Multiple monitors can be fun, sometimes. :-)
(Check out the Mars Curiosity 360-degree panorama here.)
Multiple monitors can be fun, sometimes. :-)
(Check out the Mars Curiosity 360-degree panorama here.)
I’ve owned a lot of computers over the years, and I still have quite a few. “Computing” has been my all-encompassing hobby / interest / passion for most of my life. When it was time for college, I got a BSCS degree and am, presently, 16 years into my CS career — and have been self-employed for the last year and a half, thankfully!
But, it had to start somewhere.
This week I was down in the Hampton Roads, VA area where I grew up, on a little trip with my family. While there, I stopped in to visit my mother. As we chatted, I noticed a polaroid sitting on her bookshelf. It was a photo of me, taken on Christmas morning in 1979 (I was 7). Our family photo boxes are full of Christmas morning pictures like this one, so it didn’t really strike me at first — I’m surprised I even picked it up. But, I did, and as I looked at it I happened to notice something in the background. It was my old Atari 2600 console, along with a black and white television I was given for Christmas that year. And, then it hit me.
This was a photo of me taken just moments after I received the first computer I ever owned. The overpowering force of my life grew from the seed of this moment, captured on (instant) film, so many years ago.
In truth, I didn’t hit the ground running. I got excited about the Atari 2600 when my uncle Alfred setup a 2600 in his river house in Deltaville, VA. We would visit, and I’d have a great old time playing Combat, the only game he had. My folks noted this, apparently, and got me an Atari and a TV to play it on (so as to not clutter the family TV with the console). When I look back, I think the problem was the TV — it was black and white, and Combat looked pretty weak on it. So, I didn’t really jump into the system, and it sat mostly dormant for a year or two. That’s when I started seeing some cool games other than Combat on friends’ Ataris down the block — on the family room color TV. So, I moved my Atari into the den, wired it up, and asked my mom to take me out to buy a game cartridge. I can’t be sure what the first one was, but it was probably PAC-MAN or Demon Attack.
I loved that Atari, but in time I wanted to move on to a “real” computer, to do things the 2600 couldn’t. So, in late 1982, I made the choice and told my parents which way I wanted to go. And, that Christmas, I got a TI-99/4A — but that’s another story…
Thanks for the present, mom and dad.
Last week I sent out a tweet marking a rather sad turn of events concerning one of the most notable game studios of all time. On further reflection, I wanted to say a few words here.
Founded in 1984 out of the ashes of Imagine Software, Psygnosis earned high praise for their large catalog of 16-bit game titles, released during the ’80s and early ’90s, that consistently demonstrated unusually high quality graphics and animation, especially on the Amiga platform. In 1993, to strengthen their coming Playstation console, Sony purchased Psygnosis and channeled the studio’s talents towards their new platform. Most notable among the console’s early releases was the futuristic racing game Wipeout, which sold many Playstations for Sony, one of them to me.
Psygnosis’ best known titles are probably the multi-platform hit Lemmings, Shadow of the Beast for the Amiga, and the Wipeout series. The first Psygnosis game I ever played was Barbarian on the Atari ST. It’s onscreen graphics were stunning, if the gameplay was somewhat disconnected, and the box art and pack-in wall poster by fantasy artist Roger Dean, whose work was featured in (and on) many Psygnosis releases, were striking. After I moved (back) to the Amiga, I often showed off the system’s capabilities to friends, demonstrating various Psygnosis games and their animated intro sequences. None were as impressive as Shadow of the Beast, however. The game’s controls may have been awkward and it didn’t offer the best gameplay, but the artwork, high number of onscreen colors, and amazing parallax scrolling were absolutely stunning.
The day the news broke about the closing of the studio, I tweeted a short list of some of my particular Psygnosis favorites (well, those that would fit in 140 characters, anyway). I’ll repeat those here, in no particular order.
It saddens me to see the Psygnosis story end, though, save for Wipeout (I bought a PSVita to play Wipeout 2048), my core connection to the studio is to do with games from decades past, which I still enjoy. But, then, 28 years is a pretty good run by anyone’s measure.
I started this little blog back in March of 2004. That’s about a year after my wife and I moved into our current home in Alexandria, VA. The main requirement we held onto when looking for a larger home those years ago was: adequate room for a kid. There was a secondary requirement, but one that was more a concern of my own than of my wife’s: an office area with room for…more than just a few machines. I had started collecting vintage computers, you see, and I quickly came to find it to be quite a rewarding (and addicting) pastime.
Happily, we found the right house with the just the right bedroom setup for a child…and just the right basement space for a geek dad bent on reliving the good ole’ days of home computing. It took a little work to get things in order, however….
But, it all came together in the end. Well, “the end” is probably not the right phrase, actually. Since getting the computer room, which I affectionately call the “Byte Cellar” for obvious reasons, all setup, I’ve been on a constant “add a desk, add a system, rearrange things, swap out a system, repair a failure, clutter clutter, tidy tidy — repeat” routine. It keeps the collection running, changing, and interesting, I think.
A big part of the fun of it all is sharing my setups and projects with others by way of blog posts, lots of photos, and the occasional video. It’s part pride in getting these systems up and running all nice and tidy, certainly, but more to perhaps inspire other like-minded individuals to spend some time with these wonderful machines from a time when computing was just a lot more experimentation and downright fun.
I’ve got a pretty sizable Flickr gallery online that shows most of the systems in my collection in great detail. In addition to this, I’ve created a few full-room photo panoramas of the Byte Cellar, stitching together a series of shots as I rotate a camera about the room. I posted the first one in 2005 and a second in 2008. Things have changed so notably in the past few years that I’ve just made my third panorama and placed it online. Have a look.
I hope someone sees this latest glimpse into my retrocomputing insanity and goes out and grabs an Apple II. Or, maybe a TI-99. A CoCo 3 would work, as well!
UPDATE: Wow, it seems my latest panorama has made Lifehacker! Gee, now I wish I’d tidied things up a bit more before the shoot!
UPDATE: And now I’ve been featured on Engadget!
UPDATE: Oh no, now people are trying to move in!
UPDATE: Updated “The List” and added additional labels to the close-up panorama image.
Regular readers might recall a post a few months back that (in, sadly, not the ideal fashion) revealed my acquisition of a Tandy Color Computer 3 system in order to spend some time with a platform I knew only through fun, long-ago sessions fiddling around in Radio Shack down at the mall while my mom was shopping. Making this move, I’ve been spending time on the web gathering info about the platform, which lead me to one of the most interesting retrocomputing projects I’ve ever heard of.
On the AtariAge forums early this year, I found a thread detailing the intention of a fellow named Boisy Pitre to take the heart of the CoCo, the 8-bit Motorola 6809 processor — arguably the most capable 8-bit processor ever created — and place it into an Atari 8-bit system and get the powerful NitroOS-9 operating system running on that hardware.
Boisy, who had fun with the Atari VCS as a kid, regretted never getting into the Atari home computers, and became intrigued (quite a while ago, as it turns out) with the notion of a machine with the Atari’s powerful ANTIC and GTIA chipset (thanks much, Jay Miner), driven by the 6809 processor, a more powerful unit than the system’s standard 6502 CPU. Determined to try and perform this brain surgery himself, he headed over to eBay and grabbed an Atari XEGS — an interesting choice, Atari’s attempt at turning their 8-bit home computer into a console — along with a keyboard and some carts. After de-soldering the 6502 and ROM chip and replacing them with sockets, Boisy posted his intentions to the forums and asked for a few pieces of advice to get started.
I recall reading the post and thinking it was a rather interesting concept, but that it was much to ambitious to realistically pull off. I didn’t think the effort would get very far at all. Boy, was I wrong.
In just three months, Boisy, with the help of a number of individuals in both the Atari and CoCo scenes, managed to go, step-by-step, from a crude, initial wire-wrap prototype and a few lines of test assembly code to a final production board with firmware that lets you boot right into NitrOS-9! I find the success just incredible. The board houses both a 6809E and the Atari’s own 6502C, letting you switch between normal Atari operation and 6809 mode on any Atari XL, XE, or XEGS computer. With an SIO2PC adapter cable and the DriveWire 4 server software (which I’m using with my CoCo 3, incidentally), you can boot up the Atari port of NitrOS-9, load applications, and experiment with 6809 assembly on the Atari.
The device is known as the Liber809, and you can order it online right now, for just $65. A few months back, Boisy setup liber809.blogspot.com, a blog to chronicle his progress, and it’s a fascinating read — head on over and start at the end. The whole thing makes me want to pull my 800XL off the shelf and transform it into this new, chimeric platform!
Here’s a video of Boisy demonstrating the Liber809 booting NitrOS-9 on an Atari 130XE:
And here’s a little demo, coded in 6809 assembly, that demonstes some of the Atari’s color capabilities:
This is some truly awesome bull-geek type goodness but, for me, there’s an interesting side-note to it all. I mentioned, earlier, that my first post talking about getting into the CoCo scene wasn’t the happiest sort of post to make. In short, I effectively got swindled as I tried to gather hardware to get my CoCo 3 up and running, and in posting my ordeal as a warning, I offended a few members of the CoCo community, as the individual in question is a long-time person-of-note in that community (who I think just let things get out of control with his business). Many CoCo users out there showed sympathy and support for my situation, and none more so than Boisy Pitre. He offered me sound advice and alternatives to help me get up and running with my new system and has been very gracious. I came to learn that he is quite a CoCo scene personality and that he runs Cloud-9, an on-line store supporting the CoCo that is a major force in the current-day scene. I actually had a chance to meet up with Boisy out at WWDC 2012 in San Francisco, back in June. We chatted for a little while at the TouchArcade Mixer and I can tell you he’s just about the nicest fellow you could ever meet. And, the funny thing is, it’s only in the past week that I realized that he is “the Liber809 guy.” If only I’d known when we met up! I would’ve asked him all about it. Ah well, maybe at WWDC 2013.
I’ve really enjoyed following the Liber809 project and I hope that both of my regular readers find it as fascinating and inspiring as I. And, stay tuned for more — Boisy never intended to stop with the Atari; he’s got other computer brain transplants in mind, and it sounds like the C64 is next on the list. Strong work, Boisy.
Atari XEGS image used courtesy of Adam Jenkins.
Anyone who’s read more than a couple of my posts here knows that I have a somewhat sizable collection of vintage computers in my basement office. They’re all setup and ready to use, but as time goes on it grows more difficult to make the most of these floppy-based systems, given the difficulty in sourcing new floppy disks and the slow decay of those already filling my disk boxes.
The system entirely dependent on floppy disks that I use most frequently is my Apple IIe. I’ve got several large boxes of games and other programs for it that have been with me since my Apple //c days back in 1984, but their magnetically encoded bits are slowly being eroded by the winds of time. Well, I’m happy to report that I’ve, at long last, acquired the perfect solution to this unfortunate situation: the CFFA 3000.
The CFFA3000 (short for “Compact Flash For Apple”) is an Apple II expansion card that is able to read from and write to flash storage through either (or both) an on-board CF card slot and USB interface. The card is able to present the attached flash storage to any slotted Apple II as either a hard drive or a stack of floppy disks by way of disk image files and Disk ][ emulation firmware. Or both. It’s pretty awesome.
The CFFA3000 was created by Rich Dreher of R&D Automation and the first production run was released in 2009. I’ve had my eye on the device for quite a while, but it’s been pretty hard to get hold of. Luckily, there are some big runs of it this year, so I got on the list and managed to grab one. And, it works like a dream. (Especially with the optional remote unit, which I also ordered.) If you have a slotted II that you care about, I recommend you try to get one, as well. It’s even available in a version for the Apple I and its recreations!
Those intrigued by this technology should see my recent post regarding a similar solution I’ve attached to my Amiga 2000, My SDCard HxC 2001 Floppy Emulator Adventure. And I’ve got my eye on a similar device for my Tandy CoCo 3′s floppy media.
I was recently listening to a retro computing podcast (though I can’t recall which one it was) where daisywheel printers were being discussed. This, naturally, brought to mind the first printer I ever owned, a Smith Corona TP-I that I used with my very first computer, a TI-99/4A that had a serial / parallel interface card in its Peripheral Expansion Box. (It was connected via the parallel interface.)
I wanted a printer for school to use with the TI, and one day on the way home from work, my dad stopped in a nondescript office equipment shop and asked about a printer. As I recall, the TP-I had been discontinued in favor of the TP-II, and so dad was able to grab one for a discount. It was mid-1983 when I printed my first page of text with it.
The TP-I would not print graphics, being a daisywheel printer, but it produced the highest quality text of any printer I ever owned, save for the HP LaserJet sitting behind me. It didn’t have a cut-sheet feeder or a tractor feed mechanism, and so paper had to be fed into it one sheet at a time. For program listings, I did use tractor feed paper, but it would end up skewed a bit here and there, what with no proper tractor feed mechanism in place.
Since then I’ve gone through quite a few printers — just about 20 in all.
So, what was your first printer? When did you get it and what system did you use it with?
This past weekend, my daughter and I attended an exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. that no gamer or pixel artist in the region will want to miss. The Art of Video Games exlores the 40 year evolution of video games as an artistic medium. Curated by Chris Melissinos, former chief evangelist and “chief gaming officer” for Sun Microsystems and founder of PastPixels, the exhibit features wall-size projected medlies of video games in action, big-screen, hands-on gameplay stations, quips and quotes from gaming greats of years past, and displays featuring many major game consoles ranging back to the Atari 2600, and corresponding selections of game titles that play on them.
The exhibit is located on the third floor of the museum and is spread across three large rooms, each with a different focus. The largest area of the exhibit is a dark space with a selection of games projected on the walls in front of controller stations where visitors can take turns playing. The playable displays include PAC-MAN, Super Mario Bros., MYST, The Secret of Monkey Island, and Flower.
The exhibit runs from March 16th to September 30th at the American Art Museum and, from there, it will go on a 10 city tour across the country. As a special feature for the opening weekend, the three-day GameFest gaming festival was being held during our visit. GameFest featured talks by industry veterans including Nolan Bushnell, various discussion panels, additional hands-on game stations, and even real-life, in-the-flesh “video” games in which visitors could participate. Some of the GameFest-ivities can be seen towards the end (in the outdoor courtyard) of the video I captured during my visit to the exhibit.
I found The Art of Video Games to be surprisingly well done and a very immersive (and nostalgic) experience that is well worth having. (And it’s free!) My only real complaint is the glaring absence of the Amiga among the historical platform displays. Of course, not every system from which sprang an original game can be included, but in an exhibit focused on video game artistry, there needs to be an Amiga. (The Amiga’s “featured four”, in my reckoning, might be Defender of the Crown, Beneath a Steel Sky, Another World, and Lionheart.)
A companion book has been published to accompany the exhibit. The Art of Video Games: From Pac-Man to Mass Effect is written by curator Chris Melissinos and features a foreword by director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum Elizabeth Broun and an introduction by Mike Mika, head of development for Other Ocean Interactive and an advocate for the preservation of video game history. The book features over 100 composite images of video games and retails for $40 (though it can be had for much less at a certain, massive online bookstore).
Yes, in fact, it’s true. But it’s not not another Apple podcast — it’s the Not Another Apple Podcast?!
Every two weeks, David and I will take a look at the Apple of today, and it’s products, balanced with discussion and comparison / contrast to the Apple of the past. Each episode may end up leaning further into one time-frame than the other, but we’re hoping for a nice, balanced mix overall as the show progresses.
We’ve just posted our first episode, and I hope readers will consider giving it a listen. Any feedback would be most appreciated over at the Not Another Apple Podcast?! website.
Those of us who are driven to gather computers of decades past about us in order to forever enjoy that magical, early stage of home computing (that’s unknown to so many today) do, indeed, reap rich rewards from the effort. But, keeping that dream alive is not without its challenges. As a long-time collector, I will say that the two biggest challenges those like myself face in the name of retro computing are the finite lifespan of magnetic media and the problem of leaking capacitors.
As for the capacitors — well, there’s nothing to do but replace ‘em when it’s needed and hope that no real damage has been done. But, when it comes to dealing with fading floppies, there are a number of approaches out there, requiring a variety of different, and often rather complex, hardware setups. I’m happy to report that I’ve recently discovered one of the most elegant data preservation solutions I’ve ever seen, thanks to Lazy Game Reviews.
LGR recently posted a video demonstration of the KryoFlux USB floppy disk controller. The KryoFlux device is a highly flexible floppy drive controller board that attaches to old school floppy drives — 5.25-inch, 3.5-inch and 3-inch drives that use the standard Shugart 34-pin connector — via ribbon cable, and to a modern computer running Mac OS X, Windows, or Linux via USB 2.0. Software on the modern machine allows you to use the device to read in floppy disk data as a raw stream via measurements of the media’s magnetic flux transition timing, removing the need to worry about source formats, sector density, and the like. The data can then be stored as a disk image file. It is also possible to write disk images out to a wide variety of disk formats, including (but not limited to): Acorn Electron, Apple, Amstrad CPC, Archimedes, Atari 8-bit, Atari ST, BBC, Commodore 64, Commodore Amiga, MSX, IBM PC, PC-8801, Sam Coupe, Spectrum, E-MU Emulator & Emulator II, and DEC RX01 & RX02.
Features, as listed by the manufacturer:
In short, the KryoFlux device is something of a miracle for vintage computer collectors who actually like to use their old school hardware. The unit is available to order in two different versions: the Personal Edition Basic (just the controller board) for €89.95 and the Personal Edition Advanced (controller board plus requisite cables) for €94.95.
I will definitely be adding a KryoFlux controller to my arsenal in short order.