2020-11-20 Small computer

I’m interested in small computers. It’s hard to put it into words. In terms of aesthetics, I have this to offer: I like to log onto my laptop, use Emacs full-screen, with 20t font size. I know it’s not for everybody, but I like it.

My laptop running Emacs

One day… Emacs standing alone on a Linux Kernel. 😂 I must confess I like the fonts and colours of a graphical display. I use them sparingly, but I like them to be there. I don’t want to go back to the old terminals.

Anyway, using mostly Emacs, maximized and big, feels a bit like the earliest computers I had: first the ZX Spectrum 48k and then the C64. It’s weird: I’m booting a multi-user system, with a gazillion layers: there’s the kernel, the encrypted filysystem, the display manager, the window manager, layers upon layers, and then Emacs, Lisp, fonts, colours – it’s fantastic and dizzying.

But the old aesthetic is still there. Single user systems that boot quickly and then you’re not in a shell but in some sort of BASIC programming environment. A read-eval-print loop (REPL) of some kind.

I had such things on my Mastodon timeline and so I started to collect some links.

I’m not trying to stoke the fires of consumerism, honest! 😀 More than anything I’m looking for happy stories of people using them, not of people buying them, if that makes sense. Like, does your kid use it? Do you?

@tsturm said: “I have a Spectrum Next and I program for it on occasion as a fun little diversion from “normal” programming. I’ve done some Basic tutorials with the kid (10yr) and he enjoyed playing with it - and also enjoyed some of the 35-year-old games we were loading up.” Yay! This is exactly the kind of story I was hoping for!

@TauPan says: “The Cosmo is my daily driver right now and it’s really nice to have a proper keyboard with emacs org-mode, python2 and a proper shell with tmux and openssh always with me (via termux).”

All of this was triggered by me seeing posts about the DevTerm. Let’s have some links.


DevTerm: “ClockworkPi v3.14 integrates up to 12 interfaces in the ultra-small size of 95x77mm, ensuring sufficient connectivity for your work and entertainment. Following an easy-to-upgrade modular design of CPU and memory, clockworkPi v3.14 allows you to freely choose a suitable “Core” for various application scenarios.”

The C64 (on a website that doesn’t work without Javascript): “The C64 is back, this time full-sized with a working keyboard for the dedicated retro home-computer fan. Featuring three switchable modes – C64, VIC 20, and Games Carousel. Connect to any modern TV via HDMI for crisp 720p HD visuals, at 60 Hz or 50 Hz.”

Spectrum Next: “an updated and enhanced version of the ZX Spectrum totally compatible with the original, featuring the major hardware developments of the past many years packed inside a simple (and beautiful) design by the original designer, Rick Dickinson, inspired by his seminal work at Sinclair Research.”

MakerLisp Machine: “a portable, modular computer system, designed to recapture the feel of classic computing, with modern hardware. The CPU is a Zilog eZ80 running at 50 MHz, which supports up to 16 MB of zero wait state RAM. The system software is ’MakerLisp’, a ’Lisp on Bare Metal’ system that allows direct access to system hardware, while providing the concise expressive power of a functionally complete Lisp environment.”

Raspberry Pi 400: “Featuring a quad-core 64-bit processor, 4GB of RAM, wireless networking, dual-display output, and 4K video playback, as well as a 40-pin GPIO header, Raspberry Pi 400 is a powerful, easy-to-use computer built into a neat and portable keyboard.”

BMC64: “a bare metal fork of VICE’s C64 emulator optimized for the Raspberry Pi. It has 50hz/60hz smooth scrolling, low video/audio latency and a number of other features that make it perfect for building your own C64 replica machine. For more details visit the github link below.”

RISC OS: “It’s small. It’s fast. RISC OS is a full desktop OS, where the core system including windowing system and a few apps fits inside 6MB. It was developed at a time when the fastest desktop computer was an 8MHz ARM2 with 512KB of RAM. That means it’s fast and responsive on modern hardware. The memory taken by apps is usually counted in the kilobytes. A 700MHz 256MB Raspberry Pi is luxury - what to do with all that memory?”

Gemini PDA and Cosmo Communicator: “The size of a smartphone, with the capabilities of a laptop. Work, create and socialise on the move with a single device.”


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Referrers: Ynas Midgard's RPG Blog