Here are some more options for getting an old 1980s computer on the internet via RS-232 to WiFi/Ethernet adapters.
The ESP8266 developer modules, like the one I picked up from Amazon for $8.99, are available for around $2.75 when shipped from China. That, and an RS232 converter for about .67, is about all you need other than some wires to connect stuff up, and a USB power supply. See AliExpress.com for options. There are also e-Bay sellers that have similar prices.
The advantage this module has is tons of third party firmware. There is the ZIMODEM project that makes the module look like an old Hayes smartmodem. You can use “AT” commands do dial (IP address instead of phone number) and even answer a call (incoming telnet connections appear as “RING” and “CONNECT” just like someone calling in to a modem BBS).
This part is also used for RS232 to WiFi and Ethernet conversions. You can find a board that this part plugs in to for about $4. Here is one from e-Bay:
The board accepts a 5V power supply, then has an RS232 DB9 connector on one side, and two Ethernet ports (LAN and WAN) on the other. When the HLK-RM04 is plugged in, that makes it work, and also provides WiFi.
The module is available with internal or external antenna. You can buy one with everything you need (no case) for about $13! Here is an example at AliExpress:
The disadvantage of something like this is that it’s just raw TCP or UDP communication. This means if you want to do real Telnet, you have to write some code to parse the data and handle telnet protocol. You would also have to implement any other protocols in code, while smart firmware would be written on the ESP8266 (and probably already has!) that goes things like HTTP GET, mail fetch, etc.
2018-02-01 – Updated link for the iOS version. Added link to my page showing other CoCo games that have been modernized.
Since the early 1990s, one of my side gigs has been doing audio productions for broadcast radio. I have also done a number of local TV commercials over the years. I can now add video game music to this, as I recently contributed some music for an iOS and AppleTV update of a Color Computer game called Bouncy Ball. Here’s the trailer…
Last year, Sub-Etha Software “announced” the Sir Sound, a sound add-on for the Radio Shack Color Computer that would plug in to the Serial I/O (i.e. printer or bitbanger) port. The prototype looks like this:
The idea was, by making this device “smart”, you could send simple, small commands to it and it would take care of the actual music playing, freeing up CPU time for the program. Since the device was “smart,” firmware could also be expanded with new features added.
The plans will be available for anyone who wants to build their own, and the source code will be posted to my Github repository. For someone like myself, with little or no hardware skills, you will be able to build this just by plugging wires into a breadboard (like the prototype). It’s not pretty, but it’s cheap and easy. And fun!
Various Sir Sound options…
I have contemplated designing a custom board for this, which would have a handful of chips and parts on it as well as a serial port and USB plug. Basically, it would be a board version of the prototype. The cost on this would be pretty low, but since I am not a hardware guy, I likely wouldn’t want to be the one soldering all the parts together.
Another option would be to just make an Arduino Shield that plugs in to a cheap Arduino UNO clone. You can get a good-quality Arduino for around $6, shipped from the USA by resellers on e-Bay. This could make the cost of the “Sir Sound” portion lower, though you’d still need an Arduino. You can buy a fully-made Arduino for less than the parts to build a clone, so this seems like a good way to reduce costs.
So which is better: Full board with everything, or add-on Shield for an Arduino?
I am not sure if the cost of the Arduino header pins is more expensive than the few chips it takes to just make the Arduino circuitry on a standalone board ;-) But, for folks who already have an Arduino, the add-on Shield is a great way to re-use existing hardware (and you can then use it for other projects when you are not hooked up to the CoCo). And, even for for those who don’t already have an Arduino, it might still be cheaper than the fully custom solution.
Sound + WiFi?
But what if it could do more than just sound?
Recently, I started playing with the ESP8266 WiFi chip. This device has a built in networking stack and WiFi hardware. It also has RAM and flash storage, and you can load it with custom firmware. This module is cheap! I ordered a “developer kit” with a USB port for less than $9 from Amazon.
See those pins on the bottom? These developer modules make all the I/O lines available, it would be possible to make a small board with the sound chip and serial port on it that this plugs in to. This could give you sound and WiFi!
For the bitbanger serial port, baud rate on WiFi and Bluetooth would be limited to a slower speed, but if could also be plugged up to an RS232 Pak for high speed networking.
And, this looks like it would be cheaper than using an Arduino! More features for less money?
And, for a few bucks more, there is a module that adds Bluetooth as well, giving you sound, WiFi and bluetooth!
To be continue…
Let’s just say there are a few prototypes in the works right now… And they are all very cheap.
The legendary soda with “all the sugar, and twice the caffeine” is back! The soda, which first became available in 1985, went off the market around 2009. By that time, it had evolved away from the original cola, and was being sold as an energy drink in large cans that resembled AA batteries.
You can currently only find Jolt Cola at Dollar General Stores, or on Amazon. At Dollar General, it will be in the “valley of values” aisle, rather than with the other sodas or energy drinks. The best part is, the price for the larger 16 ounce cans is just $1. You can find out if your local Dollar General has them by visiting the map at:
On Amazon, you will be paying around $3 a can, shipped right to your doorstep.
Sub-Etha Software to attend 2018 Chicago CoCoFEST!
Des Moines, Iowa – January 11, 2018 – Iowa-based Sub-Etha Software has announced plans to attend the 2018 27th Annual “Last” Chicago CoCoFEST! The event will be held April 21 and 22, 2018 at the Heron Point Convention Center in Lombard, Illinois.
“We’ve missed a number of years over the past decade or so, but we don’t plan to miss this year,” says Sub-Etha co-founder and current operator, Allen Huffman. “Missing these shows sucks. And this year we don’t want it to suck.”
Sub-Etha Software plans to demonstrate Roger Taylor’s “CoCo on a Chip” FPGA project, as well as a few “vaporware” items from the company’s past, including the CoCo-VR project and CoCo Answering Machine project.
A selection of N.O.S. (new old stock) Sub-Etha items may be available on (probably unreadable) 5 1/4″ floppy disks in original (“vintage”) packaging.
There will not be any Jolt! Cola, because that no longer exists. And there might even be Jolt Cola, because thanks to a tip from L. Curtis Boyle in the comments, it went back in to production in late 2017!
About Sub-Etha Software
Sub-Etha Software was founded in Lufkin, Texas in 1990, as a partnership between Allen C. Huffman and Terry S. Todd. It made it’s first CoCoFest appearance at the First Annual Atlanta CoCoFest in 1990, and it’s first Chicago CoCoFest appearance at the First Annual “Last” Chicago CoCoFEST! in 1992. They may be contacted online at www.subethasoftware.com
According to a post made today by Allan Batteiger in the Microware OS-9 public group on Facebook, we may finally see the return of a version of OS-9 for hobbyist use.
The message announced the pending release of OS-9/68K to version 4.0, and OS-9 for ARM, PowerPC and X86 to version 6.1. Notable updates including an new networking stack supporting IPv6, and updates to OPENSSL. He also mentioned work to get the CLANG/LLVM compiler generating code for OS-9 PowerPC and ARM, with an alpha release coming later this year.
Of interest to the hobbyist community:
“Work has been proceeding on the OS-9 for Makerspace. We now have USB & Networking working on the Raspberry Pi 1 & 2 boards. Work has started on the Raspberry Pi 3. Also work is moving forward on the BeagleBone Black and Asus Tinker boards. The plan is to release preliminary versions of the Makerspace OS-9 yet this year.”
For those of us who used to run OS-9/6809 on the Radio Shack Color Computer, or OS-9/68K on systems like the MM/1, this is pretty exciting news. A low-cost Raspberry Pi could be very fun to play with, though it would be missing the advanced terminal and screen controls that we had under OS-9 Level 2 (CoCo) and K-Windows (MM/1). To me, porting that functionality would be one of the first projects we should undertake.
Can you believe this year will mark 38 years since Radio Shack released the TRS-80 Color Computer (later nicknamed the “CoCo”)? According to the always reliable wikipedia, the Color Computer was announced on July 31, 1980. According to a calendar printed in the July 1987 issue of Rainbow magazine, the CoCo was introduced (made available for sale?) on August 20th that same year:
That date always stuck with me because it is my birthday. Too bad I didn’t know anything about computers in 1980, else I might have asked for one. Instead, I didn’t get switched on to computers until a few years later, with my first machine being a Commodore VIC-20 (“the first full featured color computer for under $300”) in 1982.
In my early days of owning a computer, I also owned some computer magazines. I remember Family Computing, COMPUTE! (wow, they published in until 1994), and later COMPUTE!’s Gazette, which focused on the Commodore VIC-20 and 64 (wow again, for them publishing until 1995). Somewhere I still have a box with all my old magazines in them.
When I switched from VIC-20 to Color Computer in 1983, I was still able to make use of some of those early magazines that contained CoCo versions of program listings. I remember being annoyed at seeing the CoCo version rely on BASIC’s single-note “PLAY” command for music, while they had to use assembly language routines to do the same on the Apple 2. If they were using assembly code, they could have done the same on the CoCo and gotten 4-voice harmony music out of the machine! But instead, that “easy graphics and sound programming from BASIC” must have made sticking with one-voice music the easier path. I think that always made the CoCo versions look worse than they had to.
Shattered by a Rainbow
At some point, I learned about an all-Color Computer magazine called The Rainbow. I think my first copy of Rainbow was the November 1983 “Data Communications” issue. I’ll have to dig out my storage box and see how well my memory has held up over the past 35 years!
In a way, it destroyed some of my hopes and dreams. When I made the decision to get a CoCo, part of the reason was because of the small selection of software Radio Shack sold for it. I thought, with such a small software base, it would be a great system to program for! I could become rich in such a desolate marketplace!
The 300+ pages of Rainbow, full of program listings and ads for hundreds of software and hardware items, made me give up those dreams. Looking back, I wish I hadn’t. The market was large enough for some programmers to make their living off of it. Even in the late 1980s, I heard about one shareware programmer who helped pay his way through college by writing CoCo software!
Although I did buy a few issues of Color Computer and Hot CoCo, the only one I subscribed to was The Rainbow. As a junior high school student, I didn’t have the income for multiple subscriptions, though I wish I had – I expect I would have benefited from the other two publications.
I chose Rainbow because it was the largest. In December 1983, Hot CoCo had 148 pages, Color Computer Magazine had 146 pages, and Rainbow was larger than both of them put together at 340 pages!
I could read through the two smaller ones, and probably find an article of of interest, but Rainbow always seemed to have dozens of things I liked. If I could only afford one, it just made sense to go for the biggest. (At the time, Rainbow was more expensive, with a cover price of $3.95 versus $2.95 for the other two.)
Back to the Beginning
Sometime in early 1985, I must have been contemplating completing my collection of Rainbow because I decided to order a back issue of the first issue from July 1981. I think I spent $2.00 or so for the issue, plus $3.50 postage and handling.
Imagine my disappointment and surprise when it arrived and it was a photo copy of two sheets of paper, printed doubled sided by a dot matrix printer that didn’t even have true descenders for lowercase!
Could this be? Did this nearly-400 page behemoth of a magazine with it’s glossy, full color cover really start out as a two page newsletter?
Indeed it did!
But rather than complain, I ended up writing in to The Rainbow and suggested that reprinting this early issue inside the magazine would be a neat thing to do. In the July 1985 anniversary issue, they printed my letter and included a reproduction of that original two page newsletter:
Editor: I have an idea for your upcoming anniversary issue that you may like. I was told that THE RAINBOW started off as ·a two~page newsletter. Since many CoCo owners were not a part of that beginning, me included, I thought it would be nice to
see some reprints of the “early RAINBOW.” You may not think this is a big deal, but I would be more than happy to see how the # 1 CoCo magazine got its start. I think others share this curiosity as well as I do. Allen Huffman Broaddus, TX
Editor’s Note: Great idea, Allen. So, for Allen and all of you helping us celebrate our fourth anniversary, we’ve reprinted our very first Issue in its entirety in this issue (see between pages 98 and 99) – a little birthday treat from all of us to all of you!
I think I had at least two other letters printed in the magazine, but this was the one I was most proud of. (Notice my little white lie about “I was told that…” I knew darn well it was a two page newsletter because I felt ripped off paying over five bucks to get a copy of it!)
Let’s do the time warp, again!
The days of monthly magazines with computer programs you could type in is long gone. But, the history of them has been preserved thanks to the efforts of folks willing to scan in old paper and make it available online for a new generation to discover (or for us old folks to use to relive our younger years).
You can find issues at Archive.org, but I think the best collection is at the previously-mentioned Color Computer Archive site:
That link will take you to a repository that contains scans of every issue of Rainbow, from the original two page newsletter in 1980, to the largest of the glossy magazine editions, down to the final newsprint issue of May 1993. Some scans are just images of the pages, but the above link had been OCR’d so you can do text searches on it (mostly).
Until these archives, I had only seen the issues that I owned, from November 1983 to sometime around 1991. I recall ending my subscription in protest because Rainbow had decided to not cover any of the “next generation” CoCo-style machines such as the MM/1. Looking back, that was something I regret. Had we all kept subscribing and supporting them, maybe they could have continued a few years longer.
With all of this said, I have decided to start an interesting project. I plan to read all the issues of Rainbow, starting with July 1981. I’ve actually made it through the first six issues, where it grew from two photocopied pages into the first “magazine style” issue with 19 pages in December 1981.
And boy is it a time travel experiment! It’s stunning to see the tiny thing that birthed the magazine I loved so much.
If you are looking for some retro reading for 2018, why don’t you join me? I bet we (re)learn many things over the course of the year.
It’s quite interesting reading news about Radio Shack working on a “disc system” for the Color Computer, and then reading a review of this new $600 add-on a few issues later. That, and all the mentions of COLOR BASIC, and why you might want to upgrade to 16K or 32K and EXTENDED COLOR BASIC, really take you back to an earlier time.
And I have yet to see the name “CoCo” used. That would come later.
I’ll share interesting tidbits as I run across them. I’m sure I will learn quite a bit about the early years before I was involved. Maybe you will to.