Day 2: Cruising the Information Superhighway
Setting up was fun, and I'm glad you've read this far. But I know what you're really here for: to see me tweet from a Commodore 64.
How is it even possible to tweet from a 30-year-old machine?
Well, there are two ways to go about it. The first, and most obvious, method is the "vintage" way, which I will describe in a moment. The second is to buy a modern C64-to-ethernet adapter and run Breadbox64, a native Twitter client written for the C64 in 2009 by Johan Van den Brande.
Since I had decided to stick with vintage hardware and software, I felt the latter route would be cheating. So I went the "simulated ISP" route—the same method I used with the IBM PC 5150 last year. Back in the day, one used serial ports for everything. If one wanted to use information services, one called up a bigger, more powerful machine with a modem, and that machine fed info to the C64 through the serial port.
I did the same thing, hooking my C64 to my "virtual ISP" (a semi-modern PC running Linux) through a serial port. On the C64 end, I ran ASCII terminal emulator software (the same kind you'd use with a modem).
Hooking the machines together was more complicated than using a single cable. On the C64 end, I had to use a Omnitronix Deluxe RS-232 Interface. This Interface connects to the C64's I/O port and converts the signals to allow usage of standard RS-232 serial devices. I attached a null modem serial cable to this interface that led to the serial port on the Linux PC.
Once connected, I had access to the entire Linux system as if I had a "shell account" on a remote ISP.
From there, I could check email, browse the Web, and even send tweets. As I mentioned in my 5150 piece, this may seem like cheating, but this method, which involves connecting to a bigger, more capable machine, is very similar to how one would have accessed a larger computer network in the 1980s.
I decided to kick things off with a tweet from the C64 using a Linux-based command-line program called Twidge, shown on the screen below:
And here is how the tweet looked from the Twitter website, as rendered by an iMac. As you can see, I received both incredulous and congratulatory responses on Twitter.
Surfin' the Web, 64 Style
Next, I decided to try browsing the World Wide Web. As with Twitter, I had a few ways I could go about it. I could utilize modern browsers that C64 diehards have created for the C64, but what fun is that?
Instead, I went the "vintage" ISP route. I loaded Lynx, the famous text-based Web browser, on the Linux machine. I called up a few websites—or what I think are websites—and watched them unfold like literary spaghetti on the screen. Here is PCWorld.com in 40 columns, text-only:
And here's what Google looks like if you access it from a C64. If you squint the right way, you can hardly tell any difference from Firefox :-)...
The sites work, albeit not very well. They'd look much better with a better software solution, but time was a-tickin', and I needed to move on.
What is computing without checking email? Dutifully, I loaded up Pine, a popular command-line email client for Linux. It did not look good in 40 columns. I knew there were other solutions that would work better with 40 columns, but by the time I got to email, I was out of gas.
Next: Day 3, Word Processing