Categories
Music

Building the MP3mobile

Apart from hoarding driver CDs and diskettes in 1999 I also printed out a huge number of pro-Linux news articles. One of those was this page on building an MP3 player for a car called The MP3mobile.

Over the years I had grappled with the idea of adding an MP3 player to whatever my current car was but never really got anywhere but the MP3mobile was the initial source of inspiration for this idea.

The furthest I ever got with the idea was using a portable MP3 CD player but that didn’t work too well:

  1. Bumps in the road caused skips.
  2. Irish roads are bumpy.
  3. More skips.

It’s funny now to see what the MP3mobile can do, but back then this was highly impressive.

The final result is immensely wonderful, and impresses the hell out of most hackerish people (like me). Non-computer people just wonder why you havn’t got a CD player. But, with my setup (based on RedHat Linux 5.0) I can do these things:

* NFS mount my car from my laptop (there’s a loose 10-base-T cable behind the drivers seat) and squirt new tunes into it.

* Hook up my GSM-modem to the car (so you can telnet into it and run emacs at 60mph 🙂 ).

* Hook up a GPS unit, so you could finger the car and find out exactly where a car full of computer equipment suitable for stealing is located.

* Compile as I go round bends.

* Coredump as I change gear 🙂

None of these things can be done with an autochanger. Sorry, but you lose 🙂

Future plans include:

* 418Mhz low-power radio link to allow me to upgrade the software when the car is in the garage 30m or so from the flat.
* Link into the car’s engine management to monitor boost pressure, etc
* Voice-command of the music functions.

The machine ran off a Pentium 166MMX CPU, and had a 2.5″ laptop drive with a massive 2.1GB of storage space.

It all seems so quaint and obsolete now doesn’t it? That may well be how your current state of the art tech appears in another twenty years!

In the time since then the rise of smart phones led to miniaturisation, better screens and power efficient computers. A few years later a Raspberry Pi or Android phone would have been a suitable replacement for the device. And later still Android Auto or Car Play would make the job of playing your own media even easier.

If you use an Android phone, then your car stereo could run Linux, at least through Android Auto as your phone has a Linux kernel!

Categories
Tech

Bye Bye Relics of 1999

It’s about time I dumped some of this stuff. Two of my machines have a CDROM drive but I don’t use either of them. I haven’t had a 1.44MB floppy drive in well over a decade, or more likely fifteen years!

I recently found the binder with these items, the motherboard manual and other things. They were stored away in a dark corner of a cupboard for more than 20 years. Safe in their dark spot but ever so slowly decomposing. The machine they belonged to has been long disposed of.

When was the last time you installed software from a CDROM or a floppy disk? I ripped the DVD box set of “All Creatures Great and Small (1978)” last December. It was on my ageing Macbook, but I do not remember the last time I used a PC floppy disk at all.

February 2012 was the last time I used a C64 disk. I archived as many of my C64 disks as I could then. Those disks are still in the attic. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to throw them out. I guess they’ll be disposed when I’m gone and they’re an ancient artefact of a bygone era.

Categories
Games

“Hello World” on the BBC Micro

You too can create a simple “HELLO WORLD” loop on the BBC Micro by visiting the Virtualbeeb website.

You can also play a selection of games! I used to play Elite on the C64 and that’s where I got my demoscene handle from but I had never played it on the BBC.

On the C64 it’s a single load. The whole game fits into 64KB of memory. No loading from tape or disk once it loads, but I was shocked to hear the virtual disk drive start up when I launched out of the space station! Once into space the reassuring sight of the local planet loomed in front of me. S and X, < and > changes my direction of flight while A fires.

I can’t remember how to slow down so my attempts to fly back to the station and dock again didn’t work out so well!

My secondary school didn’t have this machine. We had a dozen or so Commodore 64s so this was probably my first time using one and it was fascinating. Even if it is only an 8 bit machine, I still think it’s amazing we can emulate it in a browser in JavaScript.

If you’re nostalgic for the BBC Micro you’ll love the Virtualbeeb!

Categories
C64

Old Media

Apart from old consoles I have only one computer with a CD/DVD drive. There are a couple of radio/CD players around the house but they’re never used.

I have a large wallet of “backup DVDs” in the attic that I made more than 10 years ago. The files on them are my photos that are on multiple drives and in cloud storage too. Probably a good thing as the discs are likely unreadable by now.

I also have one machine that reads 5.25″ discs from the early 1990s so you might realise where my priorities lie.

The resurgence of vinyl records may well be fuelled by the realisation that people like to have and hold physical objects.

Categories
Amiga

PiMIGA: Amiga on the Pi

UPDATE in December 2021! Chris released version 2.0 of PiMIGA. There’s only one version this time and it comes in a huge 23GB 7z file. You can grab a torrent to download PiMIGA 2.0 from his video here:

This version runs on a 64bit version of Linux and feels faster. It does not come with Amiga ROMs so you must provide them. Chris explains where to put the kick31a1200.rom in his video. If you receive an error saying /dev/sda1 is missing on boot up and nothing else happens then you haven’t copied the ROM into the right place!

Here’s a few videos showing off PiMIGA 2.0:

I found another video elsewhere where the author complained of really bad lag but it may have been some weird HDMI issue, or sound buffer lag. The only problem I noticed was that Syndicate ran way too fast. Maybe the JIT had to be disabled?

Make sure you change the sound settings (F12->Sound):

  • Set Frequency to 22050
  • Filter to off.
  • Sound Buffer Size to Min.

Don’t forget to save the configuration.

UPDATE on Feb 15, 2021! Chris Edwards has released version 1.5 of PiMIGA. It now comes in two forms and works (sort of) on the RPI3b as well as RPi4 and 400. The two versions are a 32GB “lite” version and a 128GB “MF” version:

Lite edition, all programs and games, no videos , no mp3, all mods. MF edition, 65,000 + ADFs from the complete Commodore Amiga Tosec archive (de-duped /cleaned / virus scanned ) 128,000 executables in a 13 cd pack of stuff from eab archives of yesteryear. emulations, music, videos all sorts of goodies.

More details are to be found on his release video, including links to the torrent files for both.

UPDATE! Chris Edwards released version 1.4 of PiMIGA for the RPI4 or 400. More info in his release video here.

UPDATE! As of November 23rd 2020 there is now a PiMIGA 1.3 Pi 400 Edition thanks to Chris Edwards. This version has been cleaned up so the happynewyear96 virus has been removed, and it now works out of the box on the Raspberry Pi 400! It works on the Raspberry Pi 4 too of course. Pi3 owners will want to download the original 1.2b version. Here’s a teaser trailer.

PiMIGA 1.3 is available as a torrent, so download it with your favourite torrent client. The password on the archive is still pimiga but I haven’t tested it yet, it’s still downloading. This Reddit thread has more info and a useful comment linking to PiShrink that will reduce the size of the image from 32GB to 20GB. I am very excited about trying this on my Raspberry Pi 400!

The Commodore Amiga was an amazing 16 bit computer of the 80’s and 90’s and is still used today by people who love the system.

WinUAE is the best Amiga emulator for modern systems and it has been ported to many operating systems. FS-UAE is a great port I use on Mac and Amiberry or Amibian use the uae4arm port that runs on Raspberry Pi boards.

To load games and apps on the Amiga you used 3.5 inch discs but if you had a hard disk back then the Amiga supported it. I never did so I put up with the relatively slow loading of the discs.

As I have been spoiled by much faster loading of modern systems, loading games from discs in an emulator soon became a bore. Many games used to (slowly) load an intro with thumping music and an animation, but after hitting fire on my joystick I’d be prompted to “Enter disc 2” for yet more loading.

Enter WHDLoad, a system that patched games so they could be loaded from a hard disk image. It sounds great in theory but over the years I could never get it working the way I wanted. I just wanted to see a nice Workbench desktop UI with an disk image of games to play around in.

I’m not the only one apparently. Through this video on alternative operating systems for the Raspberry PI I found out about PiMIGA. It’s a 32GB disk image you burn to SD card for RPI 3 and 4 and when booted up presents a rather nice Workbench desktop with lots of games and apps. BTW, the password is ViWsC7oU3.

It’s based on Amiberry, and uses WHDLoad of course and everything is set up for you!

I haven’t tested it yet myself. My RPI3 is busy running Plex, Backuppc and Pihole but I want to get an RPI4 to give it a go!

Here’s a word of warning however. The video above shows a virus checker running and it finds a couple of viruses that are removed (in Amiga apps) so I would isolate the Raspberry PI device from the rest of your network if you can. Use the guest network of your router perhaps or just leave the device offline.

An alternative to PiMIGA is AmiKit which appears to do something similar but runs on Windows, Linux and Mac (and RPI4 with some fiddling around) and even lets you launch Windows, Linux or Mac apps from within Workbench. It looks rather nice!

Categories
C64

New C64 Adventures

It’s no secret that I’ve been a fan of the Commodore 64 for many years. It was my family’s third computer, after a Vic20 and 48K ZX Spectrum. I don’t count the Telesport, I couldn’t program that! The C64 was my main computer from 1989 to about 1994 and I went from programming in BASIC to exploring the depths of the machine with an Action Replay cartridge and programming demos in assembly. Since the late nineties I contented myself by using different emulators like PC64, Frodo and Vice but in the last year or so I’ve wondered about owning one again.

What I would consider the first resurgence of the C64 world for me was finding the Commodore Format blog. There’s also Zzap64.co.uk which has been going for ages but it’s an invaluable archive site. The CF blog has regular blog posts about this old magazine and features about new developments and I love it. I could blame the community of C64 fans on Twitter, the C64 sub Reddit and various C64 groups on Facebook. They’re always going on about playing this game or that game on “real hardware”, or how a certain demo doesn’t look perfect in an emulator. But really, I’d say it was the fanzine FREEZE64 that finally piqued my interest again. It’s a great read and Vinny, who publishes it, is always posting photos of the things he’s doing on the machine. The fanzine brings me back 30 years to when I first got the machine.

Peer pressure finally won. I bought a C64 on eBay and it arrived yesterday!

I’ve always wondered if it was possible to use a modern controller with the C64 and there are a few adaptors to do that. One of those is the TOM Rev2 adaptor and extension cable. It’s due to arrive at the end of the month, so fingers crossed it works well.

I have a 1541 II disk drive in the attic but there are better storage solutions available for the C64 now. One of those is the SD2IEC, an SD card reader for the machine. I bought the thefuturewas8bit SD2IEC and Fastload Cartridge. Conveniently an 8GB SD card can be purchased which is enough room to fit practically every C64 game on it!

The C64 produces a composite video signal and a video signal that was s-video before that was even a standard. My monitor doesn’t have either RCA/phono sockets, SCART or s-video port but it does have HDMI so I needed a converter. Scouring websites and forums for information about the best way to connect a C64 to HDMI is exhausting. Recommendations to buy one converter are followed by discouraging remarks from others about the same device. In the end I checked Amazon reviews and this Ex-Pro video converter seemed to fit the bill. It has phono and s-video sockets too!

Finally, I needed a video cable. I messed up and bought a C64 DIN to phono/RCA cable instead of s-video, but it works well enough. The screen image is nowhere near as clear as an emulator like Vice but I’ve ordered a similar cable with an s-video plug that I hope will be better.

The first thing I tried was one of my demos, Bits ‘n’ Bobs and it was amazing to see it run! The picture isn’t perfect and especially on this wide monitor everything is stretched. 4:3 it is not!

In a later demo, the CFORCE demo, I displayed a FLI picture in one part. That picture annoyingly bounced up and down which is probably a result of displaying on a modern monitor. On an old CRT it was fairly solid, apart from the usual fuzziness when displaying FLI pictures.

Getting it all set up was a challenge, mainly to find space for it, but I made room. Using the “picture in picture” mode of my monitor the display is smaller and the effects of the component cable less noticeable.

The SD2IEC and fastloader cartridge are a game changer. No more fiddling with ageing physical disks that are likely to be unreadable. I’m already missing the Action Replay though. F1 to load and F3 to list a disk is just that tiny bit more convenient than the Epyx Fastloader equivalents.

I just bought an Over Voltage Protector as I’m paranoid. This machine came with a Micro Mate power supply but power supplies fail and the C64’s chips are sensitive to more than 5.5V. This should hopefully stop that happening if the PSU fails.

Now I’ve got one of these machines I want to get an Ultimate 64. It’s a fascinating bit of kit, and the price of it put me off before, but it’s actually cheap when you consider everything it does!

So, what games should I play on it? I’m without a joystick or controller so it’s keyboard only. I asked on Twitter and I have to try Thrust, The Sentinel, West Bank, Skooldaze and the recently released Neutron on it as they all support keyboard. I already played Stunt Car Racer which brought back plenty of memories. 🙂

Edit: The s-video cable arrived and the video quality is much better. There’s still faint vertical lines but I can live with those.

Edit on 12th June: I just received this female RCA to 3.5mm earphone jack and I can finally hear the SID on decent speakers! The sound from my HDMI monitor is woeful so I’ve been looking forward to this for a while.

Categories
C64

Retro Reading in 2019

Reading about retro computers in 2019!

You can be nostalgic about something for a lot longer than that thing was current. So it is with the Commodore 64, the Speccy and early computers in general.

I had a rubber keyed Spectrum 48K for a couple of years followed by a C64 that I used every day for another 4 years or so and here we are in 2019 and I’m reading about those ancient computers. I’m not the only one. There are vibrant communities around both computers and it’s great to see!

Somehow I can’t see myself feeling the same way about Windows 3.1, but I have to admit I have maybe not so fond memories of tuning autoexec.bat to get a few KB more memory in the DOS days…

What are the books I’m reading and where can I get them?

  1. The latest issue of FREEZE64 fanzine.
  2. Crash Annual 2019.
  3. The story of the Commodore 64 in pixels_.
Categories
Games

I found my first computer: Telesport SD 050C

Telesport SD 050C

Many years ago I mentioned the first computer system that came into my family home. I couldn’t remember what it was called and it had been thrown out years before. I had searched retro console sites, looking through “history of computing” Youtube videos, and more but I couldn’t find it anywhere.

That was until Saturday afternoon while out on a photowalk in Cork City! In the window of the retro gaming shop on North Main Street was a sight I had last seen more than thirty years previously. I couldn’t believe it!

Now that I have a name, the Telesport SD 050C I could look it up and I found out that it was one of a number of Pong clone machines released in the late 1970’s. The 050C family aren’t very rare and aren’t worth much but it was a strange nostalgic feeling looking at it there after all this time.

It’s a Pong clone. The screenshots above are basic but in the early 80s it was a lot of fun. I don’t remember the model we had having that many colours. Must have been an earlier model I guess. Here’s a brief history lesson:

The world was undergoing “PONG Madness”. It seemed only natural that developers would create advancements to the original AY-3-8500 chip to incorporate color and even more games. This explains the amount of PONG systems since each machine contained a different chip. However things were handled different in some areas particularly in Europe.

Europe did not see the release of the Intellivision and Atari 2600 till the early 1980s. This allowed Pong to have a longer success. Rather then creating a new machine for each new chip, developers took the General Instruments popular line of chips and slapped them into cartridges. These carts were not like ROM carts used in later systems. They simply housed a specific General Instruments processor chip with pin outs to interface with a console. These were the PC-50X line of cartridges (see the Games section for specifics).

With the PC-50X cartridges available, console manufacturers were able to produce a machine that could play several games and market them at a low cost. The units were made in various countries and were marketed by Creatronic, Hanimex, ITMC, Rollet, GrandStand, Soundic and lord knows how many other manufacturers. There are literally over two hundred console variations that utilized this technology.

The initial model SD-050 varied in terms of outward appearance (colors, etc), manufacturers names and slight modifications. However each unit had the same overall design with two detachable controllers with 10 buttons located on the top of the machine. These 10 buttons, which clearly identify a PC-50X based console, were used to select the different games available on each cart. The SD-050 model only produced black and white video.

New models such as the SD-070 and SD-090 appeared and sold well into the 80s since the units were far cheaper then the newer consoles making waves in the US and Japan. These newer models played the same carts, but added additional settings, sound and SECAM color (4 colors).

There were far too many PC-50X cart accepting consoles and it is difficult to list them all.

More links to read up on the PC-50X cartridge and related machines:


I found one video on Youtube featuring this machine!

I resisted the urge to buy that machine last weekend. I may have a CRT TV in the attic but the games are so simplistic it’s best to leave them in the past where they belong. The machine architecture isn’t emulated but the games could be remade easily by anyone interested. Hmm, maybe..

Categories
Tech

Building the BBC Micro

I never used the BBC Micro much but it was a prominent feature of schools across Ireland the UK in the 80s and early 90s.

I love that Professor Steve Furber’s admitted they didn’t know why certain chips worked or the work arounds they needed to get other bits working!

Categories
C64

Dinosaurs of Computing

The Dinosaurs episode of This Developer’s Life struck a chord with me. Not because of Fortran or Dataflex although hearing about developers dealing with small memory constraints or attempts to convert an archaic piece of code into something shiny did make me grin stupidly.

No, there’s a bit about the Commodore 64 in there and some great SID chip music throughout the podcast. That sealed the deal for me! 🙂