Hackaday Retro Edition: Androids And Amigas

Tiny ARM boards are everywhere, and if the Raspberry Pi is any indication, they’re mostly used for emulating old consoles and computers. With only a $30 single board computer, it’s easy to emulate an SNES, Apple II, C64, or any of the other piece of classic 80s or 90s hardware.

Understandably, there will eventually be a few projects and products that hope to capitalize on this retro trend. Few of them will go through the rigamarole of actually licensing the relevant IP. The Armiga is one of these projects. It’s an emulated Amiga 500 with 1MB of RAM packaged in what looks like a 3.5″ external floppy drive.

Inside this tiny little box is a dual core ARM for Amiga emulation. For the most part, this is just a basic Android system, but the real selling point of this system is the Armiga Project software. This is a full emulator and game browser that also includes a legal (!) copy of Kickstart 1.3. The ‘upscale’ version of the Armiga also includes a floppy disk controller and drive, should you ever want to dump all those old floppies sitting around in your attic.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about the Armiga. It was a crowdfunding campaign a year ago that was unsuccessful for reasons we can’t comprehend. The creators of the Armiga have forged on, and now these tiny little boxes of guru meditation have started shipping. The Beta units have sold out and there’s a waiting list for more.

Retro Edition: The LAN Before Time

Ethernet has been around since the mid-70s, but if you think it was always Cat5 and 10BaseT, you’d be sorely mistaken. The first ethernet was built with coaxial cable, vampire taps, AUI adapters, and a whole bunch of other network hardware that will make wizened networking veterans cringe. [Matt] had heard about these weird physical layers back when he started building networks in 1997, but he had never seen one. Now it’s an ancient and forgotten footnote in the history of computer networking. Is it possible to build a Thicknet in this modern era? It turns out, yes, it’s possible. It’s not easy, though.

The network [Matt] is building is a true 10Base5, or Thicknet, network. The backbone of this network is a coaxial cable 9.5mm in diameter. [Matt] discovered that while the common belief that Thicknet used RG-8/U cable. This appears to be incorrect, as the connectors for this cable – vampire taps that pierced the insulation and shield of the cable – are designed for cable manufactured by Belden, part number 9880.

[Matt] assembled the cable, vampire taps, AUI cables, and even found a few ISA NICs that would still work with a reasonably modern computer. He even went so far as to build a USB Ethernet adapter with an AUI interface. This impossibly retro device uses a standard USB to 10BaseT Ethernet adapter, with a chip designed to convert 10BaseT to AUI hacked onto a circuit board. That in itself is an incredible piece of engineering, with a handful of power supplies to get the correct 2.5, 3.3, 5, and 12 Volts to the right places.

As far as exercises in computing history go, [Matt] is at the top of his game. In the process of building it, he also figured out why no one uses Thicknet anymore; once it’s in place, you can’t change it, the cable is big, bulky, and the connectors are terrible. Still, it’s an amazing example of how far we’ve come.

Hackaday Retro Edition: The RadioShack Roomba

A few years ago, Roombas — everyone’s favorite robotic trash can — graced the pages of Hackaday with reverence. There was nothing this little robot couldn’t do, save for going up stairs. Roomba hacks have died off since then, and these little trash cans have been swallowed up by dumpsters. It’s all very sad, really.

[Mike] has had one of these Roombas around for a while, sitting in a closet, waiting for someone to make use of it. He recently dug it out, looked it over, and watched the LEDs light up after troubleshooting a problem with the batteries. Then the problem was how to control it.

He had wanted to connect it to a VIC-20, but the handy serial port on the Roomba only accepted baud rates between 19.2k and 57.6k. The VIC-20, with the ancient 6522 VIA, could only bitbang a serial port up to 2400bps. Then the idea hit him. In his closet of ancient technology, [Mike] had a Tandy 102, a slightly upgraded TRS-80 Model 100 that could easily drive a serial port at 19.2k.

When it comes to a mobile retro robotics platform, [Mike] couldn’t have found a better computer. The Tandy 102 has a display, a BASIC interpreter, enough RAM to run a Roomba, and is powered by a few AA batteries. He did need a little bit of level conversion for the serial port, but a MAX232 took care of that easily.

With everything put together, [Mike] had a robot and a computer that is at least as good as the old Heathkit HERO robot. You can check out a video of the Tandy bot below.

Continue reading “Hackaday Retro Edition: The RadioShack Roomba”

Hackaday Retro Edition: TRS Wiki

1977 was a special year for computing history; this year saw the release of the 8085 following the release of the Z80 a year before. Three companies would launch their first true production computers in 1977: Apple released the Apple II, Commodore the PET 2001, and Tandy / Radio Shack the TRS-80 Model I. These were all incredibly limited machines, but at least one of them can still be used to browse Wikipedia.

[Pete]’s TRSWiki is a Wikipedia client for the TRS-80 Model I that is able to look up millions of articles in only uppercase characters, and low resolution (128×48) graphics. It’s doing this over Ethernet with a very cool Model I System Expander (MISE) that brings the lowly Trash-80 into the modern era.

The MISE is capable of booting from CF cards, driving an SVGA display and connecting to 10/100 Ethernet. Connecting to the Internet over Ethernet is one thing, but requesting and loading a web page is another thing entirely. There’s not much chance of large images or gigantic walls of text fitting in the TRS-80’s RAM, so [Pete] is using a proxy server on an Amazon Web Services box. This proxy is written in Java, but the code running on the TRS-80 is written entirely in Z80 assembly; not bad for [Pete]’s first project in Z80 assembly.


vt100normal The Hackaday Retro Edition is our celebration of old computers doing something modern, in most cases loading the old, no CSS or Javascript version of our site.

If you have an old computer you’d like featured, just load up the retro site, snap some pictures, have them developed, and send them in.

Hackaday Links: March 15, 2015

[Fran] and [Bil] are back again for the first Dinosaur Den of 2015. Highlights of this edition include a surprisingly young tri-power supply and Nixie display cards from 1965.

The game of Go has been turned into a sequencer. That’s a project from [Kristian Gohlke] and [Michael Hlatky]. It’s an industrial camera placed above a Go board, and some computer vision algorithms to detect stones on the board. There’s a 16×16 section to create drum patterns (black stones) or synth notes (white stones). Below that there’s a 16×3 grid for the bass notes, two 3×8 grids to control filters and effects, and a 3×3 grid to play percussive loops.

HOW TO REMOVE A GPS ANKLE MONITOR. We had to get the SEO right on this one. Here’s how you can ditch your probation officer for a weekend. Great news: his parents used their house for bail, now an entire family is homeless. Lesson learned: use a burner phone and call forwarding until you’re out of the country.

The Computer History Museum is doing a great series of interviews, and this one is with [Bob Dobkin], former director at National Semiconductor, and co-founder of Linear. Analog design isn’t wizardry, you just need a decade of experience.

[Simon] over at the Hack42 hackerspace finally found the time to repair their old Holborn 9120 terminal – the most space-age terminal ever built. The keyboard is an old Keytronic unit, and the foam underneath the keys had turned to dust. This was replaced with an Ikea mousepad, foam tape, and the foil from a discarded bag of chips. It worked, and they got their terminal to load our retro edition:

terminal

If you have some old hardware, try to point it at our retro site, take a picture (or post a writeup) and send it on in.

Hackaday Retro Edition: A New Commodore 64 Case

Some time in the 80s, the plastic injection molds for the Commodore 64C, the Commodore 128, and the Plus/4 were shipped from somewhere in Asia to the great Commodore Mother Brain in West Chester, Pennsylvania. These molds had already produced a million or two cases, but there were some issues with production – too much waste, or something like that. A mechanical engineer took a look at the molds, sent out some recommendations, and moved the 2500 pound molds to a corner of the building.

For some time after a gray day in April, 1994 these molds sat in a West Chester, Pennsylvania warehouse until they were sold off. They made their way to a plastics manufacturer around Dallas, Texas where they sat for twenty years. All things must pass, sometimes several times, and this plastics manufacturer closed down, contacted an auctioneer, and began to sell off some of their equipment.

The hero of our story, [Dallas Moore], owns a small business, buying and selling everything from Barbie dolls to antiques. He found an ad for an auction at a plastics manufacturing plant in the newspaper, and figuring he could find something interesting, headed out to the auction preview.

The auctioneer at this liquidation sale asked [Dallas] what he did, and mentioned there was something pretty cool tucked away in a warehouse full of hardened steel molds. Something about molds for old computers. These were the molds for the Commodore 64C, Commodore 128, and the Commodore Plus/4. A literal crucible of computing history, stacked on a pallet and up for sale.

The auctioneer said one of his friends was interested in the molds, and thought they would make a neat coffee table. Something about this struck [Dallas] the wrong way and for the entire drive home he thought about someone taking history and turning it in to a piece of furniture. He decided to buy these molds and lugged the three 2500 pound pieces of hardened steel to his shop. Not wanting to let a good piece of history go to waste, he contacted another plastics manufacturer, planned a run of a thousand or so Commodore 64C cases in red, white, and blue. [Dallas] is funding the whole production run through Kickstarter.

To me, this is one of the greatest retrocomputing successes in recent memory. There will always be someone putting SD cards in old computers, getting them on the Internet (and especially pointed towards our retro edition), and cloning complete systems in FPGAs. This, though, is a clear example of someone recognizing the historical importance of several thousand pounds of steel, realizing there’s a market out there, and doing the leg work to remanufacture these pieces of history.

I put in my $45 for a red one, and I tipped off [Bil Herd], designer of the C128 and Plus/4, to this Kickstarter. He’s been talking with [Dallas], there I’m sure he’ll chime in on the comments with some retellings of Commodore battle stories.

If it arrives in time, I’ll be bringing my limited-edition red 64C case to the Vintage Computer Festival in Wall, NJ April 17-19. That’s a plug for the event. If you’re in the area, you should come.

EDIT: [Dallas] has a different story of where the molds came from.

Retro Edition: VCF East, April 17 – 19

Around this time last year we were planning our trip to the Vintage Computer Festival East in Wall, NJ. This year we’re doing it all over again, and according to the announcements coming out of the planning committee, it’s going to be a very, very cool event.

This year marks fifty years since the release of the PDP-8, regarded as the first commercially successful computer ever. The historic Straight-8 from the infamous RESISTORS has been restored over the past few months, and it’s going to be turned on again for the festival. There will also be a half a dozen other PDP-8s at the event, but these are 8/M, 8/E, and 8/L models and not constructed completely out of discrete diode transistor logic.

Keynote speakers include [Wesley Clark], designer of the LINC computer and [Bob Frankston], co-creator of Visicalc. There will, of course, be a ton of educational and historical sessions on Friday. Our own [Bil Herd] will be there talking about vintage microcomputer architectures along with a dozen other fascinating people talking about really interesting stuff

As far as exhibits go, there’s literally everything you could imagine when it comes to retro computers. There will of course be a fully restored and functional PDP Straight 8, along with PDP-11s, Apple Newtons, Ataris, Network gaming on C64s. Hollerith cards, VisiCalc, mainframes, teletypes, video toasters, an RTTY amateur radio station (KC1CKV), a flea market/consignment thing, and all sorts of retro goodies. Oh, a Fairlight CMI will also be there. I don’t know how they got that one.

More info for VCF East at the official site, Facebook, and Twitter. If you’re in the area and want to exhibit something really, really cool, there’s still room for more. If you want a better feel for what will be going down at VCF East, check out our megapost wrapup from last year.

Of course if New Jersey isn’t your thing and you live a few blocks down from Peachtree Avenue, Lane, or Street, VCF Southeast 3.0 will be held in Roswell, Georgia the first weekend in May.