Archive for the Commodore Category

I’m very close to completely converting all of my old physical C64 disks into D64 disk images, a project I started roughly 10 years ago — not that it takes 10 years to convert ~600 floppies into D64 disk images (it only takes a minute or two to do a disk), but there have been a lot of stops and starts. Along the way I’ve used three of four different methods (x1541 cables, the FC5025, the Ultimate 1541, and my current method of choice, the ZoomFloppy) and experimented with several different tools and methods to ensure that I’m getting the most data possible from these old floppies.

Now, most of the floppies I’m capturing look like this:

In my digital collection, that’s “Disk 009,” and I’ll end up with two files (009A and 009B, one for each side). But occasionally, I run across old disks of mine that look like this:

Not all glue was created equal, and many of the labels I used for numbering disks have dried up and fallen off, never to be seen again. This bothers me to no end because now I don’t know what to call this disk image. Right know it’s called “Unknown-034.”

While rummaging through these old virtual warez I ran across a disk labelled “DCMR.” DCMR stands for “Disk Catalog Manager/Reporter.” I vaguely remember using it in the mid-80s. After converting the disk over to a D64 file I loaded it up in an emulator and found that not only did I apparently use it extensively, but that it contains a nearly complete list of every program from every disk. Hey, this could be useful!

The first thing I did was make backups of my old lists and put them on the same disk as DCMR using DirMaster by Style. (If you do anything with D64 disk images, you should download DirMaster immediately. It’s an invaluable tool that I rely on for cleaning up disk images and moving files from one image to another.)

With all the files on one disk, I loaded up DCMR…

…and was able to search for the first game on that mysterious disk. Apparently, this was originally disk 381!

Wahoo! One mystery solved, and I plan on using this newly discovered data to figure out what the rest of those disks with missing labels originally were. Man, this is awesome!

Get ready for another picture-intensive post that documents my family’s visit to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California! The Computer History Museum is divided into 20 numbered rooms, which advance their way through the history of computers chronologically, and starts with a pretty old computer — the Abacus.

From a historical perspective this makes perfect sense, but it doesn’t do a good job in convincing a couple of kids that this museum is not going to be boooooring.

At least the first 10 rooms of the museum cover computers that were made before I was born. There were large sections of ENIAC…

…along with a large UNIVAC…

…and several other old computers. One room covered the development of transistors and another showed old analog machines designed to track trajectories. Again, all these things were historically interesting but did little to keep the kids’ attention.

One of the things that I found really interesting was this Enigma codebreaking computer from World War II. There was a short video playing next to the machine and the kids did think that was cool.

Another historical computer on display at the museum was this Cray 1. When I was a kid all I knew about Cray computers was that they were used in creating the graphics in The Last Starfighter. It’s cut off in the picture, but this Cray contained 32k of RAM and cost between $6 and $10 million dollars.

If you are a lady and think this museum sounds boring, then check out this computer from 1969!

This computer was designed to appeal to women and was designed to store recipes and live in your kitchen! For $10,000, owners would get the computer, an apron, a cook book, and a two-week course on how to program the thing. All the recipes were stored and presented in binary, which might explain why these kitchen computers from Neiman-Marcus did not sell well.

Also on display was this IMSAI 8080 computer. I don’t think anyone knows what this machine actually does. People only know it as “that computer from Wargames!”

The first room that really captured the kids’ attention was the one that focused on robots. There were several robots on display, from small toys to industrial machinery.

Then, as my dad would say, “this is where I came in.”

Starting with this Apple 1 (signed by Woz), the museum got into what I think of as the birth of home computers. While I know hobbiests dinked around with Altairs and other home machines, it wasn’t until they had monitors, keyboards, and simple storage that home computers came in to their own.


TRS-80 Model I


Retro Row


More Retro Machines

This was the first point in the museum where I could say, “I had one of those!” (Or in some cases, “I still have one of those!”)

One room contained a large display of peripherals, from early mice and keyboards to all kinds of controllers. Here are a few I recognized! Of course I owned (and own) Atari Joysticks and that Wico stick on the right, but that Archer joystick in the middle is the one we had for our Apple computer growing up as well.

The next part of the museum focused on computers in arcade machines. Two very famous arcade machines were on display at the museum.

Computer Space is, of course, the first coin-operated machine.

This was the first Pong machine (a prototype) that was put on location at Andy Capp’s. If you have ever heard the story about how the first arcade machine broke down because it was so jammed full of quarters that it would no longer operate, this is that very machine.

This room got more into computer software. As you can see by these games on display, this area focused on text adventures. A kiosk running Zork was on display and Mason spent a few minutes working his way through the first couple of screens.

There were three playable machines in the “computer game” area running a text adventure, Pac-Man, and Pong. All three were noticeably running emulators.

As quickly as the tour began, it ended. The last room focused on the “dot com” revolution. The coverage felt a little uneven with a lot of focus on early machines and not much on modern history. The kids would have liked more interactive exhibits (kids love pressing buttons and watching videos). Overall the museum was very enjoyable and we did learn some things. Seeing the old historical machines was exciting.

There was one last exhibit on display at the museum but I’ll be saving that for a separate post of its own.

Whenever I start a new project it’s not uncommon for me to dump all of my spare time into it and neglect my other projects, at least temporarily. Whenever my blog and podcast output wanes, you can bet I’ve been sidetracked.

My latest project is a Facebook page called Vintage Videogame Ads. Even if you don’t have a Facebook account (who reading this does not have a Facebook account?) you can access the page here: www.facebook.com/VintageVideogameAds.

Back in the 8-bit days of computing, advertisements in computer and videogame magazines were a great way to discover new games. Each time my mom would take me to the supermarket with her I would hand out at the magazine rack, skimming through computer magazines to find the game reviews and the latest ads.

This project started several years ago with the purchase of a Plustek OpticBook scanner. The OpticBook scanner is specially designed for scanning in books. I have a couple dozen computer and videogame magazines from the 1980s, and this scanner allowed me to scan them all into the computer. I love reading the old articles and game reviews, but I found I loved looking at the old ads even more — so much so that I pulled all the ads out and placed them in their own folder.

After going through all the magazines I owned I ended up with around 400 ads. Roughly 200 of those were ads for games or game companies and the other 200 were ads for hardware or services. I’ve been wanting to share them for a while but hadn’t quite figured out the right venue. It hit me the other night that a Facebook album would be perfect, so that’s what I did.

If I made any mistake at all it’s that I uploaded all of them at once, dumping 300 new photos into the group at once. By doing that, I ran myself out of new material almost immediately. After searching the garage I found another half-dozen magazines. Now that the well is dry, I’ve begun phase two of the project. I have hundreds of old computer and videogame magazines in PDF format. I spent the past three evenings converting every issue of RUN Magazine from PDF to JPG and pulling all the ads out of that stack. I have runs of lots of other magazines too, so I should have source material to pull from for years to come. Because they’re coming from different sources the ads are of varying quality. If I find better scans I’ll replace them as time goes on; if I run across the actual magazines, I’ll scan in better copies myself. I’ve also throttled the number of pictures I’m uploading to 2 or 3 at a time. It’s a much more enjoyable way to appreciate the ads.

Along with the game ads, I’m also really enjoying the hardware ads. As you move through time you can watch prices drop. I have ads with Commodore 64s ranging in price from $299 to $99. There’s a series of ads selling Sanyo monitors that drops $10 in price every month. It’s one thing to tell someone you remember when hard drives cost thousands of dollars, but it’s another thing to see the advertisements for yourself. Technically these aren’t “videogame” ads but so far I haven’t received any complaints about posting them.

The only bad thing about projects like these is that there’s no end, ever. My biggest hurdle at the moment is making sure that all of my scans are named properly to ensure that I don’t end up with tons of duplicates. That will come with time I suppose. What I have the most problem with are ads from game companies that feature multiple games. For example, I have “Heroes of the Lance (AD&D, SSI).jpg” along with “SSI (3 AD&D Games).jpg”. I’m trying to include enough information in the file names to be able to search and find similar ads (all SSI ads, for example) and that may take a little work — but that’s work on my end, not yours. All you need to do to enjoy the ads is to head over to the Facebook page where you can browse through the photos or “like” the page to receive updates whenever I post new ones. Feel free to post any you have as well!

Link: www.facebook.com/VintageVideogameAds

The Bedford Level Experiment, a band describing themselves as performing “indie geek folk-rock songs about sci-fi and the soul, Commodore 64 and the mind, and flat earth” on their Facebook Page, has released a new song about the Commodore 64.

The song, “History (Commodore 64),” is an autobiographical song written by Robin Harbron. If that name rings a bell it’s because Robin worked on the Commodore 64 30-in-1 plug and play joystick, and his company p1xl games has released several “retro-style” games for iOS including RPG Quest: Minimae, PiXl Party, and 4NR.

“History (Commodore 64)” features Robin on guitars/bass/vocals with his daughter Rianna on drums and the Commodore 64 itself, adding some sweet SID sounds to the mix. The video for the song was recently shown at World of Commodore 2013. Even if you don’t care for this style of music, retrocomputing fans will dig the video which contains lots of retro hardware. See if you can spot it all!

I currently own two cases for my Raspberry Pi. One is the gigantic red plastic case that came with it. The other is one I made out of a plastic Pop-Tart I bought at Big Lots. You can see both of those cases here.

Enter my friend Aardvark. Aardvark is a very talented guy who plays guitar and once made a remote controlled phone. Aardvark also does CNC milling, and when he saw my terrible attempt at making my own Raspberry Pi case, he decided to take a stab at making one for me. The day after we had this conversation, Aardvark sent me the following picture:

Now truth be told, I would have been the happiest nerd to simply receive an aluminum box with the Commodore logo on it and use that as a case, but Aardvark had bigger plans. “I need a few pictures of a Commodore 1541 disk drive,” he said, and so that night I took a few and mailed them to me. The next day, I received the following:

With those rough designs, Aardvark went to work and did his thing. The next picture I received was of a rough Raspberry Pi case without any access holes cut out.

To cut the holes, Aardvark said he needed an actual Pi — and so I mailed him one. Paid for it with Paypal and had it shipped directly to him. With the Pi in hand, ‘Vark was able to make the necessary cuts for all of the Pi’s ports. I don’t presume to know how any of this is done. I’m pretty sure black magic is involved.

Thursday when I arrived home from work there was a package waiting for me from Aardvark. Could it be? It was! The case is held together with four tiny flat-head screws. I opened the case and dropped a Raspberry Pi into it. Perfect fit!

I was surprised at how small the case was, but the Pi fits perfectly inside. Here’s the 1541-Pi case assembled, sitting on top of a real Commodore 1541 disk drive.

Food for though: Commodore 1541 floppy disks hold roughly 180k of information. The SD card hanging out of the front of the Raspberry Pi in this picture is an 8gb card which can hold approximately 48,000 Commodore 64 disks.

This weekend I hope to slap a coat of traditional “breadbox brown” paint on the 1541 Pi case, finishing it off. There’s just enough room on the front to add a couple of small red and green lights as well. Old habits die hard. :)

Thank you, thank you, thank you to Aardvark for this awesome case. I feel compelled to tell you that Aardvark would not accept any money for the case. He only made two of them, and I own half of them. Personally I think ‘Vark should start a Kickstarter to get his own CNC mill for the house. If he does, I will keep him in business for many years to come!

Joe Barlow over at SwordOfPixels.com posted a review of Commodork on his website recently (yesterday).

I wrote and published Commodork back in 2006, so it’s always interesting to see new reviews of the book pop up. Joe’s review echoes what a lot of reviews of Commodork have stated, which is essentially that their personal stories of growing up with calling BBSes mirror my own. I have had people in Germany e-mail me just to tell me that they could totally relate to some of the stories in Commodork. I love hearing things like that.

Joe added Amazon links to Commodork at the end of his review, but you can also order signed copies of the paperback ($14.95 + shipping) and DRM-free PDF copies ($2.99) from my own website at the following link: robohara.com/Commodork

Joe’s Review: http://www.swordofpixels.com/2013/07/book-review-commodork-sordid-tales-from.html

A couple of months back I bought a flat screen television to use as a monitor for some of my old computers. After posting the following picture, the number one response I received was, “nice milk crate.”

While digging around in the garage this weekend I found some scrap wood left behind by the previous owners and decided it would make a nice shelf for the television.

I decided the perfect height would be “two Commodore disk drives, plus an inch or so.” Not very scientific, I know — rounding up, I decided on 8 inches. Once the sides were screwed on I attached a back brace and slathered the entire thing in some white paint that I found out in the garage (also left behind by the previous owners).

After an hour or two of drying out in the sun, it was time to move the shelf inside. Goodbye milk crate, hello shelf!

A couple of months back one of my online friends (Mikey) mentioned to me he was looking to buy a Commodore 64. The next morning I went out to the garage, got one of my remaining spare Commodores, boxed it up and mailed it to him. Although I have run out of spare 1541 drives, Mikey had little trouble picking one up on eBay.

It just so happens that Mikey lives about 10 miles away from the hotel I’ve been staying in for the past several days. Mikey expressed an interest in obtaining some more disks for his his new Commodore system, so I told him while I was out in Greensboro, I would hook him up. In the car I brought with me an additional 1541 drive and my ZoomFloppy. To make sure everything was in working order (and to make sure I remembered how to do it!) I hooked the spare 1541 up to my netbook using the ZoomFloppy and transferred a d64 disk image over to a real floppy.

With everything working properly, I packed everything back up and headed over to Mikey’s house.

Of course when I arrived, my 1541 broke. Of course it did. I mean, why wouldn’t a drive I’ve owned 25 years keep working one more day. Ugh. Fortunately, we were able to use Mikey’s drive to make disk images, even though that turned into a steady stream of swapping cables back and forth since we were making disk images on my rig and testing them on his.

Some of Mikey’s requests included Little Computer People, Wizardry, and Alternate Reality, along with a few skateboarding games (Skate or Die and California Games). Before two long we had a nice pile of floppy disks adding up. This was like a real life old school copyfest!

After several hours of copying, playing, and just chit-chatting, I packed my stuff up and headed back to the hotel, leaving behind me a pile of Commodore warez for Mikey to enjoy. I only brought two boxes of 5 1/4 floppies with me (and no disk notcher — dummy!) but hopefully Mikey will enjoy the games!

It’s been a few weeks (apparently) since I announced my new podcast episodes here.

Episode 127 is about BASIC programming. This one has old stories about programming in BASIC, a few new stories about Visual Basic, and some new forks of the BASIC programming language that are still being updated.

Episode 128 is (fittingly) about the Commodore 128. Packed in and around stories about the C128 are a couple of stories about S.A.M., the old voice synthesizer for the Commodore.

Episode 129 is all about the collection of arcade games I owned while I lived in El Reno, Oklahoma. The six machines I owned back then were Elevator Action, Mat Mania, Shinobi, Street Fighter II – Championship Edition, Power Instinct 2, and Star Wars.

The fastest way to find out new episodes have been released are to follow the You Don’t Know Flack RSS Feed, subscribe to the show on iTunes, or like the You Don’t Know Flack Facebook Page. The show is also available via Doubletwist, Stitcher, Miro, the Zune/Xbox Marketplace, and the awesomely-yet-sourly-named PodcastPickle.com.

For suggestions, feedback, and criticism, you can e-mail me or leave a message on the official You Don’t Know Flack voice mailbox (206-309-9501).

Over the years I have set up and broken down my old gaming systems and computers many, many times. Sometimes — often times, actually — it seems like I spend more time connecting and configuring and reconnecting and reconfiguring them than I do actually playing games on them. When it comes to old hardware I have a softer spot in my heart for old computers than old console gaming systems, but the biggest problem with them is that they take up so much space. At one time in our old house I had over 20 video game consoles sitting on a relatively small set of shelves all hooked up to one single television. In that same room I had my three favorite old computers (a C64, an Amiga, and an Apple II) hooked up to three separate monitors tying up an entire 8′ table.

The other day I decided, why can’t I do that with my computers as well? Almost every flat screen television on the market now has multiple connections that would support these old computers. Last night while shopping at Sam’s Club I decided to pull the trigger and do something I’ve been thinking about doing for a while now.

For just under $350 I purchased a Sanyo 40″ flatscreen LCD television. They had bigger and smaller models with more and fewer features (actually there were few there with fewer features than this one), but it had all the right inputs for the job and the price was right.

As I said last night on Facebook, “the milk crate is temporary.” The television’s stand isn’t tall enough by itself so I needed to lift it up a bit. I’ll replace the milk crate this weekend with something else, but in the meantime it’ll do. My old trusty Commodore 64 plugged right into the television’s composite input and looks great. I did have to figure out how to set the default picture size on the television to 4:3 instead of 16:9 letterbox to keep the picture from being stretched out.

With the C64 up and running, the Amiga was next. The Amiga looks particularly crappy when connected via the composite cable. I found a couple of “VGA Flicker Fixers” in the ~$100 range that I will research and look into purchasing. So it’s not a great picture at the moment, but it’s working.

With the two Commodore products out of the way it was time to hook up the old Apple II. In a recent episode of You Don’t Know Flack I talked about the CFFA 3000, a compact flash/USB card reader for the Apple II. After reconnecting the composite cable from the Apple into the television and selecting a disk image, I was immediately greeted by the familiar sounds of Karateka. I don’t mind saying, the project took a back seat for a few minutes as I kicked and punched my way through a few enemy combatants.

That’s what they all look like now, sans any real cable management and with a milk crate in the picture. This weekend I’ll re-run all the cords and replace the milk crate with a proper stand.