Monthly Archives: April 2016

New QPC v4.04 plus SMSQ/E v3.26! With stipples!

A little over two years ago QPC2 v4 was made available for free to celebrate the birth of my little girl Marla. I wanted to release 4.03 for her first birthday but missed the date and then forgot about it (the changes weren’t that important anyway). So I planned to release what I have for her second birthday and missed that, too… then I noticed the 18th birthday of my web presence came up last week, so I was going to release it then for sure! Spoiler-alert: I didn’t make it. But this time for a good reason at least: Wolfgang wanted to include a few last-minute changes to SMSQ/E that would allow it to draw alpha blended blocks. I liked the idea in general, but just supporting blocks seemed a bit halve-baked to me, so I foolishly offered to extend the alpha blending support to the whole graphics sub-system!

Okay, this is a job that is, in principle, actually not that difficult, but in practice and when you want to achieve at least some level of performance it can be a bit of a pain to develop. Especially if you’re crazy enough to also aim for supporting the old-timey stipples, and I’m no man for halve-finished jobs, so stipples there will be! So, after the girls go to bed I usually have one or two hours to myself and I made some good use of them. Today I can finally show you the result:

Alpha blending (for all plattforms!)

The alpha blending support is, like INK, PAPER or OVER, a part of the settings of a window. The setting can be changed using the aptly named ALPHA_BLEND SBASIC command. It takes two parameters, a channel and an alpha weight from 0 to 255 with 0 being transparent and 255 being opaque. So, after executing for example ALPHA_BLEND #1,128 all future graphics commands on channel 1 including BLOCK, CIRCLE, LINE and PRINT will draw their contents halve-transparent over the existing background until alpha blending is disabled again (by setting the weight to the default of 255: ALPHA_BLEND #1,255). Here’s a little example:


The trap to control the mode from other languages is defined as thus:

|                                                                             |
|  Trap #3    D0=$62                                               IOW.SALP   |
|                                                                             |
|       Set the alpha blending weight for a window                            |
|                                                                             |
|  Call parameters                      Return parameters                     |
|                                                                             |
|  D1.B alpha weight (0..255)           D1   preserved                        |
|  D2                                   D2   preserved                        |
|  D3.W timeout                         D3   preserved                        |
|                                       D4+  all preserved                    |
|                                                                             |
|  A0   channel ID                      A0   preserved                        |
|  A1                                   A1   preserved                        |
|  A2                                   A2   preserved                        |
|  A3                                   A3   preserved                        |
|                                       A4+  all preserved                    |
|                                                                             |
|  Error returns:                                                             |
|        ICHN  channel not open                                               |

I don’t actually have any use for this feature myself, I just wrote it because, well, I could. I certainly hope somebody else finds it useful, though 🙂 And after all these years of developing SMSQ/E this is actually the first trap that I have defined myself (all other functions I introduced were vectored routines)!

DOS device rewrite (QPC only, obviously)

I’ve written many hundred thousand lines of assembler in my life and 20 years ago when hacking on an 8Mhz 68008 or even a 66 Mhz 486 this still made a lot of sense. But the times have changed a lot, not only are CPUs so fast that speed doesn’t really matter that much anymore, compiler became so good that you will have some real trouble beating them with your average assembler code! Also, CPUs have been optimized to execute compiled code and if you do some clever trick in assembler that a compiler wouldn’t do you could actually end up with much slower code on a new CPU generation (this has happened with QPC before).

To cut a long story short, every time I had to touch a sub-system of QPC in the last few years I rewrote it in C first in order to not go insane for writing any more lines of x86 assembler. This time it was the DOS device that got the C treatment. Functionality wise not much has changed, except one thing:


It always bothered me that the DOS device could not rename files and if I had known 15 years ago what I know today I could have implemented it back then, too, but alas I didn’t. The feature as it is now implemented needs Windows Vista+ to work, so XP and lower still cannot rename files (boo hooo!). But if you’re still using XP I strongly urge you to update anyway.

And the rest

The rest is mostly minor bug-fixes, you can check out the details in the version history. Perhaps one interesting change is Respect “Keep aspect ratio” when going into fullscreen mode. The story behind this is that QPC2 v4 does not alter the physical screen resolution to go full screen anymore, it just stretches the content of the QL screen to the extent of the monitor. This is a bit of a problem when the screen resolution is for example 1366×768, because in order to stay compatible to the QL colour mode QPC enforces the screen x-resolution to be divisible by 8, and 1366 is not. So QPC will round down and try to stretch a 1362×768 QL screen to a 1366×768 monitor, which can only be done by doubling a few pixel columns. If you are in this situation then enabling the “Keep aspect ratio” option will now make sure that the screen will not be stretched, instead there will be four black columns on the right hand side of the screen instead, as it was with QPC2 v3.

So this is it, the first new release in two years. I hope you’ll like it, enjoy!

Happy 18th birthday…

… to this very website. According to a copy I obtained from my website had its 18th birthday yesterday (back then it was under a different URL which I won’t disclose here because of embarrassment and stuff). I wanted to celebrate this by releasing a new version of QPC, but unfortunately one last minute SMSQ/E feature wasn’t finished in time.

Still, 18 years is a frighteningly long time and reaches back into some pretty early stages of the web. It was quite common to have a “visitor counter” and I actually had one until the last redesign. The last value it displayed was 153200, but I’m not even sure it worked properly the last few years. In the heyday of QPC there was quite a lot of traffic because of it. Later most people found the site because they were searching for some Wifi hardware that I analyzed in the “hacking” section I used to have. Nowadays it’s mostly QPCPrint that is still interesting. And occasionally people apparently search for my name, for whatever reason. My name used to be globally unique for a long time but thanks to Facebook I’m now aware of at least one more person sharing it, so perhaps they want to find him instead 😉

Anyway, that’s it for now. Next time, new QPC. Probably.

EasyPtr and me

In 1991 Albin Hessler released the EasyPtr package to the world. It was quite revolutionary for its time, combining a powerful SuperBasic extension with a true WYSIWYG dialog editor. I was a young lad back then, about 12 years of age, and luck would have it that Albin was friends with Jochen Hassler, who happened to be working with my dad. If it wasn’t for Jochen I probably would never have owned or used a QL, by the way, but I digress. Due to my connection I was one of the first people getting their hands on EasyPtr and I actually still remember the excitement I felt when reading through the manual for the first time. Yeah, I was probably never what you would consider a “normal” child.

I reported back a few bugs I found through Jochen and after a few days I got a package in the mail with a copy of a QL game called “Brain Smashers” as a thank you. I was overfilled with joy and it actually still pains me a bit that I have never really thanked him for it because, believe it or not (and most people knowing me today will probably opt for “not”) I was just too shy back then! But I actually still have it after all these years, including the ring binder manual.

Albin was also head of the local QL chapter, often the meetings were held in his home, and in time I considered him a friend. Along with Jochen we traveled to a lot of QL shows in a road-trip kind of way all over Europe for years to come, which was really a lot of fun. And when Albin and Jochen left the QL scene I continued this tradition with Jochen Merz for even more years, including many trips to the USA that I remember quite fondly.

After I had written what is now called WMAN2, the window manager that could handle the new high colour drivers, voices grew louder for an update to EasyPtr to support the colours, too. So, after much prodding by some very persuasive people, mainly Per Witte I guess, I finally gave in and updated EasyPtr around 2004. This was a huge task because while later products from Albin Hessler like CueShell were very well written, EasyMenu’s code was, let’s say, a bit harder to read and maintain. Due to the amount of work this update was released commercially. It sold very well at the official release meeting in England, but after that I never saw another cent coming from the island… I can only speculate if no more copies were sold or if the license fees just never reached me. So apart from the handful copies sold through Jochen Merz this was not a successful venture, but as the package was also such a huge part of my childhood I still don’t regret doing it.

Finally last month I got an inquiry about how to obtain a copy which triggered me to do the next logical step in EasyPtr’s live: releasing it for free. So here you have it, in all its glory:

Manual: EasyPtr4.pdf

A bit late perhaps, but better late than never, right? So enjoy, tell me if you like it or hit the tip jar if you want, it’s completely up to you. Have fun with it!