Peripherals Behind The Iron Curtain

The article Home Computers Behind the Iron Curtain sparked a lot of interest, which made me very happy. Therefore, I decided to introduce more computer curiosities from the Iron Curtain period, especially from the former Czechoslovakia (CSSR).

As I mentioned in the previous article, the lack of spare parts, literature and technology in Czechoslovakia forced geeks to solve it themselves: by improvisation and what we would today call “hacking.”  Hobbyist projects of one person or a small party was eventually taken over by a state-owned enterprise, which then began to manufacture and deliver to stores with some minor modifications. These projects most often involved a variety of peripherals that could only be found in the Czechoslovakia with great difficulty.

Much like the production of components, the production of peripherals was also distributed throughout the eastern block so that each country was specializing in certain types of peripherals. For example, East Germany produced matrix printers, and Bulgaria made floppy disks drives. This meant industrial enterprises had to wait for vital computer parts, because the production in another country was not sufficient to cover even the local requirements, let alone the home user.

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Putting new into the old – a Phonograph upgrade.

[smellsofbikes] recently came into possession of a 1970’s “stereo radio phonograph” cabinet consisting of a vinyl record player, AM and FM radio, and eight track tape player. The radio worked, the turntable didn’t sound too nice, and the tape player didn’t work at all. A new needle fixed the turntable, but the eight-track was in bad shape. So he replaced the tape player with a BeagleBoneBlack which plays streaming internet radio.

Hopefully, this fix is temporary, since he has carefully disconnected the tape player connections in the hope of fixing it soon. The swap out involved a fair bit of engineering, so he’s split his build log into several bite sized chunks. The first step was to set up the BBB, upgrade it and add in all the network and audio related stuff. Audio on the BBB is available only via the HDMI port, but [smellsofbikes] had a USB soundcard handy, so the next step was setting that up. He installed mpg321 – the command line mp3 player and set it up to play music streaming from somafm. Next up was getting some scripts and programs to run automatically during system bootup. The final part of the setup was adding a WiFi router as a repeater connected to the BBB via an ethernet cable. He could have used a tiny WiFi USB dongle, but he already had the router lying around, and he wanted to dedicate USB to audio functions alone, and use the Ethernet port for Internet.

He then worked on identifying the wires that go from the tape player to the amplifier, spliced them, and hooked them up to the audio sound card on the BBB. With this done, the upgrade was more or less complete – the system played streaming music and stations could be switched remotely (via SSH to BBB). [smellsofbikes] reckoned it would be nice to use the existing controls in the phonograph cabinet to control the internet streaming music, instead of controlling it via a remote computer. The cabinet had 4 indicator lamps that indicated which track was being played and a button to switch between tracks. He removed the old indicator panel and put in a fresh PCB, designed in KiCad and cut on his LPKF circuit board plotter. An aluminum knob machined out of hex bar-stock works as the new track change button. At this point, he called it a wrap. The BBB and Asus router go inside the cabinet, and the old (non-functional) tape player is put in place. Quite an interesting build, and we look forward to when he actually gets the tape player working. [Alan Martin], aka “The Most Interesting Engineer In The World” has told him that “it is a moral imperative that you repair the eight-track and get it working”. [Alan] has promised to send [smellsofbikes] a suitcase full of brand new, still in their plastic wrappers, eight-track tapes when he gets it working.

The Cassette MP3 Player

1994 was twenty years ago. There are people eligible to vote who vaguely remember only one Bush presidency. You can have a conversation with someone born after the millennium, and they think a 3.5 inch disk is called a save icon. Starting to feel old? Don’t worry, all the trinkets of your youth have now become shells for MP3 players, the cassette tape included.

[Britt] is aware you can pick up one of these cassette tape MP3 players through the usual channels, but she wanted her build to be a little different. She’s using ar real, vintage cassette tape for starters, and from the outside, looks pretty much like any other cassette tape: there’s a thin strip of tape at the bottom, and the clear plastic window shows the tape is at the beginning of side A.

Outside appearances are just that; inside, there is a small, repurposed MP3 player, with tact switches wired up to the old buttons, actuated by moving the spools back and forth. Yes, you actually play, pause, rewind and fast forward by sticking a pencil in the spool and moving it back and forth. Amazing.

It’s a great build, and considering both cassette tapes and cheap MP3 players can be found in the trash these days, it’s something that should be hard to replicate.

Hackaday Links: March 16, 2014


Tape decks are fertile hacking ground. In this offering from [Erich] the speed of the motor has been turned into a MIDI instrument. Drive it faster and the pitch rises, slower and it falls. There are all kinds of other magnetic tape hacks around here, this tape delay is a classic.

[Dbever] needed a reason to use a big 7-segment display module. He opened up the drill press at his Hackerspace, Pumping Station One, and added a sensor which shows the RPM of the drill on the display. Hackaday was lucky enough to be invited for a tour of the space last fall.

There’s a lot of hype about 3D printing… and rightly so since it’s the radest; which is even better than being “the most rad”. But if you don’t have access to one that shouldn’t stop you. Here’s an example of making robot parts using polymorph instead of 3D printing (or laser cutting) them.

If you’re living in the east-coast metroplex and are unable to travel to Maker Faire Bay Area this Spring you can still get in on some live hacking. Check out MassHack which takes place the same May weekend but in Boston instead of San Fran.

Blimps; not as cool as quadcopters but orders of magnitude less likely to go down in flames (as it were). Draw some inspiration for your own build from silent_runner. The graceful travel of these lighter-than-air-craft make for an interesting camera platform. Here’s a POV video inside of a church, and some shots from the ground while in the woods. [Thanks Oliver]

We try not to pimp crowd-funding campaigns just for the sake of getting them to the goal. But we hope you’ll agree that the Gamebuino we saw a few months back makes a strong argument for backers. Their Indiegogo for the Arduino-compatible handheld gaming rig is over half-way there after just a couple of days.

Hackaday Links: February 8, 2012

Most useless machine

We love ’em, and we hope you do too. Here’s [Phase2plus’] take on the most useless machine.

Scratching like it’s 1989

[Nick] spent three bucks at the thrift store and ended up buying days worth of fun with this cassette player. He hacked it to scratch like vinyl.

3D printed jawbone

This lady now has her own 3D-printed jawbone. We’re not talking about the Bluetooth headset… it’s an actual bone replacement! And yes, the skeleton for the Terminator was 3D printed… we’re that much closer now. [Thanks Steve]

Hexbug superbowl

Why not let robots decide our sports gambling choices? [Eric] let this slew of HexBugs battle it out as an early indicator for who would win the Super Bowl. Seems he has no shortage of the little toys, all of which received an MSP430 upgrade. The firmware actually implements obstacle avoidance, but he makes a poke at the Chicago Bears who seem to have the same mission.

Foil fix for worn out remotes

[Viktor] found an interesting repair tip. If you’ve got remote controlers whose buttons are not working so well anymore you may be able to fix them with tin foil. He uses a single-hole punch to clip out circles which are attached to the underside of the misbehaving button. Worth a try!