As My Daughter Turns Ten, A Look at the Technology Then and Now

Rory_chromebookOn May 3rd, my daughter turned 10 years old. This is something that is nearly impossible for me to actually believe, given how rapidly the decade has flown by. It really does feel like she was born yesterday. (Or last week, anyway.) I could ramble long on this feeling, but it would be difficult for readers to endure, I think. At any rate, at this milestone I am feeling very proud of the person that she has become, while also feeling fairly old. And reflective.

In reflecting upon these past ten years, I thought back to where I was in the world at the age of 10, and the retrocomputing geek within me began to compare the present day to day routine of my daughter, Rory, to my own routine 24 years ago, with an eye towards the state of technology. So, I thought I’d write a little about it, in an admittedly not-so-focused fashion.

When I turned 10 in May 1982 I was just finishing the fourth grade (as she is). School days involved textbooks, worksheets, notebooks (picking the right Trapper Keeper was crucial), and pencils (we weren’t allowed to use pens yet). There was a big black slate chalk board at the front of the room and occasionally the cherished TV cart would be wheeled in so that we could watch an educational videotape. Classwork and homework were done in our notebooks, worksheets filed away in the side pockets. After getting home from school I TV cartwould sit down on the living room floor, in front of our aged 20-inch color TV, and play a few rounds of PAC-MAN, Demon Attack, and Pitfall on my Atari VCS. I might ride my bike along the gravel lane where we lived and maybe play on our beach or out on the pier.

I was, then, seven months away from owning my first home computer, a Christmas gift, which would turn out to be a 3MHz TI-99/4A featuring a 256×192-pixel display with 16 colors onscreen and 16K (Kilobytes) of RAM, which cost $300 (it was over $1,000 when it originally launched). The only storage available to me was by way of cassette tape.

Seeing any sort of computer anywhere around town at that time was a rare thing and an occurrence of which I always took particular note.

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Posted in Just Rambling, Other Platform, TI-99 | 6 Comments

Help Support the new Retrocomputing Stack Exchange Q&A Site

stack_exchange_pixellatedI am a developer and, as such, I use Stack Overflow as a resource quite often. Its great overall format really cuts to the chase as far as getting an issue resolved. Stack Exchange hosts a number of other interesting and useful question-and-answer sites across a range of topics, as well. I wanted to let folks know that there is a new Stack Exchange site that should be of particular interest to anyone reading this post.

Retrocomputing is a new Q&A site about computers of olde, of all makes and models. The site is currently in beta, and off to a good start, but its survival within the Stack Exchange network depends upon the size of its audience during the beta period. If you appreciate the format of these sites, as well as a great new resource for those of us who like to compute like it was 1985, then head over to Retrocomputing and become part of the community.

retrocomputing_stack_shot

(As mentioned, the site is in beta currently, so upon first visit you will need to click on the presented “Area 51” link and proceed from there in order to actually get to the Retrocomputing website.)

Posted in Multi-Platform, News | Leave a comment

My Lisa, All Fired Up for “Apple Month” at r/Retrobattlestations

Lisa_Week

April was Apple Month at r/Retrobattlestations, so I fired up my Lisa 2/10 to give the shout out and enter the contest for u/Foxxtexx‘s lovely retro vinyl stickers.

She’s a lovely girl, isn’t she?

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It Was Always The “Amiga 1000”

Amiga_Logo_1985.svgI have written a number of posts over the years about the Amiga 1000 computer, the first model in the Amiga line, which was released by Commodore in late 1985. I purchased my first Amiga 1000 in October 1985 from Chaney Computer in Newport News, VA (and I have reason to believe it was the first Amiga sold in the state).

When I got home that day with this computer that seemed to actually be magical (it’s hard to convey how dramatically more capable in all regards the Amiga 1000 was than all other computers of the day), I quickly unpacked it, set it up on my desk, and threw the box in the closet. I spent the next several days sitting in front of that computer, having my mind blown time and again by the graphics, the sound, and the multitasking. School (8th grade) was agony at the time, keeping me away from that amazing machine for most of the day. I remember those days vividly.

About a week after bringing the system home, I opened up my closet and pulled out the box to read over it. That’s when I saw something that surprised me. In small text on the side of the box the Amiga was referred to as the “Amiga 1000.” I had read (and re-read) several magazines covering the Amiga in my anticipation of its release, and nowhere had I seen the computer referred to with a model number. I remember then wondering how long it would be before another model of the Amiga was released; the “1000” made the Amiga seem more of a line of computers rather than a one-off. And, of course, Amiga was a line, with the 500 and 2000 replacing the 1000 in 1987 as the first expansion of said line.

Amiga 1000 box side

The reason I am laying all of this out in a post is that I’ve seen it explained, in a number of places on the internet detailing Amiga history, that in 1985 the “Amiga” computer was released and in 1987 when the Amiga 500 and 2000 came to market, Commodore then dubbed the original machine “Amiga 1000.” Several recent articles marking the Amiga’s 30th birthday propagate this fallacy further. But fallacy, it is! I remember reading the text on that box back in late 1985.

Commodore certainly did not emphasize (or even mention?) the model number in early advertising and promo media, and the periodicals of the day likewise referred to the computer as simply the “Amiga.” However, despite the fact that only two small blocks of text on the side of the box identify the model number, the original Amiga was clearly the “Amiga 1000” from the get-go. And, thanks to a few photos that @freakin_frankie posted of his recent Amiga 1000 (in original box) acquisition, I can share the proof with any doubters out there. (I have searched on numerous occasions but never found a photo of the side of the box!)

I believe the Amiga to be the platform that I have most enjoyed throughout the decades that I’ve been an avid computing hobbyist, and that oft-repeated bit of misinformation has long been stuck in my craw. I suppose it’s because I was there, so to speak, from day one.

So, now you know.

Posted in Amiga | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

An Interview with CMUCC Members Behind the Apple Lisa’s First Scenedemo, “Le Requiem de Lisa”

Being a long time demoscene enthusiast, I try to keep an eye on new productions that land at the various competitions held throughout the year. Back in 2011 I saw the release of a rather unusual scenedemo — a demo written for the Apple Lisa. It is called Le Requiem de Lisa by CMUCC (the Carnegie Mellon Computer Club) and is the only demo that had ever been written for Apple’s long-abandoned, first MC68000-based platform. Le Requiem de Lisa won 1st place at the Pixel Jam 2011 demo competition (category: “oldskool demo”) and through an odd coincidence I found myself interviewing two of the group members behind the demo, shortly after its release.

After seeing the demo for the first time I headed into my regular IRC hangout, #macintosh on DALnet, and asked the denizens if they’d seen this one yet. One of the regulars, Lincoln Roop (handle “ClarusWorks”) whom I had known online for several years, began giving me a surprising amount of detail about the demo. As it turned out, he was a hardware guy on the project, a member of CMUCC.

Lincoln was up for a few questions about his group’s Lisa demo to be shared here on Byte Cellar, so I fired away. A tidied up version of our IRC interview follows. I regret having sat on this dialog for just over four years now, but better late than never.
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Posted in Lisa | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Quick Tour of the HP-9000 712/100 NEXTSTEP Workstation

Gecko_640February was NeXT Month over at r/Rerobattlestations. Being a huge NeXT fan, I was eager to take part in the event, which entailed taking a photo or video of a retro computer running NEXTSTEP or OPENSTEP. While my first NEXTSTEP system was a high-end 486 66MHz PC that I purchased from a NEXTSTEP for Intel fabricator called eCesys out of Alaska, I currently own two qualifying systems: a NeXTstation Turbo Color setup and an HP-9000 712/100 PA-RISC system. I went with the rather more unique (and powerful!) HP “Gecko” for this competition, and decided to put together a little video tour of the system.

In all, NeXT supported four platforms with the last version of NEXTSTEP: Motorola 68K, Intel x86, SPARC, and PA-RISC. The HP-9000 model 700 systems that supported NEXTSTEP were very powerful for the time and dramatically outperformed NeXT’s own “black hardware” based on Motorola’s CISC processors. The model 712 shown in my video also features a highly unique video subsystem that delivers pseudo-true color video using only an 8-bit frame buffer. The technology is called HP Color Recovery and I go into detail about it in an earlier blog post about my model 712, and discuss it briefly in this video.

The story of how this model 712 came into my hands is kind of interesting. I was at a local shopping center back in 2003 when I noticed what I think the Brits call a “boot sale” happening — a sort-of flea market that picked up in the parking lot, with people selling used things out of the back of their vans: TVs, game consoles, HiFi systems, lamps. As I was walking through, I noticed a van containing a large stack of computers. As I scanned the pile, the distinctive shape of an HP-9000 model 712 slab caught my eye. I recognized it from seeing it pictured in old NeXTWorld magazines that reported on the new HP PA-RISC platform for which NEXTSTEP 3.3 was to bring support (support which was dropped in the next iteration of NEXTSTEP: OPENSTEP 4.0). I asked after it and it turned out to be a model 712/60. The guy sold it to me for $25. When I got it home, I found it had a SCSI drive inside with HP/UX installed. I wiped the drive and installed NEXTSTEP 3.3 on it, though I’ve recently installed HP/UX onto an external drive and have spent some time exploring, which brings back memories of the college HP lab I spent so many hours in, way back when. I’ve also quite recently replaced the motherboard with that of a model 712/100 that I found on eBay, taking the system from a 60MHz PA-7100LC CPU with 64K off-chip L1 cache to a 100MHz unit with 256K off-chip L1 cache. It screams.

So, while the HP PA-RISC architecture was the platform supported by NEXTSTEP for the shortest amount of time, it is certainly the most unique platform the OS ever saw. And was it ever high performance. My Gecko is one of the most prized systems in my collection.

External Links:

Posted in NeXT, Other Platform, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

I’m Playing With a Philips Velo 1 H/PC Again

Quick and dirty post, here.

The first Windows CE device I owned was the Philips Velo 1 H/PC. It’s a clamshell mobile powered by a 36.86MHz MIPS R4000-based Philips SOC (what they called a “Two Chip Pic”) that I owned right after its debut in 1998, sold for a Newton MP2000, and reacquired in 2012. It sat in a box until a few days ago when Richard Harris ( @richjharris ), an old DALnet #Macintosh friend, spun me up with his Windows CE fever to bring it on out.

I’m not sure where this momentary re-infatuation will lead. But, here’s a video for you:

Ahh, to have been on the front line of the mobile revolution.

Posted in Uncategorized, Windows | Leave a comment

WHDLoad: The Amiga’s Secret Weapon

Screen Shot 2015-12-30 at 9.54.05 AM

I’ve been in the retrocomputing scene for about 15 years now and in that time I’ve seen the interest in the pursuit grow more and more. This is in large part due to the evolving technology that has brought devices that have made vintage hardware more accessible to users. One of the most influential class of devices that has made things easier for retrocomputing folks is the flash memory-based floppy disk emulator. No longer are physical spinning floppy disks needed to boot up most vintage systems, thanks to these embedded controllers that allow disk image files sitting an SD card to be used in lieu of physical media. I personally have such devices installed in three systems: an Apple IIe, an Atari 520ST, and an Amiga 2000. In the case of the last, however, the floppy emulator is hardly needed, and that’s because of something the Amiga community has going for it that I consider to be much, much better. It’s called WHDLoad, and it’s a dream come true.

WHDLoad is an entirely software-based system designed to allow users to quickly and easy launch floppy-based games and demos and have them accurately run on the entire range of Amiga hardware. It was originally released in 1996 to address the issue of games running improperly or not at all on more recent Amiga systems featuring more powerful MC680x0 CPUs, the more advanced ECS and AGA custom chipsets, and newer versions of AmigaDOS.

WHDLoad works like this: Once installed, the user chooses a title from the lengthy (and growing) list of supported software and provides the original floppies for it. The system reads the floppies and writes out disk image files to the hard disk and effectively patches them so that they run on the local system just as they would on their original, target spec Amiga.

The video below (not mine) shows WHDLoad in action, running once-floppy-based games and scenedemos on an Amiga 1200.

The main advantages that WHDLoad brings, include:

  • Perfect execution — at least — of games and demos regardless of the local platform’s hardware specifications.
  • In some cases, performance is improved beyond the original title running on its target platform (e.g., smoother framerate, menus adjusted, known bugs fixed, etc.).
  • Customizations can be made and chosen via soft-switch, where provided by the author of the title’s importer patches (e.g., unlimited lives, unlimited firepower, etc.).
  • Nearly instantaneous loading through the Amiga’s Workbench GUI, thanks to hard drive speed and the ability to pre-load disk image data as memory permits.
  • When finished playing, a tap to the exit-key perfectly restores the Amiga to its previous state — no reboot needed.
  • Ability to run certain games and demos within emulators such as UAE, that otherwise would not run easily or at all.

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Posted in Amiga | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Have a Helping of 8-bit Holiday Cheer! (2015 Edition)

‘Tis the season! And that means it’s time for the fifth annual retro computer Holiday demo / music / game collection to help get you into the spirit of the season!

I’ve been a computer guy 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, 1982. I was 10 years old, and from that Christmas on, it was games and hardware 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 every platform out there had a few of them).

Enjoying these demos is a personal tradition that I had, sadly, long left behind until 2010 (the year before I started these posts) when I was inspired to seek out one of the demos 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 pixellated images and 3-voice musical holiday greeting. As I watched, it occurred to me that it might be nice to gather a few of the other demos I remember from those good ole’ days and present them here, in order to perhaps share some of the holiday cheer that they used to inspire within me.

The following list of demos ranges across a number of platforms of olde and includes the aforementioned Atari ST demo I recorded (see the first video of the 2011 collection). Happy holidays, and I hope you enjoy the shows!

The 2015 collection:


MSX – MSXlegend Christmas Demo 2012


TI-99 – TI-99/4A Holiday Demos (2015) [ contest ]


Amiga – Amiga Xmas Syman (?)


Atari ST- X-Mas MIDI Demo (1987)


Atari 8-bit- Rybagz’s Christmas Demo 2008


Atari ST – Xmas ’88 Demo


PC DOS – Xmas Demo ’90 by Cascada


MSX – Toshiba MSX-1 Xmas Demo (??)


C64 – Merry Xmas from Micronet 800 (1986)


MSX – LarsThe18th Christmas Demo (2012)

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Posted in Multi-Platform | 1 Comment

Holiday Music Week III at r/Retrobattlestations

Once again the season is upon us, and that means it’s Holiday Music Week over at /r/Retrobattlestations. Holiday Music Week III, to be precise.

While I fired up the Apple IIgs for a previous HMW, this year I’ve put the 160MHz AMD 5×86-based DOS box out front, letting it croon tunes of the seasons through its Gravis Ultrasound sound card (with 1MB sample RAM onboard). I made a three-part post during the building of the system in question, and it was motivated by a “new” release of the long-idle but still-excellent CapaMod player [ download ] that can be seen playing the tune in the video. CapaMod or CMOD is a GUS-only player that was originally released in 1994 by Heikki Ylinen (“flap”) of Capacala and maintained until 1996. Then, out of nowhere, an update came in 2008 with an indication from flap that it’s the last update the player will see. (But he’s said that before…)

The track in question is “December” by Necros of Legend Design, a 400K S3M utilizing nine voices — in this case, hardware voices thanks to the lovely Gravis Ultrasound nestled within this 486-class system of mine.

Happy Holidays!

Posted in DOS / Win PC, r/Retrobattlestations | 2 Comments