‘Twas No Post, But Poetry! (At 300 Baud)

It is not every day that BBSing moves a man to poetry….

Apple ColorMonitor IIe showing a BBS post that is a poem

But, there are occasions where it does, as reddit user u/droid_mike proved this past weekend as r/Retrobattlestations‘ BBS Week IV competition drew to a close. The competition rules required participants to make a post to the subreddit’s official BBS, Level 29, and show proof of the post by photographing the screen or a printout of the session. Mike’s post is a poem that harkens back to the recent holidays and tells the tale of hardship that is his (successful) attempt at getting his TRS-80 Model 100 dialed (over the telephone lines) into the BBS, and at 300 baud!

While I have provided a photo I took as soon as I encountered Mike’s moving post on Level 29 while logged in on my Apple IIe, I refer you to Mike’s competition entry subreddit post to read the complete text of his soul’s outpouring, a more detailed albeit less poetic account of his attempt, and to see his Model 100 online in all its glory.

I, myself, submitted an entry to the BBS Week IV competition in the form of a photo of my dual-screen, enhanced Apple IIe telnetted into the BBS at 9600 baud (thanks to my WiFi232 unit) and displaying the post I made there detailing the Apple IIe’s overall configuration. However, as the judge will be picking a winner in each of the following three categories: #1 Most cramped screen, #2 Most mechanical, #3 Most artsy fartsy message — I think Mike has a far better chance than I at walking away with a few of the coveted r/Retrobattlestations retro sicker prizes!

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!

Posted in Apple II, BBS, r/Retrobattlestations, Tandy / TRS-80 | 2 Comments

My First Taste of CGA “Composite Color”

As a long-time Apple II users I am quite familiar with the technique of generating color video by way of NTSC “artifact color” (also sometimes referred to as “composite color”). The 8-bit Apple II series is incapable of outputting any actual color pixels, so it takes advantage of idiosyncrasies of the NTSC composite video signal by displaying patterns of black and white pixels which are smeared together on-screen in a predictable fashion, resulting in colors that are not actually in the signal.

Conan for the Apple II showing mono vs artifact color (screenshots)

Apple II screenshots. Click for a closer look.

I’ve spent thousands of hours staring at the artifact colors of an Apple II display, but lately I’ve been exploring something that’s rather new to me: the world of IBM CGA (for Color Graphics Adapter) artifact colors.

I recently got turned on to the notion of putting together a little Tandy 1000HX system, so I looked around and over the Christmas holiday I found one for a very reasonable price on Craigslist, brought it home, and made a space for it in the Byte Cellar. It’s a lovely little machine with a lot of personality and it’s been fun putting through its paces. (I am about to install a variety of expansions to greatly increase its capabilities, and that will be the subject of a blog post to come.) Being a Tandy 1000, it features the enhanced graphics and sound capabilities that IBM introduced with the PCjr, and that puts it well beyond standard CGA as far as on-screen visuals for programs that support its enhanced video modes.

Back in the DOS days I was never much of a PC guy. I briefly drove a Tandy 1000TL in the late ’80s and, later, had the BridgeBoard PC-on-a-card in my Amiga 2000, so I was able to find a few old DOS floppies tucked away on the shelves. I’ve been firing these up on the HX and very few of what I have here support the PCjr/Tandy video modes and, so, I am reminded just how much I dislike standard CGA graphics. The typical palettes of cyan, magenta, white, black and red, green, yellow, black I have always found to be far less appealing than the Apple II’s 6-color hi-res palette.

Well, one of the games I had on floppy was Archon from Electronic Arts. I loaded it up and there was much cyan and magenta to be had on the RGB display, and things looked pretty busy with lots of pixel patterns making up dithered colors. Looking at the patterns, I recalled reading somewhere that it was a CGA game which utilized artifact color and that was written to be presentable both on an RGB monitor as well as via composite output. It occurred to me that the Tandy has a composite output, and the system was sitting next to my gaming TV which accepts composite, so I wired them up. I powered on the TV and, voila! I got my first taste of CGA artifact colors — and just how much better they looked than plain old RGB CGA!

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Posted in DOS / Win PC, Tandy / TRS-80 | 3 Comments

The TI Goes A-Caroling for Holiday Music Week VI

The sixth annual Holiday Music Week is happening over at r/Retrobattlestations and this year, for my entry, I set the TI-99/4A to singing a song of the season, with some help from John McGinley who wrote the Christmas demo that can be seen, here, running on the TI. He wrote the demo in TI Extended BASIC (via XB256) earlier this month.

McGinley’s Christmas demo was part of my holiday demos roundup posted earlier this month.

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!

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Have a Helping of 8-bit Holiday Cheer! (2018 Edition)

‘Tis the season, and that means it’s time to push out the eighth annual Byte Cellar vintage computer Holiday demo roundup so everyone can feel that warm, fuzzy, pixellated holiday glow. 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 2017 edition and the 2011 – 2016 edition of this post.

TI-99/4A – Christmas Demo by John McGinley (2018)

C64 – Merry Christmas 2017 by Nicokick Design (2017)

DOS PC – Chaplin Christmas Card by IBM (1985)

MSX – Christmas Demo by Delta Soft (2018)

ZX Spectrum – Christmas Card Demo by EMS (2016)

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As God Is My Witness, I Thought Turkeys Could Fly

A turkey on the screen of three different home computers

When it comes to the holidays, I get rather sentimental as well as nostalgic, these days. Holidays as a kid are some of the best memories any of us have, really. And having been an avid computer geek during the home computer era, my holiday memories are always laced with fun times on the computer as a kid.

As such, I’ve been running my Holiday Demos post series around Christmas time for quite a few years and it seems I might’ve just started a new Byte Cellar tradition with my recent Halloween Demos post. Well, when I saw a reddit post from u/RogelioP demonstrating a BASIC Thanksgiving demo he typed in from the November 1983 issue of Family Computing magazine, Turkey by Joey Latimer, I had to get on board.

TURKEY.BAS program listingFamily Computing, along with many other computer magazines of the time, offered BASIC program listings in every issue, custom catered to various platforms of the day. (Back in the era of “home computers,” basically every system was its own world, one largely incompatible with the next — even the versions of built-in BASIC varied to such a degree that each platform needed its own particular version of the program in question.) And Family Computing was one of my favorite magazines out there at the time. As a CoCo 2 user, he typed in the CoCo version and brought a Thanksgiving turkey to life on his CRT. Inspired by this, I searched and found that issue on Archive.org and though I’d give it a try on a few systems sitting side by site in the Byte Celler: a TI-99/4A, an Atari 130XE, and an Apple IIgs. Thanks to RogelioP, much of my Sunday afternoon was spent keying a 35-year-old BASIC program into those three systems and recording the results to share. And, I have to say, DATA statements are a mess to debug, and I didn’t get things perfectly sorted, but we’ll just say that the various turkeys have “personality.”

Thanks for the inspiration, RogelioP, and all I can say from here to readers is Happy Thanksgiving!

Update: RogelioP stopped by in the comments and has gotten the Turkey demo running on his TRS-80 Model I, as well. Nice going!

Posted in Apple II, Atari, Holidays, TI-99 | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Have a Helping of 8-bit Halloween Horrors!

Animated GIF of filled-vector jack-o-lanternI was at my Amiga 2000 the other night loading this and that scenedemo (demoscene productions) at random, many of which I’d not watched in years, when I ran across a little 40K intro featuring some nifty Halloween-themed elements. With Halloween just a few nights away, that seemed a rather appropriate use of pixellated vectors and it occurred to me to put together a collection of some of the Halloween-themed scenedemos out there for vintage systems, much as I’ve been doing for the past six years for Holiday / Christmas demos.

I’ve written a number of posts on this blog about computing memories around the ghoulish time of the year. For instance, there was the year that an Atari ST saved Halloween for me. I will certainly never forget the year that I plunged blade into pumpkin and created the sinister and ghastly iPod-o-Lantern. And I’ve taken part in several r/Retrobattlestations competitions designed to scare the bytes out of unsuspecting vintage computing aficionados, using an Amiga 1000 on two different occasions as well as an Apple //e.

Indeed, All Hallows’ Eve and vintage computing seem to go rather nicely together. So, without further ado, I hope you enjoy the demos I’ve chosen to scare share with you this season.

C64 – Hokuto Force’s Pumpkin Joyness (2016)

Amiga OCS – Syntax Party Crew’s RSIDM Halloween Experience (2009)

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Enjoying High-Res Graphics on a Text-Only TRS-80 Model 4 from 1983

The TRS-80 Model 4, like the Model 3 which preceded it, is a curvy, all-in one computer with a 12-inch monochrome text-only display flanked on the right by two full-height 5.25-inch floppy drives, one atop the other. As a kid, nothing to me looked more COMPUTER. I just loved fiddling with them in the Radio Shack down at the mall back in the early ’80s. Ten years ago I won an eBay auction for one, put it on the desk, wired it up as a serial terminal to my Mac Pro, but before long I put it on the shelf to make room for other systems as I wasn’t really doing much with it. Fast forward 10 years and we’ve got these nifty little WiFi232 devices, and the like, as well as inexpensive flash-based floppy and hard disk emulators. So, the Model 4 came down from the shelf and is currently getting some long-needed love. And in my first gesture of love I have lavished the text-only machine with a full 640×240 pixel graphics display, thanks to Ian Maveric’s Improved Grafyx video board.

What inspired me to pull the Model 4 down off the shelf were a number of tweets from telnet BBS pals showing the system being put to great use logged into various systems across the web. Some of the screenshots showed the machine rendering ANSI “graphics” onscreen and I looked into it. As I suspected, the stock Model 4 is not capable of taking on a custom character set such as is needed by ANSI emulation, and I discovered the system had been equipped with a graphics board and the ANSI-supporting terminal program, ANSITerm, was rendering “text” to a graphics display; the character set was basically a software font.

And I just had to go there.

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Posted in Tandy / TRS-80 | 3 Comments

Putting the Atari ST and TI out Front for “Modern Touch Week” at r/Retrobattlestations

Just a quick post here to share a bit of what I was up to this past weekend. It was “Modern Touch Week” over at Reddit’s r/Retrobattlestations which was a competition to show a vintage system using recent / modern enhancement hardware (flash-based floppy emulators, graphics expansions, etc.) in the most extreme or over-the-top fashion possible.

Atari 520ST system photo

To meet the challenge I reached for my Atari 520ST which sports a recently-designed 4MB RAM expansion as well as an HxC 2001 SD-card-based floppy drive emulator that I built into an external floppy drive enclosure, as the original 520ST has no on-board disk drive (a design I prefer to the 1040ST and Falcon with their internal drives). I have never seen an HxC 2001 configuration like this and I consider it rather unique. The system stand / organizer shown is the A520 STation, a stand I had on my first Atari ST back in 1987 and one that that took me years to locate for my current collection.

TI-99 system photo

After submitting that entry it occurred to me that the ST’s neighbor (one to the left in the “Byte Cellar”) better matches the spirit of the challenge. The system I refer to is my fairly well expanded TI-99/4A (the ’99 was my first computer–Christmas 1982), featuring TI’s large, tank-like Peripheral Expansion Unit containing a 32K RAM expansion, a serial / parallel interface card, and a 5.25-inch disk drive and controller card.

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Posted in Atari, r/Retrobattlestations, TI-99 | 1 Comment

Ray Tracing Is No New Thing

1987 Apple Mac ray traced imageIn the world of modern PC graphics hardware, all the buzz right now is about a rendering technique call ray tracing. This is mainly due to the release of Nvidia’s RTX development platform and Microsoft announcing its compatible DirectX Raytracing (DXR) API for DirectX 12 for Windows, both having taken place earlier this year. DXR allows Windows developers to utilize modern GPUs to accelerate the process of ray tracing a 3D environment in real time. This is big news for gamers because ray tracing allows for a much more realistic rendering of light and it’s real-world behavior within a 3D scene. Or…it will be as, presently, only a few games have been updated to utilize the rendering features that DXR brings to the table. And there aren’t a lot of GPUs out there yet with hardware designed with DXR in mind, directly targeting the acceleration of ray tracing calculations. Even still, it seems that ray tracing has become the new hotness and it’s even driven some observers fairly well out of their mind. It’s what’s new in tech.

Or is it?

Reading through today’s tech media, the casual observer could be forgiven for thinking so. One of the first articles I read about Nvidia’s new GPU’s (MarketWatch, Aug. 14) stated,

Nvidia on Monday announced its next-generation graphics architecture called Turing, named after the early-20th century computer scientist credited as the father of artificial intelligence.

The new graphics processing unit (GPU) does more than traditional graphics workloads, embedding accelerators for both artificial-intelligence (AI) tasks and a new graphics rendering technique called ray tracing.

But ray tracing is not a new technique. In fact, it’s almost as old as the earliest of 3D computer graphics techniques.

So, what is ray tracing? As A.J. van der Ploeg describes in his “Interactive Ray Tracing: The Replacement of Rasterization?” [ PDF ],

In computer graphics, if we have a three dimensional scene we typically want to know how our scene looks trough a virtual camera. The method for computing the image that such a virtual camera produces is called the rendering method.

The current standard rendering method, know as rasterization, is a local illumination rendering method. This means that only the light that comes directly from a light source is taken into account. Light that does not come directly from a light source, such as light reflected by a mirror, does not contribute to the image.

In contrast ray tracing is a global illumination rendering method. This means that light that is reflected from other surfaces, for example a mirror, is also taken into account. This is essential for advanced effects such as reflection and shadows. For example if we want to model a water surface reflecting the scene correctly we need a global illumination rendering method. With a local illumination rendering method the light from the water surface can only be determined by the light directly on it, not the light from the rest of the scene and thus we will see no reflections.

Ray tracing works by following the path of light. We follow the path of rays of light, i.e. lines of light. For an example of such a path consider a ray of light from your bathroom light­bulb. This particular ray of light hits your chin, some of it is absorbed, and the rest of the light is reflected in the colour of your skin. The reflected ray is then reflected again by the mirror in your bathroom. This ray then hits your retina, which is useful otherwise you would not see your self shaving. In exactly this way a ray of light in the virtual camera gives the colour of one pixel.

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Posted in Just Rambling | Tagged , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Today My “No Man’s Sky” Journey Reaches the Two-Year Mark

Two years ago I downloaded No Man’s Sky on the Playstation 4 and inserted myself into its infinite universe for the very first time. August 9, 2016 was launch day for Hello Games‘ space exploration survival game and the start of my now two-year journey. While I have now spent over 1,200 hours exploring this fascinating alternate reality, on that particular Tuesday two years ago I had no notion of just how deep into No Man’s Sky I would come to find myself.

After falling quickly in love with No Man’s Sky at launch, I began to gear-up in order to immerse myself as fully as I could. After a few weeks I built a gaming PC in order to give the game more powerful hardware to render its worlds. As the months exploring rolled by, the shelves and walls of my home and my office began to tell the tale of my travels. My family was quite aware when an anticipated update was imminent, and they heard, I fear, a bit more than they were hoping to about the ARG associated with some of said updates.

Three weeks after the game launched, I wrote,

All my life I have dreamed of exactly this in gaming — an interesting, alternate universe, massive in scale, in which I can freely wander and explore at my own pace. That is what No Man’s Sky is to me, and it’s my observation that many others are similarly moved by the game. The fact that the universe is procedurally generated and that even the game’s creators can’t describe everything that’s out there to be encountered adds to the incredible sense of the unexplored, the alien. There is a lovely feeling of solitude to the whole experience of discovering a world, leaving your mark on it, and moving on to the next.

Here, two years later, I feel no differently and have had the pleasure of seeing that dream realized every time I return to this other universe of mine. Two weeks ago, an absolutely massive update arrived — No Man’s Sky NEXT — and everything in the game’s universe has gotten all the more rich, vivid, evocative.

Hello Games has worked tirelessly in support and expansion of No Man’s Sky these two years (and all of this for free to gamers) and for that, I and other explorers I’ve come to know through Discord, Reddit, and other avenues, are grateful.

To mark this day, I have put together a small sample of the virtual photography that I have carried out in my travels within the game’s universe. (These are taken from my larger No Man’s Sky travel gallery.) I hope readers enjoy the vistas.

Happy Birthday, No Man’s Sky.

Previous posts I have written about the game can be found below:

Posted in No Man's Sky | 2 Comments