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Possible New Project

I'm Old

I have not start­ed a re­al se­ri­ous open source project in a while. Ok, that's a lie. I have start­ed a num­ber of things and aban­doned them, but the last soft­ware project I start­ed that had last­ing pow­er was Niko­la and that was in 2012!

I turned 7**2 a couple weeks ago, so I am officially old (it's the law!) and us olds get bored because we don't get all the tiktok and whatever you youn'uns do.

So, I am get­ting itchy, and have been think­ing of start­ing some­thing. Af­ter see­ing a num­ber of retro­com­put­ing videos, it turns out the ZX-81 of my child­hood is vin­tage enough that they are ac­tu­al­ly old­er than ENI­AC was when I got it.

And it got me think­ing ... was there any­thing in that kind of com­put­ers that is worth sav­ing for some­thing oth­er than nos­tal­gia's sake? Sure, play­ing Mon­ty on The Run is as fun as al­ways and peo­ple still re­lease soft­ware for C64 and sim­i­lar an­cient com­put­er­s.

How­ev­er ... well, that sort of reeks of masochis­m, be­cause de­vel­op­ing for those sys­tem was ab­surd­ly painful. You can get the same lev­el of pain cod­ing for pi­co8 and peo­ple can play your games much eas­i­er.

There's al­so the retro-hard­ware thing but ... hon­est­ly, I like mod­ern hard­ware much bet­ter! For ex­am­ple, a Col­or Maximite looks much more fun that a C64 to de­vel­op in.

But stil­l.

There is this feel­ing that cur­rent com­put­ers are miss­ing some­thing.

Why not ex­plore it a lit­tle? I have a the­o­ry.

The Theory

Mod­ern com­put­ers are made to run things, old com­put­ers were not.

Get­ting some­one else's soft­ware in­to your com­put­er in 1984 was ab­surd­ly dif­fi­cult.

  1. Get a com­put­er (try do­ing that while liv­ing in Ar­genti­na in 1984)
  2. Now what? There's no In­ter­net
  3. Read the man­u­al and start cod­ing (yes, the man­u­al for the com­put­er ex­plained how)
  4. Fail
  5. Find some­one else who had a com­put­er and had ac­tu­al soft­ware for it
  6. Get copies. That of­ten in­volved copy­ing au­dio tapes. That would take be­tween 10 and 20 min­utes.
  7. Try out the copy on your com­put­er. Load­ing it in­to the com­put­er would al­so take be­tween 10 and 20 min­utes.

And af­ter that you had ... a port of Man­ic Min­er to C64 with crap­py sound.

So, some of us, we stuck a lit­tle to the oth­er side of those re­mark­able ma­chines. That they boot­ed in­to a de­vel­op­ment en­vi­ron­men­t. That you could make them do shit.

And that's what cur­rent com­put­ers don't do. They don't do shit. They don't in­vite you to start do­ing your own shit. Which is per­fect­ly and ag­gres­sive­ly fine, I don't mind. But I do.

The Plan in My Head

What would the evo­lu­tion of an 80s com­put­er look like nowa­days?

  • It should in­vite you to code and do shit
  • It should run on cheap, com­mod­i­ty hard­ware that is cheap and easy to find and buy
  • It should not do much out of the box. It's a box to do shit not to run shit.

There­fore, how about ...

A disk im­age that you can pop in­to a rasp­ber­ry Pi and...

  • Boots to a lim­it­ed en­vi­ron­ment
  • Where you can do shit
  • With fixed APIs and a pro­vid­ed soft­ware suite so that:
    • You can do some graph­ic­s, eas­i­­ly
    • You can do some sound, eas­i­­ly
    • You can ed­it a pro­­gram, eas­i­­ly
    • You can share it some­how, eas­i­­ly

Why the Pi?

  • It's fixed, known, cheap, sup­port­ed hard­ware.
  • You have IO pins to do ex­tra shit
  • It's cheap
  • Al­so, in­ex­pen­sive

What APIs?

  • Di­rec­t-ad­dress text mode (fake)
  • One or two graph­ics modes. 720p and 1080p?
  • Graph­ic prim­i­tives
  • Sprites! (hey, it's not the 80s with­out sprites)
  • Ba­sic mod play­ing
  • Some beep­ing thingie

What language?

Python. Sor­ry. I am play­ing with it, it's not go­ing to be BA­SIC.

Any weird thing?

Oh yes.

  • No im­port. You get the APIs you get.
  • Pro­grams are one file. You can use pack­ages in your big­boy box over there that has chrome in it.
  • No in­ter­net (no web brows­ing at least) just use your phone.
  • In­clud­ed sprite en­di­tor
  • In­clud­ed Mu­sic track­er

Are you really going to write this?

Well, I'm go­ing to give it a try and see if it's fun to do. If it's not I won't.

Are you looking for collaborators?

Nope. I want to do this so­lo at least for the first few month­s. My cod­ing at ear­ly project stages is way too er­rat­ic and would make ev­ery­one hate me.

What's it called.

It's nos­tal­gic. It's 80s. It has snakes in it. It should be Co­bra Kai.

But be­cause copy­right ex­ist­s, it's Co­bra Py. Or maybe Co­bra Pie, be­cause there's al­so oth­er python things called Co­bra.

h/t to Gui­do de Ca­so for fig­ur­ing out the name.


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