TRS-80 Model 100 Goes Cellular

There are a few old products that have rabid fan bases, and the TRS-80 Model 100 is one of those. Depending on your point of view it’s either a small laptop or a large organizer, but in 1983 it was the ultimate computer on the go. The $1100 version had a whopping 8K of memory and the LCD screen showed 8 lines of 40 characters in glorious monochrome. One cool feature was the built-in 300 baud phone modem, which [Trammell Hudson] wanted to try, but he doesn’t have a landline. He tried a VOiP phone, but it wouldn’t wedge into the acoustic couplers well enough. Then he decided to go cellular.

He had already hooked up an old ITT 500 series dial phone to an Adafruit Fona ceullar board. He even has Teensy software to decode the dial, drive the dial tone and otherwise make the phone work. This time he hooked a handset up through a headset jack.

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Hack Your Own Computer Science Degree

We ran across something interesting on GitHub of all places. The “Open Source Society University” has a list of resources to use if you want to teach yourself computer science for free. We found it interesting because there are so many resources available it can be hard to pick and choose. Of course, you can always pick a track from one school, but it was interesting to see what [Eric Douglas] and contributors thought would be a good foundation.

If you dig down, there are really a few potential benefits from going to college. One is you might learn something — although we’ve found that isn’t always a given, surprisingly. The second is you can get a piece of paper to frame that impresses most people, especially those that want to hire you but can’t determine if you know what you are talking about or not. Lastly, if you go to the right school you can meet people that might be useful to know in the future for different reasons.

The Internet has really changed all of those things, you can network pretty easily these days without a class ring, and there are lots of ways to earn accredited diplomas online. If you are interested in what we think is the most important part — the education — there are many options for that too.

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The Grooviest Random Number Generator Ever

Cloudflare is one of those Internet companies you use all the time, but don’t usually know it. Big websites you visit use Cloudflare to shore up their defenses against denial of service attacks. The company needed some truly random numbers for its security solutions, so it turned to some groovy old tech: lava lamps. In their office is a wall of 100 lava lamps monitored by cameras. The reaction of the lamps is unpredictable, and this allows them to generate really random numbers. [Joshua], a Cloudflare employee, talks about the technical details of the system in a recent blog post.

You might think this is a new and novel idea, but it turns out the LavaRnd (or maybe it is LavaRand — there’s some dispute if you read the comments below) system has been around for a while. In fact, we covered it way back in 2005. Silicon Graphics patented the system in 1996.

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Touch-A-Sketch Gives an Old Toy a New Twist

After nearly 60 years and a lot of stairs and squares, there is finally an easier way to draw on an Etch A Sketch®. For their final project in embedded microcontroller class, [Serena, Francis, and Alejandro] implemented a motor-driven solution that takes input from a touch screen.

Curves are a breeze to draw with a stylus instead of joysticks, but it’s still a 2-D plotter and must be treated as such. The Touch-A-Sketch system relies on the toy’s stylus starting in the lower left hand corner, so all masterpieces must begin at (0,0) on the knobs and the touch screen.

The BOM for this project is minimal. A PIC32 collects the input coordinates from the touch screen and sends them to a pair of stepper motors attached to the toy’s knobs. Each motor is driven by a Darlington array that quickly required a homemade heat sink, so there’s even a hack within the hack. The team was unable to source couplers that could deal with the discrepancy between the motor and knob shaft sizes, so they ended up mounting the motors in a small plywood table and attaching them to the stock knobs with Velcro. This worked out for the better, since the Etch A Sketch® screen still has to be reset the old-fashioned way.

They also considered using belts to drive the knobs like this clock we saw a few years ago, but they wanted to circumvent slippage. Pour another glass of your aunt’s high-octane eggnog and watch Touch-A-Sketch draw something festive after the break.

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There Once Was an IC Dedicated to Blinking an LED

Today you can buy flashing LEDs; a simple two-lead component that requires only a power supply to produce even flashes of light. They look for all the world like any other LED, though embedded in the plastic dome is an integrated circuit to do all that flashing work.

There was a time though when a flashing LED was something of a big deal, so much so that National Semiconductor produced a dedicated chip for the task. The LM3909 boasted the ability to flash an LED for over a year using a single C battery. That part is now long out of production, so [Dillon] has implemented the LM3909 circuit using discrete components on a small PCB designed to take pins and fit the footprint of the original.

Why on earth might a reborn LM3909 be of interest to him, you ask? Well, he wasn’t able to make a 555 flash the LED from a coin cell, and a friend mentioned this chip which piqued his interest. The internal schematic is in the data sheet (found in the files section of his project), so he was able to implement it relatively easily using common parts. It still requires an external capacitor just like the original, but there is space on-board should you wish to put it there.

He’s produced a video we’ve placed below the break showing the device in action, proving it to be a drop-in replacement for an original. Recreations of classic chips using discretes are nothing new, we recently brought you a reborn PSU regulator chip made in 2014. An while you’re playing around with coin cell batteries, may we direct your attention to the Coin Cell Challenge.

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Guide: Why Etch a PCB When You Can Mill?

I recall the point I started taking electronics seriously, although excited, a sense of dread followed upon the thought of facing the two main obstacles faced by hobbyists and even professionals: Fabricating you own PCB’s and fiddling with the ever decreasing surface mount footprints. Any resistance to the latter proves futile, expensive, and frankly a bit silly in retrospect. Cheap SMD tools have made it extremely easy to store, place, and solder all things SMD.

Once you’ve restricted all your hobbyist designs/experiments to SMD, how do you go about producing the PCBs needed for prototyping? Personally, I dread the thought of etching my own boards. The process is laborious and involves messy chemicals and specially sensitized PCB’s — none of which interest me. I’ve only ever done it a few times, and have promised myself never to do it again. Professional but cheap PCB manufacturing is more like it board pooling services such as OSH park have made this both easy and affordable — if you can wait for the turnaround.

So what are the alternatives? If you are really serious about swift prototyping from your own Lab, I put forth the case of milling your own PCB’s. Read on as I take you through the typical workflow from design to prototype and convince you to put up with the relatively high start up cost of purchasing a PCB mill.

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Huge 3D Printer Ditches Lead Screw for Belt Driven Z Axis

The vast majority of desktop 3D printers in use today use one or more lead screws for the Z-axis. Sometimes you need to think outside of the box to make an improvement on something. Sometimes you need to go against the grain and do something that others wouldn’t do before you can see what good will come out of it. [Mark Rehorst] had heard the arguments against using a belt drive for the Z-axis on a 3D printer build:

  1. The belt can stretch, causing inaccurate layer height.
  2. If power fails, gravity will totally ruin your day.

He decided to go for it anyway and made a belt driven Z axis for his huge printer. To deal with the power loss issue, he’s using a 30:1 reduction worm gear on the drive — keeping the bed in one place if power goes. And after a few studies, he found the belt stretch was so minimal that it has no effect on layer height.

Of course those two issues are but a small portion of the overall ingenuity that [Mark] poured into this project. You’ll want to see it in action below, printing a vase that is 500 mm tall (took about 32 hours to get to 466 mm and you can see the top is a hairy wobbly at this point). Luckily we can geek out with the rest of his design considerations and test by walking through this fantastic build log from back in July. Of note is the clamp he designed to hold the belt. It uses a small scrap of the belt itself to lock together the two ends. That’s a neat trick!

The introduction of a belt driven Z-axis eliminates Z-axis wobble — an issue that can be exacerbated in tall printers. Desktop 3D printers are constantly improving, and we’re always excited to see a new trick work so well. Let us know if you’ve seen any other handy Z-axis modifications out there.

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