Interview with the Creators of CHIP, a $9 Single-Board Computer

Single-board computing is hot on the DIY scene right now and riding that knife edge is C.H.I.P., a project currently in crowd-funding which prices the base unit at just $9. I was happy to run into the crew from Next/Thing Company who developed C.H.I.P. They were happy because, well, the project’s reception has been like a supernova. Right now they’re at about $1.5M of their original $50k goal. We spoke about running Linux on the board, what connectors and pinout headers are available, as well as the various peripheral hardware they have ready for the board.

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Adafruit And The Arduinos At Maker Faire

The apparent lull on the Arduino front the last few weeks was just the calm before the storm that is the Bay Area Maker Faire (BAMF). Both companies claiming the Arduino name were there over the weekend, with news and new products in tow. Ironically, you could see from one booth straight over to the other. Small world.

Perhaps the biggest news from Arduino LLC is that hacker-friendly Adafruit is now going to be making officially-licensed boards in the US. Competing with this news, Arduino SRL brought its new boards, including the Yun Mini and ARM-powered Arduino M0. And [Massimo Banzi] and Arduino LLC seem to be taking an end-run around the Arduino SRL trademark by announcing the “Genuino” brand for European production. For all the details, read on!

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The Biggest Day At Hamvention

We capped off day-2 of the Hamvention with an unexpected rain shower, and some arcing back in the hotel room.  Historically, Saturday is the best attended day of the show.  As normally, we spent most of the day outside in the flea market.  One of our friends allowed us to use his AN/GRC-9 army surplus radio to check into one of the nets.  The radio was powered by hand-crank.  Later, we attended a forum on the construction of HF antennas for camping trips, and obtained parts for our project back in the room. More about that later?  Overall, a great day.

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Vintage Computers At Maker Faire

It’s no secret that Maker Faire is highly geared toward the younger crowd. This doen’t mean the Faire is completely devoid of the historic; the Bay Area Maker Faire is right in the heart of the beginnings of the computer industry, and a few of the booths are showing off exactly how far computers have come over the last forty years.

Superboard[Vince Briel] of Briel Computers has a booth showing off his wares, mostly modern reimaginings of vintage computers. His table is loaded up with replica 1s, a board that’s much smaller but still completely compatible with the Apple I. The MicroKIM made an appearance, but the crown jewel is [Vince]’s Superboard III, a replica of the Ohio Scientific Superboard II. It’s your basic 6502 computer with 32k of RAM, but unlike just about every other modern retrocomputer out there, [Vince] put the keyboard right on the main board.

The switches are Cherry MX, the keys are from WASDkeyboards. [Vince] is actually getting a lot of interest in making modern ASCII keyboards to replace the old and busted boards that came in the home computers of the 70s and 80s. That might be a project [Vince] will release sometime in the future.

[Jef Raskin], the Swift Card, and the Canon Cat

[Steve Jobs] may have been the father of the Macintosh, but he was, by no means, solely responsible for the Mac. It was a team of people, and when you talk about the UI of the Mac, the first name that should come up is [Jef Raskin].

One of [Jef Raskin]’s finest works was the Swyft Card, an add-on to the Apple II that was basically just a ROM card that had an OS and Forth interpreter on it. The distinguishing feature of the Swyft card was the use of ‘leap’ keys, a simple way to change contexts when using the computer. We’ve seen replicas of the Swyft card before, courtesy of [Mike Willegal] at the Vintage Computing Festival East.

Woodie[Dwight Elvey] of the vintage-computer.com forum brought a few extra special items related to [Raskin] and the Canon Cat. The first was a Swyft card installed in an Apple IIe. The second was a prototype Swyft computer, with SERIAL NUMBER 1 printed on a Dymo label and fixed to the case.

The ‘woodie’, as [Dwight] calls it, has two 1.44 MB disk drives, of which half of the disk is actually usable. [Dwight] didn’t take the machine apart, but I’m 99% sure the CRT in it is the exact same tube found in early 9″ Macs.

Also in [Dwight]’s display is a production Swyft computer and a Canon Cat, the final iteration of [Jef Raskin]’s idea of what a text-based computer should be.

The vintage-computer booth also had a few interesting retrocomputers including a Commodore 128D, the Apple made, Bell & Howell branded Apple II, and an Amiga 2000. Right next door was the Computer History Museum, who brought a very kid-friendly storage medium display. Showing a 10-year-old an 8″ disk is fun.

Live Steam… chugga chugga

At Maker Faire this weekend. tucked in between a building full of homegrown foodstuffs and a rock polishing booth is the Bay Area Garden Railway Society (BAGRS). They’re running a few live steam locomotives, and they’re beautiful works of engineering and modeling. None of these trains are electric; they all move by boiling water with either coal or butane. It’s a true, proper locomotive running on 45mm gauge track.

[David Cole] of BAGRS gave me the walkthrough of their booth. It’s a simple oval track that took a solid day to level out. There are technically three sets of tracks, two G-scale, and another O scale sharing a rail with a G-scale track. Each and every one of these locomotives is powered by steam produced when water is heated by either coal or butane. Butane is the fuel of choice because of its ease of acquisition, but BAGRS had a few coal-fired locomotives with tiny shovels shoveling anthracite into tiny fireboxes. After loading up with water and getting the firebox nice and hot, these locomotives will cruise around the oval track for about half an hour, with the speed of the locomotive controlled by a servos and RC gear.

Maker Faire isn’t the headline event for BAGRS; in July 2016 they’ll be hosting the National Garden Railway Convention in San Francisco. If you’re local to the Faire, it will be a cool event to check out.

Setup Day at the Faire is a Glorious Time!

The Bay Area Maker Faire starts today, but the Hackaday crew rolled in early for something new this year. Friday has traditionally been just for exhibitor setup but this year a few extra groups were on site to see everything come together. Most notably, school field trips. How awesome is it to skip the normal class schedule and hang out at the fair? Also able to get in are media and industry.

I had a great time. Watching everything get setup is often more interesting that seeing the finished display. It’s also much quieter, many fewer bodies (Saturday afternoon is usually a mad press of people) and people haven’t yet lost their voices or the fallen into the monotony of voicing the same explanation over and over again.

Above you can see a few of the friends I ran into. [Windell Oskay] is one of the 2015 Hackaday Prize Judges. He had a freshly minted copy of his new book which I first heard about when visiting Evil Mad Scientist Labs last fall. I also ran into [Kevin] who is the creator of the Arduboy. I first met him at BAMF last year and this year he makes a triumphant return with the new version of Arduboy which overshot it’s Kickstarter by an order of magnitude in just a few days. And who else should I bump into but [Brian Benchoff]. He lives in Pennsylvania and I in Wisconsin so we look forward to hanging out when Hackaday hits the road. I also said a quick hello to [Caleb Kraft] who was slinging veggie paella all evening.

[Brian], [Sophi], [Matt], [Jasmine], [Rich], and I will all be at tonight’s Hackaday Meetup. Anyone in the area won’t want to miss this one. There are a ton of awesome hackers already planning to clink glasses starting at 7pm. All you need to do to join in is RSVP.

Back to the action; I made a quick Friday first pass which still took about three hours. The setup changes just a bit each year… generally things are in the same places but of course returning exhibitors have made a year of upgrades and there’s always a lot of fresh and new on hand. I don’t remember seeing the probability machine last year. It has reservoir of marbles at the top which are being steadily dropped into the “Plinko” style peg-board showing a distribution which has a higher probability toward the center.

Here are just a few more favorites. The Kijani Grows booth has a couple of full aquaponics setups that are worth checking out. I spent some time with the Firepick Delta guys. Sand plotters are always fun and there’s a giant one in one of the booths. I may try my hand at lock picking in The OPen Organization of Lockpickers tent today. And [Louis] of SmartMatrix is launching his Kickstarter to bring fully-assembled versions to people who don’t want to solder the one available in our store.

That’s all for now, I’m off to see as much as is humanly possible. If you’re at the Faire today or tomorrow track us down for some stickers and other swag, and don’t forget tonight’s meetup that I mentioned above!

Hamvention Just Getting Started

For one weekend in May, the landscape of Dayton, Ohio is dominated by ham radio operators. The Dayton Hamvention (“ham-convention”), sponsored by the Dayton Amateur Radio Association, is the preeminent gathering of hams from around the world. This is where industry rolls out new products, friends gather to catch-up, and old equipment is “re-distributed” amongst willing parties in the sprawling swap meet which subsumes the entire Hara Arena parking lot where you can find almost anything and meet some of the most interesting people.

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