Hackaday Links: May 31, 2020

Hackaday Links Column Banner

We begin with sad news indeed as we mark the passing of Marcel van Kervinck on Monday. The name might not ring a bell, but his project, the Gigatron TTL computer, certainly will. We did a deep dive on the microprocessor-less computer a while back, and Marcel was a regular at conferences and on the Gigatron forums, supporting users and extending what the computer can do. He was pretty candid about his health issues, and I’ll add that when I approached him a few weeks ago out of the blue about perhaps doing a Hack Chat about Gigatron, he was brutally honest about how little time he had left and that he wouldn’t make it that long. I was blown away by the grace and courage he displayed. His co-conspirator Walter Belger will carry on the Gigatron mission, including joining us for a Hack Chat on June 24. In the meantime, this might be a great time to pick up a Gigatron kit before they’re all sold out and get busy soldering all those delicious through-hole TTL chips.

May of 2020 is the month that never seems to end, and as the world’s focus seems to shift away from the immediate public health aspects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to the long-term economic impact of the response to it, we happened across a very interesting article on just that topic. Mike Robbins from the Circuit Lab has modeled the economic impact of the pandemic using analog circuit simulations. He models people as charges and the flow of people between diseases states as currents; the model has capacitors to store the charge and allow him to measure voltages and filters that model the time delays needed for public policy changes to be adopted. It’s a fascinating mashup of engineering and policy. You can play with the model online, tweak parameters, and see what you come up with.

One of the things that the above model makes clear is that waiting to fully reopen the economy until a vaccine is ready is a long and dangerous game. But there has at least been some progress on that front, as Massachusetts biotech firm Moderna announced success in Phase 1 clinical trials of its novel mRNA vaccine against SARS-CoV-2. It’s important to temper expectations here; Phase 1 trials are only the beginning of human testing, aimed at determining the highest treatment dose that won’t cause serious side effects. Phase 2 and Phase 3 trials are much more involved, so there’s a long way to go before the vaccine, mRNA-1273, is ready for use. If you need to brush up on how these new vaccines work, check out our handy guide to mRNA vaccines.

In happier news, the “moar memory” version of the Raspberry Pi 4 is now on sale. Eben Upton announced that the 8GB version of the Pi 4 is now available for $75. The upgrade was apparently delayed by the lack of an 8GB LPDDR SDRAM chip in a package that would work in the Pi manufacturing process. They’ve also released a beta of a 64-bit version of the Raspberry Pi OS, if you’re interested in a bleeding-edge flex.

And finally, for those who missed the first wave of the computer revolution and never had a blinkenlight machine, you can at least partially scratch that itch with this Internet-connected Altair 8800. Jesse Downing has written a queueing system that allows users to connect to the machine via ssh and use Microsoft BASIC 5.0 on CP/M. Need to see those glorious front panels lights do their thing? Jesse has kindly set up a live stream for that, with an overlay of the current console output. It’s a great way to relive your misspent youth, or to get a taste of what computing was like when soldering skills were a barrier to entry.

18 thoughts on “Hackaday Links: May 31, 2020

    1. We’ve been covering the pandemic from the start, mainly from a tech angle. The tech community has done a lot of interesting things with regard to the response, like designing ventilators, making PPE, widgets to help with social distancing, etc. I saw this as an interesting use of electronics modeling software to look beyond the public health impacts of the pandemic with an engineer’s sensibilities. Like I said, it’s only a model, but it’s a pretty interesting one, and the fact that it makes predictions that are in opposition to the conventional wisdom is intriguing.

      1. You are missing the point. The Circuit Lab article is technically quite interrestibg and worth being reported here. You are not just saying that “it’s only a model”. You are clearly taking position in favor of a reopening on the basis of the Circuit Lab’s results.
        Among your loyal readers many are science people or skilled engineers, who are used to base their conclusions on strong and rigid methodologies. This Circuit Lab’s demonstration is not based on a strong methodology and it shocks many readers when you present this as a valid modelisation of the pandemic crisis. Your statement is the problem here, not the Circuit Lab’s article, which is interesting.
        Thank you by he way for bringing it to our attention.

  1. What I said was that Mike developed an interesting model that clearly shows that choosing between the economy and saving lives is not a zero-sum game, which is absolutely what some politicians are selling.

    How well this model reflects reality is certainly open for debate; we’ve seen plenty of examples in the last six months where models haven’t even come close to reflecting what happened IRL. So maybe his model is wrong, or can be tweaked, which is probably exactly why Mike made it available freely. You should be able to tweak the model and test your hypothesis about toggling the economy. But as it stands, the model clearly shows that there’s an alternative to the current policy — which I know isn’t monolithic, but in general, it’s being sold as a choice between economic freedom and health — that satisfies both imperatives.

  2. If your kids are in high school level or below, their education can wait. When an entire state/country is delayed, there are no “falling behind”. If needed, the curriculum can be change to cut down on redundancy – same math/science will be covered in more details in the advanced class anyway. (They are not likely to retain that stuff anyway.) Even when they are about to graduate, would there be a job in the near future given the economic situation?

    Schools are one of the easiest places to be for getting a highly contagious disease.

  3. Nothing to add than to thank you for your insightful comment.

    I don’t think HaD is a place that should take a stance on whether COVID-19 measures are “right” or “wrong”. Discussing models is interesting and there seems to be a link to analog circuit simulation, but I don’t see how you can infer correctness of any conclusion based on such limited data.

    Frankly, statements like those (“…shows clearly that the current approach of “If it saves one life” is wrong.”) in the article are personal opinions at best and should be treated as such.

    I am disappointed to see this on HaD.

  4. I just played a bit with the Altair. But really, soldering skills were not a barrier to entry, even in those days. I don’t remember exactly when the white breadboards that are commonly used today came out, but it wasn’t long after the Altair if at all, and even before that, there was wire-wrapping, which although was a skill in itself, wouldn’t really have been a barrier to entry.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.