DIY Punch Card System Despite Hanging Chads

Sometimes you just have parts lying around and want to make something out of them. [Tymkrs] had a robot paper cutter, so naturally they made punch cards. But then, of course, they needed a punch card reader, so they made one of those too. All with stuff lying around the shop.

The Silhouette Portrait paper cutter is meant for scrapbooking, but what evokes memories of the past more than punchcards? To cut out their data, rather than cute kittens or flowers, they wrote some custom code to turn ASCII characters into rows of dots. And the cards are done — you just have to clean up the holes that didn’t completely cut. These are infamously known as hanging chads.

The reader is made up of a block of wood, with a gap for the cards and perpendicular holes drilled for LEDs and photoresistors. This is cabled to a Propeller dev board with some simple firmware. We would have used photodiodes or phototransistors, because that’s what’s in our junk box (and because they have faster reaction time), but when you’ve got lemons, make lemonade.

OK, now that you’ve got a punch card reader and writer, what do you do with it? Password storage comes to mind.

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Dumping Old PROMs With New Hardware

[ijsf] recently came across a very old synthesizer from a defunct West German company. This was one of the first wavetable synths available, and it’s exceptionally rare. Being so rare, there isn’t much documentation on the machine. In an attempt at reverse engineering, [ijsf] decided to dump the EPROMs and take a peek at what made this synth work. There wasn’t an EPROM programmer around to dump the data, but [ijsf] did have a few ARM boards around. It turns out building a 27-series PROM dumper is pretty easy, giving [ijsf] an easy way to dig into the code on this machine.

The old EPROMs in this machine have 5v logic, so [ijsf] needed to find a board that had a ton of IOs and 5v tolerant inputs. He found the LPC2148, which has a nice USB system that can be programmed to dump the contents of a PROM over serial. Interfacing the PROM is as simple as connecting the power and ground, the address lines, data, and the signal lines. After that, it’s just a matter of stepping through every address according to the timing requirements of the PROM. All the data was dumped over a serial interface, and in just a few seconds, [ijsf] had 32768 bytes of ancient data that made this old synth tick.

Typewriter Types, Plays Music

[Chris Gregg] had a dream. He wanted to convert use a typewriter as a printer. Sure this has been done before, but [Chris] wanted to create his own version. He picked up a 60’s era Smith Corona electric typewriter, with the hopes of driving its key switches with a computer. You can imagine his surprise when he discovered the keys were not electric switches at all, but a complex mechanical system which triggered a clutch to strike the actual paper. Realizing this was not going to be a simple wiring job, [Chris] set the project aside, where it remained for several years.

A conversation with [Bruce Molay], a coworker at Tufts University reignited [Chris’] interest in project. [Bruce] suggested using solenoids to press the keys. [Chris] dove in, and quickly had 48 solenoids on hand. The first problem was mounting the solenoids on the keys. [Chris’] roommate happens to be [Derek Seabury], president of Artisan’s Asylum Hackerspace. [Derek] created an acrylic frame which holds the solenoids and fits directly over the typewriter’s keyboard. This meant that no modifications needed to be made to the typewriter itself. Simply lift off the solenoid array and you’re ready to rock like it’s 1965.

The next step was driving all those solenoids. For that, Chris worked with [Kate Wasynczuk], one of his students at Tufts. [Chris] designed a board using Texas Instruments  TPIC6A595 shift registers. The TIPC “power logic” series work like regular 74 series logic, but have seriously beefy outputs. These chips can handle up to 50 volts and 1.5 amps pulsed output current – plenty for [Chris’] 24 volt solenoids. [Chris] taught himself schematic entry and PCB layout in Eagle. After only two tries, he had a working board from OSHPark.

An Arduino Uno converts serial over USB output to a bit stream ready to clock into the shift registers. On the computer side, [Chris] wrote up a basic CUPS driver which allows him to print from his Macbook. The perfect demo for this project turned out to be musical. Click past the break to see The Smith Corona perform “The Typewriter Symphony”, by Leroy Anderson. This may be the first time this particular piece of music has been performed with actual words being typed, rather than random keys.

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Discrete Transistor Computer Is Not Discreet

Every few years, we hear about someone building a computer from first principles. This doesn’t mean getting a 6502 or Z80, wiring it up, and running BASIC. I’m talking about builds from the ground up, starting with logic chips or even just transistors.

[James Newman]’s 16-bit CPU built from transistors is something he’s been working on for a little under a year now, and it’s shaping up to be one of the most impressive computer builds since the days of Cray and Control Data Corporation.

The 10,000 foot view of this computer is a machine with a 16-bit data bus, a 16-bit address bus, all built out of individual circuit boards containing single OR, AND, XOR gates, decoders, multiplexers, and registers.  These modules are laid out on 2×1.5 meter frames, each of them containing a schematic of the computer printed out with a plotter. The individual circuit modules sit right on top of this schematic, and if you have enough time on your hands, you can trace out every signal in this computer.

The architecture of the computer is more or less the same as any 16-bit processor. Three are four general purpose registers, a 16 bit program counter, a stack pointer, and a status register. [James] already has an assembler and simulator, and the instruction set is more or less what you would expect from a basic microprocessor, although this thing does have division and multiplication instructions.

The first three ‘frames’ of this computer, containing the general purpose registers, the state and status registers, and the ALU, are already complete. Those circuits are mounted on towering frames made of aluminum extrusion. [James] already has 32 bytes of memory wired up, with each individual bit having its own LED. This RAM display will be used for the Game of Life simulation once everything is working.

While this build may seem utterly impractical, it’s not too different from a few notable and historical computers. The fastest computer in the world from 1964 to ’69 was built from individual transistors, and had even wider busses and more registers. The CDC6600 was capable of running at around 10MHz, many times faster than the estimated maximum speed of [James]’ computer – 25kHz. Still, building a computer on this scale is an amazing accomplishment, and something we can’t wait to see running the Game of Life.

Thanks [aleksclark], [Michael], and [wulfman] for sending this in.

Imaging And Emulating An HP-IB disk drive

If you look on the back of old, old test equipment, you’ll find a weird-looking connector that’s either labeled IEEE-488, GPIB, or HP-IB. It’s a very old interface designed by HP for their test equipment, and it was licensed to other manufacturers for everything from power supplies to logic analyzers. Hewlett-Packard also made computers and workstations once upon a time, and it’s no surprise this interface also made it into these boxes. They even had external hard drives that operated over the HP-IB interface.

[Chris] has a few of these old computers, and wanted to see if he could emulate one of these HP-IB hard drives. There is a project to emulate these hard drives, but the electrical connection is a bit tricky; you need an IEEE-488 card, and those really aren’t made anymore.

Nevertheless, [Chris] found an old ISA IEEE-488 last year, and installed it in the PC system he’s using for all his retro explorations. After getting the card and cable to fit in the case of his PC, [Chris] connected a real HP-IB disk to his modern computer running HPDrive, made an image, and connected an old HP 150 computer. The image was read by the HP 150, and [Chris] had a vintage computer running off an emulated drive.

A Game Pad For The Apple II

[Quinn Dunki] has been hard at work building a Teaddy Top – an Apple IIc Plus modified for a road warrior. It has a 3.5 inch disk drive, runs at a blistering four megahertz, and has a beautiful integrated color LCD. It would be a shame to have such a great machine and no way to play games as they were intended, so [Quinn] set about building a game pad for her lovable Apple II.

The Apple II joystick port isn’t as simple as an Atari or Commodore joystick port. Where the bog-standard Atari joystick is basically just a bunch of switches connected to pins, the Apple II joystick is analog. Weird, and even weirder is the value of the pots in these joysticks: 150kΩ. Somehow or another, nobody makes pots in this value any more. Luckily the hardware in these joysticks is well documented, and shoehorning in modern components isn’t that bad.

The Apple joystick has a bit of circuitry – a 556 timer chip that reads the values of each pot and converts that into a stream of 0s and 1s for the Apple. The joystick [Quinn] found for her game pad is an analog thumb stick on a neat breakout board manufactured by Parallax. This analog joystick has 10kΩ pots in it, and that just won’t work with the 556 timer chip. However, since this is just resistors and a 556 chip, adjusting some of the values on the original schematics does the trick. [Quinn] added a few capacitors to her circuit, and everything worked beautifully.

With the electronics down, she turned her attention to the case for her Apple II road warrior enclosure. She recently picked up a 3D printer, which means she’s new to 3D printing. After spending a few hours designing a controller in 123D Design, she sent the files over to the printer. Warping happened. She tried an ABS slurry. The part was stuck to the bed. It took a few tries (purple glue sticks are awesome, [Quinn]), but she eventually got her plastic enclosure printed out, and the circuitry installed. The result is a portable computer, with a custom controller, playing Lode Runner. Can’t beat that.

Phonographs Through The Eye Of An Electron Microscope

Hackaday Prize judge [Ben Krasnow] has been busy lately. He’s put his scanning electron microscope (SEM) to work creating an animation of a phonograph needle playing a record. (YouTube link) This is the same 80’s SEM [Ben] hacked back in November. Unfortunately, [Ben’s]  JSM-T200 isn’t quite large enough to hold an entire 12″ LP, so he had to cut a small section of a record out. The vinyl mods weren’t done there though. SEMs need a conductive surface for imagingphono_anim_1. Vinyl is an insulator. [Ben] dealt with this by using his vacuum chamber to evaporate a thin layer of silver on the vinyl.

Just imaging the record wouldn’t be enough; [Ben] wanted an animation of a needle traveling through the record grove. He tore apart an old phonograph needle and installed it in on a copper wire in the SEM. Thanks to the dual stage setup of the JSM-T200, [Ben] was able to move the record-chip and needle independently. He could then move the record underneath the needle as if it were actually playing. [Ben] used his oscilloscope to record 60 frames, each spaced 50 microns apart. He used octave to process the data, and wound up with the awesome GIF animation you see on the left. 

pits[Ben] wasn’t done though. He checked out a few other recording formats, including CD and DVD optical media, and capacitance electronic disc, an obscure format from RCA which failed miserably in the market. The toughest challenge [Ben] faced was imaging the CD media. The familiar pits of a CD are stored on a thin aluminum layer sandwiched between the lacquer label and the plastic disc. He tried dissolving the plastic with chemicals, but enough plastic was left behind to distort the image. The solution turned out to be double-sided tape. Sticking some tape down on the CD and peeling it off cleanly removed the aluminum, and provided a sturdy substrate with which to mount the sample in the SEM.

We’re curious if stereo audio data can be extracted from the SEM images.  [Oona] managed to do this with a mono recording from a toy robot.  Who’s going to be the first one to break out the image analysis software and capture some audio from [Ben’s] images?

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