Commodore PET mods at VCF West 2016

28193708113_821f852139_zHere at the Vintage Computer Festival, we’ve found oodles of odds and ends from the past. Some, however, have gotten a modern twist like [bitfixer’s] recent Commodore PET project upgrades.

First off is [bitfixer’s] Augmented Reality upgrade. By the power of two iPhones and one raspberry Pi, the user dons a Google-Cardboard-esque heads-up-display and can visualize a 3D, ASCII rendering of the world before them. Not only does this view show up in the HUD, however, it’s also streamed to a Raspberry Pi whch then serializes it info a video display on the Commodore PET.

28191391174_7186b4758d_z
TRON Legacy, can you tell??

This hack builds on some of [bitfixer’s] prior work getting ASCII video streaming up-and running. Of course, the memory on the Commodore PET is nowhere near capable of being able to process these images. In fact, streaming and storing the video data onto the PET’s memory would fill it up in under one second! Instead, [bitfixer] relies on some preprocessing thanks to the far-more-powerful (by comparison) Raspberry Pi and iPhone processors that are capturing the images.

 

 

Next off is [bitfixer’s] full-color video display on the same Commodore PET. Again, leveraging another RaspPi to encode and reduce the video to bitmap images, the Commodore PET simple grabs these images and streams them to the screen as fast as possible–at a beloved 5.8 frames per second.

 

Vegapin: A Beautiful Virtual Pinball Machine

One click on the wrong YouTube link, and one sleepless night after being introduced to virtual pinball, and [Sascha Rossier], aka Swiss hip-hop rapper [Der Lügner], was at work on his own design. You can watch the plans, and the build progress on [Sascha]’s project diary (in German, translated here). The awesome case, huge monitor serving as the playfield, bump and tilt sensors make this a droolworthy device.

We also learned how to say “greebles” in Swiss-German: “greebles“. And there are greebles galore in this build. [Sascha]’s 3D printer was working overtime churning out not only fan ducts for the computer that lives inside the case, but also dia-de-los-muertos themed foot brackets and all sorts of loudspeaker covers and dinosaur accoutrements. This is clearly a labor of love. (And [Sascha] wrote us back about the date in the name: it’s when he and his girlfriend met 20 years ago, playing pinball nonetheless!)

Head off to [Sascha]’s website and check it out. All of the details are there, from the mechanical design to the part selection. This is probably the most elaborate virtual pinball build we’ve seen, but it’s not the only one. Heck, we’ve even seen a virtual machine built into a real pinball machine’s case. But never before have we seen one with so darn many greebles.

Refurbishing Six Commodore 64s in Parallel

[Drygol] found himself with six Commodore 64’s in various states of disrepair. Because batch work is often more efficient, he detailed the process of restoring all of them in parallel in this one-, two-, three-part series.

The first step was to whiten the cases. Old cases turn yellow from the degradation of the fire retardant additives in the plastic. The proven method to fix this is with a paste called Retr0bright. [Drygol] used hair bleaching paste which is very similar. The cases came out nicely whitened from their treatment.

Next he repaired the keyboard PCB and whitened the keys as well. Drinking was involved, but it all came out okay. The circuit boards were cleaned and inspected. There were a few corroded spots, broken chips, and bad solder joints to be repaired. A few common mods were also installed.

In the final part of the series two of the C64s have SD cards installed into them. A few interesting fixes were done to repair broken plastics. Lastly the two worst cases were painted. In the end [Drygol] found himself with six perfectly working and attractive C64s. Who know’s what he’ll do with them, but we all know that was not the point.

Impressive Custom Built Blacksmith’s Forge

[EssentialCraftsman] is relatively new to YouTube, but he’s already put out some impressive videos. We really enjoyed an episode dedicated to a fixture in his shop, his large custom blacksmith’s forge.

The forge is a custom cast vault of refractory that sits on a platter of fire bricks suspended on a heavy-duty rotating frame. Two forced air natural gas burner provide the heat.  The frame is plasma CNC cut steel welded together.

A lot of technical challenges had to be solved. How does one hold a couple hundred pound piece of refractory in such a way that it can be lifted, especially when any steel parts exposed to the heat of the forge would become plastic and fail? When the forge turns off, how do you keep the hot air in the forge from rising into the blowers and melting them? There were many more.

We were really impressed by the polished final appearance of the forge, and the cleverness of its design. Everything is well thought out, and you can even increase the height of the forge by propping it up on more fire bricks. We hope [EssentialCraftsman] will continue to produce such high quality videos. We also enjoyed his episode on Anvils as well as a weirdly informative tirade on which shape of stake (round or square) to use when laying out concrete jobs. Videos after the break.

Continue reading “Impressive Custom Built Blacksmith’s Forge”

1980s Toy Robot Arm Converted To Steam And Other Explorations

We were doing our daily harvest of YouTube for fresh hacks when we stumbled on a video that eventually led us to this conversion of a 1980s Armatron robot to steam power.

The video in question was of [The 8-bit Guy] doing a small restoration of a 1984 Radio Shack Armatron toy. Expecting a mess of wiring we were absolutely surprised to discover that the internals of the arm were all mechanical with only a single electric motor. Perhaps the motors were more expensive back then?

The resemblance is uncanny.
The resemblance is uncanny.

The arm is driven by a Sarlacc Pit of planetary gears. These in turn are driven by a clever synchronized transmission. It’s very, very cool. We, admittedly, fell down the google rabbit hole. There are some great pictures of the internals here. Whoever designed this was very clever.

The robot arm can do full 360 rotations at every joint that supports it without slip rings. The copper shafts were also interesting. It’s a sort of history lesson on the prices of metal and components at the time.

Regardless, the single motor drive was what attracted [crabfu], ten entire years ago, to attach a steam engine to the device. A quick cut through the side of the case, a tiny chain drive, and a Jensen steam engine was all it took to get the toy converted over. Potato quality video after the break.

Continue reading “1980s Toy Robot Arm Converted To Steam And Other Explorations”

An Apple II Joystick Fix For Enjoyable Gameplay

We all remember the video games of our youth fondly, and many of us want to relive those memories and play those games again. When we get this urge, we usually turn first to emulators and ROMs. But, old console and computer games relied heavily on the system’s hardware to control the actual gameplay. Most retro consoles, like the SNES for example, rely on the hardware clock speed to control gameplay speed. This is why you’ll often experience games played on emulators as if someone is holding down the fast forward button.

The solution, of course, is to play the games on their original systems when you want a 100% accurate experience. This is what led [Chris Osborn] back to gameplay on an Apple II. However, he quickly discovered that approach had challenges of its own – specifically when it came to the joystick.

The Apple II joystick used a somewhat odd analog potentiometer design – the idea being that when you pushed the joystick far enough, it’d register as a move (probably with an eye towards smooth position-sensitive gameplay in the future). This joystick was tricky, the potentiometers needed to be adjusted, and sometimes your gameplay would be ruined when you randomly turned and ran into a pit in Lode Runner.

The solution [Chris] came up with was to connect a modern USB gamepad to a Raspberry Pi, and then set it to output the necessary signals to the Apple II. This allowed him to tune the output until the Apple II was responding to gameplay inputs consistently. With erratic nature of the original joystick eliminated, he could play games all day without risk of sudden unrequested jumps into pits.

The Apple II joystick is a weird beast, and unlike anything else of the era. This means there’s no Apple II equivalent of plugging a Sega controller into an Atari, or vice versa. If you want to play games on an Apple II the right way, you either need to find an (expensive) original Apple joystick, or build your own from scratch. [Chris] is still working on finalizing his design, but you can follow the gits for the most recent version.

Retrotechtacular: The Modern Telephone

We take recorded telephone messages for granted in these days of smartphones and VOIP. Our voicemail lives on an anonymous server in a data centre in the cloud somewhere, in a flash memory chip on our DECT base station, or if we’re of a retro persuasion, on a micro-cassette. Wherever we go, we now know our calls will not go unanswered.

Today’s subject takes us back to a time when automatically recording a phone call was the last word in high technology, with British Pathé newsreel piece from 1959 entitled “Modern Telephone”. Its subject is the Ansafone J10, one of the first telephone answering machines available on the British market. After featuring a fantastic home-made Meccano answering machine with turntable recording created by a doctor, it takes us to the Ansafone factory where the twin tape mechanisms of the commercial model are assembled and tested. Finally we get to see it in use on the desk of a bona fide Captain of Industry, probably about the only sort of person who could afford an Ansafone in 1959.

Part of the film’s charm comes not from the technology but from the glimpse it gives us of 1950s Britain sanitised for the newsreel. The clipped tones, leather armchairs and bookshelves, the coal fire and the engineer in a three-piece suit. The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.

Take a look at the film below after the break, and never take your recorded calls for granted again.

Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: The Modern Telephone”