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Thread: Retro programming communities

  1. #1

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    Retro programming communities

    Okay, I am well aware classic BASIC programming languages are as a good as dead. From what I understand vb6 applications are still maintained but older languages are obsolete. However I know from browsing online there are people who still build 80's-90's hardware based systems and even develop new software for those on occassion.

    My question:
    Does anybody know of online forums that are still active where development in obsolete versions of BASIC is still discussed?

    There must still be some interest given the 8-bit guy's YouTube channel and retro activity thread at Vogons (DOSBox).

    EDIT:
    I am not really interested in unofficial updates of old BASIC dialects such as qb64. Thank you.

    EDIT 2:
    My apologies to everyone for allowing this thread to become a confused mess. What I had in mind but failed to communicate properly was communities concerning Quick Basic/QBasic/Visual Basic For DOS/Turbo Basic/Power Basic/GWBasic etc. I don't mind using an emulator, I think that even though part of me would like to buy and own a 90's style PC (either an orignal or one made from new components) I don't think I would actually want one to take up space in my home when it really comes down to it. And I have to think about the expenses at that too.
    Last edited by Peter Swinkels; Sep 25th, 2021 at 04:20 AM. Reason: typo

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    Re: Retro programming communities

    Sure. There are QBASIC and QB4.5 forums.
    A lot of these forums are in league with QB64, which is one of the modern capable languages, largely compatible with QB4.5.
    Just a couple of quick examples. I'm sure if you search, you can find more. There may be some GWBASIC forums as well, I'm not sure.

    https://www.tapatalk.com/groups/qbasic/

    https://www.qb64.org/forum/index.php

    There are old specific computer hardware forums as well, like for the Commodore-64. It seems to me, the biggest problem with BASIC and the Commodore-64 (in my impression when I had one), is that there were too many competing versions of BASIC for it. Primarily, the BASIC that was provided built in was based on the PET and didn't take advantage of the advanced capabilities of the C-64 machine. So other BASICs came into being to try to address that short coming.

    Just to be clear, QB64 probably doesn't fit your bill if you're looking for a BASIC to run on old 8-bit hardware. It is for 64-bit machines, allowing you to write code to take advantage of modern 64-bit processors, i.e. as if QB4.5 continued to be developed for the last 35 years.
    Last edited by passel; Sep 13th, 2021 at 01:34 PM.
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    Re: Retro programming communities

    There is some interest, but it is pretty limited. If you want to make a serious hobby of it there are plenty of options.

    I'm more surprised we haven't seen one or two new standardized platforms of that class (simple OS, language in ROM, screen keyboard and storage) built around current hardware. Given the supposed popularity of Python maybe that would be the language chosen.

    But they don't exist, simply because there is no market for them.

    It's like Lego. People enjoy buying it but they'd rather have a kit of parts and a plan to assemble a dolly to place on a shelf. There is less interest in creating things themselves, much less playing with the products of creative efforts after building them. Sheer consumerism.

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    Re: Retro programming communities

    @passel:
    No qb64. Thank you. That other forum appears to be nearly dead. The most recent posts appear to be several years to over a decade old,

    @dilettante:
    I believe Arduinos and similar hardware fill that niche. I am not really sure what you are trying to say with your remark about Lego. There are people who build custom stuff and experiment with it.

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    Re: Retro programming communities

    I don't have any links but I remember in recent years that I have been in different commodore64 sites and people that still create programs, even games in that machine.
    I think theres more interest in old machines than old programming languages.

    I mean, I would not spend time working on any old programming languages in PC, but I could be a bit interested in amiga, c64 and other old computers if there was some project that could be fun to do.

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    Re: Retro programming communities

    Hmmm, I am not really that interested in architectures other than the PC. If I had the room and money for it, a 90's pc would be nice perhaps. For me the most fun comes from seeing how far you can push older dialects of BASIC.
    Last edited by Peter Swinkels; Sep 22nd, 2021 at 02:21 AM. Reason: punctuation

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    Re: Retro programming communities

    how far you can push older dialects of BASIC
    Not for home/gaming use, but when I used HP TSB (Time Shared Basic) back in the 1970's when I was at school there was a Snobol and Fortran IV 'semi-compilers' written in HP's Basic! Looking back, it was really quite amazing what was managed to be accomplished with what now seems a very limited system (line numbers, gosub/goto et al)! The system was used via the 'ubiquitous' ASR-33 teletype terminals (for those not around in the early days these were based upon an electric/mechanical typewriter with ink ribbons and a roll of paper for output and punched paper tape for input). At school we used it for timetabling, attendance records, marking, exam results etc. As the 'resident' computer nerd (in programming I knew far more then the computer teacher!) I wrote many of these programs.
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    Re: Retro programming communities

    If you have nothing else GOSUB and GOTO are fine, if you use them responsibly. How did your programs save and load data?

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    Re: Retro programming communities

    You could save/get data from files stored on the computer (moving head discs and fixed head drum) using file input/print statements in the Basic language (fixed length strings and record). Up to 32 users could access the system simultaneously remotely via modems at 110 baud! We paid for storage used, elapsed time used (not cpu time) - and the telephone bill! So you never did on-line data entry. You first prepared a punched paper tape containing the data which was then used for the program input when you were connected on-line. The program input routines were designed for this so input wasn't interrupted (for error reporting etc) until all data had been entered. So you had - prepare data punched paper tape off-line, dial-up computer/connect/sign-in, run the program, enter data from punched paper tape, obtain printed output as required, logoff. If there was a problem with the data entry, then repeat to create a new data punched tape. The on;y data that was permanently stored was that needed between program runs. if you were say grading scores based on statistical analysis then this would be done just using paper-tape input/printout with no storage used (hence no storage costs).

    It was similar for program development. You had to prepare a punched paper-tape of new code and changes to existing code first off-line, then go-online and use the paper tape to change the program, then do some testing/debugging. If a change was needed then you went off-line, determined the code changes, produced the punched paper tape, go-line, update the program, test and repeat until working.

    And as the telephone costs were then based upon the time of day used, we weren't allowed on-line access until after 1pm except in exceptional circumstances with permission.

    Ah, those were the 'good old days!'
    Last edited by 2kaud; Sep 23rd, 2021 at 11:45 AM.
    All advice is offered in good faith only. You are ultimately responsible for the effects of your programs and the integrity of the machines they run on. Anything I post, code snippets, advice, etc is licensed as Public Domain https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/

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    Re: Retro programming communities

    This reminds of the days you could ring up quite a phone bill by surfing the internet. Imagine having to wait several minutes for some text and a few images to load!

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    Re: Retro programming communities

    Yeah - I remember that! I wrote a cost displayer program that when started would display the used cost every second. It soon mounted up! Then my ISP changed to a free-phone number for dial-up then provided ADSL (on a good day I managed about 1.5MBS as I'm quite a long way from the exchange!) and then fibre (I get about 38-40 MBS).
    All advice is offered in good faith only. You are ultimately responsible for the effects of your programs and the integrity of the machines they run on. Anything I post, code snippets, advice, etc is licensed as Public Domain https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/

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    Re: Retro programming communities

    According to fast.com I have 120 mbps...

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    Re: Retro programming communities

    You might find this interesting.

    One $10 SOC development board, a single 10K resistor, and a USB-microUSB cable. Use a plug-in breadboard to avoid even soldering the resistor.

    Use a PC with a terminal program like PuTTY and you can program in the ROM TinyBasic onboard.

    ESP32: a look at the built-in BASIC interpreter

    Probably the cheapest way to explore "retrocomputing" that exists outside running an emulator on your PC.

    Of course there is also stiff like "The C64 Maxi" out there too.

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    Re: Retro programming communities

    @dilettante: thanks for the suggestions, but I will probably stick to emulators.

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    Re: Retro programming communities

    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Swinkels View Post
    Hmmm, I am not really that interested in architectures other than the PC. If I had the room and money for it, a 90's pc would be nice perhaps. For me the most fun comes from seeing how far you can push older dialects of BASIC.
    90's PC covers quite a bit of Architecture growth. Basically you had your 16-bit 486 machines of variously increasing speeds at the beginning and then the pivotal year, 1995 with the Pentium and Windows 95 32-bit Machine and OS's making their debut.
    So, are you interested in the 16-bit 486 era machines, or the 32-bit 586 machines. Also, are you strictly interested in DOS based, or Windows based programming. Remember the beginning of the 90s was also a pivotal period. I think both Windows 3.1 and Visual Basic 1.0 came out in 1991. That was the year I started using Windows and I did buy VB1 that year.

    It sounds like you're more interested in late 80s computers, i.e. 386 or 486 with QB45 compiler or QBasic. GWBasic I associated more with early to mid 80s PCs.
    I have a number of old Gateway computers in my attic. I'm not exactly what processors are in them, I suspect they are 486s. I bought them cheap when the company no longer needed them, but I don't know if they even have an OS installed. They were likely wiped before being sold. I should bring one down and fire it up to see what happens. I didn't end up doing anything with them, so they've just been in storage, along with a few monitors from that era.

    Actually, perhaps they are from the late 1990s, so may be Pentiums. That seems more likely since I've moved a number of times across the country in the 1990s and I don't remember having to move them. I settled down at the beginning of 2001 and the computers were likely bought in that period, definitely before 2006, but after 2001. The computers were likely more than five years old when sold, because of the capital depreciation requirement, so were likely very late 1990's machines.
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    Re: Retro programming communities

    I'm a little confused.

    Is a DOS-based '80s PC even in the running as far as "retrocomputing" goes? Much less a primitive '90s 16-bit or Win9x PC?

    I thought for most people the term referred to the 8-bit consumer products that predated those.

    So is this thread really about restoring a '90s clunker? I hope so, I have a few in storage to unload.

    I'm not trying to be funny about it. I just had a different picture, probably because The 8-Bit Guy was mentioned.

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    Re: Retro programming communities

    Well to me 'retro-computing' means 1970/80's programming in Basic/Fortran/Assembler on multi-user computers from DEC/HP using teletype terminals or vdu display terminals. And Pick. All text based with no graphics...

    My first 'hobbyist' computer was a 1980 Acorn Atom assembled from a kit, complete with a card cage for added functionality. It was based upon a MOS 6502 8-bit processor. Originally it was only B/W output to the tv but I added the colour adapter when it became available. Not sure it can be used now as it output an analogue tv signal on a certain channel - and TV's are all now digital. Program storage was to cassette tape, although later you could add 5 1/4" floppy disk.
    Last edited by 2kaud; Sep 25th, 2021 at 04:46 AM.
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    Re: Retro programming communities

    @Everyone see the second edit to my original post. That should clear the confusion. I hope.

    @2kaud:
    I first learned programming in QBasic 1.0 in MS-DOS 5.0 on my dad's 80386 SX 25 Mhz pc. I used the 80 mb harddrive and 3.5" diskettes for storage. And if I remember correctly I wasted a lot of paper printing all kinds of stuff too. :-) This was all the way back in 1992.

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    Re: Retro programming communities

    I started to program PC's in the mid 1980's using Borland Turbo Pascal, then Turbo C/Assembler in MS_DOS 3. I never did much with Basic (qbasic, gwbasic, turbo basic etc)
    All advice is offered in good faith only. You are ultimately responsible for the effects of your programs and the integrity of the machines they run on. Anything I post, code snippets, advice, etc is licensed as Public Domain https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/

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    Re: Retro programming communities

    @2kaud: I was twelve back then. I had no idea of those other languages. QBasic was the only real option for me as it readily came with MS-DOS. I believe I did manage to get a copy of Turbo Pascal during the 90's from a friend but gave up on it because I couldn't figure it out. I was much younger and I had no Internet access. Even when we did finally get Internet access in 1995 the connection was slow and there were much fewer websites. Also, every minute spent online cost money back then. I guess this is one of the reasons why QBasic was so popular during the mid 90's. QBasic.com and Neozones used to be very active communities. There were dozens of personal websites dealing with QBasic as well.

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    Re: Retro programming communities

    I was about 13 when I started - see my posts 7 & 9 above.
    All advice is offered in good faith only. You are ultimately responsible for the effects of your programs and the integrity of the machines they run on. Anything I post, code snippets, advice, etc is licensed as Public Domain https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/

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    Re: Retro programming communities

    @2kaud: you were 13 and starting programming during the 70's? Impressive. Where did you get your information? How did you practice your skills?

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    Re: Retro programming communities

    My school had remote access to a HP computer running TSB (Time Shared Basic). The school had a logon id. There was also one printed manual. At that time I self-taught HP Basic from the manual as the computer teacher couldn't program! I also learnt from those older pupils ahead of me. I wrote programs to help with school admin (see my post #7). Then there were the programs I had to write for my Computer Science A-level etc. The school then got remote access to a DEC System 20 running Tops20 in my final A-level term - which was pretty near disasterous for me. I was programming it when I should have been studying! Ahhhh. I still got 2 A's (Computer Science, Physics) and 2 B's (Maths and Further Maths) and all I needed for Uni was 3 C's - so I was OK.

    Ah, those were the days...
    All advice is offered in good faith only. You are ultimately responsible for the effects of your programs and the integrity of the machines they run on. Anything I post, code snippets, advice, etc is licensed as Public Domain https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/

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    Re: Retro programming communities

    I had to make do with two class mates and a few books from the local library. I don't think any teachers at my school knew anything about computer programming.

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    Re: Retro programming communities

    The books I started with would be puzzling today.

    There were basically two kinds of CPUs. One accessed memory as fixed-length words, typically some multiple of 6 bits with an additional parity bit used by the hardware. Another accessed memory as digits, typically 5 bits with a 6th hidden parity bit used by the hardware.

    The "digit" machines represented characters as 2 digits, with a special value to mean "end of string." Digits 0 through 9 only needed 4 bits, and the 5th bits were used as sign and flag bits depending on whether they came at the beginning or end of a "number" string. These were used more in low-end computers in the times before the minicomputer arrived.

    There were no "bytes" since that was a later concept and even then it only applied to certain CPUs.

    When microprocessors came along they tended to adopt the conventions established by the most primitive minicomputers, like those from DEC which might be the only ones even heard of among the great unwashed today.

    What most don't realize is that these were cost-reduced descendants/clones of the "peripheral processors" that mainframe computers used for years to control tapes, printers, disk drives, etc. These were turned into low-end general purpose computers to bring them to the masses before microcomputers replaced them.


    Today even the "most advanced" computers are little more than elaborate confections based on the lowest tier of computing hardware before the microprocessor revolution occurred. We have lost a lot. We went from the Age of the Supercomputer to an Age of the Stuporcomputer.

    And people ask why we haven't returned to the Moon? We can't, at least not easily. We have traded away a lot of technological advance in order to use more quickly and cheaply mass-replicable technology.

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    Re: Retro programming communities

    @dilettante:
    Interesting, are there any websites dealing with that particular subject?

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    Re: Retro programming communities

    I also started with the fixed length word machines.
    The first was an 18-bit machine, so at each PC (program counter) address, you had an 18-bit word.
    The second machine was a 16-bit machine, and at each address you had a 16-bit word.
    Later there was a 30-bit machine and a 32-bit machine, again at each address, you had 30-bits or 32-bits.

    I was quite startled when someone I knew built one of the Heathkit computers that were available in the late 70s, and he chose the 16-bit LSI-11 based computer, which was based on the DEC PDP 16-bit processors.
    I expected that at each address there would be a 16-bit word, and he said no, the addressing of the memory was in bytes, so each address had an 8-bit byte, and a 16-bit word would be spread across two memory addresses. And the instructions were not a fixed size, fitting in a word, but could be 1-byte, 2-bytes, 3-bytes and possibly 4-bytes long (I don't actually know the details). So the program counter, rather than incrementing by 1 for each instruction would increment by varying amounts depending on the length of the instruction.

    The concept of instructions not fitting in words, and that the program counter didn't increment by 1 for each instruction and if you picked an arbitrary address, you could be in the middle of an instruction, just seemed wacky.
    Of course, it is the norm now.

    That first 18-bit computer was built from lots of small circuit cards, with discrete transistors, capacitors, resistors, and coils. Each card was like 2x3 inches in size, and could hold several logic gates on it. For a simple gate like an inverter, there might be six of them on a card, for something more complicated like a flipflop, there might be only two on a card. A typical AND or OR gate might have four of them on a card.

    Their memory was "core" memory. You had little doughnut shaped ferrite beads which had three wires going through the hole of each bead. The beads were arranged in a flat plane as a 64x64 matrix. Therefore you had 64 lines that ran through 64 beads from top to bottom, i.e. a column of beads. We'll refer to these 64 wires as the X address of the matrix, allowing you to pick one of the 64 columns of beads in the matrix.
    Likewise, you had 64 wires that ran from left to right through 64 beads each, which could select a row of beads, the Y selection. By picking one of the 64 vertical wires and one of the 64-horizontal wires and energizing the wires, you selected one of the 4096 beads in the matrix.

    That covers two of the wires that threaded through the beads. The third wire was the Sense wire, which was used to sense the state of a bit, or set the state of a bit, which is each bead represented one bit of memory, so you have 4096 (64x64) bits of memory on a single plane.
    The sense wire was a single continuous wire that was threaded through all 4096 cores on the plane.

    The beads hold a magnetic field, i.e. they are essentially a magnet where the N and S ends have been joined together. This provides a magnetic field that is oriented either clockwise or counterclockwise. A strong enough magnetic field in a particular orientation can cause the orientation of the bead field to flip one way or the other.
    Energizing either an X wire or a Y wire is not a strong enough field strength to flip the bit. But the combined field where the X and Y wires cross is, so if the bit is in the opposite state it will flip. If it is in the same state, it won't flip.

    When the magnetic field flips, it will induce a pulse of electrical energy in the sense wire, so the computer will latch the pulse in a flipflop and know the bit was set. If there is no pulse, then the flipflop won't flip and the computer will know the bit wasn't set. Since the state in the bead is flipped if the bead was set, a second cycle is used to drive the sense wire from the state of the flipflop and the X,Y wires are driven and the state of the flipflop sets the bead (bit) back to its original state.

    You can read more details of the memory if interested by looking up ferrite bead, or ferrite core, or core memory.
    As I said, the 4096 bits in the plane represent one bit of a word. For the 18-bit computer, 18-core planes are stacked so now you have 4K words of memory. Multiple core stacks give you more memory in 4K increments.
    Last edited by passel; Sep 27th, 2021 at 11:10 AM.
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    Re: Retro programming communities

    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Swinkels View Post
    Interesting, are there any websites dealing with that particular subject?
    Which part?

    Ancient CPU architectures? Perhaps a few "museum" type web sites or a few very small sites catering to the remnants of old communities.

    https://computerhistory.org/explore/ comes to mind.

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    Re: Retro programming communities

    Wow, you really have to dig these days to get even an overview of the machines of the past!

    CDC 6000 series Hardware Architecture

    The Architecture of the Burroughs B5000

    Just a couple of the machines of the past that I did a lot of programming on.

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    Re: Retro programming communities

    This was a little older and a diverse family of products, but once far more common:

    IBM 700/7000 series

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    Re: Retro programming communities

    You might find this an interesting jumping-off point: History of supercomputing.

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    Re: Retro programming communities

    The "IBM PC" of its time: IBM 1620.

    Anyone else here ever used one of these back in the day?

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    Re: Retro programming communities

    At Uni we had use of a CDC Cyber 72 interactively using tele-type terminals. I don't know much about its architecture as we mainly used it to run Pascal and Fortran programs for our programming exercises. For system programming for assembler/OS/compilers etc we used PDP 11's - again interactively using tele-type terminals. For Cobol we had to submit our programs on punched cards which were processed as a batch. I think this was a CDC 6700 that was mainly used by researchers/lectures/PHd students etc. As mere lowly undergraduates we weren't allowed interactive access to it!
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    Re: Retro programming communities

    A site with a still working forum where you don't have to register... http://forum.phatcode.net/index.php I thought those were long gone.

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    Re: Retro programming communities

    I'm not sure whether this guy is autistic or just Italian or something. In any case his videos have no voice and only minimal text.

    This seems to be a stock ESP32 devkit board plugged into a daughter board with some passives (resistors can capacitors) or something, VGA and PS/2 sockets, a microSD card socket, and some expansion RAM.





    So if you wanted a retro-PC clone it looks like a simple one could be made for like $20 US if there was any market.

    FabGL Library

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