Vintage Computer Festival GB, Snibston July 2013


I travelled up to the VCF-GB today at the Silicon Dreams event at Snibston Discovery Museum and took the opportunity to capture a few pictures.  It was pretty quiet being a weekday but I suspect it will be somewhat busier over the weekend.

I arrived pretty early and a number of exhibitors were still setting up.  AmigaKit, Amiga North Thames and A-EON were not present when I was there although I did get to see Morph OS running on a Mac Mini G4, demonstrated by a very helpful and enthusiastic Ravi Abbott.  I happen to have a Mac Mini G4 and will have a play with Morph OS later.

The BBC classroom was all set up and running, a most peculiar experience to see such a set up again.  Had my previous Retrochallenge not revolved around programming the BBC I probably would have taken the opportunity to have a play.

In various rooms around the museum there were rows and rows of computers and consoles set up ready to be played with and I took full advantage.  I felt my age when I witnessed a young lad trying to insert a 3.5″ floppy disk the wrong way round, seemingly completely unfamiliar with the technology.

I spoke at length to Dylan Smith of Spectranet fame who has developed the ZX Spectrum ethernet adapter utilising the WIZnet 5100 chip.  I not only admired the finished product but Dylan’s extraordinary soldering skills on the prototypes.  I also saw a working Harlequin board which was very cool.

I missed the IBM SYSTEM/360 Recreation which was pretty disappointing, not sure if they simply hadn’t set it up but I was really looking forward to that.  I would also liked to have seen more equipment from the 60’s and 70’s.

Here are some pictures and video, as you can see it was very quiet on Friday morning so little opportunity to capture visitors interacting with the exhibits.  If possible I may travel back up on Sunday to see if some of the missing exhibits have appeared.

The Notorious Death Of Doommlord The Legend

feanor's mud gossip

I continue to work my way through the box of old Commodore 64 floppy disks that I recently uncovered in the loft.  A number of the disks are barely readable and I’ve been employing a number of tactics to retrieve the files.

Although the disks don’t appear too dirty it’s clear that in some cases multiple passes of the drive head over the disk surfaces have been successful in scouring through the muck and reaching the data.  Of course that muck has to go somewhere and some of it inevitably ends up on the head.

The 'Thumb' Technique

The ‘Thumb’ Technique

I have therefore also taken the opportunity to carefully clean the heads with isopropanol alcohol a couple of times during the process.  Some of the disks that at first attempt would not even give up their directories are now yielding recoverable data.

For some of the more stubborn files I’ve employed a further technical solution, judicious use of my thumb.  At the first sign of problems when attempting to read a file, usually disk thrashing, I push the disk up in the drive with my thumb and this will often allow the read to continue.

I still have a few files that seem unrecoverable, however I may try multiple passes with Starcommander running on my PC as a last throw of the dice.  Fortunately the surfaces of the disks are not, at least to the naked eye, deteriorating too much.

Modem Internals

Modem Internals & Dirty Contacts

Some of the files are of the .SEQ variety and these are tied in to the built-in editor of the Commodore Communications Modem which was required to connect to Compunet.

Initially my model of this modem was not working correctly so I was unable to view the files.

However Crys over at the Compunet Facebook Group suggested cleaning the contacts on the modem with a pencil eraser.  This did the trick and on reconnecting the modem to the 128 (forcing it in to 64 mode) I was greeted by the Compunet Terminal boot up page.

Recovering Files

Recovering Files

Typing ‘Help’ brings up the list of available built-in commands:-

  • HELP
  • OFF

EDITOR, unsurprisingly launches the on or off line editor for creating, storing and uploading pages.  CONNECT, also self-explanatory, will request the required phone number and dial Compunet.  CNLOAD will if I remember correctly restore your last saved session and connect to Compunet.  CNSAVE creates the CNLOAD file which contains the link software that would otherwise have to be downloaded on each connection.  As yet I can’t remember what OFF does although I assume it turns off the modem and restores the 64 to its normal boot state.

Compunet Chess Tournament

Compunet Chess Tournament

Launching the editor allowed me to load up and start browsing through the collection of saved files I’d recovered.  Most of the pages were related to M.U.D. including back ups of my M.U.D. gossip page and some in-game logs.

There were also some Compunet e-mails many of which were chess games I was participating in.

Chess Game In Progress

Chess Game In Progress

Games could be played via e-mail by sending a graphical representation of the board to your opponent including your latest move, they would in turn edit the file with their move and send it back and so on.  There was an ongoing tournament and some of the players were very good indeed.

An Incoming E-mail

An Incoming E-mail

Once I’d reached Wizard in M.U.D. I spent a fair amount of time just socialising with other wizards within the game and watching other players.  It was possible to log your sessions for viewing later and it occurred to me it would be quite fun to produce a weekly round-up of the goings on within the game, hence Feanor’s Mud Gossip.

One particular ‘scandal’ revolved around the death of Doommlord the Legend.  Legend status was one level shy of becoming wizard and achieving immortality.  To get to such a level required many hours of play, and at £1.75/hour it was not a minor investment.

The death of a legend was pretty upsetting for the player involved, fortunately I only endured it once.

Feanor's Mud Gossip

Feanor’s Mud Gossip

In this case added intrigue was born from the suspicion of foul play.  Doommlord was a murderer, and a very successful one at that, there were many players out for his blood.  I happened to be snooping on Doommlord (you receive their game feed as well as your own) when he met his bloody end.

Weakened by a fight with a strangely powerful skeleton, Doommlord was set upon by two or three other players.  It seems likely that an immortal ‘frigged’ the skeleton.



This involved changing the statistics of the mobile (in-player character) to make them a lot stronger than usual.

Anyway, to cut a long story short I’ve included a video of the game log below.  I appreciate this will be of limited interest but you never know, an ex-player may chance upon it one day.  Further below I’ve also added a video showing the 64 with the Compunet modem attached and a video of files being loaded into the editor.

Compunet – Log On To The Live One


I recently discovered a box of 5.25″ floppy disks which had been in storage since the mid Eighties and wrote about how I’d recovered some data from one of them which turned out to be computer studies project I’d been working on at school in 1985.  That was one disk in a box of ten or twelve others, others which were unlabelled and I assumed blank.

Commodore Modem Settings

Commodore Modem Settings

However whilst recently using my Commodore 128D something, somewhere, deep in my mind prompted me to insert one of the disks into the 1571 drive and type LOAD”$”,8.  When I was subsequently greeted with a LOADING prompt I became quite excited.  Nervously I typed LIST and was greeted by a directory of various files, mostly related to Compunet.

Back in 1983/4 Commodore UK helped initiate Compunet, a UK specific dial-up interactive service hosted originally on a DEC 10. It was with retrospect an astonishingly ground breaking initiative.  An online community where users could create their own areas, upload content and have that content voted on by other users.  Content could even be priced, downloaded and paid for.  There were also popular online games and chat rooms.

Classic Compunet Setup

Classic Compunet Setup

The vast majority of users accessed Compunet with a Commodore 64 and Commodore Communications Modem, the latter of which contained a built-in text and low resolution graphic editor.  These allowed you to create content offline before uploading, thus saving on expensive phone charges.  Latterly the service would also see users logging on with Amigas and even Atari STs.

While some users had cool handles, youngsters such as myself who relied on their parents to set up their accounts ended up with anonymous handles like TBAH1, my Father’s initials. I believe you could pick something more memorable for an additional charge.

The Compunet Server

The Compunet Server

There were originally three subscription choices, Basic, Standard and Gold ranging in price from £7.50 to £15.00 per quarter.  Access to the system was free of charge between 6 pm and 8 am although you still had to factor in your BT phone bill which typically ran at around £0.60 per hour.  Access to online games such as M.U.D. cost an additional £1.75/hour.

As many of the users were like myself teenagers, this led to some interesting family discussions when the phone bill arrived.

My own experience of Compunet consisted largely of creating and uploading artwork as Spock and playing M.U.D. as Feanor for which I created a M.U.D. Gossip page (or the Technicolour Yawn page as my good friend Urbancamo (DEW2) once referred to it!)  After many hours playing M.U.D. at the aforementioned £1.75/hour I reached the penultimate status of Wizard and achieved immortality.


My Compunet Usage Log

The ultimate status was of course reserved for the Arch Wizards, responsible for running and moderating the game.  The two I can remember were Roy and JohnK, the latter of which sent me my Wizard’s Pack which contained amongst other things, full maps of the game which I still have.

Classic 80's Look

Classic 80’s Look

As I worked my way through the floppy disks it was a pleasant surprise to find some remnants of my M.U.D. Gossip page and some old artwork.  The disks were understandably flaky and many files were unreadable.  Frustratingly the artwork I was able to recover was mostly work in progress, however I’ve included some here for nostalgia.

My weapon of choice was Vidcom64 which I bought on Compunet for the princely sum of £4.50.  Initially I was forced to use either the cursor keys or joystick to draw with.  This meant slow progress to say the least.  I eventually cobbled together enough pennies to buy a second-hand Koala Pad which at least allowed a moderate amount of freehand drawing.

Drawn With Vidcom64

Drawn With Vidcom64

After uploading several pictures I was approached to create the artwork for the loading screens of a couple of games.

Unfortunately immaturity and general apathy prevented me from meeting the required deadlines so there ended my career as an 8-bit artist before it had even started.

My M.U.D. Gossip page was quite popular with fellow players.  Once I’d made Wizard I’d log on and monitor an evening’s session, jotting down notes of new players, those who’d achieved a new rank and of course those who’d had been killed.  At the end of the week I would upload a round-up of events for all to read and hopefully vote on.

Compunet Guide

Compunet Guide

I also found a number of demos while working my way through the floppy disks.  The demo scene was a huge part of Compunet and every new release was eagerly anticipated.  Some of the hacks on display were frankly extraordinary,  I’m sure that even the creators of the 64 were astonished by some of the tricks these guys pulled off.  Many of the people involved were head hunted and went on to have careers in the video games industry.

Perhaps inevitably given the inexorable rise of the Internet Compunet ceased trading in 1993.  Somewhat ironically there’s a Facebook group for ex Compunet users. It was here that I learnt the rather depressing fact that some of the original disks and tapes on which Compunet resided were still in existence as late as 2008 at which point they were apparently thrown away.

Work In Progress

Work In Progress

This made me quite angry, not with any particular individual, but with the circumstance.  When you read about the latter-day exploits of Jason Scott and the Archive Team you have to wonder why at no point did anyone in a position to do so stop and think, we really need to try to recover and preserve this stuff.

I have some more files to look at, a number of them are I believe pages I created with the Commodore Modem’s built-in editor, and some are presumably other pages that I’d downloaded.  I did manage to find my original modem, however it doesn’t appear to working correctly so I’m going to try to locate a working model and see what else I can recover.

Old Disk Contents

Searching Old Disks

I’ve pulled together a few resources for those interested in further reading.  There is of course a Wikipedia article which goes in to further detail and there is also Mike Berry’s excellent 64apocalypse site which is as far as I can tell the most comprehensive single online resource covering Compunet.

Richard Bartle, co-creator of M.U.D. has some interesting articles on his site, not least of which is this one.  A good article from the January ’85 edition of Your Commodore can be found here.  You can play M.U.D. here.

There’s a bio of Nick Green here, the main man behind Compunet.  Another interesting article can be found here.  I’ve also scanned in some literature that may be of interest:-

Compunet GuideCompunet GuideCompunet LetterCompunet LetterMud Gossip NotesCommodore Communications Modemcn12Commodore Communications ModemCompunet BillCompunet GuideCompunet GuideCompunet GuideCompunet GuideCompunet GuideCompunet Guide