NEWS, EDITORIALS, REFERENCE
World of Commodore '19
It's that time of year again, when we kick back, warm up behind our computer screens and read long reviews about cool Commodore and retro computer shows.
World of Commodore 2019 has come and gone, and it certainly didn't disappoint. This will be my fourth review of a World of Commodore event. Each year, after I digest for a bit, I try to come up with a theme to guide the narrative of my review. A couple of things though.
This is the first year that I have given a talk at any retro computer
event since at least 2008. It's been 11 long years, so I was kind of nervous to make my first
- The second thing is that the show this year was shortened from a 2-day Saturday/Sunday event, to a 1-day Saturday-only event.
I was worried that the shortened timeframe was a prediction of lower attendence or decreased interest.
I am pleased to inform you, there was no shortage of interest or attendance. I've never seen the showroom floor so packed with people, machines and vendors. Even the number of PETs set up this year blew me away. There were PETs along all four sides of the room, and even on the inner rings of the room, and none of them was owned by the PET-master himself, Steve Gray, who wasn't there this year.
It's hard to pick just one theme this year, so I think I'll sum it up like this:
So many people, so many machines, so little time. Greg Nacu, "theme of the year," World of Commodore 2019
I feel like I say this every year, but I am always pleasantly surprised to find that so many of the people who show up are people I've never seen before. Obviously many of the fun and familiar regulars, Eric Kudzin and Jim Mazurek, Dave Ross, Joe Palumbo, Leif Bloomquist and Golan Klinger, and many others were there. But it isn't just the same group of people who attend, even the show floor presenters had many faces totally unknown to me.
The room was packed with people and machines, every table was full.
In 2016, when I first returned to World of Commodore after an 8-year hiatus, one of the organizers of the show, in a moment of unbridled pessimism, said, "There's only one way that the membership of a Commodore club goes…" He left the word down to linger in our imaginations.
I can't speak for TPUG's actual membership, but as for World of Commodore? I was there in the mid 2000's. I remember when we were in a church basement made of mint green painted cinder blocks, adorned with Jesus fish. Okay, those were dark days. So, if these last few years are any indication, one thing is sure. Attendence and enthusiasm at this Commodore event isn't going down.
I've played with the format of these reviews in the past. This year I think I will divide it into several main sections:
- The Trip There
- The Classic Treasures
- The Not Seen Before
- The Hackers and Builders
- The Presentations
- The Final Thoughts
Another year, more cool stuff to talk about. Let's get right into it, shall we?
The Trip There
This year I had the full blessing from my wife to attend. I worked hard for it. I spent the two weeks leading up to the event staying up until 3AM every night, trying to work out the bugs in the latest build of C64 OS, writing a presenter program, working on my talks, and getting my hardware together. I missed the family Christmas party to go to World of Commodore, but my wife didn't give me any trouble, because she knew the work and passion I'd been pouring into this hobby.
Francis Bernier, with whom we carpooled last year, has accepted a job and an upgrade which has taken him to San Francisco. So this year, I drove, and Jérémie Marsin of Double Sided Games carpooled with me. We had a lot of cool shit to bring with us. I pulled the kids carseats out of my hatchback, and folded down the seats.
My car was packed! We never would have fit this much stuff with us into the ride we had last year. There were at least 3 1084's, an Atari CRT, and a PVM of exceptionally high video out quality. Packed around that, there were two projectors and a couple of flat panel LCDs. My C64 Luggable, two C64 Ultimates in fancy new C64c cases, an Amiga 1200, an Amiga 600 and a set of thumping sound sticks and subwoofer.
But wait, there is more in my car. A NeXT slab and a Macintosh portable.
I will probably never have either of these machines in my car ever again. Just being able to drive with such cool machines was a privilege. I felt it necessary to drive safely because it would be such a shame to get in an accident with such precious cargo.
I also brought along the slow cooker, to heat up some homemade wassail for the after party. A spiced cranapple cider spiked with brandy.
Speaking of driving safely with precious cargo, a crazy snow storm had just hit Kingston the morning of the day we were set to leave. We both took the afternoon off work, to pack and slowly drive to Toronto.
I told Jérémie he had to get in the spirit of Canadian culture during winter, so he put on his best imitation. Nice one! Quite authentic I'd say.
We were ready to brave the roads. And… so was my car.
The trip was uneventful. The weather actually cleared up by the time we got halfway there. And we pulled into the hotel parking lot not much past dark. We unloaded our stuff into the basement and found our way to our tables. Jérémie had some prime real estate this time, a double wide table just inside the main doors, all for Double Sided Games. My table came after that. But before set up, it was time to head over to East Side Marios for the early bird World of Commodore Friday dinner.
After dinner the showroom was open so we had time to go back and continue setting up. If you're going to have a presentation table on the show floor it always makes sense to come the night before the main day. That's when the real geeks are there to get their gear brought in and put together.
The sound of SID tunes starts pumping into the air as people test out their set ups.
John (CRT) Hammarberg was there, of course, ready to show off the latest cool PAL/Euro scene demos and collection of his own latest tricks. But, he forgot his Sound Sticks and subwoofer at home! Disaster, he looked on in dismay as I unpacked the very same set of my own. On his way back from the Friday dinner he had to make an emergency stop at a Shopper's Drug Mart, which usually also offers a small selection of home electronics, and picked up a pair of PC speakers. They'll do in a pinch, but I'm sure he was kicking himself for having forgotten such an important piece of demo-presenting kit.
Then I watched in silent awe as more and more PETs start getting loaded into room. It was like a small PET invasion. Golan Klinger, long time TPUG member, had the table after mine. I'd swear he told me last year that he'd decided to go all emulation and get rid of all his retro hardware. But somewhere in the middle he got bitten by the bug and drawn back into the madness and chaos of retro computer hardware. The guy has managed to collect in the past year more machines than I have in my whole house. He had three PETs and a dual floppy Model 4040 right there on the table beside mine. Meanwhile, I have never owned even one before.
Help, help! Someone come clean me up, I'm dying down here!
Someone was helpfully cleaning up his PETs, wiping down the white sides and the spaces between the keys. Very helpful. But then, apparently he got a little too helpful, as he moved on to begin work cleaning up a very grungy looking old breadbox C64. That's when I heard,
Hey, what are you doing? Don't clean that up, that's authentic 1980's grime! That machine is part of a competition, you don't just wipe away priceless grime like that. Golan Klinger — 2020
I paraphrase, of course. My memory can't do justice to his exact words. But I'm pretty sure there were a few F-bombs. It was funny.
Welcome. To World of Commodore 2020.
The Classic Treasures
There was too much activity, too many people and stations to do a full round-about the room this time. Instead I'll give a breakdown according to the types of things to see. Starting with, the classic treasures.
This is just a small sample of all that was on the showroom floor. And I apologize in advance for not being able to give everyone's table full coverage.
Wow, a KIM-1. This classic treasure was brought and shown off by Jim Brain of Retro Innovations.
It's the golden original. The first Commodore "Computer," designed by the late great Chuck Peddle. He also designed the 6502 CPU itself, and the Commodore PET.
It's fitting that there were so many PETs at the show, to honor the great man himself. But we could not have known that he would sadly pass away just one week after World of Commodore. His influence will be forever felt, as his creations touched so many of our lives. Rest in peace, Mr. Peddle.
And here is but a sample of the whole whack of PETs that were on display around the room. The first, top left, is labeled as a PET-2001. But, I must need to brush up on my PET numbering schemes. I always thought the PET-2001 had the horrible chicklet keyboard and black built-in tape deck. On the top right we have a PET-8032. I believe the 80 stands for 80 columns and the 32 for the kilobytes of RAM.
In the middle at the bottom is a PET-4016. A cheaper model this one must have been, if the numbering makes sense this guy was only 40 column with just 16K of RAM.
In the bottom right we see another one labeled PET-2001. This is the one I was thinking of. This machine is looking at little under the weather, with a very rusty case. This leads me to something I just learned. I had thought that all of the PETs were made of folded sheet metal, but this is not the case. This original was indeed made of folded metal, hence the rust. But most later models were made of some kind of molded plastic. Hmm, I never knew that. In fact there are a lot of things about the PETs still to learn.
There were a fair number of VIC-20s at the show too. This was my first computer. I got mine, used and broken, from my grandparents, when I was 5 years old. It set the course of a large part of my life.
The one on the top right was one of Jim Brain's. The one top left and bottom right (same one) has got a Behr Bonz multi-cart hooked up. The Behr Bonz has been installed into some other VIC-20 cartridge.
And that VIC-20 box, nice to see. I still have the box mine came in. Unfortunately, as I kid I didn't have the foresight to keep it in good condition, and I ended up mutilating it, cutting parts of it away with a pair of scissors. (What was I thinking?!)
It was nice to see Jim Brain at the show. Not least because he brought with him so much cool Commodore kit to show off. Here he had on display a C264, a TED-chip based machine designed by Bil Herd. And a C116, an even cheaper version of the C264. I don't think anyone could get used to typing on that keyboard.
Commodore was obsessed with making home computers as cheaply as possible. And this bad boy sold for as little as 99£. It was discontinued after only one year of sales. Probably not one of Commodore's finest decisions ever. But it's still a historical, classic treasure.
There were even some Commodore printers at this show. I've never heard of the 8023p before. But the MPS801 is a true classic. I owned and used an MPS802 for a long time, although, strangely the 801 looks much sleeker and sexier. The 802 was a huge solid brick and weighed even more than you'd think from looking at it.
I'll come back to the printers in a section below, the guys at this table were an interesting pair.
Of course there were plenty of C64s around the showroom. There were some breadbins and some C64c's and also many C64c's in brand new cases.
The one above on the left, take a look at that keyboard. The case itself doesn't look to be the oldest ones made, but that keyboard. The font is very classic. It looks like an early VIC-20 keyboard has been put into a C64 breadbin case. Which is quite possible. I should have asked the owner.
The very next C64 was showcasing the VR64 headset, (unfortunately still with only one game, Street Defender. Someone really should write another game for the VR64, it could be amazing.) Interestingly, this machine also sports a keyboard with the very light brown keys, which looks like it belongs in a VIC-20, although this one has the more modern font. But I really love the look of that older keyboard font.
There were also a lot of machines for sale this year. In previous years it was like, whoa slim pickings, all the actually "computers" had been sold off it seems, with only bits and parts and books and software left to sell. But this year, quite a few machines were available, and they were put together in complete packages. A C128 with display and disk drive. Some Amigas, PETs and more. Here, above is a complete breadbin C64 with a 1701 monitor and a 1541 disk drive, for $275. Not at all a bad price!
Speaking of the 1701, the guys with the printers had two 1702 monitors setup, and besides needing a bit of a dusting looked like there were in perfect condition. Look, even the front flap is still there and working on both of them. I haven't seen a front flap on a 1702 in quite some time. I also don't know what's different between a 1701 and a 1702.
An Amiga 500, right beside the SX-64. Why didn't I take a clear picture of the SX-64?? Somehow I managed not too.
There were Amigas around the room, including some stuff for sale from AmigaKit, but there weren't as many Amigas as in previous years. It was a real 8-bit take over this year.
Saving the best for last, Jim Brain brought not one but TWO Commodore C65 prototypes. If you're interested in getting your hands on one of these you better be prepared to pay many thousands of dollars the next time one pops up on Ebay.
Of course, for the rest of us, if you really want to have something just like the C65, but can't actually have the genuine original, you can always support the development of the Mega65 project.
We will return to the C65 prototypes in the presentations section below. Oh, and yes, that's a SuperCPU beside that C65 above right. That's coming up next.
The Not Seen Before
The Classic Treasures section was a showcase of machines we've likely all heard of before, or if we're lucky, had the privilege of seeing or trying out somewhere. Next is a group of products that either I had not seen before, or that I think many if not most of you will have never seen before. But there are at least two reasons why a product might fall into this category, either it's rare and no longer produced, or, quite the opposite, maybe it's because it's brand new.
Let's dig into these and see what the show had to offer us.
Ram Expansion Units were one of the first performance boosting peripherals for the C64 and C128. In the middle we have two original Commodore REUs the 1750 and 1764. These were released around the same time as the C128, which had BASIC commands built in that could take advantage of the expanded RAM. The 1764, with only half the capacity of the 1750 (256K and 512K respectively), was marketed for use on the C64, but the truth is both can be used on either machine. The C64 needs a beefier power supply though to handle the extra draw from the bigger REUs.
All of the above were brought by Jim Brain.
The REU added external memory which, with the assistance of the RAM Expansion Controller (REC) chip could do fast DMA swaps between internal and external memory. The REUs could also be used as high speed storage devices, if you installed RAMDOS, or the equivalent in GEOS. Using a RAMDisk can really improve performance, but it's mostly only useful as a working disk that has to be backed up to a traditional disk or hard disk before you power down the machine.
And why was that? Because, if you flip off the machine the REU loses power and immediately forgets everything that was stored in it. But, wouldn't it be great if the REU could remain powered even when the computer is not? That way, it could retain its contents, much as it retains its contents when the computer is merely reset instead of power cycled.
In steps the BBU or Battery Backup Unit by Perfomance Peripherals. You plug a traditional REU into it, and then plug it into the Commodore, and when the Commodore looses power the REU does not. Very clever. Above right we see the BBU and a more compact clone of the 1750 made by Chip Level Designs. (I bought one of these at an Expo years ago, and it works great.) Although I've heard of the BBU, I'd never seen one before.
Creative Micro Designs, always in the market to produce high performance expansions and peripherals for the Commodore 64 and 128, were the perfect candidate to license the essential technology of the Battery Backup Unit from Performance Peripherals. This lead to the RAMDrive which is an all-in-one unit that contains power-backed RAM that can be used as a storage device. It is branded with both the CMD and the Performance Peripherals logos.
Not long after though, the RAMDrive was discontinued and replaced by the mother of all RAM-based storage devices, the CMD RAMLink. I owned a RAMLink in the 90s, but, I had never seen a RAMDrive before.
The RAMLink could be plugged into the wall, and had a port for connecting an optional lead-acid battery for backup even during power outages. The RAMLink included JiffyDOS, and had four internal slots for 30-pin RAM simms. It could take up to 4MB per simm for a total of 16 megabytes of RAM-based storage. It also had an REU passthrough port, which was power backed, which you could use with your existing REU. And it also had an ordinary cartridge passthrough port for other expansion options.
Unexpected bonus, the RAMLink had another trick up its sleeve. It included a large DIN connector at the back labeled "Parallel." This allowed you to connect a CMD HD via a cable to its matching DIN parallel port. Any software that used the standard KERNAL routines would access the harddrive over the parallel port for a nice speed boost.
There is so much cool shit on this table, it was hard to know where to start.
Speaking of CMD being into creating performance expanding C64/128 peripherals, the quintessential piece has got to be the CMD SuperCPU. Jim Brain brought two of these, the other is visible near the top left of the photo.
I own a SuperCPU and once upon a time I owned two. But, I appreciate that many people in the Commodore world today may actually have never beheld one of these beauties. They are today quite rare.
In an unfortunate bit of news, Jim called up Maurice Randall to ask about the possibility of reproducing the SuperCPU, with an updated and more modern production process. Randall, who acquired the rights to build the SuperCPU from CMD after they left the Commodore Market, completely dismissed the idea. Jim told me he also contacted one of the original designers, either Doug Cotton or Mark Fellows, I forget who now, and he said he might be able to dig out the documentation, but that it was all packed away in his attic somewhere. The future possibility of recreating the SuperCPU is not dead, but it's not exactly bright either.
A real shame.
On the other hand, Jim also brought along some Turbo Master accelerators. These are like the spiritual ancestor to the SuperCPU. They came with an interesting story.
On the left you see two of them, without their blue metal enclosure. But, they are subtly different too. For instance, the DIP switch block isn't in the same place and there are more of them. I assumed that these caseless ones were Turbo Master CPU clones. But as it turns out they're the originals. And it was Schnedler Systems that reverse engineered and cloned them.
I did not know this. And, I have also never seen either of these Turbo Master accelerators before.
The SuperCPU may be technically superior, 20Mhz as opposed to the Turbo Master's more modest 4Mhz, but there were also some noises being made about the possibility of cloning and reproducing the Turbo Master in modern form. I gotta be honest, if this became an affordable product that was commercially available again to today's Commodore users, I think that would make me pretty excited. 4Mhz may be slower than 20Mhz but it's a pretty healthy speed boost from 1Mhz. C64 OS could certainly benefit from a little boost in CPU performance.
I spotted two NuBrick 64 power supplies in use. Glenn Holmer had this one, and said he liked it very much. He seemed to think that only a handful were made and that no more would be, making it quite rare. This took me a bit by surprise. But as I walked around the room I found another one in use. When I asked them about it, they told me what I thought was the case. NuBrick 64 is one of a few new C64 Power Supply replacements available on the market today, and it is made in small batches. But when one batch sells out, another batch is produced.
As far as I know it's still available, and I've got it listed in the Power section of the Commodore 8-bit Buyer's Guide. It was nice to finally see one of these in the wild.
I suppose these ones should be classified as things that I've seen before, given that these were all at my table. But, perhaps most of you will not have seen these before. And they each generated some interest to people who visited me on the show floor.
The first is a the DS3231 RTC Module for the Arduino. I bought these after last year's show to try them out and see how they work. I had two of them in little baggies in case they caught anyone's attention enough that they'd want to buy them and go home and play around with them. Plus I had one that I mounted to the bottom of a small User Port reset switch board.
I have played around with them. They work just as described, and there is a driver for BASIC and for GEOS. C64 OS now has support for RTC drivers. I've written drivers for RTC-equipped CMD storage devices, and also for the RTC in the 1541 Ultimate. My intention is to write an RTC driver for this device too. The target audience for one of these is someone who has purchased an SD2IEC storage device, but doesn't have any of the older and no longer available CMD devices and doesn't plan on splurging on a 1541 Ultimate. This little guy is a cheap way to give your C64 an RTC, which can set the date and time automatically in C64 OS, GEOS, or BASIC.
I'll write a blog post about this soon. My intention is to move it to an alternative line on the User Port to make it compatible with the majority of User Port WiFi modems, and then mount it on the inside of the C64's case.
In the middle above is the Digimax. This is an 8-bit stereo digital audio playback device for the User Port. It was designed by Vanessa Dannenberg of Digital Audio Concepts, and is commercially available today from Shareware Plus. It's got a feature page in the Commodore 8-bit Buyer's Guide.
I also brought along my ARM2SID including the SID2. Most people, if they'd heard of ARMSID hadn't yet actually seen it. It was a nice little treat for those interested to be able to pick them up and turn them over and see how nice they look. I didn't actually have them installed in any machines, because, at the last minute I found there to be some compatibility issue in the combination of ARMSID with C64 Reloaded MK2 with MicroMys 5 PS/2 mouse adapter. When I put all three of these together in C64 Luggable the mouse became very jittery and bounced all over the place.
That's a problem to solve on another day.
Also at my table I had the first build of the Promenade Model D, a clone of the Promenade C1. I also had the original Promenade C1 sitting beside it in its original metal case.
I will begin selling these, as kits, on C64OS.com soon. A few people actually had seen the Promenade C1, remembering it with a smile from their youth. However, no one had yet seen the new Promenade D.
This next one brought a smile to my face, as I've definitely never seen this before. I need to add it to the Commodore 8-Bit Buyer's Guide. Looks like it's called C=RX, and it appears to be a small sexy saver.
The C64's power cord is plugged into it, and it is plugged into the C64's power port. But it is very cute and small. Made with a clear ceramic top and bottom plate. It looks very nice. Good work to whoever put this together.
A table near the center back of the room had an assortment of new Amiga components for sale. Some Amiga 500 keyboard controller boards, with a 4-pin USB header on it. Not sure exactly what these do. And an assortment of new parts, in sealed bags from AmigaKit. Including trapdoor Amiga 500 memory expansions, and Realtime Clocks and those floppy boot selector switches.
There was also this very cool Checkmate A1500 plus. It's a new desktop case for the Amiga, into which different boards can be installed. Retro Man Cave made a pretty sweet unboxing video that goes into some detail on how these work. You can also read more about them on the website https://www.checkmate1500plus.com. I've seen the video before, but this is the first time I've seen one of these in person.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the room:
A couple more things for the User Port. On the left is a little User Port breakout board. I've never seen this particular one before, it has a female terminal header, made by Kazz in 2019. Kazz is selling versions on ebay, for a very reasonable price, in both male and female versions. Another item to add to the Commodore 8-bit Buyer's Guide.
These breakouts are quite handy. I just made a pair of male versions of these myself within the last couple of months, to start working on the networking code in C64 OS.
Speaking of networking, Leif Bloomquist appears to be working on another WiFi modem. I'm not sure what his intentions are for this, only that it's new and, at the time of the show it wasn't yet working properly. Something to look forward to.
Once again, I think I've seen these before. They're mine! In addition to showing off my C64 Luggable, I also brought this new C64c case I acquired from Pixel Wizards earlier in 2019. It drew quite a few oohs and ahhs from the people who visited my table. They like the color combinations, the label and the green LED.
But most didn't realize at first that the new C64c case also sports an Ultimate64 inside. For many people at the show this is the first time they'd ever seen an Ultimate64. Although I was not the only person there with one.
It's ability to be put in PAL mode, and its easy output to a standard HDMI display, makes it ideal for showing off cool European demos. And that is pretty much all this machine did the whole show. I just loaded up a USB key with Demos downloaded from CSDB.
Also quite impressive is the professionalism of the packaging and user guide that comes with the new C64c cases. So, I had these on display as well.
The Double Sided Games table was next to mine. Here, Jérémie Marsin had set up a very slick looking Amiga 1200, with an accelerator and housed in a cool translucent case, it was quite a looker.
Next to it he also had an Ultimate64 connected to a nice PVM. These output an incredibly sharp picture, but still with that authentic CRT look and feel.
In addition to selling boxed copies of new games, like Realms of Quest V and Fire for the VIC-20, and the fun Vegetables Deluxe for the C64, (I picked up a copy for myself at the show,) he also was showing and selling the new game Black Dawn: Rebirth for the Amiga. A number of demos of some new games coming down the pike were also previewed, and people had a chance to try out pre-release versions. More to look forward to.
I hope I didn't give the impression that there wasn't anything Amiga at the show. Because there were certainly some cool new sights.
Golan Klinger showed off this very sweet Amiga 1200. It's got a beautiful, brand new, all black case. On the inside, the mainboard is original, but it looks like it's in pristine condition. It includes an 8 Meg memory upgrade card under the trapdoor from Kipper2K.
If the pristine A1200 mainboard, with a new memory upgrade from 2018, in a cool new black case wasn't enough for you, how about a brand new, Cherry MX keyboard with matching black key caps? This machine looked totally sweet. Right beside my table, I watched as they worked on installing a flicker fixer. Very cool machine.
Maybe I'm just new to the Amiga, but I'd never heard of Kipper2K before. They kind of have a website, here. But despite the accurate domain name, there is hardly any information there and the site itself says that it's not maintained. It recommends following progress on the EAB forums, that is, the English Amiga Board. Additionally, the site links to Amiga On The Lake as a site for placing orders. AOTL sells a number of Amiga products, including the aforementioned Black and Transparent Amiga cases.
The Other Treasures
World of Commodore, of course, is centered on Commodore machines, primarily the 8-bit line and the Amiga. But there is usually a collection of odds and ends that, even without bearing the chicken lips, attracts the attention of computer nerds. I thought it would be fun to do a quick tribute to some of these machines, so you could get a taste for what you might see in person when you come to the show.
These two beautiful machines came to the show in the back of my car. And only one of them came back with us. Jérémie sold the NeXT slab, but didn't find any takers for the Macintosh Portable. My personal fascination is with the NeXT machine. This is the only one I've seen in person, and I'd have loved to get a chance to play around with the NeXT OS, especially on original hardware.
The slab was in working condition, but unfortunately there was no display. And the display of this machine is no passive monitor. It contains special boards that are essential to the computer's ability to turn on and boot up.
The Macintosh Portable, on the other hand, was working quite well. At an early meeting of the Kingston Retro Computer Club where he showed it off, it had been quite unstable, crashing often. But at the show, it warmed up and ticked along without any issues.
Here are a couple of other golden oldies. An original Macintosh (128K, 512K? I didn't see). Unfortunately I didn't get to see this one booted up. But there it was.
That Macintosh Portable above wasn't released until 1989. But it certainly looks like it drew some design philosophy from this IBM PC Convertible that was relased in 1986. The aspect ratio on the Mac Portable's screen is a bit more normal than the IBM that has an unusually wide and squat display. The Mac also runs at a full 16Mhz with up to 9MB of RAM. Meanwhile the IBM runs at only 4.77MHz and maxes out at just 640K (But who would need more than that, right?) The Mac includes a built-in trackball, essential for controlling the System software. But the IBM machine one ups it with two built-in 3.5" floppy drives and a sleeker profile, plus, being released a full 3 years earlier.
These machines seriously just keep getting rarer. I was just recounting in my recent post, Raster Interrupts and Split Screen, the history of display technology on early computers. It was amazing to me to see the Bearded Unix Wizards programming Unix on a PDP-11 minicomputer, but… there was no screen! They were typing on a Teletype machine, and the only visual feedback was being printed to a huge roll of paper. (Hence the command "print" that is still ubiquitous in computer programming languages. They used to literally print.) Well, here is one of these Teletype machines, brought to us by Jim Brain.
Teletype began at the beginning of the 20th century, at least two decades before even the first digital computer. And teleprinting technology goes back even into the 19th century. This was one of the last Teletype models produced, before video terminals completely took over. Model 43, from 1977.
The other machine, above right, is a Vectrex. A home video game console from 1982-1983. I've seen these on Twitter, but this is the first one I've ever seen in person. I also got a chance to play it. The claim to fame of the Vectrex is that unlike other consoles of its era that generally connected to a TV set and output raster graphics, the Vectrex had a built-in display that output vector graphics. Objects on screen were drawn by tracing the electron beam around their contours to cause them to light up.
After tracing around all objects on the screen the process would repeat starting over with the first object. The characteristic result of this technique is that if there were only a few objects on the screen they would display quite brightly, receiving relatively more time from the electron beam. But as the number of on-screen objects increases, and the electron beam has to spend more time to service them all, they become dimmer. It was really fun to see this in person.
Now what? Imposters? What is this, a ZX Spectrum?? No one told me there was going to be Speccy trash polluting our beautiful World of COMMODORE event. Just kidding. When I was a kid, no one had a ZX Spectrum. They must have been a British or European thing. There was, therefore, no competitive poke-and-jab going on in my youth between the Commodore fans and the Spectrum fans. I've seen a ZX Spectrum only once before, at a meeting of the Kingston Retro Computer Club. And, well, there really is no question. The Spectrum is a much more primitive machine. Sorry folks.
Speaking of imposters, I can't bring myself to list the Commodore PC 10-II in amongst the Classic Treasures. It's a PC. It is a Commodore in name only. Believe it or not, I used to own one of these. I acquired it when I was in high school, because I thought it was going to be a lot cooler than it turned out to be. But, I gave it away long ago. Golan offered this machine up for $100, but someone offered to trade him an Amiga 2000 for it. He took the deal in a heartbeat. Personally, I think Golan got the better end of the stick in this trade, as Amiga 2000's typically go for a lot more $100. But, that's how things roll.
Next we have… who's this guy? The nametag says, Shawn. Shawn showed up a bit later in the day and brought with him… I actually can't remember what this was. But, it looks old, and it's a computer. So, bring it on in Shawn, and share the love of old computers with the rest of us!
Every year has its surprises.
The Hackers and Builders
Next I thought we could give a little hat tip to a group of people that don't fit into any other category. So I'm calling them the hackers and builders, a creative lot, and a reliable staple at a retro computer show.
I've received some kudos for my C64 Luggable, but this machine was very impressively made. It's a homemade multi-arcade cabinet. It's made of wood, and it has very organic shapes. The side panels curve out towards the front. The screen is behind a sheet of glass that looks like it was professionally built. And the controls are authentic and feel great.
Just that one knob, a free rotating wheel with some serious heft a very smooth rotation, cost over $150. This whole machine is beautifully crafted. Bravo. It has inside it some sort of PC that runs multiple machine emulation. And the interface is entirely controlled by the front panel, allowing you to load up games from many different machines and generations. I'm embarrassed to say that I failed to get his name. Sorry, that was unprofessional of me.
This is David Bradley. He's a long time member of TPUG. He sat here at this table with a stack of C64s that weren't behaving correctly, and spent most of the day repairing them. It doesn't look like a glorious job, but it is a noble one.
Patiently and methodically bringing our favorite brown and beige friends back to life and good health.
Eric "Jesus" Kudzin is a classic hacker. Tall with long hair, and a quiet friendly demeanor, he loves to play around with old computers and electronics and hack away bringing new and interesting things into being.
He found an old portable, battery-powered, Zenith CRT TV. Creativity struck him, when he realized he could fit a small Raspberry Pi into the battery casing. Installed with Linux and set to auto-boot into a slide and video show, he was able to get a very retro, very authentic portal CRT TV playing period-appropriate content but from a built-in modern digital source. This was just fun, the sort of thing that makes you smile.
To add to his funny and endearing character, Eric also had on display a small sample of authentic American culture and cuisine. At 2:30am, Sunday morning, we pulled up our chairs around Eric's table for a nightcap. Wine from a tetrapack—generously shared—and poured out into tiny red plastic disposable shot glasses. And Cheese. American Cheese. Kraft Singles. The display included an informational placard to explain the origins and history of this fine American tradition. God bless.
While perhaps technically a vendor, and an entrepreneur, I appreciate the creativity shown in these original cookie cutters from Signals from Space. He had for sale a wide range of 3D printed cookie cutters. One collection makes cookies that are adorned with classic computer and game console logos and images. And another family of cutters made just for the electronics nerd in your life, make cookies with schematic symbols of resistors, capacitors, diodes, transistors, gates and more. Clever.
In case you missed the show, you can also purchase these online at his website, signalsfromspace.ca.
These two guys setup camp in the back corner of the showroom floor. They spent almost all of their time there just messing around with their computers and other gear. It was almost like they were in someone's basement doing what hackers do. (Oh, wait, we actually were in some basement. Hmm.) True to the theme, these guys brought a PET.
They're also the guys who brought those tractor paper printers. The printers themselves are quite hardy, 30 to 35 years later they're still ticking along. The problem is that these printers depend on special ribbon-based ink cartridges. There are spools of ribbon with a small exposed part that is positioned between the dot matrix printhead and the paper. As the printer prints it also gradually rotates the spools, like on an audio cassette. It does this so there is always new ribbon with fresh ink beneath the printhead.
Unfortunately, after 35 years, there is nothing fresh about these print cartridges. And worse yet, they haven't been sold commercially in probably 25 to 30 years. These guys took a bottle of ink designed to replenish an ink pad (for rubber stamps) and meticulously reinked an old cartridge. They wound up the ribbon on one side, and then slowly rotated it all the way through while dripping ink with an eye dropper onto the exposed part of the ribbon, letting each segment absorb the ink one drop at a time. After printing many pages of streaking black smudges, the damn thing evened out and started working quite well. Good job, guys. That's impressive. And nice to know.
Over the years there have been a number of Nintendo games and characters that have found their way to the C64. Only some of them officially licensed. Most recently the very faithful port of Super Mario Bros. by ZeroPaige raised some flags. Nintendo is quite protective of their intellectual property.
Here we have a "Self Service Copy that Floppy Station" composed of two 1541-II disk drives, set up and ready to duplicate. There were also disk notchers available, and if you didn't have your own floppy, they had them on sale for a dollar a disk. The station was handy for anyone, but it was particularly useful because a Nintendo archive disk was floating around. The archive included a cool menu screen that looked like GameBoy cartridges. Pick the game cartridge you want, and it boots up that game.
Down the hall from the main showroom is a presentation room. The room is setup with a table for the presenter at the front, with a large flat-panel TV mounted on the wall. There was an option to setup a projector if anyone needed it. Rows of chairs face the presenter, enough to seat maybe 50 to 60 people.
The schedule had 7 presentations, (a full schedule), and this year I was on that schedule. I asked them to split my block of time into two smaller blocks, because I wanted to show two things. We'll get to my talks in a minute.
As someone who usually has a table on the showroom floor, it is always hard to see all, or even most, of the presentations, because there are visitors walking the floor, and you want to be at your table to discuss your own projects, answer questions, hand out business cards, etc. So, I wasn't able to attend many of the presentations, but I made the effort to sit in on some of them.
Glenn Holmer, who has been in the Commodore community for a long time, and whom you may know from the #C64Friends IRC channel, was the first presenter. He had a table in the showroom that mirrored his presentation. More than any other, his table reminded me of what you'd find at one of the shows I was most familiar with from the early 2000s, like the SWRAP Commodore expo in Chicago, or the LUCKI Commodore expo in Louisville.
A C64c, with a sleek matching 1084 monitor, and a small stack of drives, a 1541-II and also a CMD HD, which was once ubiquitous at these sorts of shows. But also, a mouse, and a variety of stuff hanging off the back ports. Whereas in the past it would have been common to see a SuperCPU or a RamLink, Glenn's machine now has the 1541 Ultimate II+. There was also a serial port adapter on the User Port, connecting to a serial port adapter on a PC laptop running Linux. The culture of using a C64 as a productivity machine is one that I grew up with, and one that I still feel a close kinship to.
Glenn's table, and his presentation, were on Hacking GeckOS. GeckOS is a very trimmed down Unix-like, pre-emptive multitasking OS for the 6502, written by André Fachat. And I say for the 6502 because it is not only for the C64. It was originally designed for a custom 6502-based computer, with an MMU, also built by André Fachat. Fachat subsequently ported the OS to the C64 and to some other 6502-based computers.
Glenn has taken an interest in how the KERNAL and other technologies in GeckOS work. It is quite a nice little feat. It really is quite Unix-like. It has a command line interface, with multiple virtual consoles, each of which can run a shell. From the shell processes can be invoked, with standard features like piping to standard in, and redirecting standard out and error to files. The OS makes extensive use of semaphores to successfully share resources.
In his presentation Glenn walked us through a number of recent upgrades and improvements that he has made to some of the internal tools, such as adding correct process names for display in the PS (process list) command line utility. He also described many technical details about how the KERNAL is able to switch tasks on a 6502.
You can learn more about GeckOS here:
And you can checkout Glenn Holmer's deep dive into exploring and hacking GeckOS here:
When I first saw on the schedule that someone would open the show with a presentation about an Operating System, and not only an OS but one which is pre-emptively multitasking and Unix-like, I got nervous and thought to myself, sheesh what have I been doing spending all my time on C64 OS?! But in the end, they are very different projects, with a very different set of goals that appeal to different people, or even the same people for different reasons.
Life After Commodore
After the lunch break, Dr. Richard Immers gave a talk called, Life After Commodore. I'm sorry to say that I didn't get to hear any of this talk, and I really don't know what it was about. But there should be YouTube videos of all the presentations available soon.
Additionally, podcast episodes are being created about each presentation and uploaded to Hacker Public Radio. A few episodes are already available, they look like they are being edited and uploaded a week or so apart. The episode that covers this talk should be up soon. You'll be able to find a link here.
Bare Metal C64 Emulation on Raspberry Pi
Next up was Randy Rossi, who gave a presentation on Bare Metal C64 Emulation on Raspberry Pi. This is a fast and smooth C64 (actually, multi-Commodore-machine) emulator which he has forked from the VICE codebase and optimized for the Raspberry Pi.
BMC64 is a bare metal C64 emulator for the Raspberry Pi with true 50hz/60hz smooth scrolling and low latency between input & video/audio. Four other Commodore machines are available as well; C128, VIC-20, Plus/4 and PET. Randy Rossi — https://github.com/randyrossi/bmc64 — 2019
It's main features include, a super quick boot time of under 5 seconds, true 50Hz/60Hz smooth scrolling with no jitters or tearing, support for original joysticks with a very simply DB9 adapter, and support for scanning a real C64 keyboard. Excellent. Definitely worth checking out.
Here is the Pi with a simple DB9 cable adapter to a real C64 joystick.
New games from Double Sided Games
Jérémie Marsin gave the next presentation, about his relatively new games publishing company, Double Sided Games. He made a splash last year announcing L'Abbaye des Morts for the C64, Realms of Quest V for the VIC-20 (with 32K RAM expansion) and pre-announcing The Shadows of Sergoth set to come out for the Amiga later this year.
L'Abbaye des Morts just won the 2019 game fo the year award from Indie Retro News.
The DSG catalog of games continues to grow. This year there were boxed copies of new Double Sided Games titles available for the VIC-20 (Fire), the C64 (Vegetables Deluxe) and the Amiga (Black Dawn: Rebirth).
During the presentation Jérémie showed demos of several exciting new games coming soon. As a C64 fan I feel most blessed. What a great time to be loving the C64 again. Here are 4 new games we can look forward to in the coming year.
(Slides, complements of the official presentation from DSG)
Winterdane : Dungeon Crawler RPG (C64)
Hired Sword II : Adult Humor, Top-Down RPG (C64)
Don't Break the Balls : Action Puzzler, 2-Player Support (C64)
Super Metal Hero : Side-Scrolling Action Platformer (Amiga 1200)
You can purchase games directly from the Double Side Games website: doublesidedgames.com
Opening a C65
Okay, so this wasn't officially on the schedule for demos, but, Chiron Bramberger was allowed to carefully open up and view the inside of one of Jim Brain's C65s. There were definitely a few people who gathered around to get a good look.
It's pretty cool. My strongest impression is that, despite being an 8-bit machine, and backwards compatible with the C64, the hardware is strongly influenced by the Amiga. There are some serious family resemblances.
I've always thought it was clever that the C64's main chips are also men's names, Vic and Sid. (Come to think of it, the C264's main chip is called Ted, another man's name.) That may have just been a coincidence, but if it was, then at least it was a happy coincidence. The Amiga famously had the names of people for its chips. Gary is the Gate Array. Paula is the audio chip, Denise handles the graphics, and Agnus coordinates CPU access to these chips and memory. And so on. On the C65 this tradition is carried on, where we can see at least three named chips, Victor, Bill and Elmer.
The Amiga wedge-machines, the 500, 600, and 1200, all have trapdoors on the bottom that provide a space for an internal expansion card. Here we see that the C65 also has a trapdoor, and this one has a memory expansion card plugged in.
The Amiga's 500/600/1200 all have a built-in 3.5" disk drive. And of course, the C65 has that too, quite obviously, on the right side, but front facing. The Amiga's had two RCA jacks for stereo audio output. The C65 has two SID chips, but it adds a pair of stereo RCA jacks right on the back. So, in many ways, this machine still looks like a Commodore 8-bit, but one that has been heavily influenced by the design of the Amiga. Of course, this should not come as a big surprise.
Introduction to C64 OS
This presentation? Bah, who cares about this one.
I joke of course, this was my presentation. However, this review is already over 12,000 words long, and this is my blog, so I think I would be better served by splitting the writeup about my presentation Introduction to C64 OS into a separate blog post.
Look for this shortly. It's going to be a bit meta. Because the whole site is in some way a testament to and technical deep dive on C64 OS, the blog post about the presentation will be about the presentation of C64 OS and how I felt that it went. Stay tuned.
Next came my second presentation. I talked about and showed C64 OS for about 35 minutes. Then I reset my C64 Luggable, loaded up a new presentation and reintroduced myself to mostly the same crowd. I wanted to have a clean break. I didn't want people to think that the talk on Video Playback with a 1541 Ultimate was somehow related to my work on C64 OS.
Video Playback with 1541 Ultimate
Just before World of Commodore, someone on Twitter showed off a special cartridge he's been working on that helps the C64 play back video in some insane NUFLI format with sprites to augment the graphics, and using the ULTIMAX mode's memory mapping to get the VIC-II to smoothly render data from a source external to the C64's main RAM. It was super impressive, and got a ton of likes and retweets, and (much like how I felt with GeckOS being presented the morning I was set to introduce C64 OS) I thought, "Oh Crap! What have I been doing messing around with video conversion and playback, this guy's stuff looks freakin' amazing!!"
But, in the end, there is room for everyone to play and experiment and learn. My goals for video playback on the C64 are somewhat different than others have been. Both for creating video, and for obtaining the videos, playback and features. This, however, like my first presentation, requires the full treatment of another blog post to do it justice.
So, look for a full blog post that will go into the details on this in the very near future.
Vote of Thanks
Towards the end of the day, but not quite at the end, Golan Klinger hosted an event which he called a Vote of Thanks.
This presentation was to commemorate the 95th anniversary of TPUG. Nope. That's not right. I actually can't remember exactly when it started, but I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that this was 40 years (1979 to 2019, someone please correct me if I'm wrong). I remember two salient details, TPUG is older than I am. Many of the founding members who were adults and already messing around with Commodore computers were doing so a couple of years before I was even born. And some of the TPUG volunteers who are here with us today, and who have been invaluable for organizing World of Commodore, were in fact founding members from 1979. (yikes.)
With his inimitable wit and wry humor, Golan went down the line and gave us a quick bio of each volunteer. Then, cake. A couple of large celebration cakes were opened up, cut up and served.
Congratulations to all the volunteers. And here's to another year that went off without a hitch, undoubtedly because of the hard work everyone put into the planning and organization.
The Commodore Story
The last presentation of the day, before the end of the offical program and a break for the dinner party, a documentary film was shown called, The Commodore Story. I didn't see more than a few minutes of this. And, I'm not sure that it was a full viewing of the documentary, but may have been just selected scenes from it.
The Commodore Story is currently a Kickstarter project which you can check out here.
The Commodore Story of the PET VIC-20 C64 & Amiga from engineers, games developers & how CBM influenced the first 8-bit generation users WavemStudios — The Commodore Story Kickstarter Campaign — 2019
The Final Thoughts
Despite being a shorter show, only the Saturday, or perhaps because it was all packed into one day, there seemed to be a lot of activity this year.
After the main show concludes and the plebs go home, the keepers of the flame lock up the room and a good chunk of visitors, maybe 30 of us, maybe more I didn't count, go out to Swiss Chalet for dinner. We all get a little plumper and a little more out of shape as we sit around and talk shop with our Commodore-loving nerd brethren.
After the dinner, we go back to the hotel, where the room is opened back up for those of us who are staying at the hotel or who live nearby. We sneak our booze and snacks into basement and chill out until we're bleary eyed and start to remember how much harder it is to stay up all night now that we're not kids anymore.
By the time we were having our nightcap with Eric Kudzin, and it was well after 2:30am, the room had mostly cleared out. That's when Chiron pulled out his laptop and started showing us the C source code to a super efficient cross-platform text editor he's working on.
I hope it was good, cause I can barely remember a word of what we talked about.
The nice thing is that no matter how much rum, wine or wassail you drink, all you have to do is take the elevator up two floors and crawl into bed.
In the morning, we left our gear strewn about the floor in our hotel room, and went down for breakfast. This is another nice little shared meal with friends of yore. Dave Ross came up again this year from Boston. We had a lovely breakfast, and got caught up. Then we packed our car, and even though we both went home with stuff we didn't come with, we went home significantly lighter than we came. The NeXT slab and all the 1084s sold, and were off to new homes.
We were off to our homes. On a beautiful, sunny, Sunday morning. Another World of Commodore had come and gone. Sometimes it's hard to imagine how quickly time flies by. Especially when you're having fun.
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