Blathr Wayne Lorentz

What is Blathr?
Showing blathrs with the tag “Vintage computing.”

So, what good is it?

Saturday, June 24th, 2023 Alive 19,051 days

A Udamonic Scamp3 starting up

This weekendʼs project: Teaching myself FORTH on a Udamonic Scamp3 single-board computer.

My first introduction to FORTH was around 1984 with H.E.S.ʼ 64 FORTH, which everyone just called “Sixty-Forth” because itʼs easier to say and made us feel clever. I didnʼt get very far with it because the H.E.S. FORTH came on a cartridge, and I had no means of storing my completed programs. Not even a datasette. By the time I got my first 1541 disk drive, I had moved on to other things.

But I have an affinity for old programming languages, so when I ran across the Scamp on the internet, I ordered one right away. I didnʼt receive it right away, though. It was shipped from Australia via a start-up called Sendle, so the computer I ordered in March arrived at the end of June. Iʼm amazed that it works, considering it was packed in little more than a thin layer of bubble wrap, and mailed in a basic envelope, which had been torn open along the way.

By design, both 64 Forth and FlashForth on the Scamp are FORTH supersets. Programs being only semi-portable between platforms is considered a feature, not a bug, in FORTH. Still, all FORTHs conform to the same programming paradigms and seem to have 95% compatibility with one another. Much like computers in the 1970ʼs, when youʼd buy a generic book of BASIC programs at Brentanoʼs and then it was up to you to customize the code to fit your machine.

The default editing screen from 64 Forth on the Commodore 64
The default editing screen from FlashForth on the Udamonic Scamp3

Interestingly, the H.E.S. variation of FORTH seems more capable than the FlashForth that the Scamp runs. 64 Forth has over 500 words in its vocabulary, and comes with a split-screen I.D.E. method of interaction. The Scamp superset of FlashForth has just 425 words, and is designed for very bare-bones TTY output. No fancy ANSI windows here.

On the other hand, the Scamp can be powered off and when it's plugged in again you can pick up right where you left off. With any Commodore 64 FORTH, once you restart, you have to rebuild or reload all of the words you have previously defined. So while FlashForth isn't flashy, it's certainly more useful to use for a long-term project.

So what will I do with a 55-year-old programming language in 2023? Iʼm going to learn. Iʼm going to explore. Iʼm going to expand my ways of thinking and understand how things were done in the past so that I can do things better in the future.

Whenever I get a new piece of kit, Iʼm automatically challenged with ”What good is it?” I shouldnʼt have to answer that. Intellectual curiosity should be rewarded and saluted. Not everything is a start-up. Not everything is a business. Not everything has to make money. 50 years ago, nobody would have asked someone who does woodworking in his spare time, “How are you going to monetize that?” The notion would have been ludicrous. And, not surprisingly, the sort of people who donʼt understand intellectual curiosity are also the same group of people who spend their free time laying on a couch binge watching the latest zombiethon on the trendy streaming service of the day.

❖ ❖ ❖

Dumb terminals

Wednesday, May 31st, 2023 Alive 19,027 days

I am both impressed and disappointed with macOS.

I set up a new user account so that I could telnet in to a macOS box to perform certain tasks that can only be done via telnet, and with a CLI.

Not surprisingly, in 2023, macOS doesn't come with terminal definitions for a TRS-80 Model 100. It's a 40-year-old machine, so it makes sense that I would have to build my own. Which I did.

But as I was doing so, I noticed that macOS still comes with terminal definitions for far older, and more obscure computers than the one I'm connecting to it with.

  • Altos machines
  • Amigas
  • Apple Lisas (natch)
  • 85 types of AT&T terminals
  • C. Itoh (I didn't even know C. Itoh made computers)
  • Commodore B-128s
  • HeathKits
  • I.B.M. computers running Aixterm in Japanese
  • Microbees
  • Minitels
  • Dozens of NCR terminals
  • Several types of Kaypros
  • Four types of Zenith machines

Granted, these terminal definitions are just part of the stock set that is packed in with many Unixes. But I still find it surprising that after a half-century, these files continue to proliferate, and still exist, even though the number of people who would use them is basically zero.

❖ ❖ ❖

Squint harder

Sunday, May 28th, 2023 Alive 19,024 days

The New York Times on a TRS-80 Model 100

Weekend project: Coming up with a harder, slower, less-reliable way to read the New York Times. Mission accomplished.

❖ ❖ ❖

Monday, February 20th, 2023 Alive 18,927 days

The activity light on an active TRS-80 Model 100 Backpack drive

The SD card floppy drive emulator I use on my TRS-80 has its activity light facing the wrong direction. So I drilled a hole in the case, and voila!

I wonder how many other tech problems can be solved with power tools.

❖ ❖ ❖

♫ Chess nuts boasting in an open foyer ♫

Friday, December 23rd, 2022 Alive 18,868 days

MicroChess on a KIM Uno hooked up to a MacBook Pro

I almost beat a computer at chess today. Almost.

I've been playing chess against computers for four decades now, and have never beaten one. Not even once. Not even on “novice” levels. If a chess board had pieces more worthless and expendable than pawns, I would be one of those pieces.

But I keep playing. Atari 2600 Video Chess? Kicked my ass. Sargon Ⅱ on a Commodore 64? Took my lunch money and gave me a wedgie. Battle Chess on an IBM XT? Bought me flowers, took me to dinner, brought me home, kissed my hand and then didn't call me the next day.

Tonight I did something I have never done before: I managed to “check” a computer opponent.

The opponent was MicroChess on a KIM Uno, the modern-day incarnation of the old MOS KIM-1 machine.

The KIM did eventually beat me, but for once it wasn't the sort of Gulf War shock-and-awe defeat I'm used to.

I got the KIM because I nurse a fascination with the early days of computing, and because I found out that one can be built for under $20. That's another of my fascinations: Ultra-cheap computers.

My KIM Uno, happily letting me know that white pawn 0F moved from space 13 to space 33. I later housed it in a cardboard box

The KIM Uno is a good way to get a taste of what it was like to compute in 1976. But it's not a faithful reproduction. It's more like a tribute than a recreation. The KIM software runs on a miniature single board computer, and has been modified in ways that make a lot of concessions to the limitations of the Arduino side of its split personality.

There are a lot of web sites on the internet that talk about the Uno, but it's clear that the people who blog about this machine put the parts together, poked in about six instructions of 6502 assembly, and then moved on to other things. If they had stuck with the KIM Uno, there would be an extensive library of modern software available for it the way there is for other new models of old computers.

One sure sign that nobody has ever used a KIM Uno for anything other than a minor plaything is that nowhere on any of the web pages flogging it do the writers mention battery life. I surmise that none of them used it long enough for that to be a concern.

The Kim Uno's primary problem is that it lack expandability. One of the greatest assets of the original KIM-1 was that it could be expanded in many ways. You could add memory. Add storage devices. Add circuits and relays and printers and terminals and pretty much anything the hobbyist could imagine. The KIM Uno leans on the Arduino's built-in serial port, and that's about its only connectivity. But even that serial port is fixed at a speed and parameters that make it incompatible with a number of era-appropriate terminals.

There is an expansion port of sorts on the KIM Uno, but it isn't documented. There's a single picture on the internet of the KIM Uno driving a small OLED display, but no information about how to do that. And worse, the KIM Uno machine driving the display isn't even running the KIM-1 ROMs. It's being used to emulate a COSMAC ELF.

To summarize: unlike the KIM-1, the only thing the KIM Uno is good for is to play chess. But on the other hand, the KIM-1 cost the equivalent of $1,300 today dollars, while the KIM Uno can be had for less than $12 in parts. But with that reduction in price comes a reduction in possibilities. And the whole reason people got into computers in the 1970ʼs was because at the time, we thought the possibilities of technology were endless.

❖ ❖ ❖

And the price hasnʼt changed, either

Friday, December 2nd, 2022 Alive 18,847 days

A screenshot of the film Trading Places

In the 1983 movie Trading Places, Don Ameche can be seen reading a Wall Street Journal. The back page has an ad for the Apple ][ and Apple /// with the line “The first problem they solve is what to give for Christmas.”

Thatʼs just as true today, 39 years later, as it was then.

❖ ❖ ❖

You are about to be eaten by a grue

Sunday, July 3rd, 2022 Alive 18,695 days

Some people like to measure a computerʼs ability to asking if it can run Linux. Some ask if it can run Doom. I ask, ”Can it run Zork?” The answer for my TRS-80 Model 100 is “Yes, with a little help.”

❖ ❖ ❖

Itʼs the Tower of Pisa

Monday, March 15th, 2021 Alive 18,220 days

Htop, seen with a TRS-80 Model 100 terminal

Today I learned that top does not respect terminal settings. But htop does.

❖ ❖ ❖

Because it's nano

Sunday, March 14th, 2021 Alive 18,219 days

Nano editing a file in a terminal on a TRS-80 Model 100

Today I learned that Nano works fine on the tiny screen of a TRS-80 Model 100.

❖ ❖ ❖

Welcome to 1983

Saturday, March 13th, 2021 Alive 18,218 days

…and weʼre online!

Slightly less dramatic than connecting to CompuServe for the first time, but nevertheless a personal communications victory.

❖ ❖ ❖

You are likely to be eaten by a grue

Saturday, March 13th, 2021 Alive 18,218 days

Zork in a terminal on a TRS-80 Model 100

I can finally play Zork on my TRS-80 Model 100. Sort of.

Iʼm actually using the Model 100ʼs terminal program to connect to a wifi dongle on the back of the machine which connects to my wifi router, which connects to my Mac Mini, where the game is actually running.

Some day Iʼd like to run Zork on this actual machine, but that would entail installing CP/M on the 100, which is still a very experimental process, and more complicated than I have time for.

❖ ❖ ❖

Did you press the button?

Thursday, October 3rd, 2019 Alive 17,691 days

A Halloween decoration at Target
  • Square, black keys?
  • CLR/HOME key?
  • INST/DEL key?
  • RESTORE key?
  • RUN STOP key?
  • and cursor keys?
  • Dedicated currency key?

Yep, the Commodore PET has been immortalized as a Halloween trinket at Target.

In keeping with the Halloween theme, the HELLO, HELP, and Escape keys have been highlighted.

❖ ❖ ❖


Friday, February 22nd, 2019 Alive 17,468 days

A TRS-80 Model 100 running the Associated Press Mouse program

I have written down my memories of using a TRS-80 Model 100 as a journalist.

To keep it kosher, I wrote it on my TRS-80 Model 100.

❖ ❖ ❖

Monday, February 18th, 2019 Alive 17,464 days

The Wikipedia entry for “Teletype”

How much knowledge has been lost thanks to the “information age?”

The entry for “Teletype” in Wikipedia is just 2 paragraphs.

❖ ❖ ❖

Friday, February 8th, 2019 Alive 17,454 days

I just found a USB memory stick in the dryer.

This is why old computers were better. Nobody ever accidentally left a floppy disk in their pants pocket.

❖ ❖ ❖

Friday, August 24th, 2018 Alive 17,286 days

A TRS-80 and a coffee at The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf

Relaxing, retro style.

❖ ❖ ❖

Friday, August 17th, 2018 Alive 17,279 days

My house is finally eligible for gigabit internet. The nerd in me says going from 300/50 to 1,000/35 for an extra $18 is a no-brainer. My brain says I don't need a thousand megabits to play telnet games on my TRS-80.

❖ ❖ ❖

Sunday, July 22nd, 2018 Alive 17,253 days

A successful XMODEM transmission

We have achieved XMODEM on the TRS-80. Weekend project complete.

❖ ❖ ❖

Saturday, July 21st, 2018 Alive 17,252 days

A slow transmission

Itʼs been a long time since I transferred a file at 300 baud. I think thatʼs how I got fat as a kid. Nothing to do for 12 minutes but see whatʼs in the fridge.

❖ ❖ ❖

Friday, July 13th, 2018 Alive 17,244 days

Worst tech job of the 1980’s: Typesetter at Computer Shopper.

❖ ❖ ❖