Building A 3270 Terminal Controller

We like to talk about how most of our computers today would have been mainframes a scant 40 or 50 years ago. Because of that, many people who want to run IBM mainframes such as the IBM 360 or 370 use the Hercules emulator to run the big iron on their PCs. However, mainframe IBM computers used an odd style of terminal and emulating it on a PC isn’t always as satisfying. At least, that’s what [lowobservable] thought, so he decided to get a 3270 terminal working with Hercules.

Back in the bad old days of computing, there were two main styles of terminals. Some companies, for example DEC, essentially used terminals as a “glass teletype.” That is, the screen was an analog of a roll of paper — more or less — and the keyboard immediately sent things to the remote system. However, companies like IBM and HP favored a different approach. Their terminals dealt with screens full of data. The terminal was smart enough to let you fill in forms, edit text on the screen, and then you’d send the entire screen in one gulp. Both systems had pros and cons, but — as you might expect — the screen-oriented terminals were more complex.

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What Rhymes With Spice And Simulates Huge Circuits?

Most of us have computers on our desk that would have been considered supercomputers not long ago. We always wonder how many of them get any actual workout other than decoding video. If you want to simulate circuits you may very well start chewing up significant CPU time, so you might consider Xyce, an open source high-performance analog circuit simulator from Sandia National Labs. As you’d expect from a giant government lab it is able to support large scale parallel computing, but will also work on common desktop systems. On Linux, it will do what they call “small-scale parallelism.” In addition, it can deal with simulations of things as diverse as neural networks and power grids.

The code is open source, but oddly you do have to register to download it. Xyce has been around for a bit, but version 7.0 just arrived in April. Many of the changes are to improve compatibility with other Spice programs, notably HSpice.

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Psst – Wanna Buy A Control Panel From A Nuclear Power Station?

Doing the rounds today is an interesting lot in an otherwise unexciting industrial dispersal auction in Lincolnshire, UK. On sale is an “Ex nuclear plant reactor control/monitoring system“, at the time of writing attracting the low low bid of £220 ($270), but we guess it will rise. Everyone who has watched Chernobyl (or maybe The Simpsons) is now gazing awestruck at a crescent of metal consoles covered in screens, buttons, and joysticks just waiting for a staff of white-coated technicians to pore over them.

Chernobyl Unit 3 control room (still active). [Source: IAEA Imagebank on Flickr CC-SA 2.0]
It’s a very cool lot indeed, but it raises more questions than it answers. The auction house has very little information indeed, so we’re left guessing, where did it come from? From this image showing the unit 3 control room at Chernobyl it’s obvious didn’t come from there (/s). Since it is for sale in the UK, and the country has decommissioned the majority of its first-generation reactors by now, so there is no shortage of candidates. But that intriguing possibility raises another question. Is it even a reactor control panel in the first place?

British civilian nuclear plants have tight security but they are hardly a secret, so plenty of photos are online showing their interiors. And in studying those we hit a problem, this panel doesn’t resemble any of the control panel images we can find. The first generation of Magnox (Magnetic Oxide Magnesium Non Oxidising) plants had panels covered in analogue dials and chart recorders so it’s unlikely to be one of those. The second-generation AGR (Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor) stations had similarly complex panels, and it’s evidently not one of them.

Looking closely at the photos it becomes apparent that there are a lot of camera controls and monitors, and even what looks like a uMatic video recorder. It’s definitely nuclear-related and the 1980s look of it suggests maybe it could have come from an Advanced Gas-Cooled Reactor (AGR) station, but could it be a little closer to Sector 7G than the centre of the action? Is it a video monitoring console used to keep a physical eye on its operation?

Be careful if you bid, you could end up with a rather cool but absurdly large 1980s CCTV system. Can any of our readers shed any light on the matter?

Thanks [Gregg “Cabe” Bond] for the tip.

Bluetooth Takes Keyboard From DIY To Super Fly

They say you should never cheap out on anything that comes between you and the ground, like tires, shoes, and mattresses. We would take that a little further into the 21st century and extend it to anything between you and work. In our case, ‘buy nice or buy twice’ includes keyboards and mice.

[Marcus Young] is a fan of ortholinear ergonomic comfort, but not of cables. He gave [adereth]’s dactyl keyboard some wings by using a Bluetooth micro, and the Pterodactyl was born. Of course, the two halves still use a TRRS cable to communicate, and wires are required to charge batteries, but it’s the principle of the thing.

That’s not all [Marcus] did to make the dactyl his own — it also has a modified full-fat base that gives him all the room in the world to wire up the keyswitch matrix compared to the original streamlined design.

Instead of the usual Teensy, Pro Micro, or Proton-C, the pterodactyl has a Feather 32u4 in its belly. [Marcus] is clacking on Holy Panda switches which we’ve been meaning to try, and individual PCBs for each switch, which seems like it might negate gluing the switches in place so they survive through keycap changes. Check out [Marcus]’ write-up to see what he learned during this build.

This isn’t the first modified dactyl we’ve seen flying around here, and it won’t be the last. Here’s one with a dual personality — both halves can work together or alone.

Via r/mk

Hackaday Prize And Conservation X Labs Issue Design Challenges To Address Extinction Crisis

When most people think of extinct species, they likely imagine prehistoric creatures such as dinosaurs or woolly mammoths. Extinction is something you read about in history books, nature’s way of removing contestants in the great game of life. It’s a product of a cruel and savage world, and outside of a few remaining fringe cases, something that humanity’s advanced technology has put a stop to.

Unfortunately, the truth is far more complicated than that. The planet is currently going through its sixth major extinction event, and this time, it’s our fault. Humanity might not be willfully destroying the natural habitats of the plants, fish, birds, and other lifeforms that have been eradicated, but we’re responsible for it just the same. Humans are an apex predator unlike any the world has ever seen before, and the only force that can stop us is ourselves.

Founded in 2015, Conservation X Labs is devoted to doing everything it can to end this sixth wave of extinction. Unsatisfied with the pace of traditional conservation, they leverage technology and open innovation to develop unique new ways of combating the damage our species has done to life on this planet. After all, it’s the only one we’ve got.

We’ve partnered with this organization to help develop solutions to some of these problems. This includes an open call challenge that anyone can enter, and a Dream Team program that you can get involved with if you act quickly. Let’s take a look at what Conservation X Labs is all about, and what is involved with the challenges at hand.

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Peeking Inside Executables And Libraries To Make Debugging Easier

At first glance, both the executables that a compiler produces, and the libraries that are used during the building process seem like they’re not very accessible. They are these black boxes that make an application go, or make the linker happy when you hand it the ‘right’ library file. There is also a lot to be said for not digging too deeply into either, as normally things will Just Work™ without having to bother with such additional details.

The thing is that both executables and libraries contain a lot of information that normally is just used by the OS, toolchain, debuggers and similar tools. Whether these files are in Windows PE format, old-school Linux a.out or modern-day .elf, when things go south during development, sometimes one has to break out the right tools to inspect them in order to make sense of what is happening.

This article will focus primarily on the Linux platform, though most of it also applies to BSD and MacOS, and to some extent Windows.

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Begin Your Day On An Uplifting Note With A Daily Affirmation Mirror

We’ve seen dozens of “Magic Mirror” builds around here, most of which display all sorts of information — calendar, weather, news. They’re great builds, but they tend to be a bit busy and don’t really inspire a calm start to the day. But if you’re good enough and smart enough, you can build this electronic affirmation mirror, and doggone it, people will like you.

[Becky Stern] stripped the magic mirror concept down to a minimum with this build and uses only an array of 14-segment alphanumeric displays to scroll uplifting messages. The glass she used is partially reflective, and when covered with black tape on the backside, with a small portal for the display, it makes a decent mirror. The displays are driven by a Trinket using static affirmations stored in the sketch; a microcontroller with a WiFi connection could also be used to source affirmations on the fly. Or, you know, stock prices and traffic updates, if you’re not into the whole [Stuart Smalley] thing.

So what about those aforementioned magic mirror builds? We’ve got large ones, small ones, retro ones, and even kid-centric ones. Take your pick!

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