VCF East: [Vince Briel] Of Briel Computers

Replica1

Judging from the consignment area of the Vintage Computer Festival this weekend, there is still a booming market for vintage computers and other ephemera from the dawn of the era of the home computer. Even more interesting are reimaginings of vintage computers using modern parts, as shown by [Vince Briel] and his amazing retrocomputer kits.

[Vince] was at VCF East this weekend showing off a few of his wares. By far the most impressive (read: the most blinkey lights) is his Altair 8800 kit that emulates the genesis of the microcomputer revolution, the Altair. There’s no vintage hardware inside, everything is emulated on an ATmega microcontroller. Still, it’s accurate enough for the discerning retrocomputer aficionado, and has VGA output, a keyboard port, and an SD card slot.

The Replica I is an extremely cut down version of the original Apple, using the original 6502 CPU and 6821 PIA. Everything else on the board is decidedly modern, with a serial to USB controller for input and a Parallax Propeller doing the video. Even with these modern chips, an expansion slot is still there, allowing a serial card or compact flash drive to be connected to the computer.

Video below, with [Vince] showing off all his wares, including his very cool Kim-1 replica.

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Hack A Day Goes Retro in a Computer Museum

vt100_HAD Our friends over at Hack42 in the Netherlands decided to have some fun with their computer museum. So far, they’ve been able to display the Hack a Day retro site on three classic computers — including an Apple Lisa, a DEC GIGI, and a run of the mill DEC VT100. We had the opportunity to visit Hack42 last October during our Hackerspacing in Europe trip – but just as a refresher if you don’t remember, Hack42 is in Arnhem, in the Netherlands — just outside of Germany. The compound was built in 1942 as a German military base, disguised as a bunch of farmhouses. It is now home to Hack42, artist studios, and other random businesses. The neat thing is, its location is still blurred out on Google Maps! Needless to say, their hackerspace has lots of space. Seriously. So much so they have their own computer museum! Which is why they’ve decided to have some fun with them… [Read more...]

VCF East: PetPix, Streaming Images To A Commodore PET

PETaday

Thought the Vintage Computer Festival would just be really old computers with hundreds of people pecking 10 PRINT “HELLO” 20 GOTO 10? Yeah, there’s plenty of that, but also some very cool applications of new hardware. [Michael Hill] created PetPix, a video player for the Commodore PET and of course the C64.

PetPix takes any video file – or streaming video off a camera – and converts 8×8 pixel sections of each frame to PETSCII. All the processing is done on a Raspberry Pi and then sent over to the PET for surprisingly fluid video.

There is, of course, a video of PetPix available below. There are also a few more videos from [Michael] going over how PetPix works.

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VCF East: The Swyft Card

swyft

Ninety five percent of the population will say Apple computers is the brainchild of [Steve Jobs]. The other five percent will be right, but what nearly no one knows is that the Macintosh project was originally conceived by [Jef Raskin]. He holds the honor of turning the Mac into an, ‘information appliance’ and being one of the first people to seriously consider how millions of people would interact with computers.

The Mac wasn’t [Jef]‘s first project at Apple, though. Before the Mac project he was working on something called Swyft – an easy to use command line system that was first implemented as a firmware card for the Apple IIe. [Mike Willegal] was kind enough to bring one of these Swyft cards to the Vintage Computer Fest this weekend, and did a demo of it for us.

The basic idea behind the Swyft card was to have an integrated word processor, calculator, and access to Applesoft Basic. Holding down a ‘leap’ key – in the case of the Apple IIe add-on, the open apple key – allowed the user to search for text and perform operations on any result. It’s odd, but it just makes sense in some strange way.

[Mike] is doing a build class at the VCF today where anyone attending can build their own Swyft card. He also has instructions for building your own, should you want to experiment with one of the ‘could have beens’ of user interface design.

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Reverse Engineering Programmable Logic

DickSmith_VZ300_System_s1

Despite what the cool kids are doing over on Hackaday Projects, the vast majority of vintage computers used some form of programmable logic for memory control, address decoding, and all that other stuff that can be done with just a few logic chips. It’s a great way to design a product for production, but what happens when the programmable chips go bad after 30 years?

[Clockmeister] got his hands on a Dick Smith VZ300 computer (a clone of the VTech Laser 310) with two broken 40-pin custom chips. After going through the schematics and theory of operation for this compy, he recreated the custom chips in 74 series logic.

The Dick Smith VZ300 is a fairly standard piece of equipment from 1985 – a Z80 CPU, 16k RAM, upgradable to 64k, a tape drive, and 32×16 character, 8 color display. Inside this computer are two 40-pin chips that are responsable for video buffering and VRAM control, keyboard and cassette I/O, video timing, and the monophonic speaker decoding. Both of these chips failed, and spares are unavailable, apart from scavenging them from another working unit.

After careful study, [Clockmeister] recreated the circuits inside these chip with 74 series logic chips. The new circuit was built on a board that plugs directly into the empty 40-pin sockets. Everything in this rehabbed computer works, so we’re just chalking this up as another reason why designing new retrocomputers with programmable logic is a dumb idea. Great for a product, but not for a one-off.

Image source

 

Authentic Blue Blueprints

blue

At one point in history, blueprints were actually blue. Now, if you even see a dead tree version of plans or assemblages, they’re probably printed off with a plotter or large format printer. You can, however, make your own blueprints at home, as [Tyler] shows us in his Hackaday Project.

Back in the olden days, master drawings were traced onto large sheets of transparent film. These master prints were then laid over paper prepared with Potassium Ferricyanide and Ferric Ammonium Citrate to create an insoluble Prussian Blue background for the prints. Developing is easy – just expose the transparent positive and undeveloped paper to UV light, in the form of fluorescent bulbs or the sun.

[Tyler] began his blueprint creation process by getting a few design sketches of the RSI Aurora and Nautilus, editing them on a computer, and printing them out on transparency sheets. A solution of equal parts Potassium Ferricyanide and Ferric Ammonium Citrate were painted onto a piece of paper and allowed to dry. Exposing was a simple matter of laying the transparency over the undeveloped paper and setting it out in the sun for 20 minutes or so. After that, it’s a simple matter of washing off the unexposed chemicals and letting the newly created blueprint dry.

It’s a simple technique, but also very, very cool. Not exactly practical, given a plotter can spit out an architectural or assembly drawing of any building, vehicle, or device in a few minutes, but just the ticket for art pieces or extremely odd engineers.

Thanks [Sarah] for sending this in.

Hackaday Retro Edition: AppleTalk

retro

If you do a survey of what makes and models of classic computers manage to pull off a Retro Success by loading our Web 1.0 retro site, you’ll notice a disproportionate number of classic Macintosh computers, the cute, small all-in-one boxes with a nine-inch black or white screen. Part of this is the nigh indestructible nature of these boxes, and part of this is the networking built into every classic Mac – AppleTalk.

The physical connections for AppleTalk is just a small breakout box with two Mini-DIN connectors (or RJ11 phone jacks for PhoneNet) attached to one of the serial ports on the Mac. This isn’t just a null modem connection, though. An AppleTalk network can support up to 32 nodes, file transfer, networked printers, and in later updates booting an Apple IIGS from a networked drive. Whenever you have a few classic Macs in one room, an AppleTalk network is bound to appear at some point, especially considering the limitations of an 800kB disk drive for sneakernetting and the fact the AppleTalk software is supplied with every version of the operating system.

[Chris] had an old dual disk Macintosh SE he had brought back from the dead, but his modern expectations of Internet On Every Computer meant this cute little compy was severely lacking. Yes, SCSI to Ethernet adapters exist, but they’re surprisingly expensive. Modems are right out because of landlines. How did he solve this problem? With AppleTalk, of course.

After picking up a pair of PhoneNet adapters, [Chris] plugged one into a PowerPC mac running OS 9. MacTCP, the Apple TCP/IP control panel for classic Mac operating systems, is able to encapsulate IP traffic into AppleTalk Packets. After turning the PowerPC mac into a router, [Chris] managed to get his all-in-one SE on the internet.

The only problem with this setup is the browser. NCSA Mosaic doesn’t have the ability to send traffic to a proxy server, but another classic Mac browser, MacWeb 2.0c does. This allowed him to load up our retro site using forgotten and long unsupported technologies.


If you have an old computer sitting around, try to load our retro site with it. Take a few pictures, and we’ll put it up in one of our Retro Roundups