My Mac mini with Apple Silicon arrived. I went with 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD configuration. I am excited about this transition not just because of the massive jump is performance, but because it feels like the Mac platform is taking center stage again.
I did hit a few snags with the hardware and operating system on my first day. It wasn’t a simple drop-in replacement for my 2018 Mac mini on my desk, and one of the first things I wanted to understand was how to reinstall or factory erase macOS on Apple Silicon.
The Amiga 500 I recently acquired had some physical damage, but supposedly still booted. However, I’ve never owned one before and was initially ill-equipped to even check if it did indeed still booted.
My original plans for 2020 were to write more and complete projects. And you would think that being locked up in a house all spring and summer would be the perfect time to do those things. However, I have kids and a job that increased in demand due to the circumstances, and so my projects were put on hold.
I’ve got a handle on things now and have made a few new purchases this summer: a NeXTstation Color Turbo, Commodore 64 and an Amiga 500.
NeXTstation Color Turbo
I was surprised when I won the auction for the NeXTstation Color Turbo for about $140. Normally, I see these go for much, much more. However, in addition to not coming with a hard drive, keyboard or mouse (which I could use from my original NeXTstation), I don’t have the Y-cable, sound box, or a monitor that are needed to actually use the computer.
A NeXT sound box is hard to come by and will probably cost more than what I paid for the computer. An actual NeXT color monitor will also be hard to come by but can be side-stepped with a custom VGA Y-cable.
The Commodore line of 8-bit micros was my first exposure to computers, and I’ve wanted to play some of the games I remember on the actual hardware. Breadbox versions of the C64 are incredibly plentiful and priced well. I got one in pretty good condition with the box. I just need to clean it up, test the power supply, and get a video cable so I can hook it up.
I think the C64 is going to be the most fun of the hardware I have. There is such a vibrant community around it and loads of games, software, peripherals, and retro mods that are easy to find and fun to make.
After watching too much YouTube, I placed a bid on an Amiga 500 that reportedly boots but has a damaged case and maybe some port issues. I didn’t think I’d win, but oops.
When the iPad first came out, I immediately bought one. Holding it and interacting with it felt like a revelation. This was the future of computing.
As the years went by and I upgraded to newer models of the iPad, I never really felt the same excitement. The software experience felt like it stagnated. I used it more for reading and watching videos than anything productive.
A few years ago, purchased a Surface Pro 5 with an i7 and a keyboard and pen thinking it was going to be my primary mobile machine. I returned after a week because of how unintegrated everything felt.
The pen was basically a mouse cursor in most of apps I tired (save for OneNote), and I never felt like the Surface in tablet mode was a good tablet experience. Things as simple as reading an ePub felt harder to do than on my iPad.
The iPad Pro without the keyboard the same excitement the original iPad made me feel. The feel of the machine, the bit larger screen and Face ID feels like the future of computing again. I curious if the addition of the Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil can keep the experience elevated above just a consumption device.
As my collection of vintage computers grows, I wanted to look back on the hardware and operating systems I grew up with.
My first computer was a Commodore Plus/4 in 1993. I went with my grandparents to a garage sale when they were looking for patio furniture. While my grandfather and the seller were talking about the price, the seller offered to throw in the computer if they bought the whole patio set. They bought the patio set, and I got my first computer.
The Plus/4 couldn’t do much out of the box. There was some software included, but it didn’t include a disk or tape drive, so I couldn’t save anything. But still, I copied code out of the manual and a magazine that came with it to make the Plus/4 play music and also made a very simple Tetris clone.
Because I showed interest in it, my grandparents purchased a Commodore SX-64 later that same year from the local classifieds. It was completely kitted out with an external monitor, joystick, printer and some software. I went over to my grandparents every weekend just to play with it.
Over the summer of 1994, my elementary school loaned out an Apple IIe to my family. My sister and I spent a lot of time playing Number Munchers and Oregon Trail on it.
In 1996, When my family was looking to buy a modern computer, I really wanted us to get a Macintosh. We had a computer lab with Macintosh “pizza box” computers at school (LC or LCII), and Macintosh computers were in all my favorite movies.
However, we got a Packard Bell Multimedia C110. It was the family computer until 2003, though it went through many upgrades. I spent so much of my money from mowing lawns on this system. I put in more RAM, a bigger hard drive, a Sound Blaster 32, and a video card. I had also installed a few different operating systems on it. Windows 98SE was eventually installed on it, and later it dual booted to SuSE Linux 6.4.
Even though we had a Windows machine at home, I tended to prefer the Macintosh experience I had at school. I think it was because I was using a computer at school to get something done, while I spent most of my computer time at home just playing games. Windows was just a game launcher, and every hardware upgrade was in the service of playing more demanding games. Eventually I started to play around with Linux after we got on the Internet.
Right before high school, I got a Fujitsu Lifebook that was strictly my machine (not a shared family computer). I installed SuSE Linux on it and started working on a Star Wars fan site and tinkering around with perl scripts.
For most of the computing world, the 90s was about Microsoft taking over with Windows, but for me, I don’t think any one particular operating system took over my world quite the same way. My time early computer time was all about LOAD "*",8 and later almost equal time between Mac OS, Windows and Linux.
However, as 2000 rolled around, I started saving my money for a Mac of my own. The non-linear video editing capabilities in iMovie blew my mind, and Apple announced the public beta of Mac OS X with a UNIX subsystem. I was about to become a Mac guy.
I was cleaning out a closet the other day and came across my old PC setup from 2010. I decided I wanted to either do something with it or get rid of it, and I thought it might make a great arcade emulator or a virtual pinball machine.
Despite the computer’s age, I think it will run Pinball FX, and I have a nice collection of tables on Steam (yay Steam sales). The game has a cabinet mode that will change the perspective of the playfield, and it also supports a second screen for a back glass.
The Form Factor
I’m not sure if the enclosure should retain the classic proportions of a real pinball machine or be constrained to the size of the components. I don’t think it will need as much depth or length as a real cabinet.
I’m not a pinball purist, so the final form factor will probably be somewhat compromised. I’ll try to have the classic playfield angle, but allow the rest of the cabinet to be as small as it can be while containing the hardware.
Beginning with the Controls
Of course there is more to it than just putting a computer and some monitors in a box that looks like a pinball machine, and proper controls are essential to this project.
I want to focus on the controls before beginning any cabinet construction, as I believe the controls will greatly determine the success of the project. Also, a controller test rig will take up a much smaller footprint and can be iterated on at my desk.
However, I didn’t think I wanted to be limited to a pre-programmed encoder. I’d like to explore adding an accelerometer for nudge support or even a real plunger. That lead me to consider a microcontroller-based setup.
Finally, I came across the Teensy-based PinSim from Jeremy Williams. He built a controller for Pinball FX VR that emulates an Xbox 360 controller.
Since the Xbox 360 controller has analog sticks and force feedback, he was able to add a real plunger and some rumble motors to his box. It also has nudge support via an accelerometer.
I think replicating his VR controller is the perfect place to start for a controls test rig and a great beginning for the project.