Tuesday, February 23, 2021

An American Original - Timex/Sinclair

In the early days of computing and videogames, magazines devoted to specific systems were very popular.  By 1986, the Sinclair and Timex-Sinclair lines of computers were a dying brand, but they had a very devoted set of followers, of which I was one.  The primary feature of the Timex-Sinclair 2068 computer was its relatively low price of $200.  Compare that to the Commodore-64 introduced in 1983 at $595, which is around $1600 in today's dollars.  Other brands of computers were higher.  Most of these were way too cost-prohibitive for me, so I went with the cheapest model, but I happened to very much like the brand.

I did an internet search for a videogame I wrote in 1985/1986 called, "Diamond Mike".  I found a magazine that I had completely forgotten about where I had a quarter-page ad on page 34 for the game, along with another quarter page of products that I was selling, most of which I don't remember selling.  I think that I had entered into some kind of partnership with another company to sell their products.  The wording of the ad looks somewhat unprofessional like it was written by me, which it was, but this was typical of these relatively obscure magazines of the time.  I think that I had the advertisement typeset by a professional printer because in those days we didn't have modern computers to help us do that.  The game was in color, but the magazine was black and white, so the advertisement is Black and White.

The magazine did a "review" of the game on page 4.  Essentially they were scratching my back for buying advertising.  The wording of the "review" isn't that different from my advertisement, and they also said a few nice words.


The graphics capabilities of the 2068 computer were not as quite good as the more expensive brands, and since I did my own artwork and I am by no means an artist, the graphics of the game are pretty basic.  This was typical for many computer games of the time.  What I could do well is write efficient code in "machine language", which is the internal language of the CPU chip.   An honest review of my game would have said that it was an imitation of another game called "Boulder Dash", but when "Boulder Dash" was ported to the 2068 computer months later, its code ran too slow.  They didn't do a good job on the port.  They should have gotten me to write the game.

This kind of work eventually led me to get a job in the videogame industry.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Nintendo is "working without stopping" on its next new console after Switch | GamesRadar+


There have been rumors of this since 2019, but Nintendo repeatedly denied that they were working on a new system.  Ironically, the Nintendo Switch, which is a low-power portable tablet has been outselling the new ultra-powerful systems from Microsoft and Sony.

Hypothetically, if Apple were to put their new M1 chip into a portable game system, it would be remarkably powerful.  The chip should be better than anything Nintendo can get their hands on.  I have heard rumors that Apple might do something like this.  Even their latest phones should make for a powerful game system.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Grab an Off-Screen Mushroom in SMB #Shorts - YouTube

John Coffey
1 second ago
Speaking as a former videogame programmer, I am going to make a big assumption here, and maybe my assumption is wrong:  The collision detection is probably just using a single byte for the coordinates in both the horizontal and the vertical, giving it a range of only 0 to 255.  This would make sense because the 6502 processor only does math 8 bits at a time.  Doing 16-bit math here would be too much trouble, but maybe only the vertical is just using 8-bit math.  As the mushroom or Mario moves off-screen, the coordinate wraps to the other side.  The NES displayed 240 horizontal lines compared to the 224 lines on the SNES, so the objects wouldn't have to go far offscreen to wrap.

This is similar to a bug on Pac-Man/Ms. Pac-Man that turned into a useful feature. The different ghosts are trying to reach different locations depending upon which way Pac-Man is heading.  The pink ghost is trying to reach a location two characters (8x8 pixels) in front of the player.  However, Pac-Man does this math using 16 bits, which the Z80 processor supports, but the cordinates are two 8 bit values x and y combined into a single 16-bit word.  I don't remember why this is, but when Pac-Man is moving up this can create an overflow on the Y coordinate that ends up subtracting from the X coordinate.  This sometimes means that the Pink Ghost will move to the left when he wasn't supposed to, but this gives him extra "personality."

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Monday, January 11, 2021

New powerful phone microprocessors

The most notable thing about this particular phone is that it uses a new processor that will also be used on an upcoming flagship Samsung phone, and the only thing notable about that is the Geekbench score, which is around 3600 to 3700, which is almost exactly the same as my 2009 Core-I7 iMac desktop computer.  My 2017 iMac is not a huge improvement but it scores over 6000.    The latest iPhone is around 3900.

With 5-nanometer processors, compared to the 42-nanometer of my 2009 iMac and the 14-nanometer of my 2017 iMac, we are seeing desktop performance in handheld devices, with no active cooling.  Apple made an upgraded version of their phone processor for their laptops, called the M1 chip, and it has a Geekbench score on the Macbook Pro of 7331.  

Apple is trying to abandon Intel processors.  Reportedly they are working on more powerful chips for their future desktop computers.  I have heard incredible predictions of around 60 processor cores for their upcoming pro computers, using two processors.

We are seeing exciting changes after a decade of only marginal improvement.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

This Fisher-Price “Gaming Controller” Knows the Konami Code – Review Geek

When Konami accidentally left in a cheat code to one of their games, used by the programmers to debug the game, it became so popular that many videogames began to support the code.


Friday, January 8, 2021

Computer processors

We have spent at least 35 years dependent upon Intel microprocessors or equivalent from AMD. A quiet revolution is happening where both hardware and software are switching to ARM Risc processors, giving great performance with lower power consumption and more battery life on portable devices. It is about damn time! There is now more choice in the marketplace, and the software makers aren't forcing you to use just one type of processor. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OhESSZIXvCA  

Best wishes,

John Coffey


xkcd: Compiling

This is a famous classic cartoon that computer programmers can relate to.


Back in the 1980s, I did not have any good programming tools for my Timex Sinclair 2068 computer, so I wrote an "assembler" which was unfortunately really slow.  It took 6 hours to "compile" a videogame that I wrote.  (Normal compile times might be a few minutes.)

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Webpages and HTML5

I started working on my chess instruction website 25 years ago. I originally wanted to write a book, but I turned it into a website instead. At that time, only a small minority of people had Internet access, and web browsers were still at a primitive stage, with the first one being Netscape. Initially, when I got on the Internet, I didn't even have a web browser, but I was using computer programs to play chess and access email on the Internet. I was also accessing a type of text bulletin board called Usenet, which before web browsers was one of the more popular things to do on the Internet. Today it is almost nonexistent. When I finally did download Netscape to my computer, I wasn't even sure what I could do with it. The Internet was so slow, it didn't seem like there was much point to it. Over the last 25 years, but mostly in the last 10 years, there has been a quiet revolution going on. This has happened so slowly that most people didn't notice. The first web pages, like my website which hasn't changed much over the last 25 years, were no different than pages in a book. If you clicked on a link or a button then that simply took you someplace else. The most sophisticated thing that webpages could do was allow you to enter information, like a password or to type an email. However, people wanted to do more with webpages, like play video or play games. This is why in the 2000s many websites told you that if you wanted to look at their website then you had to download a piece of software, like Flash, to make the website work. There were so many versions of Flash that people kept having to download updates in order to access certain webpages. About 10 to 12 years ago people were criticizing Apple for not allowing Flash on their iPhone and iPad, saying that Apple wasn't allowing you to have the full Internet experience on their devices. However, Apple felt that Flash was outdated and slow, and they thought that the upcoming HTML5 would replace Flash, which it mostly did. HTML is like a computer language that runs on your web browser that controls how web pages will look and act on your Internet device. The revolution over the last 10 years is that websites now can do almost anything that you could do with a computer program. The site chess.com has a complicated user interface that does things that I would have thought not possible on a webpage. It is like a sophisticated computer program but inside a webpage. For the average user who is not technical savvy, it just means that webpages developed more features over time. Like I said, this happened so slowly that most people didn't notice the change. It also means that we don't necessarily need computer software to perform tasks, and computers like Chromebooks try to do everything on the Internet. If webpages have become much more sophisticated over the last 10 years, then what will they be like 10 years from now? I don't know, but in the 2000's I was noticing a trend where we were moving away from computer programs and more toward just doing tasks on the Internet. Maybe in 10 years, people will not need any computer software, except for their web browser. That is already true for people who just access social media and email.  


Saturday, December 26, 2020

'Deepfake' Queen's Speech: Channel 4 criticised for 'disrespectful' Christmas message

This is a computer deepfake of the Queen of England.


The actual Christmas message from the Queen was religious and hopeful.


I think that Americans took much more interest in the monarchy when it became an entertaining soap opera.  Also, we have felt a closer connection to England as an ally since World War II.

I think that "The Crown" series on Netflix is extremely good.  Also, the movie "The Queen" made in 2003 is critically acclaimed.  I liked the movie so much that I watched it 3 times.

Queen Elizabeth is an interesting figure.  As a young lady during World War II, she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (equivalent to the Woman's Auxilary Corps in America) and worked as a truck driver and a mechanic.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

How Microsoft Flight Simulator Recreated Our Entire Planet

No need to watch the whole thing.  I think that this program is awesome.  I will shortly have a game membership with Microsoft where I will be able to run this simulator on my computer.  


Sunday, December 6, 2020

Review of Fire HD 10

Here is my quick review of the Fire HD 10.

If 20 or 30 years ago you were to say that in the future you could have a handheld computer with a 10-inch high-resolution display, built-in telecommunications, 2 gigs of RAM, 32 gigs of expandable storage, along with an 8 core processor running at 2 gigahertz, and it would only cost $80 (on Black Friday), then people would have thought that this was science-fiction and you were talking about the year 2100.

As a tablet, it is every bit as capable as my iPad 4, even more so since my iPad 4 is out of date. When it comes to browsing the web, reading email, listening to audio, or watching videos, it works flawlessly. This is like having a computer. It is as capable and as fast as a mid-range laptop.

This tablet is designed for viewing Amazon Prime member content. Amazon tries to limit your to their own app store, but there are ways to download the Google Play Store giving you the full Android experience, and I have already done this on mine.

The 2-megapixel camera is not great, but I don't think it is terrible either. I have owned worse and I was still able to take passable pictures.

The dimensions of the Fire HD 10 are a little taller and thinner than the iPad, which makes it better for watching videos, but a little worse for holding. I prefer the feel of the iPad in my hand, especially since the metal exterior gives it a cooler feel than the plastic exterior of the Fire HD 10.

My only problem with this tablet is that all the things it is capable of I already do on my phone or on my computer. I didn't really need another tablet, except that I like gadgets, and I wanted an Android device to test apps that I want to write. The only way I might get practical use out of it is if I were to take it on a trip or on an airplane. It would be fun to have on a plane because I could play games or possibly watch videos on it. Fortunately, it comes with an earphone jack.

I haven't tested this myself, but reportedly it has really good battery life.


No Forbes, The Xbox Series And PS5 Are NOT "Disappointments"

I'm 60, and a former videogame programmer. I got started with arcade videogames in 1975. I still love games and get excited over new hardware.

Let's take a brief look at history. In 1986, the typical home computer was an 8 bit CPU with limited sprite capabilities if you were lucky. I had a Timex Sinclair 2068 which had no sprite hardware, but I was still able to write games for it. In 1986 I bought an Atari ST for a ton of money, and it had no special graphics hardware either, but I could write games for it because it was a 16-bit system.

Most arcade games in 1986 were 8 bit, but they had sprite and other graphics capabilities that allowed them to have good games. Arcade machines cost $2,000 to $3,000 and this kind of hardware did not exist in consoles nor home computers. If you wanted to play the best videogames, you had to go to the arcades or your local 7-11 to play them. 

The hot new arcade game in 1986 was Super Mario Brothers. Along came a new videogame console, the NES, which for about $100 could play the same game. I could not believe my eyes when I saw it. For a relatively low cost, this system was almost as good as any 8-bit arcade game. No home computer was as capable, except maybe the Amiga, which cost $1,600. 

My point is that home consoles used to have capabilities that we could not get on computer hardware, at least not for a reasonable cost. This trend continued throughout the 1990s. BTW, the introduction of arcade-quality consoles pretty much killed the arcade videogame industry.  

Now the new generation of consoles is exciting because they do have hardware beyond what most people have on their computers. If you are willing to spend 3 times as much for a gaming PC then you can do as well or better, but the new consoles give you an amazing amount of power for the money.


Saturday, November 28, 2020

Democracy only counts when it goes the way I want it to

Amazon.com: Seagate Portable 5TB External Hard Drive HDD


My old 4TB external hard drive is the size of a brick.  It is also heavy.  It started to have problems where it sometimes won't let me access the hard drive.  The hard drive seems to work, but maybe there is an electronics problem.  Power cycling seems to fix it.

I replaced it with a 5 TB "portable" hard drive for $100.  This seems like a great deal.  I was amazed by the size.  It is like 2 decks of cards side by side and lightweight.  It also doesn't require a separate power supply.  

It took 2 days to copy all the data.  The new drive is somewhat slow on write speed because of SMR (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shingled_magnetic_recording).  Also, I had to power cycle the old hard drive at least a couple of times.

8GB vs 16GB for M1 Mac — The TRUTH About RAM!

People are all excited at how powerful the new M1 chip Macs are, but non-upgradability is the Achilles heel of these products.  There are a bunch of videos showing that you can do just fine with just 8 gigs of RAM, but that is just for running one task.  These machines are designed to multitask, so 8 GB is really not enough.  

An adequate amount of RAM today probably won't be an adequate amount of RAM five years from now.  I upgraded my iMac from 8 GB to 40 GB, which is twice as much as I really need, but the difference in cost wasn't that much.

Because you can't upgrade the RAM on M1 computers, this chip really should just be used on tablets and phones.  Instead, it is being used on the Mac Mini, which is a desktop, and laptops that are desktop replacements.  

When Apple comes out with the next generation of iMacs, I hope that the RAM will be user upgradeable.


Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Amazon.com: Fire HD 10 Tablet (10.1" 1080p full HD display, 32 GB)

Last year I was watching the rave reviews for this $150 Amazon tablet. When they had it on sale for $100 during Black Friday week, I figured that was a great deal, but I also figured that I didn't really need another tablet. This year it is only $80 for the Black Friday sale, so I decided that for that price I could use it to test Android apps that I want to write.


Amazon.com: SanDisk 1TB Extreme microSDXC UHS-I Memory Card with Adapter

Instead of spending $100 for a 5 TB hard drive, which arrived today, I could have bought this ...


I didn't know that such sizes were possible.

Monday, November 23, 2020

How Apple Just Changed the Entire Industry

The first 20 minutes of this video is pretty interesting.


As a side note, I was surprised that my old iPhones 6+/6s+ could run Stockfish at similar speeds to my Core-I7 iMac.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Amazon.com: Fire HD 10 Tablet (10.1" 1080p full HD display, 32 GB) – Black: Kindle Store


I don't think that most people need a tablet, but I do find this one interesting since it just went on sale.  It is listed for the same price on the Target Black Friday sale.  This is $20 less than the Black Friday sale from last year.

From the reviews I have seen, this is an excellent tablet for the price.

Friday, November 20, 2020

M1 MacBook Air is Faster Than You Think! (Real Tests) - Krazy Ken's Tech Misadventures


Apple has performed a minor miracle with its new M1 chip.  It has 8 CPU cores, 8 graphics cores, and RAM all on one chip.  It has a 5-nanometer process, which is better than the current Intel and AMD processors.  It might not be possible to make smaller circuits without developing new materials.  So far, there isn't much progress in this area.

What is surprising is that this same chip can run on the Macbook Air, which has no active cooling.  This is essentially a mobile processor.

You can buy high-end desktop processors that are more powerful, but this System On a Chip is at least 22% faster than my 2017 (14 nanometer Intel quad-core I-5) iMac desktop according to a benchmark that I saw.  That is not a reason for me to replace my desktop, but compared to their previous mobile processors, this thing is pretty impressive.

Reportedly Apple is going to come out with something better for their desktop computers.  It would make sense that a desktop processor would be more powerful.

The only downside is that they can't run Intel-based programs natively, but have a software solution for running those programs.  I'm not sure about Windows compatibility, but I heard something about being able to run some Windows programs through emulation.