VCF East Wrapup MegaPost

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VCF East, the fabulous retrocomputing festival held in Wall, NJ this last weekend was a blast. We had a great time, dropped t-shirts and stickers to just about anyone who wanted one, took a lot of pictures, and shot a lot of video. Now that it’s over it’s time for the post-mortem, with one insanely long post.

We saw some very cool stuff that merited its own post, and much more that we simply didn’t have time to video. The previous posts from VCF East:

There’s still tons more, including a tour of the retrocomputer museum that hosted VCF East. The biggest talk was from [Dave Haynie], lord of the Amiga giving part three of a multi-year talk on the soap opera that was Commodore International.

Click that ‘Read more…’ to see all this.

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Raspberry Pi Emulates an Amiga 500 Floppy Drive

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[Maurizio] loves using his Amiga 500. His classic piece of hardware has been serving him well for years, except for the floppy drive, which recently gave out on him. No problem for [Maurizio], he just cracked his case open and added a Raspberry Pi as a real-time floppy emulator. [Maurizio] didn’t want to make any permanent changes to his A500 case, and more importantly he wanted to use the Amiga’s original floppy drive interface. The latter placed some rather stringent timing requirements on his design.

The interface hardware is relatively simple. Most of the circuit is dedicated to level shifting from the 5v Amiga 500 to the 3.3V Raspberry Pi. A 74LS06 Hex inverter converts the signals to the open collector outputs the A500 requires. [Maurizio] powered his Raspberry Pi from the floppy power connector of the Amiga. His model A Raspberry Pi works fine, but a model B would pull a bit more power (700ma) than the Amiga floppy power supply is capable of providing (550ma). The user interface side of the equation is simple: Two buttons, one used to switch disks, and one to “Write to SD”. Live disk images are stored in the Raspberry Pi’s ram, so the user needs to hit the “Write to SD” button to store any changes to disk before swapping floppies.

The software is perhaps the most interesting portion of this build. [Maurizio] is emulating a floppy drive in real-time – this means emulating MFM encoding in real time. Calls have to be made with a timing accuracy of 2 microseconds. The Pi’s stock Linux Operating system was just not going to cut it. [Maurizio] coded his drive emulator “bare metal”, directly accessing the Arm Processor on the Raspberry Pi. This gave him access to the entire processor, and allowed him to meet the hard timing requirements of the floppy interface.

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An overkill network adapter for retrocomputers

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If you want to get an old Apple, Commodore 64, Amiga, or any other retrocomputer up on the Internet, this is for you. [Stian] had an Amiga 500 lying around and wanted to put it on a network. The A500 isn’t expandable, so he needed to look at some sort of adapter to put it on a network. The solution came to him in the form of a Raspberry Pi, a null modem cable, and a few bits of software.

To connect his Amiga to his network, [Stian] made a small serial converter board for his Raspi that breaks out the Tx and Rx pins on the Pi to a 9-pin serial port. With the physical connection to the Pi made, the only thing left to do was to get some software for the Amiga, namely AmiTCP and PPP. It’s not exactly a fast network connection, but this build allows [Stian] to connect to WiFi networks with ancient hardware.

One interesting aspect of [Stian]‘s build is the fact it’s completely transferable to other retrocomputers – everything from old S-100 bus computers to classic macs, apples, and pretty much anything else with a serial port that supports PPP. Even with the expense of a Raspberry Pi, it’s much cheaper than absurdly expensive second-hand SCSI to Ethernet controllers and other tomfoolery.

Floppy autoloader takes the pain out of archiving 5000 Amiga disks

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Archiving data from old floppy disks can be a tedious process at best. Poorly labeled disks combined with slow transfer speeds put it high on the list of things we would rather not do, and it turns out that [Dweller] was of the same opinion. With an estimated 5,000 floppies in his collection, he finally decided it was time to clean house.

With no idea of what was stored where, he decided the best way to go about the process was to read all of the disks, archiving everything, saving the sorting process for later. He originally started by building a floppy autoloader out of Lego Mindstorm parts, which looked good on paper, but performed pretty poorly.

He came across an old floppy duplicator on eBay and figured that since the machine was built for handling gobs of disks, that it was the perfect base for his autoloader. He pulled the mechanical bits from the machine, incorporating them into the rig you see above. He swapped out the duplicator’s brains for an Arduino, which allows him to batch copy his disks and save a picture of each label with little effort.

He says that the system works great, making his life a lot easier (and less cluttered!)

Check out the video below to see his floppy autoloader in action.

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Hackaday links: August 22, 2010

EL back-lit keyboard

A couple bucks worth of EL wire gives a nice green glow to [Mark Shasha's] T400 Elite. Hopefully [Jeri Ellsworth] has some time to pull those how-to videos together so that we can make our own EL wire to replicate this hack.

Mini kaboom

This tiny cannon is right out of Night at the Museum. It works just like its much bigger brothers would; fill with powder, insert cannon ball, and light with a fuse. Both the introduction and the follow-up videos document the destruction of various objects using the diminutive weapon. [Thanks Thorsten]

Don’t close that browser

We use Google Chrome quite a bit because it tends to be more responsive when opening massive numbers of tabs while researching featured hacks. But there’s some things we don’t like about it. Lack of built-in PDF support under Ubuntu comes to mind, but a smaller thorn in our side is that closing the last tab will also close the browser window. [Ted Schaefer] got tired of the same thing so he wrote an extension called Last Tab Standing to trap that last browser tab, opening the default window instead of closing the browser.

Amiga demo winner

This 4K demo for the Amiga AGA is the top ranked submission from Breakpoint 2010. [Osgeld] tipped us off about this and made the point that although it’s four times the size of those 1K JavaScript demos, the Amiga code doesn’t get to take advantage a pre-existing framework like Java does enjoy the benefits of running inside of a browser . Is this doing more with less?

Transformers balloon sculptures

If you’re having trouble finding that art piece to fill up your dining room you should consider building transformers out of balloons. The sculpture above is a free-standing Optimus Prime but the artist has also turned out Megatron, Grimlock, and others. [Thanks W01F]

Emulating an Amiga floppy drive

[Retromaster's] Ultimate Floppy Emulator is a wicked display of hardware mastery. It is the culmination of several design stages aimed at replacing an Amiga floppy drive with a modern storage solution. You may be thinking that using an SD card in place of a floppy isn’t all that interesting but this hack does much more. The board, controlled by a PIC32, patches into the Amiga keyboard and monitor. This allows you to bring up an overlay menu for controlling the emulator in order to configure which virtual floppy disk is currently ‘in the drive’. He’s even gone so far as to add a piezo speaker to mimic the sounds the original drive head would make while reading a disk.

[Thanks Gokhan]

Restoring yellowed computer plastics

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Many of our cherished computers and consoles from the past have not stood up well over time. It’s not the hardware as much as the color. From Commodores, Apples, to Super Nintendos, the machines have slowly drifted towards a sickly yellow and even brown. The culprit appears to be the fire retardant chemicals used in the plastics. Amiga enthusiasts have spent the last year perfecting a technique that restores the plastic of these machines to its original splendor. Dubbed ‘Retr0brite‘ it’s a gel made from hydrogen peroxide, xanthan gum, glycerine, and ‘Oxy’ style laundry booster. The results are really impressive. If you do start restoring your own machines, caution should be used since it requires strong concentrations of hydrogen peroxide typically employed in bleaching hair.

[via Waxy]