Q&D: Enjoying Some Demos on the Amiga 2000

Over the recent holiday, I spent some time upgrading, working on projects with, and generally polishing off a few of the vintage systems in my collection and, as such, ended up having some pretty great retro fun with them. Not all of these endeavors warranted (or, well, ended up getting) a full post here on the blog, but I have been sharing the good times via my Mastodon, YouTube, Flickr accounts, and the like. And, while my posts to those platforms generate some fun conversation, I would like to better include such “smaller” activities on the blog, here. As such, I am going to start making the odd “quick and dirty” post that captures something I think readers might like that’s just sort-of happening in the moment. These might consist of a video clip or a few photos — and probably not a big, in-depth text dive into what I’m doing. “Q&D” posts. I hope they’re a positive addition.

This is the first.

Last night, I fired up my Amiga 2000 ‘020 and started running through some of the demos installed on its SCSI2SD volumes. One that I really enjoyed was Gagrakacka Mind Zones by Disaster Area, an Amiga Original Chipset (OCS/ECS) demo that took the first prize at the Oldskool Demo compo at the Flashback 2015 party. After watching it through, I pulled out the iPhone 15 Pro Max and did a quick and dirty capture of the demo running on my dual-screen A2000.

(The system next to the Amiga is a 5×86 160MHz DOS PC that shares (thanks to the Indivision ECS scan-doubler in the Amiga) the dual-input 19-inch Sony CPD-G420, the best looking CRT monitor I’ve ever owned.)

The (many) demos created in recent years for even the base, 8MHz Amiga models are truly a sight (and sound) to behold.

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Have a Helping of 8-bit Holiday Cheer! (2023 Edition)

‘Tis the season, and that means it’s time to push out the twelfth 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!

Be sure to also have a look at the dozens of demos gathered through the years in the 2022 edition, the 2021 edition, the 2020 edition, the 2019 edition, the 2018 edition, the 2017 edition and the 2011 – 2016 editions of this post.

Amstrad CPC — Christmas Demo 2023 ‘Joyeux Noel’ by Kukulcan (2023)
Apple II — 2023 Christmas Demo by Deater (2023)
Commodore 64 — Xmas 2023 Compo Invite by Fairlight (2023)
Baffa-2+ — Xmas Demos 2023 by Augusto (2023)
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Posted in Holidays, Multi-Platform | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Era of American Computer Magazines Has Drawn to a Close

I’ve been buying a copy of Maximum PC magazine at the airport newsstand on every long-distance trip I’ve taken over the past two decades. I’m primarily a Mac user but Maximum PC, which started life as boot, bought at these intervals kept me comfortably up to date on the state of affairs in the PC hardware world (not to mention making for a nice timeline of my significant travels). Thumbing through these issues a few times a year, I got an overall feel for what was the state of the art in PC CPUs, GPUs, motherboards, RAM technology, and so on. I’ve got all of these issues over there on the shelf, handy to look back on when trying to assess this or that mildly-vintage system that might come my way.

But, when I flew to Boston this spring, I couldn’t find my copy of Maximum PC on the newsstand. It wasn’t at Washington National or at Logan, on either end of the week-long trip. A few days later when I was back in town, I checked the local Barnes and Noble for the current issue and wasn’t able to find it there, either.

It was then that I did a bit of searching on the web and was rather alarmed to find Harry McCracken’s recent Technologizer post, “The End of Computer Magazines in America,” subtitled “With Maximum PC and MacLife’s abandonment of print, the dead-tree era of computer journalism is officially over. It lasted almost half a century—and was quite a run.” I somehow didn’t see this coming nearly as well as I should have and I very much lament that the April 2023 issues of both of the aforementioned magazines’ were there last.

Creative Computing magazines

Ever since I got my first home computer on Christmas morning, 1982, I have been buying and reading computer magazines. Some general — Creative Computing, BYTE, Compute!, Personal Computing, Computers & Electronics, Pen Computing, Next Generation, etc. — and some platform specific — A+, InCider, ’99er, AmigaWorld, STart, INFO 64, NeXTWorld, etc. — these magazines riveted me with the promises of upcoming software, hardware, new systems, and the like in a world before the internet when monthly magazines like these were how we knew what was coming. They were what got me excited about the Next Big Thing.

And now, basically all American computer print magazines have vanished. Some have gone online in various fashions…but it’s not the same. Coming to realize that this reality had crept slowly upon me was a sad moment.

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Posted in Multi-Platform, News | Tagged | 7 Comments

Thinking Back on ‘Turbo Pascal’ as It Turns 40

November marked the 40th anniversary of Turbo Pascal, the first Integrated Development Environment (or IDE), which allowed a user to quickly and easily write a program in the Pascal programming language and see it compiled and linked — all in one go — with an executable dropped to disk at the end. Much simpler a process than the traditional model of programming in a text editor, using a compiler to convert the source into object code (often over several passes), and running a linker to integrate any required libraries, Turbo Pascal was friendly, fast, and cheap. Created by Anders Hejlsberg, the development package was released by Borland in November 1983 at a price of $49.99 for both CP/M and DOS-based systems.

Created by Niklaus Wirth in 1970, Pascal is a small and efficient procedural programming language that is easy to use and, thanks to its structured programming nature, was often employed as a language for learning programming concepts at a level higher than traditional, early BASIC. It is in this capacity that I had my first hands-on experiences with the language in an A.P. Computer Science class I took in high school during the late ’80s. Here, at its 40th anniversary, I thought I would share the memories I have of spending time with Turbo Pascal.

Having joined the ranks of the home computing on Christmas morning in 1982 and become instantly swept up in all of it, I quickly learned BASIC (in the backroom of a Singer sewing machine store down at the mall, which is a story on its own) and was poring over computer books and magazines constantly. So, I had heard of Pascal. In fact, Texas Instruments offered a UCSD Pascal p-System for my beloved TI-99/4A, which allowed the system to access a large library of Pascal programs out there via their P-Code card which provided a virtual machine for running these platform-agnostic programs, though I never owned that hardware.

Flash forward to my junior year of high school when I took the aforementioned A.P. Computer Science class, taught by the late Col. Ken Jenkins, at Hampton Roads Academy in Newport News, Virginia. At the time, the school had a computer lab full of Apple IIe computers used for teaching BASIC programming and for typing classes. For the APCS class, four or five DOS PCs were setup along the back wall, featuring lovely, amber MDA displays (pictured). These were the systems our small APCS class (I think there were only about five or six of us) used for Pascal classwork, which was done in Turbo Pascal v4 for DOS. (In retrospect, they should also have dropped Z-80 cards in a few of those Apple IIes — the CP/M version of Borland’s IDE ran well in that environment.) The class was a lot of fun and it was great getting my first taste of procedural programming. (And there was a particularly memorable anecdote about a lesson on the unary minus, I recall — but that’s a story for another time.)

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Posted in Amiga, DOS / Win PC, Down Memory Lane, Just Rambling, Multi-Platform, Other Platform, Programming | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Lost Amiga “Four-Byte Burger” Painting Digitally Recreated (And Looking Amazing in Glowing Phosphor!)

test

It was in the late summer of 1985 when I first heard of the Amiga. I learned about the forthcoming system in an issue of Personal Computing magazine that featured the Amiga on its cover and contained an in-depth dive into the what was the most amazing computer — by an incredible margin — I had ever seen. The specifications I read and the photos I saw within made such an impact on me that I wrote a post to this blog about the magazine itself, A Look at the Sauciest Magazine I Ever Owned, about ten years ago.

4 Byte Burger

The magazine’s deep dive into the Amiga (take a look for yourself) featured various examples of graphics created on the system, the most impressive of which — to my eye — was entitled “Four-Byte Burger,” a whimsical and lovely, exploded digital painting of a floppy-disk cheeseburger of sorts created by Jack Haeger, Director of Amiga’s Art and Graphics Department at the time. The 32-color image utilized the Amiga’s 4096-color palette to produce graphics the likes of which I had never seen before. (At the time, I was using an Apple II that was 6-colors only, basically.) A short time later the premier issue of AmigaWorld magazine appeared on the shelf, also featuring the image within, and finally after the launch of the system, “Four-Byte Burger” made its way to the inner covers of the Graphicraft paint program’s user manual which is the source of the high-res scan I was able to secure a few years back.

Around the time of that earlier post, I tried to track down a digital copy of the image, but to no avail. It wasn’t in the Amiga Graphics Archive, or seemingly anywhere else I looked. I came to find out that “Four-Byte Burger,” along with several other early Amiga paintings featured in these magazines, were created with a version of Graphicraft so early in development that it did not yet feature file I/O capabilities. These images were drawn, the CRT display was photographed, and then those lovely pixels were cast into the void when power was taken from system RAM with the flick of a switch.

These images, in digital form at least, were lost to time…like tears in rain.

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Posted in Amiga, Down Memory Lane | Tagged , | 4 Comments

“MuffinTerm”: A Great New Terminal App for BBSing on iPhone, iPad, and Mac

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.

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Posted in BBS, Handhelds, iOS, Macintosh | 7 Comments

Have a Helping of 8-bit Holiday Cheer! (2022 Edition)

Pixellated 8-bit style plastic Christmas wreath

‘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!

Be sure to also have a look at the dozens of demos gathered through the years in the 2021 edition, the 2020 edition, the 2019 edition, the 2018 edition, the 2017 edition and the 2011 – 2016 editions of this post.

Commodore 64 — Christmas Around the World by Kermit R. Woodall (1987)
PC DOS — Sierra Christmas Card 1992 (in VGA, played on Roland MT-32) by Sierra (1992)
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Posted in Holidays, Multi-Platform | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

It’s a MIDI Christmas With the Atari ST for “Holiday Music Week X”

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.

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Posted in Atari, Holidays, r/Retrobattlestations | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Configure Your Mac to Allow Vintage Computers to “Dial In” [Updated]

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.

WiFi232 WiFi modem bridge device

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.

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Posted in Apple II, BBS, Macintosh, Other Platform, Serial Terminal | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

A Secret Apple Silicon Extension to Accommodate an Intel 8080 Artifact

Lately I’ve been spending time on Mastodon for … reasons. Here’s my link: https://oldbytes.space/@blakespot. In my recently active time on the platform, I have found quite a few excellent retrocomputing-related posts by creative members of the community. One such post, by Dougall, links to his blog post entitled “Why is Rosetta 2 fast?“.

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 ADDSSUBS 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:

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Posted in Macintosh, OS | Tagged , , , , | 13 Comments