Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

Archive for April, 2008

Beefing up your AT&T PC 6300

Posted by Trixter on April 22, 2008

No, this is not an extremely well-researched elaborate April Fool’s joke; I’m actually serious this time. In this post, I’m going to illustrate ways you can beef up your AT&T PC 6300, just stopping short of throwing it in the garbage and replacing it with an XT clone.

The AT&T PC 6300 was AT&T’s attempt to get into the personal computer market in 1984. AT&T bought the rights to sell the Olivetti M24 in the USA and made it available as the “PC 6300” in late 1984. It exceeded the IBM PC in just about every way:

  • It used an 8MHz 8086, about 2.2x the speed of the IBM PC’s 4.77MHz 8088
  • An extended graphics mode went as high as 640×400 (which also resulted in sharper text in normal text modes)
  • It had special expansion slots that could be used to turn it into the 6300+, which would run AT&T UNIX, or install expanded memory boards (usually required to run AT&T UNIX :-) although the memory could be used as EMS under DOS)
  • It had a few aesthetic improvements: it was smaller and lighter than the IBM PC, and the floppy drives were whisper-quiet
  • It contained a battery-backed internal clock chip that would remember the time and date even if powered off
  • Like Sun machines, the keyboard had a special mouse port on it, so you could buy a 6300 mouse and attach it to the keyboard. Not only did this save desktop area from cable mess, but the “keyboard mouse” had a wicked cool property: If you had no mouse driver loaded, moving the mouse would automatically press up/down/left/right arrow keys for you! You could use the mouse to navigate any program, regardless of whether or not it supported a mouse.

The problem with the 6300 is that those enhancements required many proprietary changes to the unit; they also didn’t predict how long the computer would be useful into the 1990s. These two factors led to some nasty surprises the longer you owned one:

  • The enhanced video required special monitors, and could not easily be replaced with an EGA or VGA card without extreme hardware preperation. Repairing the special monitors was also quite costly; I remember a $300 charge to repair a blown flyback transformer on mine. That repair took two very long months…
  • To support the mouse attachment, the keyboard had a non-standard 9-pin DIN, so you could only hook up AT&T keyboards to it. (Thankfully, there is a schematic on the web you can use to build an adapter to hook up PC/XT keyboards to it.)
  • The motherboard, in an attempt to save space, has slots on the top side but the components and headers on the bottom side. This was a major pain in the ass if you had to reroute cables through the machine (as I had to do when installing a Central Point Option Board).
  • To properly support the 6300 100%, you were strongly encouraged to use AT&T MS-DOS. Other DOS variants, including IBM’s true blue PC-DOS, wouldn’t support the built-in clock chip and other 6300 features.
  • Tweaking CGA, at Seven Spirits of Ra extremes, did not look right with the higher-resolution text mode.
  • The aforementioned clock chip was worse than not being Y2K-compliant — it wasn’t even Y1992 compliant! AT&T used only 3 bits for the year, starting at 1984, which limits the machine to the years 1984-1991. Trying to set the date to anything past January 1st 1992 has the year locked at 1991.

While the above prompted most owners to punt them past 1992, the PC 6300 remains a very interesting compatible in every sense of the word. I still own mine 23 years later, and for those who would like to restore theirs to prime game-playing condition, I am happy to share my secrets on how to “mod” your AT&T PC 6300:

  • Replace the 8086 CPU with an NEC V30. This will boost the machine to 2.1x the speed of an IBM PC.
  • Try to find the 1.43 BIOS chip upgrade if your machine doesn’t already have it (you can see what BIOS revision you have when booting the machine). The enhanced BIOS chips (there were two in the upgrade package) obviously improved program compatibility, although the major players such as Flight Simulator and Lotus 1-2-3 already ran fine. They’re also required if you want to run Microsoft Word for DOS in high-res WYSIWYG mode (see below), but be careful when you install them: They’re not notched, and putting them in backwards will release the magic smoke in about 3 seconds. Please don’t ask me how I know this.
  • Run programs that support the 6300’s special 640×400 graphics mode so you can feel good about maintaining a proprietary clone and monitor. For example, lots of graphical viewers like CSHOW will display B&W gifs at that resolution (and before GIF we had MacPaint images, and the 6300 had a 640×400 MacPaint viewer). There were also some games that could use 640×400, like The Colony. Also, FRACTINT (fast fractal exploration program) will use the special graphics mode. As previously mentioned, Microsoft Word for DOS 4.0 and later will use 640×400 for on-screen WYSIWYG (ie. you italicize a word and it actually shows up italicized. Look, we had it really rough in the 1980s, ok? Please stop laughing!)
  • If you don’t care about 5.25″ floppy compatibility and have a hard drive, flip the DIP switches on the motherboard to enable 96 TPI mode for the floppy drives. You won’t be able to read 5.25″ regular DSDD 40-track disks any more, but you will be able to format 5.25″ disks to 720K (the drives pack 80 tracks onto a disk in that mode). This is really for personal yucks only, as you will only be able to read such disks on a 1.2MB drive.
  • The speaker in the 6300 sucks; make a cable with alligator clips you can use to clip onto the speaker leads and run it to a set of speakers or a stereo.
  • Install an 8087 math coprocessor and run some of the more crazy fractals on FRACTINT (see above) without waiting overnight.
  • If you’re handy with a dremel and have the hard drive model (one floppy drive and one hard drive), cut a vertical 3.5″ drive bay into the front of the case, about one inch to the left of the drives. You can then add a second drive, a 720K 3.5″.
  • Install a hardcard for a 2nd hard drive (or first, if you don’t have one). I used a Plus HardCard 40 myself.
  • Install a Sound Blaster for some audio fun. For maximum enjoyment, use an original Sound Blaster 1.0 at IRQ 2 or 3, so you can get early programs with buggy SB support playing digitized sound, like Rise of the Dragon, Stellar 7, or Tongue of the Fatman.  (Rise of the Dragon has particularly nice opening digitized audio.)
  • If you can find one, try to obtain an AT&T PC 6300 memory board (with software .sys driver!) so you can have 2MB of EMS in the machine. It helps with Lotus 1-2-3, but it really helps as a giant disk cache.
  • For that matter, try to find the 6300 mouse. Moving the cursor around with a mouse in text apps that don’t support mice is a trip.

All of the above modifications will enhance your enjoyment of the 6300 while still keeping it distinctly 6300-ish. Some are difficult (dremel’ing a drive bay), but the effort is worth it.

Or, you can buy my 6300 off of me. For one meelyion dohlaars.

PS:  Original color or mono monitor broken?  The video output is analog, not digital, so you can wire up a VGA converter cable and use a VGA monitor.

Posted in Vintage Computing | 42 Comments »

MONOTONE Party Release

Posted by Trixter on April 16, 2008

It’s very basic, but it functions. Leech.

I’ll be working on MONOTONE very lightly until May, when I’ll dedicate more time to it. Why? Because I’m editing together the Block Party compo/awards footage for online release.

Posted in Demoscene, Programming | Leave a Comment »

Would you like fries with that?

Posted by Trixter on April 14, 2008

I found this visiting at my parent’s house for my Dad’s 66th birthday and just had to share it. But first, some background, because otherwise the picture has no meaning.

During my senior year at New Trier High School, our concert choir won a state-wide competition and, along with our “audition tape” singing Handel’s Messiah, we were picked to sing at Carnegie Hall for a 1989 concert. (The conductor and composer was John Rutter; I forget the piece at the moment.) Although the township that New Trier serviced was quite wealthy, it was still a very expensive trip for the entire choir to go to New York, so a series of money-making activities were tossed around to see what we could come up with. Eventually the most feasible ones (ie. the ones that would bring in the most money) were putting together a small group for holiday-performances-for-rent, and a headshot cattle call at a Chicago agency to see if any of us could get some work. The small group idea gelled into a group of six to perform at a holiday party at the Swift mansion — you know, the makers of the sausage — and the cattle call produced a single “hit”: A photo shoot for McDonald’s.

I was lucky enough to hit both of these.

The Swift mansion story is not the focus of this post, but it’s short and sweet so I’ll simply say this: A bass, baritone, tenor, contralto, mezzo-soprano, and soprano all packed into two cars to drive to Lake Forest, IL. Along the way, one of the cars breaks down and we all pack into the other car (a ford escort!) so as to meet our engagement. To all fit into the car, I sat on the lap of a girl in the back seat, and was ignorant enough to not offer her the seat position, and too naive to use my position to hit on her.  (In my defense, she was the one who requested the seating arrangement, probably because she was uncomfortable with the thought of sitting on a boy she didn’t know.)  Once there, we found that the entrance hall had to be at least 2000 square feet and we wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. We went directly to the performance room/hall/whatever-you-call-another-2000-square-foot-room, met our pianist, and proceeded to sing about 2 hours’ worth of classical holiday song, including the Hallelujah Chorus from the Messiah. It lost a bit of… depth with only six people singing it, but I didn’t crack my high note and overall the entire room seemed to like it. After our performances we immediately packed back into the car and headed home. I saw only those two adjacent halls but I’ll never forget them. I guess sausage brings in a lot of dough.

So. Let’s talk about my McDonald’s photo shoot.

There was (and probably still is) a McDonald’s regional headquarters office building in Illinois, and on the day of the shoot I was to be there at 7:30am. When my mother dropped me off, I was surprised to see that there were a lot of other models already in McDonald’s uniform, hair, and makeup; also surprising was that shooting had already been going on for at least an hour. I was directed to a hair and makeup lady, and she did something to my face and, for “hair” put a McDonald’s cap on me. I was then to wait in the larger waiting area with the others until they called me.

While I waited, I listened to the other talents’ conversations. I was too shy to introduce myself, and I also felt sheepish that I was a complete and total amateur, so I just eavesdropped. The crowd seemed to fit into two camps: Career models (who brought their portfolio with them, which I found odd because they had already landed the job) and people who did modeling part-time for extra cash. One elderly gentleman (whom you’ll see below) mentioned he started taking these jobs after he retired, to supplement his fixed income. After two hours, I worked up the courage to ask a girl if I could see her portfolio; I was surprised to see that it was mostly boring things like catalogs and Sunday-paper-insert stuff. Such is the life of a working model, I guess. One of the older women in her mid-40’s (whom you’ll also see in the photo below) had a small part in a movie where she played a peasant who plants a bomb in a church or something. She was the only one who had movie experience, so she had a tiny entourage of people asking how she got the work.

After three hours, I started to wonder if they didn’t need me, if I would still get money for the trip, etc. when they finally called me over. “We’re heading to the photo shoot.” I started to head for the outside door, thinking that we would be transported to a set, or a McDonald’s that was empty for the day. “No, it’s over here.” She was pointing to the elevator.

I rode the elevator down to the first floor, where the doors opened to a 100% faithful reproduction of a McDonald’s. This literally could have been any McDonald’s anywhere, with the requisite fiberglass tables and chairs connected to the wall and each other, cash registers, griddle, fry station, etc. It even had all of the backroom stuff, such as a dishwasher for trays and a tiny office for a fictional manager. What it did not have was a ton of dirt, grease, grime, angry customers, screaming kids, deep fryer alarms, and an overall sense of gluttony and despair. It was the McDonald’s from AnyTown, USA, and it was suitable for framing.

I spent the late morning doing my best to look like I was paling around with a guy in his mid-twenties in the same employee getup as me. We did our shtick in front of the dishwasher, arms around each other, at one point me picking him up. I guess the goal was to make working at McDonald’s look like great chummy fun, but all I could think about at the time was how to smile without my braces showing. I was also quite unnerved that I had to share personal space with a guy I had just met, and further unnerved by the fact that the photographer coordinating the shoot was obviously not happy with my performance for some reason.

We broke for lunch, and you get one guess who catered our lunch and what it was. I remember eating very slowly and carefully, to make sure I didn’t screw up my makeup. The makeup lady had only worked on me for 30 seconds, but whatever she did, I didn’t want to screw it up.

After lunch, I sat and waited for another three hours, and contemplated other mundane questions: Would I still get paid if my photos weren’t used in the ad campaign? (answer: yes) Would I get to keep any of this money? (answer: no) Will I get a copy of the photos after the shoot? (answer: no) I was trying to obsess with as little motion as possible when I was called back to the AnyTown set for the final shoot of the day. The goal was also to make working at McDonald’s as cheery as possible, but this time it was directly behind the counter and it was a mixture of five AnyTown denizens:

  1. An elderly white male
  2. An elderly black female
  3. A middle-age latina woman
  4. A young adult white female
  5. A teen white male

The photographer had an interesting way of getting the right performance out of us: He wanted us to take positions from various places behind the counter, and then, on the count of three, run toward each other and collide on our mark. I’m serious: We were to appear in-frame in a split second, usually with a positive “Hey!” or affirmative “Alright!”. This went on for at least half an hour, with the photographer getting frustrated because things weren’t “clicking”. I was beginning to wonder when the elderly models were going to break a hip when, in a fit of frustration, the photographer told me smile wider dammit because the reason I had been picked from the cattle call was because I had a perfect row of braces on both teeth.

They wanted to see my braces? Would’ve been nice to tell me that when I started so I didn’t have to try to hide them the entire shoot! With that limitation lifted, I relaxed a bit, which everyone else picked up on, which made them relax a bit, and the photographer got the shot he wanted.

I never heard from the agency again, although I saw a statement of the money I had made for the school. I believe it was $1500, which to this day still seems like a misprint for so little work on my part. 18 months later, back from college on a break, I was greeted by my own face walking into the local McDonald’s, staring back at me from a pad of employment application forms.

Click and enjoy:

Trixter whores himself out to McDonald\'s

Posted in Uncategorized | 13 Comments »

Trixter’s wild compo entry — now with motion!

Posted by Trixter on April 10, 2008

Big BIG thanks to yesso and virt for the sample songs.

This clip thankfully cuts out the first time I tried to demonstrate it, in which I give a nice speech and then the projector wouldn’t display anything at all. I later got the CGA monitor while the compo was moving, hooked it up, and NOW the project synced up to the composite signal and worked. Hm.

For those who hate flash, you can get the raw MPEG-4 file of the performance.

If you have an hour to waste, the presentation I gave is available (warning: mpeg-1/mpeg-4/flash derivatives probably won’t be ready until 6 hours from now).

Posted in Demoscene | 1 Comment »

Trixter’s wild compo entry

Posted by Trixter on April 9, 2008

_MG_5915, originally uploaded by tweakt.

This is what MONOTONE looks like when its author is trying to show it off by holding a mike to the speaker output.

Video to follow.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

I need a better camera

Posted by Trixter on April 7, 2008

Here are some pictures from Block Party.  I usually don’t take many pictures because my camera is an 8-year-old 3MP camera with a few dead pixels, but I managed to squeeze out a few that don’t completely suck.

If it isn’t obvious, keep clicking on a picture repeatedly and you’ll eventually get the full-size pic.

Posted in Demoscene | 3 Comments »

Block Party is over

Posted by Trixter on April 6, 2008

…and I just arrived back home, and will promptly crash.  I will write a more detailed report with a few pictures tomorrow or Tuesday.

Posted in Demoscene | 1 Comment »

The hard part is over; now the hard part begins

Posted by Trixter on April 5, 2008

Just got finished with my talk at Block Party and I think it went well. It ended exactly when I wanted it to end (55 minutes after the hour, giving the next guys a few minutes to get set up (Circuit Bending, currently in progress, demonstrating very wrong yet very funny things with a Speak and Spell).

Already NOTACON/Block Party is turning out to be one of the best and most unique experiences I have ever had. The highlight of the event was having Jeri E. sitting next to The Fat Man, collaborating on their compo entries. YES THAT’S RIGHT I SAID COMPO ENTRIES. We are in for an old-fashioned, old-school beating… an enjoyable one, but still a beating :-)

A personal high was meeting The Fat Man and talking about the industry (thank you MobyGames!) and also meeting Virt and having him fast-track something in MONOTONE. There very few people I idolize more in the computer music industry than those two.  Speaking of which, both of their talks went really well, even though Fat had to deal with some soundsystem drop-outs and Virt had to deal with a young child in the audience who was, ah, very vocal about the presentation and how it should be run.

IC has done a great job, once again, of converting the democoder lounge into a place of scene spirit, with mood lighting and a running videotrack and soundtrack of all things scene.  Speaking of which, there are nearly double the people in the lounge this year (it’s full) which is a great sign.  You can go in and see people working on music in trackers, custom demotools of their own design, Visual Studio, even old stuff like Quickbasic and Turbo Pascal.

Six hours until the compo…

Posted in Demoscene | 5 Comments »