Amiga and Commodore news and topics not covered in the other forums
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intric8
Seattle, WA, USA

by intric8 posted Mon Dec 05, 2016 8:35 pm

Last year I created an account on Twitter to create a targeted feed for my hobby content and tweets for like-minded retro-gaming folk, separate from my personal account. On this hobby account I mainly follow retro-gaming and Commodore fans. When you use Twitter in a very targeted way like this, it actually can be extremely useful and enjoyable. In any event, during this time I began to see a healthy amount of discussion around BBS’es (Bulletin Board Systems) becoming “a thing” again for retro-computing nerds. And, amazingly, a few popular BBSes were being served off of 8-bit machines.

"8-Bitters" were connecting to them, having virtually "off the grid" discussions and playing games outside the watchful eye of Google and the rest of the internet. I wanted to connect to them, too.

Back in the day (BITD), people connected via modems over telephone lines. But these days most folks I know don’t even have land lines anymore.
warGames.jpg
Matthew Broderick showing of his awesome modem-connected computer to Ally Sheedy in "War Games"
People have found creative ways to hook old vintage machines up via WiFi, as many of the old terminal protocols are entirely compatible.

The C64 specifically has an extension port called the User Port which, via an adapter, can communicate over RS-232 serial. It is through the C64’s User Port where the magic happens. These devices allow users to “call” BBSes, which amount to telnet sessions these days. But other than the odd “boinks-boink!” sounds, the rest is as real as it gets.


Part 1: Getting the Commodore 64 Online via Wi-Fi Modem


When it comes to Commodore Wi-Fi capable modems, there are two popular options right now that one can buy and start using immediately.

The least expensive options is called the WiModem. The advantage of this option is first and foremost it’s relatively low price of $55 plus shipping, depending on where in the world you live.
wiModem.jpg
WiModem
It comes with its own little OLED that displays its connection status, and it plugs right into the user port on the back of the C64. Popping it in requires less depth than a typical cartridge, which is nice especially for those with limited desk space.

The second option is the Wi-Fi Modem (a.k.a. Schema modem), designed and built by Leif Bloomquist (@schemafactor) in Toronto, Canada.

The cost of the Schema Modem is $150, plus $20 for the USB programmer dongle and flat rate $10 shipping worldwide. It also comes with some little plastic legs (standoffs) that you can pop into holes in the card to give it more stability when plugged into the Userport when not used with a plastic case. More on cases later.

“The Commodore Wi-Fi Modem is built around two main components:  The Arduino-compatible MicroView with built-in OLED screen, and the Roving Networks RN-XV or “Wifly” wireless module. These give you significant flexibility to use it as a straight-forward wireless solution for your Commodore, with optional expandability for standalone use or as a platform for interfacing to the outside world.“
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The various parts of the Schema Modem.
The Schema modem is the one I purchased, as it has a lot more potential. Regardless, both options are excellent for getting online.
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Pros and cons, by the awesome Alterus (sysop of Centronian BBS, posting on Particles)
Once you’ve received your modem (e.g. the Schema) all you need to do is put the OLED screen onto the board by pressing it into the MicroView socket and pop in the standoffs.

Next, you need to do an initial configuration of the modem and get it onto your wireless network. The OLED is extremely helpful in this regard.

Turn off your machine, plug in the card, and turn your machine back on.

“You should see some diagnostic messages on the OLED screen, and flashing green and red LEDs. The flashing red LED indicates an error, but this is normal on first powerup as the SSID has not been set yet. “

Now, it goes without saying that you will need to have an original terminal program or a way to read a disk image of a terminal program (e.g the Ultimate ii card, etc.). Assuming you do you have or can download and use a terminal program, load it up and run it. For me, I use CCGMS V2.0 Elite (CCGMS is still being actively developed, amazingly). It is very simple and gets the job done. Others prefer NovaTerm, but I find it to be way too much software (i.e. full featured, and slow) for my needs.

By default, the modem is configured with the following parameters: 2400 Baud, No Parity, 1 Stop Bit and Flow Control: None

From the WIFi User Manual:
1. Once in Terminal mode, press ENTER or the Reset MicroView button on the Modem to bring up the Menu.
2. Select option 4. Configuration Menu.
3. Select option 2. Set SSID.
4. Follow the prompts. For WEP mode, you’ll need the 26-digit WEP Key set on your WLAN Access Point. For WPA or WPA2, you’ll need your WLAN’s passphrase.
5. The SSID is automatically saved into the RN-XV and will persist. To change the SSID, follow this procedure again.
6. The default configuration is to obtain an IP address automatically via DHCP. To change this, refer to the User’s Guide.
Note: In CCGMS, I found that I also needed to go into the main menu’s Dialer/Params (F7) and change the BAUD to match there, too (e.g. 2400). This seemed to reduce problems greatly.

At this stage you should see your LED lights showing green. If you have a red light after the config process, something is amiss and you’ll need to check your settings.
A yellow LED represents the transfer of data.

And that’s it! That’s all you need to get your C64 rocking’ and boppin’ like the old days (minus the pirating, credits, and status crap).

It’s worth noting that there are BBSes out there that display in 40 column mode as well as 80 column. The C64 is a 40 column machine, and BBSes that display that natively make for a very nice experience.

Centronian BBS
centronian.servebeer.com:6400 (6400 is the port) is an Ivorymod BBS based out of B.C. Canada, and runs off a real C64. It’s a relatively small but active group.

Particles BBS
particlesbbs.dyndns.org:6400
Particles has been around since 1992 and is a very full-featured BBS. It has a lot of forum options, and even includes some fun multiplayer PETSCII games.

Level 29
http://bbs.fozztexx.com/
This board is in 80 column mode, so if you “call” you’ll want to have the proper video capability or it won’t be awesome.

All of these BBSes also provide browser-based access so you can log in if you're at work and away from your C= or other 8-bit machine.
particlesbbs.jpg
Particles BBS
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Centronian BBS

All the guys in these boards have been a part of the scene since the scene was fresh, and are all very cool and helpful - and simply fun to hang out with and talk old-school tech and games.

For me, as for many others, BBSing is just so different and refreshing from most of the forums and social media offerings out there today. There is immediate respect given and found, focused topics and discussions, and a “quietness” that has become one of my own forms of “zen” and mediation and I catch up on the boards. And oh man, I really had nearly forgotten what it was like to really TYPE on the C64 keyboard!

If you decide to join one of the BBSes mentioned above, look me up - I’m ‘intric8’. See you around!

Part 2 (Optional): 3D Printed Enclosures

Before my Wi-Fi card arrived from Canada, I knew I was going to want to get a plastic case for it. I want my snazzy device to look like a real bonafide product, personally, not a plucked robot chicken. Luckily, there is a fabulous online shop that will 3D print cases for your C= Wi-Fi modems. There are multiple color choices, too, although a visual preview of the actual product would have been nice.

Also, 3D printed plastic parts are covered in a rather distracting texture. It’s the nature of how they are printed, but they aren’t exactly “pretty”.
case-untreated.jpg
Fresh 3D printed enclosure for the Schema Wi-Fi Modem
They kind of share the visual similarity between a wafer cookie and some sort of insectile honeycomb. Since this is going to be a part of my beloved C64 “retro battle station” I couldn’t just leave it like this.

The first step involves a lot of sanding and filling with either a plastic epoxy or filler compound. Warning: this stuff is nasty. Most have horrible fumes and should be handled with plenty of ventilation. The compound has to be pressed into the gaps all over the housing. I first sanded the housing for a few hours. I wasn’t going to put the thing in a show, so I cut a few corners (I should have never gotten the Wi-Fi symbol printed, as it just made this process worse). Next I went on the hunt for a cheap spray paint for plastics.

At first I thought I had hit an out-of-the-park home run with Krylon Colormaster “Cover Max” paint. The cap seemed to match perfectly. It didn’t.

Note: There are 3 main types of paint finishes to choose from: Glossy, Satin and Matte (or Flat). Satin is the closest type to match the original bread bin plastic, which was my personal goal. I’m not obsessive enough to have a custom paint mixed for me, but I am OCD enough to try 3-4 paints. I even researched modeling paint options, but the truth is that none of them got exactly the right hue either, and those paints cost quite a bit more than what you can find at the hardware store in the U.S.

After a few test sprays, I wound up going for an ultra-flat camouflage paint, with the plan to do separate clear satin spray finish when I felt I was done. That combo would get the color and texture as close to what I wanted for under $12.

The two paints were: Krylon Camouflage, Ultra-Flat, and [branding and name nightmare] Krylon / ColorMaster / CoverMax / Clear (Satin). I chose the Camouflage color since, well, Commodore is a military name, after all. I felt this got it closer to its roots even if the hue was slightly off.
paints.jpg
The paints used for the 3D case


I could still see a lot of imperfections in the case after my initial paint sprays, so I continued to sand and add filler. I missed a few spots… Getting into the tight spots is really a bitch, as the plastic is a very hard material and not easy to sand.
sanding.jpg
About 1/2 way through the sanding process trying to remove the bumpy texture and make the surface smooth


Ultimately, I feel my final result is still a bit too much on the “beach sand” color side of things - it probably lacks a bit of blue pigment - but it looks pretty decent and I’m happy with it. It looks far better than what I got in the mail and blends in well with the C64.
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Modem at work
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User avatar
Shot97
Detroit, MI, USA

by Shot97 posted Sun Dec 11, 2016 7:02 pm

I've been tinkering with getting the Amiga online in some capacity. Given it's a 500 it's quite a difficult task. My expansion is tied up with the hard drive, so no NIC or modem via that route. It has been a long road of here and there information but I've gathered it is quite possible to "trick" the Amiga into thinking Amiga Explorer is a modem. I've been having difficulty myself accomplishing this for a number of reasons... My Windows98 machine is not wanting to do what it needs to do... and the biggest reason is simply there's just not enough software for Workbench 1.3 when it comes to internet things. In terms of actual internet "browsing" everything requires at least 2.0 - The only things that work with 1.3 are BBS stuff... Which... In the event I can find something useful/fun to do with it (like tweet) I'd be into it.... But since I'm not even sure yet if the software would still work I've been quite slow to do go about it. Not a bad bit of fun for the C64 though I have to say.
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intric8
Seattle, WA, USA

by intric8 posted Sun Dec 11, 2016 8:50 pm

Shot97 wrote:The only things that work with 1.3 are BBS stuff...
In my opinion, it's the BBS stuff that is SO much better than any kind of internet online experience for retro-computing. The browsers break pages to hell as they are decades behind the times. If you manage to find a way to get your 500 ahold on an IP address, I'd argue BBSing is the best way to go - and the most fun.

Most of the folks I chat with that get their 8-bit machines online have some sort of Raspberry Pi set up, or a custom modded Arduino board (e.g. the Schema) or similar that gets machines up to RS-232 capable. To be honest, why someone hasn't built a modem that plugs into the Amiga's serial port I have no idea (where the old school modems used to plug in). The Amiga is RS-232 ready to go as it is. I'm not a hardware guy, but I pinged Leif about it and it sounds like his Schema modem would only need an adapter of some sort (and probably a different firmware) for it to work.

Imagine - just plugging the Schema in the back of your 500, and you could go BBSing again, too!

That'd be a cool mission to try and accomplish in 2017. The other odd thing about Amiga is that many of the terminal programs seem to require a lot of RAM to run. I don't get that part, either.
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Shot97
Detroit, MI, USA

by Shot97 posted Sun Dec 11, 2016 11:40 pm

I downloaded a whole hell of a lot of internet programs from both Aminet as well as the Fred Fish archives. I've yet to go through most of those as the initial phase of the project failed. The guides I found had me changing the settings of Amiga Explorer on the PC side for a TCP/IP setting instead of serial. At that point you're supposed to install a certain type of modem driver and sort of reroute the settings through Amiga Explorer and into the Amiga. Now Windows refused to install said modem and I've yet to care enough to delve in deeper. Perhaps many other modems would work in this, I just have not sunk my teeth in yet. The basic concept is you've now got a new modem on your Windows computer, Amiga Explorer is set up for TCP/IP, thus is using your computers network which should have access to the internet, and the Amiga is thinking Amiga Explorer is the modem and thus you're all set! Now with the browsers from what I read you had to mess with settings on the Amiga browser to get it to work and only one browser could do it. Of course the people making these guides don't care about BBS stuff so do I also need to set up the BBS programs in a special way or will they just assume there's a modem connected to the serial port? Again, have not trucked that far in yet. If I have success, I will of course post a guide. If it does work I would imagine it would be the optimal solution for most people with the real hardware as they would probably already have a need for Amiga Explorer, thus no new hardware would be involved.

- I've also noted the RaspberryPI stuff and it's of little interest to me. I'm not into small computers dedicated to being a modem for an old computer. I'm into finding as many uses and having as much fun as possible with the original hardware. The Amiga as the window to the internet and the old Windows98/DOS machine as the transportation.
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Zippy Zapp
CA, USA

by Zippy Zapp posted Mon Dec 12, 2016 7:21 am

Nice write up! The case turned out fantastic. I am not a fan of 3d Printed cases as is and really don't like the ridges so this looks amazing after the work you did.

Regarding Amiga BBSing there is a Plipbox but the problem with that and other ethernet solutions, is I believe you need a TCP/IP stack, etc. On a stock A500 that is not going to be a good experience. My understanding is that CBMSTUFF is possibly going to release a WiModem version for Amiga that won't require a stack, it will use a simple device driver and be able to be used in most Terminal programs for connecting to BBSs.

You could, of course, use a Null modem cable connected to a PC serial port and TCPSER software to emulate a hayes modem. This does work but it is kind of a kludge.
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intric8
Seattle, WA, USA

by intric8 posted Mon Dec 12, 2016 9:25 am

Zippy Zapp wrote:My understanding is that CBMSTUFF is possibly going to release a WiModem version for Amiga...
If that's true, I'd be one of the first in line to pre-order the sucker. I'd love a simple solution like that. Truly, other than a few mild annoyances, these modems are as close to plug-and-play as an original piece of hardware. They each have their own little corners that need a massage here or there, but make to getting to the "game" so much easier and faster.

I have the PCMCIA card for my 1200 and it's a complete PITA to set up and use. I should try and contact Jim and see what's up. He'd get my support.
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JimDrew
LHC, AZ

by JimDrew posted Mon Dec 12, 2016 11:03 am

Yes, it is true. There will be an Amiga WiModem released in 2017.
Jim Drew, CBMSTUFF.COM
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intric8
Seattle, WA, USA

by intric8 posted Mon Dec 12, 2016 11:11 am

@JimDrew, that is WONDERFUL news! Can't wait. And thanks for joining Amiga Love! :)

UPDATE: a bit more info from Jim on this project:
My plan is to use the parallel port so that I can use the WiModem for both standard modem communications, and as a wifi plipbox. -- Jim Drew
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Sir_Lucas

by Sir_Lucas posted Mon Dec 12, 2016 2:24 pm

There's a third WIFI modem for C64. Have a look here:

http://melbourneconsolerepros.com/produ ... 08e8c00180

and here:

http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Commodore-64- ... Sw5cNYKPef

It's also available via FB groups and eBay.

I strongly suggest Plipbox for A500. Works like charm.

Regarding Amiga 1200 and a PCMCIA card - WIFI WPA2/AES or Ethernet it's not that hard to set it up. If you need any help, then let me know. I'll gladly help.
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intric8
Seattle, WA, USA

by intric8 posted Mon Dec 12, 2016 3:00 pm

Sir_Lucas wrote:Regarding Amiga 1200 and a PCMCIA card - WIFI WPA2/AES or Ethernet it's not that hard to set it up. If you need any help, then let me know. I'll gladly help.
I might just hit you up on that some time soon. I tried out the Easynet PCMCIA card last year, and after downgrading my router to WPA and even trying an assigned IP I still couldn't get it to work. It's rather stunning (to me) how much easier it was for the Schema modem to hop onto my network than the my dedicated card.

And then, after that, figuring out which TCP/IP software to use it started to make my brain hurt. If Jim is able to bring a dummy-proof (I'm looking at myself in the mirror) and a virtual plug-and-play experience, I'm all for it.

I'm not looking to surf the web with the Amiga (although using Dropbox would be cool). But getting it onto some BBSes I've joined would be a lot of fun.

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