Back in December, a group of intrepid geeks convened at the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford, for an event named “Geek Out!”, marking the end of the museum’s Geek Is Good exhibition. A fleet of Spectrums was set up in the museum’s basement gallery, for the public to try their hand at some classic Spectrum games.
But this was no ordinary retro-gaming event. These geeks were on a mission to achieve a 30-year-old challenge, laid out in the Spectrum programming manual: to program the ZX Spectrum to play the entirety of Mahler’s first symphony. And to do it with a network of 12 Spectrums.
This is their story.
I present to you: “The Mahler Project” – a short documentary premiered last weekend at the Forever demo party in Slovakia.
Calling all Oxford people who have ZX Spectrums And ZX Spectrum people who want to come to Oxford!
Fancy making a bit of computing history this December?
On Saturday 6th of December, The Museum of the History of Science will be hosting “Geek Out!“, a day of retro-gaming with the Sinclair ZX Spectrum and the BBC Micro. And I’m helping to run the Spectrum bit! The museum’s Basement Gallery will be taken over by Spectrums set up with classic games for you to rediscover (or for you young ‘uns to discover for the first time). And then in the afternoon, we’ll attempt a 32-year-old challenge that’s never been done before…
Chapter 19 of the Spectrum BASIC programming manual introduced the BEEP statement, with an example program that played a few bars of Mahler’s first symphony. In the ‘exercises’ section at the end of the chapter, the author left a cheeky assignment for the reader: program the computer to play the rest of Mahler’s first symphony.
We’re going to take on that challenge, not just on one computer, but linked together to form a Spectrum orchestra.
The snag is… I need your help to gather together A Large Quantity Of Spectrums. If you have a Spectrum lurking in your attic, or a huge collection of them taking pride of place in your bedroom, I’d love to hear from you. We’ll also need enough TVs (or monitors with a composite video input) to go round – so if you have a TV set that’s portable enough to bring into central Oxford, that would be excellent too. If you can help out, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The event will run from 10am to 5pm, but if you can only make it for part of the day, that’s no problem… the more, the merrier. (For people sticking around for longer, I dare say beer and/or curry will be happening in the evening…)
Update 2014-11-29: One week to go! Huge thanks to everyone who’s been in touch with offers of hardware. We’re well-equipped with Spectrums now, but a couple more televisions would really help the event go smoothly. Also, joysticks (with the Atari-standard 9-pin D connector) would come in very handy!
Don’t have any hardware to bring? No worries. Come along and in some retro-gaming action, while admiring the museum’s impressive collection of gadgets and gizmos through the ages!
I’m determined to get this blog back up to date, even if it means catching up on things from over a year ago. So cast your mind back to the summer of 2011, when Nyan Cat took the internet by storm.
My Spectrum demo Nyantro (Download | pouet.net) was Nyan Cat’s first appearance on an actual retro platform, and it left a rainbow-coloured trail of imitators in its wake, starting with the Commodore Plus/4, Atari 2600 and BBC Micro, and ultimately becoming a necessary rite of passage for any self-respecting demo platform, a sort of 8-bit Hello World.
It was created during the first few days of Shucon 2011, a week-long Speccy retreat in the Czech Republic, and stands out as one of those rare demos that wasn’t stymied by a tight deadline for once. I went to the extra trouble of using fiendish multicolour tricks to achieve more than the standard two colours per character cell, and the whole thing was pretty much wrapped up when I had a brainwave. “You know what this really needs? The rainbow stripes should extend into the border.” Cue another day and a half of pulling apart and rewriting the code…
Well worth the effort, though, especially to see it getting this reception from 4000 geeks at Euskal Encounter this summer:
A long-overdue maintenance update to JSSpeccy to apply a bugfix independently found by Antonio Villena and Andrew without-a-surname: IM 2 interrupt handlers were broken because I had an 0xfff where there should have been an 0xffff. Thanks both!
In advance of my appearance at the Ultrachip Festival in Edinburgh next month (19th-20th August! Two nights of awesomeness from the UK’s finest chiptune musicians! Free entry! W00t!), I thought this would be a good time to reveal the secret weapon at the heart of my live shows. Ladies and gentlemen, behold… the Synchronizatron 3000.
Out of all my projects, I like this one a lot. I like it because it brought me out of my comfort zone and into the murky world of hardware design (aided by the Arduino project which does a fine job of making that world accessible to electronics noobs like me). I also like it because it elegantly solves a problem that, in all likelihood, nobody in the world but me has. But most of all, I like it because it has a pair of blinky LEDs on the top which serve no meaningful purpose. (more…)
After the triumphant AY Riders gig at the Forever demoparty back in March, I had a hankering for some more Speccy-and-keytar-and-vocoder live performance action, so I jumped at the chance to play my first EVVAR solo set at last weekend’s Outline party in the Netherlands. Outline is by no means one of the largest parties, but there’s something magic about the atmosphere there which has made it one of the most eagerly awaited events in my calendar over the last couple of years. Most demo parties will give you the opportunity to chill outside in the sun with a beer or slave away at a hot CPU to finish off your creations, but it’s rare that the two activities flow together so smoothly as they do at Outline.
And with everyone’s spirits kept high, it means that when the evening activity kicks off, you have the most awesome audience you could possibly hope for. Big ups to TMC for the video, m0d for the other video which should be surfacing soon, Ziphoid for streaming the gig on SceneSat Radio, and of course Havoc, D-Force and the rest of the Outline team for making it all happen…
1:51 Gasman – Out Of Neverland
6:18 Gasman – Torch Dragon
8:41 Celine Dion – My Heart Will Go On
10:23 Gasman – Cybernoid’s Revenge
14:23 Madonna (arr. TDM + Factor6) – Hung Up
20:17 Gasman – Oldskool Crusader
23:47 Michael Jackson – Thriller (featuring Okkie)
30:30 Purple Motion (arr. TDM + Factor6) – Satellite One
And after all that, I still had some spare energy to do some casual hacking around with sine waves and come up with an entry for the 128 byte intro compo. As you’ll see from the video, 128 byte intros are one of those peculiarly demoscene-ish things that demand a certain frame of mind to be enjoyed properly, to the point where it gets a tad surreal for outsiders. If nothing else, you can certainly count on the Outline audience to provide a soundtrack to a silent production.
(…and before you ask, the title does indeed come from an infantile demoscene in-joke about genitalia. I’d actually only planned for there to be one ball, but then one of those fortuitous coding accidents from adding or removing an odd instruction happened, and I knew I had to run with it.)
I wrote a Speccy chiptune for the Revision party this weekend (where it was presented on the 29th anniversary of the release of the ZX Spectrum, no less). The whole thing was done live at the party in the space of about six hours, and it’s very much in my signature style.
February has been and gone, bringing with it my now customary jaunt into the world of February Album Writing Month. I fell some way short of the 14 song target this time, which I’ll blame on considerably increasing my production values this year, and not at all on being a lazy git.
I’m holding back a few of the songs from general release, because they’ll be going towards this month’s exciting musical happening: the Geek Pop virtual festival! Yes, all the greatest musical minds from the worlds of science and technology will be gathered in one place on the internet – and somehow I’ve ended up being one of them, performing on the Comical Flask stage alongside such luminaries as MJ “Hey Hey 16K” Hibbett. And because it’s a virtual festival, you don’t even need to drink beer out of a nasty plastic beaker or walk two miles to the nearest shower. Hurrah! Keep your browsers peeled (or something) at the Geek Pop website for the big unveiling on March 11th, or mosey on down to Wilton’s Music Hall, London on the 10th for the live launch gig.
In the meantime, here’s some almost-as-good-or-equally-good-but-not-as-geeky music I also wrote last month…
2011-03-10: Have had a report that Syd is no longer able to send boards outside the Ukraine due to a change in the law which came in this week. Trying to confirm the details right now, but clearly this is a major downer if it is indeed true :-( Obviously, Syd is the best person to advise on the current state of orders. (And if you have any more news on the situation, please pass it on to me via comments or email)
2011-03-11: A later report from gringo128 (comment below) suggests that this only affects the EMS delivery service – Syd is now sending boards by standard mail, which is a bit slower (two weeks rather than 5-10 days) but still offers online tracking (and is hopefully adequately insured too, but please check before ordering). Hoping I can bring you news of their successful arrival some time soon…
2011-03-16: The good news: Another Speccy2010 board has safely arrived in the UK by DHL, and Craig, the lucky recipient, has made a follow-up video of unboxing number two. The bad news: The current batch has now sold out, and Syd has stated that he’s decided not to send boards abroad in future, due to the complications this time round. For now all we can do is wait for the situation to change, or someone to step in to take on the role of international distributor (could that be you, dear reader…?). In the meantime, keep an eye on zx.pk.ru and here for news of any new developments.
Updated 2011-03-05: Added info about troubleshooting over the serial port.
This is the story of how I got hold of a Speccy2010 board, one of the most exciting developments to hit the Spectrum world in recent times. It’s a Spectrum clone developed in the Ukraine, which replicates the original 48 and 128K Spectrums, along with the Pentagon and Scorpion models popular across Russia. It connects to a TV or monitor by composite video, S-Video or VGA, and lets you load emulator images (tape, snapshot, or TR-DOS disk) from an SD card. The whole thing is the size of a packet of crisps, and is built around an FPGA programmable logic chip which can be reflashed with new firmware versions (again via the SD card) to gain new capabilities as and when they are developed. In short, it’s exactly what people are asking for whenever they post to a Spectrum web forum asking “Why doesn’t someone build a next-generation Spectrum?” And you can buy one, today.
Tempted? Well, here’s the deal. This isn’t mass-produced commodity hardware – Syd, the developer, is building these by hand in small runs – so don’t expect any formal commercial support or handy “enter your credit card details here” online order forms. (Don’t worry – ordering isn’t difficult, just… different.) The boards are fully tested before despatch, and Syd will try to help with any issues you have with it (as will I), but beyond that, it’s sold “as is” – there’ll be no refund if it turns out to be incompatible with your monitor, or doesn’t run your favourite game or whatever. The whole thing cost me £150 (175 EUR, 240 USD) including all delivery / transaction fees, and on top of that you might pay something like £20-30 for the power supply, keyboard, cables, SD cards and other accessories, depending on what you have lying around already. So, it’s somewhere above the “geeky impulse purchase from Firebox” price range you may have been hoping for, but still a very decent price for a piece of kit for a hobby you’re half-way serious about. If your sense of adventure doesn’t stretch this far, stop reading now. For the rest of us, here’s what you have to do…
It’s time once again for the denizens of comp.sys.sinclair and World Of Spectrum (along with anyone else with an unhealthy obsession with Sinclair ZX Spectrums) to meet up to discuss new developments, old games, nostalgia, crisps, beer and everything else in the world of retro-computing.