The Cambridge Z88 Lives! (As A USB Keyboard)

What did [Clive Sinclair] do next? After his line of home computers including the iconic ZX Spectrum hit the buffers and was sold to Amstrad, that is. No longer in the home computer business, he released a portable computer for the business market. The Cambridge Z88 had a Z80 at its heart, a decent keyboard, a text-only LCD display, and ran for an impressively long time on a set of AA alkaline cells. It made a handy portable word-processor, or a serial terminal thanks to its rare-for-the-time RS232 port. And it’s that port that [Spencer Owen] made use of his Z88 in a modern setting, using it as a USB keyboard.

It’s a few years old, so he used a Minimus AVR microcontroller board to provide a serial-to-USB HID keyboard interface, and to keep things tidy he’s made a poor man’s enclosure for it using Sugru. It’s not quite an amazing hardware hack, but we’re featuring it simply for its use of a Z88. Retro computers used as keyboards are a common theme, but a Z88 is a particularly eclectic choice.

If you’re not British you may only know the name [Sinclair] through Brits on the Internet waxing lyrical about their ZX Spectrum computers, but in fact the man behind them is a serial electronics entrepreneur whose career has continued since the 1960s and has touched fields as diverse as portable television and bicycles aside from the computers he is best known for. Often his products took technology to the limit of practicality, but they were and continue to be the ones to watch. If [Clive Sinclair] is working in a field his products may not always hit the right note when released, but you can guarantee that you’ll be buying the same thing from the big boys within a few years. The Z88 is a classic Sinclair product, a little before its time in 1988 and pushing the technology a little too far, but delivering a truly portable and capable computer with a meaningful battery life a couple of decades before you’d find the same attributes from all but a few other niche manufacturers.

Not had enough USB HID devices? How about a Morse key? And if [Spencer] rings a bell, he’s the originator of the RC2014 retrocomputer we reviewed last year.

Power Through a Hurricane

When living in an area that is prone to natural disasters, it’s helpful to keep something on hand for backup power. While a large number of people chose to use generators, they are often unreliable (or poorly maintained), noisy, produce dangerous carbon monoxide, or run on a fuel supply that might not be available indefinitely. For truly reliable backup power, [Jay] has turned to a battery bank to ride through multi-day power outages.

While the setup doesn’t run his whole house, it isn’t intended to. One of the most critical things to power is the refrigerator, so this build focuses on keeping all of his food properly stored through the power outage. During the days following Hurricane Irma, the system could run the refrigerator for 10-11 hours, and the thermal insulation could keep everything cold or frozen overnight. Rather than using solar panels to charge the batteries, the system instead gets energy from the massive battery of his electric vehicle. [Jay] was out of power for 64 hours, and this system worked for him (and at a better cost) than a generator would have.

With the impact of major storms on many areas this year, we’ve been seeing a lot of interesting ways that people deal with living in areas impacted by these disasters. Besides riding through power outages, we’ve also seen the AARL step in to help, and also taken a look at how robust building codes in these areas help mitigate property damage in the first place.


Dumbo Never Forgets to Fill Your Glass

What do you get if you have a 3D printer, some booze (or any beverage), a pump, and an Arduino? If you are [RobotGeek] you wind up with an elephant that will pour you a shot on demand. The project was inspired by the ShotBot, but we have to admit the elephant sells it.

Conceptually, the device is pretty simple. A pump and a light sensor do all the real work. When you cover the sensor with a shot glass, the pump dispenses liquid. What we found of interest, though, was the process of starting with an elephant model and then modifying it for the purpose at hand. In addition to making it larger, they also cut off the trunk and replaced it with a spout. The steps show Fusion 360, but you could apply the same concepts using your choice of CAD programs.

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Who Owns Arduino?

Who owns Arduino? We don’t mean metaphorically — we’d say that’s the community of users and developers who’ve all contributed to this amazing hardware/software ecosystem. We mean literally. Whose chips are on the table? Whose money talks? It looks like ARM could have a stake!

The Arduino vs Arduino saga “ended” just under a year ago with an out-of-court settlement that created a private holding company part-owned by both parties in the prior dispute over the trademark. And then, [Banzi] and the original founders bought out [Musto]’s shares and took over. That much is known fact.

The murky thing about privately held companies and out-of-court settlements is that all of the details remain private, so we can only guess from outside. We can speculate, however, that buying out half of the Arduino AG wasn’t cheap, and that even pooling all of their resources together, the original founders just didn’t have the scratch to buy [Musto] out. Or as the Arduino website puts it, “In order to make [t]his a reality, we needed a partner that would provide us with the resources to regain full ownership of Arduino as a company… and Arm graciously agreed to support us to complete the operation.” That, and the rest of the Arduino blog post, sure looks like ARM provided some funds to buy back Arduino.

We reached out to [Massimo Banzi] for clarification and he replied:

“Hi arm did not buy nor invest in arduino. The founders + Fabio Violante still own the company. As I wrote in the blog post we are still independent, open source and cross platform.”

We frankly can’t make sense of these conflicting statements, at least regarding whether ARM did or didn’t contribute monetary resources to the deal. ARM has no press release on the deal as we write this. Continue reading “Who Owns Arduino?”

Hackaday Prize Entry: Clunke Button Powers Accessibility

An AT button is a device that helps people with all kinds of physical disabilities to interact with their world. There isn’t much to them,  just a switch wired up to a 3.5mm mono plug or jack, but the switch is installed in a large button housing that’s easy to operate.

These buttons can be used with any appliance or toy that can be adapted for mono input. They’re a simple piece of technology that makes a world of difference, but for some reason, they cost around $65 each. Because of this, people make their own simple switches, but these aren’t usually sturdy or long-lasting. [Christopher] thinks they should cost way less than that and set out to make buttons for about $10 in materials. Aside from the printed files, all you really need to make a Clunke button is one Cherry MX in your favorite shade of blue, blue, or blue, and either a 3.5mm mono jack or plug, depending on preference.

[Christopher] and his team devised the Clunke Button in collaboration with the local United Cerebral Palsy chapter as part of their senior design project. When it came time to present the project, they wanted to find a way to be able to pass a Clunke button around the audience and have it do something when pressed. They made an interactive ticker by adding an ESP-01 and a battery. [Christopher] has since taken over the project and continues to improve the design as he progresses through the Prize finals. Code for the ticker is available on GitHub, and the button STL files are on Thingiverse.

A 3D Printer Alone Doesn’t Make A Hackspace

There was a time when hackspaces were few and far between — legendary environments that you’d read about online, where amazing projects were made by people who had come together to form communities of creative technology enthusiasts. Of course, they were always in places far afield, California, or Germany, never in provincial England where I call home. Eventually our movement spread its tentacles into the county towns, and several years later with a stint as a hackspace director behind me I sense that it is on the cusp of escaping its underground roots. Every month seems to bring news of yet another organisation wanting to open a makerspace of their own, be they universities, co-working spaces, enterprise centres, libraries, or even banks. It’s evident that our movement has attracted an aura of edginess when it comes to getting things done, and that these entities are anxious to secure a little piece of that for themselves.

So within a few miles of most hackspaces will be several places where you can find a 3D printer, maybe a vinyl cutter, a CAD workstation, and a soldering iron. There will be a fancy hipster coffee machine and some futuristic furniture, and probably some kind of enclosed meeting pod of dubious design. All of which can no doubt be viewed through a glass wall, so that people in suits can watch all that raw #innovation sizzling away.

Viewed from within the movement, it’s easy to see all this activity on the edges of the world of making as a threat. A struggling community organisation survives on its wits alone, it doesn’t have a multi-million pound (or dollar) university or investor behind it. Its tools are hard-won and patched up, and its coffee machine is a battered electric kettle and a jar of supermarket instant coffee. When it comes to gleaming innovation spaces, a group of assorted makers simply can’t compete. Surely the arrival of these spaces will tempt members away, and the hackspace will inevitably wither, and die.

It’s worth taking a step back at this point, and considering what makes a hackspace. Specifically, what makes a good hackspace.

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Learn FPGA Programming from the 1940s

We often think that not enough people are building things with FPGAs. We also love the retrotechtacular posts on old computer hardware. So it was hard to pass up [karlwoodward’s] post about the Chip Hack EDSAC Challenge — part of the 2017 Wuthering Bytes festival.

You might recognize EDSAC as what was arguably the first operational computer if you define a computer as what we think of today as a computer. [Maurice Wilkes] and his team invented a lot of things we take for granted today including subroutines (Wheeler jumps named after a graduate student).

The point to the EDSAC challenge was to expose people to creating designs with FPGAs, particularly using the Verilog hardware description language (HDL). If you want to follow along or run your own Chip Hack, the materials are available on the Web. You can see an FPGA driving a tape punch to create souvenir tapes in the video, below.

Some of the exercises are pretty simple and that’s perfect if you are starting out. The challenge uses a board with a Lattice ice40 FPGA and the open source toolchain for Lattice we’ve covered before. In fact, we’ve even done our own tutorials on the same basic device (but not the same board). Our final project generated PWM, not paper tape.

For the record, EDSAC was awesome. The execution unit was serial and processed bits that marched in one at a time over a mercury delay line. There is quite a bit of documentation and even some simulators, so if you ever wanted to get your hands into an old computer, this one isn’t a bad one to try.

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