BBSing in the Snow Is the Best Way to Login

I logged into my first dial-up electronic Bulletin Board System in the spring of 1986 at the house of a friend I was visiting. His family had an Apple IIe setup with an Apple Modem 1200, the kind that sat under a desktop phone, at one end of their den. He was a fairly avid BBS user and when I expressed an interest he logged in to a local BBS called OxGate and showed me around. (OxGate ran the RBBS software on a flavor of RCP/M, a multiuser CP/M-like operating system, and was located in Grafton, Virginia.) On his computer I setup an account and logged in. And I was off…

OxGate BBS login screen

A few months later, for my 14th birthday, I asked for and was given a Prometheus ProModem 1200A modem (thanks for the image, Tony) for my own IIe and was able to dial in on my own. Until I was able to have internet access at home (in 1994 via a dail-up PPP TCP/IP connection from a local ISP known as Widomaker over a Cardinal 28.8Kbps modem), dial-up BBSing was my favorite computer activity. That’s a solid 8 years.

It’s sad to recall just how quickly and completely I (we?) jumped from local BBSs to the web, when it became accessible from home, and didn’t look back. I finally did look back, but not for about 25 years.

When I think back on those days, I recall the most pleasant times on a BBS were rainy days — or, better, snowy days — when there wasn’t much you could do outside, but you could have a all kinds of fun discussing this or that in the message bases on the numerous BBSs in the local area code. (This was when it was all land lines and long distance charges were a thing). And most of what we discussed was the computers we were using to dial in on, and their particular attributes. Yes, BBSs were pretty geeky places.

On such days, looking out the window at the falling snow while posting online made the whole thing seem rather cozy.

And so, when the northern Virginia area was hit hard with a heavy snow last week and I logged into a few telnet BBSs on my current Apple IIe, I found myself, again, looking out at the snow and it kind of took me back to those loveliest BBSing days of the long past. Feeling that same winter cozy vibe, I took a photo and wanted to share it here to try and convey some of that “small world” magic that I’m sure more than a few readers once knew. (I used Paul Rickard’s WiFi232 serial-to-WiFi “modem,” which I’ve written about in the past along with a demo video, to get the IIe online.)

And, yes, BBSs are still a thing. These days they’re more telnet than dail-up based, but they’re out there and many of them are running on vintage hardware, interfaced this way or that to the ‘net.

If you’re interested in giving BBSing a shake, have a look at my little BBSing tips page and checkout the the Telnet BBS Guide for the long list of boards that are waiting for your “call.” Grab some hot cocoa and get online! Or, if you’d just like a quick glimpse, my BBSing photo gallery shows a variety of machines caught in the act.

Feels related, somehow:

Update: People have been asking about the sticker door. Here you go. Most of them came from Reddit’s r/Retrobattlestations competitions!

Posted in Apple II, BBS, Down Memory Lane, Just Rambling | Tagged | 6 Comments

Have a Helping of 8-bit Holiday Cheer! (2021 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 2020 edition, the 2019 edition, the 2018 edition, the 2017 edition and the 2011 – 2016 editions of this post.

Amiga — Shuffling Around the Christmas Tree by Desire (2021)
Commodore 64 — Christmas Mega Demo 2020 by The Santas (2020)
Atari ST — Merry Christmas by [??] (??)
Windows PC – Last Christmas by Royal Belgian Beer Squadron (2007)
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Parceiro: An Extraordinary Upgrade for Amiga 1000 Users

In October 1985 I purchased the first Amiga sold in the state of Virginia. It was a transformative experience to have that level of technology on the desk in front of me as a young geek. The Amiga 1000 was miles beyond any other consumer computer available on the market at the time in several respects. It boasted preemptive multitasking, a palette of 4096 colors (at a time when EGA‘s 64-color palette was considered impressive), four channel stereo digital audio, and a custom chipset with a graphics co-processor that allowed for incredible on-screen animation. In fact, it was ahead of its time to such a degree that much of the tech press didn’t know what to make of it, and so it was largely considered to be an expensive game machine, sadly, which did not help its adoption (especially in the states). I loved that system, but software was very slow in coming for the new platform and after a while I put an ad in the newspaper, sold it, and moved on to another system (which was a routine I carried out for quite a few years). But, I never forgot the magic of that first Amiga.

Many years later (in 2009), despite having an accelerated Amiga 2000 on the desk, I acquired another Amiga 1000 system to try and relive that 1985 magic. I enjoyed the machine greatly, but even though I expanded it with 2MB of FAST RAM and dual SCSI hard drives, it was always difficult to load it up with programs and put it to use, as compared to my fully networked Amiga 2000 with its 68020 accelerator, ethernet card, SD-based SCSI hard drive emulator, and HxC2001 floppy drive emulator. The Amiga 1000 was more of an island and, as such, it saw little use.

Flash forward to late 2020 when I read a post by AmigaL0ve in which he described a new expansion device made specifically for the Amiga 1000. It was called the Parceiro (“parceiro” meaning “partner” in Portuguese) and offered a very impressive and useful 3-in-1 upgrade in a svelte side-expansion about the size of a Hershey bar — and all for a reasonable price. I ordered one immediately.

The Parceiro was created by Amiga hobbyist and (now retired) once-CIO of the United States Space Force, David Dunklee. An ardent fan of the Amiga 1000 and the landmark moment in computing history that it represented upon release, David designed the Parceiro to help bring this innovative system up to speed with other members of the Amiga family, for which upgrades are much more readily available.

The Parceiro consists of a single circuit board that happens to be festooned with printed references to some of the best pieces of old school nostalgia that will bring a smile to the face of anyone who was a child of the ’80s. Sitting in a removable plastic enclosure, it attaches to the Amiga 1000’s side bus-expander connector and offers the following features:

  • 8MB of auto configuring “FAST” RAM (the A1000 shipped with just 256K) with zero wait states (thanks to the use of SRAM rather than DRAM)
  • A front-facing microSD card reader supporting a 2GB card (bundled) formatted as a FAT32 volume allowing it to be read/written to on a PC or Mac for moving files, using live in an emulator, etc.
  • A Real-Time Clock (RTC) with onboard battery backup and a driver allowing it to be recognized my AmigaDOS at boot
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About the Personalized, Cut Wood Apple Logo Sign from 1984

On Saturday KansasFest 2021 wrapped up and it was sad to see it end — what an amazing 48 hours it was! This was the second KFest I have attended (both virtual) and it was incredibly fun, just like last year. It is hard to believe I had never attended the event prior to the shutdown / need to go virtual, but my experiences during my virtual presence have certainly motivated me to soon show up in-person, and the hope is that next year everyone will be back at Rockhurst University and sharing in the event face-to-face.

One of the most enjoyable parts of the show for me was the Discord video chat that took place both Friday and Saturday evenings after the day’s sessions were done. I got to know many of the regulars a lot better during these fun group discussions where we chatted long into the night, sharing stories and showing off hardware, our pets (both organic and Commodore), and various other odds and ends. It was a late night and then off to sleep I went. 

The following morning my daughter, who had preceded my wife and me downstairs to eat breakfast, asked me if I had been up all night chatting with my “Kansas people.” I told her that, indeed, it had been a fairly late but fun chat and I proceeded downstairs to make myself some coffee. I then saw, on the kitchen counter what had clued her in. Through the course of the previous evening’s conversation, I had run down into the “Byte Cellar” to grab a few things to show on camera as the conversation ranged in topic hither and yon. When I signed off, I had left everything where it was and gone straight to bed.

On the counter I had left my NEXTSTEP v3.2 Academic Bundle (install floppies and all); a Disk ][ controller card for the Apple II that I asked its creator, Steve Wozniak, to sign during MacWorld Expo 2009; an airbrushed, cut wood rendering of my name beside the rainbow Apple logo of olde; and various other more modern gear that I used to take part in the online chat (M1 MacBook Air, iPad Pro, AirPods Pro).

Amused at the display I had left behind, I snapped a photo and tweeted it, later posting it to r/Retrobattlestations. Some conversation about NEXTSTEP and the Woz-signed card arose, but there seemed to be more interest in the wooden cut-out of my name next to the rainbow Apple logo. The item in question holds pleasant memories for me and has been with me nearly 40 years, so instead of responding to inquiries on twitter and Reddit, I thought I would talk a little bit about it here on the blog.

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Posted in Apple, Just Rambling | 1 Comment

Full Motion, Double High-Res Video Playback on the Apple IIe

A big part of enjoying the vintage computers in my collection is, of course, reliving fond memories of olde by using the systems as I did so long ago: playing the favorites of my gaming past and using applications that were part of my daily routine once upon a time, all while enjoying the physical presence of the machine. But, every so often, modern hardware and software efforts targeting these venerable platforms come together to deliver something today that would’ve been rather hard to believe if seen back in their long-ago heyday. Kris Kennaway’s recent effort in full-motion video playback on an unaccelerated Apple IIe is one such example.

Kris has developed a video playback system that allows full motion video, along with digitized audio, to be played back on an a 128K enhanced Apple IIe fitted with a CFFA3000 floppy image / large volume interface. This is achieved with the system’s standard 1.02MHz 65C02 processor — no CPU accelerator required. What’s more, the video is rendered in the 16-color Double High-Resolution graphics mode, 560×192 monochrome pixels rendering a 140×192 color image (with a memory layout complexity that fairly boggles the mind), offered by late-model Apple IIs.

The video above shows the famous Apple 1984 Macintosh commercial being played on my 128k enhanced Apple IIe equipped with a VidHD video interface (providing the HDMI output to the modern LCD standing on the IIe’s head) and the requisite CFFA3000 fitted with a USB stick and a Compact Flash card from which the video is being read. (The VidHD interface is not required by Kris’ player.)

For this full motion video playback system Kris was able to partially reuse the core of his previous work, the ][-Vision ethernet video streamer from 2019 [see: demo video, KansasFest presentation] which used routines from Bill Buckels’ Bmp2DHR, to encode the video stream. He goes into great detail on the conversion process of the source video frames into Double High-Res images in his description on the GitHub page of ][-pix, the image conversion utility used in this project.

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Posted in Apple II | 1 Comment

Have a Helping of 8-bit Holiday Cheer! (2020 Edition)

Pixellated 8-bit style plastic Christmas wreath

‘Tis the season, and that means it’s time to push out the tenth 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 2019 edition, the 2018 edition, the 2017 edition and the 2011 – 2016 editions of this post.

Amiga — Gallery of Christmas Images and Sounds by Ken Costello (1986)
Atari ST — Xmas Demo ’91 by Imagina (1991)
Commodore 64 — Christmas Music Album by Waveform Corp. (1984)
MSX – “Merry Christmas 2012” competition entry by MSX45 (2012)
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VidHD and “Total Replay”: Two Great Tastes That Taste Great Together!

Over the past few months I’ve been enjoying my Apple IIe in a few new ways, and that’s something that feels pretty nice to be able to say, here in 2020.

Back in 2018 I became part of the hardware beta testing group for an Apple II video interface that was being engineered by noted Apple IIgs developer John Brooks (who wrote the well-loved IIgs version of Rastan, among others). Known as the VidHD, it is a unique and capable solution to bridging the Apple II to a modern HDMI display, and with some features you might not expect, along the way. As John describes it,

The VidHD card is unlike other video options for the Apple II because its all-digital HDMI 1080p output is upscaled directly from the byte values written into the Apple’s video memory. Because VidHD is all-digital, it does not suffer the noise/crawl of analog converter boxes, or the color variance of VGA converters. VidHD has better clarity and color accuracy than composite, SCART, or even the original Apple IIGS RGB monitor.

Because the VidHD hardware constructs its own rendering of whatever screenmode is active on any Apple II from the original II to the IIgs in real time, all of these screenmodes can be enabled on any Apple II. An Apple II Plus, for instance, can support the IIgs’ 640×200 256-color Super High-Res display. There are a number of rendering modes to choose from that handle the II’s NTSC artifact color in different ways, emulate scan-lines, etc. What’s more, VidHD allows setting text mode foreground and background colors and also provides several extended text-modes beyond the standard 40×24 and 80×24 modes: 80×45, 120×67, and 240×135. (See a screenshot demonstrating one of the extended text modes, by Jay Craft.) It’s a very impressive piece of hardware.

I have enjoyed using my VidHD in the 128K enhanced Apple IIe since I’ve had it. It makes for a cleaner graphics display than the composite Apple Color Monitor IIe I’ve been using with the system, and the monochrome text-mode sharpness is beyond compare. I do a great deal of BBSing on the IIe and the sharpness of text rendered via the VidHD to an LCD is much easier on the eyes. (I won’t be retiring the composite CRT, though; sometimes I really want to see those fuzzy artifact colors, glow blur and all.)

Aside from BBSing, I’ve been gaming and watching scenedemos more frequently on my IIe lately than in any time since it was my main / only system back in 1986. And, that’s because of an amazing assemblage of software known as Total Replay.

Officially launched at KansasFest 2019, Total Replay is a 32MB ProDOS disk image that is basically a magical one-stop-shop that meets (and exceeds) the needs and desires of most any Apple II retrogamer. All this is thanks to the duo of 4am and qkumba, but putting it together was no small feat.

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Posted in Apple II, Gaming | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

I Sit at the Round Table (And Dance Whene’er I’m Able)

Just a quick post here to share a notable update to my retrocomputing activities of late that has proven to be a very enjoyable addition, indeed.

Early this year, I sat down at the Retro Computing Roundtable and partook of the best hour (or two…or three…) of discussion of software and hardware of olde, along with related current events, that can be had in all the land (and with footwork im-pec-cable…🎶). Episode 208: Why BBS? was the first episode in which I joined the discussion and marks my start as a member of the podcast’s “irregular regulars…”

Shows are recorded at 4pm Eastern (U.S.) every other Sunday (usually) and a YouTube live stream of the show’s recording can be seen at the Retro Computing Roundtable channel. The show recently hit its 10-year mark with Episode 225. Soon the podcast itself will be vintage!

It has been a true delight, for me, to be part of this amazing group of folks, discussing computing across the decades. I certainly feel honored to be aboard. I do hope that readers who haven’t checked out the show will have a look. Stop in on the live-feed chat and say, “Hello!”

Posted in Just Rambling, News | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Looking Back on 35 Years as an Amiga User

Thirty five years ago I became an Amiga user. One of the first, actually. This is a meandering and reminiscent post of sorts, written to mark the Amiga’s 35th birthday and the 35 years I have known and loved the system.

On July 23rd, 1985 Commodore officially unveiled its new Amiga computer at a black tie event at the Lincoln Center in New York City during which, among other demonstrations, artist Andy Warhol took the stage and used an Amiga to paint portraits of singer Debbie Harry (“Blondie”), seated across from him, with a paint program and the mouse. The attendees present at the event that day were witness to a leap in technology that was nothing short of revolutionary.

In early 1985 I had an Apple //c, my second computer, that I was trying to sell in order to purchase an (original) Macintosh. At the time, I read passing mentions in the newspaper of a new machine on the way from Commodore, far more capable than the C64, but it didn’t really register with me for whatever reason. It wasn’t until I picked up an issue of Personal Computing magazine in the summer of 1985 that I understood just what the Amiga was capable of, and my focus quickly shifted to owning an Amiga. (I actually carried that magazine around everywhere with me for about a month.) And, here the details get hazy. I think it was to do with the months that passed without new Amiga info (time passes slowly when it’s summer and you’re 13), reading issues of MacWorld magazine that were coming in the mail, and spending lots of time at Next Generation Computers in Williamsburg, Virginia playing with their Macs, but when the //c finally sold we went up to Next Generation and purchased a Mac 128k. I brought it home and was in geek heaven. For a while…

I had owned the Mac for just one week when I went to a different local computer store, Chaney Computer in Newport News, Virginia, to purchase a ($45) 10-count box of 3.5-inch floppy disks. My mother waited in the car while I ran in.

And there on the table I saw it.

The Amiga — the first one I had ever encountered. It was sitting there, fired up and running an animation demo of some sort. All of the things that made me so excited about the system before flooded back to me right there. I bought the box of floppies, but they never made it into that Macintosh.

Later that night at the dinner table, I started off a conversation I had been frenziedly honing in my mind all afternoon. And, I carried it off well, it seems; my parents agreed to changing gears, and the next day my father returned the Macintosh to the Apple dealer and we went and put a deposit down on the $1,285 Amiga. (Incidentally, It was always called the “Amiga 1000”, but no one really noticed until the Amiga 500 and 2000 landed in 1987.)

A few weeks would pass before the dealer got any stock from Commodore beyond the demo unit. But, on what I believe was the 21st of October, the phone rang and they told us to come on down, the first two units had arrived and one of them had my name on it. When my mother picked me up at the end of the school day, we headed to the dealer and left with the first Amiga that they would sell.

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Posted in Amiga, Down Memory Lane | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 32 Comments

The Infinity Modules Player: Never Turn Off Your Amiga Again

Vintage computing aficionados take various approaches to the hobby. Some enjoy the platforms of olde exclusively through emulation on modern systems. Others assemble shelf after shelf of as many computers and peripherals of their fancy as they can find. While, still, others use their allotted space to host various complete and working systems that can be powered on and used with the flip of a switch. I happen to fall in this last camp of those who compute nostalgic. And, as such, I am happiest when my systems are in use, doing their thing in interesting ways. It is for this reason that I have been so very enthralled by a new MOD player for the Amiga since I discovered it earlier this week.

First, a bit of history. A MOD file or “module” is the original “tracker” file format, combining musical note information (akin to MIDI data) along with the digitized audio instrument samples (of which there can be 16) needed to play back the contained score. The format originated with Karsten Obarski’s Ultimate SoundTracker application for the Amiga computer, which was the first tracker ever developed, released in 1987. (I recall finding someone on the Usenet in California willing to ship me a box of floppies containing Ultimate SoundTracker and many dazzling MOD files for use on my Amiga 2000.) The Amiga’s sound hardware is capable of playing digitized samples across four audio channels with little CPU intervention. A tracker is an application that allows the entry of musical note information (by way of a computer or musical keyboard (if a MIDI interface is present)) and the arranging of sound samples called upon by the note information. Many other trackers would follow on Amiga, PC, and other platforms, bringing improvements such as higher sample rate, more audio channels, L/R panning, etc. The tracker scene is a subset of the demoscene.

The Infinity Modules Player (or IMP), written by Pawel Nowak, is a tiny (23Kb currently) MOD player, written entirely in M68K assembly language, that packs a dizzying array of features and provides a reason for anyone with a networked Amiga to never turn it off again. It was first released earlier this year.

At its core, IMP is a networked module player that pulls tracks from a server hosting ~100,000 MODs and plays them, one after the other. The program will run on any networked Amiga with a MC68000 CPU or better, running Kickstart 2.0 on up, as well as Morphos and AROS 68K.

Like most networked Amiga applications, IMP uses the bsdsocket.library to connect to the internet, so it should work fine with TCP/IP stacks such as AmiTCP, Genesis, and Roadshow (as well as the ubiquitous UAE Amiga emulator). Most of the sizable array of Ethernet adapters for various Amigas should work fine in this capacity, as well as the open-source Plipbox, an ethernet adapter that attaches to the parallel port of any Amiga (and, as such, is a particularly easy way of getting an Amiga on a network).

Brief demo of IMP running on my networked Amiga 2000 ‘020
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