One Dollar USB Sound Card Turned O-Scope

Using the inputs on a computer’s sound card is an old trick to fake a very simplistic, AC coupled, slow oscilloscope. You can get DC operation by desoldering a couple capacitors, but if the sound card is integrated into the motherboard it raises the stakes if you mess that up.

[TMSZ] has a better option, a ~1 dollar USB sound card which is easily hacked to work as a simple oscilloscope. Easily found on eBay, the 7.1 virtual channel sound card is identical in brains to a more expensive c-media model, but the layout of the PCB makes it easier to bypass the DC blocking caps. Software and DLL files to use the sound card with Miniscope v4 — a Windows GUI for oscilloscopes — are also linked, so getting set up should be fairly simple.

Now of course this is not lab-grade measurement equipment: the sampling rate is limited to 44KHz and the voltages must be in the typical “line level” range, under two volts. If you don’t mind a little extra noise, you can increase the input impedance with a single resistor. This extends the input range up to six volts, which covers most hobby and microcontroller usage.

So if you’re really in need of a scope, but only have a buck to spend, this may be just the hack for you! Those willing to shell out a hefty sum for a high-end headless oscilloscope should look onto the virtual bench.

Microsoft Surface Book Teardown Reveals Muscle Wire Mechanism

It’s hard to resist the temptation to tear apart a shiny new gadget, but fortunately, iFixIt often does it for us. This helps to keep our credit cards safe, and reveal the inner workings of new stuff. That is definitely the case with the Microsoft Surface Book teardown that they have just published. Apart from revealing that it is pretty much impossible to repair yourself, the teardown reveals the mechanism for the innovative hinge and lock mechanism. The lock that keeps the tablet part in place when in laptop mode is held in place by a spring, with the mechanism being unlocked by a piece of muscle wire.

We are no strangers to muscle wire (AKA Nitinol wire or Shape Metal Alloy, as it is sometimes called) here: we have posted on its use in making strange robots, robotic worms and walls that breathe. Whatever you call it, it is fun stuff. It is normally a flexible wire, but when you apply a voltage, it heats up and contracts, much like the muscles in your body. Remove the voltage, and the wire cools and reverts to its former shape. In the Microsoft Surface Book, a single loop of this wire is used to retract the lock mechanism, releasing the tablet part.

Unfortunately, the teardown doesn’t go into much detail on how the impressive hinge of the Surface Book works. We would like to see more detail on how Microsoft engineered this into the small space that it occupies. The Verge offered some details in a post at launch, but not much in the way of specifics beyond calling it an “articulated hinge”.

UPDATE: This post was edited to clarify the way that muscle wire works. 11/4/15.

Who Said FORTRAN is Dead?

NASA has an urgent need for a FORTRAN developer to support the Voyager spacecraft. Popular Mechanics interviewed Voyager program manager [Suzanne Dodd] who is looking to fill [Larry Zottarell’s] shoes when he retires.

We had a lot of people comment on my recent Hackaday article, “This Is Not Your Father’s FORTRAN”, who studied the language at some point. Maybe one of you would like to apply? You need to do so soon! NASA is hoping to give the new hire six to twelve months with [Zottarell] for on-the-job training. You’ll need to brush up on your vintage assembly language too.

light data system hwThe two Voyagers were some of the first NASA spacecraft to use computers. The resources are limited in the three 40 year-old computers found on each probe. They handle the spacecraft’s science and flight software. The software is a little more recent having been updated only 25 years ago in 1990.

A big problem is a lot of the engineering design materials are no longer in existence. People’s memories of the events and reasons for decisions made that long ago are bit hazy. But NASA does have an emergency list of those former engineers when questions arise. That means this could be more than just a job where you program for ancient hardware, you could find a lot of reasons to interact with the people who pioneered this field!

This will be an awesome hack. Anyone up to doing remote computing at a distance of 12 billion miles?

A video on the history of the two voyagers is found after the break.

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[Quinn] Uses “Forsooth” To Win The Internet! –Also Fixes Apple IIc+ Beep

By this point we are all familiar with [Quinn Dunki] and her awesome engineering and retro hacking. [Quinn] aims her latest blog post at the Apple IIc Plus and its tone deaf bleeping beep. You can hear it for yourself in her beep comparison video after the break.

[Quinn] gets straight into the source code as expected and works through a logical process that she explains quite nicely while looking for the origin of the problem. There are some interesting and hard to follow moves in the source as control jumps around the ROM(s) all in the name of minimizing RAM. In proper form [Quinn] uses the ROM bank switching ability to her advantage as she see’s [the Woz’s] efficiency and raises him some fancy footwork of her own along with a beep that doesn’t make our skin crawl.

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400 Transistors and 1800 Resistors Form This 1967 Personal Computer

What kind of computer could you build in 1967? Well, if you were reading Wireless World (a UK magazine) and had a good bit of spare cash, you could build [Brian Crank’s] Wireless World Computer. You only needed 400 germanium transistors, 1800 resistors, and an odd number of capacitors, switches, diodes, and neon bulbs. You also needed a good bit of patience, we suspect.

In 1967, the computer cost about 50 pounds to build (perhaps $125 at 1967 exchange rates which would now be about $900 in today’s money). To save parts (and thus money and build complexity), the computer used a trick: it processed data one bit at a time. Many older computers did this, including another UK computer named EDSAC.

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Wheel Of Password!

Before the rise of the Nintendo Gameboy, Tiger LCD games were the king of handheld gaming. Inexpensive and appealing to a wide audience, you still often find them “in the wild” or lurking in your house, even today. When [Lee] found a “Wheel Of Fortune” model laying low in a box, having a look inside and turning the handheld into something it’s not.

Being based on a game show, this specific model has a feature most Tiger handheld’s don’t: a cartridge slot. Originally intended to supply additional categories and phrases, the slot is a wide open bus to the internal CPU. It didn’t take long for the some probing with the Bus Pirate to decode the data protocol.

So what does one do with a hacked game show game? Well you could just make it say goofy stuff, or you could make it into a TOTP password generator. Future plans are to take off the computer umbilical cord and bit bang the cart slot with an AVR. Once done anyone, trying to break in to [Lee’s] PC will never suspect the innocent old toy is the key to the kingdom.

Join us after the break for a quick demo video

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AROS: Run an Amiga OS like it’s 1993

We read this article on oddball open-source operating systems by [Bryan Lunduke] of the “Linux Action Show” podcast, and it caused us to play around in an Amiga-like operating system (running as a VM) for an hour. We’re pretty sure that you’ll succumb to the same fate. But even worse, the article is just the first in a series. There goes your weekend hacking productivity for the foreseeable future.

AmigaOS_3_and_clonesAROS is an open-source, API-compatible rewrite of the Amiga OS. Now, AROS is no fancy-schmancy AmigaOS4. No sir, the AROS project started in 1995 and settled on Amiga OS API version 3.1, and it stays true to its roots.

But this doesn’t mean that you’re going to have to give up the creature comforts of life in the 21st century. Get yourself a full-fledged AROS distribution, like icaros desktop, and you’ll find a pretty beefy ecosystem of applications included. It’s mostly what you’d want out of an Amiga — games, audio, video, and graphics editing software, a WebKit-based browser, and even a super-minimal word processor.

It’s retro, it’s sexy, and it’s fun. Just the ticket for running on that unused craptop gathering dust in the corner. (It’s also reported to run on Raspberry Pi running Linux.) Still not convinced? Lemmings.