Video: Exploring The Abandoned Birthplace Of The 6502 And Commodore 64

I miss my friend Dave DiOrio. He was a chip designer in the 1980’s, which made him one of the true wizards back then. We met my first day when I started at Commodore Business Machines, though my paycheck said MOS Technology on it.

MOS Technology was the birthplace of the venerable 6502 microprocessor, the VIC video chip, and the SID sound chip to name the really famous ones. It also brought us the TED Text Display chip, a whole boatload of Amiga chips, and several other chips that almost did what we wanted them to do.

I worked with magicians whose stock and trade were comprised of half-part quantum tunneling effect and half-part straight-up logic implementation. These magicians weren’t bound by the number of pins available for TTL logic, not like us lowly hardware engineers who had to string 14 and 16 pin chips together to do any real lifting.

Below the spartan offices where the designs were drawn lived the dragon otherwise known as a chip fab, short for integrated circuit fabrication plant. This beast ate sand and made wafers; slices of almost pure silicon in crystalline form with all kinds of intricate things craftily grown on top of them.

Memory Lane: Touring the Abandoned MOS Headquarters

MOS Technology was started in 1969 by Allen Bradley but only became the MOS that I think of when I talk about the good old days when Chuck Peddle and a bunch of cohorts from Motorola, including Bill Mensch, swept in and produced the 6502 microprocessor, which resembled a particular Motorola processor quite a bit, in fact a lot. Lawsuits followed.

Meanwhile the 6502 was taking over several industries as the go-to processor for everything from medical equipment to microwave ovens to home computers. It was while designing home computers that I met Dave while standing above a chip fab. I can still remember the smell of that dragon farting below our feet… its an understatement to say I miss those times.

A couple of years ago I had a chance to return to the old stomping ground as it were, and set foot (legally) inside of MOS headquarters in Norristown, PA — which had become CSG (Commodore Semiconductor Group) by the end. The basement was dirty and flooded and yet we found wafers, one from one of the computers I worked on.

The ground floor was dark and quiet, I stood at the dirty glass entrance doors looking out at a drab street and I quickly moved on before I got hit by some sort of self evident metaphor for life that would have been annoying.

The second floor was where our offices had been. The hot press of design deadlines has long since left this space, now all there is to see is the golf course out the window and a little camp fire someone had made. I got to show this video to Dave, including the view looking out his old office window, and we both smiled at the thought that it was now 35 years later.

Dave has since passed away, the world has one less wizard and as the video shows, the dragon has long since gone quiet.

Weigh Your Car With Paper

Sometimes a problem is more important than its solution. Humans love to solve mysteries and answer questions, but the most rewarding issues are the ones we find ourselves. Take [Surjan Singh], who wanted to see if he could calculate the weight of his Saab 96. Funny enough, he doesn’t have an automobile scale in his garage, so he had to concoct a workaround method. His solution is to multiply the pressure in his tires with their contact patch. Read on before you decide this is an imperfect idea.

He measures his tires with a quality gauge for the highest accuracy and pressurizes them equally. Our favorite part is how he measures the contact patch by sliding a couple of paper pieces from the sides until they stop and then measures the distance between them. He quickly realizes that the treads didn’t contact the floor evenly, so he measures them to get a better idea of the true contact area. Once he is satisfied, he performs his algebra and records the results, then drives to some public scales and has to pay for a weigh. His calculations are close, but he admits this could be an imprecise method due to an n-of-one, and that he didn’t account for the stiffness of the tire walls.

This was a fun thought experiment with real-world verification. If you’re one of those people who treats brainstorming like an Olympic sport, then you may enjoy the gedankenexperiment that is fractals.

Hyper Links And Hyperfunctional Text CAD

Strong opinions exist on both sides about OpenSCAD. The lightweight program takes megabytes of space, not gigabytes, so many people have a copy, even if they’ve never written a shape. Some people adore the text-only modeling language, and some people abhor the minimal function list. [Johnathon ‘Zalo’ Selstad] appreciates the idea but wants to see something more robust, and he wants to see it in your browser. His project CascadeStudio has a GitHub repo and a live link so you can start tinkering in a new window straight away.

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