Commodore Inspired Watch Puts BASIC On Your Wrist

Ask a smart watch owner what their favorite wrist-mounted feature is, and they might say it’s having all their daily information available at a glance, or the ease with which they’re able to communicate with friends and family. If they don’t mention knocking out a few lines in their wearable BASIC interpreter, then you know you aren’t talking to [Nick Bild]. His “C64 Watch” firmware for the LILYGO T-Watch 2020 not only takes some visual inspiration from the Commodore 64, but also lets you relive those early computing glory days with a functional BASIC environment.

Originally [Nick] used a teeny tiny onscreen keyboard to tap out his BASIC programs, but finding the experience to be uncomfortably like torture, he switched over to using USB. Just plug the watch into your computer, open your favorite serial terminal, and you’ll have access to the customized version of TinyBasic Plus running on the watch. To make things  even easier, he’s looking at implementing a web-based terminal over WiFi so you don’t need to plug the watch in.

When you aren’t running BASIC you’ll be treated to a Commodore-themed watch face, complete with the classic READY. prompt. A small battery indicator is hidden up in the top-right corner, and tapping on the rainbow colored “C” will launch the menu. It’s pretty simplistic, but of course what else would you expect given the source material?

Looking ahead, [Nick] says he’d also like to implement a C64 emulator into the firmware so the watch could run original software. We’re a bit skeptical about how practical that would actually be, but we’ll reserve judgement until we see it in operation. He’s also hoping other Commodore aficionados will chime in with their own improvements and new features for the watch.

You might think that a Commodore 64 emulator on your wrist would be the most outlandish way to run your old games and software, but we’d say playing Turrican in a virtual reality microcosm of the 1980s takes the cake.

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Sinclair BASIC For Today

If you are of a certain age, your first exposure to computer programming was probably BASIC. For a few years, there were few cheaper ways to program in BASIC than the Sinclair ZX series of computers. If you long for those days, you might find the 1980-something variant of BASIC a little limiting. Or you could use SpecBasic from [Paul Dunn].

SpecBasic is apparently reasonably compatible with the Spectrum, but lets you use your better hardware. For example, instead of a 256×192 8-color screen, SpecBas accommodates larger screens and up to 256 colors. However, that does lead to certain incompatibilities that you can read about in the project’s README file.

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E.T. Video Game Gets Re-Imagined In 10 Lines Of BASIC

Most people would recognize E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial for the Atari 2600 by its reputation as one of the worst video games of all time. We’ll have more to say about that in a moment, but E.T. was nevertheless chosen as the inspiration behind [Martin Fitzpatrick]’s re-imagining of the game in ten lines of BASIC code for a contest that encourages and celebrates games written in ten lines of BASIC, or less.

Ten lines of BASIC is a big limitation, even when getting clever by stacking multiple statements into a single line, so [Martin]’s game has a much narrower scope than the original Atari 2600 version. Still, the core elements are present: E.T. must find and gather all the parts of the phone in order to contact his ship, after which he must meet the ship in time to escape. All the while, FBI agents attempt to interfere. The game was written in SAM BASIC, used by the SAM Coupé, a British Z80-based home computer from the late 80s with an emulator available for download.

Now, for lovers of “um, actually” topics, do we have a treat for you! Let’s take this opportunity to review a few things about E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. That it was a commercial flop is no doubt, but the game itself is often badly misunderstood. Way back in 2013 we covered an extraordinary effort to patch improvements into the binary for the 2600 game, and in the process there’s a compelling case made that the game was in many ways far ahead of its time, and actually quite significant in terms of game design. You can jump right in on an analysis of the hate the game receives, and while reading that it’s helpful to keep in mind that In 1982, many of its peers were games like Space Invaders, with self-evident gameplay that simply looped endlessly.

A Lockdown Brightened By A Library Of Vintage Usborne Books

Lockdown is boring. No, let’s emphasize that, lockdown is really boring. Walking for exercise is much less fun than it was last year because it’s a wet and muddy February, and with nowhere open, a rare trip out to a McDonalds drive-through becomes a major outing. Stuck inside for the duration we turn our eyes to some of the older ways to wile away the time. Books. Remember them? In doing that I found that the friend whose house I’m living in has the whole library of Usborne children’s computer and technology books from the 1980s. Suddenly a rainy day doesn’t matter, because we’re in a cheerful world of cartoon robots and computer parts!

When Kids Learned Machine Code

A comprehensive selection to get one's teeth into.
A comprehensive selection to get one’s teeth into.

If this leaves you none the wiser, it’s worth explaining that during the 1980s home computer boom there was no Internet handily placed for finding out how your new toy worked. Instead you had to read books and hoard the scraps of information they contained. Publishers responded to this new world of technology with enthusiasm, and the British children’s publisher Usborne did so in their characteristic entertaining and informative style. For probably the only time in history, children were presented with mainstream books telling them how to write machine code and interface directly to microprocessors, and those among them who probably now read Hackaday took to them with glee. They remain something of a cult object among retrocomputing enthusiasts, and fortunately a selection of them are available for download. Usborne are still very much in business producing up-to-date books educating today’s children, and to promote some of their more recent titles for the Raspberry Pi they’ve released them in electronic form. Continue reading “A Lockdown Brightened By A Library Of Vintage Usborne Books”

The Famous Basic Computer Games Book Gets A 2021 Update

If you are a certain age, your first programming language was almost certainly BASIC. You probably at least saw the famous book by Ahl, titled BASIC Computer Games or 101 BASIC Computer Games. The book, published in 1973 by [David Ahl] was a staple in its day and the first computer book to sell over one million copies. Of course, if you want to run Super Star Trek or Hamurabi, you better fire up an old retrocomputer or a simulator because BASIC in 1973 doesn’t look like what we have today. Or, you can head to GitHub where [coding-horror] is inviting people to help update the programs using modern languages.

One of our favorites, Bagels, is there with directories for C#, Java, Javascript, Python, Ruby, and VB.net. It doesn’t appear that all of the games are in all the languages, though. There’s also a .Net solution file that apparently has a few entries in it. We were also happy to see Super Star Trek represented, along with a link to an article about a C++ language port. The original games were tweaked to run on VintageBasic.

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BASIC: Cross-Platform Software Hacking Then And Now

Surely BASIC is properly obsolete by now, right? Perhaps not. In addition to inspiring a large part of home computing today, BASIC is still very much alive today, even outside of retro computing.

There was a time, not even that long ago, when the lingua franca of the home computer world was BASIC. This wasn’t necessarily always the exact same BASIC; the commands and syntax differed between whatever BASIC dialect came with any given model of home computer (Commodore, Atari, Texas Instruments, Sinclair or any of the countless others). Fortunately most of these licensed or were derived from the most popular microcomputer implementation of BASIC: Microsoft BASIC.

BASIC has its roots in academics, where it was intended to be an easy to use programming language for every student, even those outside the traditional STEM fields. Taking its cues from popular 1960s languages like FORTRAN and ALGOL, it saw widespread use on time-sharing systems at schools, with even IBM joining the party in 1973 with VS-BASIC. When the 1970s saw the arrival of microcomputers, small and cheap enough to be bought by anyone and used at home, it seemed only natural that they too would run BASIC.

The advantage of having BASIC  integrated into these systems was obvious: not only were most people who bought such a home computer already familiar with BASIC, it allows programs to be run without first being compiled. This was good, because compiling a program takes a lot of RAM and storage, neither of which were plentiful in microcomputers. Instead of compiling BASIC source code, BASIC interpreters would interpret and run the code one line at a time, trading execution speed for flexibility and low resource use.

After turning on one’s microcomputer, the BASIC interpreter would usually be loaded straight from an onboard ROM in lieu of a full-blown operating system. In this interpreter shell, one could use the hardware, write and load BASIC programs and save them to tape or disk. Running existing BASIC code as well as compiled programs on one’s computer, or even typing them in from a listing in a magazine all belonged to the options. As BASIC implementations between different home computers were relatively consistent, this provided for a lot of portability.

That was then, and this is now. Are people actually still using the Basic language?

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The Tube Map, In Glorious 8-Bit!

There was a time when visitors to London would carry an A to Z map to navigate the city’s Undergound railway system, referring to the iconic London Transport map printed on its back as they did so. Now it’s likely they’ll do the same with their smartphones, with apps ranging from simple analogues of the printed version through to fully annotated route planners with up to the minute train information. Is this a new technology, something only possible in the last decade? Serial British rail YouTuber [Geoff Marshall] thinks otherwise, and has programmed a Tube map on a vintage BBC Micro.

We don’t expect anyone to heft a pile of vintage hardware onto the Central Line at rush hour even though in reality he’s running it on an emulator due to his real BBC Micro being kaput. Perhaps someone should drop him a line about capacitor replacement in that power supply. But it does provide an entertaining jaunt back into afternoons in a 1980s school computer lab, with MOVE, DRAW, and PLOT commands as he wrestles with the limited colour palette of MODE 2.  The result only covers Tube Zone 1, or the very centre of London, so to visit London Hackspace you’ll have to remember to take the Bakerloo line northbound out to Zone 4 and disembark at Wembley Central.

Happily as you can see in the video below the break he enlists the help of a friend to run it on real hardware. He posted the code as a comment to the video but it’s really hard to find. Try this direct link and scroll down, it should be the first comment but you need to click “Read more” to unfold the code. We think the Tube Map would make a great test for any retrocomputer, so we look forward to this feat being repeated.

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