Text Time Travel

So, it looks like a lot of things just opened up for me along a path I thought was currently blocked. I am writing this on an Atari 800XL. Sort of, anyway… in some very surprisingly accurate ways, though.

My love of old tech works two ways these days: the retro way, where I try to recreate the experience of tech past with what I’ve got now; and the antero way, where I try to directly access the old tech with what I’ve got now. One of the tools I’ve always used for my retro side is emulators, I’ve been using Atari 800 emulators since STXformer back in the early nineties. Most recently, my Atari 800 emulator of choice has been Atari800MacX, because the things it does well are the things I want from retro: easy user interface to get to different types of content, and easily swap modes for compatibility. I have been aware of Altirra, another Atari emulator, but being a Mac person, running the Windows-based Altirra isn’t always straoghtforward. Yeah, I’ve done it once or twice, but the seeming extra steps didn’t seem to offer any extra benefit for my retro side.

Recently, the software WINE, which allows Windows software to run on linux machines by interpreting the Windows calls into linux XWindows calls, has updated to 64-bit… something… which allows it to run on recent Mac OS updates, including mine. I like having WINE in the toolbox, seeing a thread on an Atari board where folks had gotten Altirra running nder WINE under the newest Mac OS release, I decided to go ahead and try it. And either I’m finally getting used to the procedure, or it’s finally getting easy enough to allow my participation, but everything installed cleanly, first try, and minutes later, I’m dinking around Altirra to see what kinds of things I could tweak. Under one menu, I saw an option to load ROM files for various hardware… not too surprising, I was emulating an ICD MIO peripheral in Atari800MacX… but I noticed one of the options was Ultimate1M, a recently developed upgrade for the ancient hardware. Now, again, my antero side knew about the Ultimate1M, I have the Atari 600XL picked out to put one in, sometime soon. For whatever reason, it never occured to me that I could use the retro emulation tool as an antero showroom, trying out different combinations of modern hardware upgrades to see what works.

Like I said, a lot of options are more readily available than I imagined. With a little luck, this could be part of a success story: one hurdle I’ve been wrestling with is creating content created on the Atari side and getting it to the PC side efficiently. Through a series of misadventures, I believe I have succeeded in setting up the PCLink device on Altirra, allowing me to write files from the Atari side directly to my main computer’s drive. Hopefully, this will soon be my first Atari written and edited post to make it online.

Next steps for Altirra include making emulated models of some of my favorite real Ataris (256kXL+MIO, 320kXE+MIO, 48k800), revisiting some old favorite games (BoulderDash, Zombies, Pharoah’s Tomb), and creating my Perfect Emulated Atari (a not-yet-fully-formed monstrosity that packs as much useful punch into an emulation as possible).

Easter Sunday 2020

It is Easter Sunday, 2020. The world has been different in many ways over the past several weeks, with an unknown end not yet in sight. The motif of rebirth into God during the reality of hunkering down for God-only-knows-what has had me spinning.

I still consider myself a Christian, but only to myself. I will no longer claim the label publicly. Not because I am embarrassed about who I am, but because I am appalled by the public behavior and policies being championed in the name of Christianity. I want no part of that, no connection to those aspects of modern American Christianity… I would flat out argue most of these behaviors and policies aren’t Christian in any way, and the clumsy semantic manipulations that pass for justifications for the label are as literal an interpretation of the snake in Eden as we are likely to discover.

So I don’t go ‘round advertising my Christianity right now… although I do still preach the gospel as I understand it with everything I say and do. Right now, preaching the gospel as I understand it; which includes helping the sick, clothing the poor, feeding the hungry, maintaining connections to the incarcerated or “cast out” of “regular” society; these things end up coming across as political arguments in our world, rather than the basic morally right religious tenets I hold them to be.

I have to come see this as natural and unavoidable, as much as we throw around separating church and state. Church comes from religion, from our need to understand our place in the grand scheme and to have a moral compass upon which to base our actions. The state comes from governments, people gathering to decide how to direct their actions as a group. One’s religion will always inform and direct one’s politics. Separating church and state cannot mean removing religious thought and attitudes from politics, but must mean removing state favoritism for one religion.

That seems obvious, doesn’t it? People have different backgrounds, educations, and worldviews, and different religions spring from that. Trying to limit some, or promote other, religions through political means simply guarantees denying some people their history, their culture, their sense of self. It is a recipe for constant disharmony and confrontation.

This is what we have made of religion, in America, of Christianity, in particular: a plan to continue to pit masses of the people against other masses of the people. Not that America deserves any credit for the concept, the history of religion is literally the history of dividing people based on their interpretations of the scripture, even to the point of what pieces, exactly, were “appropriately” scripture. Religion, for a concept so associated with peace and love, has a remarkable history of divisiveness and violence.

America, and the Republican Party in particular, does deserve citation for the level to which they have weaponized religion in the political arena. My reluctance to declare myself Christian has nothing to do with my actual religious beliefs, but is because declaring yourself a Christian in this space and time is declaring a lot more than your religious beliefs. Because of the deep seated connection between Christian American voters and the Republican Party’s platform, coming out as a Christian necessitates being in favor of authoritarianism. Calling yourself a Christian means you can and will ignore reality around you. Standing with the Christians is standing on the premise of whose sins are to be forgiven and whose are to be punished is a properly human decision.

I know a lot of Christians, and many of them would argue with those assessments of what Christianity means for them, which is fine and, in some cases, even demonstrated in their historical behavior. But I think it shows at best an alarming naïveté, and at worst silent approval, of the demonstrated policies and actions of churches and religious leaders… and political leaders that use religion to maintain a divided populace.

I have noticed something darkly humorous in our political/social current events. There are a lot of “reasonable” people pointing how how Trump’s policies have hurt the response to COVID-19… typically in conjunction with some appeal for support for the Democratic Party. Now, certainly, I absolutely believe that Donald Trump put Jared Kushner in charge of the coronavirus response team for the trinity of purposes of funneling supplies to Trump supporters, denying supplies to Trump detractors, and ensuring as much of any resulting business as possible flows through Trump related conglomerates. And yes, that’s awful and no, I don’t believe any Democrats would manipulate the system this blatantly.

But this predictable Trumpian chicanery is not the root problem of our collective crisis response. The root problem is an American health system designed for creating profit and not health results. The irony that these folks are promoting the Democrats as the answer to health service issues so soon after the DNC colluded to end Bernie Sanders, the only Democrat who actually campaigned on the promise of changing the for-profit health system, is not as lost on me as it seems to have been on them.

This irony is a symptom of the Democratic Party as a whole right now. The party has shifted right over the years. Few would try to refute that, but I think even fewer would admit to how far it has gone. Barack Obama once admitted in normal times, he would be considered a moderate Republican. Both Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren were literal Reagan Republicans in the day. Biden’s policies will be more of the same Clintonomic retro-neoconservatism that directly led to Trump’s revolution, a revolution that the Reagan Republicans set the table for in the first place.

We are following the wrong carrots… it is not panic that has us running in circles, that path is simply where our chosen carrots continue to lead us. I wonder how much people see this… how much they look for patterns like this. I wonder if that Democrat I knew back in the eighties realizes that now she is standing for the policies and tendencies she fought against when she was young… wonder if she realizes she’s changed and chalked it up to “maturity,” or if “the Democrats” will just always be the white hats in her cowboy story, no matter if they are using the methods and means of the black hats and bandanas… to the same ends, ultimately.

So rebirth. Easter. Rolling away the stone and stepping into the light of God. How do we do that? How do I that? The institutions to which we turn for support and direction are compromised. Jesus would never get around to any miracles, he’d be so busy turning over tables.

He’d have to find a place without those tables to settle down to work. That’s how I do this, that’s how we do this. The light I’m stepping into is a new church. Easter 2020 is the start.


Discuss this post on the jjewell discussion boards

The Most Recent Jumpstart

As is tradition, every so often I find myself ”returning” to the website with “renewed energy.” This is of course code for something far darker… I had another little breakdown and simply didn’t care about the website for weeks at a go. Through a cocktail of means, I am looking at things in a “do things right, make things better” mode, again.

This is the mode I want to be in, the mode I believe human beings are “supposed” to be in. And one better: “do things right, make things better… learn and document all you can.”

I have mentioned before that I intend to start a new religion and a new political party… and I realize I need to do one better on that, as well… but I’m not as clear on what to call that final organization. School, university, library… junto, administration, congress… research, data, knowledge… not sure which way to go on that one, yet. But that’s a bridge for some other day’s burning, as I’m already having a tough enough time figuring out what to do next with the two I’ve already named. Recently, when I’ve tried to write about the religion or the party, I find myself drawn back to a basic message… and I took that basicness as a sign that i had simply not developed it properly. So I spun, trying to think of something to write that didn’t boil down to the same old drone.

I saw an article on the web today, I’ll not link it because it was basically an advertisement, but the gist of it was interesting: the presenter drew attention to the ways “cults of personality” used their message to their audience that were different from a “typical” advertiser: the product was the result of the underlying identity, rather than the product promoting some identity. The presenter used Apple and Donald Trump as examples… suggesting that we all were more willing to accept Apple’s music player than, say, Dell’s, because Dell was thought of as a computer company jumping on the next product bandwagon, while Apple was thought of as a “Think Different” company that made some good computers, so why not music players? Trump’s popularity in not in the results of his actions, but rather the complete confidence that ANYTHING he does is to “Make America Great Again,” regardless of the action’s inherent flaws and failures.

So, I decided to take thus as a positive sign: my fixation on centering all this on “doing things right and making things better” is actually a positive form of branding and advertising.

I am looking forward to presenting new Tie Dyed Church and Tie Dyed Party material soon. I feel as though a recurrent theme that I was once afraid was holding the concept back is actually going to be a positive in the presentation of the whole package.

Finally Got My STacy

I remember knowing about the Atari STacy when it was released in 1989. I had owned a 520ST since I had gotten out on my own and could afford it in the fall of 1987, and was still running my original Atari 800 from 1980 right beside it, at the time. Although I always kinda wanted one of the Atari portables, the ST’s MIDI performance made it popular with musicians, and the built-in hard drive and monitor of the STacy models even more so… even during the time I was amassing the bulk of my Atari collection, no one was parting with a STacy at what I thought was a reasonable price.

As has been documented elsewhere, I’ve been going through my old machines to see what’s working and what isn’t. A parallel interest of mine  is retrogaming and emulation, and while I’ve been peeking through old hardware, I’ve been poking around new software and emulating some of the things I’ve been doing on the real things.

As far as STs go, I’ve been working with Hatari for emulation. It comes with EmuTOS, a reverse engineered publicly distributable version of Atari’s TOS operating system for the STs, TTs, and Falcons, and the ability to emulate different configurations of hardware. So the fun for me has been recreating some of my actual hardware setups in Hatari. I got it displaying the way I wanted, then starting playing with the hardware emulation configuration to recreate my original 520ST as I actually used it, upgraded to 2.5 megs of memory. I found images of the actual Atari TOS ROMs, and starting running TOS 1.04 rather than EmuTOS. As of today, I got one type of hard drive emulation running, and Hatari is reading a folder of my Mac SSD as its C-drive. As I was wandering around the house with the computer, I realized that in some ways, I finally had my STacy.

NeoDesk 4 on Hatari full screen on Mac OS X
NeoDesk 4 on Hatari full screen on Mac OS X

jjATR HC The Atari 1040STe


I am refining my process.

As I rediscovered my Ataris, I first went through the ST/TT/Falcon series, plugging things in and seeing what worked, getting what data about them that I knew was interesting and that I knew how to get easily. As I went through the 8-bits, I went a little deeper on each machine as I had it out, and figured out more things that were important and more ways to find out things. I’ve got jjATR HC summaries posted for the VCS and the XL series, and  summary for the XE series is in process. The 800 summary will be last for various reasons.

Now I’m going to make a second pass through the ST/TT/Falcons, and I’m trying to get ahead of the game by planning my summaries and scouting for what information I may want and how to get it.

The 8-bits dropped themselves into categories fairly easily along VCS/800/XL/XE lines. By that token, ST/TT/Falcon seems like the logical summaries, but there’s the complication of the Megas and the ST varietals, in particular the STe. I haven’t decided yet whether to group based on on the physical architecture (ST/Mega/TT/Falcon) or hardware capabilities (ST/STe/TT/Falcon). I do think I want to avoid the ST/Mega/STe/Mega STe/TT/Falcon over-encumbered solution. And if it’s physical architecture, then the STf, STm, and STfm models would rate their own summaries. I think I’ve just convinced myself.

I also looked ahead at the web to see what kind of info I might like to gather, and I’m glad I did because it turns out, for instance, that on the Falcon series, the serial number possibly never matches from the case to the motherboard. And because these machines tend to have lived with so many techie tinkerers over the years, there’s no guarantee that the case serial has even a passing resemblance to the “real” serial number on the running motherboard. So I’m going to be opening all of them along the way.

I already have my original 520STfm, stuffed with 2.5 megs by my own hands, running in the bedroom office, and the TT030 running in the music workstation. The first machine I’m looking at in depth is a 1040STe with 4 megs on board.

jjATR 1040STe serial number label
jjATR 1040STe serial number label

I mentioned that fact that this machine had 4 megs on board, and my time with the XLs has me attuned to quirks in these labels… the first thing that jumps out at me is the 4160STE in the FCC ID… perhaps this ST came with 4 megs installed from the factory? Quick Googling doesn’t immediately confirm this suspicion, but does tend to lend it some authenticity.

jjATR HC 1040STe SysInfo screen
jjATR HC 1040STe SysInfo screen

I picked this machine to be up next for a couple of reasons… first, as a 4meg STe in the old school form factor, it’s a prime choice to be my workhorse ST system. Second, although it currently has TOS 1.06, I do have a set of 1.62 ROMs I wanted to put in. Finally, I wanted to see what was up inside, because after booting several times to get info and test screen resolutions, it started three-bombing on me just as I was getting ready to pack it up. That indicates a bus error, so I was thinking I knocked something loose on the floppy drive. Now, though, it’s coming right up, again. Mojo electronics.

Related models

Mega STe – My poor Mega STe, the STe with the heart of a Mega and the body of a TT, has a missing F10 key on the keyboard.

jjATR HC MegaSTe
jjATR HC MegaSTe

Here’s a readable version of that SysInfo screen.

jjATR HC MegaSTe SysInfo screen
jjATR HC MegaSTe SysInfo screen

jjATR HC The Atari 800XL


20190627: This is a very pretty looking and mechanically sound feeling Atari XL. Runs, boots from floppy. Has Expansion Port Cover. Small hole drilled in the back panel of the case. I vaguely remember this coming from an active hardware hacker who removed an upgrade switch to reuse in another machine… maybe a socket for something already installed in here? Keyboard feels amazing… maybe an upgrade there?

jjATR 800XL, 1050, Commodore 1702
jjATR-HC 800XL, 1050, Commodore 1702

Wow, let’s get a better look at that power supply.

jjATR-HC Atari XL Power Supply
jjATR-HC Atari XL Power Supply

I’ve always thought these were great power supplies. I need to go back and see if I can find a page I used to know that compared the different types of Atari power supplies… apparently, some of them are easy to open up and work on, but some of them are epoxy globs on the inside. This is one of two like this I’ve ever come across.

So back to the main event…

jjATR-HC Atari 800XL-a Serial Number Label
jjATR-HC Atari 800XL-a Serial Number Label

The 83A indicates location of manufacture as the Atari-Wong plant in Hong Kong; HA is the code for NTSC 800XL machines. The three digit stamped code is a date code, here indicating week nineteen of 1984 as the manufacture date.

It turns out that the nice keyboard wasn’t an upgrade, just a solid piece of kit from the get-go. Further spelunking into keyboard variations reveals this keyboard to be the Alps switch-based model, generally liked for both its feel and its repairability.

jjATR 800XL Alps keyboard C024583-001 CAV. A REV. 2
jjATR 800XL Alps keyboard C024583-001 CAV. A REV. 2

This upper case is marked C024583-001 CAV. A REV. 2

jjATR 800XL bottom case C024584-001 CAV. A REV. 1
jjATR 800XL bottom case C024584-001 CAV. A REV. 1

Lower case stamped C024584-001 CAV. A REV. 1.

jjATR 800XL motherboard
jjATR 800XL motherboard

What we can see before removing the shielding. The little bit of information in the top right only appears in the XL motherboard list twice, either it’s Rev C APC Hong Kong or Rev D OPC.

jjATR 800XL motherboard
jjATR 800XL motherboard

This 800XL is in amazing shape, he mentions as he realizes how clearly you can see him taking that photo in the reflection off the shielding. There’s also a visible number stamped on there, C 024652-001R C. Google shrugs its shoulders at that particular reference.

Related models

The Atari 600XL is the little brother to the 800XL, literally.

jjATR-HC 600XL
jjATR-HC 600XL

That is actually a second of the cool looking power supplies, they both work!

jjATR-HC 600XL serial number label
jjATR-HC 600XL serial number label

Here again we see the 83A prefix for the Atari-Wong manufacturing plant, and the code for the NTSC 600XLs was EA. Fifteenth week of 1984. This machine apparently went out of the same plant about a month before the reference 800XL above. The keyboard externally appears to be a Stackpole bubble type.

Additional machines

jjATR 256XL, runs. Mojo switch on back panel.

jjATR 256XL
jjATR 256XL

Made in Taiwan, 72R prefix, HA for NTSC 800XL, 52nd week of 1984. Appears to have Stackpole keyboard.

jjATR 800XL-b, runs, no response from SIO.

jjATR 800XL-b Serial Number Label
jjATR 800XL-b Serial Number Label

Made in Taiwan, 72R prefix. Expected HA, 39th week of 1984.

20190705 – Opened this machine up. Learned a little something about keyboards.

jjATR 800XL-B Alps keyboard
jjATR 800XL-b Alps keyboard

This unit has the same keyboard as the reference 800XL above, the Alps socketed switch model. There is at least one switch version from AWC, then two Stackpole keyboards and one from Mitsumi.

jjATR 800XL-b internals keyboard
jjATR 800XL-b internals keyboard

Here you can see the Alps logo and various part numberings on the keyboard.

Turns out there was also a motherboard in there to learn about.

jjATR 800XL-b motherboard
jjATR 800XL-b motherboard

A post on the AtariAge forums has a list of the known motherboard types, which I’ve reproduced here.

Board Name Fits PN Revision Date Component Side Solder Side Manufacturer

800XL 800XL CO61851 A1 Chelco 1983 P/N: 150800011 REV A1 800XL 800XL/CO61851 A1 CHELCO

800XL 800XL CO61851 A2 Chelco 1983 P/N: 150800011 REV A2 800XL 800XL/CO61851 A2 CHELCO

800XL 800XL CO61851 C CAO24808-001 REVA CA061854 800XL/CO61851 REV C/MADE IN HONGKONG APC

800XL 800XL CO61851 D 3284 CA06220-REV? PBT 374 800XL/CO61851 REV D/OPC/1298A/32-84 OPC

800XL 800XL CO61851 D 3384 CA061854 REV.D PBT 414 800XL/CO61851 REV D/OPC/1298A/33-84 OPC

800XL 800XL CO61851 D CAO24808 REV D PBT 504

800XL-SECAM 800XL CO24968-001 X1A 4-84 CA025926-001 REV- GCI-A 18-84 CO24968-001 REV-X1A 800XL-SECAM

800XL-SECAM 800XL C024968-001 R3 884 800XL-SECAM ROSE CAO24969-001 REV- 8-84 GX-211 VO C024968-001 REV R3 800XL-SECAM

800XLF 800XL CO25925-001 R1 © 4-84 CA025926-001 REV- CO25925-001 REV-R1 800XLF KT201 8502

800XLF 800XL CO25925-001 R3 285 © 9-84 CA025926-001 REV- CO25925-001 REV-R3 800XLF KT201 8502

130XE 800XL 5084 © 11-84 CAOXXXXX-XXX REV- 50-84/COXXXXX-XXX REV-R1 130XE

There are two stickers on this motherboard, a green circular one that possibly says ICT Passed, and an orange one that definitely says Burn-In Passed. I’m beginning to think these stickers might be obscuring the main identification I’m supposed to be seeing on this side of the board. But it is clear that the board is fully socketed, which is nice.

jjATR 800XL-b motherboard
jjATR 800XL-b motherboard

The back of the board clearly marks it as a REV A2. But there’s some parts of identification that still aren’t clear to me. Upon further spelunking, I am confident in calling this a Chelco Rev A2 board.

Here’s a look up under the shielding…

jjATR 800XL-b sheilding C024651 REV. B
jjATR 800XL-b sheilding C024651 REV. B

Part number C024651 REV. B. Contrast with reference jjATR 800XL info above.

Here are the parts of the case dismantled for cleaning.

jjATR 800XL-b upper case C024583-001 CAV. B REV. 2 lower case C024584-001 CAV. B REV. 1
jjATR 800XL-b upper case C024583-001 CAV. B REV. 2 lower case C024584-001 CAV. B REV. 1

The upper case is stamped C024583-001 CAV. B REV. 2, and the lower case is stamped C024584-001 CAV. B REV. 1.

jjATR 600XL-b, runs.

jjATR 600XL-b
jjATR 600XL-b

So… made in Hong Kong, but with a 7YJ code, so, a different manufacturing facility? EA for NTSC 600XL, 49th week of 1983. Would appear to be the oldest 600XL/800XL series machine I own, also the only black serial number label model.

The 7YJ prefix seems to appear in the FCC IDs for some 410s, 1010s, 600XLs and 800XLs. Atari worked with Chelco for boards, and Chelco manufactured tape drives… we also have seen a few Chelco 600XLs and 800XLs, machines that have Chelco stamped on the motherboards rather than Atari. I wasn’t going to start opening up machines for awhile, yet, but now I’m all intrigued…

Judging from the keycaps, this unit had a Stackpole keyboard.

Discussion thread for this post in the jjewell forums

jjATR HC The Atari VCS (1977)


20190626: So, for the 42nd year in a row, my original Atari VCS can officially be classified as “runs.”

jjATR-HC Atari 2600 running Star Wars: The Arcade Game
jjATR-HC Atari VCS CX2600 running Star Wars: The Arcade Game

I feel really lucky to have been in on this from the beginning… and to have it last so long and still work so well. This is a “Sunnyvale” VCS, or a “heavy sixer,” if you prefer: one of the first batch of Ataris that were manufactured in the Sunnyvale, California facility, had six switches across the upper front panel, and had a thick, heavy plastic shielded case. When manufacturing moved to Hong Kong in 1979, the body had a much lighter plastic case and shield with the six switches, hence, “light sixer.”

jjATR-HC Atari VCS CX2600 serial number label
jjATR-HC Atari VCS CX2600 serial number label

As best as I can ascertain, the Atari serial number system is pretty straightforward: run off a hundred thousand units, increment the letter, start over. One trick seems to be that Atari apparently started the VCS numbering somewhere in the E run, which coincides with the last production units of the Atari Pong game at the same facility. This speculation is supported by the fact that we haven’t yet found any VCS units with a serial number ending in A-D. The earliest serial number we know for sure exists on a VCS is #56910E, according to the most current list at AtariAge.

If we assume numbering started at ~#50000 E, my serial number would be about the 500,000th unit produced. Most estimates I see have Atari selling less than 500,000 units in 1977, allowing for some play in serial number existence and distribution, I think we’re in the right ballpark.

Even though the machine is now ubiquitously known as the 2600, it was referred to the Video Computer System, or VCS, at the beginning.

jjATR-HC Atari VCS CX2600
jjATR-HC Atari VCS CX2600

Sure, some of us geeks knew the actual Atari part number was CX-2600, as seen on the serial number label, but up until the 1982 introduction of the 5200 Super System, the on-product labelling was Video Computer System. The all-black, four-switch “Darth Vader” model introduced to accompany the 5200 was the first model to highlight 2600.

Discussion thread for this post on the jjewell forums

Pinnacle of Robotron:2084 Emulation

Here’s something fun.

Robotron 2084 Welcome Screen

My second favorite arcade game ever is Robotron:2084. This was a frenetically paced game, with dozens of onscreen targets and enemies converging on you first inevitably, then instantly. You got two joysticks for this, one controlling move, one controlling fire… so you can fire backwards at things chasing behind you. As is common in the genre, you are saving the last human family while taking out as many of the evil machines as possible. Here you see mommy in her pink dress and daddy in his blue business suit… and where you should see little mikey in his red t-shirt and shorts you will instead see a skull and cross-bones indicating a tank already ran the poor lil guy over.

Robotron:2084 Save the human family

Harder waves send more and different enemies at you… and apparently this family was a particularly fecund bunch, so they had that going for them, anyway.

Robotron:2084 Brain Wave

What did it take to get that screenshot? Everything, as they say… here’s the screenshot timestamped one one-hundredth of a second later.

Robotron:2084 Brain Wave Death

I also caught the brain’s “breathing” in that one. But, still dead. So many women left un-picked-up.

As you can see, I can play a pixel-perfect representation of the original arcade machine on my current main computer, a MacBook Pro, using OpenEmu software. This is an amazing (to me, anyway) jump in technology during my lifetime, even considering how popular Robotron was in its day and how often (and how well) it was reproduced. I own copies of Robotron:2084 for the Atari 8-bits, for the Atari 5200, Atari 7800, and the Atari ST… and along the way, I’ve played the versions for DOS, Apple ][, and Commodore 64. They all do a pretty good job… I mean considering the various hardware limitations in each case, the game always seemed to look good enough and play fast enough compared to other games available for that system. Yes, I like my statements well qualified.

But there has always been something missing. For the vast majority of those playing a Robotron port, they were playing with one joystick to move… and a button that shot in the direction you were running.

Completely unplayable.

Okay, that’s a bit far, but it was really hard to do well on the ports. And even with the few ports that allowed you to connect two joysticks to use as God and Williams intended… have you ever tried to control two separate lightweight joysticks, one in each hand? Think about those 2600 joysticks slamming over when you move in any direction… think about those 7800 controllers just sliding everywhere. I have two Wico sticks that it took me years to scrape off the duck tape residue where I taped them to a plank to make a Robotron setup. And that has been about the height of my Robotron play for years.

New day, new tech, new take on retrogaming, and I’m back at Robotron:2084. OpenEmu is showing me the most precise image from the original that we are going to get. And OpenEmu allows us to personalize the controller setup. I invested in a couple Logitech F310s, Sony-style controllers with dual thumbsticks.

Logitech F310

Once the joystick is connected, OpenEmu identifies it and allows you to determine how OpenEmu will use the different buttons, sticks, and pads in the game. The thing that’s a little quirky about setting up Robotron’s controls is that there is no obvious “map to second joystick” function. This is because “second joystick” just isn’t something that gets used much, so it’s not present in the standard format for the programs emulating the systems. OpenEmu happens to use MAME as the engine for arcade emulation, in particular MAME 0.149. MAME knows about the four-directional firing, but, there being no “second joystick” to map to in the format, those functions get mapped to buttons.

It only took a couple games of trial and error (with a couple face palming backslides along the way) before I found the secret of mapping Robotron’s fire controls the the Logitech F310.

OpenEmu Robotron 2084 right joystick configuration

With that set up, my scores jumped significantly.


I happen to know my high score on the arcade original is over 1,000,000. Know this because I’ve been cleaning out the garage, and I found my Bronze and Silver Joystick Awards issued from The Endless Challenge arcade sometime in the eighties. So I know I still have a ways to go. But this is the best version of Robotron:2084 that I’ve been able to play without a quarter or a token handy.

There are actually two more options to possibly take this further. Already on my list of Things To Buy Next is a pair of 2600-dapters, little hardware interfaces that allow you to plug in old-school 9-pin joysticks to USB ports to use with emulators. The issue here will be the same as it was with the 7800, though… Wicos and duck tape as the best alternative.

And finally, I could build or buy a custom heavy duty controller. X-Arcade has a model with 2 joysticks and a trackball, which would cover almost all my retrogaming needs.

Almost all. Yes, Robotron:2084 is my second favorite game, despite the odd controls that make decently emulating it’s gameplay such a difficult task.

My favorite game is Tempest.

Discussion thread for this post on the jjewell forums

Boundaries and Expectations

I admit it: I have an addictive personality. When I find something cool, I want to find out all I can about it and how it got that way… and I want to see and understand the variations. Although I feel this has ultimately served me well in my life, there are times when it can become a stumbling block. The best idea is to approach these things with some idea of your limits in mind… not to mention an idea of what you actually want to get out of the interaction.

It’s like I keep trying to tell my kids, “You can do anything you want, but you can’t do everything you want.” As I’m rebuilding my website to better reflect and serve my life, I’ve realized that some boundaries and expectations are in order.

The Roles of jjewell.com

In my personal life, I have tried to use some of Stephen Covey’s methods to be and do more. One of the main ideas I pull from Covey is that of Roles: we each play a certain number of roles in our life, and there must be a balance among and between them when it comes to our attention and effort. In that same way, I am expecting jjewell.com to serve several roles for me.

Information Repository – I want to be able to easily store and access all types of information and data that is important to me.

Connection Interface – I want to be able to easily share and enable collaboration on all types of creative projects that are important to me.

Neocapitalism – I want to be able to easily buy, sell, and trade my own goods and services in ways that avoid pitfalls associated with modern capitalism.

Information Repository

At one point, jjewell.com featured a MediaWiki installation focused on my life. I started making entries about certain events or topics of interest, with the intention that slowly but surely, everything I ever knew and loved would be connected and accessible through my website.

The wiki is not an aspect of jjewell.com that has been revived, at least as of yet. With that wide open a mission, there were just way too many rabbit holes to start down. These are the rabbit holes that I need to block off before we spelunk that cave, again.

I do have some idea of things I definitely want to have curated here. Most importantly, I want to create a repository for personal media: the photos, recordings, videos, documents, and other digital bric-a-brac I want to hold onto for personal reasons. I want to be able to add to and access the data wherever I am at the moment, and I want the access and backup options to be under my control.

I also want a repository for a more public type of media… things I want to curate for use beyond my own brain. In my case, this kind of media includes songs to practice and perform; recording tools and data; emulation tools and data; and comic books, art, and animation. These are things that I want to have access to for myself, but that would also be useful and of interest to others. Again, I want to be able to get to the files from anywhere and control access and backup.

Connection Interface

A sometimes overlooked aspect of our technological present is our ability to communicate, work, and play with people separated by distance. I am a musician, a writer, a collector, and a cook, among other roles, and all of those roles benefit from collaboration with others. I want my website to to an enabler of this collaboration.


Some history: I came of age during the 1980’s in America, a time when making money seemed easy, desirable, and honorable in and of its own right. Even at that stage, it seemed to me that “business” was being used as code for, and rationalization of, selfish greed and a lack of human morals and empathy. I equated the words “sales” and “marketing” with “lying long enough for the check to clear.” My work history is filled with 1 to 5 year stints where I systematically lost faith in the good intentions and nature of every employer I ever had. Early versions of jjewell.com featured a Capitalism Capitulation page… where I acknowledged the need to involve yourself in capitalism to some extent in order to simply survive.

I’ve decided that almost all of that is the wrong attitude. Despite the glaringly audacious greed of the owning class and the systematic destruction of the working class as featured in Modern American Capitalism, the concepts of using capitalism as a basis for trade in organized societies are sound.

We aren’t going to replace capitalism. But we do have to fix what is broken about it.

And that’s what I mean by neocapitalism: doing business the most “fixed” way possible can in what is undoubtedly a broken system.

Moving Forward

I will be building the website with those basic expectations in place. I know that a personal photo library with automated backups will be a part of the plan. The restructuring I’m doing of my physical environment has meant that my vintage hardware, particularly Atari computers and games, has taken a primary spot in my focus.

Perhaps most importantly, as I uncover artifacts in my garage and life, I’m going to create a model of both the boundaries and the expectations of jjewell.com in the structure of the website itself.

Discussion thread for this post on the jjewell forums

Technological Amnesia

A first step in changing my life is changing my surroundings, organizing my belongings, environment, and habits to make the most of what I have and expand upon that foundation. All that makes “dig through a bunch of old boxes” sound almost noble. Excavating my own history has gone, in one way, much as anyone would expect: old comics, toys, and games; old musical instruments and recordings; old technology of all varieties. What I didn’t expect was a different way of looking at these artifacts and forebears, and an examination of why they are actually important to me.

I started feeling the discomfort with comics… and it actually happened years ago. Collecting comics had been the great passion in my life for decades, but a change in my financial situation first left no budget to collect, and eventually led to a massive liquidation of the heart of my collection. Complete runs of Fantastic Four, Amazing Spider-man, The Uncanny X-Men, The Avengers, basically every Marvel Silver Age first appearance and key issue… it was necessary at the time, but the experience took a toll on my love of collecting comics. Although I hear the call of old comics, the thought of starting over on a collection just isn’t appealing. I did miss a lot of the stories and characters, though.

A few years ago, I discovered a thing called Marvel Unlimited. Long story short, for a pretty reasonable yearly subscription, I get access to thousands of issues of Marvel history… even through my iPhone, wherever I am. I like this service. I get to re-read all my favorite stories whenever I want, and even try a lot of new-to-me comics that I wouldn’t have gotten interested in, back when reading the story meant tracking down back issues in comic stores and conventions scattered across this great land of ours. In many ways, technology has left the physical comic book behind; paper comics aren’t well-suited to modern methods of distribution and consumption. Comic books are still what they always were, but the essence of the stories and characters are traveling so much faster and more widely through digital means. The books weren’t able to keep up with things changing around them… almost like an anterograde amnesia, comic books couldn’t process or adapt to the inevitable future.

But there was another part to my comic collecting. Yes, I liked reading the stories and spending time with the characters, but in the days before instant global full-video communication, there was much more of a thrill of the chase to it. I finally found my last Fantastic Four, issue #15, when I was set up at a small local convention, and a guest was looking to sell this and some other books, and another dealer who knew I was looking for it pointed me out to the guy. I had been looking for it for years… it wasn’t because I couldn’t afford it, I didn’t have the book in my collection because I had simply never come across one in all that time of looking. That was part of comic collecting, and comic dealing, knowing about who wants what and making connections. Knowing your business. You can now buy and sell pre-graded, plastic-sealed comics that you can never actually touch or open, without leaving your chair. Completing a collection is less about archeological detective work, and more about having a credit card without a limit. Modern comic collecting, actually buying old comic books, has become less about knowing the comics than about picking the right lottery ticket. In our zeal to make the transfer and sale of comics easier and faster, we lost a certain amount of institutional knowledge: collectors at the highest levels are often investors or speculators in a stock, and not necessarily a fan, advocate, or expert on the actual comics. The modern methods of both casual consumption and high-end collecting have forgotten important aspects of their history… they suffer from retrograde amnesia.

All that had been floating around in my head for awhile, and I’d thought about it in different directions trying to make sense of it; trying to figure out the essence of what drew me to comic collecting. It was only more recently, as I’ve been curating various old computers, tvs, stereos, and music instruments, that I started thinking about tech in those same terms. For instance, I have paid for at least five different copies of one of my favorite songs, Man Out of Time, by Elvis Costello: vinyl album, cassette tape, CD, and digital download. At several junctures, I realized that I was paying for something I already “owned,” in principle: when I bought that first vinyl album, I bought the right to listen to that song as many times as I wanted for perpetuity; but I rationalized the purchase as a fair trade of dollars to avoid the time, hassle, and expense of acquiring and operating the equipment necessary to do a quality conversion. The formats of their time had anterograde amnesia, and couldn’t continue to function with excellence as time and tech went on. The next greatest formats always had retrograde amnesia, and my tape player forgot about all the music my record player knew, as the CD would in turn forget about my institutional knowledge from the tape.

Everything came neatly together for me when I got to the computers. I got my first computer in 1981, an Atari 800… and I still have it and it still works. Everything about it is just as amazing to me as it was almost forty years ago: the games are still fun, the applications still perform their assigned functions… but that fun and those functions have not stood the test of time, were not adaptable enough to stay relevant, to keep up with the current and move ahead. Anterograde amnesia. I got my second computer in 1987, an Atari ST… and I still have it and it still works, too. That was an interesting time for me, because I “needed” to have two computers running: I depended on software on the 800 to do things in life, and that software would not run on the ST. The ST had retrograde amnesia, and forgot the institutional knowledge that came before it. I had to buy new programs for the ST to serve the same function… often enough  called the same title and written by the company or individual who wrote the one for the 800.

Computers are particularly gifted at battling retrograde amnesia. The ST wasn’t too old before a clever programmer wrote a program that could pretend it was an 800. You could actually run those old programs written for different hardware on this newer machine through this emulation program. By overcoming the amnesia, the ST gained the 800’s institutional knowledge.

Emulators are now a part of our everyday lives; computer evolution favors those who are able to retain or regain that institutional knowledge. One of my favorite emulators makes my MacBook Pro think it’s an Atari 800. It’s amazing to be able to play the best games of my youth here on my regular computer anytime. But I still have an 800 (several from the line, in fact) and I still use it sometimes. Emulators are cool… but there are differences in the way a wireless PS4 joystick interacts with an emulator than the way an old-school 9-pin joystick interacts with an 800, not to mention the differences in the way a modern computer interacts with its monitor compared to the way old computers interacted with analog tv sets. Long story short, although the emulators are amazing, there is something tangible lost in the translation.

I like to think that I am becoming more self-aware; that I am considering my tendencies and motives to improve in every way I can. So when something like this spends so much time in my headspace, I try to figure out the lesson. There’s a primary layer to this, which reflects a certain bitterness about things that were once important to you losing their meaning: perhaps my best songs includes the line “Your passions turn to clutter there in front of your eyes;” I’ve felt this disconnect between what I thought I was and who I actually am for some time. I’m realizing how relatable the amnesias are to this thought: it’s not so much that I’ve lost interest in an activity, it’s that some kind of amnesia has gotten in the way of my connecting to my past, or in the way of learning more capabilities for the future… and that frustration, that miss, that lack of connection… is what leads to the activity becoming less important to me.

So I’m going to try to be more like a computer. I am going to confront my retrograde amnesia, and build whatever emulators I need to process the value of my past. I am going to expect my anterograde amnesia, and remain open to whatever adapters I can use to process new value the future offers.

Discussion thread for this post on the jjewell forums