I certainly haven’t been idle on the retro computing front. In fact I have been busier than ever. I just haven’t been writing about it.
Retro Computer Festival 2017.
Most of my efforts have been preparing for and attending Retro Computing Festival 2017 at the Centre for Computing History in Cambridge.
My old friend Tristan and I volunteered to fill a table with old bits and bobs and at the time of booking we brainstormed ideas coming up with “something to do with ASCII art”.
For those of you not in the know, ASCII Art uses the characters of the 7-bit ASCII set to represent brightness levels of bitmap graphics.
We decided to use a web cam, an old machine and a daisy wheel printer to take photos of people visiting the museum and print out low resolution ASCII version of them.
Non of the old machines we had in mind will support a web cam. They don’t even support USB so we decided to use a Raspberry Pi to grab images from the camera, turn them into low resolution grey scale images and send them to a retro machine over serial using the X-Modem protocol.
We weren’t going retro with the image capture but we were from that point on.
My first thought for a suitable machine was to use the Exidy Sorcerer but a quick internet search suggested that there was a problem with its serial port that might make things difficult.
Next up was my beloved Sharp MZ700 but that developed a fault in the PSU and started blowing fuses. The Wang laptop was to slow in GW-Basic and too unlike a PC for Qbasic or Turbo C.
We finally settled upon Tris’s 386 Toshiba laptop with its funky amber plasma display.
It took a lot of mucking about to put this project together and as the date drew closer we were getting a bit worried that it wouldn’t be working properly on the day and so we thought it wise to take a few other bits and pieces.
I the photo above you can see the Toshiba on the left, my Exidy sorcerer on the right. We also took a BBC micro incase of emergencies (we didn’t need it), my Creed 7B teleprinter and a Ti-99/4A.
In the end, the ASCII art worked pretty well and people seemed happy with the results.
Now, what to do next year.