NeXT 21-inch Color Display I had offered him and gave me a tour of the unicorn-rare prototype “Mark Twain” Apple IIgs he had packed in his PT Cruiser. It is IRC where I knew Tony, and we had many conversations over the year about this or that obscure aspect of Apple II computing. Having not only been an extreme Apple II hobbyist buy also having worked in Apple II-related and general hardware capacities, Tony had many stories to share. Here, a year after his passing, I share the one I found the most fascinating.
One day in early 2014 on IRC, I DM’ed Tony asking if he had any 65C02 CPUs and the proper ROMs lying around to enable me to upgrade an Apple IIe I had just acquired from eBay to an Enhanced IIe. I mentioned that I couldn’t even boot the Copy II Plus 9 disk I had on hand (a very popular copy program / system utility for the Apple II from Central Point Software) on that machine in its current configuration. Tony quipped that C2P 9 was junk anyway, and that I should use C2P 8. I asked after this, and he explained that C2P 9 was buggy, a total rewrite from the ground up due to the fact that the source code for C2P 8 had been lost. I asked if he knew the story behind that and, unsurprisingly, he was one of the few people in the world that did, and he proceeded to tell me the whole story.
What follows is a tale involving several amazing and unlikely finds coupled with a good bit of luck that, in the end, explains how that source code came to be lost, necessitating Central Point to entirely rewrite a core product. The story takes place in the early ’90s, when Tony was working at Alltech, a tech clearinghouse of sorts that sold old / hard to find items, much of it for the Apple II.
It’s been nearly 27 years but, as life teaches us, all good things must come to an end. On June 15th, Microsoft ended support for Internet Explorer on all desktop systems, including its launch platform, the Commodore Amiga.
Or, so it would seem.
Microsoft tweeted the news yesterday from its official @MicrosoftEdge account. In the poignant tweet, the Redmond software giant bade farewell to its venerable web browser, stating with some sadness, “Now, it’s time to surf the big web in the sky,” while marking the woeful moment with an animated image of IE’s orbited-“e” logo, centered on a glowing blue screen which fades out to darkness on an Amiga 1000 computer.
As someone whose 23 year web development career has been made rather “challenging” on many occasions thanks to Internet Explorer and its many unfortunate virtues, this seems its perfect epitaph: A browser released in 1995 for Microsoft’s new, preemptive multitasking OS, Windows 95, memorialized on the screen of an Amiga, a graphics computer released by Commodore in 1985 that brought the first preemptive multitasking OS to the consumer market — ten years earlier. It wasn’t a DOS machine, it didn’t run Windows, and it never ran Internet Explorer.
One of my favorite vintage systems in the “Byte Cellar” is my 128k enhanced Apple IIe. It is also one of the most frequently used; I fire it up for IRC or BBS sessions several times a week, and game and watch demos on it almost as often. The Apple II (a //c, specifically) was one of my very first home computers, and I have owned several different IIs over the years. As such, the Apple II platform holds a special place in my heart.
As far as I am aware, this Apple IIe has the original power supply in place. (I acquired this unit on eBay in late 2008 [gallery] and got my first IIe back in 1986.) Not too long ago, I purchased a replacement power supply kit from ReactiveMicro, but haven’t had a need to install it as yet, but I’ve been a little curious how well the in-place PSU is supplying power.
A few days ago I was browsing eBay’s Vintage Computing listings when I saw a modern device that could quell that curiosity. The device in question is the “Apple II+ IIe & IIGS Continuous Power Monitor Display,” which is an external 3D-printed box housing blue and red LED readouts for the Apple II’s +5, +12, -5, and -12 power lines that is attached to a simple breakout card that can be seated in any slot in the system. The unit gives a constant reading of the bus voltage levels while, its creator assures me, drawing a negligible amount of power from the system.
As I said, I was curious about the levels being output by my aged PSU, but that’s not why I bought this thing. I grabbed it because it looks all retro-tech “blinkenlights” cool. It reminds me of something that might have been part of David Lightman’s IMSAI 8080 setup [info via Wayback Machine]. I had two free slots (5 and 6) and I now have but one.
Have a look at the box for yourself. The embedded photo is a still of the scenedemo F15 D’Gamma Clone released by C64CD in 2016 and the video shows the system running the demo Plasmagoria, released by French Touch (who make quite a few demos for the Apple II) in 2015. Audio is being output via a stereo, 8-channel (6 voices, 2 whitenoise channels) Mockingboard “K” soundcard slotted into the system and the secondary, HDMI display is being driven by a VidHD board. A few voltage fluctuations can be seen in the video but it doesn’t get much more exciting than that, I’m afraid. My need-case for the power monitor is a little silly, but it feels fun!
This week Apple held a special event in which it announced a variety of new hardware and services, chief among them being a new model in the Macintosh lineup, the Mac Studio powered by the equally new 20-core M1 Ultra SoC, and the new 27-inch 5K Studio Display. The impressively powerful Mac Studio takes the form factor of a “tall” Mac mini (kind of a IIsi to the mini’s Mac LC). As such, it has gained the nickname “Fat Mac” here and there on the forums. Those who’ve been following the Macintosh scene since the beginning will recognize the colloquialism as a dusting off of the nickname bestowed upon the Macintosh 512K, a model introduced several months later the release of the original 128K Macintosh.
Ahead of their special events, Apple publicizes them with imagery featuring an artistic take on the Apple logo along with slogan. The March 8th event was dubbed the “Peek performance” event and the associated imagery featured a set of rainbow-colored layers that convey a kind of tunnel effect. I love it when Apple brings out the rainbow of olde on their logo in any manner. This one looked quite nice, to me.
While I’m sure that there’s little hardware out there that could render such a vibrant and colorful image better than the Mac Studio with its accompanying Studio Display, I thought I would see how good a job one of the Mac’s grandfathers — my trusty 128K Enhanced Apple IIe — could do. And, so, I reached to Bill Buckel’s Bmp2DHR image converter, which I detailed in a post several years ago, to get the job done.
I grabbed the “Peek performance” logo from Apple’s website, adjusted and reduced it in size to a true-color, 640×480 pixel BMP image file (one of the acceptable input formats of the b2d program), and on the command line had the program convert the BMP to a 16-color Double High-Res image file, 16K in size. I then used Jason Harper’s ][GIF image viewer to display the image on my Enhanced Apple IIe equipped with a VidHD graphics adapter from John Brooks.