Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

I hear it!

Posted by Trixter on April 7, 2016


The full category where we were nominated is below, although I recommend you watch the entire ceremony to get a feel for the demoscene itself:

Posted in Demoscene, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

It was an honor just to be nominated

Posted by Trixter on March 27, 2016

It was even better to win.  I’m happy to announce that 8088 MPH, the winning demo from Revision’s 2015 oldskool compo, won the Meteorik 2016 award in the category of “That’s not possible on this platform!”.  A big thanks to reenigne, Scali, VileR, Phoenix, Puppeh, coda, and virt for making this happen.  If that was my last year in the demoscene, what a way to go out!

We were also nominated for Best Low-End Demo, but lost to We Were @ by Oxygene.

Posted in Demoscene | Leave a Comment »

Beyond Economic Recovery

Posted by Trixter on January 11, 2016

The phrase “Beyond Economic Recovery” is one of my favorite phrases because it succinctly describes how to determine if you can safely share an old program, manual, game, etc. online.  Please note that safe != legal.  It is always illegal to share things you don’t own and you are responsible for any repercussions if you break your country’s laws.  This post isn’t about whether it is legal.  This post is about whether or not you should be overly worried that you will be pursued by some IP holder’s legal department and sued into the ground.

This would be a good time to mention that I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice.

Unless you are a large-scale pirating operation already under government investigation, what usually happens when infringement is discovered is that the infringing party is notified through a cease and desist letter.  Quick compliance with the terms of the letter is almost always enough to avoid further action.  But what if you are on a Quixote-like mission to share this rare vintage content with the world and really, REALLY want it to stay publicly available?  That’s when you apply The Phrase.

“Beyond Economic Recovery” isn’t my phrase; it was uttered to me in more than one interview I’ve had with lawyers on this specific subject.  Here’s how to use it:  Let’s say you want to share a 30-year-old game on the web for others to grab.  If you’re worried about legal repercussions, perform some due diligence and research if the company is actively using the work (the code, its trademarks, its intellectual property, etc.) to earn money, or has immediate or announced plans to do so. If so, such as in the case of Super Mario Brothers, don’t share it. But if not, as in the case of something like Space Strike, you have almost nothing to worry about.  When a company is made aware of infringement (usually discovered via automated google searches and machine learning), they perform a quick check of whether or not they would lose money sending the infringing party a cease and desist letter.  The average cost of a C&D letter, accounting for all time and services rendered, is roughly $4000.  If the company has an internal legal department or prepares communication in batches (or both), that number can be a little less, but it’s still thousands of dollars. So the mental check is essentially “Can we make more than $4000 on the asset or intellectual property this person is threatening to dilute by giving it away for free?” If the answer is “no”, they don’t bother sending a C&D letter.

The Internet Archive enjoys both non-profit status and various DMCA exemptions, which allows them to make various historically-relevant software works available online — but a DMCA exemption doesn’t prevent companies from sending them C&D letters to protect their trademarks or intellectual property.  (It also doesn’t succinctly define what is covered under the exemption, as it uses words like “obsolete” without defining what time period “obsolete” refers to.)  Some works that used to be public on the IA have since been hidden at the request of the IP holder.  For everything else that is still public there, The Phrase is the principle that “protects” those software portions of The Internet Archive; they are simply Beyond Economic Recovery.

Posted in Gaming, Software Piracy, Vintage Computing | 1 Comment »

Jack of all trades, master of one

Posted by Trixter on December 31, 2015

I’m sure there’s a famous quote that, paraphrased, reads “I’d rather be an expert in one thing than dabble in many things.”

2016 is the year I put that into practice with the start of a year-long experiment.  I’ll post more details in January, but the short answer is that I’m going to focus on mostly one thing in 2016 and see what happens.  It will involve audio production, light video production, and seeing if I’m still relevant in one of my preferred hobbies.  I also plan on taking monthly metrics for what I’m doing and will make those metrics available at the end of 2016.

Posted in Uncategorized, Vintage Computing | Leave a Comment »

An experiment: Should I put on a show?

Posted by Trixter on October 11, 2015

I’m trying to gauge whether it would be worthwhile to produce a podcast dedicated to the IBM PC and other compatibles of the 1980s. (The actual date range may slip slightly later than 1989 on rare occasions for special topics.) Rather than go into a long diatribe of what I’m looking for and what would be covered, I’ve created a short survey you can take instead. The data collection is anonymous (no logins/accounts or personally-identifiable information is required), and you also get to see the aggregated results after you complete the survey. For anyone who knows me and my work who is interested in both vintage IBM PCs and podcasts or YouTube channels/videos, it would help me out if you took a minute to give me your opinion via the survey.

The survey link is: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/RK6Q25S

If you’d rather just give me your thoughts in the comments below, that’s fine too, although it may help to glance at the survey text first to see what I’m going on about.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Solving an IBM PS/2 Model 25-286 Chicken and Egg CMOS problem

Posted by Trixter on September 4, 2015

I solved something recently and thought others (read: vintage computer nerds) might be interested in the write-up. I recently acquired an IBM PS/2 Model 25-286 and wanted to read data off of the hard drive.  The 25-286 relies on configuration data stored in CMOS, however the battery-backed CMOS is dead, leading to the error codes 161 and 163 on boot-up. The system miraculously boots from the hard drive just fine in this condition (documentation suggests the hard drive table is fixed to a single entry). But, you can’t transfer data off of a system in this condition because 1. The floppy drive table is wrong and thinks the 1.44MB drive is a DSDD drive and can’t read/write a 1.44MB diskette, and 2. There are no entries in the BIOS table for the built-in serial and parallel ports, so they don’t show up, can’t use MODE COM1, etc. Short of physically moving the hard drive into another system, there’s no way to get data in/out of it.

The obvious fix is to write the 8525-286 diag and setup diskette somewhere and boot it to set proper CMOS values, but the diag/setup diskette image is a 1.44MB image, and the system can’t read it because the scrambled-CMOS configuration only reads/writes DSDD disks. So this is where the chicken-and-egg problem lies: To fix the system, you need to boot a diskette — but the diskette isn’t bootable until the system is fixed. (There’s another issue: Since the battery is dead, the setup disk will set proper values, perform a warm reboot — and then the values are gone again since the battery is dead.)

Armed with the knowledge that that the system can read 720KB diskette media just fine if formatted in another computer, I was able to follow this procedure to temporarily force a functional system:

  1. Use tweener system to write out the 8525-286 diag/setup diskette from diskette image
  2. Copy resulting setup/diag files onto a 720KB DSDD diskette (NOT a 1.44MB diskette formatted as 720KB).
  3. Boot Model 25-286 from internal hard drive
  4. Run the “SC.EXE” program from the setup/diag disk
  5. Using SC.EXE, force correct values, then save them.
  6. Hit <ESC> to back out to DOS (do NOT hit enter to reboot the system)
  7. Perform an immediate, non-cold, non-warm reboot by issuing INT 19H (instructions below) — do not have bootable diskette in the drive, and for safety have an empty config.sys and autoexec.bat

Doing this will leave the system in a correct state until you perform a warm (ctrl-alt-del) or cold (power) reboot. DOS will reload and parse the new temporary CMOS values.  The floppy drive reads/writes 1.44MB in this state, and the serial and parallel ports are recognizable and function. While I wrote this, I was archiving the entire hard drive to another system using FastLynx and a parallel-port cable.

According to my friends at Fort Collins PC Repair company, the proper fix, of course, is a Dallas 12887+ replacement battery/clock chip. Three are already on their way to me from China (hope they aren’t pulls!).

To issue INT 19H, you can use DEBUG.COM. Start DEBUG, then type:

a &lt;enter&gt;
int 19 &lt;enter&gt;
g &lt;enter&gt;

Posted in Vintage Computing | Tagged: | 7 Comments »

Converting a newer CGA card to an older one

Posted by Trixter on August 28, 2015

I don’t normally just reblog stuff, but Great Hierophant’s blog entry on how to convert a “new-style” CGA card to an “old-style” card is worth taking a look at.

Why would you want to do this?  Slightly brighter output is a plus, and to run the most earliest games that support composite color output as their authors intended.

Posted in Vintage Computing | Leave a Comment »

See you at the Vintage Computer Festival Midwest 2015!

Posted by Trixter on August 27, 2015

The tenth edition of VCF Midwest takes place this weekend!  Admission is free, so if you’re west of Chicago or anywhere near Elk Grove Village, IL, please join us as we once again coax vintage electrons into motion!  For full information, consult www.vcfmw.org.

My contribution this year is a vintage IBM set up running 8088 MPH on continuous loop, and I’m also giving a talk on how 8088 MPH came together.  It’s less of a technical talk and more of a “how did you guys find each other and decide to work on a demo?” talk.  If the video stream works, I’ll publish a link to the stream and the slide deck after the show.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Still no love for the IBM PC

Posted by Trixter on August 23, 2015

It’s been 2.5 years since I talked about how there’s no love for the IBM PC, and not much has changed.  I’ve discovered one more youtube channel that covers 808x-era games (dfortae’s game reviews), but that’s it.  There are still no podcasts that cover the first decade of the PC; even the Retro Computing Roundtable hardly mentions it.

What has changed in 2.5 years is my understanding of why that is.  I think the 808x-based era (8088 or 8086 computers that are IBM PC compatible, 1981-1989) is mostly overlooked because both the system and its users are stuck between worlds.  Let’s start with the IBM PC itself:

  • Is it a home computer or a business computer?  It was a business computer for the home, so try classifying that one.  It definitely had business-class power and expandability (and price tag), but also had BASIC in ROM, cassette tape support, and could connect to home televisions.
  • Is it an 8-bit or 16-bit computer?  It came out squarely in the middle of the 8-bit era, and had an 8-bit bus and an 8-bit path to memory.  But, the 8088 is internally a 16-bit CPU, with 16-bit registers and a 16-bit ALU,  Most people categorize it as a 16-bit computer and part of the 16-bit era, but considering the Atari ST and Amiga are the poster children for the 16-bit era, it doesn’t feel like it should be in that category as it is significantly less capable than those systems.
  • When was the system considering viable for gaming?  There were games available for the system in the same year it was launched, but many people consider games with ugly CGA graphics or text-only adventures a party trick and not actual games.  I disagree, but ask most online people what “DOS games” are and you’ll get a picture painted in a VGA palette.

The users/fans/retrohobbyists of the PC are also stuck between worlds:

  • Generation Y Millennials grew up with the web, blogging, social media, YouTube… but the IBM PC was not their system, so they don’t cover it.  Most old PC gaming channels on YouTube, for example, consider “MS-DOS Gaming” as starting in the era of 386+VGA+soundcard systems.  These are good channels, don’t get me wrong (Pushing up Roses, Lazy Game Reviews, Ancient DOS games, DOS Nostalgia come to mind), but they only rarely cover the first decade of PC gaming.  That’s 10 years of games not getting coverage — quite a gap.
  • So that leaves us Generation X’ers to cover it, because we did grow up with the PC… but, there are two forces working against early PCs getting coverage.  The first is that Gen X people also grew up with other systems.  The second is that not every Gen X’er is comfortable doing a podcast or video channel.  So out of the few that are, the attention is spread across all 1980s systems (including consoles), leaving a tragically small slice of people who are both capable and motivated to do so for the early PC.

Come on, I can’t be the only one.  Won’t someone start a 1980s-era PC podcast or YouTube channel?

(We were having a chat with a friend from the OnBlast blog, and I too thought the original classic Mac would have this problem too, but a cursory search of the interwebz shows a plethora of websites dedicated to classic macs, and even a retro mac podcast coming up on its 376th episode.  Yikes!)

Posted in Vintage Computing | Tagged: | 19 Comments »

Rave Movie Rundown

Posted by Trixter on August 14, 2015

I was a clubber in Chicago from 1988-1990.  (Medusa’s on Sheffield, anyone?)  I exited right when rave music was overtaking house music, but I caught the first wave for a tragically brief period and loved it: The transition from Kraftwerk to New Beat to Acid to Techno to EDM; chillout rooms; bringing the DJ from behind the booth to front and center… it was a great time to lack responsibilities.  (Before you ask:  No drugs.  The whole ecstasy movement was primarily a UK thing that wasn’t very prevalent in the USA.)

Rave culture peaked at the end of the 1990s.  There were a lot of films made for and about raves back then (and one recently) that try to capture what that period was like.  Unfortunately, most of them use raves as a backdrop instead of a character, but there are two notable standouts that are worth your time if you have any interest in raves:

  • Pump Up The Volume: The History Of House Music, 2001:  A BBC 3-part documentary that takes great pains to interview everyone involved in the birth and growth of House, which obvious had a lot of overlap with raves.  An excellent piece of research with tons of interviews and stock footage.  Out of all factual pieces that try to cover this period, this documentary gets just about everything right.
  • Groove, 2000: A fairly predictable story of several people trying to get to a rave, what happens when they get there, and how their lives intertwine… but unlike most fictional films that feature raves, Groove gets the feel of rave culture almost exactly right.  People aren’t dressed like caricatures, the music is great, raves are busted by the police, only to spring up somewhere else the same night, the light drug use is portrayed accurately, etc.  Most importantly, the DJs are played by actual local DJs who spin their own music (Digweed shows up at the end to drop the entire place to the ground with Heaven Scent).  The characters are a little cliched, but is the most accurate (fictional) portrayal of American Rave culture I’ve seen.

If you want entertainment, see Groove; if you want historical accuracy, see Pump Up The Volume.  I highly recommend both.

There are other rave culture movies.  They range from interesting to mostly bad.  Here is a partial list, in descending order of quality, with my subjective comments:

  • Weekender, 2011:  A fictional account of the early 1990s rave scene as rave migrated from Ibiza to the UK.  This particular movie centers around the Manchester scene as two friends try to turn raves into a business.  While this movie got bad reviews, I actually enjoyed it.  More importantly, the early 1990s house music choices are mostly period-correct.
  • A Midsummer Night’s Rave, 2002:  An attempt to tell Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream via rave culture.  The rave sections are fairly true, but the sound mixing is somewhat awful and a little distracting: The music mix isn’t loud enough during the dance scenes, so you hear their voices echo off the walls; just as distracting, the music is completely non-existent in the chillout room (there is always a dull thoom-thoom-thoom in the chillout room).  The actual storytelling is competent, being copied from Shakespeare.  An acquired taste.
  • Rave, 2000:  An amateur effort.  Plot and characterization are cringe-worthy, as is most of the acting.  Despite the title, the rave is essentially a club with bouncers.  Avoid this one.

Stark Raving Mad, Human Traffic, Sample People, and One Perfect Day were initially on the list, but I took them off because they portray clubs instead of traditional raves.  Go is not on the list because I haven’t seen it yet.

Did I miss any?  Disagree with my picks?  Leave me a comment.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »