Raspberry Pi Cluster Build Shows How and What

Raspberry Pi clusters are a dime a dozen these days. Well, maybe more like £250 for a five-Pi cluster. Anyway, this project is a bit different. It’s exquisitely documented.

[Nick Smith] built a 5-node Pi 3 cluster from scratch, laser-cutting his own acrylic case and tearing down a small network switch to include in the design. It is, he happily admits, a solution looking for a problem. [Smith] did an excellent job of documenting how he designed the case in CAD, prototyped it in wood, and how he put the final cluster together with eye-catching clear acrylic.

Of interest is that he even built his own clips to hold the sides of the case together and offers all of the files for anyone who wants to build their own. Head over to his page for the complete bill of materials (we didn’t know Pis were something you could order in 5-packs). And please, next time you work on a project follow [Nick’s] example of how to document it well, and how to show what did (and didn’t) work.

If 5 nodes just doesn’t do it for you, we suggest this 120-node screen-equipped monster, and another clear-acrylic masterpiece housing 40 Pis. This stuff really isn’t only for fun and games. Although it wasn’t Pi-based, here’s a talk at Hackaday Belgrade about an ARM-based SBC cluster built to crunch numbers for university researchers.

How The Dis-integrated 6502 Came To Be

I made a bee line for one booth in particular at this year’s Bay Area Maker Faire; our friend [Eric Schlaepfer] had his MOnSter 6502 on display. If you missed it last week, the unveiling of a 6502 built from discrete transistors lit the Internet afire. At that point, the board was not fully operational but [Eric’s] perseverance paid off because it had no problem whatsoever blinking out verification code at his booth.

I interviewed [Eric] in the video below about the design process. It’s not surprising to hear that he was initially trying to prove that this couldn’t be done. Unable to do so, there was nothing left to do but devote almost six-months of his free time to completing the design, layout, and assembly.

What I’m most impressed about (besides just pulling it off in the first place) is the level of perfection [Eric] achieved in his design. He has virtually no errors whatsoever. In the video you’ll hear him discuss an issue with pull-up/pull-down components which did smoke some of the transistors. The solution is an in-line resistor on each of the replacement transistors. This was difficult to photograph but you can make out the soldering trick above where the 3-pin MOSFET is propped up with it’s pair of legs on the board, and the single leg in the air. The added resistor to fix the issue connects that airborne leg to its PCB pad. Other than this, there was no other routing to correct. Incredible.

The huge schematic binder includes a centerfold — literally. One of the most difficult pieces of the puzzle was working out the decode ROM. What folds out of this binder doesn’t even look like a schematic at first glance, but take a closer look (warning, 8 MB image). Every component in that grid was placed manually.

I had been expecting to see some tube-based goodness from [Eric] this year. That’s because I loved his work on Flappy Bird on a green CRT in 2014, and Battlezone on a tube with a hand-wound yoke last year. But I’m glad he stepped away from the tubes and created this marvelous specimen of engineering.

The Man Who Didn’t Invent The Personal Computer

[John Blankenbaker] did not invent the personal computer. Museums, computer historians, and authors have other realities in mind when they say [John]’s invention, the KENBAK-1, was the first electronic, commercially available computer that was not a kit, and available to the general population.

In a way, it’s almost to the KENBAK’s detriment that it is labelled the first personal computer. It was, after all, a computer from before the age of the microprocessor. It is possibly the simplest machine ever sold and an architecturally unique machine that has more in common with the ENIAC than any other machine built in the last thirty years..

The story of the creation of this ancient computer has never been told until now. [John], a surprisingly spry octogenarian, told the story of his career and the development of the first personal computer at the Vintage Computer Festival East last month. This is his story of not inventing the personal computer.

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Battletech Case Mod Displays Awesome Woodwork, Hides Hacks

[S.PiC] has been working on a computer case styled to look like the Vulture mech from Battletech. We’re not sure if his serious faced cat approves or not, but we do.

The case is made from artfully cut plywood. We kind of hope he keeps the wood aesthetic. However, that would be getting dangerously close to steampunk. So perhaps a matching paint job at the end will do. In some of the videos we can how he’s cleverly incorporated the computer’s components into the design of the case. For example, the black mesh on the front actually hides the computer’s power supply intake fan.

The computer inside is a small micro-itx formfactor one. Added as peripherals to it [S.Pic] has pulled out the hacker-electronics-tricks bible. From hand soldered LED grids to repurposed Nokia LCD screens, he has it all. In one video we can even see the turret of the mech rotating under its own power.

It looks like the build still has a few more steps before completion, but it’s already impressive enough to be gladly worth the useful table space consumed on any hacker’s desk. Video after the break.

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Bricked Intel Tablet Lives Again

We’ve probably all taken a look at the rash of cheap Intel-Atom-based tablet computers and wondered whether therein lies an inexpensive route to a portable PC. Such limited hardware laden down with a full-fat Windows installation fails to shine, but maybe if we could get a higher-performance OS on there it could be a useful piece of kit.

[donothingloop] has an Intel tablet, a TrekStore Wintron 7, bought for the princely sum of $60. Windows 10 didn’t excite him, so he decided to put Ubuntu on it, or more specifically to put Ubuntu on an SD card to try it on the Wintron before overwriting the Windows installation. His problem with that was a bug in the Baytrail Atom chipset which limits the speed of SD card access and made Ubuntu very slow, and in trying to fix the speed issue he managed to disable a setting in the BIOS which had the effect of bricking the machine. A show-stopper when the BIOS is in a tiny SPI Flash chip and can’t be wiped or restored.

What followed was an epic of desoldering the BIOS chip and reflashing it, though that description makes the process sound deceptively easy. The specification says it is a 1.8V device, so after attempts to flash it using an ESP8266 and then a home-made level-shifter failed, he was stumped. With nothing but a cheap tablet to lose, he tried the chip in a 3.3V programmer, and to his amazement despite the significant overvoltage, it survived. Resoldering the chip to the motherboard presented him with a working tablet that would live to fight another day.

We’d have said that this work might reside in the “Don’t try this at home” category, but since Hackaday readers are exactly the kind of people who do try this kind of thing at home it’s interesting and reassuring to see that it can be done, and to see how someone else did it. A tablet that can be bricked through a mere BIOS setting though is something a manufacturer should be ashamed of.

We like unbricking stories here at Hackaday, something about winning against the odds appeals to us. In the past we’ve covered Blu-ray drives crippled by dodgy DRM and routers rescued with a Raspberry Pi, but the crown has to be taken by the phone rescued with a resistor made using paperclips and pencil lead.

Facebook Open-Sources their Capture-the-Flag Hacking Challenges

If you want to learn how to defeat computer security, nothing beats hands-on experience. Of course, if you get your hands on someone’s system without their permission, you may end up having a very short training that ends with a jail term. And that’s where capture-the-flag (CTF) events come in.

A CTF is a system of increasingly-difficult challenges that can’t be too easy or too hard. A well-designed CTF teaches all of the participants stuff that they didn’t know, no matter how far they get and what skills they came in with. Designing a good CTF is difficult.

But since it’s also a competition, running one also involves a lot of horrible bookkeeping for the folks running it. Registering teams and providing login pages is the dirty work that you have to do in the background, that takes away time from building the systems which others are going to take apart.

Which is why it’s great that Facebook is opening up their CTF-hosting platform, along with a few starter challenges, for us all to play along. We love CTFs and related hacking challenges. If this spurs the creation of more, we’re all for it. You can find the whole setup on GitHub.

If you’re new to CTFs, here’s an awesome collection of CTF-related material on GitHub to get you started. And if your tastes run more toward hardware hacking, we’ve covered previous firmware CTFs, but frankly there’s a lot more material out there. We feel a feature post coming on…

Thanks [ag4ve] for the unintentional tip!

Windows 95 On An Apple Watch

What happens if the slick user interface and tight iOS integration of your Apple Watch leave you wanting more? A real operating system, from the days when men were men and computers were big grey boxes!

[Nick Lee] solved this unexpected problem with his Watch by getting a working copy of Windows 95 to run on it. On paper it shouldn’t be at all difficult, with a 520 MHz ARM, 512 MB of RAM, and 8GB of storage you might think that it would eclipse the quick 486s and low-end Pentiums we ran ’95 on back in the day with ease. But of course, the ability to run aged Redmond operating systems on a Watch was probably not at the top of the Apple dev team’s feature list, so [Nick] had to jump through quite a few hoops to achieve it.

As you might expect, the ’95 installation isn’t running directly on the Watch. In the absence of an x86 processor his complex dev process involved getting the Bochs x86 emulator to compile for the Watch, and then giving that a ’95 image to boot. The result is comically slow, with a 1-hour boot time and a little motor attached to the Watch to vibrate it and stop it going to sleep. It’s not in any way a useful exercise, after all who’d really want to use ’95 on a Watch? Internet Explorer 3 and The Microsoft Network, how handy! But it’s one of those “because you can” exercises, and we applaud [Nick] for making it happen. If you want to give it a try, his Bochs-forWatchOS code is on Github.

The video below the break shows the process of booting the ’95 Watch, opening the Start Menu, and running one of the card games. One can almost feel the lengthening shadows outside as it goes.

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