Lost Moon Found: The Satellite That Came Back to Life

The late 1950s and early 1960s were a tumultuous time in world history. The Cold War between the East and the West was in full-swing, driving the new fields of nuclear weapons and space exploration and giving the period its dual monikers of “Atomic Age” and “Space Age.”

Changes in these fields often went hand in glove, with developments in one requiring responses in the other. In 1958, the US conducted nuclear tests in the Pacific that effectively destroyed the ionosphere over the test site and shut down high-frequency communications to places like Hawaii and New Zealand. The strategic implications of this were clear, and the US began looking for ways for the military to reduce its reliance on HF communications and ionospheric skip by using space-based assets to communicate at much higher frequencies.

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Tesla Coil Powered Film Canister Gatling Gun

What do you get when you combine a Tesla coil, 315 film canisters and a fortune wheel? The answer is of course a film canister Gatling gun. [ScienceBob] has taken the simple film canister cannon hack to a whole new level. The idea is simple, the film canister has a lid that fits tight and allows pressure to build up, so if you fill it with alcohol vapor and ignite it with a spark gap, you get a small explosion that sends the can flying  away.

[ScienceBob] uses 21 rows of fifteen canisters each around the wheel. There is a spark gap for each canister, and all the spark gaps in the same row are in series. You need a lot of volts to turn on fifteen spark gaps, and that is why the Tesla coil is part of the game. When the outer end of the wire in one row passes near the Tesla coil, a spark jumps and fires all the spark gaps, igniting the alcohol vapor and fifteen cans are expelled from the wheel. The wheel rotates until all rows are fired.

While this nice piece of artillery is sure a lot of fun to fire, but don’t ask us to reload it! If you want more power, check this Gatling gun that fires crossbow bolts, or the Gatling water pistol.

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Slack, Backwards Compatible With 1982

Slack is great, but there are a few small problems with the current implementations. There isn’t a client for Palm, there isn’t a client for the Newton, and there isn’t a client for the Commodore 64. The last of these severe oversights was recently fixed by [Jeff Harris]. He built a native Slack client in 6502 assembly for the Commodore 64.

When dealing with network applications and the C64, the first question that comes to mind is how to talk to the outside world. There are C64 NICs, and ESP dongles, but for this build [Jeff] turned to the C64 Userport. This card edge combination of a serial and parallel port allows the C64 to talk to anything with RS-232, and with a simple adapter, [Jeff] got his old computer talking to a Raspberry Pi connected to the Internet.

The C64 Slack client itself is written in 6502 assembly, and features everything you would expect. The Pi is required to talk to the Slack API, though, and uses a NodeJS app to translate the bits from the C64 to something the API can understand.

Does it work? Of course it does. Slack is just text, after all, and there doesn’t seem to be any PETSCII weirdness here. You can check out a video of the build in action below.

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Retrotechtacular: Horseless Farming With The Ford Model B

Does everyone watch a load of videos on YouTube that are somewhat on the unadmissibly geeky side? In my case I might not care to admit that I have a lot of videos featuring tractors in my timeline. The mighty Russian Kirovets hauling loads through the impossible terrain of the taiga, tiny overloaded 2WD tractors in India pulling wheelies, and JCB Fastracs tearing around the British Fenland. You can take the girl off the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the girl.

Tractor versus Tractor; a guilty pleasure but not Retrotechtacular
Tractor versus Tractor; a guilty pleasure but not Retrotechtacular

So my recommendations have something of an agricultural flavor. Like the video below the break, a 1917 silent film promoting the Ford Model B tractor. This one was eye-catching because it was a machine I’d not seen before, a rather unusual three-wheeler design with two driving wheels at the front and a single rear steering wheel.

During the early years of the twentieth century the shape of the modern tractor was beginning to evolve, this must have been a late attempt at an alternative. Speaking from the viewpoint of someone who has operated a few tractors in her time it does not look the easiest machine to control, that cloud of exhaust smoke surrounding the driver would not be pleasant, and the operating position hanging over the implement coupling at the rear does not look particularly comfortable or safe.

The film has a charming period feel, and tells the tale of a farmer’s son who tires of the drudgery of manual farm labor, and leaves for the city. He finds a job at the tractor factory and eventually becomes a tractor salesman, along the way meeting and marrying the daughter of a satisfied customer. He returns home with his bride, and a shiny new tractor to release his father from ceaseless labor. Along the way we gain a fascinating look at agriculture on the brink of mass mechanization, as well as the inside of a tractor factory of the time with an assembly sequence in which they appear to use no fasteners.

[Image Source: Tractor Industry Fraud on Farm Collector]
[Image Source: Tractor Industry Fraud on Farm Collector]
All of this is very interesting, but the real nugget in the story lies with its manufacturer. This is a Ford Model B tractor. But it’s not a Ford Model B. Confused? So, it seems were the customers. The Ford we all know is the Michigan-based motor company of Henry Ford, who were already very much a big name in 1917. This Ford however comes from the Ford Tractor Co, of South Dakota, an enterprise set up by a shady businessman to cash in on the Ford brand, manufacturing an already outdated and inferior machine backed up by dubious claims of its capabilities.

On the staff was an engineer called Ford who lent his name to the company, but he bore no relation to Henry Ford. The company didn’t last long, collapsing soon after the date of this film, and very few of its products survived. It did have one legacy though, the awful quality of one of its tractors is reputed to have been the impetus behind the founding of the Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory, the place where if you sell a tractor in the USA, you’ll have to have it tested to ensure it performs as it should. In their museum they house one of the few surviving Ford Model B tractors.

Meanwhile the Ford in Michigan produced their own very successful line of tractors, and their Fordson Model F from the same year is a visible ancestor of today’s machines. But as the video below shows, there’s nothing new about a fake.

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Giving The World A Better SID

Here’s a business plan for you, should you ever run into an old silicon fab sitting in a dumpster: build Commodore SID chips. The MOS 6581 and 8580 are synthesizers on a chip, famously used in the demoscene, and even today command prices of up to $40 USD per chip. There’s a market for this, and with the right process, this could conceivably be a viable business plan.

Finding a silicon fab in a dumpster is a longshot, but here’s the next best thing: an FPGASID project. The FPGASID is a project to re-create the now-unobtanium MOS 6581 found in the Commodore 64.

The Commodore SID chip has been out of production for a while now, and nearly every available SID chip has already been snapped up by people building MIDIbox SIDs, or by Elektron for their SidStation, which has been out of production for nearly a decade. There is a demand for SID chips, one that has been filled by “clones” or recreations using ATmegas, Propellers, and nearly every other microcontroller architecture available. While these clones can get the four voices of the SID right, there’s one universal problem: the SID had analog filters, and no two SIDs ever sounded alike.

From the audio samples available on the project page for the FPGASID, the filters might be a solved problem. The output from the FPGASID sounds a lot like the output from a vintage SID. Whether or not this is what everyone agrees a SID should sound like is another matter entirely, but this is the best attempt so far to drag the synth on a chip found in the Commodore 64 into modern times.

The files, firmware, and FPGA special sauce aren’t available yet, but the FPGASID is in alpha testing, with a proper release tentatively scheduled for early 2017. Maybe now it’s time to dig out those plans for the Uber MIDIbox, with octophonic SID goodness.

ZX81 Connects to the Network

 

[Victor Trucco] makes us wish we spoke Portuguese. He’s done a lot of retrocomputing projects including connecting a ZX81 to the Internet to load programs. The project uses — what else — an ESP8266 to get the WiFi communications. You can see a video below if you want to exercise your high school Portuguese.

It is somewhat ironic that the ZX81’s CPU is kept busy driving the video, reading the keyboard, and running about just over 3 MHz which doesn’t even translate into 3 MIPS on that processor. Meanwhile, the “servant” ESP8266 has a 32-bit Tensilica CPU running at 80 MHz. Times have changed.

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