Fail of the Week: Teddy Top and Fourteen Fails

Last summer, [Quinn] made the trip out to KansasFest, the annual Apple II convention in Kansas City, MO. There, she picked up the most modern Apple II system that wasn’t an architecturally weird IIGS: she lugged home an Apple IIc+, a weird little machine that looks like an old-school laptop without a screen.

Not content with letting an old computer just sit on a shelf looking pretty, [Quinn] is working on a project called the Teddy Top. ‘Teddy’ was one of the code names for the Apple IIc, and although add-ons to turn this book-sized computer into something like a laptop existed in the 80s, these solutions have not withstood the test of time. [Quinn] is building her own clamshell addition to her IIc+, and somehow failing at something she’s done hundreds of times before.

While the IIc+ has an NTSC composite output, the super-special video add-ons for the IIc+ used a DB15 expansion connector. Here, any add-on could access video sync signals, the a sound signal from the audio circuit, and even a +12V line that could drive loads up to 300 mA. It just so happened the display [Quinn] is using for this project runs at 12V, 200 mA. Everything was great, but as a worthy trustee of this computer’s Earthly existence, [Quinn] thought a bit of current limiting should be included in her addon. She designed a circuit around an NPN power transistor, that would allow the display to draw power until the load was around 250mA. After that, the transistor would start dumping excess power as heat. Yes, a fuse would be better. [Quinn] calls this Fail #1. There are thirteen more to go.

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The ERIC-1 Microcomputer

Everyone is having a go at building their own 8-bit 80s-era microcomputer now, and [Petri] thought he would throw his hat into the ring with ERIC-1, a homebrew, 6502-based computer that’s running at about 2MHz.

We’re about 30 or 40 years ahead of the game compared to the old-school 6502 designs, and [Petri] decided to capitalize on that. Instead of a separate ROM, VIA, and other peripherals, [Petri] is connecting a microcontroller directly to the data and address pins. This is a technique we’ve seen before, and [Petri] is doing it right: the micro and 6502 share 64k of RAM, with the ROM stored in the micro’s Flash. Video (PAL in this case) is handled by the ATMega, as is clocking and halting the CPU.

There were a few changes [Petri] made along the way to make this microcomputer a little more useful. One of the biggest changes was switching out the old NMOS Rockwell 6502 with the modern CMOS W65C02 from Western Design Center. The CMOS variant is a fully static design, keeping the registers alive even if the clock is stopped and making single-stepping and halting the CPU easier.

The CMOS variant also has a Bus Enable (BE) pin. Like similar pins on later, more advanced processors, this pin puts the address, data, and R/W pins into a high impedance state, giving other peripherals and microcontrollers the ability to write to RAM, peripherals, or anything else. It’s a handy feature to have if you’re using a microcontroller for everything except the CPU.

It’s already a great build, and since [Petri] has the skills to program this 8-bit ‘duino game, he’s sure to come up with something even better for this computer.

Oh, if you’re looking for something even cooler than a 3-chip 6502, there’s a bunch of stuff over on hackaday.io you should check out. Everything from 4-bit computers built from discrete components to dual AVR board can be found there.

[Amazing Science’s] Simple Electric Train

Making an electromagnet is as simple as wrapping some wire around a nail and taping the wire to both ends of a battery. When you’re done, you can pick up some paper clips – it demonstrates the concept well, but it could use some more oomph. [Amazing Science] has done just that, making an “electric train” (YouTube link). All that’s needed is some coiled copper wire, a battery and magnets thin enough to fit through the coils. The magnets snap onto both ends of the battery. Put the battery inside the coil and watch the fun! The electromagnetic force generated by the current moving through the coil pushes against the magnets attached to the battery, pushing the battery along the way.

[Amazing Science] plays with the setup a bit. Connect both ends of the coil together and the battery will travel in a loop until it’s drained. Add a small hill, or even another battery/magnet set to the mix, and watch them go! We may even make a version of this ourselves to take with us to family gatherings this holiday season – it’s simple, fun, and can teach the young ‘uns about science while we swig some egg nog.

[via Reddit]

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Fixing An NES For Good

Sometime in the late 80s, the vast collective consciousness of 8-year-olds discovered a Nintendo Entertainment System could be fixed merely by blowing on the cartridge connector. No one knows how this was independently discovered, no one knows the original discoverer, but one fact remains true: dirty pins probably weren’t the problem.

The problem with a NES that just won’t read a cartridge is the ZIF socket inside the console. Pins get bent, and that spring-loaded, VCR-like front loader assembly is the main point of failure of these consoles, even 30 years later. You can get replacement ZIF sockets for a few bucks, and replace the old one using only a screwdriver, but this only delays the inevitable. That ZIF socket will fail again a few years down the line. Finally, there is a solution.

The Blinking Light Win, as this project is called, replaces the ZIF connector with two card-edge slots. One slot connects to the NES main board, the other to the cartridge connector. There’s a plastic adapter that replaces the spring-loaded push down mechanism created for the original ZIF connector, and installation is exactly as easy as installing a reproduction NES ZIF connector.

If you’re wondering why consoles like the SNES, Genesis, and even the top-loader NES never had problems that required blowing into the cartridge connector, it’s because the mere insertion of the cartridge into the slot performed a scrubbing action against the pins. Since the ZIF socket in the O.G. NES didn’t have this, it was prone to failure. Replacing the ZIF with a true card-edge slot does away with all the problems of dirty contacts, and now turns the NES into something that’s at least as reliable as other cartridge-based consoles.

Popular Electronics Magazine Archive Online

They began publishing Popular Electronics magazine in 1954, and it soon became one of the best-selling DIY electronics magazines. And now you can relive those bygone days of yore by browsing through this archive of PDFs of all back issues from 1954 to 1982.

Reading back through the magazine’s history gives you a good feel for the technological state of the art, at least as far as the DIYer is concerned. In the 1950s and 1960s (and onwards) radio is a big deal. By the 1970s, hi-fi equipment is hot and you get an inkling for the dawn of the digital computer age. Indeed, the archive ends in 1982 when the magazine changed its name to Computers and Electronics magazine.

It’s fun to see how much has changed, but there’s a bunch of useful material in there as well. In particular, each issue has a couple ultra-low-parts-count circuit designs that could certainly find a place in a modern project. For example, a “Touch-Controlled Solid State Switch” in July 1982 (PDF), using a hex inverter chip (CD4049) and a small handful of passive components.

But it’s the historical content that we find most interesting. For instance there is a nice article on the state of the art in computer memory (“The Electronic Mind — How it Remembers”) in August 1956 (PDF).

Have a good time digging through the archives, and if you find something you really like, let us know in the comments.

A Z80 Computer With Switches And Blinkenlights

While most people who build their own computer from chips want the finished product to do something useful, there’s something to be said about a huge bank of switches and a bunch of blinkenlights. They’re incredibly simple – most of the time, you don’t even need RAM – and have a great classic look about them.

[Jim] wanted to build one of these computers and wound up creating a minimal system with switches and blinkenlights. It’s based on the Z80 CPU, has only 256 bytes of RAM, and not much else. Apart from a few extra chips to output data and address lines to LEDs and a few more to read switches, there are only two major chips in this computer.

With the circuit complete, [Jim] laser cut a small enclosure big enough to house his stripboard PCB, the switches and LEDs, and a few buttons to write to an address, perform a soft reset, and cycle the clock. One of the most practical additions to this switch/blinkenlight setup is a hand crank. There’s no crystal inside this computer, and all clock cycles are done manually. Instead of pushing a button hundreds of times to calculate something. [Jim] added a small hand crank that cycles the clock once per revolution. Crazy, but strangely practical.

[Jim] made a demo video of his computer in action, demonstrating how it’s able to calculate the greatest common divisor of two numbers. You can check that video out below.

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[Glasslinger] Builds Tiny Tubes

In the early days of transistors, RCA and GE were battling against silicon with ever smaller vacuum tubes. These tubes – Nuvistors, Compactrons, and some extremely small JAN triodes were some of the tiniest tubes to ever be created. [glasslinger], YouTube’s expert on DIY valves, is pretty close to beating the tiniest tubes that were ever manufactured. He’s created a miniature diode and triode that are about 1/4″ in diameter and 1″ long.

The most difficult part of making a vacuum tube is getting a perfect glass seal around the pins. For this, [glasslinger] is using very fine tungsten wire and glass beads. A bead is placed around each wire, mounted in a stand, and melted together with a torch.

A diode is simple as far as tubes go, requiring only a filament between two pins. [glasslinger] is just stringing a fine piece of wire between two pins and welding them on with a miniature spot welder. After that, it’s just an issue of melting a 1/4″ glass tube to the base of the tube, putting it under vacuum overnight, and sealing it shut.