NEWS, EDITORIALS, REFERENCE
World of Commodore '17
Another year, another adventure. Long live the C64. Your second World of Commodore since returning to the scene cannot ever be as epic as the first one. But as the fates would have it, I would not be able to repeat last year even if I'd wanted to. This is my review of World of Commodore 2017. In a nutshell, friends and networking. Networking as in what people do when they get together? No, no, no. Digital, 8-bit, computer networking. Read on.
Last year the journey felt truely epic. I got up early on a Saturday, I brought my son along with me. I had no expectations, except bad ones, and when I arrived it was just one pleasant surprise after another. What could compare with that?
I've got several of hobbies that tug at my heartstrings and draw me out into the world, from Esperanto conferences to Star Trek CCG tournaments. Commodore Expos are a new(old) one to add to my list of places to go throughout the year. But my wife is always making me agree to compromises so that I actually, you know, spend time with her and our family. The dice were rolled, and this year the Archibald Family Christmas party at a cottage north of Peterborough came up on the same Saturday as World of Commodore's main day. Drat! I tried to argue that I've been working my butt off all year and that the one and only time and place that anyone on earth is going to care about what I've been doing is that very Saturday, in a hotel basement in Mississauga. I didn't get far along those lines. Besides, the show is a two day event, right?
So I went to the cottage on Saturday, December 9th. A 3 hour drive out, in the winter, and a 3 hour drive back at the end of the day. I was already exhausted and I hadn't even made it to the show. I packed up my C64 Luggable project, got some Commodore Logo Patches ready to bring with me and went to bed early. The next morning, I got up before the sun. Bid farewell to my wife and sleepy kids and hit the road.
I wasn't quite as excited as last year. I knew where I was going, I knew how long it would take me to get there. And I knew that the location was the same as last year so there weren't likely to be any big surprises. And there weren't. The weather was great, the drive was fast and easy, I stopped once for food and a bathroom, and I didn't even bother to get gas. By the time I pulled into the parking lot at the Admiral Inn my tank was on empty, and it was 10am sharp.
I left my equipment in the car, and didn't even bother to put on my coat. I just dashed across the frigid parking lot in my sweater, and into the hotel lobby. I ran past a guy loading a luggage cart stacked with 8-Bit Commodore goodness into the back of a van. Besides that and a tiny square sign with the chicken lips logo and an arrow pointing right, there wasn't much sign that anything was going on. I was a bit worried. Maybe last year was an exception? Maybe Bil Herd had drawn an uncharacteristically large crowd last year that would never be matched again?
I headed downstairs and found the sign in table completely unmanned, and no one was waiting to sign in. Damn it, did I miss the whole show?
Before I took five more paces, Jim Mazurek, a true 8-Bit soldier, who along with Eric Kudzin seem to go to supernatural lengths to make an appearance at every show, popped out from around the corner. He greeted me kindly, and broke some unexpected but hugely uplifting news. Dave Ross is here! Holy crap! Dave (Watson) Ross, one of my oldest online Commodore friends, together with Vanessa Dannenberg and David Wood (too bad they couldn't make it), was here in the flesh.
I took a couple of steps into the showroom and peeked around the corner to see what I could see. "No shit! Is that really Dave Ross I see sitting there?!" I called out. The same guy, only a decade older than the last time I saw him spun around and stood up with a smile on his face. After extending my arm to shake his hand, I thought, ah screw that, and gave him a hug. He could have been sitting completely alone in that giant room, and I still would have been happy to have made the journey.
A couple of quick thoughts. First, there is no doubt that this is a Sunday morning, the second day of a successful show. The tempo was way down from last year, but that was not a sign of less interest or smaller participation. Instead, the room was only partially populated by sleepy lookin' dudes who had just gotten out of bed from the partying the night before and strolled down to see what was going on. Many of the regulars, Joey and Leif, for example, weren't even there. John (CRT) Hammarberg, who I wrote about last year, was there, but he was packing up his gear and getting ready for the 6 or so hour drive back home. I barely had a chance to say hi, shake his hand and wish him a safe trip home. I also discovered that Jim Brain had not made it up this year. That's a bummer.
The second thing to point out though, is that the room was bigger. Like, two times as big. At first I was worried, were there no presentations this year? Last year the room had been divided in half by means of a folding partition that slides along a track in the ceiling. This year, that partition was neatly tucked away inside the hidden wall compartments, and the showroom floor was consequently much more spacious than last year. But, fear not, I soon found out, when the first presentation of the day was due to begin (which I'll go into later), that there is a whole separate room reserved and set up just for presentations.
This year the showroom was configured more like a giant 8 on an old digital alarm clock. The room was rectangular, like two squares side by side. Tables flanked the entire outer rim of the whole room. And in the middle, two inset squares, one for vendors the other for more demo machines.
Let's walk our virtual way around the room to the best of my memory. Last year I left a couple of people out who weren't super happy that I'd completely forgotten about them, but you know how it is with memory.
The first machine I cam across was a breadbox C64 with a conspicuously bright red 1541 Ultimate II+ hanging out the back. I got a look at it, and learned a few tidbits, such as that the onboard speaker plays sounds that make it sound like a spinning 1541 disk drive. To be honest, I'm not sure how much I like that, and I hope that feature can be turned off. The other thing I learned is that it's access to mass storage devices works a lot like the uIEC/SD. I'm still going to have to get my hands on one for testing and compatibility with C64 OS. I'd love it if this became the storage device in my C64 Luggable. Because it packs a lot into a small space, ethernet, USB Storage, REU emulation, Freezer Cartridge, and more.
Beside it on the same table was an Amiga 600 with the Vampire 2 accelerator board. I've never been into the Amiga, but there were quite a few of them scattered around the room. I looked up the Vampire 2 board online, and found this link for you, if you're interested in getting one for yourself. http://www.apollo-accelerators.com.
In the video review of the Vampire 2, in the first 5 seconds of the video Dan Wood declares that the A600 is "by far the worst Amiga every created" and the black sheep of the Amiga family. I would not have guessed that that's how people feel about it. It has always been my favorite model, coming from a guy who has never used an Amiga in his life. I think it's the diminutive form factor, but to me it is the sleekest looking and most visually appealing of all the Amigas. It's so cute, I love it. Anyway, now it's got some amazing speed boost via the equivalent of the SuperCPU of the Amiga World, Vampire 2. Or something. Check it out.
Right next to that was a table with two of Steve Gray's PETs with their tops cracked open. I got a couple of quick looks on the inside. The first is an 8032, and it was showing off the Multi-Edit ROM adapter. And the second was a SuperPET with some other board mounted inside. Unfortunately I didn't get a clean look at that one.
Check out the Multi-EditROM up close and personal. Looks wonderful! I love seeing all those jumper wires, reminds me of when I installed the daughter board in the c128D to make it compatible with the SuperCPU128.
If you're interested in this project, you can read all about it on Steve Gray's website, (a sub-page of 6502.org, how cool is that?) http://www.6502.org/users/sjgray/projects/editrom/.
The Editor ROM is responsible for all video initialization, screen output, keyboard input, full-screen editor, and IRQ handling. By putting all this in one ROM Commodore was able to customize the machines for various markets, with different options. Commodore provided for most combinations, but not all models got all options. Later CBM machines had additional editing features and even a simple power-on menu for "Executives". Steve Gray—The PET/CBM Editor ROM Project
He also had on display the absolute behemoth, CBM Model 4040 Dual Disk Drive. The thing is like the size of a small washing machine. No, I jest, but it is big. Especially compared to the very modestly sized Super Disk Drive SD-2 by MSD which he also had on display, with the top case removed, right next to it.
Zooming around the corner, Leif Bloomquist, TPUG member and co-organizer of World of Commodore had several of his own machines set up.
The first was in his transparent C64c case which I marveled at last year. This year he was using it to show off a Raspberry Pi C64 interface board of his design. Unfortunately this is not a commercially available project, and he doesn't currently plan on manufacturing the board. Although the schematics and plans are (or will be) available on his website.
Essentially, the Raspberry Pi is mounted on a board that plugs into the User Port on a C64. It is fully powered by the C64 and can be communicated with over the serial connection provided by the User Port, as though communicating with a remote machine over a modem. Except, the other machine isn't remote, it's neatly hanging straight off the back of the C64.
Besides just being a kind of neat project, to see that you can do that, I'm not sure if Leif has in mind any bigger plans for what one might be able to do by having access to a Raspberry–Pi–in–a–UserPort–Cartridge. Frankly, I'm a fan of when these sorts of projects are turned into commercial products, even if there is only a run of 50 boards or whatever, even if it's a kit, but I respect the fact that there is some financial risk in making a bunch of product that no one ends up buying.
By the way, I consider this project to fit within the theme of "networking" for this year's show. Even though it's a point–to–point network over a very short distance, it is an interesting entry in a wide range of demonstrations of people using their C64s to talk to other computers.
Leif also had on display a C64c with a beautiful shade of blue for the top case. This one he painted himself. It looks very professional. The machine also had a number of buttons, switches and knobs popping out the left hand side. I should have asked him what all those do.
Another contributor to the networking theme of this year, but not quite a Commodore 8-Bit, Leif also had set up a WYSE WY-60 Terminal between his C64c's. WYSE was a company founded in 1981 that specialized in terminals and then thin clients, before being acquired by DELL in 2012. You can read all about there sordid history here, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dell_Wyse.
Essentially this machine was just a terminal. Sort of like how we use terminal emulator software, that software just emulates what these machines and their ilk had built in. Leif hooked up a DB-25 Parallel WiFi Modem that emulates a Hayes Modem. It's pretty cool, because with this simple "dumb" machine, plus the intelligent guts crammed onto that tiny WiFi modem, this is all you need to be able to log into a free Unix Shell account somewhere, such as Toronto Free-Net. From there, you can read email with PINE or browse the web with Lynx, and so on. Pretty cool.
Also sitting on the desk there beside the WYSE Terminal is the very last one of Leif's own deluxe WiFi modem. He made a run of about 100, and has since sold them all, down to this very last one. There will not be another run, so be the lucky one to get your hands on this one. I asked him if he felt it was a success, and the answer was a resounding yes! He expected to make 20 or so, and questioned whether he'd be able to offload them all. So it was a nice surprise for him to be able to move so many units, especially considering the plethora of cheaper but less capable models of WiFi that have become popular in the community in the last few years.
My only regret is that I'll have to remove his modem from the Commodore 8-Bit Buyer's Guide after I get word that he's sold the last one.
The VR64, a set of Virtual Reality Googles for the C64, was demoed earlier in the year, but this is the first time I had a chance to try it out for myself. Jim had sent Leif a sample of the goggles to put on display at World of Commodore.
The project was put together by Jim_64 (I can't seem to be able to figure out his full name, apologies.) He wrote a nice blog post about how he put the project together with links and resources to be able to build your own. http://64jim64.blogspot.ca/2017/09/vr64-virtual-reality-goggles-for.html.
His project is so clever and of interest to people on cutting edge of technology with VR being all the rage these days, that VR64 was featured in an article on Gizmodo, and on PopularMechanics.com. I'd say that's a pretty big win for the popularity of the C64. The articles feature some nice videos you can watch.
I got to try on the goggles, and play the one game that Jim_64 also produced to go along with the project, Street Defender. It's cute, a bit simplistic, but there is some real promise there. I'd love to see what sort of mind bending 3D visuals could be produced if a couple of experienced demo coders felt like putting their talents behind some VR64 demos.
UPDATE: January 2, 2018
Didn't I say I'd forget someone? It totally skipped my mind when I first wrote this review, but Francis Bernier from Montreal was setup after VR64. I didn't take any pictures of his table for some reason. He had on display a C64c, top case removed, with several modifications made by soldering things directly onto the main board. To be honest, it gave me the willies to think of dropping a soldering iron directly onto a c64's main board, for fear of damaging something.
He had removed the RF Modulator, and used the space for a modification that broke out the video signals in some way as to get a cleaner signal with less noise and interference. He paired this with a LumaFix64. The LumaFix64 is listed in the Buyer's Guide, and I would have bought one from him right there on the spot, but he only had one left and it was already spoken for. The LumaFix64 sits directly into the VIC-II socket, and the VIC-II chip is then plopped into the matching socket on the other side of it. There are then three tiny adjustable knobs. These can be tweaked in realtime while the machine is on. You watch the display, and if there are vertical bars or other interference, you can gently adjust those knobs until the picture becomes clearer.
The combination of his video line mod, plus the LumaFix64, produced an output of truly stunning clarity. I thought the 1084S produced sharp output. But I've never seen results this good. He had an upscaler connected to a VGA monitor. You don't see raster lines when using a VGA monitor, and I commented that the expensive upscaler probably had something to do with the quality. But he assured me it did not. He had another 64 setup without those mods. With the flip of a switch he could toggle the display between the two machines. The machine without any modification had the typical blurriness we're all familiar with, horizontal bleed and weird vertical lines. But when it flipped back to the machine he was showing off, it was like looking at an emulator it was so clear.
Getting a LumaFix64 is on my shortlist of purchases for 2018.
Apologies to Francis for forgetting to mention you in my first draft.
Sliding down the tables some, Jim Mazurek had a flat c128 with a 512K REU clone, a small drive stack, 1351 mouse and an Amiga monitor. Across the table was scattered a variety of new and old hardware expansions, a machine language reference guide, some cables and a networking router. Precariously balanced atop the Amiga monitor was a XYPLEX MAXserver 1600, Terminal Server. A say what now? A 16-port terminal server, which you can pick up on ebay for anywhere between 100 and 200 dollars.
Jim was using the XYPLEX as a TCP/IP to Serial bridge, which he connected to the c128 via a UserPort serial adapter that looks suspiciously like an EZ-232. Ironically, this entire goldbergian contraption plus the benefit of wireless networking is more or less encapsulated in any of the many popular WiFi modems. However, Mazurek assures me that there are numerous useful benefits to using the XYPLEX, like 16 serial ports(!) that make it worth the trouble and physical space it occupies.
In another wonderful contribution to the networking theme, Jim was using his setup to display the modern revival of Quantum Link, or Q-Link, the originally Commodore 64/128 only online service that changed its name to, you guessed it, America Online, in 1991. After the name change, the service expanded to service the PC and Macintosh and still exists today.
Q-Link offered a number of departments for such things as news, online shopping, chatrooms with other users, downloading software, and more. As a kid I remember having the Q-Link disk that came packaged in the box with GEOS on my first C64c. By the time I acquired my first modem in the mid 90s the service had long already moved on and was no longer accessible by the C64 version of the software.
The efforts of Glenn Holmer and Jim Brain, lead to QuantumLink RELOADED. The backend code has been updated to support a bridge to the IRC network, which is what Jim Mazurek was demonstrating. The process of getting online was, in my opinion, complicated. But I do applaud the effort. And it's nice, as Jim said, for people to experience the nostalgia of using Q-Link again if they had been devoted users of it back in the late 80s.
Later in the day, I decided to shoot a video of Mazurek walking me through the process involved in getting his c128 connected and logged into the #c64friends IRC channel via Q-Link. Give it a whirl, it's got a few funny bits, and some chit chat that gives the feel of what it's like to hang out with your C64 friends at an expo.
UPDATE: November 30, 2020
This video has been migrated from Vimeo to S3 due to its age, and space constraints on my Vimeo account.
Rounding the bend again, and a long line of tables ran the back of the room. First up was a table setup with diagnostic cartridges and lots of bare motherboards. Along with some monitors, this table was meant for people to test hardware. Joe Palumbo spent a healthy portion of the day hunched over some C64 mainboards cursing and scratching his head. It also served as a nice spot to congregate and discuss some of the technical intricacies of C64s, such as how to identify when a particular RAM chip has gone bad. Also discussed was how to deal with the fact that many C64s have their ROM chips soldered directly to the mainboard, and how best to upgrade these machines with JiffyDOS.
I learned a few fun facts. One, is that it is very likely the reason some mainboards have sockets and others have the chips soldered on, is because Commodore was cranking out mainboards as quickly as they could. But as they went, the production of the mainboards was not always in sync with the ready supply of ICs. If some ICs were not available at the time the board was being produced, they simply substituted in a socket instead. When the chips became available they could easily be plopped into place.
Next up was the table with drinks and a super old school TPUG sign ringed with a string of neon blue lights. Bottles of pop, stacks of red plastic glasses and a couple of bottles Rye Whiskey tantalizingly called out my name. 11am seemed a bit early to crack into the booze though, and by the end of the day I was going to have to drive home. This is one of those unfortunate downsides to showing up on a Sunday. If I were there on the Saturday, and had a room somewhere a few short storeys above the show, I'm sure that smooth liquor would have added to the authentic World of Commodore experience. This is bringing back fond memories of hot pressing T-Shirts with the words "I Partied with Jim Butterfield" strewn across them.
Speaking of Jim Butterfield, his name still comes up at these shows. And there is still an air of sadness in the room from the loss of such a vibrant, eccentric and memorable Commodore icon. It was at an expo much like this, many years ago, that I first learned about how to make the BANANA prompt.1 Let's all raise a red plastic glass of Coke and Whiskey, to Jim Butterfield.
On the next table, past the emergency exit, sat a few Amigas doing their Amiga-y thing. One was a brand new Amiga motherboard inside some partially transparent PC tower case. I think a lot of Amiga fans would have been excited to see it, but I admit, that, by the time it gets up to that level, it just starts looking like standard boring PC to my eyes.
Somewhat more exciting for me, were the Amiga 1000 and 3000 (I think) that followed it. I'm not 100% sure what these were showing off, but it's always fun to poke around on an Amiga when you get an opportunity.
And it's pretty traditional to have a few games stations set up. In the corner following the Amigas were an SX-64 and a Breadbox with what look like the KONIX SpeedKing, or perhaps the EPYX 500XJ Joysticks, hard to tell from the photos. These machines dutifully pumped some SID tunes into the air.
Next up around the corner from the game stations was Jay Hamill's rig. He had a old laptop sandwiched between a C128D and an SX-64 of his own. The C128D had four custom toggle switches jutting out the bottom of the front panel. To one side of his rig was a bin full of cartridges, eprom burners, joysticks, a cartridge port expander and a 1764 REU. To the other side was a stack of drives, including a 1541-II, a 1581 and "Micro IEC" which predates the uIEC/SD. It's the same concept, was made by Jim Brain, but has a Compact Flash card and a socket for an IDE ribbon cable. This Micro IEC storage device is no longer available, having been superseded by the uIEC/SD. But what amazes me is that this device was created, came into existence, was commercially sold, and then stopped being sold in favor of a newer, smaller model supporting newer smaller storage cards, all within the length of time that I'd been out of the scene.
The table surrounding his 128D was covered with networking hardware. WiFi modems and serial adapters, some of which after all my searches online for populating the 8-Bit Buyer's Guide, I'd still never even heard of.
Better yet, he demoed for a small crew of spectators how to configure and sign into a WiFi SSID, and how to connect to IRC and FTP using these devices. But, I'll return to cover those in the next section about the demos. Chalk another one up for the networking theme.
After that came the freebies table. In the middle of the room, there was another PET, with the built–in cassette deck and the chicklet keyboard. And beside it a Vic-20 with the old style power cable.
It was on these inner tables that I brought in and set up my C64 Luggable, such as it is. I didn't have time to finish it before World of Commodore, but I also didn't want to rush it. I put the bits together, but the back door is super rough, the front panel is not yet permenantly screwed down, so it's held on with masking tape. But the speakers and their grills were in place, the front panel is all dremeled out, but held on with masking tape. None of it is painted, though I put the paint chit on the top, to show what color I intend it to be.
The handle and display were put in, the mainboard was mounted in, and the keyboard and mouse I brought along to set out in front of it. I stuck the sweet little chrome Commodore logo to the keyboard, and masking tapped the "Commodore 64 Personal Computer" logo mark to the front of the machine. However, I did not have the rubber feet on the bottom yet, because I want to wait until after the bottom has been painted to apply those.
I did bring with it one little surprise that I haven't posted anything about online yet. My mother, who is a very skilled quilter, has made me a custom fit, quilted cover with a cutout for the handle. And to the cover she stitched on two of the embroidered Commodore Logo Patches that are available in the Buyer's Guide.
I got a few oohs and aahs, and a handful of questions about the machine. But, unfortunately it was not in functional condition, so I was not able to turn it on. Next year, I fully expect that not only will I be turning it on, but I'd love to use it as a demo station and a 4 player game station. The speakers in my C64 Luggable were easily the nicest to be found anywhere in the room, so using it as a High Voltage SID Collection boom box would also probably go over pretty well.
With any luck, C64 OS will be at least bootable, with something interesting to show for next year too. In which case, this will be my demo machine for whatever talk I can schedule myself in to give. Ironically, I didn't take any photos of my machine on display at the show, but I took some photos of it in the workshop the night before I left, and here they are.
The Presentation Room
I'll be pretty straight with you, I totally missed the best and most interesting presentations, the ones that took place on Saturday. But there were some presentations on Sunday too. My greatest lament is that I missed the in depth talk on the PLA, delivered by the guy who created U17 PLAnkton. Forgive me for having forgotten his name. Eslapion, as he's known on the Melon64 forums. Such a talk would have been really great. I'm actually rather disappointed I didn't get a chance to hear it.
The presentation room this year was actually in another physical room, accessible from the main lounge area outside the showroom. It had seating for about 40 people, which to me seems a bit cramped. But on the Sunday it was okay because there was a smaller crowd that day. There was a projector and a screen at the front of the room, as well as a microphone and a presenter's table for his or her machine and notes. Tom Luff was operating the video recorder on a tripod from the front row. One blessing is that I'll at least be able to watch the discussion of the PLA on YouTube.
UPDATE: January 2, 2018
According to MindFlare Retro (@MindFlareRetro) on Twitter, the title of the presentation by Eslapion about the U17 PLAnkton was "The PLAin Truth About the Commodore 64 PLA". I haven't found the video yet on YouTube, but when I do, I'll embed it here.
UPDATE: February 7, 2018
MindFlare Retro has uploaded the video to YouTube. Here it is:
The first talk I went to was by David Zvekic about DizzyTorrent for Amiga 68K. DizzyTorrent was actually released the weekend of World of Commodore, so this is pretty fresh news. He gave a delightful talk about the challenges involved with getting an Amiga to play nicely with the world of BitTorrent. One main issue that sticks out in my mind is that when you are torrenting a large file, you receive little bits of it at a time. And whichever little bits you have become available for other people to get from you. The problem is that this requires more or less random access into what could potentially be a multi–gigabyte file. The Amiga file system known as Fast File System (FFS), as it turns out, is not that fast. His description of it reminded me of the problem with seeking through a large file on a typical C64 file system, like that of a CMD native partition. The directory entry points to the first block, and the first block points to the second block, and so on until the end of the file. There is no way to find the last block of the file without loading in every block along the way and traversing all the pointers. His solution was clever, and the rest of the talk was similarly interesting.
If you're an Amiga 68K user, soak up the love here: http://amitopia.com/bittorrent-client-for-amiga-68k-released-on-aminet/
Although this next one was not an official talk, (if it didn't happen on Saturday,) it should have been. It was super easy to talk Jay Hamill into giving us a pretty extensive demonstration of the typical WiFi UserPort Modem.
With the development of a very inexpensive component, a WiFi modem, full TCP/IP stack, with programmable firmware, to RS232 serial. It was originally developed to make it easy for companies with older but very expensive hardware with serial ports to get that hardware onto a WiFi network for cheap–and–ready remote management. This little device has become an absolute boon to the retro computer market. There are many more solutions that make use of it than I was initially aware of, and I'm still playing catch up trying to get them all listed in the Buyer's Guide.
Hamill was eager to show off a myriad of interesting hardware devices, he had scattered around his c128D. Here are just a few examples: The MicroIEC (CF/IDE), C64Net Wifi, Link232, EZ-232, Commodore 64 Telnet Wifi Adapter and Strikelink WiFi. Check them out.
Hamill walked us through what you can do with a WiFi Modem. He picked one that had been created by Bo Zimmerman, along with a number of programs that Zimmerman has put together to make use of them. We only got to see a few of them in action, but others lurked in the directory listing that I'm pretty excited to download, reverse engineer and learn from and about in the coming weeks.
A config utility that lists the WiFi Hotspot SSIDs, and lets you join by supplying a username and password. Looks pretty straightforward, although I'd love to rewrite this application for C64 OS. The great thing about the hardware is that its network connection is independent of the C64. Once you use the configuration utility to get it online, it will remain online and even survive the C64 itself being reset without dropping the connection. This is very convenient because it allows you to hop from one program to the next without needing to reconnect to the hotspot.
The other two programs he walked us through are IRC Chat 1.5, and an FTP client. We used the IRC Chat program to get on #C64friends right then and there. While I appreciate the nostalgic angle of using QuantumLink RELOADED, using a dedicated IRC Chat program is much more straightforward. He then walked us through connecting to Bo Zimmerman's own FTP server using the FTP program. We downloaded a program and it worked great. The most astonishing fact about these programs, get ready for it, is that they were written in BASIC! The BASIC and KERNAL roms of the C64 include built–in support for RS-232 communications (up to 2400 baud) over the UserPort.
A few caveats, yes, these programs, and these modems, are kind of slow. The common UserPort WiFi modems can actually support 9600 kbps, which is a lot better than 2400 baud. But, if you've been used to using a 33.6K or 56K modem over a Turbo232, these things are gonna feel pokey. There is no real reason why this WiFi modem dingus could not be connected via RS-232 that connects to the C64 via the expansion port however. Also, these particular programs, which feel a bit more like proofs–of–concept than truly end–user friendly, were written in BASIC. BASIC and the built–in KERNAL routines only support up to 2400 baud. It will be most interesting to see what sort of speed can be accomplished with a native TCP/IP stack and 64NIC+ or RR–Net ethernet adapter.
Near the end of all that Jay Hamill was helpfully showing us, we got called away for another talk in the presentation room that was about to begin.
This talk was called Annals of Digital Archaeology. It was given by a gentleman, Zbigniew Stachniak, who described the process they underwent to uncover the lost secrets of an early home computer company that was founded in Toronto in 1970s.
This company was so on the bleeding edge of what it even meant for computing to be done by home users, that they wanted to explore the early software to see what ideas they had. Unfortunately so much of the format and the documentation has been lost to time, that uncovering what they could was really quite akin to archaeology. They started by digitally recording the analog contents of the audio cassettes and analyzing the waveforms to try to figure out what encoding scheme was being used so that the original information could be extracted.
It was a bit of an unsual talk, but as I sat and listened, I marveled at how, here in a hotel basement people have peacefully gathered together, and are sitting quietly watching a man give a presentation which he had clearly devoted a great deal of time to. It is so genuinely refreshing to take part in something that is so real. Our world has become annoyingly fixated on what is next, what is better, what is faster, and often regards just last year's technology with dismissal and disdain. Yet here we are, gathered together, watching with interest and curiosity to learn about the clever ingenuity, pragmatic decisions, and inevitable pitfalls and missteps of engineers who were pioneering personal computing a decade before I was even born. It's fascinating.
I grabbed a panorama of the presentation room for this talk.
Unfortunately, the Sunday show ends at 3pm. It gives everyone who has traveled some distance a chance to get back on the road. I sat around for a half hour or so catching up with Dave Ross before he had to get a lift up to the airport to fly back to Boston.
Our stories are not too different. We both sort of fell out of the community for a few years. We both got married, and we've both got toddlers running around at home. And here we are, years later, a few more grey hairs in our sideburns, hanging out at a Commodore Expo again. We both agreed that something over this past decade changed.
In the 80s our Commodore computers were on the top of the hill, the peak of their commercial popularity. In the 90s, we struggled with trying to keep our machines competitive with a rapidly developing PC landscape, losing community members like big blue was swatting flies in the window of a summer farm house. By the start of the 2000s we had to come to grips with the fact that we had lost the war. And there was a widening gap between the old guard and the youngsters. The old guard was a progressively aging group of people who didn't want to move on, and still wanted their beloved Commodores to be productive. And a younger crowd, who more and more just wanted to make retro games, go to demo parties, and stay up all night drinking, hacking and coding. We both left the scene somewhere around this time. But in the intervening years, something happened with PCs, and the rise of the iPhone, and other mobile computing appliances, that are beautiful to behold, work flawlessly as if by some magic dust that's been sprinkled inside, and yet have hermetically sealed away even the faintest trace of anything electronic.
PCs won the war. But they won the war so hard and so completely, that they came out the other side as something entirely different. They are not really even computers any more. They're just iPads and smartphones. Apple has this ad they recently released showing a young kid living and breathing his iPad Pro and Apple Pencil. But when his mom tells him to put away his computer he innocently asks, What's a computer? Exactly. What is a computer? Commodore 8-Bits, and other platforms of its era, have found a new life, as computers. Things you can dig into, and get your hands dirty with, and learn about in all their intricate technical details. It's about falling in love all over again. That sense is palpable at World of Commodore. We are living in the retro computing renaissance. And it is wonderful.
Before we left the hotel, I kept pickin' the brains of Leif, and Ian, and Jim and Eric, about how NTSC and PAL video signals are encoded, and how computers are timed around their delicate requirements. Then we shot the video of the QuantumLink RELOADED review, as embedded above.
I tested as working, and bought a 1541-II from JPPBM. Then I splurged and bought my first PAL C64c, an Australian model. Can't wait to finally be able to view those PAL demos I've been deprived of all my life. I bought a couple more Abacus books, one on Graphics Programming for the C64. I'm sure that'll come in handy throughout this year as I continue to work on C64 OS.
We packed our cars, and made one last rendezvous at Master Steaks. A grungy diner just off the 401 highway, ate some deliciously tasty chicken souvlaki served on a cafeteria tray, and carried on the technical discussions with Joe Palumbo, Leif Bloomquist, Eric Kudzin and Jim Mazurek. When we were finally plump and satiated, and well caffeinated for the long drive home, we shook hands, wished each other well, and headed off in separate directions into the dark and frigid Canadian winter night.
See you all next year my friends. It's been a pleasure.
- The BANANA prompt was a fun trick he showed us, first copying the contents of the BASIC ROM into the underlying RAM. Then swapped out the ROM for the RAM, and poked the letters "BANANA" overtop of the constant for "READY." at $A378 [↩]
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