Author Archives: Josh Renaud

About Josh Renaud

Josh Renaud works as a journalist and designer at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He's married to Yoli and together they have four beautiful niñitos. Find him on Twitter (@Kirkman) or Google+.

Web browsing on the Atari ST with a CosmosEx

This screenshot shows CAB rendering my personal website. This instance of CAB is running on an Atari Mega STe.

Probably the best retrocomputing purchase I’ve made in recent years is the CosmosEx, a cool peripheral for Atari ST, STe, TT, and Falcon computers.

Soon after I bought it, creator Jookie added “screencasting”, a feature which lets you control your Atari remotely through a web browser. Amazing!

Around that time, Jookie was also working on a replacement STiNG-compatible internet driver. The idea was to provide TCP-IP to the Atari through the CosmosEx. Internet apps which support STiNG, such as CAB, the Crystal Atari Browser, would “just work.”

Fast-forward to this week. I decided to see if Jookie ever got the drivers were working. Turns out he did!

Keep reading to see how I set everything up.

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I rescued “Mom and Me” for the Atari ST

Title screen from Yaakov Kirschen’s 1985 program “Mom and Me” for the Atari ST

I rescued “Mom and Me” for the Atari ST! (though I guess I’m about a month late for Mother’s Day)

You may recall that two years ago I blogged about two old Atari ST programs I remembered from my youth – “Mom and Me” and “Murray and Me” by the cartoonist Yaakov Kirschen.

The programs were published by Antic Magazine, and billed as the first “biotoons,” a sort of artificial intelligence cartoon. They were even reviewed in both the New York Times and and the Los Angeles Times in 1985.

Anyway, two years ago I assumed someone out there had archived disk images of these programs. But I was completely unable to find any.

I had copies on old floppies myself, but those floppies stopped working reliably in the 1990s on my Atari 1040 STe. I assumed they were still no good.

Tonight I pulled them out, dusted them off, and gave them a try in my Mega STe. I had mixed success!

I was able to load “Mom and Me” and play the simulation. Even better, afterwards I successfully duplicated the disk and transferred a copy to my Mac.

Screen capture of Mom talking in Yaakov Kirschen’s 1985 program “Mom and Me” for the Atari ST

Want to try it yourself? Download “Mom and Me” as a ZIP file.

As for “Murray”, I got the title screen to load, but couldn’t get him to actually play.

Title screen from Yaakov Kirschen’s 1985 program “Murray and Me” for the Atari ST

I tried copying the disk, but at least one file (“CSFACE.RAS”) failed. After a few more minutes, the Atari wouldn’t read the disk at all anymore. Oh well. I’ll have to try again later.

New ANSImation: Star Wars opening crawl

Screen shot of the later version of the opening crawl for “Star Wars.”

When Star Wars debuted in 1977, the first sequence audiences took in was the iconic opening crawl: a wall of yellow text rolling up the screen, shrinking toward a vanish point in the distance.

Screen capture of an opening crawl from a Flash Gordon serial.

This crawl was George Lucas’ homage to the old Flash Gordon serials of the 1930s (which inspired many other parts of Star Wars visual style). Since then, the crawl has become a common trope cribbed by TV shows, computer games, and others.

When I was thinking of ideas I might contribute to Blocktronics’ “Detention Block AA-23” Star Wars artpack, making an ANSI version of the crawl was one of my first thoughts.

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New parallax ANSImation: Millennium Falcon dodging asteroids

I want to push boundaries.

That’s what the original Star Wars films did. Industrial Light & Magic revolutionized special effects with novel new techniques for motion control and amazing model work.

When I work on ANSI projects now, I try to think about ways to do things in ANSI that weren’t possible in the 1990s because of low bandwidth or limited processing power.

How about parallax ANSImation? Well, I cooked up a new one for Blocktronics’ new artpack “Detention Block AA-23”. It features the Millennium Falcon dodging asteroids. Check it out:

Want to know how it came to be? Keep reading.

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Detention Block AA-23

Is today the 40th anniversary of the original release of “Star Wars”? Blocktronics is all over it.

The ANSI supergroup’s new artpack “Detention Block AA-23” landed today, and amazingly I contributed a few pieces!

The first is a new parallax ANSImation of the Millennium Falcon dodging asteroids, inspired by the scene from “The Empire Strikes Back.”

The second is an ANSI adaptation of Star Wars’ iconic opening crawl.

Finally I snuck in two 80×23 images from “Empire Strikes Back”: Luke and Vader’s saber battle, and Han Solo frozen in carbonite.

Anyway, this is the most ANSI I’ve ever contributed to an artpack. I hope you’ll check out the pack, because there is so much other can’t-miss, awesome work from Blocktronics’ rock stars.

Who needs SVG when you’ve got ANSI?

Presidential election years are great times to work at a news organization. As a designer at a newspaper, I love to explore the cool election maps developed by folks at places like the New York Times or the Guardian.

FiveThirtyEight's Election Forecast map

My favorite is probably the 2016 Election Forecast from FiveThirtyEight.com, which is full of cool visualizations, and great analysis.

The explosion of great apps like this is made possible by modern libraries like D3.js, and formats like SVG. But what if you took away all the visual horsepower?

What would a retro BBS version of such an app look like, with all the inherent limitations of an ancient terminal: few colors (16, with caveats), low resolution (80×24), etc ?

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My first ANSI portrait

This animated GIF shows some of the steps along the way to making an ANSI portrait of my daughter.

This animated GIF shows some of the steps along the way to making an ANSI portrait of my daughter.

This summer, my daughter Ludi finally learned to ride her bike. She was the first of my four kids to do it.

This dad milestone impacted me enough that I felt moved to try drawing my first ANSI portrait. I have dabbled with drawing ANSI in the past, but mostly lettering or simple icons.

I drew the whole thing by hand (though I traced the initial outlines from a photo), and honestly it came out better than I imagined. Thanks to the guys in Blocktronics for encouragement. I’m sure my updates on this portrait seemed out of place in their FB group among all other stuff they’re working on.

Anyway, here’s an animated GIF showing some of the major steps along the way to the finished ANSI image.

Converting movie clips to ANSImation

ANSIfied clip from 'The Force Awakens'

Recently I’ve been captivated by the idea of taking video clips and converting them into ANSImations, then making them playable on my BBS.

There are other, better converters, but I wrote my own in Python. It’s called Ansify.

If you’d like to see the results, telnet to my BBS, Guardian of Forever right now! telnet://guardian.synchro.net

In the Externals section, you’ll see an entry called “ANSI Movies.” The ANSI Movie Player will allow you to watch clips I’ve converted from films like “Star Wars”, “The Matrix”, and “The Hobbit”.

There are two versions of each clip. One is designed to be played at standard 80×24 mode. But if you connect at 132×60 mode, you’ll be able to see more detailed, higher resolution versions.

I recommend using SyncTerm as your telnet client. It supports 132×60, and also has the correct colors. If you try this from a stock Windows or Linux command line, the colors (particularly brown) will not look right.

Jon Radoff, creator of “Space Empire Elite” and “Final Frontier”

Jon Radoff is an internet entrepreneur whose career has gone from dial-up to “Beam me up.”

Jon Radoff Headshot

Radoff broke into the gaming business as a teen, writing the BBS door games Space Empire Elite and Final Frontier for the Atari ST in the late 1980s. He built one of the original commercial games on the internet, and founded several gaming and net-related companies since then.

These days he’s the CEO of Disruptor Beam. The company’s latest game, Star Trek Timelines was released for Android and iOS on Jan. 16.

Space Empire Elite is probably the first BBS door game I played as a kid. Did you ever play? Share your memories in the comments. Want to try these old games today? I’ve included links to BBSes at the end.

This interview was conducted by Skype on Jan. 29. It has been edited for length and clarity.

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