Restoring a vintage PDP-11/04 computer

[MattisLind] spent one and a half years to complete restoration of a Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) PDP-11/04 including peripherals like a TU60 tape drive and a LA30P Decwriter printing terminal. The computer is now able to run CAPS-11 which is a very simple operating system and also CAPS-11/BASIC. Just like the project itself, his blog post is quite long filled with interesting details. For a tl;dr version, check the video after the break.

This system originally belonged to Ericsson and [MattisLind] received it from Ericsson computer club, EDKX. He was lucky to have access to online resources which made the task easier. But it still wasn’t easy considering the number of hardware faults he had to tackle and the software challenges too. The first task was obviously looking at the Power supply. He changed the big electrolytic capacitors, and the power supply seemed to work well with his dummy load, but failed when hooked up to the backplane of the computer. Some more digging around, and a replaced thyristor later, he had it fixed. The thyristor was part of a crowbar circuit to protect the system from over-voltages should one of the main switching transistors fail.

With the power supply fixed, the CPU still wouldn’t boot. Some sleuthing around, and he pin pointed the bus receiver chip that had failed. His order of the device via a Chinese ebay seller was on the slow boat, so he just de-soldered a device from another board which improved things a bit, but it was still stuck in a loop. A replacement communications board and the system now passed diagnostics check, but failed memory testing. This turned out to be caused be a faulty DIP switch. He next tackled all the software challenges in getting the CPU board up to speed.

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Arduino IDE Forked

As if it weren’t confusing enough in the Arduino world these days, now we’re going to have to deal with conflicting version numbers for the IDE. Yup, it’s been forked. Arduino LLC is offering a recently-updated version 1.6.3 at arduino.cc, but Arduino SRL has bumped up the version number to 1.7.0 at arduino.org. The conflict in naming and versioning has not gone unnoticed.

For those of you who’ve been living under a rock lately, the company that developed the Arduino (Arduino LLC) and the company that’s been manufacturing most of the hardware (Smart Projects SRL, now Arduino SRL) have stopped cooperating, filed a bunch of lawsuits, and now maintain separate websites.

According to this article (Google translate here) the versions don’t differ by much, and the 1.7.0 IDE may even be a step backwards versus 1.6.3. It certainly seems to us that the majority of the active developers in the Arduino project have been sticking with [Massimo Banzi] and the Arduino LLC camp. Of course, everything’s open source and there’s nothing stopping Arduino SRL from porting worthwhile IDE changes across to their version of the codebase.

It doesn’t take a clairvoyant to sense that this may be in response to the warning about non-licensed boards that was included in the “official” 1.6.1 release. Nor does it take a psychic to foresee confusing times ahead.

If you’re interested in doing some code-sleuthing, have a look at the two versions and leave a comment below letting us know of any substantive differences you unearth.

Thanks [Kai], and via [Golem.de].

Hackaday Links: April 5, 2015

[Dino] found something pretty cool at Walmart. It’s a USB Lighter; basically a car cigarette lighter that’s powered by a battery and charged via USB. A few bucks will buy you a battery, charge controller, and USB plug that will deliver over 2 amps at 3.7 Volts.

Speaking of battery chargers, here’s something from [Thomas]. He works in a hospital, and the IV pumps have a terrible charging circuit. After a few dozen chargers, they’ll give a battery error on the screen. They’re not bad, only unbalanced. [Thomas] made a simple rig with a Tenergy battery charger to rebalance the packs. No link, but here’s a pic. It beats paying $34 for a new battery pack.

Those Silhouette Cameo blade cutters don’t get enough respect. You can make vinyl stickers or an Arduino-themed pop up card.

Retroreflective spraypaint. Volvo has developed something called Lifepaint. It’s for bicycles and bicycle riders. Apparently, it’s clear when you spray it on, but if you shine a light on it – from a car’s headlight – it will reflect back. Any cool ideas here?

The Art of Electronics, 3rd edition, is finally out. Didn’t we hear about this a few months ago? Yes, we did. It’s shipping now, though, and there’s a sample. It’s chapter nine, voltage regulation and power conversion.

Ah, April Fool’s. I’m still proud of the Prince post, but there were some great ones this year. RS Components had Henry the Hover Drone, but we really like the protoboard with ground planes.

The market wasn’t always flooded with ARM dev boards. For a while the LeafLabs Maple was the big kid on the block. Now it’s reached end of life. If only there were a tree whose name ended in ~ino…

Tube Map Radio and Denki Puzzles

Sometimes, awesomeness passes us by and we don’t notice it until a while later. This is from 2012, but it’s so friggin’ insane we just have to cover it even if it’s late. Yuri Suzuki is an installation artist who designed the Tube Map Radio and Denki Puzzles.

The Tube Map Radio is inspired by a diagram created by the original designer of the London Tube map, Harry Beck, which shows the lines and stations of the London Underground rail network as an annotated electrical circuit. Iconic landmarks on this map are represented by components relating to their functions, including a speaker where Speaker’s Corner sits, battery representing Battersea Power Station and Piccadilly Circus marked as Piccadilly Circuit. The work was commissioned by the Design Museum London, and the PCB layout was done by Masahiko Shindo (Shindo Denki Sekkei). The idea was to bring the electronics out of the “black box” and not just display it, but to have it laid out in a fashion that people could try to understand how it really works.

The other project called Denki Puzzles is equally remarkable. It’s a kit meant to teach electronics, using a set of snap-fit components. But instead of having all “bricks” or units of the same shape, the Denki Puzzles are a collection of printed circuit board pieces whose form indicate a particular function. Fit the pieces together as a sort of physical circuit diagram and you’ll be able to build working electronics. For example, the LED unit looks like a 8 pointed star, and the resistance unit looks like a resistance symbol. Check out some pictures and a video after the break

Photo’s Credit : Hitomi Kai Yoda.

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Arduino SRL to Distributors: “We’re the REAL Arduino”

Arduino SRL (formerly known as Smart Projects SRL) sent out a letter to its distribution partners yesterday. If you’ve been following along with the Arduino vs Arduino story (we’ve previously published two installments), the content isn’t entirely surprising; it’s essentially a tactical move to reassure their distribution channels that Arduino SRL is the “One True Arduino”. That said, there’s still some new tidbits buried inside. You can skip down to read the full text below, but here’s our take.

The Business History of Arduino

arduino_vs_arduino_tnA quick summary of the legal situation. Arduino LLC was formed in April 2008 by the original five founders to provide a corporate entity behind the Arduino project. Smart Projects SRL, controlled by one of the founders, was tasked with the actual production of the boards. It turns out that Smart Projects had trademarked the Arduino brand in Italy in December 2008, before Arduino LLC got around to filing in April 2009 in the USA. But everyone was friends, right? As long as the licensing fees keep flowing.

Fast-forward to September 2014, when Arduino LLC filed a lawsuit in Italy against Smart Projects claiming that they had infringed LLC’s trademark and that they had recently stopped paying licensing fees on their use of the Arduino name. In October, Smart Projects filed with the USPTO to revoke Arduino LLC’s trademark. In late 2014, Smart Projects changed its company name to Arduino SRL (a “Società a responsabilità limitata” is one form of Italian limited-liability company) and hired a new CEO, [Federico Musto].  Around the same time, Arduino SRL opened up the website arduino.org (different from long-existing arduino.cc) but with nearly identical style. In January 2015, Arduino LLC filed a lawsuit in the US, claiming their right on the Arduino name.

The Gist of it

In short, Arduino LLC has been working on developing the Arduino platform, software, and community while Smart Projects / Arduino SRL was the major official producer of the hardware for most boards. Both are claiming to “be” Arduino, and going after each other in court. So it’s not strange that Arduino SRL would like to try to keep its hold on the distribution channels. Which brings us to their letter to distributors.

March 27 Letter

Arduino-Distributor-Update-0A good portion of the letter reads to be a very carefully worded defense of why Arduino SRL is the true Arduino:

“Arduino Srl (aka Smart Projects Srl), as you know has been from the  beginning of the Arduino® project, the place where the ideas were turned into reality and into a business.”

This is of course strictly true — Smart Projects was certainly the largest manufacturer of Arduino boards. But it sidesteps the issue at hand in the trademark suits: whether they were simply a licensed producer of the boards or whether they’re “Arduino”.

Similarly, in the questions section of the letter, they ask if there are actually two “Arduino” product manufacturers, and answer “not really”. Of course, that’s true. Arduino LLC doesn’t manufacture boards, but exists to license their trademark out to fund development.

The only real news in the letter is that Arduino SRL is replacing its old distribution and logistics company, Magyc Now, with a new one named CC Logistics. Both Magyc and CC Logistics are named as defendants in the US lawsuit filed by Arduino LLC, so it’s unlikely that this change is due to legal fallout.

What this Means

In conclusion, Arduino SRL’s letter to its distributors seems to essentially follow the line of reasoning in their trademark lawsuit in the US against Arduino LLC: since Arduino SRL is doing the manufacturing and using the Arduino name, they’re the true Arduino. Whether or not this will stand up in court, or whether Arduino LLC can make its case that SRL was simply a licensed manufacturer, remains to be seen.

We’ve embedded the contents of the letter after the break. You can also download the original PDF.

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Caption CERN Contest Enters Week 8

The Caption CERN Contest has been going great guns thanks to the community of users over on Hackaday.io. The contest just finished up its seventh week of finding funny captions for images which CERN has in their archives. CERN has decades of great photo documentation of their projects. Unfortunately they don’t know which project each image goes with, or who exactly is in the image. We’re helping them out where we can, by letting CERN know any information we can find on their photos. We’re also having some fun along the way, by giving out a T-Shirt for the best caption each week.

Here are some of the best quotes from week 7

The Funnies:

“Are Socks and Sandals acceptable safety equipment for the Demolition Pit? Yes, because these are Kelvar socks and Zylon sandals being testing. Quite uncomfortable, but these feet will survive a close proximity blast.” – [controlmypad]

“Check it out! One tube for each Ninja Turtle” – [OzQube]

“Before the LHC, hunting for the Higgs was much less glamorous.” – [Tachyon]

The winner of course is [Tim] with the featured image at the top of this article.

week6winrarIf [Tachyon] sounds familiar, that’s because he came up with the best caption back in week 6. Runners up for week 6 were:

“Damn Mario Brothers ….. ‘gotta save the princess’ How about watching where you’re going for once. – [Scott Galvin]

“Here at CERN, you don’t get shafted. You get tubed.” – [Rollyn01]

“Thank god the separator caught him. Another 50 meters, and he’d be nothing but quarks.” – [Curtis Carlsen]

Click past the break to check out this week’s image!

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Hackaday Prize Worldwide: Makers Asylum

Several weeks before we launched the Hackaday Prize 2015 officially, I was asked to set up a local event in Mumbai to help spread the word about the event to local Makers. Since I also help run a local maker space, Makers’ Asylum, we decided to have a Bring-a-Hack evening on March 21st at the Asylum.

It was a packed day at the Asylum. We had an Aeromodeling workshop in the morning. One bunch was building a quad bike from old bicycle frames, and another was doing something similar using PVC pipes. A third bunch was building a work table from a recycled wooden pallet. All this before we even hit lunch hour. I set up my OpenSelfie photobooth, and everyone quickly wolfed down a lunch of Biryani. We started off late in the afternoon with a quick round of introductions.

 

First up was Siji Sunny, who quickly setup his latest hack – an Intel Atom NUC running Ubuntu + a WiFi router and he had media streaming over the local network from his Phone. Something like AirPlay, but using open source software – ffmpeg, ffstream and ffserver.

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