TRS-80 Gains Multiple Monitor Support, And High-Resolution Graphics

To call [Glen Kleinschmidt] a vintage computing enthusiast would be an understatement. Who else would add the ability to control and address multiple VGA monitors to a rack-mounted TRS-80 Model 1? Multiple 64-color 640×480 monitors might not be considered particularly amazing by today’s standards, but for 70s-era computing, it’s a different story.

Drawing this sin(x)/x ripple surface can be done in only 17 lines of BASIC.

How does a TRS-80 even manage to output anything useful to these monitors? [Glen] wrote his own low-level driver in machine code to handle that. The driver even has useful routines that are callable from within BASIC, meaning that programs written on the TRS-80 are granted powerful drawing abilities. Oh, and did we mention that the VGA graphics cards themselves were designed and made by [Glen]?

Interested in making your own? [Glen] provides all the resources you’ll need to re-create his work, including machine code drivers and demonstration BASIC programs as downloadable audio files, just as they would have been on original cassette tapes.

Watch things in action in the videos embedded below. The first draws a Land Rover, and the second plots a simple Moiré pattern star. Not bad for 70s-era hardware and 74xx logic!

Continue reading “TRS-80 Gains Multiple Monitor Support, And High-Resolution Graphics”

A Commodore 64 running a smartwatch link program

The Commodore 64 Smartwatch Can Now Sync With Your Commodore 64 Desktop

If you’ve got a smartwatch on your wrist, chances are you’ve also got a device nearby that links up with it. Most modern watches will happily sync with Android devices or iPhones, and some will also talk to Windows PCs. But what if you’re running an alternative OS? Something like, say, Commodore BASIC? In that case, you might want to check out [Nick Bild]’s latest project, which lets you to sync your smartwatch to your Commodore 64.

Sadly, you can’t just use any old smartwatch: the project is an extension of [Nick]’s Commodore 64 Smartwatch that we featured earlier. This watch can run Commodore 64 programs thanks to a custom software stack, but like most typical smartwatches also includes an accelerometer that counts your steps. Syncing the step counter to your computer is straightforward: after you come home from your daily run, you simply tap “sync” on the watch, enter LOAD"SYNC.PRG",8,1 on your Commodore 64, and the computer will show your total step count.

The C64 watch communicates with the host computer through a built-in infrared port. The classic Commodore computers don’t have an IR receiver, so [Nick] built one himself using an Arduino Micro hooked up to the C64’s User port. A custom program reads out the data and shows the step count on the screen.

Although the feature set of this app is a bit limited, [Nick]’s project demonstrates how the good old Commodore 64 can still perform useful tasks in today’s world. Not that we needed much reminding: after all, we’ve even seen it run AI applications using TensorFlow Lite.

Continue reading “The Commodore 64 Smartwatch Can Now Sync With Your Commodore 64 Desktop”

PicoMite Gives Your Pico A Deluxe BASIC

What makes developing a microcontroller project quick and easy? Tops on our list are an interactive shell and comprehensive libraries that handle all the low-level peripheral stuff. You think we’re talking MicroPython? Not today! MMBasic has just been ported to the Raspberry Pi Pico dev board, and it has all the batteries included.

Just to give you a taste, it has built-in support for SD cards, all sorts of displays, touch screens, real-time clocks, IR remotes, numerous sensors, and of course WS2812 LED strips. And because all of this is baked into the BASIC, writing code to use any of these peripherals is straightforward.

Now, there’s BASIC and there’s BASIC. This is a modern BASIC: it has loops, functions, arrays, floating point, and a built-in full-screen editor. You connect to the Pico via UART, and you’re off to the races. If you’ve got a Pico sitting around, flash it and give it a try. Or check out the GitHub repository if you want to poke around in the internals.

This is a port of the BASIC that’s used on the Maximite virtual retrocomputer platform, which means that there are many working examples out there for you to crib from, and even a forum. Add in the incredibly nice user manual and tutorial (PDF), and you’ve got the perfect weekend afternoon.

Think MicroPython killed BASIC? Think again. BASIC is small enough that it can run where Python can’t, but that’s of course a more minimal experience. In contrast, MMBasic looks like it’s got all the toppings. The whole enchilada. It’s like BASIC Deluxe.

QB64 Hits Version 2.0, Gets Enhanced Debugging

Despite the name, BASIC isn’t exactly a language recommended for beginners these days. Technology has moved on, and now most people would steer you towards Python if you wanted to get your feet wet with software development. But for those who got their first taste of programming by copying lines of BASIC out of a computer magazine, the language still holds a certain nostalgic appeal.

If that sounds like you, then may we heartily recommend QB64. The open source project seeks to modernize the classic programming language while retaining compatibility for QBasic 4.5, the late-80s BASIC environment Microsoft included with MS-DOS. That modernization not only includes the addition of contemporary technology like OpenGL, but cross-platform support that lets you run the same code on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS.

The new debug mode in QB64 v2.

The QB64 team released version 2.0 just a few days ago, making this the perfect time to give the project a test drive if you haven’t tried it out yet. The changelog includes platform specific improvements for each supported operating system, as well as a long list of general fixes and updates. But arguably the biggest feature for this release is the inclusion of the $Debug metacommand.

When this command is included in your code, the IDE will insert a debugging stub into the compiled program. During execution, the QB64 IDE will switch over to debugging mode, and communicate with your program in real-time over a local TCP/IP connection. The debugging mode lets you step through the code line-by-line, check the values of variables, and set breakpoints. Once you’re done fussing with the code and want to release a final binary, you just need to remove that single $Debug command and recompile.

We’ve talked in the past about using QB64 to revitalize vintage code, and think the project is a fantastic melding of old and new technology. You never know when you might suddenly have the urge to dust off some code you wrote back in the 80s and run it on an OS that didn’t even exist at the time.

1981 Called, Here’s Your Software

How many of us who have a few decades of adulthood under our belts would like to talk to our 17 year old selves? “Hey kid, it’s all gonna be OK. Also, Duke Nukem Forever does come out eventually, but it’s not going to be pretty!” Being honest, exposure to the hot takes of one’s naive teenage self would almost certainly be as cringeworthy as the time-worn-but-familiar adult would be to the teenager, but there’s one way in which you can in a sense have a conversation with your teenage self. [Mad Ned] had this opportunity, when he discovered a printed BASIC listing for a game he’d written for the TRS-80 back in 1981. Could he make it run again, and what did it tell him about his teenage years?

Grizzled 8-bit veterans will tell you of countless hours spent typing poorly-reproduced listings found in magazines, and the inevitable pain that followed as all those mistypes were ironed out. [Ned] eschewed all that retro experience because this is the 21st century, and we now have much more powerful computers to do our bidding! The reality of incomplete OCR is one we’ll no doubt all be used to, and for 8-bit fans also the debugging that was needed to get the listing to run. Breaker Ball is an odd hybrid of Breakout and Space Invaders, and it’s his analysis of the teenage thinking that led to the game being the way it is that rounds off the piece.¬† Sadly we’re not treated to the entire listing, but there’s a short gameplay video we’ve placed below the break.

Continue reading “1981 Called, Here’s Your Software”

Python Provides Classic Basic

Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s when you turned on a PC, more often than not, you’d get a Basic prompt. Most people would then load a game from a tape, but if you were inclined to program you could just start writing. [Richpl] wanted that same experience and thus PyBasic was born. Along with some other Github contributors, the system has grown quite a bit and would be a good start at porting classic games or creating a replica vintage computer.

The interpreter lacks specialized hardware-specific features such as sound and graphics, of course, but then again, you could add them. It does have file I/O and also includes some interesting features like an analog of C’s ternary operator.

Continue reading “Python Provides Classic Basic”

Yo Dawg, We Heard You Like Retrocomputers

The idea of having software translation programs around to do things like emulate a Super Nintendo on your $3000 gaming computer or, more practically, run x86 software on a new M1 Mac, seems pretty modern since it is so prevalent in the computer world today. The idea of using software like this is in fact much older and easily traces back into the 80s during the era of Commodore and Atari personal computers. Their hardware was actually not too dissimilar, and with a little bit of patience and know-how it’s possible to compile the Commodore 64 kernel on an Atari, with some limitations.

This project comes to us from [unbibium] and was inspired by a recent video he saw where the original Apple computer was emulated on Commodore 64. He took it in a different direction for this build though. The first step was to reformat the C64 code so it would compile on the Atari, which was largely accomplished with a Python script and some manual tweaking. From there he started working on making sure the ROMs would actually run. The memory setups of these two machines are remarkably similar which made this slightly easier, but he needed a few workarounds for a few speed bumps. Finally the cursor and HMIs were configured, and once a few other things were straightened out he has a working system running C64 software on an 8-bit Atari.

Unsurprisingly, there are a few things that aren’t working. There’s no IO besides the keyboard and mouse, and saving and loading programs is not yet possible. However, [unbibium] has made all of his code available on his GitHub page if anyone wants to expand on his work and may also improve upon this project in future builds. If you’re looking for a much easier point-of-entry for emulating Commodore software in the modern era, though, there is a project available to run a C64 from a Raspberry Pi.

Thanks to [Cprossu] for the tip!