Retrotechtacular: Wising Up with the SAGE System

The birth of the supersonic jet made the United States’ airstrike defenses look antiquated. And so, during the Cold War, the government contracted a number of institutions and vendors to create and maintain the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) aircraft detection system with Western Electric as project manager.

SAGE was developed at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory on computers built by IBM. It used the AN/FSQ-7 in fact, which was The Largest Computer Ever Built. SAGE operated as a network of defense sectors that divided the continental U.S. and Canada. Each of these sectors contained a directional center, which was a four-story concrete blockhouse that protected and operated a ‘Q7 through its own dedicated power station. The SAGE computers employed hot standby processors for maximum uptime and would fail over to nearby direction centers when necessary.

Information is fed into each directional center from many radar sources on land, in the air, and at sea. The findings are evaluated on scopes in dimly-lit rooms on the front end and stored on magnetic cores on the back end. Unidentifiable aircraft traces processed in the air surveillance room of the directional center are sent to the ID room where they are judged for friendliness. If found unfriendly, they are sent to the weapons direction room for possible consequences.

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Fail of the Week: Easy Cheese? Printer Says No

Well, this is timely. We saw a lot of things at Midwest RepRap Festival this year on both the printer and the material fronts. We told you about the delicious offerings made possible through remote extruder setups, strong and heavy filaments infused with copper and other metals, and a printer built out of K’NEX. No one was printing with canned cheese, though, and maybe for good reason.

[Andrew] here has created a 3D-printed arm that holds a can of aerosol cheese-like substance in place. A motor causes the holder to move the spout to the side, dispensing the goo. At first he squirts it in a coiled pile on to a cracker. That goes pretty well until it’s time to move away from the cracker. [Andrew]’s later attempt to build up four cheesy walls had us cheering. You can see what we mean after the break.

There are a couple of issues at play. Sometimes the add-on just plain falls off the end of the spout. Other times, air in the can interrupts the flow, just as it does during manual operation. And every once in a while, it just seems that the spout was too close to the substrate.

What do you think about the viability of cheese printing? Would it work better if the extrusion took place remotely, and the cheese was pushed through a thinner tip? Would a cooled print bed help? Let us know.

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New Part Day: Modern PALs

Back in the bad old days, if you needed a little bit of custom logic you would whip out a tiny chip known as a PAL. A Programmable Logic Array is just what it sounds like and is the forerunner of modern, unsolderable CPLDs and FPGAs.

PALs and GALs have died off, left to the wastes of the Jameco warehouse, and now it seems the only programmable logic you can buy are huge, 100-pin monstrosities. [Nick] at Arachnid Labs was working on his Tsunami signal generator when a user asked if they could add just one more feature: a programmable divider to count 256 iterations of a clock. This is the perfect application for dumb logic, but if you’re looking for a part that’s not recommended for new designs, you only need to look to old programmable logic.

Enter the Greenpak. [Nick] had a dev kit for these ‘modern PALs’ sitting around and decided to give it a go. They’re small – they max out at 20 pins – but there are a few features that make it a little more interesting than a simple array of AND and OR gates. The Greenpak3 features analog comparators, look-up tables, RC oscillators, counters, and GPIO that will work well enough as circuit glue. They also work at 5V, something you’re just not going to find in more complex programmable logic.

These tiny chips are programmed in a graphical IDE, but the datasheet (PDF) includes full documentation for the bitstream; someone needs to write a Verilog or VHDL compiler for it soon. The one downside with these chips is that they’re tiny; 0.4mm pitch QFN packages. If you can solder that, you’re too good at soldering.

Hackaday Links: March 29, 2015

Every once in a while, the Hackaday Overlords have a Hardware Developers Didactic Galactic in San Francisco. Last week was #06 featuring [Mike Estee] from Othermill and Hackaday writer [Joshua Vasquez] talking about synthesizing an SPI slave in an FPGA. Video here.

It’s no secret that [Fran] is building a DSKY – the part of the Apollo guidance computer that was on-screen in Apollo 13. It’s time for a project update, and here’s where she stands: if anyone has a source of JAN-spec Teledyne 420 or 422-series magnetic latching relays (they’re in a TO-5 package), contact [Fran]. The backplane connector has been identified; it’s a Teradyne I/O 100 series connector with a 120mil spacing. Contact [Fran] if you know where to get them.

Let’s say you want a carbon fiber quadcopter frame. What’s the most reasonable thing you can do? 3D print a CNC machine, obviously. That’s a 200mm FPV racer cut from 1mm and 3mm carbon fiber sheets, but the real story here is the CNC machine. It’s a PortalCyclone, and even the cable chains are 3D printed.

What does an AMOLED display look like up close? Pretty cool, actually. That’s 20x magnification, and it’s not a Bayer filter. Can anyone fill us in on the reason for that?

Laser cutters are tricky if you want to do grayscale or half tones. [oni305] made an Inkscape extension to generate better GCode for engraving with a laser cutter.

19″ racks have no dimensions that are actually 19″. Also 2x4s aren’t 2 inches by four inches. Somehow, a 2×4 server rack works.

Hacklet 39: Battery Power

3296371398740598106[robin] has a Red Camera (lucky!), an absurdly expensive digital video camera. As you would expect the batteries are also absurdly expensive. What’s the solution? Battery packs from cordless drills.

Cordless drills are interesting pieces of tech that can be easily repurposed; there are huge battery packs in them, big, beefy motors, and enough hardware to build an Automatic Cat Feeder or a motorized bicycle.

What if those old Makita batteries don’t charge? That usually means only one or two cells are dead, not the whole pack. Free LiIon cells, but you need to charge them. Here’s a single cell charger/boost converter that will do the trick.

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A problem faced by amateur radio operators around the world is the lack of commercial power. Plugging a portable shack into a wall will work, but for uninterrupted power car batteries are everywhere. How do you combine wall power and car batteries for the best of both worlds? With an In-line battery backup module.

9k=All of the projects above rely on charging a battery through wall power, and sometimes even that is impossible. Solar is where we’re headed, with solar LiPo chargers, and solar LiFe chargers. That’s more than enough to keep a smartphone charged, but if you want to go completely off the grid, you’re going to need something bigger.

[Michel] has been off the power grid 80% of the time since he installed his home PV system a few years ago. How’s he doing it? A literal ton of batteries, huge chargers, and a 5kW inverter.

 

We Have a Problem: Household Electrical

Hackaday, we have a problem. The electricity in your house is on. It’s always on. How fast are those kilowatt-hours ticking by and what is causing it? For most people the only measurement they have of this is the meter itself (which nobody looks at), and the electric bill (which few people actually analyze). Is it silly that people pay far more attention to the battery usage on their phone than the electricity consumption in their abode? I think it is, and so appears another great seed idea for Hackaday Prize entries.

A Better Way to Measure

breaker-panelThe tough part of the problem here is getting at reliable data. Just yesterday we saw an incredible resource monitoring project that uses an optical sensor to measure the turning or the wheel in an electric meter. We’ve seen similar projects for meters that have a blinking LED, and a few other methods. But in many cases the electrical meter is outdoors which makes cheap, easily installed sensors a difficult goal to achieve. Even if we did, this still provides just one stream of data, the entire house.

Alternatively you could tap into the breaker box. We’ve seen [Bill Porter] do just that and there are some commercially available kits that include an octopus of clamp-style current sensors. This is a bit of an improvement, but still requires the user to open the electrical panel (don’t scoff at that statement, you know most people shouldn’t be doing that) to install them. I’m sure there are other methods that I’m missing and would love to hear about them in the comments below.

The Point

To sum up what I’m getting at here, think about the Kill-A-Watt which proved to be a very interesting hack. People liked not just seeing how much power something uses but extending where that data can be accessed. We don’t remember seeing any successful efforts to move the concept ahead a few generations. But if someone can crack that nut it could yield a wave of energy savings as people are able to be better connected with what is using a lot of electricity in their homes.

Your Turn (and Lessons from Last Week)

As with last week, now it’s your turn to come up with some ideas… wild, fantastic, good, bad, outlandish, let’s hear them. Better yet, document your idea on Hackaday.io and tag it with “2015HackadayPrize“. You can win prizes just for a well presented idea!

Speaking of last week, I shared the idea of adding some feedback to how long you’ve been in the shower. There were many opinions about the value and worthiness of that idea so I thought I’d close by covering some of them. Yes, there are much bigger wastes of water (and electricity in this case) in the world but why limit our solutions to only the largest offenders? The low-hanging fruit tends to be stuff a lot of people can understand and relate to. If we only talked about large-scale fixes (I dunno; reducing mercury emissions from power plants?) there is little momentum to crank-start a movement. If you found yourself thinking the ideas from this week and last are far too simple to win The Hackaday Prize that means you better get your project going. The world is hacked together by those who show up.

I’d love to hear suggestions for future installments of We have a problem. Leave those ideas in the comments and we’ll see you here next week!


The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Hackaday Retro Edition: Remaking the PDP 8/I With A Raspberry Pi

[Oscar] really likes the PDP-8s, with the extremely old school PDP-8/I being his favorite. If you haven’t checked the price on these recently, getting a real PDP-8/I is nigh impossible. However, after assembling a KIM-1 clone kit, an idea struck: what about building a modern PDP-8/I replica that looks like the real thing, but is powered by modern hardware. This would be fairly cheap to build, and has the added bonus of not weighing several hundred pounds.

The PiDP-8 is [Oscar]’s project to replicate the hardware of the 8/I in a modern format. Instead of hundreds of Flip Chips, this PDP-8 is powered by a Raspberry Pi running the SIMH emulator. The 40-pin GPIO connector on the Pi is broken out to 92 LEDs and 26 toggle switches on a large PCB. This setup gets [Oscar] a reasonable facsimile of the PDP-8/I, but he’s also going for looks too. He created an acrylic panel with artwork copied from an original 8/I  that mounts to the PCB and gives the entire project that beautiful late 60s / early 70s brown with harvest gold accent color scheme.

Since this emulated PDP-8/I is running on entirely new hardware, it doesn’t make much sense to haul out disk drives as big as a small child, tape drives, and paper tape readers. Instead, [Oscar] is putting everything on USB sticks. It’s a great solution to the problem of moving around files that are a few kilowords in size.

vt100normal[Oscar] says he’ll be bringing his PiDP to the Vintage Computer Festival East X in Wall, NJ, April 17-19. We’ll be there, and I’ve already offered [Oscar] the use of a VT-100 terminal. If you’re in the area, you should come to this event. It’s guaranteed to be an awesome event and you’re sure to have a great time. Since this is the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the PDP-8, there will be a half-dozen original PDP-8s set up, including a newly refurbished Straight-8 that came out of the RESISTORS.

Oh, if anyone knows how to connect a Pi to a VT100 (technically a 103), leave a note in the comments. Does it need the RTS/CTS?