Friday, December 30, 2022

Another weird MOS Pong console: 1976 Allied Leisure Name of the Game II

If you've ever wanted to play Pong on a miniature Babylonian ziggurat, have I got the machine for you.
However, what particularly interested me about this Pong machine is not just the fact it's another MOS 7600-series console (from the makers of the MOS 6502 CPU), but also that this unit has the oldest 7600 I've seen so far and worth comparing to other consoles we looked at previously — even those using chips that are labeled the same. I'm not just talking about the wacky styling and the golden labels, either.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Merry Old VCR Christmas with Dick Smith and his VZ200

Signs you've continued to marry well: this year for Christmas, your wife finds you a Dick Smith VZ200 Personal Colour Computer Technical Reference Manual.
Like the Dick Smith Type-right, the 1983 VZ200 is another Laser rebadge, this time of the Z80 and 6847 VDG-based VTech VZ200. This computer was widely distributed, available in at least the United States and Canada (in two versions), the UK, Hungary, Finland, and offered by Dick Smith in Australia and New Zealand. Dick Smith offered the VZ200 with 8K of RAM (2K video, 6K for BASIC) and an optional 16K expansion cartridge, cassette deck, printer and various software programs. While it sold poorly in its other markets largely due to competition from the dominant Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum, it did well enough in Australia to justify rebadging the followup VTech Laser 310 as the upwardly compatible Dick Smith VZ300 in 1985.

Video Technology designed the VZ200 as their own version of the Tandy TRS-80 Model I, which Dick Smith sold as the System-80 via the EACA Video Genie. While the Video Genie was a more or less straightforward clone of the TRS-80 Model I, the VZ200 uses the basic architecture but with a different memory map, BASIC and video chip (same as the Tandy Color Computer and others). The Z80 runs at 3.58MHz (versus the Model I's 1.774MHz) and some of the BASIC differences were caused by VTech intentionally crippling the BASIC which some extended BASICs partially reversed. VTech also produced a Laser 100 and 110, differing from the 200 primarily in built-in RAM, but Dick Smith never sold those.

The Technical Reference Manual isn't as sophisticated or (at 21 pages) anywhere near as comprehensive as, say, the Commodore 64 Programmer's Reference Guide, but it gives you a simple memory map plus some documentation of the ROM routines, sound and available video modes. It complements the BASIC Reference Manual which the computer came with. The original price tag on the back says it was sold for A$9.50.
Even more usefully, however, it also comes with schematics. While the VZ200 is relatively simple hardware with off-the-shelf components, these systems don't come up very often and it would be great to know how to repair it if a partially working unit ends up surfacing. All three system boards are provided.

I have to say she outdid herself this year. More when we actually land one of these things. Merry Christmas and happy holidays.

Saturday, December 17, 2022

A minor memorial for Leo Laporte's terrestrial AM radio show

Yes, Leo Laporte will still be broadcasting, just not on terrestrial AM radio. But this is the last weekend of the Tech Guy Show on AM radio (the next couple weekends are reruns), something of an institution here in greater Los Angeles where he's been a Saturday morning fixture since 2004 on KFI, the 50,000-watt talk radio blowtorch of southern California (syndicated on Premiere Radio Networks from the iHeartMedia evil empire). After 1,954 episodes, the toll-free call-in number 1-88-88-ASK-LEO will be retired and it'll be back to podcasts.

Friday, December 16, 2022

The strange case of BeOS, SRS and the silent Power Mac 6500

Tonight's story time: the Power Macintosh that wouldn't make any sound in BeOS R5, how I figured out the problem, and how I hacked the sound driver to fix it. (Download link at the end.)

My favourite beige Power Mac is the Power Macintosh 7300 and its relatives. They're compact, capable, upgradable and easy to work on. For as much as people raved about the pull-down side door of the Yosemite G3 and the Power Mac G4, they owe their design to their fold-out Outrigger Power Mac ancestors which did it all and did it horizontally — and in some ways did it better.

However, when it came time to setting up a second PowerPC BeOS system to go with my 133MHz BeBox (the two run the same applications), although the Outriggers are well supported in BeOS 5 I decided to get a tower Mac for space reasons. Since NuBus, G3 and New World Macs were out (not compatible with BeOS) there's only a few choices, namely the 8500, 8600, 9500, 9600 and the 6400 and 6500. I despise the 8500 case (I only tolerate my clock-chipped Quadra 800 in the same style because it runs A/UX so well), the 8600 is bulky, and while all beige Power Macs have succumbed to the general price inflation that has afflicted every corner of vintage computing, the 9500 and 9600 6-slot Power Macs have really taken it on the chin (and the 9600 is bulky too).

That left the Insta-Towers, or what I like to call the Stormtrooper Macs:

Friday, December 2, 2022

Magic Cap, from the Magic Link to the DataRover and the stuff in-between

Hello, visitor to my house. Let me show you around my workspace.
On my desk is a phone, a Rolodex, a name card (my desk needs to know), a note pad, and a datebook, with a couple things like stationery and a calculator in the drawers. In the office there's also a clock, an inbox and outbox, and a filecabinet. The web browser hangs on the wall. Doesn't yours?