Inside The Clapper

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Hackaday readers above a certain age will probably remember the fabulously faddish products developed by Joseph Enterprises. These odd gadgets included the Ove’ Glove, VCR Co-Pilot, the Creosote Sweeping Log, and Chia Pet (Cha-Cha-Cha-Chia) as mainstays of late night commercials, but none were as popular as The Clapper, everyone’s favorite sound-activated switch from the 1980s. [Richard] put up a great virtual teardown of The Clapper, that provides a lot of insight into how this magic relay box actually works, along with some historical context for the world The Clapper was introduced to.

Sound activated switches are nothing new, but the way The Clapper did it was just slightly brilliant. Instead of listening to every sound, the mic inside the magic box sends everything through a series of filters to come up with a very narrow bandpass filter centered around 2500 Hz. This trigger is analyzed by a SGS Thompson ST6210 microcontroller ( 4MHz, ~1kB ROM, 64 bytes of RAM, and 12 I/O pins ) to listen for two repeating triggers  within 200 milliseconds. The entire system – including the source code for the MCU – can be seen in the official patent, US5493618.

The Clapper sold many millions of units at a time when a lot of homes were assuredly in a pre-microelectronics world. Yes, in 1986, a lot of TVs had microcontrollers and maybe a washer/dryer combo may have had a few thousand transistors between them. Other than that, The Clapper was many household’s introduction to the ubiquitous computing power we see today, and all with less capability than an Arduino.

Hackaday Retro Roundup: Ultraportables edition

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A few months ago, we rolled out an updated Hackaday, a badly needed new layout replacing the HTML and CSS that had remained unchanged since 2004. Of course a few people didn’t like change and complained about slow load times. We’ve experienced a slightly slower load time as well, so we’ll just wait until the year 2020 when our computers are many times faster and our Internet is provided by Google Fiber. Until then, our pokey battlestations and vintage computers can still check out a few classic hacks on our retro site. Here’s a few retro successes – Hackaday readers who pulled out their old tech and loaded up the retro site – that have come in over the past weeks and months.

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Making a nostalgic Apple mouse wireless

If you’ve got an old mouse sitting around that has that perfect retro look why not start using it again? We’d bet there’s just enough room in there to turn the input device wireless.

The hack does away with everything but the case. The guts from a brand new wireless laser mouse are used as replacements. For the most part this is a simple process of making room for the new board and laying it in place. It involves cutting off a few plastic case nubs, enlarging the hole on the bottom so that the laser has a clear line of sight to the desktop, and hot gluing the thing in place. The button cover had a bit of plastic glued in place so that it lines up correctly with the replacement mouse’s switch.

The only thing that didn’t work out well is the battery situation. The AA cell that the mouse needs was too big for the retrofit so it was swapped with an AAA. These have a lower capacity which means more frequent replacement.

[via Make]

Adding Compact Flash to an old sequencer

[Shoji] has a beloved sequencer that went out of production ten years ago. Unfortunately the storage options are also 10 year out-of-date as SCSI is the stock option for storing his loops. Using a series of adapters he added Compact Flash storage to his Akai MPC-2000 Classic. The board has a connector for 25-pin SCSI which he wired to a 25-pin to 50-pin SCSI adapter. From there he connects a SCSI to IDE board, and then an IDE to CF. Subsequent versions of the Akai Classic have floppy drives in the front left corner so he used this method to mount he CF slot. Now he’s got plenty of storage with very little change to the appearance of the looper.

Just the right controller for any game

[Patrice] hacked all of his classic controllers for use when playing games on an emulator. He made the base station starting with a USB gaming controller. From there he soldered wires connecting the PCB pads for all of the buttons to the pins of a d-sub connector. The same is done on the classic controller, allowing him to switch them out at will. If you do the wiring correctly you only need to configure your emulator buttons once. This is a lot easier than trying to find and use classic controller connectors but you do have to alter that vintage hardware.

S-video from an Atari 2600

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[Ben Heck] posted this writeup about getting S-Video/composite out of an Atari 2600. This is actually the hack of [Longhorn Engineer], who showed it to [Ben] at a recent event. If any of you have tried to play these classics on a modern TV you may have found it to be quite difficult. If you manage to get it physically connected, through adapters and such, you may still have video issues. This alleviates that issue completely. After you solder this in, your Atari has native composite/S-video. As you can see in the video after the break, it seems to work pretty well.

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PCjr 25 years later

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[Trixter], connoisseur of old hardware, is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the PCjr. IBM’s PCjr was killed only 18th months after being revealed and [Trixter] lays out exactly why. Overall, it was designed to be cheap to produce and sell, but many of the choices made it difficult to use. They used the CPU instead of DMA for floppy access; cheaper to make, but you couldn’t do much during disk reads because of it. The video memory scheme left little room for programs that could take advantage of it. It also had compatibility issues that made IBM clones a more attractive choice. [Trixter] ends by pointing out that some good came of it when the Tandy 1000 copyied the good ideas while leaving out the restrictive memory issues. He recommends Mike’s PCjr Page for more information on this classic machine.