An APOD image viewer for Atari 8-bit computers

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An APOD image viewer for Atari 8-bit computers

Post by billkendrick » Mon May 03, 2021 5:53 am

Hi all. I emailed Dr. Nemiroff & Dr. Bonnell about a silly little project I've created, and Dr. Nemiroff suggested I post about here on this forum, so here I am.

I grew up with an Atari 8-bit computer that I received as kid back in the early 1980s, and which I still love and use to this day. There's a (growing!) retro hobbiest community out there, and these days it's become extremely easy (and inexpensive) to create hardware gadgets for these old computers. One such gadget for the Atari, which is under development, is a kind of swiss-army-knife called "FujiNet". It's original goal was to provide WiFi access to an Atari, by offloading all of the hard work to an embedded Arduino microcontroller. Thanks to the way the Ataris were originally designed, between a daisy-chain-able serial I/O bus, and a device abstraction layer in the OS, it was relatively easy to get FujiNet to act as: a modem, floppy disk drives (both local microSD card storage, and over the Internet), printers, and more. These Ataris, some dating back to 1979, don't know or care what's connected on the other end, "it just works".

One of the 'new' device types is a fairly all-encompassing networking device, which is a lot easier to work with than the 1980s-era serial/modem device, and among the protocols it supports is HTTP. Using this, a few fun little toys were developed for FujiNet-equipped Ataris, including a (admittedly grim) COVID infection tracker, a 2020 US election results tracker, and a very nice weather forecast app.

Back when I was in college, in the mid 1990s (and yes, still using my Atari), I thought it'd be cool to offload a lot of the HTML parsing complexity, and graphics conversion and scaling (GIF or JPEG -> something the Atari can view easily) to the Unix workstation at my school. I never got around to it, and frankly didn't have much way to get my Atari "online" (dial-up modem) after college, once things switched from POTS dial-up to fancy things like ISDN and DSL. Somewhat recently, I bought a generic serial adapter for the Atari, and a Lantronix UDS device (ethernet -> serial), but didn't have time to toy with it, and it was all very clunky.

With FujiNet, I can literally -- in BASIC even -- open a connection to an HTTP server and pull down data, and just plop it into screen memory. No sweat! It's kind of magical!

So... long story short, inspired by my Linux laptop (running KDE/Plasma desktop interface) which has a "picture of the day" desktop background widget, I decided to write a little web script that slurps down the latest APOD image, converts it to something the Atari can load easily (e.g., 320x192, 1-bit black & white :wink: ), and sends it down the wire.

Here's a 16-greyscale (at amazing 80x192 resolution -- remember, these computers are old)

I then started writing a viewer app. for the Atari itself -- I'm using "cc65", a cross-compiler suite for modern OSes (used by the Commodore 64 and Nintendo NES crowd, as well) -- and went a bit wild with it.

Now, this is not something anyone out here can play with, even with an emulator... yet. But just the other day I put together a simple website about the project (so people interested in it didn't need to poke around a GitHub repository), so at the very least you can learn all about it, and see some (admittedly kind of awful, cellphone) photos of it in action.

Perhaps one day, when an emulator like "Atari800" or "Altirra" add support for, at the very least, the "N:" device that the FujiNet provides, then people can play with this nonsense without needing physical hardware.

Anyway, enjoy! Back to my astronomical armchair, before I embarrass myself any further...


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Re: An APOD image viewer for Atari 8-bit computers

Post by geckzilla » Fri May 07, 2021 7:17 am

pretty cool!
Just call me "geck" because "zilla" is like a last name.