A new thread would be great @jecel!
I say go for it! I read (and enjoyed) that web page some years ago and I would love to read more first-hand technical information about the Unitron clones.
First, thanks for this meeting place. I have been interested in computing since my vocational training in a steel mill in the early seventies. There were tabulating machines with plug boards and two computers: A Bull Gamma 30 and a Siemens 4004. Later, as a student, I used a Telefunken TR4. I then worked as a programmer for a german industry group with many different computers, dtmb was my nickname. Many pieces that have accumulated over the years have been left to https://www.computermuseum-visselhoeve.de/.
I was born in Gela, in 1973. Had my first computer circa 1986 (a commodore 128) on which I learned
Basic and Assembler. In the 10 years between 1988 and 1998 I never touched a computer again (except for some old Macintosh at the University library and I was a happy “languages geek” all that tme). Then in 1998 I bought my first official modern age PC (some no-name beige box sporting a Celeron 266Mhz processor, no less!) but that’s when I discovered linux and my world changed again. I started digging Linux and Unix and in the year 2000 I landed my first job as a sysadmin. Now I have been working for a major linux company for the past 13 years and I used to ‘own’ the Unix Retrocomputing community on G+ before it was shutdown. I like to collect Unix boxen , especially SGI’s and I love NeXT hardware
Hi, I’m Alun Jones, another G+ refugee, finally getting around to joining up. In 8 bit land, I’m mainly interested in the 6502, though most computing history interests me.
I’m a particular fan of Acorn machines, both the 6502 based and the early ARM based systems.
A while back, for fun, I wrote a 6502 emulator, in JAL, on an 8 bit PIC microcontroller (more of a challenge than I’d expected due to the weird addressing modes of the PIC), then ported it to C on an ESP8266 board (much easier). Some write up here, should you be interested:
Hi. My name is Anders and I am from Denmark.
My way into computers are a tiny bit odd, as I did not buy my own computer untill the age of 17. Though my parents bought a computer for the family when I was around 10, 11 or 12. I really can not remember the exact age that I was. Yet the first computer that I ever saw, was the machines at my mothers work place. It was those mainframes, that had these giant platter storage that could be swapped. I think I was around 6 years old when I saw those computers in the power plants mainframe room.
Fast forward to around 1984, when I was 8 years old. My cusin that were 4 years older than me, bought a Commodore64. I am positive that it was am 250407 board, as the dates of production and the fact that it might have been on storage for some time, matches perfectly up with the 250407 boards. I do not remember what exact game that I played first, yet he had the machine, and for a couple of years, and it was around 1986 that I was alowed to play on it for the first time.
Around late 1987 or early 1988, the son of one of my fathers co worker, got himself an Amiga500. I was totally fixated and mesmorised by that machine. I have never seen anything like that before, and it was such a thing straight out of the future. I think I used the first good part of an hour, just staring at the physical design. And then I discovered what gaming capeabilities the darn thing had. I was in heaven.
Then in 1988, my parents bought an Unisys Pw/2 Series 300 machine. I still have that exact machine, all original and all parts. Plus the complete manual and BIOS setup disks. That machine was an 286 that was capeable of running eighter 8 or 10 mhz. It has an Paradise EGA card and Unisys branded Cherry EGA monitor. 640k of ram and 20mb MFM harddrive. It has an Cherry keyboard and an optical 3-button serial mouse. We used it for anything in the family, and my parents replaced it with an Pentium-133 in 1996/97.
In 1993 I bought my first computer. It was an 486dx33, ET4000, 4mb Ram, 120mb HDD and an Aztech sound galaxy NX Pro sound card. Sold some of the parts in 1995, as I upgraded to an 486dx2-66 VLB system.
I have tried tons of educations in my life, and have always felt that I was running from something. Turned out that I was running from my self, as I was diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome in mild degree when I was 39 years old. Yup… No wonder I love computers this much. Hehe.
I am a child of the Space Age. I was just barely old enough to remember watching Apollo 11. I got interested in all things High Tech. That included electronics and computers. I dreamed of owning my own computer, but in the early 70s that didn’t seem possible. Then I saw the advertisements for Radio Shack’s TRS-80. I think I was 11. It was way out of my price range, but the impossible seemed possible!
Finally, a couple of years later I got my hands on one! A TRS-80, just like in the ads. A class I took in high school had one for us to use. It was an independent study class, so we could do most anything we wanted during class. There were about six students and we took turns on the computer, teaching ourselves BASIC. It was an odd machine, with Level II BASIC but only 4K of RAM.
I mentioned electronics. Around that same time I knew enough electronics to be dangerous. Really dangerous. I lived in the landing path of the city airport. Planes flew low over my house and my friends’ house. We found a car headlight in the trash and I was convinced at least one beam would still work. We decided to make a spotlight to shine at the planes. I was young and stupid. I’m not young any more. But I didn’t grasp the whole voltage thing. I figured if 12V from the car was good, 120V (I’m in the USA) from the wall would be better. So we cut the end off an extension cord, and since I was the “engineer” I got to hold the bare wires to the bulb contacts while my friend plugged in the other end. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Oh, right. Computers.
Three or four years after I got my hands on the TRS-80, Sinclair advertised the ZX-81. The kit was only $99! Somehow I managed to get the money. My soldiering skills were, shall we say, less than wonderful. But after only one trip back to the company for repairs, it worked. I had a LOT of fun with that machine. I never could expand the RAM, so I learned to code really tight programs. Since the display only used RAM up to the last non-blank character on each line, I learned to make the lines as short as possible. I had to rotate my TV 90 degrees clockwise for my space invaders game, but it fit into 1K.
I really wanted to upgrade, though. There were lots of machines I wanted and couldn’t afford. But finally the Commodore VIC-20 went on closeout. I got one for $79 around 1983. 6502 assembly language was a lot different than the Z-80 I had been using. I was astonished at how much you could fit into a whopping 5K of RAM. I wrote a small assembler in BASIC. I bought a FORTH cartridge. I planned to add all sorts of contraptions to the user port and expansion port. I planned to build a robot with it. (I finally started building that robot about two years ago.) I was having a blast with that machine. Color was amazing.
But, then I joined the army. I got sent to Germany and wanted a portable machine I could take along easily. Epson came out with the PX-8 then (a CP/M laptop with 64K of RAM, a tape drive, and 8x80 LCD screen.) I spent many a night and weekend programming that thing. Again, I wrote an assembler in BASIC. It was a full blown assembler. And amazingly slow. That was the first “large” program I ever wrote. The second large program I wrote came from that. It was a pre-processor for BASIC to use labels instead of line numbers. I would write BASIC using Wordstar, with labels and no line numbers, run that through the pre-processor, and have a BASIC program with proper line numbers. I wanted the PF-10 disk drive for that machine, but it was $600 and unobtainable.
Since I couldn’t afford or find the disk drive, I did something different. Ampro had just come out with the Little Board plus. It was another CP/M machine, on a single board the size of a 5 1/4" disk drive. You added disk drive(s) and power supply and terminal and had a complete computer. I used the PX-8 as the terminal. It was a much better general purpose machine for less than the cost of the PX-8 drive.
After those four, my actual working machines have all been PC’s of one sort or another. I worked as a technician in a computer store when I got out of the army. It was great for buying computers and parts, right as the PC was hitting big.
But I still have all four of those first machines. I’ve been working on that VIC-20 robot lately, building various add-ons to get there. The ZX-81 is boxed up. I recently had the Ampro and the Epson out doing some work with them. I build a “disk drive” for the Epson, using and Arduino and sd card. Cost me about $10 in parts. And stores as much as a roomful of 3 1/2" floppies!
I love these little machines. I never have gotten my hands on any of the big ones, but they are cool, too. I have just been playing with these things for 40 years, not thinking anything about it. Then someone mentioned I was into “retro” computing. hmmmm, never thought of it that way.
But I loved them so much I made a career out of it. Eventually. I ended back in the army where I retired after 23 years. Now I make my living as an embedded engineer. That tight coding I learned comes in handy.
And that is my really long short story of how I got here. Let’s play!
Greetings from the future. Unfortunately we lack moon bases and personal jetpacks.
We do have a better networking infrastructure though and that video calling thing actually happened.
Greetings. My name is Rich and I never remember not being fascinated by computers. I grew up in a very technically literate house. My dad was an EE who built nearly every electronic gadget in out house from Heatkit kits. TVs. HiFi’s, etc…
My obsession with all things Blinkenlight would later be partly or entirely explained by my Aspergers diagnosis, but that’s another long conversation for a later time.
At some point in the late 70s the TRS-80 model 1 came out and I used to find reasons to go to Radio Shack to play with the floor model. I’d go to Heathkit stores too, to play with the H8’s and H11’s. For years, when I didn’t have one, I obsessed about computers in all my waking hours. I had dreams about acquiring one.
In the early 80’s in high school we had a computer lab with about 2 dozen original 4K Commodore PETs with the chicklet keyboards. I spent as much time in that room as I possibly could. It was around that time that The Computer Chronicles came on TV, and I watched every single episode, every week, for years. This of course only added to my computer obsession! (You should all jump onto The Tube of You and watch all of these, they’re amazing!).
At some point we got a VIC-20 at home, and that was sorta fun, but my friends with C64’s were cooler.
Not long after that I got a C-128 and started having fun. At the time I was really into programming, but when I got a modem for the 128 (a 1670) I started spending more time online and less programming. As I mentioned in another thread I next got a Kaypro CP/M machine on which to run my own BBS, and about a year or two after that I got an MSDOS machine for the BBS.
I never really did get back into hardcore programming of any kind. I just like using them.
Right now I have a bunch of machines around the house running Linux. That’s my OS of choice.
I noticed someone else here made an Arduino Enigma. There was a period about 20 years ago when a friend of mine and I researched the Enigma like crazy, for years. We wanted to make a software model, and I wanted to build an actual working physical model. Not long after that, we discovered more than one person who had already made software based emulators so we shelved our projects. But it was a fascinating learning experience, and I literally have a filing cabinet in my parents’ basement filled with research materials. This led me into an exploration of modern crypto, and becoming a regular PGP/GPG user. I even got to meet Phil Zimmerman.
My biggest issue these days is how much credit Turing gets for “cracking” Enigma, when it was actually the 3 Polish crypto guys (Rejewski, Różycki, and Zygalski) who did most of the theoretical and practical work, which ONCE THEY HANDED THEIR WORK TO THE ALLIES, IT ALLOWED TURING TO DO HIS THING. I mean, he was a smart guy and has a tragic story, but he is given way more credit than he deserves with respect to Enigma.
My dad got me into electronics as well. We subscribed to Popular Electronics and Radio Electronics, and we would build things together. I dabbled for years but never got super serious about it. I ended up studying EE but never ended up finishing my degree in it, and I went back to school for recording technology. This allowed me to combine my loves of music (musician since I was 6) and electronics. I worked full time engineering in studios for a few years, but with people recording at home, the need for real recording studios with large format consoles kind of went away. So I record when I can, part time in a local analog studio that I run with friends, and I am technical coordinator at a local fine arts museum. In the last year I got back into building things hardcore. I guess I never realized what a huge and vibrant DIY community there was for making recording equipment, but there is, and it’s very active. So in the last 6 months I’ve made 2 Neumann U87 replicas, two Urei 1176 replicas, a few vacuum tube mic preamps, and a bunch of active DI boxes. I get to use these toys in the studio, and when I do live mixing gigs for local bands.
Anyway, I ramble…
What an excellent opener! Thanks for telling your story - as with many before you, I encourage you to start up new topics to elaborate on anything you’ve mentioned.
I’ve started a new topic for this - see Alan Turing - and the Enigma.
I’d just like to welcome a number of new joiners who have also made their first posts here - I might miss someone, but here goes: A big welcome to @Fedor_Steeman, @Thaddeus_Slamp, @APLe, @monsonite, @bsonej, and @BruceMcF!
And of course, I’m sure we’d all enjoy any Introduce Yourself posts anyone might contribute to this thread, who hasn’t yet done so.
Hey, I’m a first generation “breadbox” C64 owner and from that start occasional Forth dabbler. I was in college when I got my C64 in 1982. While I had an Epson Geneva when I was in Grenada in the Peace Corps in the mid-80s, the 6502 was the only processor I programmed at the assembly language level … by the time I got a PC, all of my programming was in C, AWK or Forth. However, I’m hoping to do a little low level programming of the 6502’s big brother, the 65816, if the 8-bit Guy’s Dream Computer ends up having a 65816, either stock or as an easy to add option.
I’ve been a member here for a while, and I’m good friends with @EdS, so it’s probably about time I introduced myself to the wider community…
I got into computers in the early '80s, first with an Acorn Atom, then later with a BBC Model B. I did a Computer Engineering degree at the University of Manchester, and then worked at HP in Bristol for the next 28 years, most of that time in the central research organisation HP Labs. I left HP in 2015, and have spent most of the time since rekindling my interest in 8-bit computing, on both the software and hardware sides.
I’m very active on the Stardot forums and all of the projects I’ve worked on are open source and are hosted on Github: https://github.com/hoglet67. A few of these have even made it onto the pages of Hackaday: https://hackaday.com/?s=hoglet.
One of the most challenging things I’m involved with at the moment is an effort to reverse engineer the Z80 at the transistor level. The majority of the hard work on this project happened about 5 years ago, before my time. But in the last year, with the help of BigEd and others, we’ve have a first version of this running on the Visual 6502 Web Site:
One of the drivers for this work was to discover the locations of Faggin and Shima’s traps - which were intended to frustrate attempts at reverse engineering the Z80. So far, four of these traps have been discoverered by the team, and there are probably two more that remain.
Attempts to find these two remaining traps have so far failed. I’m currently working towards a FPGA based implementation derived from the transistor netlist, with a view to being able to much more fully exercise the model.
I’m especially fond of FPGAs, and currently maintain the Acorn Atom and BBC Micro FPGA implementations. One of the things I’ve been pondering for a couple of years now is how to make hardware design with FPGAs more broadly accessible, as there is quite a steep learning curve, and some of the proprietary tools are dreadful. I’ve recently designed an FPGA Adapter add-on board for the BBC Micro, with a view to developing a series of tutorial projects. I’ve yet to actually make a start on the tutorial side of this.
Anyway, that’s probably enough for now!
Hello, my name is Ken, based 20 miles south of London.
My first introduction to computers was at school in the early 1970s. The school had invested in a batch of electronic calculators, that were probably only 4 function, and too big to fit in all but the largest of pockets.
I joined the electronics club, which channeled my interests, and I built simple transistor radio circuits and crystal sets. One of my schoolmates fathers worked for Ferranti in Edinburgh, and I remember we were donated a lot of redundant 1960s test equipment such as valve scopes and pulse counters.
There was a lot of surplus equipment around at that time. I lived opposite a telephone exchange (central office) and got a lot of components, cable and equipment that was being scrapped from the old exchanges when the automatic Strowger equipment was being introduced in our region.
At that time - mid 1970s, you could get surplus logic boards - pulled from factory automation that would implement a few logic functions in DTL. We would strip off the diodes and transistors we recognised, and toss the pcbs.
In 1978, my secondary school bought a Research machines RM380Z system - which were being offered as part of a subsidised educational package. I learnt some BASIC, and a good friend tried (but failed) to get me into Z80 assembly language.
In my last 2 years at school, I helped run the computer club, which was mostly Sinclair ZX81s - because that’s all we could afford - and I built mine from a kit that had been reduced to £39.99. I have most of that kit remaining - some 35 years later.
At university they tried to teach us Fortran 77 running on a DEC10 - which I found a frustrating and pointless exercise, which put me off software for about 30 years.
I built a bunch of Z80A SBCs, owned a MultiTech MicroProfessor, a Jupiter Ace, and dabbled in Forth. I bought a Novix NC4016 development board in 1987, but found Charles Moore’s coding somewhat above my level of comprehension.
I’m now very interested in simple processor architectures that can be built in TTL, or synthesised in verilog on FPGAs. I follow the Gigatron TTL Computer project and I have built one using 74F series TTL that runs at 12.5MHz.
I have been involved with producing open source FPGA hardware based on the Lattice Ice 40, and making use of the Clifford Wolf’s open source FPGA toolchain.
I own a Macintosh Classic II - which still boots from floppy, but had it’s hard drive removed by a previous owner.
My current interest is to write a tiny interpreted language to run on the Gigatron cpu - as I have a forthcoming presentation to make in about 4 weeks time
I’ve met @EdS at the Cambridge Computing History Museum, and Charles Moore at Stanford University, for Forth Day 2016.
Hello all, Brian here, born 1960, spent the first twenty years around the fringes of NW Kent and SE Greater London.
I was fascinated by electricity from an early age, and this led to electronics as a hobby (and a lot of two transistor multivibrator circuits). I got most of my components from scrap circuit boards from a local electrical junk shop. Desoldering ICs was tricky until I discovered that the earth pin of a UK 13A plug could be clamped to the tip of a soldering iron and fitted exactly between the pins of 14/16 pin DILs. I had always been fascinated with computers, but the idea of having one of my own seemed an impossible dream at that time.
In 1977 I got a place in a MOD Apprenticeship (engineering technician). And so my obsession with computers began in earnest.
The apprentice training center had a HP 2000 time share system where I discovered BASIC (a gateway drug?), as well as a few microprocessor trainers (8080 and 6800). Around that time, my elder brother gave me a set of empty PCBs and construction manual for a NewBear 77-68 system. It took a while to collect all the components, but eventually I completed the CPU, UART, VDU and RAM board, although I could only afford to part populate the RAM board, the 2102 RAMs would fail faster than I could afford to replace them, so only ever had 1K available.
Bought a ZX81 kit, it stopped working after a month (ULA failure suspected) and got my money back.
After the apprenticeship, MOD(N) offered me a job at HMS Dryad as a maintainer in a team of engineers looking after their Warfare Team Trainers (basically a giant game of battleships). Initially looking after a FM1600 ship computer and FM1600B simulation computers (24 bit core store machines). Most of the time the fault-finding was just board swapping and only occasionally working to component or back-wiring level.
The warfare trainer complex was an interesting job that kept me busy for the next 25 years with new systems and simulators being added every few years ; FM1600E, F2420, Locus 16 (a control computer for aTepigen), Argus 700, Harris Nighthawk, Advance86b, SGI Origin 200, SGI Onyx 2, and SGI 02, As well as a few F100L, and LSI J11 embedded in the simulation equipments and 386, 486 and Transputers in the ship equipments.
Sadly the simulator complex became too costly to maintain and has been replaced by a new facility a few miles away. But some of the old equipment has found new homes.
During those years I had an Acorn Atom, then a Sanyo MBC 555 an early PC clone that was only compatible at the BIOS level. Eventually frustrated by the incompatible hardware I bought a 286 clone, which served me for many years, I upgraded it so many times that it became like Dave’s broom. Also had an Atari Portfolio, a Toshiba T3100 and an Epson PX-8 with the 120K Ramdisk.
During these years, my elder brother passed the remains of a PDP 8/E to me, it had no case nor PSU, and no front panel. Without any documentation there was little hope of getting it running again. A year later he then passed to me a complete but faulty PDP11/20 with lots of documentation. It took a while to diagnose the fault, a logic gate failure in an IC, but not a standard TTL part, appeared to be proprietary to DEC, but fortunately the PDP 8/E used a few of the same IC. A moment agonising and the deed was done, IC removed and transplanted and the PDP 11/20 came alive (but I only ever ran BASIC on it).
Then my wife became pregnant. The spare bedroom was needed for a nursery. It all had to go as there was nowhere else to store my toys. I gave some away and scrapped the rest. I can only say that impending fatherhood clouded my judgement as it seemed that I would have little time for hobbies for the next decade or two.
^^^ All that remains of my early machines, a few souvenir scraps. ^^^
I eventually had enough of the stress of the job, retired early, and moved to a bungalow. Still have a few boxes left to unpack, but have found that I still have a Casio PB-80, an Asus EEE PC 700, a Compaq Mini 700 (currently runnng Sigrok with a cheap Chinese logic analyser), a Toshiba Tecra 500 CDT (that I keep for a DOS app for programming a Parallax Stamp 1), and a pair of Nova 600 PC104 boards (that I used to use with small Linuxes).
My elder brother has recently paid me another visit, and passed a box of stuff the he no longer uses/needs …
But I think that needs to be a separate post.
P.S. I did not mention the Kindle Fire, Windows 7 PC, or the four iPads as I did not think they are retro enough (though maybe the iPad 1 soon will be).
“Always remember that you are unique, just like everyone else.”
Thanks for your introductions, Bruce, Dave, Ken, Brian. Some splendid backgrounds there. Please do feel free to spin off a new thread about anything specific you’ve mentioned.
(And anyone else thinking of posting an intro: do dive in, it’s not a competition! Any and all introductions are appreciated, so we can get to know each other, hear about a different path taken to the present day, be reminded of things we’d forgotten, or pointed towards things we haven’t seen before.)
Hello everyone! Thanks to @EdS for the invite!
Child of the 70s me, my first computer was a 48K Speccy. Progressed to a +3 (ooh fancy), then a BBC Master, which is my “spirit computer” (in the vein of spirit animals). Stuck with that way into the 16- and 32-bit eras, then went Archie.
Moved to the US in 2011, and foolishly left my collection of retro computers in the loft. (Plan was to only stay here 18months). Eight years on and…looks like we’re here to stay, Really need to go get the retro stuff. I miss my Master.
In my spare time I hack on emulators to scratch my retro itch. You can try them out in your browser (jsbeeb, for example). I’ve also spoken a few times about the process of developing that particular emulator: https://mattgodbolt.github.io/bbc-micro-emulation/ has links to videos and slides.
Nice to see some new faces and some familiar ones too. Also excited to see the FPGA folks here: I have a lattice FPGA knocking around somewhere and have got as far as flashing a light on and off on it