Old Laptops, Modems, And The Hackaday Retro Edition

We haven’t been getting very many submissions of extremely old computers loading up the Hackaday Retro Edition in a while. For shame. Thankfully, [alnwlsn] is here to pick up the slack from the rest of you with his latest accomplishment, getting two old laptops on the Internet with some old telecom equipment.

The first is a Toshiba from about 1995, Pentium processor, 12 MB of RAM, and a 10 GB (!) hard drive. [aln] had a PCMICA modem sitting around, and with Windows 95 and IE 5.5, he was able to slowly connect.

Pentium class machines are okay, but the next one – a Zenith Data Systems laptop from about 1987 – is awesome. 80C88 CPU, two 720k floppy drives, and the exact amount of RAM in that quote falsely attributed to [Bill Gates]. [alnwlsn] is connecting with a 28.8k modem, but the serial port only supports up to 9600. It’s a computer so old, even the retro edition’s main page times out. The about page, though, loaded fine.

[alnwlsn] used a modem with both of these laptops, but he doesn’t have dial-up or even a landline. This forced him to make his own line simulator that requires plugging in the phone line at the right time, manually ringing a modem connected to another computer, and letting PPP take it from there. It’s a crude circuit, but it works. slow, but it works. Video below.

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Break Your Frames? Print Some New Ones!

3D Printed Glasses

When [Aaron Porterfield] accidentally broke his glasses frame, he saw it as an opportunity, rather than an unfortunate event. He decided he was going to design and print new ones to fit his prescription lenses!

The trickiest part of taking on a project like this is designing the glasses around the pre-existing lenses, because typically, lenses are cut to fit the frame — not vice versa. This is why we’re particularly impressed with the project. [Aaron] was able to 3D scan the lenses using his camera phone and Autodesk’s 123D Catch software (free) to create the lens model! Once he had the lens outline, he scaled it properly by measuring its maximum dimensions with calipers.

Now this is where it gets a bit tricky – designing the frames. [Aaron] is using Rhino to do the design work, and he’s actually laid out the steps quite nicely for anyone who wants to attempt something like this. He describes in detail matching the curvature of the lenses, designing the frame around it, and of course actually fitting the lenses in place.

There is a small caveat to this entire project — The frames were printed on a nice Stratasys polyjet 3D printer — due to the geometry, it might be a bit tricky (or impossible) to print on a traditional hobby FDM machine. Regardless — making your own glasses is some serious geek cred. Nice work [Aaron]!

The Crane Game, Oculus Style

crane We’re pretty sure the Hackaday demographic is a a person who sees a giant tower crane lifting beams and girders above a skyline and says, “that would be fun, at least until I have to go to the bathroom.” Realizing the people who own these cranes probably won’t let any regular joe off the street into the cabin, [Thomas] and [screen Name] (see, this is why we have brackets, kids) built their own miniature version with an Oculus Rift.

Instead of a crane that is hundreds of feet tall, the guys are using a much smaller version, just over a meter tall, that is remotely controlled through a computer via a serial connection. Just below the small plastic cab is a board with two wide-angle webcams. The video from these cameras are sent to the Oculus so the operator can see the boom swinging around, and the winch unwinding to pick up small objects.

The guys have also added a little bit of OpenCV to add color based object detection. This is somewhat useful, but there’s also an approximation of the distance to an object, something that would be very useful if you don’t have a three-inch tall spotter on the ground.

Video below.

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All Precincts Reporting — Next Round of Voting is Now



Check out the vote tally which [Alek] put together (click for a much larger version). We couldn’t be more delighted at how the first round of voting for Astronaut or Not went. With very nearly 50k votes it’s time to start another round.

This is an entirely new round. Your 30 votes have been restored and you must vote at least once in this new round to be eligible for the voter lottery. The theme has also changed; vote for projects whose ideas are most likely to be used in other projects. That is to say: is there a core piece of cleverness that, properly explained and modularized, would be extremely extensible? Then vote for that one!

Links to the 15 winners are listed after the break; everyone on this list is getting a T-shirt and some stickers. The same will be true for the next round but we’re changing up the Voter Lottery prize — it’ll be similarly valuable and desirable but we’ll save details for this for Thursday. Make sure you vote or risk losing Friday’s lottery!

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MIDI And Vintage FM Synthesis


Before the days when computers could play and record audio that far surpassed the quality of CDs, sound cards were very, very cool. Most audio chips from the 80s, from the Commodore SID is pretty much a synth on a chip, but you can also find similar setups in ancient ISA sound cards. [Emilio] pulled one of these cards with an ADLIB OPL2 chip on it, and used a PIC micro to create his very own FM synthesis synth (IT, translatatron, although Google is screwing up the formatting).

The Yamaha YM3812 chip, otherwise known as the OPL2, was a fairly complete synthesizer in a very tiny package using FM synthesis for some very unique sounds. Once [Emilio] had the PIC sending commands to the sound chip, he added MIDI support, allowing him to play this vintage ‘synth on a chip’ with a keyboard instead of a tracker.

Judging from the video below, it sounds great, and that’s with [Emilio] mashing the keys for a simple demo.

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Judge Spotlight: Elecia White


If you’re a fan of the Embedded podcast you know her voice well. If not, you need to check out the show! Of course we’re talking about [Elecia White], who spent her recent holiday answering our questions.

She’s an accomplished embedded systems engineer — she literally wrote the book on it. We’re delighted that [Elecia] agreed to lend us her skill and experience as a judge for The Hackaday Prize!

judge-spotlight-q5We find that embedded engineers come from all manner of backgrounds. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got into the field?

judge-spotlight-a5I majored in a combination of applied computer science and theoretical systems engineering: my classes were all about programming, C, Fourier, and control loops. I had no idea I’d built a major that would be perfect for low level embedded development.

After school, I went to Hewlett-Packard. I was in the network server division, monitoring servers, writing drivers, and getting ever closer to the hardware. I moved over to HP Labs’ BioScience division to do real embedded work, though I didn’t understand that at the time (yay for a hiring manager who did!). Once I made a motor move, well, it was all over for me. I loved having my software touch the physical world. Happily, the environment was great and the electrical engineers were very patient.

judge-spotlight-q5Do whimsical embedded challenges ever come to mind? For instance, do you ever flip on the TV and think to yourself: “some day I’m going to reprogram the uC and write something that works!”?

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Go Vintage! Learn to Repair and Restore Mechanical Pocket and Wrist Watches.

pw tear down 1

Until recently, watches have been entirely mechanical where each wheel, gear, and mechanism representing a milestone in our understanding of precision manufacturing and timekeeping.

One of the very first watches, created by a locksmith.

One of the very first watches, created by a locksmith.

Today it is nearly impossible to find watchmakers to service or repair vintage mechanical pocket and wristwatches, so we have to do it ourselves. Learn to repair vintage mechanical watches. You can do this and we’ll show you how.

They tick, mechanical watches have a pulse. First created in the 16th century by locksmiths, these early watches could only resolve time down to the hour and for this reason displayed time with only one hour hand.

By the 18th century fusee technology enabled watches to achieve accuracies to within seconds.

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