Tackling the Logiker 2023 Vintage Computing Christmas Challenge – part 1

Special thanks to Jason Pittman for mentioning this year’s challenge in a comment…

Logiker is at it again, with a 2023 retro-programming Christmas challenge:

???? Vintage Computing Christmas Challenge (VC³) 2023 ???? – Logiker

This year, the pattern looks like this:

   *     *     *

* * * * * *
* * * * * *
* * * *
* * * * * *
* * * * * *
* * *
* * * * * *
* * * * * *
* * * *
* * * * * *
* * * * * *
* * *
* * * * * *
* * * * * *
* * * *
* * * * * *
* * * * * *
* * *

This image is 19×19, so while it will fit on a Radio Shack Color Computer 1/2 screen width-wise, it’s a bit too tall to fit height-wise. The challenge allows for it to scroll off the screen, which is something we had to do for past challenges.

Logiker 2023 Challenge pattern.

I can think of a number of ways to approach this.

The pattern is made up of only four unique lines, so you could print them A B C D B C A B C D and so on. There’s probably a simple way to do that with a FOR/NEXT loop and an array of those four lines.

 10 CLS

50 A$(0)=" * * *
60 A$(1)=" * * * * * *
70 A$(2)=" * * * * * *
80 A$(3)="* * * *
90 FOR I=1 TO 3
120 NEXT
130 PRINT A$(0)
333 GOTO 333

If we had a larger screen (like the 40 or 80 column screens on the Color Computer 3), we could use LOCATE x,y to plot the pattern using some line drawing type math.

We could try the RLE (run length encoding) compression from past years to see if we could compress it down to spaces and characters.

We could try using math to figure out a pattern.

These all seem fun.

I hope to find some time to experiment. I don’t plan to “enter,” since one of the asks for the challenge is to not share your work until after the challenge ends.

More to come…

Color BASIC overflow bug – same as Commodore’s?

I just saw a tweet from Robin @ 8-Bit Show And Tell concerning a bug in Commodore BASIC that existed in the PET, C64 and VIC-20.

VAL() takes a string and converts it in to a floating point numerical variable. The value of “1E39” is a number in scientific notation, and this appears to cause a problem.

In Microsoft BASIC, the notation “1E39” represents the number 1 multiplied by 10 raised to the power of 39. This is also known as scientific notation, where the “E” indicates the exponent to which the base (10 in this case) is raised. So, “1E39” is equal to 1 * 10^39, which is an extremely large number:

1E39 = 1 * 10^39 = 1000000000000000000000000000000000000000

This number has 39 zeros after the 1, making it a very large value.

– ChatGPT

I was curious to see what the CoCo’s Color BASIC did, so I tried it…

It appears that port of BASIC to the 6809 also ported over this bug. Anyone want to take a look at the source and see what the issue is?

…to be continued, maybe…

PONG 1993

File:  PONGTEST.TXT - Revision 1.1 (5/16, 5/18/93) - By Allen C. Huffman

                          In the beginning there was...

                           XXXX    XXX   X   X   XXXX
                           X   X  X   X  XX  X  X
                           XXXX   X   X  X X X  X  XX
                           X      X   X  X  XX  X   X
                           X       XXX   X   X   XXXX (tm)
             And now, two decades later, Pong(tm) will live again...

  [DISCLAIMER:   The  game  name  "Pong(tm)"  is  a  TRADE  MARK  of   Atari
  Corporation.   None  of us have anything to do with Atari and we are using
  this name strictly as a term to define a video game concept.  Read at your
  own risk.]

       And to think...this rather bizarre idea all started with an impromptu
  P.A.  announcement at the 2nd Annual "Last" Chicago CoCoFest in May, 1993.
  The announcement, written by Sub-Etha founding partner  Terry  Todd,  went
  something like this:

               Sub-Etha Software, in voluntary cooperation with  StG
          Net,   StrongWare,  Intelligent  Algorithms,  Dave  Myers,
          BARSoft, Burke & Burke, HawkSoft, the National  OS9  Users
          Group  of  Australia,  and  more  of  the rest of the CoCo
          Community will be sponsoring a programming competition  in
          which  each  participant  will  create  a unique, original
          PONG(tm)-type game.  This contest is open to all who  wish
          to  enter.  The programs will be impartially judged at the
          1991 Atlanta CoCoFest on the basis of  Memory  Efficiency,
          Speed   Efficiency,   Originality,  Special  Effects,  and
          Playability.  The programmer judged best in each  category
          will receive a cashiers check in the amount of ONE DOLLAR!


       Video  games  all  started with Atari's original PONG(tm) game.  This
  tabletop two-player game, reportedly created in 1972 with a production  of
  8000  units  (see  "The  Killer List of Video Games", Dec 1992 version, in
  text-file format  available  from  various  sources),  became  an  instant
  success.   The  original  PONG(tm)  units  are rumored to have broken down
  their first day(s) in service...from jammed coin mechanisms.  (Atari could
  not be reached to comment on this bit of video game lore...)
       It occurs to me, though, that many of our fellow CoCo/OS9 users might
  not  have  even been BORN or, if born, might not have even been old enough
  to have ever seen a PONG(tm) game either as a console game  or  the  later
  home  versions  (before  the  Atari  2600,  even).   For  those...a bit of


       PONG(tm) was a digital version of table tennis.  A  black  and  white
  image   consisted  of  a  dotted  line  down  the  middle  of  the  screen
  (representing the net), with a small vertical line on  each  side  of  the
  screen  representing  the  paddles.   A small square represented the ball,
  which would bounce back and forth, hopefully to be deflected by a  paddle.
  Score  was  kept  it  the upper corners and typical tennis rules applied -
  the first one to 21 won.
       It  was  simple,  and  it  was  amazing.   (I first remember seeing a
  PONG(tm) game in a Shakey's  Pizza  Parlor  in  Houston...)   Sadly,  many
  people only remember this classic as a cartridge that used to be available
  for the  old  Atari  2600  called  "Video  Olympics"  (or  something  like
  that...it's  been  awhile)!   Even  the  original  stand-alone  home  game
  machines that did nothing but play PONG(tm) (or the many numerous  clones)
  have long since been forgotten...until now.


       It  occurred  to us that PONG(tm), one of the simplest video games of
  all time, might be an interesting target  of  a  programming  contest.   A
  PONG(tm)-type  game  could  be  written in BASIC and be quite playable, or
  souped up in assembly for some real speed.  What we  propose  is  an  open
  challenge  for  programmers.  What would YOU do with a PONG(tm)-type game?
  Perhaps a "classic" version (how close can you make it  to  the  original,
  "beep"  sounds  and  everything?) or an updated colorized version, perhaps
  with  better  sounds?   Maybe   something   completely   different   -   a
  PONG(tm)-type game with "power-ups" or weapons.  Let your imagination take
  control.  Points will be awarded in a number of categories.  Just follow a
  few basic rules.


       There  aren't any, really.  Your version of a PONG(tm)-type game must
  run on a CoCo under Basic or Assembly (either 6809 or 6309), or under  OS9
  ('C',  Basic09,  whatever)  or  even  under  OSK (MM/1, TC70, etc...).  If
  enough entries are received,  categories  will  be  created  for  as  many
  "types" as possible.
       To qualify as a PONG(tm)-type game, it must follow a few  guidelines.
  First,  you  should  have  a  bouncing  ball.  Second, you should have two
  paddles (and support one or two players) with which  to  bounce  the  ball
  back  and forth.  Scoring should go until 21 with whoever gets there first
  being the winner.  The ball should start from the middle of the screen and
  head  towards one side.  Whoever scores a point gets to "serve" again, and
  the ball will launch towards the opponent, just like  in  tennis.   That's
  it!  The "net" I guess would be optional.  <grin>
       To summarize:  Make it recognizable as a PONG(tm)-type game then  use
  your imagination!


       All  received  entries  will be judged at the Atlanta CoCoFest (which
  will probably be held in October) by an  impartial  individual  or  group.
  Several  categories  have  been  established,  with  more  added  later if
  necessary.  These categories are as follows:

       o Memory Efficiency
            Awarded to whoever writes the "smallest" PONG(tm)-type game.

       o Speed Efficiency
            Awarded to whoever writes the fastest PONG(tm)-type game!

       o Originality
            Anything goes!  This will be awarded for the most original
            twist on the old classic.

       o Special Effects
            The game with the most "bells and whistles" will get a prize,
            too!  Music, graphics, whatever...basically, the version that
            looks/sounds the best.

       o Playability
            No  matter how memory or speed efficient, original, or "special"
            a game may be, if it's no fun to play, it's not a good game.
            The will be one overall winner of all entries judged to be the


       The "press release" states an award of ONE DOLLAR for winners in each
  category.  This may not sound like much of a prize, so let's make things a
  bit more interesting.  Al  Dages  of  the  Atlanta  Computer  Society  has
  decided  to  throw  in  a  TEN  DOLLAR  prize  to  the overall winner, and
  (although maybe jokingly) Dave Myers talked about  chipping  in  an  extra
  BUCK  too.   If  $13  for  top honors still doesn't appeal, let's go a bit
       Marketing,  my friends!  We will attempt to compile a disk (or disks)
  of all winning entries and a "reasonable fee" will  be  charged  for  this
  disk.   Funds  generated  will be split amongst the programmers.  Sub-Etha
  Software (with hopeful support from other vendors) will  "foot  the  bill"
  for the disks, labels, and duplication costs.
       If that's still not enough, there MAY be more!  We will be talking to
  other  vendors and see about getting together more prizes for the winners.
  This part of the contest will depend entirely on the response  from  other
  vendors (who are, by the way, ALLOWED to enter, too!).  It may never be as
  good as winning the lottery, but it certainly should be fun!


       Simply write a PONG(tm)-type game and get it  to  Sub-Etha  Software!
  As mentioned earlier, you can write it under BASIC, 6309 or 6809 assembly,
  OS9, or even OSK.  "Cheating" is allowed for all versions, by the way.  We
  are  more  concerned  with the outcome than "how it got there"...just make
  sure it doesn't do anything too bad!
       The  competition  should  be  interesting.  Several "well known" CoCo
  programmers are rumored to be interested in working on PONG(tm)-type games
  for  this  "for  the  fun  of it" contest.  Don't let that discourage you,
  though!  We'll do our best to try to make it as fun as  possible  for  all
  involved!   So...ready?   Then  let's  get started!  The clock is ticking.
  Get those balls bouncing, and let's have some fun!


       Please note that we are in no way connected  with  Atari  Corporation
  and  have  neither  their  permission  or  praise  to hold a PONG(tm)-type
  contest.  The game name, PONG(tm), apparently remains  property  of  Atari
  but,  over  the  years,  has fallen into such common usage that we felt we
  should be able to get away with using it to describe this contest  without
  fear of a nasty lawsuit.  (BUT, it is NOT acceptable to call a game simply
  "PONG(tm)".  That has been used...  ;)
       Of  special  interest, though, will be my attempts to contact someone
  at Atari for more official information on the history of PONG(tm) as  well
  as  possible  "official" permission to actually use the name legally.  Who
  knows!  Maybe we'll be able to take the winner and have it released  as  a
  "real"  PONG(tm)  game with Atari's blessing...but don't hold your breath.
  Let's just have some fun.


       Terry, just look what you have started!  Any  vendors  interested  in
  upping   the   stakes   can   try   to  contact  me  via  electronic  mail
  (COCO-SYSOP@GENIE.GEIS.COM) or leave a message on the Sub-Etha OSK Midwest
  Division line at (815) 748-6638 (24 hours a day) and it will be relayed to
  me.  Of course, U.S.  Mail is always available...

            Sub-Etha Software
            P.O.  Box xxxx42
            Lufkin, Texas  75915

       Have fun!  I will be looking forward to your entries!   (OSK  entries
  can  be  directed  to Joel Hegberg and perhaps might even be better mailed
  directly to  Joel...Leave  a  message  to  JOELHEGBERG@DELPHI.COM  to  get
  instructions on how to get something to him...)  Thanks!


       On  5/18/93,  I received a return phone call from a lady at the Legal
  Department of Atari.  She  is  currently  checking  into  some  "official"
  PONG(tm)  history for me, as well as finding out some legal guidelines for
  using the name PONG(tm) in this text file.  Suffice it to say that  I  had
  to revise this file and make sure that the TRADE MARK was clearly visible.
  To further disclaim all of this...we are NOT writing PONG(tm)...but  games
  that  are  PONG(tm)-like.   (Thus,  all  the changes in this document from
  Revision 1.0...)

10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1));GOTO 10 simplified by Jim Gerrie

There is a classic Commodore one-liner program that prints a maze. I have discussed it on this site several times in the past:

10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1));GOTO 10

I converted it to use CoCo ASCII “/” and “\” characters:

10 PRINT CHR$(47+(RND(2)-1)*45); : GOTO 10

I have since noticed that the 10 PRINT book even has a version for the CoCo in it:

https://10print.org/10_PRINT_121114.pdf page 55

Recently, Jim Gerrie posted a video of a new one-liner MC-10 version of the maze that truly fit on one 32-column line of the MC-10:


His approach of using MID$() looked much simpler than the CHR$ version of the Commodore original. I am pretty sure my VIC-20 had MID$ so surely the C64 had it as well. Why wasn’t it used? Perhaps this was an example of code obfuscation. “Type in this mysterious code and see what you get!”

Indeed, in a quick test, using MID$() is smaller and faster:

0 PRINTMID$("/\",RND(2));:GOTO

0 PRINTCHR$(47+(RND(2)-1)*45);:GOTO

Now, doing the MC-10 version with CHR$() would be longer on the CoCo since we can’t type those characters like the MC-10 allows. We’d have to use CHR$(140)+CHR$(138) embedded in the MID$ to make that work (and be much slower since it would parse those numbers for every byte of the maze it prints). But…

0 PRINTMID$(CHR$(140)+CHR$(138),RND(2));:GOTO

…does work.

To make it faster, we’d need two lines and a string:

0 A$=CHR$(140)+CHR$(138)

Even with that, the GOTO is slower than the MC-10 version since it has to parse a number, and then has to skip a line each time. You could get around that by doing it like this, and starting it with “RUN 1”:

1 A$=CHR$(140)+CHR$(138):GOTO

How would you do it? Let me know in the comments.

Until next time…

My unreleased MIDI program for the Kawai K4 synthesizer

I recently shared the story about my first commercial CoCo product, the Huffman K1 Librarian. This was a MIDI librarian for the Kawai K1 synthesizer. In that article, I mentioned that I later sold my K1 to buy a more-better Kawai K4 synthesizer. What I did not remember is that I apparently made a K4 librarian, as well!

The K4 version was very similar to the K1 original, but the menu was updated to reflect how patches were organized on the K4. It appears the K4 has single patches, blocks of patches, and a way to transfer everything at once.

It also had the same disk command menu.

This version shows a 1991 copyright, so two years after the K1 original in 1989. Although the title screen references Rulaford Research, I do not recall it ever being a product they sold. I’m not sure if anyone ever had a copy of it other than myself. If you know otherwise, please leave a comment.

Thirty two years later and I am still (re)discovering stuff.

Until next time…

Escape rooms: 99% looking for lock combinations, 1% “other”.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to experience the Back to the Future “escape room” experience by Universal Studios. I have been aware of escape rooms for some time, and while I thought they sounded interesting, I was never interested enough to try one. But this one was different… I had no idea how different it was until I visited a traditional escape room later.

Universal Studios’ experience is automated, and the puzzles involved pressing buttons and plugging things in. Not once did I have to find some four digit code written on the brim of a hat hanging on the wall in order to open a box that would leave me to another four digit code.

But I digress.

At Universal, your experience begins with a preshow (video of the rules), then you enter the initial room. This is where they set up the story through a video presentation (which featured Christopher Lloyd voicing his Doc Brown character from the movies). The room would have various puzzles that were randomized (allowing for re-playability) and if you got stuck, the show system would give hints. Eventually, a door would open and you’d go in to the next room (even if you didn’t solve anything).

Since each room had several levels of puzzles, you might get none, or all, but you still get to proceed. If I recall, this experience featured five (or six?) different rooms, and kept you moving.

There was great sound, music, effects, lights and even smoke.

And that set the bar too high.

Recently, we went through an unlicensed (*cough* copyright infringement *cough*) E.T. the Extra Terrestrial escape room in Branson, Missouri. We spent an hour in two rooms, mostly trying to find codes to various combination locks.

Retromania – Branson, Missouri

Most were four digit number locks. One was a five letter combination lock. And one was a school-locker style three digit combination lock.

That was the majority of the experience! Tryingto find (mostly) four numbers that opened a lock!

There was one different bit where you used a magnet on a string to retrieve a key from the end of a pipe (after you found the pipe), and another puzzle involving getting a code by counting blinking lights. The final puzzle, where time ran out on us, were a few knobs that displayed numbers in LED panels. We couldn’t figure that one out before the hour expired.

What I am curious about is — how many escape rooms are mostly just looking for four digit codes and opening locks? We did a local one, ran by a friend, and it did feature many four digit codes, but it had alot more puzzles and was vastly more interesting.

What is a “normal” escape room?

Comments welcome.

Phreak Philes: Modem scanning in the late 1980s…

phreak /frēk/ INFORMAL

verb: phreak; 3rd person present: phreaks; past tense: phreaked; past participle: phreaked; gerund or present participle: phreaking; noun: phreaking
hack into telecommunications systems, especially to obtain free calls.
“a few old-time hackers still phreak casually just to keep their hand in”

noun: phreak; plural noun: phreaks
a person who hacks into telecommunications systems, especially to obtain free calls.
“the nation’s most clever cellular phone phreaks”

– Oxford Languages via BING search for “define phreak”

I expect most of us have some life changing event we could cite that forever changed the direction of our existence. For example, looking through a telescope for the first mite might have led to a career in astronomy. To me, it was when I was in 7th grade English class and I quoted a line from a PBS TV show I had just watched (“The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy“). A nearby student recognized the quote (“you watched that too?”), and introduce me to the books of Douglas Adams.

Jimmy also introduced me to computers, and helped me learn BASIC programming via books he had. We’d go down to the local Radio Shack to type in the programs we’d written down on paper. This led me to wanting a computer instead of an Intellivison (its baseball program could talk!) or ColecoVision (it came with Donkey Kong!), which started my career as a programmer.

In addition to Douglas Adams and computers, Jimmy also exposed me to the world of phone phreaking — though not at any “WarGames” level. It was just a bunch of junior high kids that learned how to make free phone calls from the school’s payphone, or talk with random kids via “loop lines”. (This made me search for “loop line” to see just what those phone numbers were for. I found a Wikipedia entry about “loop around” which does appear to be what I am referring to. #TheMoreYouKnow).

I remember kids all over Houston, Texas were making use of codes that allowed “free” long distance phone calls. This let them dial in to bulletin board systems out of state without the parents throwing a fit when they received a phone bill.

There was a higher level of phreaking that involved devices that would generate special tons that the old phone system would respond to. They were known as “boxes” and identified by a color. The “red box” simulated a tone that told the phone company a coin was inserted in to a payphone. This allowed making free calls from payphones. I see today’s Wikipedia has an entire category on these boxes with colors I never heard of back then. I think I’d only heard of red, blue (2600 Hz tone generator used for free long distance), and silver (four extra buttons on a standard touch tone keypad labeled A, B, C and D). I recall the “D tone” would knock an operator off the line, for some reason.

I actually had a silver box — something my dad found at a store. I remember him telling me (over the phone) that he found a phone that extra buttons on it that were going to be used for future phone services. He said they were labeled A, B, C and D. Somewhere, I still have that phone. I have no idea why this phone existed in stores, and I never knew how to use it for anything, but somewhere I still have it.

Popular computers like the Apple 2s had tons of phreaking software. The Tandy Color Computer had some, as well, including during the CoCo 3 days. Here’s one called “Super Phreak” by “Mr. Bill”:

It seems to be a software implementation of the phreak boxes, though it doesn’t make any sounds for me (at least not in an emulator).

There was one for the earlier Color Computers, called “BOX.BAS”, but based on the menu screen it may have been called “Phreak Operator.”

I wonder who “S Y N T A X” was, and how the licensing worked.

This one does produce tones, so it must have some assembly language audio routine embedded in it as the CoCo BASIC could only do one tone voice at a time.

But I digress…

In addition to loop lines, hardware boxes, and using codes for free long distance, there were other things lumped together with phreaking, such as having a computer dial numbers looking for other computers. This went by many names (we called it simply “modem scanning”) at the time, but today I see the Wikipedia refers to it as wardialing.

A famous example of this comes from the 1983 movie WarGames where David Lightman (played by a young Matthew Broderick) has his computer scanning for modems, and ends up finding the W.O.P.R. (War Operation Plan Response) supercomputer at NORAD.

WarGames wardialing clip

Unlike the infamous payphone scene, the movie was quite accurate on this. I expect folks wrote replica programs to recreate the user interface:

It does make me wonder how much the wardialing cost his parents. It sure sounded like his computer was just dialing a bunch of long distance numbers in area code 311 ;-)

The Radio Shack Color Computer also had programs that did this. I have two versions of “Modem Scanner” that used a Hayes-compatible modem hooked up to the Serial I/O port of the CoCo. In BASIC, the program would send dial commands to the modem using PRINT #-2 (as if they were going to a serial printer), and then it would use PEEK to look for the carrier detect pin to go high on the port. If a CD was not detected after some time, it would send the hangup command and move on to the next number.

It looked like this:

Above, you can see it would list the status of every number dialed, similarly to the WarGames program.

Using the “print to file” feature of the XRoar emulator, here is what was being sent to the modem:

ATT C0 E0 M1 Q1
ATDT 555-0000
ATDT 555-0001
ATDT 555-0002
ATDT 555-0003
ATDT 555-0004
ATDT 555-0005
ATDT 555-0006
ATDT 555-0007
ATDT 555-0008
ATDT 555-0009
ATDT 555-0010
ATDT 555-0011

At the top, the “+++ATZ ATT C0 E0 M1 Q1” sequence was the initializing modem part. Looking at the list of Hayes modem commands on wikipedia, I can see that…

  • “+++” followed by a pause was the escape code that made a Hayes smart modem go from communications mode to command mode. In command mode you could change settings, dial numbers or hang up.
  • “ATH” was the hang up command. (Hayes commands start with “AT” for attention.)
  • “ATT C0 E0 M1 Q1” – This was “T” for tone dialing, “C” was not listed as a standard command (not sure what it did), “E” turned off auto-echo so commands did not echo back when typing them, “M” turned ON the modem speaker (geesh, that should have been a settable option), and “Q” turned on quit mode so the modem did not echo back “OK” after each command.

Looking at the BASIC source code shows this notice at the top:

And these version notes at the bottom:

The full source code is here:

0 ' +------------------------+
1 ' !   MODEM SCANNER V1.1   !
3 ' !    HAYES COMPATABLE    !
4 ' !     MODEM REQUIRED     !
5 ' +------------------------+
8 '
9 '
10 PCLEAR1:CLEAR10000:DIM MD$(1000)
50 POKE65315,48:POKE65314,249:POKE65315,52:POKE65314,0:POKE150,180:MD=0
55 FORA=1TO2000:NEXTA:PRINT#-2,"+++";:FORA=1TO2000:NEXTA:PRINT#-2,"ATZ":FORA=1TO1000:NEXTA:PRINT#-2,"ATT C0 E0 M1 Q1"
59 PRINT@128,"SCAN 800'S?  (Y/N) :";:LINEINPUTA$:IFA$="Y"THENAC$="1-800-"ELSEAC$=""
85 NM$=AC$+PF$+"-0000":NN$=RIGHT$(STR$(NM),LEN(STR$(NM))-1):MID$(NM$,1+LEN(NM$)-LEN(NN$),LEN(NN$))=NN$
90 PRINTNM$" - ";:PRINT#-2,"ATDT "NM$
150 '
152 '
155 'OCTOBER 1987 (V1.0)
156 'FEBRUARY 1988 (FOR 800'S)
160 '

I believe the POKEs in line 50 are what made BASIC not wait for the printer to be ready (since that would never happen when using a modem) and setting the printer baud rate to 300 baud.

Line 95 is related to the carrier detect, though I don’t know what it’s doing specifically.

At 120 it appears to display all of the modem numbers found, with a pause at the end of the screen. I see no provision for writing this list out to tape or disk, so I guess the user would have just had to write them down. And, most likely, when scanning 10,000 numbers (0000-9999), how many of them would have actually been modems anyway?

I had a friend who did modem scanning back in the late 1980s, though I don’t know if he used this program. I do know that his parent’s got a phone call from the phone company, reporting that something was wrong on their other phone number and it was making too many calls. His dad went up to the room where the computer was and knew enough about it to hit the read BREAK key and stop the program.

I do not know if I ever used this program, but I do have a story to tell about getting in trouble for dialing in to a number that was found through modem scanning. But that’s a story for another time…

Until then…

For further research…

A disk image containing these programs may be found on the Color Computer archive site:


Huffman K1 Librarian, my first commercial product

Although I was “this close” to having my *ALLRAM* BBS sold by a well-known CoCo company back in 1983 it wasn’t until 1989 that something I wrote appeared for sale in the pages of Rainbow Magazine.

Rainbow Magazine, November 1989, Page 111.

I had gotten my first musical keyboard (a Suzuki Keyman PK-61) during high school, and then acquired a Casio CZ-101 synthesizer. After graduation in 1987, I purchased the CoCo MIDI interface from Rulaford Research. This started my love for MIDI and creating keyboard music which I still enjoy today (just without MIDI, as it’s been replaced by virtual instruments on a computer and USB piano keyboards).

There were two main types of MIDI programs. A sequencer allowed recording the keys pressed on a MIDI keyboard and playing them back. This was a high-tech player piano, but instead of a roll of paper with holes punch in it triggering hammers hitting strings, it was serial byte codes going to a synthesizer or sound module playing notes. Lester Hands’ sequencer was quite an achievement for a 64K CoCo.

The second type of program was called a librarian. These programs would use special messages the synthesizer supported to download sound data (the “patch” or “voice” as keyboards called them) and save it to tape or disk. You could later upload that information back. This allowed saving out all the sounds a keyboard made, and loading in new ones. Or, backing up custom sounds you created.

There was a third type know as an editor, but I never had any of those so I cannot really comment on them.

I recall buying a Casio CZ-101 Librarian from Rulaford Research.

I eventually saved up enough to buy a Kawai K1 full-size synthesizer. I learned enough about how the CoCo MIDI hardware pak worked (thanks to my Commodore friend Mark finding the data sheet) to create routines to read and write data through it. This, and some technical information on the SysEx (system exclusive) MIDI messages of the K1 led me to create a librarian for that synth. I had been in communication with Cecil Houk of Rulaford Research and he suggested putting my name in the title so it would be an instantly unique title (rather than something generic like “Kawai K1 Librarian”).

The end result was the Huffman K1 Librarian, shown here at version 1.2. I have no recollection of what changed between 1.0, 1.1 and this version.

At the time, while many of us had copies of software we did not purchase, I didn’t like having copies of anything that asked me to not copy it. I included the message “Support the future of music on the Color Computer. Please do not pirate this program.” on the title screen.

The main menu allows sending a single patch (voice) to and from the K1, or a block (which was a bank of many patches).

I do not recall much about how the K1 LCD screen looked, but I know it used an uppercase “I” or “E” (internal/external) as well as lowercase “i” or “e” for the singles voices.

The voices were divided up in to four banks (lettered A to D) with 8 patches in each. It was basically octal! This is the only time I’ve seen base-8 numbering used (though in this case, it would be like A1-A8 to D1-D8 rather than 00-38 in octal).

To dump (upload) a patch to the synthesizer, you had to type the name of the patch file. I built-in a Directory command similar to how the Casio Librarian did it.

This may have been the first time I ever made use of DSKI$ to manually parse the directory table of the CoCo’s disk format.

I also added a disk menu to give a fuller directory, kill files, rename files, and copy files.

Here was my copyright notice in REMarks at the top of the program. From looking at the CLEAR command, that reminds me that my assembly language MIDI routines loaded at &H7000.

Also note I set a variable DR (current drive) with a PEEK, rather than hard-coding a default of drive 0. This meant if the user had done a “DRIVE 1” and was running it from that drive, it would default to using drive 1. I had forgotten about this technique.

I guess I typed too soon. At the end of my programmer version notes, so now I know about 1.1 (add error checking) and 1.2 (more error checking). Nice.

Beyond looking at the menu screens, today I have no way to do anything with this program. I sold my Kawai K1 long ago, and upgraded to a K4 :) I eventually sold that and replaced it with a Yamaha W7.

Humble beginnings, and fun times. I hope you enjoyed this look back at my earliest commercial product.

Until next time…

TIL: You can build C in Microsoft Visual Studio

I feel dumb for not knowing this, but I was under the impression that today’s Visual Studio only built things like C#, C++, etc. — since those are the things listed when you make a new project.

I happened to ask ChatGPT about building C in Studio, and it told me I could just make C++ project and save the file out as a .c and get a C project. I had no idea.


Though, it’s many more steps to do this than, say, popping out to https://www.onlinegdb.com/online_c_compiler, just to do a quick test, but it’s useful.

I have only tried this under Windows, but I plan to see if the Mac version of Visual Studio supports the same. I’ve tried to get C code building in VS Code, but it’s klunky (makefiles!).

DATA problems revisited

Awhile back, I posted a note about some weird behavior with DATA statements in Color BASIC. The issue was that you really couldn’t have anything else on a line after the DATA keyword other than data.

I recently mentioned this to Alex Evans so he could make sure his BASIC utilities were not combining DATA statements together. He mentioned something to me that demonstrated this issue even more:

100 DATA 1,2,3:PRINT "FOO"
110 DATA -1

If you RUN that program, it should print “FOO” and do nothing else, proving that the interpreter does scan the entire line looking for things after a DATA statement.

BUT, if you try to USE that DATA, it will continue reading after the 3 and error out, since the data it finds is not an ASCII number:

Above, the “?SN ERROR” is caused by trying to read a numeric variable from what is NOT a string (the token value for PRINT followed by FOO in quotes). Altering the program to use A$ instead of A (and print one item read per line) shows this a bit better:

Alex explained it like this:

Basically, for the purposes of READ everything after the DATA keyword is part of the data statements, but the interpreter executes the line properly.

– Alex Evans

You can see it appears to treat the colon as a DATA separator, since it does not appear as part of the read DATA.

This is a quirk I do not expect many of us ever encountered, since most of us probable grouped all our DATA together, without mixing commands in with them:

100 DATA 1,2,3,-1

I bet all of this was discovered and covered back in the 1980s in various CoCo magazines and newsletters, but the behavior surprised me when I stumbled upon it so I guess I never saw it.

Until next time…