Digital (aka DEC) used to make some very solid minicomputers back when a minicomputer was fridge-sized and people were still building nuclear power stations to be controlled by them. The Raspberry Pi Zero is a very mini computer indeed, and in USB gadget mode running SimH it makes a nice little emulation platform.
Microsoft used to supply two versions of its BASIC for Macintosh. One used decimal mathematics for precise tallying of small amounts. The other used the more familiar floating point mathematics, rounding errors and all. I don’t know what floating point library Microsoft used for sure — perhaps Motorola’s 32-bit Fast Floating Point system — but it introduces rounding errors pretty quickly. Modern routines don’t start displaying oddly until after 15 decimal places.
Consider this simple program:
10 LET x=36/10
20 LET a$="## #.#"
30 FOR n%=1 TO 18
40 PRINT USING a$; n%; x
50 LET a$=a$+"#"
60 NEXT n%
Along with the number of decimal places, it should print 3.6, 3.60, 3.600, 3.6000, … with an increasing line of zeroes after the 3.6. Bas makes a valiant but typical attempt:
I’d previously got a proper power supply (9 V DC, ≥ 1.4 A, centre negative) and bypassed the PAL UHF modulator to give composite video. No television, monitor or converter box that I had tried seemed to give a useful display.
Back in May, Walter Miraglia brought a tiny 7″ composite colour monitor to TPUG‘s Retrocomputing Night. He let me try it with the Spectrum, and it worked very well. Walter said it was an extension monitor for a car DVD player.
a 9–12 V DC power supply able to give ≥ 1 A. I use a regulated supply that gives 9.1 V open circuit and is rated at 2 A. Note that the power connector is slightly smaller than the common 2.1 mm barrel, so you may have to order this one, unless you can solder something up.
A cable like this 3.5mm Stereo to Composite Video + Audio Cable (3 RCA). These are sometimes just called camcorder cables. They use a 3½ mm TRRS jack, and can also — if you don’t mind not quite having the connectors in the right order — work with the composite/audio output of more recent Raspberry Pis. Tech Source had these for under $5.
Connect it up , and — success! Well, slightly qualified success. The screens do not have the greatest resolution, so pixels are slightly smeared together. The screens do have a decently fast refresh, and the whole look is just right. With its colour clash and dot crawl, nobody ever expected great video from the Speccy anyway.
Here are some screen shots taken with my phone, and a couple of pixel-sharp screenshots from Fuse to compare:
So I can now definitely view the screens. Huge thanks to Walter for tipping me off to these DVD players.
[Incidentally, the screens are designed for car use, so don’t stand up properly unless you get creative with some supports. I laser-cut these out of 3 mm plywood:
Glue the little sticks on to the flat ends, and they’ll fit into the slots in the back of the monitor. Here are the feet with the sticks fitted:
There are better-designed feet than these, but they work, mostly.]
I was still having game loading problems. Try as I might, I couldn’t get anything to load reliably. Retrocomputing Stack Exchange came to the rescue, in the shape of mcleod_ideafix’s very helpful answer. If your audio player is running from batteries and you can use a stereo cable, you can convert the normal mono loading audio into stereo with one channel inverted. This gives you effectively double the volume, and works quite well with my audio player, an old Edirol R-1*.
This audio will not load into an emulator, or work with a mono cable. Some audio players even render it as silence.
Here’s a script to take monophonic loading data and convert it to this faux-differential stereo format using Sox:
If you want to check your audio levels, sox can also create the 800 Hz header tone used by the Spectrum. Run the output of the command below through the script above, load it onto your audio player and fiddle with the volume until the border flickers steadily:
I was also looking for the games to load fairly quickly. Tapes used to take over three minutes to load, and while retrogaming all is about the experience, I haven’t got time for that. Fuse has some utility programs which will convert a .Z80 game snapshot into an audio file that loads in about 1¼ minutes.
To convert the snapshot to a speed-load TZX tape image:
snap2tzx -o game.tzx -s 3 game.z80
To convert that virtual tape image into audio:
tape2wav -r 16000 game.tzx game.wav
You can then run that WAV file through the stereo/differential script I listed above. Have fun!
Twenty-two years ago, I wrote a thesis. It wasn’t a very good thesis, but it did what it needed to do. For years, its model files have been unreadable, because the spreadsheets were written in a ~1992 version of Microsoft Works. These are old files:
Quite recently, LibreOffice realized that there are old files out there that (unlike my thesis models) could still be useful. As they have no commercial requirement to only support the latest and greatest, LibreOffice added the ability to read these ancient works. So my old stuff lives again:
I found a screen dump that I used back in ’93 to illustrate the layout. The display was colour, but here it is brought back to life with a little bit of antialiasing:
LibreOffice can also read old AppleWorks files. Although Works 6 still runs on Catherine‘s Mac, it looks a bit … dated:
Thanks, LibreOffice! It’s sometimes easy to forget (like right after updated to Ubuntu 15.04, which decided that BlueTooth support was kindaoptional unless you jumped through hoops …) that people do write software just to be more useful.
You have to be of a certain age to recognize this:
… not just as an artist’s travel palette, but as a repurposed case for a 9-track tape spool. While tape drives were iconic for mainframe computers (so much so, there’s a Unicode glyph for them: ✇), the last drives and tapes came off the line a decade ago. They’re not truly dead until everybody forgets what these cases were originally for.