Ocelot Arcade System Illustrates the Scope of Vector Graphics

Who knows how far the Vectrex system, or vector graphics gaming in general could have gone if not for the crash of ’83? The console wars might have been completely different if not for this market saturation-based reset button.

[Matt Carr] doesn’t own a Vectrex, but he does have a Tektronix 465 oscilloscope. After an intense labor of love and documentation, he also has a shiny new vector graphics arcade system that he built himself. It’s based on a dsPIC33 and uses a dual-channel DAC to produce wire frame 3-D graphics and send X-Y coordinates to the ‘scope via phono outputs. The PIC’s internal DAC is meant for audio and didn’t do so well with graphics, so [Matt] used a TLV5618A piggybacked on the PIC’s DAC pins.

The Ocelot doesn’t take cartridges, though it might someday. For now, changing games means getting out the PICkit. There are currently two to choose from: Star Lynx, an awesome flying shooter where you get to save a feline population, and Mattsteroids, which is exactly what it sounds like. There’s only one Ocelot in existence, and although it isn’t for sale, [Matt] has terrific technical documentation should you care to replicate it. One thing you might not be able to replicate is the awesome vintage advert he made for the Ocelot, which is cued up after the break.

Don’t have a ‘scope? You can do vector graphics on a CRT with an FPGA.

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PostMarketOS Saves Old Smartphones

Modern smartphones, even the budget models, are extremely impressive pieces of technology. Powerful ARM processors, plenty of RAM, and an incredible number of sensors and radios are packed into a device that in some cases are literally given away for free when you sign up for a service plan. Unfortunately manufacturers are not obligated to keep up with software updates, and while the hardware may be willing to keep on fighting, the user is often pushed to upgrade due to perennially outdated software. Even if you aren’t the kind of person to be put off by using a phone that doesn’t have the latest and greatest OS, the lack of software security updates pose a clear threat in a world where mobile devices are increasingly targeted by attackers.

But what if the operating system on your phone worked more like the on one your computer? That’s the dream of postmarketOS, a Linux distribution created by [Oliver Smith] that is designed to be installed on outdated (mostly Android) smartphones and tablets. He’s recently made a comprehensive blog post about the state of the project a little over 6 months since it started, and we have to say things are looking very impressive so far.

One of the key goals of postmarketOS is to avoid the fragmented nature of previous attempts at replacing Android with a community-developed operated system. By avoiding binary blobs and focusing on getting the mainline Linux kernel running on as much as the hardware as possible, there’s no need to make different forks and releases for each supported device. By unifying the OS as much as far as it can be, an upstream update can be pushed to all devices running postmarketOS regardless of their make and model, just like with traditional Linux distributions.

The blog post shows two things very clearly: that the community is extremely excited and dedicated to the prospect of running what is essentially desktop Linux on old smartphones and tablets, and that postmarketOS still has a long way to go. In these early days, many devices aren’t what could be considered “daily drivers” by most standards. In fact, the blog post mentions that they’ve decided to abandon the term “supported” when talking about devices, and make no claims beyond the fact that they will boot.

Still, incredible progress is being made on everything from mainline kernel development to getting standard Linux desktops such as Gnome, MATE and XFCE4 running. Work has also been done on the backend process of compiling and packaging up components of the operating system itself, promising to speed up development times even for those who don’t have a beefy machine they can dedicate to compiling. The blog post ends with a helpful list of things the reader can do to help support postmarketOS, ranging from making your own t-shirts to porting to new hardware.

At Hackaday we’ve seen our fair share of hackers and makers re-purposing old smartphones and tablets, keeping them out of the landfills they would almost certainly end up in otherwise. A project that aims to make it even easier to hack these cheap and incredibly useful devices is music to our ears.

Getting a Handle on Meltdown Update Impact, Stay Tuned for Spectre

When news broke on Meltdown and Spectre ahead of the original disclosure plan, word spread like wildfire and it was hard to separate fact from speculation. One commonly repeated claim was that the fix would slow down computers by up to 30% for some workloads. A report released by Microsoft today says that “average users” with post-2015 hardware won’t notice the difference. Without getting into specific numbers, they mention that they expect folks running pre-2015 hardware to experience noticeable slowdowns with the patches applied.

The impact from Meltdown updates are easier to categorize: they slow down the transition from an user’s application level code to system level kernel code. The good news: such transitions were already a performance killjoy before Meltdown came along. There exists an extensive collection of tools (design patterns, libraries, and APIs) to help software developers reduce the number of user-kernel transitions.

Performance sensitive code that were already written to minimize kernel transitions will suffer very little from Meltdown updates. This includes most games and mainstream applications. The updates will have a greater impact on the minority of applications that frequently jump between kernel and user worlds. Antivirus software (with their own problems) have reasons to do so, and probably will end up causing most of the slowdowns seen by normal users.

Servers, with their extensive disk and networking IO — and thus kernel usage — are going to have a much worse time, even as seen through Microsoft’s rosy spectacles. So much so that Microsoft is recommending that admins “balance the security versus performance tradeoff for your environment”.

The impact from Spectre updates are harder to pin down. Speculative execution and caching are too important in modern CPUs to “just” turn off. The fixes will be more complex and we’ll have to wait for them to roll out (bumps and all) before we have a better picture.

The effects might end up being negligible as some tech titans are currently saying, and that probably will fit your experience, unless you’re running a server farm. But even if they’re wrong, you’ll still be comfortably faster than an Intel 486 or a Raspberry Pi.

Do any of you have numbers yet?

[via The Verge]

 

Tube Amps are Still Tubular in 2018

Our friend [Pete] was reminiscing over the golden days with his old and broken antique Grundig Majestic console when he realized it deserved proper refurbishing. Now, any generic stereo record player might not be worth the time and effort to fix, but this was not any generic stereo record player. [Pete’s] inherited Grundig Majestic was his childhood favorite due to the distinct sound it had from the tubes that were used as the active elements. So he set out to fix both tube amps inside of the system.

[Pete] has had some experience working with audio equipment in the past. He did what we all aspire to, and got paid for doing what he loves by creating tube amps as a side gig. When he had finally had enough of the sub-par quality of bluetooth speakers that we all put up with for convenience sake, he decided to finally fix his favorite radio that had been lying around for far too long. He got to work immediately in his notebook finding what parts would be necessary for the reboot. The build ended up consisting of a HT supply regulated at 350V, an LT supply half DC-regulated at 6.3V, a 12AX7 input/bass/treble section, 6922 concertina tubes, and an EL34 ultra-linear output section. The end results yielded one amp that sounded just like it did in his youth, and one that isn’t quite there yet.

The Grundig Majestic is not done with just yet though. [Pete] plans to add a couple of additional modifications to his beauty when he’s not too busy with the kids. Firstly, perfecting the second amp is a top priority. After that, installing red LEDs that illuminate underneath the tubes would indicate low voltage presence, whereas blue illumination would indicate HT was locked and loaded. Bias monitoring to keep him informed on the status of the circuit conditions would insure smooth sailing down the road. Adding a relay connection of the speakers to the output transformer would minimize a popping sound that is currently being made in the speakers when the HT is initially turned on. These small improvements are just that — small — but that is part of what makes home projects so rewarding. The more you use something at home, the more you realize what needs to be refined further, so you are constantly learning more. It is a gratifying experience that I hope all of our readers have the chance to come across.

Tube amps are no stranger to Hackaday. Some of us have even built a few ourselves.

Thanks [Sophi]

Via Sparkfun

Edgytokei’s Incredible Mechanism Shows Time Without a Face

Taking inspiration from Japanese nunchucks, [ekaggrat singh kalsi] came up with a brilliant clock that tells time using only hour and minute hands, and of course a base for them to sit on. The hands at certain parts of the hour seem to float in the air, or as he puts it, to sit on their edges, hence the name, the Edgytokei, translating as “edge clock”.

The time is a little difficult to read at first unless you’ve drawn in a clock face with numbers as we’ve done here. 9:02 and 9:54 are simple enough, but 9:20 and 9:33 can be difficult to translate into a time at first glance. Since both hands have to be the same length for the mechanism to work, how do you tell the two hands apart? [ekaggrat] included a ring of LEDs in the hub at the base and another at the end of one of the hands. Whichever ring of LEDs is turned on, indicates the tip of the minute hand. But the best way to get an idea of how it works is to watch it action in the video below.

We have to admire the simplicity and cleanliness of his implementation. The elbow and the hub at the base each hide a stepper motor with attached gear. Gear tracks lining the interior of the hands’ interact with the motor gears to move the hands. And to keep things clean, power is transferred using copper tape lining the exteriors.

On the Hackaday.io page [ekaggrat] talks about how difficult it was to come up with the algorithms and especially the code for homing the hands to the 12:00 position, given that homing can be initiated while the hands can be in any orientation. The hand positions are encoded in G-code, and a borrowed G-code parser running on an Arduino Nano in the base controls it all.

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The 348,296th Article About Cryptocurrency

The public has latched onto the recent market events with an intense curiosity brought about by a greed for instant riches. In the last year alone, the value of Bitcoin has risen by 1,731%. We’re talking gold rush V2.0, baby. Money talks, and with a resounding $615 billion held up in cryptocurrencies, it is clear why this is assuredly not the first cryptocurrency article you have read — maybe even today. An unfortunate side effect of mass interest in a subject is the wildfire-like spread of misinformation. So, what exactly is a blockchain, and what can you still do now that everyone has finally jumped on the cryptocurrency bandwagon?

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Intel Rolls Out 49 Qubits

With a backdrop of security and stock trading news swirling, Intel’s [Brian Krzanich] opened the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show with a keynote where he looked to future innovations. One of the bombshells: Tangle Lake; Intel’s 49-qubit superconducting quantum test chip. You can catch all of [Krzanch’s] keynote in replay and there is a detailed press release covering the details.

This puts Intel on the playing field with IBM who claims a 50-qubit device and Google, who planned to complete a 49-qubit device. Their previous device only handled 17 qubits. The term qubit refers to “quantum bits” and the number of qubits is significant because experts think at around 49 or 50 qubits, quantum computers won’t be practical to simulate with conventional computers. At least until someone comes up with better algorithms. Keep in mind that — in theory — a quantum computer with 49 qubits can process about 500 trillion states at one time. To put that in some apple and orange perspective, your brain has fewer than 100 billion neurons.

Of course, the number of qubits isn’t the entire story. Error rates can make a larger number of qubits perform like fewer. Quantum computing is more statistical than conventional programming, so it is hard to draw parallels.

We’ve covered what quantum computing might mean for the future. If you want to experiment on a quantum computer yourself, IBM will let you play on a simulator and on real hardware. If nothing else, you might find the beginner’s guide informative.

Image credit: [Walden Kirsch]/Intel Corporation