Warning this is completely unrelated to anything economic, bitcoin or outside the Overton window – this is a self indulgent journey into nerdy 1980’s nostalgia.
Anyone who is not GenX would probably not be aware or know of any other age of the personal computer other than the era of the PC. But way back in the 1980’s, before the complete domination of the PC was assured, there was a period of time that featured a veritable Cambrian explosion of personal computer choice from PC, to Apple, Atari and of course the Commodore64.
We received our Commodore64 as a Christmas present. Such was my nerdery at the time, that I have the distinct memory of excitedly telling a mate on the phone that we’d just gotten a Commodore, to which he furiously cycled over only to be incredibly disappointed that I meant computer rather than car.
The Commodore64 was the mainstay of my gaming youth and served the Griffin family very well in terms of personal computer entertainment, before it was finally usurped and replaced by the Amiga a few years later. Eventually it came to pass that our Commodore64 was packed up and given to my even more country cousins who lived on a farm way up in Narrabri, and there it exited my timeline and was lost to the mists of history and for a time it was forgotten.
Anyhow, many years later my cousin, who use to often call in for a meal when passing through Sydney, mentioned that he’d been helping his father clean out and repack a dust and mouse proof room on the farm, and in the tidy up had come across our old Commodore64 and was consequently wondering if I’d like to have it back.
Naturally I couldn’t resist the opportunity of bathing in such nerdish nostalgia, and instantly agreed to take it back even though at the time we lacked the available space to set it up and use it. Never-the-less I unpacked it and checked it out and it all appeared as I remembered it:
Since I didn’t have the space to immediately set it up, it quickly went back into storage – this time in my mother’s garage. The years passed and we were finally able to carry out the long planned renovations and thus, now equipped with a much yearned for monastic retreat of solitude and contemplation, aka a man cave, I finally dug the Commodore64 back out of the far reaches of the garage and contacted the biggest nerd I know, whom I shall refer to as Bubba Hotep, to assist me in the quest of rebooting the C64.
Bubba is a long known mate who grew up in the same home country town as myself. Bubba had the misfortunate of playing the same under 7’s Redback’s soccer team as myself, and we both went on to long and undistinguished soccer careers in that club that ended by the under 11s. Since we didn’t go to the same local schools our paths largely diverged for the remainder of our schooling, until we became re-acquainted many years later while attending the same University college and discovered a shared fondness for sacrificing gigantic buds to Bong God.
While my nerdery is more than matched in Bubba, his own particular brand of eccentricity is flavoured by a compulsive tendency to horde technology – presumably if the world were to end, he would see himself with his solar panels as having enough basic raw technology to reboot civilization from amongst the potatoes, onions and cider stored in his root cellar. As I was getting more and more excited describing to Bubba my literal barn find Commodore64, he managed to both bring me back down to earth and stun me, by asking if I wanted to use my old Amiga Monitor to connect the C64 up to! Somehow he’d not only ended up with my old Amiga monitor from our University days, and managed to hold onto it for the next 20 years, but he could also give me back my old Amiga that went with it!
In terms of my nerd ranking, Bubba revealed I had a long way to go until I was in the same league as he, as he also had two other Amigas, a Commodore128k and… a VIC20! However as he lacked a Commodor64 in his exotic menagerie of obscure geriatric computers, I was able to entice him to come over and assist in the resurrection rights (I had forgotten all the BASIC computer commands and needed a refresh). To rub in the fact that it was actually ‘He’ who was the biggest nerd in the room, he brought along his VIC20, which also ended up coming in handy for more than simple nerd posturing.
In preparation for the C64 resurrection ceremony I’d ordered a new power supply online, as the existing 5V power supply that came with the original computers were notorious for blowing up after a long hiatus and frying the motherboards of the C64. Using the new power pack that arrived from Poland, we connected the Commodore64 and the old Amiga monitor up to each other and the power supply, and then threw the switch.
Despite us both stepping back from the table as we threw the switch in great trepidation, as though we’d somehow be able to outrun an electric shock should the circuit board explode, there was no shock or explosion. Instead we got the familiar blue screen welcome page:
Hurrah! It worked! (check out the cathode ray tube flicker!!). An afternoon of nerdery then ensued, as I rediscovered forgotten BASIC commands and fired up an ancient touch stone from my childhood.
While we were able to immediately successfully test the Commodore64 out with a cartridge game of ‘Radar Rat Race’:
…and we were then able to load a game of ‘Thermonuclearwargames’ from a cassette tape deck:
…unfortunately all attempts to load games from the 1541 disk drive was a complete failure. Tried everything, pulling it apart and cleaning the heads:
…all to no avail.
When we connected the 1541 disk drive to Bubba’s VIC20 we found it could read it and detected both the drive and the files, but when we typed the load commands in BASIC into the C64, being:
..and hit return, we waited…. and waited… and waited. We got an endless wait as the C64 went off in search of a device it was doomed to never find.
Googling an answer wasn’t any help, all it revealed was a disturbing correlation between Commodore64 enthusiasts and MTF trannies. Honestly there must seriously be some sort of correlation with high IQ teenage autist computer nerds from the 80s and late mid-life autogenderphilia crises some 40 years later. Thankfully I’m neither on the spectrum nor in possession of hateful feelings towards my genitalia, so I wasn’t too perturbed by this ‘stranger things’ observation, but still we weren’t any closer to solving the mystery of the malfunctioning disc drive.
In the end Bubba referred to an Amiga group that he was a member of (of course) and it became apparent that the problem was within the C64. Sadly one of the two CIA chips or Complex Interface Adaptor chips had died. This means it doesn’t look as though it will be possible to boot any programs up off the disk drive for the foreseeable future, even though the VIC20 demonstrated the drive worked perfectly.
The authentic enthusiasts approach would be to don a tutu, lacey stockings, suspenders and a bra, and order a replacement C 6526 chip and solder out and solder in the replacement. But that it is a difficult task for a skilled solder and given my last attempt at soldering resulted in burnt fingers and a large and useless pool of solder running everywhere, and my wife probably wouldn’t look to fondly on the appropriate C64 attire either, another strategy might be required.
The best solution so far is to purchase a BackBit cartridge, that can plug straight into the back of the C64 and with a modern micro SD card be easily kitted out with the entire suite of VIC20, C64 games and Amiga games ever produced and still have room for your New Romantics CD collection:
Anyhow, so that is how I celebrated the Queens birthday – by engaging in an abashed, unashamed, nostalgic nerdery with the Commodore64.