Usborne Release More 1980s Computer Books

Children of the 1980s who had an interest in technology were lucky indeed. As well as the first generations of home computers at their disposal they had the expectation to program them, something which the generation that followed had lost.

Traditional children’s publishers enthusiastically embraced the home computer boom, and probably for the only time in history there were books aimed at children covering subjects like machine code, or interfacing to microprocessors.

Kid's books were better when we were young! Usborne(Fair use)
Kid’s books were better when we were young! Usborne(Fair use)

If you are British, the most memorable of these books came from Usborne Publishing. Their format of colourful cartoons and easy to digest layout have made them something of a cult object among the now-grown-up generation who first received them, and Usborne themselves have cleverly exploited their heritage to promote their current offerings by releasing some of them as PDFs. And now, to promote their latest title, “Coding For Beginners Using Python”, they’ve released five more (scroll down to see). Titles are “Practice Your BASIC”, “Better BASIC”, “Computer Controlled Robots”, “Experiments With Your Computer”, and “Keyboards & Computer Music”, which join the fifteen they’ve already released.

Obviously they are heavily based around the microcomputers of the 1980s, but of course for most Hackaday readers that will be their chief attraction. Either way they’re an interesting read, and should you happen to have a few old micros lying around then maybe you could have a go at some of the projects.

If the BASIC listings are a little foreign to you, might we suggest some places to find BASIC information.

Flappy Bird is the New “Does it Run Doom?”

Back in 2014 [Johan] decided to celebrate BASIC’s 30 50 year anniversary by writing his own BASIC interpreter. Now, a few years later, he says he feels he has hit a certain milestone: he can play Flappy Bird, written in his own version of BASIC, running on his own home-built computer, the BASIC-1.

Inside the BASIC-1 is an Atmel XMega128A4, a keyboard from a broken Commodore 64, a joystick port, a serial to TV out adapter, and an SD card adapter for program storage. An attractively laser-cut enclosure with kerf bends houses the keyboard and hardware. The BASIC-1 boots into BASIC just like many of its home computer counterparts from the 80s.

Continue reading “Flappy Bird is the New “Does it Run Doom?””

The Power Glove Ultra Is The Power Glove We Finally Deserve

How do you make the most awesome gaming peripheral ever made even more bad? Give it a 21st-century upgrade! [Alessio Cosenza] calls this mod the Power Glove Ultra, and it works exactly as we imagined it should have all those years ago.

The most noticeable change is the 3D-printed attachment that hosts the Bluetooth module, a combination USB charger and voltage booster, and a Metro Mini(ATmega328) board. On top of a 20-hour battery life, a 9-axis accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass gives the Power Glove Ultra full 360-degree motion tracking and upgrades the functionality of the finger sensors with a custom board and five flex sensor strips with 256 possible positions for far more nuanced input. [Cosenza] has deliberately left the boards and wires exposed for that cyberpunk, retro-future look that is so, so bad.

Continue reading “The Power Glove Ultra Is The Power Glove We Finally Deserve”

Retrotechtacular: The Early Days of CGI

We all know what Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI) is nowadays. It’s almost impossible to get away from it in any television show or movie. It’s gotten so good, that sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between the real world and the computer generated world when they are mixed together on-screen. Of course, it wasn’t always like this. This 1982 clip from BBC’s Tomorrow’s World shows what the wonders of CGI were capable of in a simpler time.

In the earliest days of CGI, digital computers weren’t even really a thing. [John Whitney] was an American animator and is widely considered to be the father of computer animation. In the 1940’s, he and his brother [James] started to experiment with what they called “abstract animation”. They pieced together old analog computers and servos to make their own devices that were capable of controlling the motion of lights and lit objects. While this process may be a far cry from the CGI of today, it is still animation performed by a computer. One of [Whitney’s] best known works is the opening title sequence to [Alfred Hitchcock’s] 1958 film, Vertigo.

Later, in 1973, Westworld become the very first feature film to feature CGI. The film was a science fiction western-thriller about amusement park robots that become evil. The studio wanted footage of the robot’s “computer vision” but they would need an expert to get the job done right. They ultimately hired [John Whitney’s] son, [John Whitney Jr] to lead the project. The process first required color separating each frame of the 70mm film because [John Jr] did not have a color scanner. He then used a computer to digitally modify each image to create what we would now recognize as a “pixelated” effect. The computer processing took approximately eight hours for every ten seconds of footage. Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: The Early Days of CGI”

1980’s Ingenuity Yields Mechanical Intervalometer

DIY Intervalometer

Let’s go back in time to the 1980’s, when shoulder pads were in vogue and the flux capacitor was first invented. New apartment housing was being built in [Vince’s] neighborhood, and he wanted some time-lapse footage of the construction. He had recently inherited an Elmo Super-8mm film camera that featured a remote control port and a speed selector. [Vince] figured he might be able to build his own intervalometer get some time-lapse footage of the construction. He was right.

An intervalometer is a device which counts intervals of time. These are commonly used in photography for taking time-lapse photos. You can configure the intervalometer to take a photo every few seconds, minutes, hours, etc. This photographic technique is great when you want see changes in a process that would normally be very subtle to the human eye. In this case, construction.

[Vince] started out by building his own remote control switch for the camera. A simple paddle-style momentary micro switch worked perfectly. After configuring the camera speed setting to “1”, he found that by pressing the remote button he could capture one single frame. Now all he needed was a way to press the button automatically every so often.

Being mechanically minded, [Vince] opted to build a mechanical solution rather than an electronic circuit. He first purchased a grandfather clock mechanism that had the biggest motor he could find. He then purchased a flange that allowed him to mount a custom-made wooden disk to the end of the minute hand’s axle. This resulted in a wheel that would spin exactly once per hour.

He then screwed 15 wood screws around the edge of the wheel, placed exactly 24 degrees apart. The custom paddle switch and motor assembly were mounted to each other in such a way that the wood screws would press the micro switch as they went by. The end result was a device that would automatically press the micro switch 15 times per hour. Continue reading “1980’s Ingenuity Yields Mechanical Intervalometer”