A USB Loader for the Cidco MailStation

posted on mar 31st, 2020 with tags hardware, mailstation, and z80

Last year I wrote about the Cidco MailStation and how I was using it as a Z80 development platform. One of the biggest hurdles to running code on them is that it must be uploaded over the MailStation’s parallel port with a LapLink cable and some custom software (although it’s certainly easier than having to pull and flash a chip).

I recently created a USB data loader device that allows for easier development from a modern computer and implements the MailStation’s custom data encoding routines in its firmware.

Continue reading 926 words...

Arduino Development on OpenBSD

posted on dec 17th, 2019 with tags arduino, hardware, and openbsd

Back in 2017, I bought an Arduboy, a fun little Arduino development system which integrates an ATmega32U4 8-bit CPU, 32Kb of flash storage, 2Kb of RAM, a 128x64 pixel OLED display, some buttons, a speaker, and a battery in a Gameboy-like package.

OpenBSD had an old Arduino package available without the Arduino IDE, and it instead included a custom Makefile for end-users to build off of for compiling projects. But it was all pretty old and crufty and kind of sucked the fun out of tinkering with a new piece of hardware.

Continue reading 752 words...

Cidco MailStation as a Z80 Development Platform

posted on may 3rd, 2019 with tags hardware, retrocomputing, and z80, and last updated on mar 31st, 2020

The Cidco MailStation is a series of dedicated e-mail terminals sold in the 2000s as simple, standalone devices for people to use to send and receive e-mail over dialup modem. While their POP3 e-mail functionality is of little use today, the hardware is a neat Z80 development platform that integrates a 320x128 LCD, full QWERTY keyboard, and an internal modem.

After purchasing one (ok, four) on eBay some months ago, I’ve learned enough about the platform to write my own software that allows it to be a terminal for accessing BBSes via its modem or as a terminal for a Unix machine connected over parallel cable.

mailstation on desk showing main menu

Continue reading 2,409 words...

Dolch PAC 64

posted on mar 20th, 2018 with tags hardware and retrocomputing

The Dolch PAC 64 is a portable, rugged Pentium-powered PC from the mid 1990s. It was usually used (and can usually be found on eBay) as a “portable network sniffer” complete with multiple network cards supporting multiple media types.

dolch pac with keyboard folded up

Continue reading 1,245 words...

OpenBSD on the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (5th Gen)

posted on sep 1st, 2017 with tags hardware, laptops, openbsd, and thinkpad, and last updated on sep 4th, 2017

ThinkPads have sort of a cult following among OpenBSD developers and users because the hardware is basic and well supported, and the keyboards are great to type on. While no stranger to ThinkPads myself, most of my OpenBSD laptops in recent years have been from various vendors with brand new hardware components that OpenBSD does not yet support. As satisfying as it is to write new kernel drivers or extend existing ones to make that hardware work, it usually leaves me with a laptop that doesn’t work very well for a period of months.

After exhausting efforts trying to debug the I2C touchpad interrupts on the Huawei MateBook X (and other 100-Series Intel chipset laptops), I decided to take a break and use something with better OpenBSD support out of the box: the fifth generation Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon.

thinkpad x1 carbon running openbsd on desk

Continue reading 1,978 words...

OpenBSD on the Huawei MateBook X

posted on jul 14th, 2017 with tags hardware, laptops, and openbsd, and last updated on mar 24th, 2019

The Huawei MateBook X is a high-quality 13” ultra-thin laptop with a fanless Core i5 processor. It is obviously biting the design of the Apple 12” MacBook, but it does have some notable improvements such as a slightly larger screen, a more usable keyboard with adequate key travel, and 2 USB-C ports.

It also uses more standard PC components than the MacBook, such as a PS/2-connected keyboard, Intel WiFi card, etc., so its OpenBSD compatibility is quite good.

huawei matebook on desk running openbsd

Continue reading 1,645 words...

OpenBSD (not) on the Surface Pro 4

posted on jan 2nd, 2017 with tags hardware, laptops, and openbsd, and last updated on dec 30th, 2016

I recently had access to a Surface Pro 4 and tried to boot OpenBSD on it. It did not go well, so I am just putting this here for posterity.

The 2016 Surface Pro 4 is basically just a keyboard-less x86 (Core i5 on the model I had) tablet with some tightly integrated (read: not upgradeable) components. Its optional Surface Type Cover is just a USB-attached keyboard and trackpad, which magnetically secure to the bottom of the device.

Continue reading 640 words...

The 2016 MacBook Pro

posted on nov 8th, 2016 with tags apple, hardware, laptops, and macos

I’ve been using an 11” MacBook Air as my primary computer for six years. It’s a great computer that satisfied a lot of requirements I had for a laptop: thin, lightweight, small form factor, excellent keyboard and touchpad, mostly silent, but not an Atom or Core M processor.

I’ve done a lot on this little computer, like compiling and maintaining an Android ROM, writing the Rails, iOS, and Android apps for Pushover, creating Lobsters, recording and editing 40 episodes of Garbage, and lots of OpenBSD development.

Continue reading 2,061 words...