Author Archives: Allen Huffman

About Allen Huffman

Co-founder of Sub-Etha Software.

Arcade1Up replacement trackball rotary encoders

NOTE: I do not own an Arcade1Up, but I have a friend who has the Centipede version. I am posting this article to give some extra exposure to research he and others are doing on the trackball problems.

Arcade1Up is a 3/4-sized 80s arcade cabinet for home use. They have several units available, with most playing four classic arcade games (and one special edition with 12 games).

The Centipede unit has a vertical monitor and comes with Centipede, Missile Command, Millipede and Crystal Castle.

After first playing my friend’s unit, we both agreed that Centipede played very poorly. This led him to dig into the problem, and he found this Do-It-Yourself solution on YouTube:

Fixing the trackball rotary encoder on the Arcade1Up Centipede machine.

The trackball is a rotary encoder where, as it spins, a little wheel turns and is either blocking or allowing light to flow through and be detected by a light sensor. The software counts the pulses and determines how far the wheel has spun. (Here’s the Arduino playground on them.)

The stock encoder wheel has 30 spokes, and this D-I-Y solution shows how to make one with 24. My friend decided to try it and designed one on his 3-D printer. After installation, Centipede does indeed play much, much better, and the other games seem to still play as well as they did before (they were mostly fine, so I can’t tell if there was any significant improvement without doing a side-by-side comparison with an unmodified cabinet).

I think we could convince him into making these replacement parts available at a low-cost for folks who don’t want to DIY. Comment to this post if you might be interested.

Until then… There is an active discussion on Reddit about various problems, solutions, and modifications to the Arcade1Up machines. Be sure to drop by there check it out.

RadioShack is back!

Have you checked the RadioShack store locator page lately? I did, last week, and instead of just finding three dealer stores in my state (none within an hour), I was surprised to see on in nearby Ankeny, Iowa. It was in some place called HobbyTown.

Somehow I missed the announcement that the Shack posted to their Facebook page back in July. Indeed, they now have a store-within-a-store at some HobbyTown locations.

I went to visit this location, and thought I’d share a trip report.

HobbyTown… Remote controlled cars, model rockets, and … RadoShack Express!
Yes, Virginia. There IS a RadioShack inside.
They only have the electronics parts, all displayed on the wall. No answering machines, video cables, or cell phones.
Even perfboards! This IS your father’s RadioShack! Except it’s still missing the space between the words :(

There was also another small glass cabinet nearby with a few other parts, and at the front checkout counter they had RadioShack brand batteries and such.

I have been working on some projects for Halloween, and found several items that I could put to use. I picked up a 12V buzzer, some 12V lights, some button switches, and some wire nuts. (Yeah, I know I could buy a whole bag of industrial wire nuts at the hardware store for just a bit more, but I only needed a few and “it was just a few bucks.”)

My bounty from my first trip to a RadioShack Express. They even use the old RS catalog numbers (after the RSH).

Leave a comment if you have a RadioShack near you.

Halloween DMX lighting and sound – introduction

Years ago, I worked with a local guy on bringing in computer controlled lighting and sound to a local haunted house attraction. The original attraction just used light bulbs of different colors and actors to make everything happen. Our upgrade included the following:

  • We used a cheap Windows PC and VenueMagic show control software.
  • We ran a chain of RGB DMX lights throughout the attraction.
  • About 14 speakers were installed, all wired back to a stack of cheap Pyle brand amplifiers.
  • A cheap USB hub and some $2 USB sound cards was used to get multi-channel audio from VenueMagic, and it worked great.
  • We installed pressure mats to trigger audio and effects.
  • I built an Arduino input box to read triggers from pressure mats and send them to VenueMagic as serial data.
  • There was also a DMX controlled relay board that was used to trigger air jets and control pneumatic doors.
  • When building regulations changed a few years into operation, the haunt was wired with illuminated exit signs and smoke detectors. Those were brought into the system so it could halt the show and turn on white work lights for safety.

The end result was a living, breathing attraction with flickering “flame” light, atmospheric moonlighting, strobe effects, as well as immersive surround sound throughout.

The VenueMagic software was, by far, the most expensive element of this project, and also the one that provided the most headaches. While the software itself was amazing and powerful, running on Windows was not. We had numerous issues over the years with Windows crashing, USB devices failing to be recognized, audio devices being remapped (requiring editing the show control configuration), etc.

Once the computer was in control, if it went down, you lost the entire show. The lights had a backup mode (we called it “party mode”) where they would begin randomly cycling through colors if there was no DMX signal. At least it didn’t leave the guests in the dark, but a silent haunt with circus lighting was far from scary.

In upcoming articles, I plan to discuss various ways you can show with complex lighting and audio, and make it play without needing a PC.

Just in time for the holidays ;-)

The CoCo is hooked back up.

Last week, I finally got around to unpacking and hooking back up all the Tandy Color Computer gear I took with me to the 2018 Chicago CoCoFEST! I am now using Ed Snider’s two-slow mini MultiPak replacement, so I ever have more room on my desk. I hope to get the Matchbox CoCo (new name for Roger Taylor’s FPGA CoCo recreation) permanently setup on the desk as well.

Even though I’m still going to be quite busy with summer activities (mostly taking bicycle rides), this gets me one step closer to returning to work on various CoCo projects, including SirSound.

I also got a cheap 3-D printer I will be reviewing, soon. The first thing I printed with it (other than the demo “cat” that it had) was an enclosure for the CoCoWiFi device (compliments of designer Travis Poppe). Now I know why John Strong of StongWare has been so into these printers for the past few years. Even this cheap “toy” one is great!

More to come…

Mandela Effect and Wayne’s World

I’m placing this here for searching engine visibility…

Mandela Effect amuses me because there was one that impacted me, involving a painting I remember seeing in the past twenty years, which does not exist. I have a plausible theory to explain that one, though.

Tonight, I saw Wayne’s World at a local theater. Two things stood out at me:

  1. During the first Wayne’s World segment, they bring on a guy who invented a Flowbee parody called the Suck Cut. I had remembered it being called the Suck ‘n Cut, but since I haven’t seen the movie since it first came out, I guess I just made the actual name more complicated and less like what it was a parody off. Flowbee, Suckcut. Not sure why I remembered it with extra stuff added.
  2. During the guitar store scene, Wayne picks up a guitar and starts to play the intro to Stairway to Heaven. I was very familiar with this song because I worked in a music store that sold guitars at the time of the movie’s release. But what he plays was not at all Stairway. But the joke was still there.

Well, number two is a licensing thing. I found an article explaining that only the original theatrical print had him playing a few notes from Stairway, and all subsequent releases from VHS on had those notes changed.

I am wondering if number one was something similar. I do find references on the internet to folks calling it “Suck ‘n Cut” as well, but the clips are Suck Cut. Mandela Effecters call this residual effect.

I think I just misremembered. It’s just rough to suddenly realize you have been wrong for a quarter of a century and no one corrected you :)

Sub-Etha Software announces more 2018 Chicago CoCoFEST! plans

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Sub-Etha Software announces more 2018 Chicago CoCoFEST! plans

Des Moines, Iowa – March 14, 2018 – Iowa-based Sub-Etha Software reveals more plans for the upcoming 2018 27th Annual “Last” Chicago CoCoFEST! to be held April 21 and 22, 2018 at the Heron Point Convention Center in Lombard, Illinois.

“The biggest news,” says Sub-Etha co-founder Allen Huffman, “is that we will have Jolt Cola to drink during the road trip to Lombard, and maybe enough extra to share during the event.”

Among the new offerings at this year’s event will be CoCoWiFi, an inexpensive internet modem device that allows connecting the CoCo up to a WiFi network for accessing remote internet sites using telnet and other protocols. Both fully assembled and do-it-yourself kits are expected to be available, with pricing to be announced at the show.

CoCoWiFi is pretty cool,” says Huffman. “It looks like an old-school Hayes Smartmodem and can be used on any model Color Computer with any terminal program. If the MC-10 has a terminal program, I bet it would work there too. The best part about it is if you don’t wanna buy it, you can spend about $10 and put one together yourself without any soldering. But we’ll be glad to sell you one for much more than that.”

Another new offering will be SirSound, the serial port multi-voice sound device. SirSound provides (1980s) arcade-quality background music and sound effects from BASIC. It uses built-in commands with no assembly language or special drivers needed.

“SirSound is one of the funnest things I have ever worked on this month,” adds Huffman. “You can play the Frogger theme song just by typing a PRINT command. I expect it could also play the Pac-Man theme, too, but we haven’t tested that, yet.”

SirSound is still under development, as well as SirSound S (6-voices in stereo), SirSound Plus (SirSound with the ability to play stereo digital files) and Sir Sound S Plus. There will also be an open-source SirSound Jr project made available. It will have the most of the same features as SirSound, but will be limited to just 1-voice tone music. Beep beep.

“We also will have a selection of new-old-stock Sub-Etha items in original packaging for those who like to collect useless 5 1/4: floppy disks with photocopied instructions stored in plastic baggies. Of course, master disk images of all this stuff has been uploaded to the Color Computer Archive and will be available for free, too.”

Be sure to drop by Sub-Etha Software’s table in the main exhibitor hall during the event.

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

About the Chicago CoCoFEST!

The 27th Annual “Last” Chicago CoCoFEST! is sponsored by the Glenside Color Computer Club of Illinois. They may be contacted online at www.glensideccc.com.

Contact:
Allen Huffman
alsplace@pobox.com
PO Box 7634,
Des Moines, Iowa
U.S.A.
Ph: 515-999-0227

###

SirSound video demonstrations

One year ago, on March 9, 2017, Sub-Etha Software announced the Sir Sound CoCo Sound Card, today referred to as SirSound, without the space. Today we present to you the first public demonstration of the project.

SirSound demo 1- introduction

This 7-minute video walks through the basic concept of the device, and shows how easy it is to convert BASIC “PLAY” music to use the SirSound device.

SirSound demo 2 – polyphonic music

This 4-minute video shows how multi-voice music will be handled. It demonstrates 3-part harmony, and also a quick version of the Frogger arcade game theme music, all from BASIC.

More to come…

Proposing PreciousPak: The One Pak to Rule them All

“It is fun to reinvent the wheel. If it were not for folks doing this, we would never have built a better mouse trap…” – Some Dude

But when it comes to expansion cartridges (Paks) for the Tandy/Radio Shack TRS-80 Color Computer, what if we never had to reinvent the wheel again?

Programmable Hardware

These days, it is easy to make virtual hardware by the use of FPGAs and other such devices.  At a smaller level, there are already examples of expansion cartridges that have the ability to remap themselves into different I/O registers, all through software. This type of programmable hardware would be the basis of the PreciousPak.

PreciousPak artist’s rendering

Such hardware could, through software control, present itself at various I/O addresses within the CoCo’s memory map. This would allow it to appear at the same memory locations used by the RS-232 Pak, or the Orchestra-90 Pak, or anything else.

Then, the core hardware of the cartridge would be something like a programmable PIC chip or AVR (Arduino) processor, acting as an interface between the CoCo memory map and external hardware via SPI bus, I2C or TTL UART.

This is not intended to be a “one pak to do everything.” Think of it as the hardware equivalent of Jim Brain’s CoCoFLASH product. His smart flash Pak can be reprogrammed with various ROM Pak images, allowing it to act like any of those original ROM Paks. In the case of PreciousPak, it would require loading with custom firmware and adding the proper expansion hardware to it.

Here are some of the things PreciousPak could be easily made to do…

PreciousPak things.

PreciousRS232Pak

The PreciousPak could have special firmware loaded on it’s processor to emulate the 6551 UART chip found in the the Deluxe RS-232 Program Pak. This code would fix the known bugs, and could implement an internal buffer allowing for better speeds without data loss. An inexpensive TTL-to-RS232 module would be plugged in to provide the standard RS-232 connector.

PreciousOrchestra90Pak

The PreciousPak could interface with a Digital-to-Analog converter, and map in to the Orchestra-90 I/O address, and become an Orchestra-90 Pak. For advanced use, the firmware might even be made to allow loading up an Orch-90 music file and have it play in the background while the CoCo does other things. (Orch-90+!)

PreciousHardDrivePak

Of course, the PreciousPak could interface with an SD card module or USB flash drive adapter and then have firmware to make it look like a Kenton or other SCS/IDE interface. This would allow it to leverage already-existing OS-9 drivers and builds of RGB-DOS. Depending on the capability of the core PreciousPak hardware, perhaps it could even be made to emulate the Western Digital 1773 floppy drive chipset and act like a true floppy drive, similar to how CoCoSDC currently works. (Though, I expect this would require much more capability than would be needed for most other devices, so why bother…)

PreviousMIDIPak

Firmware could emulate the 6850 UART, used by various CoCo MIDI Interfaces. A simple TTL-to-MIDI adapter would be plugged in, giving MIDI ports. By making it look like a 6850 in the standard CoCo MIDI Pak address, it would instantly be compatible with all existing MIDI software.

PreciousSoundPak

Completely new sound hardware could be added, and the firmware could translate incoming commands as needed. Software written to use the Texas Instruments SN76489 chip (like in the GameMaster Cartridge by John Linville) could work on this sound pak, provided whatever native sound chip it used was similar, and the firmware translated the commands.

Perhaps firmware could exist to allow dynamically switching into different modes, to emulate the types of sound found in Roger Taylor’s CoCo on a Chip FPGA project, or Gary Becker’s CoCoFPGA project. Perhaps it could be made to provide some level of emulation of the Tandy Speech/Sound Pak.

Product or Service?

This common hardware design would allow more folks to come out with custom hardware. With dozens of types of expansion devices based on the same core board, manufacturing costs could be reduced. And, with many expansion add-ons being off-the-shelf parts (like adding .92 cent RS-232 adapter), the overall cost of many items would probably be a fraction of what a custom board would cost.

There are so many off-the-shelf devices available today that could be made into such a Pak… Real time clocks, camera modules, WiFi, etc.

And, for folks on a budget that might now want to buy multiple paks all set up for different devices, they could buy just the core board, and then several of the add-on interfaces. They’d have to swap out firmware and modules before they could use it, of course, but it would be possible.

I find it a very intriguing idea.

But, unless someone with the know-how steps forward to do it, it will remain just a proposal.

About the Name

I was calling it OnePak, but there is a company by that domain name.