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Planet hack-day

  • Wednesday, April 9, 2014 - 19:00
    VCF East Wrapup MegaPost


    VCF East, the fabulous retrocomputing festival held in Wall, NJ this last weekend was a blast. We had a great time, dropped t-shirts and stickers to just about anyone who wanted one, took a lot of pictures, and shot a lot of video. Now that it’s over it’s time for the post-mortem, with one insanely long post.

    We saw some very cool stuff that merited its own post, and much more that we simply didn’t have time to video. The previous posts from VCF East:

    There’s still tons more, including a tour of the retrocomputer museum that hosted VCF East. The biggest talk was from [Dave Haynie], lord of the Amiga giving part three of a multi-year talk on the soap opera that was Commodore International.

    Click that ‘Read more…’ to see all this.


    There’s a reason VCF East was hosted at InfoAge. This former military base and the DARPA of the 1920s is also the home of MARCH, The Mid-Atlantic Retro Computer Hobbyists. The MARCH exhibits range from analog computers, up through homebrew terminals, eventually ending in the mid 80s with a Mac 128.

    The President of MARCH and organizer for the VCF East was kind enough to take us through a partial walk through of the MARCH exhibits. Items of note include one of the first generation of PDP-8 minicomputers. This beast used diode-transistor logic and core memory. Also on the walk through is a TV Typewriter, and a Mimeo 1, the most perfect replica of an Apple I you’ll ever find.

    Altair 8800
    A Control Data G-15
    Computer Lib, signed by Ted Nelson
    Heathkit analog computer trainer
    The worst keyboard... in the world
    Mac 128
    PDP-8 signed by Ted Nelson
    TV Typewriter internals
    TV Typewriter
    Autographs by Captain Crunch and Woz


    The Commodore Soap Opera

    VCF East, being located in New Jersey, has close ties with the Commodore community and over the past 10 years of hosting the event, they’ve been able to put together a series of talks from the people who were actually there.

    The first talk in 2007 is from [Chuck Peddle], designer of the 6502, KIM-1, and the Commodore PET. The second talk in 2012 was given by [Bil Herd], covering Commodore from the departure of [Jack Tramiel] until the beginnings of the Amiga. This past weekend, [Dave Haynie] wraps it up with Commodore’s sad exit.

    [Chuck Peddle]‘s talk at the 2007 VCF East

    [Bil Herd]‘s Commodore experiences from the departure of [Jack Tramiel] until the release of the Amiga, VCF East 2012

    [Dave Haynie]‘s talk on the Amiga, VCF East 2014

    This is probably the first time all these videos have been embedded in one place. That’s interesting in itself – note the increase in video quality, and the fact that we can do YouTube videos over 20 minutes or so now. If you have a very good eye, you will also note [Bil] can only count to nine and a half now.

    An Absurd Amount Of Pictures

    Intel 8-bit (and one 4-bit!)

    There were, of course, a lot of 8080s, 8088s, and other Intel 8-bit CPUs. One of the best displays was from [John Chapman] and his Lawrence Livermore Labs MST-80B. He has a really cool 24-bit hex display he’s also working on based on the old LED bubble character displays. All very cool stuff.

    The 8080
    The 8008.
    Lawrence Livermore Labs MST-80B Trainer
    MST-80B Trainer keypad


    Ted Nelson signature

    Big Iron



    The only prototype SE with a non-clear case.
    From left to right, a Mac ED, Lisa, prototype SE, and the rest are stock SEs.
    Another of the *original* Apple I.
    Franklin Apple II clone
    Franklin CX, the luggable Apple II clone. Only about 30 exist.
    The SE/30, the best computer Apple will ever make.
    *The* Apple I. Original and rescued from Jobs' office.
    The only prototype Mac SE with a non-clear case.


    By far the best represented brand of 8-bit home computers was Commodore; everything from PETs with chicklet keyboards to Amiga 3000s. I’m an idiot, though; I was hiding my camera gear and random stuff behind [Rob Clarke]‘s exhibit of Commodore Oddities but somehow I didn’t get any pictures. Like I said, I’m an idiot. Still, he had most of the Commodore TED machines – the 116, C16, Plus/4, and 232 all made an appearance. Here’s some Amiga pics:



    What good would a vintage computer festival be without people swapping gear, books, software, and hardware? VCF East had an entire room dedicated to selling, and it was cramped. The prices were pretty fair, as well: if I had to ballpark it, I’d say the prices were about half of what sellers on eBay are asking, although judging from a few forums I frequent, that’s about par for the course.

    I was hoping to snag a nice Amiga monitor, but only ended up grabbing an old mechanical Apple keyboard (M0116, peach Alps switches), a few books, and a 14″ Apple CRT. The “cool” stuff went really fast, and surprisingly all the Commodore 64s were sold in the first few hours.

    Interesting vendors of note include [Vince Briel] of Briel Computers. We did a whole post on him, but if you look closely you’ll see his next, unannounced project. The table full of software is from Eli’s Software Encyclopedia. Here are the pics:

    Briel's Replica 1
    Compact luggable
    Tiny Trash-80
    This is [Vince Briel]'s new, unannounced project. Yes, that's an integrated keyboard on an Ohio Scientific replica. Cherry MX Blues with custom keycaps.
    The asking price for this Mac 5400/200 was $10. I had that much in my wallet and space in my car. The X400 series of macs simply sucked. A lot.

    All in all, VCF East was an awesome event, and well worth a day trip if you’re within a few hundred miles or so. InfoAge itself was great, and well worth the trip even if there isn’t an event going on. There’s a ton of stuff we simply couldn’t get to, and we’re looking forward to the next year’s activities.

    If you’re too far away to visit the next VCF East, don’t worry: there’s VCF Southeast near Atlanta in just a few short weeks.

    There’s still one more thing we need to post – InfoAge is also home to a great hackerspace. We’ll get around to posting that when the our computer stops crying from all this video rendering.

    If that’s not enough for you, [Fran] also stopped by and shot some video. She’s done editing about a third of what she shot, you can find that below.

    Filed under: classic hacks, Featured

  • Wednesday, April 9, 2014 - 16:00
    Using SIMMs to Add Some Extra RAM on your Arduino UNO


    A Single In-line Memory Module (SIMM) is a type of memory module containing Random Access Memory (RAM) which was used in computers from the early 1980s to the late 1990s (think 386, 486, Macintoshs, Atari STE…). [Rafael] just made a little library that allows you to interface these modules to the Atmega328p-based Arduino UNO in order to gain some memory space. His work was actually based on the great Linux on the 8bit ATMEGA168 hack from [Dmitry Grinberg] but some tweaks were required to make it work with [Rapfael]‘s SIMM but also to port it to the Arduino platform. The 30-pin SIMM shown above is capable of storing up to (hold on to your chairs…) 16MB but due to limited amount of available IOs on the Atmega328p only 256KB can be used. Our guess it that an SPI / I2C IO extender could lift this limitation. A quick (shaky) video is embedded after the break.

    Filed under: Arduino Hacks, hardware

  • Wednesday, April 9, 2014 - 13:00
    Create Your Own J.A.R.V.I.S. Using Jasper


    Tony Stark’s J.A.R.V.I.S. needs no introduction. With [Shubhro's] and [Charlie's] recent release of Jasper, an always on voice-controlled development platform for the Raspberry Pi, you too can start making your own J.A.R.V.I.S..

    Both [Shubhro] and [Charlie] are undergraduate students at Princeton University, and decided to make their voice-controlled project open-source (code is available on GitHub). Jasper is build on inexpensive off-the-shelf hardware, making it very simple to get started. All you really need is an internet connected Raspberry Pi with a microphone and speaker. Simply install Jasper, and get started using the built in functionality that allows you to interface with Spotify, Facebook, Gmail, knock knock jokes, and more. Be sure to check out the demo video after break!

    With the easy to use developer API, you can integrate Jasper into any of your existing Raspberry Pi projects with little effort. We could see Jasper integrated with wireless microphones and speakers to enable advanced voice control from anywhere in your home. What a great project! Thanks to both [Shubhro] and [Charlie] for making this open-source.

    Filed under: home hacks, Raspberry Pi

  • Wednesday, April 9, 2014 - 10:00
    Building a Quadcopter with a CNC Mill and a 3D Printer


    Quadcopters are a ton of fun to play with, and even more fun to build. [Vegard] wrote in to tell us about his amazing custom DIY quadcopter frame that uses a commercial flight control system.

    Building a quadcopter is the perfect project to embark upon if you want to test out your new CNC mill and 3D printer. The mechanical systems are fairly simple, yet result in something unbelievably rewarding. With a total build time of 30 hours (including Sketchup modeling), the project is very manageable for weekend hackers. [Vegard's] post includes his build log as well as some hard learned lessons. There are also tons of pictures of the build. Be sure to read to read the end of the post, [Vegard] discusses why to “never trust a quadcopter” and other very useful information. See it in action after the break.

    While the project was a great success, it sadly only had about 25 hours of flight-time before a fatal bird-strike resulted in quite a bit of damage. Have any of your quadcopters had a tragic run-in with another flying object? Let us know in the comments.

    Filed under: cnc hacks, robots hacks

  • Wednesday, April 9, 2014 - 07:00
    VCF East: PR1ME And AT&T Unix Boxes


    At the Vintage Computer Festival last weekend, there was a wonderful representation of small 8 and 16-bit home computers from the 80s, an awful lot of PDP and VAX-based minicomputers, and even some very big iron in the form of a UNIVAC and a Cray. You might think this is a good representation of computing history, but there was actually a huge gap in the historical reality. Namely, workstations and minicomputers that weren’t made by DEC.

    [Ian Primus] was one of the very few people to recognize this shortcoming and brought his PRIME minicomputer. This was a huge, “two half racks, side by side” computer running PRIMOS, an operating system written in FORTRAN. Of course this made it extremely popular with engineering teams, but that doesn’t mean [Ian] can’t have fun with it. He had two terminals set up, one running Dungeon (i.e. Zork pre-Infocom) and a text-based lunar lander game.

    Because the VCF East is held in New Jersey, it’s probably no surprise a few vintage AT&T Unix boxes showed up. [Anthony Stramaglia] brought in a few very cool vintage Unix workstations, dating from the early to mid 80s. In the video, he shows off two AT&T boxes. The first is a UNIX PC, containing a 68010 clocked at a blistering 10 MHz. Next up is the UNIX PC’s bigger brother, the 3B2 400. This is the workstation found on just about every desk at Bell Labs in the 80s, meaning this is the same computer [Ken Thompson] and [Dennis Ritchie] used for their work on UNIX.


    Filed under: classic hacks

  • Wednesday, April 9, 2014 - 04:00
    Serial Monitor Without a PC


    A serial monitor is an easy way to debug your projects. As we step through code, it’s nice to see a “Hey! I’m working, moving to next thing!” across the monitor, and not so nice to see nothing – the result of a bug that needs debugging. This has always meant needing a PC loaded with your favorite serial terminal program close at hand.

    Most of the time this is not an issue, because the PC is used to compile the code and program the project at hand. But what if you’re in the field, with a mission of fixing a headless system, and in need a serial monitor? Why lug around your PC when you can make your own External Serial Monitor!

    [ARPix] built this fully functional serial monitor based on an Atmega328 and a 102 x 64 LCD display. While it doesn’t have a keyboard port like this microcontroller based serial terminal, tact switches allow access to the user interface to start and stop the reading and set the baud rate. The Atmega328 has 2K of SRAM, which is needed for the project. Apparently, 1K was not enough to handle all the data. All code, schematics and a very well done parts layout are available, making this sure to be your next weekend project!




    Filed under: Arduino Hacks, Microcontrollers

  • Wednesday, April 9, 2014 - 01:00
    Designing a Front Panel for a DIY Project

    DIY Front Panel


    When building a one-off DIY project, appearances tend to be the least of our priorities. We just want to get the device working, and crammed into some project case. For those that like to build nicer looking prototypes [JumperOne] came up with a slick method of building a custom front panel for your DIY project.

    The first step is to get the dimensions correct. You CAD tool will generate these from your design. [JumperOne] took these measurements into Inkscape, an open source vector graphics tool. Once it’s in Inkscape, the panel can be designed around the controls. This gets printed out and aligned on a plastic enclosure, which allows the holes to be marked and drilled.

    With the electronics in place, the front panel gets printed again on a general purpose adhesive sheet. Next up is a piece of cold laminating film, which protects the label. Finally, holes are cut for the controls. Note that the display and LEDs are left covered, which allows the film to diffuse the light. The final result looks good, and can provide all the needed instructions directly on the panel.

    [Thanks to Ryan for the tip]

    Filed under: how-to

  • Tuesday, April 8, 2014 - 22:00
    Festo Creates Bionic Kangaroo; Steve Austin Unimpressed



    [Dr. Wilfried Stoll] and a team at Festo have created an incredible robot kangaroo. Every few years the research teams at Festo release an amazing animal inspired robot. We last covered their smartbird. This year, they’ve created BionicKangaroo (pdf link). While The Six Million Dollar Man might suggest otherwise, Bionics is use of biological systems in engineering design. In this case, Festo’s engineers spent two years studying the jumping behavior of kangaroos as they perfected their creation.

    Kangaroos have some amazing evolutionary adaptations for jumping. Their powerful Achilles tendon stores energy upon landing. This allows the kangaroo to increase its speed with each successive jump. The kangaroo’s tail is essential for balancing the animal as it leaps through the air. The Festo team used a thick rubber band to replicate the action of the tendons. The tail is controlled by electric servomotors.

    Festo is known for their pneumatic components, so it’s no surprise that the kangaroo’s legs are driven by pneumatic cylinders. Pneumatics need an air supply though, so the team created two versions of the kangaroo. The first uses an on-board air compressor. The second uses a high-pressure storage tank to drive the kangaroo’s legs. An off the shelf Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) acts as BionicKangaroo’s brain. The PLC monitors balance while controlling the pneumatic leg cylinders and electric tail motors. Unfortunately, BionicKangaroo isn’t completely autonomous. The Thalmic Labs Myo makes a cameo appearance in the video. The Kangaroo’s human controller commands the robot with simple arm movements.

    While the BionicKangaroo is graceful in its jumps, it still needs a bit of help when turning and taking simple steps. Thankfully we don’t think it will be boxing anytime soon.

    Filed under: robots hacks

  • Tuesday, April 8, 2014 - 19:00
    Zenotron: the Looks of a Kaypro II with the Soul of a Nebulophone

    This beautiful instrument of musical delight is called the Zenotron, and it was built by [Mike Walters] for his friend [Zeno] in exchange for some keyboards. The Zenotron is the latest musical hack in a long line of awesome from the same guy who built the Melloman, its successor, the Mellowman II, and Drumssette, a programmable sequencer.

    The sweet sounds of those babies all come from tape loops, but the Zenotron is voiced with a modified [Bleep Labs] Nebulophone synthesizer. Instead of the Nebulophone’s pots controlling the waveform and arpeggio, he’s wired up a 2-axis joystick. He left the LFO pot wired as-is. When it’s turned all the way down, he’s noticed that the joystick takes over control of the filter. [Mike] fed the audio through a 4017 decade counter and each of the steps lights up an array of four to five of the randomly-wired 88 LEDs.

    [Mike] made the case from the top half of a small filmstrip viewer and an old modem, which is way better than the Cool Whip container housing we made for our Nebulophone. He re-purposed a toy keyboard and made a contact board for it with small tactile switches. This results in nice clicky feedback like you get from mouse buttons.

    Of course there’s a demo video. You know the drill.



    [Thanks to Joey for sending this in]

    Filed under: musical hacks

  • Tuesday, April 8, 2014 - 16:01
    Heroes of Hardware Revolution: Bob Widlar

    Bob Widlar (1937-1991) is without a doubt one of the most famous hardware engineers of all time.  In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that he is the person who single-handedly started the whole Analog IC Industry. Sure, it’s Robert Noyce and Jack Kilby who invented the concept of Integrated Circuits, but it’s Widlar’s genius and pragmatism that brought it to life. Though he was not first to realize the limitations of planar process and designing ICs like discrete circuits, he was the first one to provide an actual solution - µA702, the first linear IC Operational Amplifier. Combining his engineering genius, understanding of economic aspects of circuit design and awareness of medium and process limitations, he and Dave Talbert ruled the world of Analog ICs throughout the 60s and 70s. For a significant period of time, they were responsible more than 80 percent of all linear circuits made and sold in the entire world.

    Bob Widlar


    The list of his designs includes gems such as µA709, improvement over original µA702 and a Fairchild’s flagship product for years, µA723 – first integrated voltage regulator and LM10 — the first ultra-low-voltage opamp, which is still in production today. Students usually learn about Widlar via the textbook-classic: Widlar Current Source, a key piece in many of his designs, and the Bandgap Voltage Reference - both of which provide an infinite supply of mind-boggling exam problems. If there is one theme that’s common across all of Widlar’s designs, it’s that he has never designed an obvious circuit in his life. Every Widlar design comes with a twist, a unique idea and very often, a prank. A classic example of this is the story of LM109, the industry’s first three-terminal adjustable voltage regulator. In 1969, Widlar wrote a paper in which he argued against feasibility of monolithic voltage regulators due to temperature swings and packaging limitations. Since he was already an engineering legend by that time, the industry took it seriously and people gave up trying to pursue such devices. Then in 1970, he presented a circuit – LM109 – which used his bandgap voltage reference to achieve exactly such “impossible” functionality. It is most likely that he submitted both works within days from one another.


    In addition to being a brilliant designer, Widlar was a personification of an age to come in Sillicon Valley, combining counter-cultural and in-your-face attitude with entrepreneurial passion and desire to build products that people love. He worked directly with customers and wrote his own app notes and data sheets. In fact, Widlar’s µA702 laid out the blueprint for how all analog IC data sheets are to be written in the future. His principle was “designing for minimum phone calls” and “if you make a million ICs; you get half a million phone calls if they don’t work right”. He was both destroyer of the worlds and creator of new markets; he came into Fairchild claiming that “what they do in analog is BS”, but left the company as a dominant player in linear IC for years to come, mostly on the wings of his designs. He then moved to Molectro (owned by National) but quickly ended up turning the parent company upside down and making into an Analog powerhouse. At the age of 33 he cashed out and retired in Mexico. But his hands couldn’t stay idle for too long. He soon came back as a contractor for National and, in 1980, ended up founding Linear Technology with Robert Swanson and Bob Dobkin,

    National Semiconductor (Widlar's Idea)

    Still, he always remained a troublemaker, free thinker, and an HR nightmare… closer in spirit to someone like Hemingway than a fellow “professional” engineer. Such attitude was contagious and it inspired a whole new wave of “prankster” analog geniuses like Bob Pease and Jim Williams. Widlar’s pranks are too many to count and it’s really hard to pick one that captures the spirit of the times the best. Maybe it’s when Widlar brought sheep to the front of National as a reaction to the firm not mowing the lawns due to cost-cutting (he really just needed an excuse to annoy the upper management). Or when he cherry-bombed the intercom speaker, again, just to upset one of National’s Vice Presidents. Some of the pranks were actual hardware, like a “hassler” circuit he built to detect audio, convert it to a very high audio frequency and play back the converted sound. The net effect of such a design was that the louder someone talked in the office, the more annoying the “ringing” effect caused by the feedback was. As a person would stop shouting to hear what’s causing the ringing, the effect would disappear as well. This way, he managed to get everyone in the office into speaking quietly, Pavlov-style.

    Widlar and the Sheep : A Performance Piece

    Widlar passed away in 1991 but his legacy lives on. He truly was the original hardware hacker and more than just an engineer – he was an Artist. It’s because of guys like him that Analog still has that special feel and is more about “invention” than just following the straightforward path between A and B. And that is why Analog guys still greet everyone else with a “Widlar Salute”.

    Widlar Salute

    Now, when I have finished my inspection, and I am still mad as hell because I have wasted a lot of time being fooled by a bad component – what do I do? I usually WIDLARIZE it, and it makes me feel a lot better. How do you WIDLARIZE something? You take it over to the anvil part of the vice, and you beat on it with a hammer, until it is all crunched down to tiny little pieces, so small that you don’t even have to sweep it off the floor. It makes you feel better. And you know that that component will never vex you again. That’s not a joke, because sometimes if you have a bad pot or a bad capacitor, and you just set it aside, a few months later you find it slipped back into your new circuit and is wasting your time again. When you WIDLARIZE something, that is not going to happen. And the late Bob Widlar is the guy who showed me how to do it.

    Bob Pease – Troubleshooting Analog Circuits


    [1] Bo Lojek – History of Semiconductor Engineering, Springer, 2007

    [2] Bob Pease – Troubleshooting Analog Circuits, 1987

    [3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Widlar

    [4] http://readingjimwilliams.blogspot.com/2012/04/my-favorite-widlar-story.html

    [5] http://analogfootsteps.blogspot.com/search/label/Bob%20Widlar

    [6] http://electronicdesign.com/analog/what-s-all-widlar-stuff-anyhow

    [7] http://silicongenesis.stanford.edu/transcripts/dobkinwilliams.htm

    [8] http://edn.com/electronics-blogs/anablog/4311277/Bob-Widlar-cherry-bombs-the-intercom-speaker-item-2


    Filed under: Featured, rants

  • Tuesday, April 8, 2014 - 13:00
    Dirt Cheap Dirty Boards Offers Dirt Cheap PCB Fab

    Dirt Cheap PCB


    When your project is ready to build, it’s time to find a PCB manufacturer. There are tons of them out there, but for prototype purposes cheaper is usually better. [Ian] at Dangerous Prototypes has just announced Dirt Cheap Dirty Boards, a PCB fabrication service for times where quality doesn’t matter too much. [Ian] also discussed the service on the Dangerous Prototypes forum.

    The boards are definitely cheap. $12 USD gets you ten 5 cm by 5 cm boards with 100% e-test and free worldwide shipping. You can even choose from a number of solder mask colors for no additional cost. [Ian] does warn the boards aren’t of the best quality, as you can tell in the Bus Pirate picture above. The silkscreen alignment has some issues, but for $1.2 a board, it’s hard to complain. After all, the site’s motto is “No bull, just crappy PCBs.”

    The main downside of this service will be shipping time. While the Chinese fab house cranks out boards in two to four days, Hong Kong Post can take up to 30 days to deliver your boards. This isn’t ideal, but the price is right.

    Filed under: hardware

  • Tuesday, April 8, 2014 - 10:00
    VCF East: Old Computers, New Games


    While the vintage computer festival in Wall, NJ had just about every vintage app you could imagine – multiple varities of *NIXes, pre-Zork Dungeon, BASIC interpreters of all capabilities, and just about every game ever released for 8-bit Commodore systems – there was, perhaps unsurprisingly, a distinct lack of modern programs written for these retro systems. Yes, despite there being people still curled up to keyboards and writing games for vintage systems, modern software was a strange oddity last weekend.

    There were two wonderful exceptions, however. The first was Fahrfall, a game for the TRS-80 Color Computer. We’ve seen Fahrfall before when [John Linville] wrote it for the 2012 RetroChallenge Winter Warmup. The game itself is a re-imagining of Downfall for the Atari Jaguar, with the graphics scaled down immensely. The basic idea of the game is to jump down, ledge to ledge, on a vertically scrolling screen. Hit the walls or the bottom, and you’re dead. It’s a great game that probably would have sold well had it been a contemporary release.

    Next up is a rather impressive port of Flappy Bird for the TI-99. The video does not do this game justice, although part of that might just be the awesome Amiga monitor used for the display. This game was brought in by [Jeff Salzman] of Vintage Volts who isn’t the author of the game. Honestly, the video doesn’t do the graphics any justice. It really is a great looking port that’s just as addictive as the Android/iDevice original.

    Filed under: classic hacks

  • Tuesday, April 8, 2014 - 07:01
    PiFace Control & Display Tear Down


    [John's] currently working on a rather fun PiNoir & Santa Catcher Challenge, and one of the main components is a PiFace Control and Display, which allows you to use a Raspberry Pi without a keyboard or mouse. Curious to see how this module worked, [John] decided to do a tear down and find out!

    Using a de-soldering tool he removed the 16×2 LCD which obstructs most of the components on the panel, which revealed a 16 bit SPI port expander from Microchip MCP23S17. He continued to examine components and checked values using a multimeter to come up with the following circuit diagram:


    Click to Zoom

    It’s a nice exercise in reverse engineering, and it looks like [John] did a pretty good job. We’ve seen the PiFace used to automatically decant wine bottles, control Minecraft using a physical Redstone, and even take 3D imaging with an array of 48 PiFaces, Pi’s and Cameras!

    Filed under: Raspberry Pi

  • Tuesday, April 8, 2014 - 04:00
    Vacuum Formed Portable N64 is the Real Deal


    This portable N64 looks good enough to be sold in stores — that’s because [Bungle] vacuum formed the case!

    He started by creating a wooden template of his controller, using bondo to add grips and features. Once satisfied with the overall look and feel of the controller, he threw it into his own vacuum former and created two shiny plastic halves.

    He’s chosen a nice little 3.5″ LCD screen for the display, with a 7.4V 4400mAh battery pack that will last just over 4 hours of constant play — he’s included a battery indicator as well! An old N64 controller takes care of electronics, but [Bungle's] gone and made custom buttons and is using a Gamecube style joystick as well. He’s included both the rumble pack and an internal memory card which can be changed with the flick of a switch. A tiny HMDX Go portable audio amp and speakers are also integrated directly into the controller.

    This isn’t [Bungle's] first rodeo either — in fact its his 4th portable N64 design, and his past ones were pretty slick as well. We’ve seen tons of portable N64 consoles over the years, and it’s awesome because everyone takes a slightly different spin at it.

    Filed under: nintendo hacks

  • Tuesday, April 8, 2014 - 01:01
    Recreating the THX Deep Note

    THX logo

    Few sounds are as recognizable as the THX Deep Note. [Batuhan] did some research, and set about recreating the sound. The original Deep Note (mp3 link) was created in 1982 by [Dr. James A. Moorer]. [Dr. Moorer] used the Audio Signal Processor (ASP) (AKA SoundDroid) to create the sound. The ASP was a complex machine to program. The Deep Note took about 20,000 lines of C code to program. The C code was compiled to about 250,000 discrete statements to command the ASP.

    Only one ASP was ever built, and LucasFilm owned it. Instead of recreating the hardware, [Batuhan] used SuperCollider to recreate the sound. Just like the ASP, SuperCollider is a tool for real-time audio synthesis. The difference is that SuperCollider is open source and runs on modern computers. [Batuhan] used his research and ears to perform an analysis of the Deep Note. He created two re-creations. The first is carefully constructed to replicate the sound. The second is a Twitter worthy 140 character version. Both versions are reasonable facsimiles of the original Deep Note, though they’re not quite perfect to our ears.

    [Batuhan] isn’t the only person working on recreations. Deep Note in 1KB of JavaScript can be heard at  http://thx.onekb.net/. We’d love to hear other versions created by Hackaday readers!

    [Via Reddit]

    Filed under: musical hacks

  • Monday, April 7, 2014 - 22:00
    The Raspberry Pi Compute Module


    Raspberry Pi cluster computers are old hat by now, and much to our dismay, we’ve even seen Raspberry Pis crop up as the brains of a few ill-conceived Kickstarter projects. The Pi was never meant for these applications, with the very strange port layout and a bunch of headers most people don’t need. The Raspberry Pi foundation has a solution for the odd layout of the normal, consumer Pi:  The Raspberry Pi compute module, a Raspi and 4GB flash drive, sans connectors, on an industry standard DDR2 SODIMM module.

    This isn’t something you can plug into your laptop (yet; that’s just a BIOS hack away, right?), but the new format does allow for some very interesting projects. All the normal Raspi I/O – CSI and DSI ports, USB, HDMI, JTAG – and a whole bunch more GPIO ports – are broken out onto an I/O board for development. The idea is that anyone can develop a product for the Raspberry Pi, create a custom board with a SODIMM connector, and use the compute module as the brains of their project.

    The compute module should cost about $30/piece in quantity 100, available in June. No word yet on how much the I/O board will cost, but we expect a few open source expansion boards to crop up shortly so anyone can create a very cool cluster computer based on the compute module.


    Filed under: Raspberry Pi

  • Monday, April 7, 2014 - 19:01
    VCF East: [Vince Briel] Of Briel Computers


    Judging from the consignment area of the Vintage Computer Festival this weekend, there is still a booming market for vintage computers and other ephemera from the dawn of the era of the home computer. Even more interesting are reimaginings of vintage computers using modern parts, as shown by [Vince Briel] and his amazing retrocomputer kits.

    [Vince] was at VCF East this weekend showing off a few of his wares. By far the most impressive (read: the most blinkey lights) is his Altair 8800 kit that emulates the genesis of the microcomputer revolution, the Altair. There’s no vintage hardware inside, everything is emulated on an ATmega microcontroller. Still, it’s accurate enough for the discerning retrocomputer aficionado, and has VGA output, a keyboard port, and an SD card slot.

    The Replica I is an extremely cut down version of the original Apple, using the original 6502 CPU and 6821 PIA. Everything else on the board is decidedly modern, with a serial to USB controller for input and a Parallax Propeller doing the video. Even with these modern chips, an expansion slot is still there, allowing a serial card or compact flash drive to be connected to the computer.

    Video below, with [Vince] showing off all his wares, including his very cool Kim-1 replica.

    Filed under: classic hacks

  • Monday, April 7, 2014 - 16:01
    Multijoy_Retro Connects Your ‘Wayback’ to your ‘Machine’


    Moore’s law is the observation that, over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years. This rapid advancement is certainly great for computing power and the advent of better technology but it does have one drawback; otherwise great working hardware becomes outdated and unusable.  [Dave] likes his flight simulators and his old flight sim equipment. The only problem is that his new-fangled computer doesn’t have DA15 or DE9 inputs to interface with his controllers. Not being one to let something like this get him down, [Dave] set out to build his own microcontroller-based interface module. He calls it the Multijoy_Retro.

    The plan was to make it possible for multiple controllers with DA15 and DE9 connectors to interface with a modern PC via USB. After comparing the available Arduino-compatible boards, the Teensy++ 2.0 was chosen due to the fact it can be easily configured as a USB Human Input Device. Other benefits are its small size and substantial quantity of input pins. The project’s custom firmware sketch reads the inputs from the connected controllers and then sends the converted commands to the PC as an emulated USB controller.

    Four hundred solder points were required to support all of the desired functionality. Each function was tested as its hardware counterpart was completed. Problems were troubleshot at that time, then labels added to the wires. This method was necessary to keep everything neat and manageable. This whole process took several days to complete.


    The enclosure is mostly 3D printed. Clear acrylic was used for the front panel which was made to look similar to controls you would expect to find in cockpits of old military aircraft. To ensure accurate and uniform connector-shaped holes a CNC Router was used to cut out the front panel. Labels were printed on a regular printer, cut out and attached to the back side of the clear acrylic.

    Overall, this is a great build. The project covers many aspects; reverse engineering, electronics, programming, 3D printing and CNC machining. Not only does it solve a problem, it also looks good while doing it!


    Filed under: peripherals hacks

  • Monday, April 7, 2014 - 13:01
    3D Printed Camera Arm Saves $143


    Professional camera equipment is notoriously expensive, so when [Raster's] LCD camera arm for his RED ONE Digital Cinema Camera broke, he was dismayed to find out a new one would run him back $150! He decide to take matters into his own hands and make this one instead.

    The original arm lasted a good 4 years before finally braking — but unfortunately, it’s not very fixable. Luckily, [Raster] has a 3D printer! The beauty with most camera gear is it’s all 1/4-20 nuts and bolts, making DIY accessories very easy to cobble together. He fired up OpenSCAD and started designing various connector blocks for the 1/4-20 hardware to connect to. His first prototype worked but there was lots of room for improvement for the second iteration.  He’s continued refining it into a more durable arm seen here. For $7 of material — it’s a pretty slick system!

    Between making 3D printed digital camera battery adapters,  3D printed camera mounts for aerial photography, affordable steady-cams, or even a fully 3D printed camera… getting a 3D printer if you’re a photography enthusiast seems to make a lot of sense!


    Filed under: 3d Printer hacks

  • Monday, April 7, 2014 - 10:01
    Hack A Day Goes Retro in a Computer Museum

    vt100_HAD Our friends over at Hack42 in the Netherlands decided to have some fun with their computer museum. So far, they’ve been able to display the Hack a Day retro site on three classic computers — including an Apple Lisa, a DEC GIGI, and a run of the mill DEC VT100. We had the opportunity to visit Hack42 last October during our Hackerspacing in Europe trip – but just as a refresher if you don’t remember, Hack42 is in Arnhem, in the Netherlands — just outside of Germany. The compound was built in 1942 as a German military base, disguised as a bunch of farmhouses. It is now home to Hack42, artist studios, and other random businesses. The neat thing is, its location is still blurred out on Google Maps! Needless to say, their hackerspace has lots of space. Seriously. So much so they have their own computer museum! Which is why they’ve decided to have some fun with them… To get Hack a Day Retro on these old computers they are using an old Debian Compaq machine as the host computer for the DECServer90m. The DECServer90m is a remote serial port server with 8 configurable serial ports. It’s used as a terminal server for VAX, nicorVAX or other similar computers. It connects using coax Ethernet to be configured. The serial ports can be setup for printers, modems, or in this case, dumb terminals like the DEC VT100, or an Apple Lisa.


    An Apple Lisa

    The Lisa was one of the first systems to use a mouse and a graphical desktop!



     The DEC GIGI VK100 is a strange beast. Even DEC did’t know what to think of it and couldn’t properly market the machine, thinking it was just a dumb terminal with color support and some extra gizmo’s like basic and graphics. It looks like a over-sized Commodore C64 but it has some nice connectors on the back, like a current-loop (for serial connections to even older computers than a VAX like a PDP8 minicomputer and three BNC connectors for component color output.)

    They’re currently working on an even more complicated method to get some really old computers to display the page!

    Filed under: classic hacks, computer hacks