Stuff I use my microcomputer for #01 Chess

Avid readers of this blog will be well aware that I am a retro computer hobbyist, with my favourite machines being those produced by Acorn in the 1980s. You see, the 1980s were not only the days of Rubik's Cube, Ghostbusters, Tiffany, dreadful fashion and Margret Thatcher (oh, I've made myself sad) - for the 80s was also the time of the BBC microcomputer (yay, happy again!).

So, I've decided to start a series of posts about what I still use my BBC microcomputer for. Or, at the very least, a series of things that I would like to do more of.

Today:

Acornsoft Chess

Acornsoft Chess running on vintage hardware
Acornsoft Chess is a pretty decent chess program, all things considered. It features all legal chess moves including en passant and minor promotions. Moves are entered using pure coordinates, as shown in the image above. The software also has and 'edit' mode to explore different game positions and solve 'mate in two' type puzzles. Most importantly for the game's longevity is a 'save' feature, because leaving a microcomputer switched on permanently is not really an option.

There are ten levels of play, and as I consider myself to be of fairly average ability I have recently moved up to level 5, and as you can see from the image I am holding my own in this epic three-hour battle.

Acornsoft chess is not as speedy as a modern implementation, but this matters not because, for one thing, what do you expect from a 6502 processor with 32K RAM? The other thing is it is about as fast, if not better than an average game of online postal chess.

Well, that's it for today on pre-Internet Chess. I also play on Chess Time, so any readers who want to challenge me, my user name is superdecade and my current chess rating is 'very poor'. Please, if you do send me a challenge, keep the move limit four days or longer.

Well, must dash, it's my move.

New update to Have Spell Will Travel

Today I have pushed out a new update to my adventure game Have Spell Will Travel.

If you don't know Have Spell Will Travel, it is a game of luck, skill and fantasy questing. You take control of one of over a hundred different protagonists who then go on a series of adventures against the computer, all the time trying not to die. It lives somewhere in between the games of Talisman and Top Trumps.


What's new?

Thanks to some feedback from players I have reduced the cost of various items in the village. You can now stock up on magic potions at a much cheaper price.

There are also a number of new challenges to get you going, including an endpoint to the dungeon. There are several new items to discover, but I wont say much about that so as not to spoil the surprise of finding them.

So, if you have some time to kill, and you feel like getting killed by fantastic beasties in a fantasy setting, then do check out Have Spell Will Travel now!


We are also on Pinterest

I didn't choose the geek life, the geek life chose me.

If you like our stuff then you might like to know that we also post on Pinterest.

Click the image to load our Pinterest pages.

There you will find almost daily updates for all manner of geeky boards from Computing Science, LEGO, algorithms, Science fiction and fantasy to some rare photos of invisible things. So if you have nothing better to do, I'll see you over there.

Hey Cortana, play some metal!

My new favourite app.

Previously, my media center revolved around using Music on Console on my Raspberry Pi. The music files were stored on a networked drive and the output of the Pi fed into my stereo amplifier which freed the monitor for use with either my BBC microcomputer or my Windows 10 computer.

I really like this set-up as I could control the music player by pressing keys on the keyboard without having to switch the monitor to the Raspberry Pi channel. For example 'pause' is the spacebar, and 'next tune' is the 'N' key.

More recently my Raspberry Pi stopped working properly (I'm not sure what the problem is, suffice to say that the OS no longer responds to mouse clicks correctly). I needed some time to rebuild the Raspberry Pi, so I switched to another media center app.

Microsoft Groove, playing some metal on a Lumia 950


Microsoft Groove for Windows 10 seemed like the logical choice as it could see the same files on the network as the Raspberry Pi (a collection of several hundred GB of files painstakingly ripped from CDs since the early 1990's). I had used Groove several times for playing music before, however the Pi was my previous main system.

My first impressions were of a really well-designed user interface that was simple to use and beautiful. The app had already found the music files from the network and had even loaded my playlists created on the Raspberry Pi and so I was up and running in a matter of seconds.

Things got better when I got my free trial of the Groove Music Pass which unlocks literally millions of tunes ad-free. I have been having tremendous fun building new play lists from forgotten classics as well as new music. Groove has a radio feature that lets you discover new music based on any artist that you may care to mention, and, of course, download or curate new music into whatever playlist you like.

The service runs on my Windows Phone as well as my Android devices, which is another boon as I can have access to my playlists at work and on the go, but also, rather crucially for me, it frees the monitor so I don't miss any of the retro-computer action on my BBC micro! There is also a web-player so I can access the service on my Chromebook or, if I really have to (and I mean if there is literally no other device available with a power supply) I can get it on my iPad (shudder). But this is a rare thing as I usually use this device to chop onions.

A really nice feature is that I can control the player on my phone with my Microsoft Band 2, which I still love even though Microsoft seem to have forgotten all about it. Cortana on desktop also responds to voice commands ("Hey Cortana, play some metal!") and I understand that more voice commands for Groove a due in the next large update for Windows 10 next April.

Microsoft is keen for you to sync your music with your OneDrive account, and a purchase of the Groove Music pass comes with a very generous 100GB of OneDrive storage.


Well, that's it for today. I'm off to listen to some new music and chop onions on my iPad.

Susan updated

Although I am not 100% serious about Susan, I do occasionally update her. Susan is a command-line driven, ASCII-based personal assistant app for Windows.

Susan version 1.1.0.42, follow the links to find out more.

I have pushed out a new version which you can download now.

What's new?

  1. Susan's messages now occur more frequently, and are date-specific. For example, tomorrow she will be wishing you a happy new year.
  2. Various bug fixes, specifically solving a problem with BBC RSS feeds which made the news appear with extra characters.
  3. Bug fix that caused the time to appear as 12am rather than 12pm.
  4. Load your Instagram page with the command 'insta'.
Susan main page showing news feed. If you feel the need for a command-line driven ASCII-based personal assistant, then Susan is your girl.
If you ran a previous version of Susan then you will be directed to the new Download location as soon as you boot her up again.

Day clock page

Following on from yesterday's Dementia Day Clock, I decided to create a new Day Clock with a little more information - for instance - accurate time.

Day clock on my Lumia 950. Click the image to load the new Day Clock.

I managed to export the data from the Perpetual Calendar for the BBC microcomputer using BeebEm and then wrote a script to convert the data from a BBC text file into a JSON file. The data contains the dates of various interesting anniversaries, and so I thought it would be a nice touch to show these on the new day clock, including a calculation of how long ago the event took place.  For example today is the 41 year anniversary of the UK Sex Discrimination Act 1975.

BeebEm has some really useful tools, most notably the 'export' function which allows you to export one or more files from a BBC disk image to a PC format. This means that I can code a file on the BBC microcomputer, but still access or edit it on my Windows 10 machine. Yay!

I then added in 'red-letter' days, or other recurring events including holidays and Pagan festivals (from Pagan Calendar). I cannot be absolutely sure I haven't made any errors here, but I'll keep checking that this works and then add some more date/time information as and when.

The final touch was to put the current time into the new page tab so you can check the time in your list of browser tabs without navigating back to the page.

Well that's it for now. In the future I may add some other features, perhaps a background image that changes with each passing month. Maybe I shall put a Google search box in, or other widgets such as weather. Maybe I'll just sack it off and build something else.


Come back soon for more nerdy stuff.

If you liked this post, then you might also like to watch some bouncing balls, or just play a game of Have Spell Will Travel.

Dementia Day Clock

The Dementia Day Clock is a clock that tells the time simply as 'morning', 'afternoon', 'evening' and 'night' and is specifically designed to be of help to people with memory problems.

Today I have reworked my Dementia Clock so that it runs in your browser, rather than a stand-alone Windows application. Click the image below to load.

The Dementia Day Clock running in my Edge Browser.
I intend to keep my Dementia clock available for as long as I can continue to run the server. It will be available advert-free forever. Any suggestions are welcome and if you wish to help support this project then there is a donate button on my website.



#dementia
#clock
#dementiadayclock

Timelapse #LEGO building

I recently discovered the Microsoft Hyperlapse app. This app allows you to create smooth, time-lapse video either from existing video, or captured directly from your phone camera.

I thought I would try it out whilst building some Christmas LEGO. Here I am building the Imperial Assault Hovertank. This is a really easy but fun build. There's a link below should you want to build one yourself. The tank has a couple of missiles which shoot out of the model at remarkable speed, so do be careful.


Amazon link: LEGO Star Wars 75152 Imperial Assault Hovertank Building Set

The first problem was to set up my phone so it could view the action on the table. I used a egg-carton to hold the phone, although the phone did fall out of the container at the end of the first video!  I then improved this impromptu set-up before ordering a decent stand for my phone.




What I think about Hyperlapse.
It's pretty good, although I don't know why time-lapse isn't an option in the default camera app with Windows 10. Microsoft really should work on this as it will show Windows 10 to be the professional OS that it should be.

Time lapse is very easy to do, although it is rather power-hungry, and an external supply would be needed for any videos longer than the ones shown above.

Videos are created very easily and there is an option to create them at 1x, 2x, 4x, 8x, 16x or 32x. In fact you can create multiple videos of different speeds from the same capture. It would be good if there was some editing features built into the app, even just the ability to trim the start and end. Some filters or other effects would be a useful feature, however the basic app does a job well and I shall definitely be using this again.

Rest in peace Carrie Fisher
Whilst creating this StarWars related post, I have just heard of the tragic passing of Carrie Fisher. She will be in the hearts of all geeks everywhere as undoubtedly she was not just my first crush.

The most bad-ass female role models film has ever seen.

She will be missed by all geeks everywhere. A sad day.


A year in review 2016

The year 2016 is (almost) over [1].

It has been one hell of a year.  What with Brexit [2], Trump and the death of so many of our much-loved celebrities, the year 2016 has been rather demonised [3].
.
There have, however,  also been some good highlights of 2016. Here are just a hand-count few:-
In the blogosphere it's been a busy year too, with many geek experience points awarded, and various of my own projects on the go.  Here are few superdecade games posts that deserve more love...

I made an ASCII personal assistant program in BASIC
Say 'hullo', Susan.

I mucked around with the Raspberry Pi computer (a lot)

2016 was the year of the Raspberry Pi

I made a chatbot

Say 'hullo', Mac.

I had tremendous fun with a BBC 'Master' series microcomputer

The awesome BBC Master 128, shown here running the menu screen for Elite.

I got a micro:bit...
Just one of my micro:bit projects, the plant moisture sensor.


I had tremendous fun with the Arduino starter kit, and fully intend to get back to building something useful soon.


Perpetual calendar, packed-full of useful information, with the Pagan calendar version coming soon.

...and I poked fun at Donald Trump

The most frightening Halloween, ever.

Wishing all my nerdy readers a happy, prosperous and geeky 2017.



1. If you are reading this in a future, post-apocalyptic world, then kudos to you for getting the Internet working again. +1 geek experience point for you, but please look out for mutant cockroaches.
2. I am not sure what this means, however I am told that this means 'Brexit' but I have no further information (see note 1 above).
3. why so many celebrity deaths? It's because there are more celebrities

Spider webs by natural selection

I recently discovered this awesome BBC BASIC program for simulating spider webs through natural selection. It was written by Matthew Tizard for the BBC Acorn User magazine October 1992.

Natural selection left running on a BBC Master 128 for a couple of days.

The program generates nine 'spider webs'. The fittest spider web is the web that catches the most 'flies'.  This web is then chosen to go into the next generation.

Natural selection running on BeebEm with 6502 Second processor showing nine generations with 'flies' turned off.


I found that the program is best run with your second processor turned on (for hopefully obvious reasons). In fact I found that you get approximately three times improvement in speed, with one generation taking about twenty seconds to generate, draw and test on screen.

You can easily switch on your second processor using BeebEm as shown above.

Another version of the program allows you to control evolution by choosing which web you wish to survive into the next generation. In this way you can select for characteristics that you like, not necessarily the ones that will catch the most flies.

Assuming that the program is in the public domain I have put the files onto a BBC disk image which you can download from the link below.
BBC Disk Image

You will need to load the disk image into your emulator program, or directly into your microcomputer using the datacenter, MMC unit or otherwise copy it onto a floppy disk.

There is a readme file which can be loaded with *type T.readme

The programs can be executed with CHAIN "ArtAuto" OR CHAIN "ArtLife".  Press <ESCAPE> and type LIST to see the program code.


+1 Geek Experience point for Matthew Tizard

#geek #bbcmicro #naturalselection #spiderwebs

Donald Trump spotted inside a fruit

I dropped a pepper on the floor which causes some bruising to the fruit, but was surprised to discover that when I cut out the offending damaged flesh, the President Elect Donald Trump was hiding inside. He made me pay for the pepper as well.

scary - complete with bile-filled, forked tongue.
If you have parachuted into this page from somewhere else on the Internet, then you may wish to gather up your thoughts, dust yourself down, and check out the following Donald Trump fruit-a-likes.

The A-Z of geek: I is for Intra-Galactic Battles

So I have had a lazy Sunday afternoon watching Star Trek movies. All the references to 'photon torpedoes' and transporter beams put me in mind of a retro DOS game action that I actually spent many hours playing throughout the 90's.

I is for Intra-Galactic Battles

IGB is a strategy game by William D. Hause released back in 1990. Although not endorsed in any way by the owners of the Star Trek franchise, the look and feel of the game places in the Star Trek universe. Four factions battle for control of the game world: The Federation, Klingons, Orions and Andromedans.

The aim of the game is to destroy or capture all of your opponents space craft. This is not a game for people you need graphics and storylines to enjoy a game. IGB is simple great because of the gameplay.



The alien races are differentiated by their method of attack. The Klingon weapons never miss, although their destructive power decreases with distance. The word Klingon is replaced by 'Gorgon' in all game documentation, presumably to avoid a nasty law suit. The Federation weapons have a chance of missing based on the distance they are from their target, however they always do maximum damage for each successful strike. The Orion weapons do minimal damage to the hull integrity of enemy ships but instead murder the crew onboard. Once an enemy ship has been thus 'softened up' a bit, Orions use transporter beams to try to take over control of the enemy ship.

An Intra-Galactic Battles skirmish. The green base has fired a laser at the pink klingon. What is klingon for "All your base are belong to us"?

My favourite race is the Andromedans whose weapons have no maximum value - they can simply be charged up to any level, thus can be significant one-shot killers, provided you have not been destroyed while you wait to charge.

Game play involves management of resources, so that there is a healthy balance between energy used to charge your defensive shields, weapons, tractor beams and engines.

When you first load IGB you will be presented with half a dozen options for scenarios to play out, although you can also select a 'custom battle' in which you can add your own ships at will. You can play with a friend or select 'Computer' when prompted with the question 'Who will control this ship?'. You can also add ships at anytime to the battle either on your own side or your enemies, so an IGB battle can theoretically last forever, although I did find my IBM PS/1 actually ran out of memory during a very long battle.

Play Intra-Galactic Battles in your browser now.

#startrek #dos #retro #games

Nerdy books for geeks

With the pagan festival of Yule figuratively around the corner, you may wish to curl up in front of an open fire with a good book. Or you may wish to go out and buy one for your nerdiest significant other(s). Listed here are a selection that I recommend.

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage

Presented in this wonderful book is the (alternative) story of Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage and their comic-book adventures with the Difference Engine. Enter a parallel universe where Victorian computers compute pi, correct spelling errors and offer guidance on etiquette.



Feynman

This comic book tells the life story of one of the greatest minds of the twentieth century: safecracker, musician, romantic and Nobel-prize winning physicist Richard Feynman. If he isn't already on your fantasy dinner party list then he should be, and this book should also be on your list for Santa Claus.


The Meaning of Liff

Even though the English language has many hundreds of thousands of words, there remain many commonly-shared experiences that do not have a word assigned to them... until now, thanks to Douglas Adams and John Lloyd. For example, there once was no word for the act of dribbling involuntarily into one's own pillow, until now: Sompting.





What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions

What would happen if you fired a nuclear weapon at a hurricane? How much physical space does The Internet take up? What would happen if a rainstorm dropped all of its water in a single giant drop? Could you build a bridge of Lego across the Atlantic ocean?

All these absurd questions and more are answered in this book by XKCD comic creator Randall Munroe. It's like having this website printed out into book form.
And if XKCD is your thing, then do also find the website is available in book form as well... Randall Munroe describes xkcd as a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language. It is practically required reading in the geek community.

One geek experience points are awarded each to Sydney Padua, Jim Ottaviani, Leland Myrick, Hilary Sycamore, Douglas Adams, John Lloyd and Randall Munroe.

Life hack 001

I was shown this life hack today, so I thought I would share it. A plastic container, like the ones you get inside chocolate eggs that all so contain a surprise... (and something to play with) make handy containers for earphones.  That is all.


Extra geek experience points for anyone who remembers this...

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