Hackaday Retro Edition: Parallel Port Ethernet

It’s time once again for a roundup of ancient hardware that has successfully loaded our retro edition. Up this time is a completely random and totally not planned roundup of parallel port to Ethernet adapters.

First up is [Tom Moss] with his IBM 5150 – the first ‘IBM Compatible’ home computer, progenitor of the i7 boxxen warming your ankles as you read this. This machine comes standard with a 4.77 MHz 8088 CPU, 8087 FPU, 512k RAM, two 360k 5.25″ floppy drives, and a few very cool additions: an ISA to CompactFlash card adapter, giving [Tom]‘s box 4GB of storage.

How is [Tom] connecting to the Internet? A Xircom PE3-10BT Network Adapter. This neat device turns any parallel port into an Ethernet. With a Telnet program, [Tom] was able to connect to a Unix system and use Lynx to browse over to the retro site. He’s yet to get a DOS browser working, but FTP is go, allowing him to download ancient software directly onto his huge CF card.

The next one isn’t exactly vintage, but it does carry the spirit of antiquated hardware onto the web. [Valentin] is using a FleaFPGA and a 186 over at OpenCores. The FPGA board gives him VGA output, an SD card, A PS/2 keyboard, but no options for networking. That’s no problem for [Valentin], as he wired up a Xircom PE3 parallel port to Ethernet adapter. Yes, the same adapter as the 5150 above. [Valentin] says his parallel port hack is a bit of a mess with non-bidirectional and no dedicated IRQ hardware support. It works, though, so we can’t fault him for that.

We’re always looking for people who have loaded our retro edition on old hardware. If you have some outdated hardware sitting in the attic, get it out, load up Hackaday Retro, and send it in.

Pics from [Tom] and [Valentin] below.

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The HellZXchreiber


Hellschreiber – German for ‘light pen’ – was developed in the 20s as a way to transmit text in a way that was much more robust than the teletypes of the time. These devices were used to great effect by the Germans in WWII, and later became popular with wire services and was used until the 80s. The fax machine then happened, and no one really cared about Hellschreiber, save for a few plucky amateur radio enthusiasts.

In the early 90s, a few of these amateur radio enthusiasts realized they could use their personal computers to communicate with this extremely simple protocol that’s also very resilient against interference and weak radio links. [Danjovic] is following in their footsteps by decoding Hellschreiber on an old ZX Spectrum clone.

[Danjovic] tested his code with the sound sample found in the Hallschreiber wiki article and some text generated by Fldigi. Everything works beautifully, an [Dan] can even change the intensity of the text with the volume control – a very useful feature should the HellZXchreiber ever make it out into the field.

Source and image files available for all you strange Speccy fans. Everyone else can check out the videos below.

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The Ancient Greeks Invented Kevlar Over 2 Millennia Ago


In 356-323 B.C. Alexander the Great of Macedon conquered almost the entire known world by military force. Surprisingly, not much is known about how he did it! An ancient and mysterious armor called Linothorax was apparently used by Alexander and his men which may have been one of the reasons for his ever so successful conquest. A group of students at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay (UWGB) have been investigating in detail and making their own version of it.

The problem is this type of armor decomposes naturally over time unlike more solid artifacts of stone and metal — meaning there is no physical proof or evidence of its existence. It has been described in around two dozen pieces of ancient literature and seen in over 700 visuals such as mosaics, sculptures and paintings — but there are no real examples of it. It is made (or thought to be) of many layers of linen glued together, much the same way that Kevlar body armor works.

The cool thing about this project is the students are designing their own Linothorax using authentic fabrics and glues that would have been available in that time period. The samples have been quite successful, surviving sharp arrows, swords, and even swinging axes at it. If this is the secret to Alexander the Great’s success… no wonder!

The group has lots of information on the topic and a few videos — stick around to learn more!

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Recovering Nichrome Wire from Unexpected Sources


Don’t you hate it when you’re in a pinch and all your favorite surplus or electronic stores are closed? You’ve gotta finish this project, but how? He’s a nice real hack for you guys.  How to recover nichrome wire from a ceramic heater!

Necessity spawned this idea, as [Armilar] needed to make 45 cuts in two pieces of foam in order to ship some long circuit boards. Not wanting to make the 90 cuts individually, he improvised this nichrome slicing jig. Not having a spool of nichrome handy, he decided to use a less conventional method. He pulled out a sledgehammer and smashed open a ceramic wirewound resistor.

According to him, nice big ceramic resistors like this 10W one have about a meter of nichrome wire inside!  After breaking the ceramic, it’s quite easy to remove. He made up a jig using nylon spacers and rivets, and then wrapped his wire back and forth across the whole length. It worked perfectly — though he was using 240VDC @ about 1.2A…

If you don’t need such a complex setup, there’s always the bare bones wire foam cutters we’ve featured many times before.

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.

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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.


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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.

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