Punch card data input is so 1890 US Census, right? Maybe not, if your goal is to educate kids about binary numbers and how they can encode characters. In which case, this paper clip and metal tape punch card reader might be just the thing you need.
Built as part of the educational outreach efforts of the MakeICT hackerspace, this project allows kids and adults to play with binary numbers and get some instant feedback. The reader itself is a simple affair of wood and plastic; bent paperclips make contact with a foil tape strip and LEDs show the state of the five input bits. A card is provided to students with spaces for the letters of a word that they want to input, along with a table to translate each letter into a number. Students use a paper punch to encode each character in binary. As the card is pulled through the reader, the letters are spoken by the Pi in turn and the whole word is pronounced at the end.
We’ll no doubt hear quibbles with the decision not to use ASCII for the character set, but we can see the logic in keeping the number of bits to a minimum and not distracting from the learning process. What’s cool about this is that it engages kids on so many levels. They learn about binary numbers, encoding systems, interfacing a computer to the real world, and if they care to delve deeper, they can learn about the code behind everything. It’s a great hook into the hacking arts.
And once the kids learn a thing or two, maybe they can use this punch-card Twitter interface to tweet their new-found knowledge.
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Most people use the Super Mario Maker to, well, create Super Mario game levels. [Robin T] decided to try something a little different: building a working calculator. Several hundred hours later, he created the Cluttered Chaos Calculator, which definitely lives up to the name. What this Super Mario level contains is a 3-bit digital computer which can add two numbers between 0 and 7, all built from the various parts that the game offers. To use it, the player enters two numbers by jumping up in a grid, then they sit back and enjoy the ride as Mario is carried through the process, until it finally spits out the answer in a segment display.
It’s not going to be winning any supercomputer prizes, as it takes about two minutes to add the two digits. But it is still an incredibly impressive build, and shows what a dedicated hacker can do with a few simple tools and a spiny shell or two.
Continue reading “Calculator Built In Super Mario Level. Mamma Mia!”
Need a good excuse to duck out on the family over the holidays and spend a few hours in your shop? [Jens] has just the thing. He built a color-mixing toy that looks great and we’d bet you have everything on-hand necessary to build your own version.
The body of the toy is an old router case. Who doesn’t have a couple might-be-broken-but-I-kept-it-anyway routers sitting around? Spray painted red, it looks fantastic! The plastic shell hosts 6 RGB LEDs, 3 toggle switches, and 2 buttons. [Jens] demonstrates the different features in the demo video below. They include a mode to teach counting in Binary, color mixing using the color knobs, and a few others.
Everything is driven by an Arduino Pro Mini. The lights are APA106 LEDs; a 4-pin through-hole package version of the WS2812 pixels. You could easily substitute these for the surface mount varieties if you just hot glue them to the underside of the holes in the panel. We’d love to see some alternate arrangements for LEDs and a couple more push buttons for DIY Simon Says.
Continue reading “Build Some Entertainment for Young Holiday Guests”
Old mainframe computers are interesting, especially to those of us who weren’t around to see them in action. We sit with old-timers and listen to their stories of the good ol’ days. They tell us about loading paper tape or giving instructions one at a time with toggle switches and LED output indicators. We hang on every word because its interesting to know how we got to this point in the tech-timeline and we appreciate the patience and insanity it must have taken to soldier on through the “good ol’ days”.
[Ken Shirriff] is making those good ol’ days come alive with a series of articles relating to his work with hardware at the Computer History Museum. His latest installment is an article describing the strange implementation of the IBM 1401’s qui-binary arithmetic. Full disclosure: It has not been confirmed that [Ken] is an “old-timer” however his article doesn’t help the argument that he isn’t.
Ken describes in thorough detail how the IBM 1401 — which was first introduced in 1959 — takes a decimal number as an input and operates on it one BCD digit at a time. Before performing the instruction the BCD number is converted to qui-binary. Qui-binary is represented by 7 bits, 5 qui bits and 2 binary bits: 0000000. The qui portion represents the largest even number contained in the BCD value and the binary portion represents a 1 if the BCD value is odd or a 0 for even. For example if the BCD number is 9 then the Q8 bit and the B1 bit are set resulting in: 1000010.
The qui-binary representation makes for easy error checking since only one qui bit should be set and only one binary bit should be set. [Ken] goes on to explain more complex arithmetic and circuitry within the IBM 1401 in his post.
If you aren’t familiar with [Ken], we covered his reverse engineering of the Sinclair Scientific Calculator, his explanation of the TL431, and of course the core memory repair that is part of his Computer History Museum work.
Thanks for the tip [bobomb].
If you want to proclaim to the world that you’re a geek, one good way to go about it is to wear a wristwatch that displays the time in binary. [Jordan] designs embedded systems, and he figured that by building this watch he could not only build up his geek cred but also learn a thing or two about working with PIC microcontrollers for low power applications. It seems he was able to accomplish both of these goals.
The wristwatch runs off of a PIC18F24J11 microcontroller. This chip seemed ideal because it included a built in real-time clock and calendar source. It also included enough pins to drive the LEDs without the need of a shift register. The icing on the cake was a deep sleep mode that would decrease the overall power consumption.
The watch contains three sets of LEDs to display the information. Two green LEDs get toggled back and forth to indicate to the user whether the time or date is being displayed. When the time is being displayed, the green LED toggles on or off each second. The top row of red LEDs displays either the current hour or month. The bottom row of blue LEDs displays the minutes or the day of the month. The PCB silk screen has labels that help the user identify what each LED is for.
The unit is controlled via two push buttons. The three primary modes are time, date, and seconds. “Seconds” mode changes the bottom row of LEDs so they update to show how many seconds have passed in the current minute. [Jordan] went so far as to include a sort of animation in between modes. Whenever the mode is changed, the LED values shift in from the left. Small things like that really take this project a step further than most.
The board includes a header to make it easy to reprogram the PIC. [Jordan] seized an opportunity to make extra use out of this header. By placing the header at the top of the board, and an extra header at the bottom, he was able to use a ribbon cable as the watch band. The cable is not used in normal operation, but it adds that extra bit of geekiness to an already geeky project.
[Jordan] got such a big response from the Internet community about this project that he started selling them online. The only problem is he sold out immediately. Luckily for us, he released all of the source code and schematics on GitHub so we can make our own.
This week, we’re taking the wayback machine to 1940 for an informative, fast-paced look at the teleprinter. At the telegram office’s counter, [Mary] recites her well-wishes to the clerk. He fills out a form, stuffs it into a small canister, and sends it whooshing through a tube down to the instrument room. Here, an operator types up the telegram on a fascinating electro-mechanical device known as a teleprinter, and [Mary]’s congratulatory offering is transmitted over wires to her friend’s local telegraph office hundreds of miles away.
We see that the teleprinter is a transceiver that mechanically converts the operator’s key presses into a 5-digit binary code. For example, ‘y’ = 10101. This code is then transmitted as electrical pulses to teleprinters at distant offices, where they are translated back into alphanumerical data. This film does a fantastic job of explaining the methods by which all of this occurs and does so with an abstracted, color-coded model of the teleprinter’s innards.
The conversion from operator input to binary output is explained first, followed by the mechanical translation back to text on the receiving end. Here, it is typed out on a skinny paper tape by the type wheel shown above. Telegraphists in the receiving offices of this era cut and pasted the tape on a blank telegram in the form of meaningful prose. Finally, it is delivered to its intended recipient by a cheeky lad on a motorbike.
Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: Teleprinter Tour, Teardown”
When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. When life gives you freezing cold temperatures and a yard full of snow, you make binary clocks out of ice. At least that’s what [Dennis] does, anyway.
[Dennis’] clock is made from several cylindrical blocks of ice stacked on top of one another. There are six columns of ice blocks. The blocks were made by pouring water into empty margarine containers and freezing them. Once they were frozen, [Dennis] bore a 5/16″ hole into the bottom of each block to house an LED. Wires ran from the LEDs back into the drainage port of a cooler.
The cooler housed the main electronics. The LED controller board is of [Dennis’] own design. It contains six TLC59282 chips allowing for control of up to 96 LEDs. Each chip has its output lines running to two RJ45 connectors. [Dennis] couldn’t just use one because one of the eight wires in the connector was used as a common power line. The main CPU is an Arduino. It’s hooked up to a DS3234 Real Time Clock in order to keep accurate time. The oscillator monitors temperature in order to keep accurate time even in the dead of winter. Continue reading “Binary Clock Fit For Queen Elsa’s Ice palace”