Centre for computing history Retro Computer Festival 2018

We visited this festival again for the third year in a row, I think it is.

Held at the Centre for Computing History in Cambridge. It’s tucked away in a little industrial estate with limited car parking.

Once through the inconspicuous doors that hide a gem of nerdiness, you are met with a little reception desk and small shop area with an array of computer related gadgets and niknaks.

There is s small hatch which serves drinks and some limited snacks, tables to sit and eat and a huge working microprocessor simulator occupies a couple of the walls.

This weekend they break out all the arcade machines, consoles, handhelds, computers, mainframes and associated hardware and software. You can interact with many of the most influential computers in silicon history. I love this festival because there’s also a large number of enthusiasts and experts to tell you about the systems and I love the stories they tell that help to bring them to life.

If you were s child of the 70’s and 80’s particularly then you will love this.

In a side room is a mockup of a 70’s/80’s office and in another room were some enthusiasts displaying their personal collections.

I went over to talk to a man who sells the RC2014 z80 kit. I bought one last year and haven’t been able to get it fully working yet. He was able to test most of the PCB’s and confirm they were working. It could still be the CPU PCB or the TTL connector kit. I bought one of his Raspberry Pi expansion PCB’s so I can connect it to a Raspberry pi for video output and bypass the need for the USB serial TTL connection. I now need to get home and check all my solder joints on the CPU assembly.

Debbie and I played games on a few of the consoles including the original pong on a TV console. Obviously I won as can be seen on the video:

About a year ago I purchased a Lego 1093 Interface A set which came with the electronics but no software. I have tried searching online,in forums and even Lego but could not get hold of the required software to use this. I recently found that the Museum had a copy somewhere. On Saturday there was a volunteer demonstrating some similar PC controlled Lego kits and I mentioned this all to him. He was kind enough to locate the software and spoke to a colleague who is going to make a copy and send it out to me. Looking forward to that.

Another exhibitor at the event was the ex managing director of Commodore, David Pleasance, who has just released a new book about his days running Commodore. He has also released an accompanying Blu-ray with interviews and a music CD. He has a musical history as well as looking after one of the most iconic computer companies of the 80’s. We bought his book for £30 and Blu-ray for £20 and he threw in the CD. After some problems taking electronic payments, he signed both and allowed a photo opportunity. Looking forward to reading the inside story of Commodore.

 

One of the things I always enjoy about this event is seeing the enthusiasts and volunteers who continue to maintain old systems and in some cases develop new hardware and software to keep these systems alive and popular as ever. Retro is dvefinitely in.

One of the volunteers was showing off his Altair 8080 emulator. A hardware version of the classic computer that is fully working with an authentic looking control panel.

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Some of the great systems to see and play!

 

 

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Nintendo SNES Classic Mini

This is my SNES mini that I picked up from Game in Bracknell for £79.99 late last year when they were difficult to get hold of. They were released in September and like many newly released Nintendo products quickly sold out and you had to keep an eye online for available stock.

It comes preinstalled with 21 built in games:

  • Contra III: The Alien Wars
  • Donkey Kong Country
  • EarthBound
  • Final Fantasy III
  • F-ZERO
  • Kirby Super Star
  • Kirby’s Dream Course
  • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
  • Mega Man X
  • Secret of Mana
  • Star Fox
  • Star Fox 2
  • Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting
  • Super Castlevania IV
  • Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts
  • Super Mario Kart
  • Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
  • Super Mario World
  • Super Metroid
  • Super Punch-Out!!
  • Yoshi’s Island

In the box is an HDMI cable as they connect to your TV via HDMI, two controllers and a Micro USB cable to connect to a 5V power source. They are tiny compared to the original SNES, very light, have a power and reset button but the cartridge slot is for show only and does not function. They also have additional features and such as the ability to rewind games.

For the nerds, the SNES mini uses the  Allwinner R16 system on a chip with four ARM Cortex A7 central processing units and an ARM Mali 400 MP2 graphics processing unit. It includes 512 MB of flash storage and 256 MB of DDR3 memory. I haven’t tried yet but apparently it is hackable and runs the Linux operating system.

Maplin’s Sale

Maplin’s prices have generally always been much higher than other retailers. This is probably a large part of the reason why they are closing down.

They have been slowly selling off all stock from their stores including fixtures and fittings. We’ve been going there every couple for weeks and looking to see if there were any bargains. Even with 50% discount much of their stock is better priced elsewhere but in the past couple of weeks they have been increasing their discounts and selling some stock at one-off prices.

We popped into the Slough branch yesterday and managed to pick up some bargains. A Samsung Smartthings hub for £50 (usually about £100), a Meccannoid robot for £50 (usually £200+. This one has no box was but was fully working), a MakeyMakey for £24.99 (usually £49) a Makerbuino about £20 (usually around £70) and an aluminium display stand for £3. Apart from the robot and sign, all new and boxed. The only thing you have to consider is they will not accept returns unless the items are faulty but you still get warranty with the manufacturers so this was not really a concern for us. Now to do something with the Makey Makey and get the smartthings hub working in our house.

Meccano Meccanoid Robot

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Shop display sign from Maplins £3

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Samsung Smartthings Hub £50

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Makerbuino ready assembled

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Makey Makey

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Computing with the Amstrad Vol.3 No.4 April 1987

Computing with the Amstrad Vol 3 No 4 April 1987So, as part of setting up virtual museum, I obviously have to play with all the consoles and games! So more fun today in between lessons with my students.

The first section I’m going to create will be solely based on my Amstrad machines and I have found a pile of Amstrad computer magazines. Anyone of a certain age will remember these or something similar where you had to type in the program listings line by line only to find there was a typo and you then had to wait until the next week when they published the correction to find out where the error was.

When I was a teenager attending a school in Bracknell, I used to have walk past an MOD base there. Because my dad worked there I got to know one of the armed guards on the gates. Often when passing I would pop up to his guardhouse and we would swap computer games. This felt quite cool when you’re a youngster. Looking back though, I’m not sure if I was inadvertently compromising the security of the barracks?

Below is my first attempt at scanning one of my old magazines complete with some program listings:

Computing with the Amstrad Vol 3 No 4 April 1987

 

Sega Outrun 2019 Megadrive TV Game

Bought this from Ebay for about £10 used.

Its based on the original Sega Megadrive game, Outrun 2019 but is built into a little console you plug into your TV using RCA cables.

The main console plugs in to the TV, is powered batteries and has a wire attached to a handheld gamepad that looks a little like a racing wheel. You hold it in your hand and the wheel sort of slides up and down to move the racing car left and right. There are some other buttons for additional functions like turbo and accelerate. It uses original graphics and is quite good fun if you remember playing original Megadrive games.

Made by Radica in about 2004. This is a self-contained little Sega Genesis, Megadrive console running this one game. 25 courses and 5 different levels. Radica made a range of LCD and retro console games like this.

Virtual Computer Museum Project

The aim of the project is to get my whole computer and retro technology collection out of my loft and various other storage places, set them up, test them, play with them and finally use our Matterport 3d camera to capture images of all of them and convert these into a 3d virtual tour that can be viewed through a VR headset. Really, its just an excuse to spend the next few weeks playing games on computers from the 70’s through to current systems.

Virtual visitors will be able to view the collection set up on desks and click on information points to get information about the particular consoles, handhelds, computers etc. they are interested in.

I have already got most of the items to work in a storage area and have started cataloguing them. I just don’t have enough TV’s and monitors and space to set up them all up at once so have decided to capture them in batches based on Make/genre etc. The first scans i’m working on now are going to be for a display of Amstrad computer technology and will incorporate the following:

  • Amstrad GX4000 boxed with homebrew cartridge & other misc games plus spare controllers
  • Cpc464 plus
  • CPC6128
  • Dmp2000 printer
  • Games/software titles
  • Joysticks
  • TV modulator
  • Add- ons
  • Light pen
  • Amstrad CPC464 (57539)
  • Amstrad Colour Monitor CTM644-2 (541-7532830
  • Amstrad CPC464 (5316803386)
  • Amstrad CTM640 Colour Monitor (87360)
  • Amstrad CPC464 (185969 K31-58) – some keys not working
  • Amstrad PCW16
  • NC100 (Some keys not working)
  • Amstrad PC1640 with 3.5″ external HDD, dust covers, printer switch box
  • Amstrad DMP4000 Printer
  • Box of 3.5 and 5.25″ disks
  • Speech Synthesiser
  • Amstrad User Magazines

I will update this list over the next couple of days and post pictures when finished