Friday, May 19, 2023

The KIM-1 that sounds like Stephen Hawking (or: "jitbanging" DECtalk)

My 1976 briefcase Commodore/MOS KIM-1, a 1 MHz single-board computer with a 6502 CPU and 1K of RAM, has learned to talk — with a familiar-sounding voice.

The KIM-1's serial lines are connected to the last and smallest member of Digital Equipment Corporation's true DECtalk hardware speech synthesizers, the 1994 DECtalk Express. The DECtalk's classic default voice heard in this video is Perfect Paul, which (with adjustments) was the voice of Dr Stephen Hawking as produced with the 1988 Speech Plus CallText 5010.

The 15 keys we can read off the KIM's hexadecimal keypad are polled by a "talker" program that sends the DECtalk Express words and phrases to speak. However, although the KIM-1 has 20mA current loop output you can turn into RS-232 serial, its built-in ROM routines can't reliably communicate at the 9600 baud rate the DECtalk Express demands.

So, in today's entry, we have a veritable smorgasboard of geriatric geekery: using our KIM-1 serial uploader to push a program for execution, let's write a bitbanged 9600 baud serial transmitter routine in 6502 assembly and let the KIM-1 have its say — and crack the DECtalk Express open and look at the insides while we're at it. (Teaser: you'll find its CPU very familiar.)

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Of Sun Ray laptops, MIPS and getting root on them

I like Sun Ray laptops. They make surprisingly useful thin clients. Here, going from right to left, I'm playing Quake on my Solaris UltraBook IIi while it serves a Sun Ray session via Sun Ray Server Software (SRSS) to my silver Sun Ray 2N in the middle, and on my Accutech Gobi on the left I'm root.
Wait, what? Root on a thin client?

Let's rewind a little.

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Crypto Ancienne 2.2: now supported on AmigaOS and classic MacOS/MPW

As threatened we're up to the next checkpoint with Crypto Ancienne, the TLS 1.2/1.3 library we maintain for pre-C99 vintage compilers and architectures, so here's version 2.2, or "Crypto Ancienne Meets the Hooded Fang" (read about previous releases).

New checkpoints are always an opportunity for new ports. Why am I showing you a picture of my Amiga Technologies A4000T? Because AmigaOS 3.9 is one of them!

Friday, March 31, 2023

Refurb weekend: DEC AlphaPC 164LX

It's time for another Crypto Ancienne checkpoint, which will be a post Real Soon Now(tm), including some new operating system frontiers. But part of the work for Cryanc is all the build regression testing on the supported platforms: each of the platforms I vouch for has to be able to compile the updated source code and use carl, its built-in mini-curl clone (officially the "useful" demonstration application), to successfully and completely download from a selection of real websites. One of these is harlan (named for Harlan Anderson, co-founder of Digital Equipment Corporation), my one and only DEC Alpha-based machine, a DEC AlphaPC 164LX running Digital UNIX Tru64.

The DEC Alpha is a good test for Crypto Ancienne because it's a fast (for the time) and finicky (for all time) RISC architecture, with notoriously strict alignment requirements and an extremely loose memory model. Early Alpha CPUs in fact entirely lacked instructions for direct short or byte access — 32-bit, 64-bit or bust. Unfortunately the Ethernet card blew while I was testing Cryanc 2.0 and I couldn't validate that version, so I just pushed that checkpoint out the door. Well, we can't do that two releases in a row, darn it. I have a replacement NIC and a mission. It's time for a Refurb Weekend.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Printing real headline news on the Commodore 64 with The Newsroom's Wire Service

Besides other things I've written or supervised, so far in my time I've also edited three periodicals, and Springboard Software's The Newsroom is a big reason why. In today's article we'll not only look at the guts of this pioneering 1984 software package, but also solve a childhood mystery I've wondered about since the very first day I touched the program by MITMing an RS-232 connection to snoop on serial data — and then print out a brand new 2023 newspaper with 2023 headlines to prove we cracked the case. (Scroll to the end if you just want to see the finished product.)

Saturday, March 4, 2023

Refurb weekend: Cobalt RaQ 2

In the post on our recently resurrected fork of Dreamcast Linux, I mentioned the NetBSD NFS server providing basically all of its persistent storage. A few days into the development work I started hearing a weird whine coming from the server room and sure enough the NFS server had a bad fan — in fact, the only fan cooling the entire 1U system. That means it's time ... for another Refurb Weekend!

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Dusting off Dreamcast Linux

Yes, here at Old VCR we live in the past, when RISC Unix workstations still ruled the earth like large boxy tentaculous Cthulhus. Oh, sure, if you wanted a modern equivalent you could just buy a Raptor POWER9 like the one I'm typing on now. But around here even PowerPC is too pedestrian of an architecture. We need something unique.
That's more like it! A keyboard, mouse, a NIC, VGA output, 16MB of RAM and a whole gig (you wish) of read-only optical drive space with a 200MHz Hitachi SuperH SH-4 CPU faulting its paltry 8K of I-cache and 16K of D-cache non-stop. Now freshly refurbished, its cooling fan runs louder than my Power Mac Quad G5 at idle and the drive makes more disk seeking noise than when I can't find a lost floppy. And since the buzzword with Linux distros today is immutability, what could be more immutable than an ephemeral, desperately undersized RAM disk overlaid on a live CD?