Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

Happy 30th Birthday, Peanut

Posted by Trixter on March 23, 2014

While the announcement for the IBM PCjr was made in November 1983, it didn’t actually show up on store shelves until March of 1984.  So, I consider this week the official-unofficial 30th birthday of the IBM PCjr.

The Register agrees, and posted a very nice stripdown of the system, with sarcastic and humorous comments.  The comments section for that article also has some nice observations for those who would like a trip down memory lane.

Later this year I will record the full version of my PCjr talk that I was never able to fully give last year (floods, shortened timeslots, etc.) and I’ll break it up into parts and put it on youtube.  I’ll announce when that series is up.

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Mixed Feelings

Posted by Trixter on March 22, 2014

If the airlines gods shine on me next week, I will be at NVScene 2014 in San Jose Tuesday through Thursday.  Co-located within the GPU Technology Conference, the entire event is looking to be the most concentrated collection of Very Intelligent People in regards to realtime computer graphics hardware and techniques.

I have mixed feelings about attending events like these, because I am so completely out of my league among these people.  I understand no more than 10% of everything they present or create.  I am looking forward to visiting and staying with friends, but my knowledge and accomplishments are dwarfed in orders of magnitude by every single other attendee.  It’s very intimidating.

That’s all.  No pithy observations or self-help advice in this post, sorry.  My level of anxiety is high enough that, if I weren’t seeing some old friends there, I definitely wouldn’t be going.  I have no business being there.

Posted in Demoscene | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Where’s Trixter?

Posted by Trixter on February 26, 2014

2013 was somewhat challenging for me, but I have great hope and plans for 2014.  It’s only February and I’ve already spent some time at the ICHEG consulting for them on one of their projects — a validation of my electronic game history and preservation work, and a huge confidence booster!  I can’t speak highly enough of them, but I will try to do them justice in a future post.

Where can stalkers find me this year?  I’ll do my best to be at both NVScene 2014 in San Jose, CA the last week of March, and I’ll do my best to be at @party 2014 in Cambridge, MA in June.  Look for the grossly overweight 6’2″ scener wearing a black T-shirt with a huge yellow Hornet target on his back.

Preservation plans this year include writing a DOS-based search-as-you-type interface for a curated collection I am involved in.  Not impressive?  The DOS front-end has to run on any system with a hard drive — let’s see YOU implement a realtime search-as-you-type interface on an 8088 CPU in 512K of RAM with a hard drive that can do about 6 seeks a second.  I already have an idea on how I can pull it off, and if I can, it will be a huge win for enthusiasts and exhibitors with a vested interest in this material.

This year is the 10th anniversary of 8088 Corruption, which hasn’t been lost on me.  Expect a future post covering 8088 Corruption in some more detail with an encoder or two leaked.  Also:  I’m working on the sequel.  What could a sequel possibly be, since the original is a one-trick pony?  Well, how about video in graphics mode, which I originally said was impossible?  I think I can do it, still a on a 5MHz 8088 CPU, still a CGA card, still in color (although the initial demonstration might be in grayscale while I work out the kinks).  Actually, I’m already doing it — in my head.  It’s designed and tested already; I just need to convert what’s in my brain to source code.

Hobbies should always be secondary to things that really matter.  Good things are happening with my family as well:  My sons are improving at school (and in life in general), and life with my wonderful wife continues to improve.

Things are really looking up this year.  It’s about goddamn time, too.

Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments »

Just keeping it real… like it’s 1991

Posted by Trixter on November 25, 2013


Came across a nice post from Scali with some oldskool and “midskool” analysis on demomaking for very slow PCs. Check out his production as well, which he did for the “1991″ demoparty this month.

Originally posted on Scali's OpenBlog™:

Last weekend, there was a special demoscene party, the 1991 party, with, obviously, 1991 as a theme. Well, that is just my bag, baby! The focus was mainly on C64 and Amiga, which were the most popular platforms for gaming and demoscene activity in those days. I wanted to do a small production myself as well. I decided to go with a PC production, because of my oldskool code experiments, the PC stuff was in the most mature state. And also, because the PC platforms of those early days have not been explored very much, so it’s still possible to create some refreshing things and work out interesting ideas for early PC.


Speaking of early PCs… Because of my early PC escapades, I have come into contact with Trixter a while ago, and we started bouncing ideas back and forth. Trixter’s platform of choice is the PCjr, the…

View original 2,011 more words

Posted in Demoscene | Leave a Comment »

Another podcast appearance

Posted by Trixter on October 12, 2013

I’ve magically appeared on another podcast dedicated to vintage computing, this time episode #7 of Floppy Days talking about how I got into vintage computing, what I have, and what I do with it.  You can hear my interview around the 38-minute mark.

I keep threatening to put on my own podcast dedicated to vintage IBM PC computing, specifically covering the first 1.5 decades of the IBM PC and compatibles.  There are a few vintage computing podcasts dedicated to specific platforms, such as Antic for the Atari 8-bit series and Open Apple for the Apple II community.  There are also a few people commenting on their own collections and experiences, such as Floppy Days mentioned above as well as You Don’t Know Flack which centers around C64 and arcade nostalgia.  And one that rounds everything up is, appropriately, the Retro Computing Roundtable with news in the world of vintage computing and some light discussions.

But my podcast would differ from those somewhat significantly.  I have a couple of ideas that I’d like to explore, such as:

  • Mostly instructional (ie. no nostalgia talk) on how to get the most out of your collection/hobby.  Different main topic each episode.
  • Limiting every episode to 20 minutes or less.
  • Quick coverage of uncommon/obscure games.
  • Ending each episode with PC-generated music (with and without soundcards).
  • Not scripted.  (Planned and researched, sure, but no reading the entire episode from a script.)

Too nutty?  The vintage computing hobby has a relatively small active audience; is there room for another podcast?

Posted in Podcast, Vintage Computing | 14 Comments »

Hardware for an OpenIndiana ZFS file server

Posted by Trixter on October 6, 2013

It’s hard to be an Illumos user.  The amount of hardware that works correctly with OpenIndiana (my favorite OS right now) is not very well defined and relies on confirmations from the user community whether something works or not.  There are other ways to build a ZFS NAS, such as FreeNAS, but I’ve been using ZFS since it was in Solaris (x86) 10u3 and have followed the path of the devout:  Solaris 10 x86, to OpenSolaris, to OpenIndiana.

This blog post is not about how to build a ZFS fileserver; there are enough out there.  Rather, this post is about what hardware I chose to build mine.  I wanted to spend less than $1000, build something that had future storage upgrade potential, and had a motherboard + CPU that someone else had already verified as good for OpenIndiana.  I wanted ECC memory to further protect against what ZFS already protects against, and finally I wanted to boot off of a USB flash drive.

Here’s what I came up with.  Please forgive the NewEgg formatting, but at least the links are intact in case you want to go buy something:

Qty. Product Description
1 COOLER MASTER HAF series RC-912-KKN1 Black SECC/ ABS Plastic ATX Mid Tower Computer Case COOLER MASTER HAF series RC-912-KKN1 Black SECC/ ABS Plastic ATX Mid Tower Computer Case
Item #: N82E16811119233
Return Policy: Standard Return Policy
1 SUPERMICRO MBD-X9SCM-F-O LGA 1155 Intel C204 Micro ATX Intel Xeon E3 Server Motherboard SUPERMICRO MBD-X9SCM-F-O LGA 1155 Intel C204 Micro ATX Intel Xeon E3 Server Motherboard
Item #: N82E16813182253
Return Policy: Standard Return Policy
1 Rosewill CAPSTONE-550 550W Continuous @ 50°C, Intel Haswell Ready, 80 PLUS GOLD, ATX12V v2.31 & EPS12V v2.92, SLI/CrossFire Ready, Active PFC Power Supply Rosewill CAPSTONE-550 550W Continuous @ 50°C, Intel Haswell Ready, 80 PLUS GOLD, ATX12V v2.31 & EPS12V v2.92, SLI/CrossFire Ready, Active PFC Power Supply
Item #: N82E16817182068
Return Policy: Standard Return Policy
1 Intel Xeon E3-1230 Sandy Bridge 3.2GHz LGA 1155 80W Quad-Core Server Processor BX80623E31230 Intel Xeon E3-1230 Sandy Bridge 3.2GHz LGA 1155 80W Quad-Core Server Processor BX80623E31230
Item #: N82E16819115083
Return Policy: CPU Replacement Only Return Policy
1 Kingston 8GB 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 ECC Unbuffered Server Memory Intel Model KVR13E9/8I Kingston 8GB 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 ECC Unbuffered Server Memory Intel Model KVR13E9/8I
Item #: N82E16820239116
Return Policy: Memory Standard Return Policy
1 LG Black 14X BD-R 2X BD-RE 16X DVD+R 5X DVD-RAM 12X BD-ROM 4MB Cache SATA BDXL Blu-ray Burner, Bare Drive, 3D Play Back (WH14NS40) - OEM LG Black 14X BD-R 2X BD-RE 16X DVD+R 5X DVD-RAM 12X BD-ROM 4MB Cache SATA BDXL Blu-ray Burner, Bare Drive, 3D Play Back (WH14NS40) – OEM
Item #: N82E16827136250
Return Policy: Standard Return Policy
1 Kingston DataTraveler SE9 64GB USB 2.0 Flash Drive Model DTSE9H/64GB Kingston DataTraveler SE9 64GB USB 2.0 Flash Drive Model DTSE9H/64GB
Capacity: 64GB Color: Silver
Item #: 9SIA12K0X40410

This came out to roughly $730.

Normally I try to be fair and list pros and cons, but I only have good things to say about this arrangement.  Everything (hardware and software) worked correctly on the first try.  The performance is ludicrous; I can easily saturate a gigabit pipe with a 4-drive raidz.  There were no hitches installing OpenIndiana at all, even installing to the flash drive (which is connected to an internal USB header so it’s out of the way).  The drives are sideways so the power and sata cables can be routed behind the motherboard.  In fact, everything is routed behind the motherboard except for the main motherboard power cable.  The drives are on rails; while they aren’t hot-swap, it is very easy to swap them without using any tools.

Astute readers will wonder why I purchase a Sandy Bridge Xeon instead of something newer.  Ivy Bridge or Haswell would have given me more bang for my buck, but I wanted to play it safe with confirmed, tested hardware.  I was also unsure if my motherboard would support Ivy Bridge — it requires the latest BIOS to do so, but you need a Sandy Bridge to apply the latest BIOS!  Horrible catch-22.  So I played it safe with Sandy Bridge.  You also might be wondering why a blu-ray drive is there.  That is a “why not?” addition — if it’s possible to burn blu-ray media directly from the fileserver, that’s an additional win.  Even if I can’t, it was only $50 more than a DVD-ROM drive so hey, why not.

All of my previous builds have been from cast-off second-hand hardware; this is the first time I built it right the first time, and I wish I had done this years ago.  I have a good feeling this hardware will last me a good 6-8 years as-is.

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The IBM PCjr Exhibition Starter Kit

Posted by Trixter on October 3, 2013

I had a blast at this year’s VCFMW.  If you peruse my event photos, you’ll notice a PCjr setup in several pictures, both with and without people using them.  This was my display, which I pimped with an hour-long presentation about the history, hacking, and homebrew state of the PCjr.  I stood up three systems:  A starter (stock) system, an expanded system, and a hobbyist/homebrew system.  All had games and books and software, with original boxes and manuals.  I also laid out some cartridge games so people could see what those were like, and also some uncommon sidecars including a speech adapter and cluster adapter.  Finally, each monitor had a sign on top of it that encouraged people to TRY ME! and listed things they could do with each system.

All in all, I was pretty happy with it — and some others were too, based on the attention it got.  Some highlights:

  • Dads and sons playing Dr. J and Larry Bird go One-on-One against each other
  • A Lode Runner expert playing for over an hour through level 32 and 192,000 points until she had to leave
  • A couple of friends completing King’s Quest (using an iphone to download maps and hints)
  • The guy who made Coverfire (Crossfire clone) playing the original Crossfire on cartridge, like he had 30 years ago

People using the systems and asking questions was exactly what I was hoping for.

Missed the show?  Want to stand up an exhibit of your own?  Not to worry!  I’ve made all of my presentation and exhibition materials available under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.  You are free to use those materials if you’d like to put on a similar presentation.  The 1-hour presentation slides, unprotected disk images for some games, signs I made for each setup, and even a PCjr button and t-shirt design are there if you truly want to nerd out.

Bill of materials

Starter system: 128k PCjr, no sidecars, wireless chiclet keyboard, two joysticks

Expanded system: Racore 2nd-drive expansion, 640k, wired “pro” PCjr keyboard (the later model), two joysticks.  (Optional: NEC V20 CPU, Tandy 1000 graphcs hardware mod)

Hobbyist system: jrIDE sidecar (adds hard drive via an 8GB IDE DOM, 768K RAM, clock), parallel-port sidecar with xircom PE3 adapter connected to the internet, IBM 83-key keyboard connected via a Racore adapter


I copied some software to diskettes (that I wouldn’t care if someone walked away with them) to demonstrate the starter and expanded setups:

  • Super Boulderdash
  • Jumpman
  • Dr. J and Larry Bird go One on One
  • Music Construction Set
  • Pinball Construction Set
  • Flight Simulator v2.12 (v2.13 has a bug if you try to use expanded memory)
  • Touchdown Football
  • King’s Quest (original PCjr booter)

These game choices were carefully considered and deliberate:

  • All of these were bootable disks that didn’t require any DOS — just insert the disk and turn on the system.
  • They all have support for PCjr graphics, sound, or both (Touchdown Football even talks!).
  • They support gameplay through joysticks which means there is no learning curve in figuring out the keyboard commands

I felt they showed off the “best intentions” of the PCjr while keeping user learning/confusion to a minimum.


To flesh out the display, I added many more materials: PCjr magazines, books, and original boxed PCjr-specific versions of software (Lotus 1-2-3, Wordstar, Typing Tutor III, Andrew Tobias Managing Your Money, others).  I wanted users to get a sense of what personal computing was like back in the 1980s and I felt the additional materials helped.  On more than one occasion people were flipping through the magazines, either looking for names they knew, or mocking some of the advertisements :-)

Here’s what it all looked like when completed:

1-20130927_184813 2-20130927_184819 3-20130927_184825

I will eventually be putting almost two hours of PCjr materials on youtube in a series of videos, but until then, enjoy the starter kit.

Posted in Uncategorized, Vintage Computing | 4 Comments »

The lazy way to work a sticky floppy drive spindle free

Posted by Trixter on September 26, 2013

In preparing for VCFMW, I was dismayed to find that one of my PCjr’s floppy drives (a Qumetrak 142) has a very sticky spindle, or a slightly stretched belt, or both.  The end result is that the diskette spins quite unevenly, like the belt is slipping.  To fix this, there are a lot of things I could do:

  • Order a new belt (someone on the PCjr forums thinks he has a lead on a source)
  • Try to rough up the inside of the belt so it has more friction
  • Partially take apart the drive and adjust two screws that will move the motor away from the spindle which will give the belt more tension

…or, take the lazy way out.  I noticed that, no matter how off the drive speed was, it usually managed to load the boot sector.  So, I created a boot floppy, loaded the boot sector into debug, and patched the boot code to this:

-l 100 1 0 1
-u 013e
1236:013E B402    MOV AH,02
1236:0140 B001    MOV AL,01
1236:0142 0E      PUSH CS
1236:0143 07      POP ES
1236:0144 BB0010  MOV BX,1000
1236:0147 FEC5    INC CH
1236:0149 80E51F  AND CH,1F
1236:014C B101    MOV CL,01
1236:014E B200    MOV DL,00
1236:0150 B600    MOV DH,00
1236:0152 CD13    INT 13
1236:0154 EBE8    JMP 013E

(I know the code can be optimized smaller, no need to tell me — this means you, Peter ;-)  This will proceed to read 1 sector from tracks 0 through 31 and then jump back to track 0 and do it again, endlessly.

I wrote this back to sector 0 and booted the disk.  At first, my drive sounded like this:  Chunk….. chunk chunk…. chunk…. … ….. chunk chunk chunk…..

An hour of it running and now I hear this:  Chunk chunk chunk chunk chunk chunk chunk chunk chunk chunk chunk chunk chunk chunk chunk chunk    Problem solved!  Well, until Saturday anyway, when I’ll likely need to run this again for an hour to work the drive.  But that will be enough for the tutorial diskette to run for the patrons.

PS: That boot sector also makes for a handy exercise to use with a floppy cleaning disk.

Posted in Vintage Computing | Leave a Comment »

Hey, a podcast appearance

Posted by Trixter on September 23, 2013

I had a great time talking with Anatoly of the DOS Nostalgia Podcast a few days ago, and what do you know, I’m capable of speaking into a microphone.  We spoke mostly about the first decade of PC gaming, and conclude with some games that were notable for being so well-programmed that they perform some amazing things on your 8088 that it really has no business doing.  Snag the episode here, and let him know what you think.

Posted in Gaming, Podcast, Uncategorized, Vintage Computing | Leave a Comment »

Vintage Computer Festival Midwest 8.0

Posted by Trixter on September 15, 2013

Only two weeks away until the VCFMW and I’m very much looking forward to it.  I will be giving a longer presentation on the PCjr than I gave at @party (which was rushed and had a lot of stuff cut out due to all @party presentations being limited to 30 minutes), and I will have two or three PCjrs set up for exhibition and public use.  These will all be functional and have software and manuals and other materials to peruse, so if you’ve ever wanted to do stuff like play the original King’s Quest on the hardware it was designed for, stop on by.

If you’ve never been, it’s a small-to-medium affair that is roughly half “Commodore convention” and half “everything else convention”.  It is smaller and much less formal than VCF East but there is a lot more hacking and swapping and trading going on.  Admission is FREE.  Tables for exhibiting or selling are FREE.   If you are anywhere near Lombard, IL at the end of the month you have no excuse to miss it.

Posted in Vintage Computing | Leave a Comment »


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