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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Putting A Mac Plus On The Internet

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[Jeff] has a Mac Plus, an 8 MHz computer with 4 MB of RAM and a 512×342 1-bit screen. It was his first ‘real’ computer, and like those guys that take Model A Fords out for a Sunday drive, [Jeff] decided to put this old box on the Internet.

A Plus has a few options to get on the Internet. The best, but most expensive, is a SCSI to Ethernet computer. For a somewhat slower connections, a PowerPC mac can be used as an Ethernet to Localtalk (the Macintosh serial port networking protocol) bridge. Lacking either of those pieces of hardware, [Jeff] decided to use a Raspberry Pi. The Pi does the heavy lifting, and a handful of serial adapters and voltage converters turns the Pi into something that can talk to the Plus’ serial port.

Even with the MacTCP stack and the MacWeb browser, there are still some things this ancient computer couldn’t do. HTTPS hadn’t been invented until 1994, cookies are just a pain, and CSS is right out. This means modern websites (except, of course, the Hackaday retro edition) simply won’t render properly. To fix this issue, [Jeff]‘s friend [Tyler] came up with a Python script using Requests, Beautiful Soup, and Flask to strip out all the Web 2.0 cruft, handle the cookies, and to get rid of SSL.

The end result is a Mac Plus with 4 Megabytes of RAM on the Internet, able to pull up Wikipedia and Hacker News. It isn’t fast by any means – in the video below, it takes about five minutes to pull up the front page of Hacker News – but it is a 27-year-old computer on the Internet.

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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.

Basking in the vintage glory of InfoAge

Last weekend’s Maker Faire wasn’t only about the latest and greatest. Some of the groups there brought up the latest and greatest from earlier eras. InfoAge is a historical science and technology learning center based out of the former Camp Evans in Wall, New Jersey, and they really know how to put on a show using old technology.

I made it to two booths at Maker Faire claimed by members or associates of InfoAge. First up is the booth from MARCH, the Mid-Atlantic Retro Computing Hobbyists. They’ve got a PDP-8, a PDP-11/20, a few VAXxen, IBM mainframes, entire kilobytes of core memory, and enough C64s, TRS-80s, Commodore PETs, teletypes, and punch cards to get to the moon several times over.

The feature of MARCH’s booth was a nearly 100% accurate Apple I reproduction. Yes, the same computer built by hand by [the Steves] who later went on to found Apple Computers. In the video (above, and after the break), a MARCH member demonstrates booting BASIC from a cassette interface with the help of an iPod and typing in a simple program.

Next up are the guys from the radio technology museum at InfoAge. They decided to celebrate the 100th anniversary of [Edwin Armstrong]‘s invention of the regenerative radio receiver.

The regenerative radio receiver is an extremely simple device; it can be built out of baling wire and some variants use only one tube. In the video, [Al] shows off his recreation of a regenerative receiver with fancy olde tymie components that include a variable capacitor and a B cell battery (it’s a recreation using a bunch of 9 Volts, but yes, B batteries do exist).

It goes without saying that InfoAge is really cool, and certainly worth the visit if you’re ever in the area. Bonus: it’s only 20 miles away from where [Penzias] and [Wilson] earned their Nobel Prize for discovering the Big Bang.

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Cray-inspired PC case

35 years following its introduction, and despite fewer than 100 systems deployed, the Cray-1 remains one of the most recognizable computers in history; it is a timeless icon of pure supercomputer badassery. Custom case builder [Daryl Brach] pays homage to this classic with his third-scale model housing two modern PC motherboards.

In an interesting reversal, the base of the model — the upholstered bench that housed cooling and power distribution for the original Cray — holds the PC motherboards and storage, while the upper section is currently just for show but may house a water cooling rig in the future. The paint scheme is inspired by the Cray-1 on display at the Smithsonian, though Daryl’s model does make a few modern concessions such as LED lighting. Hinged panels in the base flip open to access the systems’ optical drives (perhaps to watch Tron on DVD).

The Cray-1 ran at 80 MHz and could house up to eight megabytes of memory…just about unfathomable performance in its day. It’s not clear what processors [Daryl] chose to outfit his system with, but regardless, even an entry-level modern PC doesn’t just run circles around its progenitor, it runs ray-traced glass spheres around it. Technology marches on, but good design never goes out of style.