Retrotechtacular: Simulating weather patterns with a logic chip computer

In 1975, [D. L. Slotnick], CS professor at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign faced a problem: meteorologists were collecting a lot more data than current weather simulations could handle. [Slotnick]‘s solution was to build a faster computer to run these atmosphere circulation simulations. The only problem was the computer needed to be built quickly and cheaply, so that meant using off-the-shelf hardware which in 1975 meant TTL logic chips. [Ivan] found the technical report for this project (a massive PDF, you have been warned), and we’re in awe of the scale of this new computer.

One requirement of this computer was to roughly 100 times the computing ability of the IBM 360/95 at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies devoted to the same atmospheric computation tasks. In addition, the computer needed to be programmable in the “high-level” FORTRAN-like language that was used for this atmospheric research.

The result – not to overlook the amazing amount of work that went into the design of this machine – was a computer built out of 210,000 individual logic chips at a total cost of $2.7 Million dollars, or about $10 Million in 2012 dollars. The power consumption of this computer would be crazy – about 90 kilowatts, or enough to power two dozen American houses.

We couldn’t find much information if this computer was actually built, but all the work is right there in the report, ready for any properly funded agency to build an amazingly powerful computer out of logic chips.

Meet OSCAR, the Google Hangout robot

[Gus] made it to the Google+ developers vlog to show off his new Google+ hangout controlled robot. This robot, named OSCAR (Overly Simplified Collaboratively Actuated Robot), drives around according to the whims of everyone in a Google+ hangout. Not only is the robot under remote control through a Google+ hangout, it also features a camera, allowing a hangout audience to explore a space in real time.

[Gus] built OSCAR out of an old Roomba he found in his parent’s basement. After attaching an Android tablet to the Roomba with some binder clips, [Gus] put a web server on the tablet and wrote a Google+ hangout extension allowing all hangout viewers to remotely control OSCAR.

Right now, all the commands received on the hangout are put into a queue, meaning everyone on a hangout has control of OSCAR. The next version will change those commands to deltas, or changes in the current state, canceling out conflicting commands. If only we had one of these while we were streaming for the Red Bull competition

You can check out a demo of OSCAR after the break.

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DIY Flanagan Neurophone lets you hear with ultrasound

[Andreas] wrote in to let us know about this DIY Neurophone project. Apparently a Flanagan Neurophone uses ultrasound in some manner to transmit audio directly to the body, or nervous system? Needless to say we are a bit skeptical of anyone whose wiki page leads directly to pyramid power. In fact most of the references to this thing start rambling about some pretty pseudo-scientific theories.

At any rate, the schematic is clear and simple enough for anyone who has the parts to easily try.  The only challenge might be tuning the thing with a signal generator or audio feed. So how about it, any one have a TL494 pulse-width modulation controller and want to be a guinea pig?

Olympic shot machine pours one out for every US medal

What better way to watch the Olympics than having a robot pour you a shot every time the United States wins a medal? The folks behind SmartThings did just that, by creating a machine that pours some liquor for each American Olympic win.

From the behind the scenes video, we see the entire build is controlled by an Arduino with an XBee shield. The XBee is connected to a simple iPhone app where the current user watching the Olympics can select which medal the US won. Bronze dispenses a shot of Jack Daniels, Silver is a shot of Jose Cuervo, and Gold means someone in the room is getting a shot of Goldschläger.

Even though the build revolves around the SmartThings framework, we’re not really quite sure what this framework is. From the Facebook page (the best source of info for SmartThings, at least until they launch), it looks to be a piece of hardware that serves as an Internet to XBee bridge, along with a framework for easily whipping up a mobile app.

Whatever SmartThings is, it’s still a very cool build.

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Dual-channel, variable voltage test box is a busy console modder’s dream


It seems like [Chris Downing] is always up to something new. If he’s not keeping busy by creating slick portable iterations of previous-gen gaming consoles, he is dreaming up ways to make his modding life a bit easier.

Recently while working on a Nintendo controller designed to control three different consoles, [Downing] found his desk buried in a pile of power supply and A/V cabling. Annoyed with his growing rat’s nest, he decided to build a universal power supply that would allow him to quickly switch between consoles with little effort.

He dug up an old PC power supply, and fed it into a LED control box built for cars. [Downing] then mounted an array of nine rocker switches on the box, adding A/V inputs and outputs along the way. A set of voltage regulators hidden inside allow [Downing] to dial in whatever custom voltages he might need at the moment.

The test box should come in pretty handy as [Downing] pursues even more modding projects in the months to come. In the meantime, be sure to check out the video below where he covers the finer points of the device’s design.

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Southwest tour: Quelab in Albuquerque New Mexico

Our travels brought us to Quelab in Albuquerque New Mexico for the 2nd stop on our southwest tour. [Adric] agreed to give us a tour of this really cool space and a few other folks were there working on various projects. There were several things I really enjoyed that will hopefully be gracing our pages soon with full writeups.

The Quelab hackerspace has a small machine shop area as well as a few collaborative spaces. They occasionally hold events where you can come and learn different skills as well. While I was there, I saw some cool high altitude balloon projects, a teletype playing Zork, and a 3d printer spitting out some custom Quelab tokens.

The group seemed to be very a really cool bunch. Everyone was enthusiastic about their projects and their space. They even tried to feed us (but the timing just wasn’t right). If you ever make it by, be sure to go play with the phosphorescent wall in their bathroom. Easily one of my favorite simple projects.

[Hacker Dojo] Renovations Kickstarter


The [Hacker Dojo], as you might have suspected, is a California based hacker space that would like your money to help with renovations. Sure, there is nothing wrong with a little dust on the ground, but half of this space was apparently deemed unfit to use for it’s member hackers. For this purpose, they are running a Kickstarter campaign to raise $250,000 for renovations. If this seems a little steep to you, keep in mind that this looks like a pretty massive space by most standards, and land prices aren’t exactly cheap in that area.

If you’re not that generous, (Who can resist the sad faces around 0:35 in the video on their Kickstarter?) they are also offering some sweet prizes. Unfortunately, the original Super Pong Machine signed by creator Al Alcorn is already sold, but for only $2 you can have their eternal gratitude! For something a bit more tangible, they have stickers for $8, shirts for $32, and other prizes up to $10,000 for the most expensive of them, “creative input” on a mural.