A “Disgusting” 1980s Computer Restored

It takes a special eye to see a junkyard car and envision it as your latest hotrod. The guys at RMC found what they termed a “disgusting” Acorn Electron and decided to restore it to its former glory. The Electron was a budget version of the BBC micro with a 6502 running at 2 MHz when executing code from ROM and 1 MHz when it hit the RAM. Apparently, at least some of the bus was operating at 4 bits instead of 8. Go figure.

The 1982 machine was meant to head off the Sinclair ZX and was set to sell for about ¬£200. However, the machine didn’t catch on like the Sinclair and undersold it by around 20 times with a paltry quarter of a million units.

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The History Of Neon Lights

We always enjoy history videos from [The History Guy] but they don’t always cover technology history. When they do, though, we enjoy them twice as much as with the recent video he posted on the history of neon signs. Of course, as he points out, many neon lights don’t have actual neon in them — they use various noble gasses depending on the color you want. Sure, some have neon, but the name has stuck.

The back part of the video is more about the signs themselves, but the early portion talks about [William Ramsay], a Scot chemist who started extracting component gasses out of the atmosphere. The first one found was argon and then helium. Krypton and neon were not far behind. The other noble gas, Xenon, also fell to his experiments. He and another scientist won the Nobel for this work.

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A Standing Desk On The Cheap

A programmer forced to work from home during the pandemic, [MrAkpla] was having back pains from sitting in front of the computer all day. He considered buying a standing desk, but all the various options didn’t fit with either his desk or his budget. Not to be deterred, he devised one of the simplest standing desk implementations that we’ve seen. It clearly works for him, because he’s been using it for one year now with great success. [MrAkpla] espouses three main benefits of his approach:

  • Cheap as heck
  • Five minute set up time
  • Uses your existing desk

These goals were accomplished. You can see in the video below that transition from sitting to standing is indeed as quick as he claims, is clearly inexpensive, and indeed it doesn’t require any modifications to his desk or furniture.

This design centers on a having an 80 cm long monitor arm, which is quite a range of adjustment. He’s using a monitor arm pole mount from UK manufacturer Duronic. Although they are having delivery problems these days because of Brexit issues, [MrAkpla] was able to get one delivered from existing inventory outside of the UK.

Admittedly, this is a crude design — in effect two trash bins and a board. But even if this doesn’t fit well with your office decor, its a great way to try out the concept of a standing desk without the up-front investment. By the way, [MrAkpla] is on the lookout for similar monitor mounting poles from non-UK manufacturers. If you have any recommendations, put them in the comments below. If you’re interested in a DIY standing desk that is on the opposite side of the complexity spectrum, check out this beauty¬†that we covered back in the pre-pandemic era.

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Gaming Headset Gets Simple Wireless Charging

Despite the technology itself being widely available and relatively cheap, devices that offer wireless charging as a feature still aren’t as common as many would like. Sure it can’t deliver as much power as something like USB-C, but for low-draw devices that don’t necessarily need to be recharged in a hurry, the convenience is undeniable.

Sick of having to plug it in after each session, [Taylor Burley] decided to take matters into his own hands and add wireless charging capability to his Turtle Beach Recon 200 headset. But ultimately, there’s nothing about this project that couldn’t be adapted to your own particular headset of choice. Or any other device that charges via USB, for that matter.

To keep things simple, [Taylor] used an off-the-shelf wireless charging transmitter and receiver pair. The transmitter is housed in a 3D printed mount that the headset hangs from, and the receiver was simply glued to the top of the headset. The receiver is covered with a thin 3D printed plate, but a couple turns of electrical tape would work just as well if you didn’t want to design a whole new part.

Once everything was in place, he then ran a wire down the side of the headset and tapped into the five volt trace coming from the USB port. So now long as [Taylor] remembers to hang the headset up after he’s done playing, the battery will always be topped off the next time he reaches for it.

Considering how many projects we’ve seen that add wireless charging to consumer devices, it’s honestly kind of surprising that it’s still not a standard feature in 2021. Until manufacturers figure out what they want to do with the technology, it seems like hackers will just have to keep doing it themselves.

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Disgusting Apple II Monitors Live Again

[The 8-Bit Guy] recently went to check out a stash of old Apple II Color monitors which had been sitting outside in a trash pile for 20 years, and decided to bring one home to restore. As you can see from the lead photo, they were dirty — really dirty. Surprisingly, the team of volunteers who discovered these monitors had fired them up, and every one of them works to some extent or another.

Check out the video below as he cleans up this filthy monitor and starts troubleshooting. You’ll chuckle aloud when he turns the circuit board over to desolder a mysterious diode, and when he flips the board back over, the diode has disappeared (it actually disintegrated into dust on his lab bench). For the curious, one commenter on YouTube found that it was a glass passivated and encapsulated fast recovery diode called a V19. There’s going to be a part 2, and we have every confidence that [The 8-Bit Guy] will succeed and soon add a shiny, like-new monitor to his collection.

If you’re a collector of old monitors, this demonstrates that they can survive quite a bit of abuse and exposure. We’re not sure that rummaging through your local landfill is the best idea, but if you run into an old monitor that has been exposed to the elements, don’t be so quick to dismiss it as a lost cause. Do you have any gems that you’ve restored from the trash? Let us know in the comments.

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Telemetry Debate Rocks Audacity Community In Open Source Dustup

Starting an open source project is easy: write some code, pick a compatible license, and push it up to GitHub. Extra points awarded if you came up with a clever logo and remembered to actually document what the project is supposed to do. But maintaining a large open source project and keeping its community happy while continuing to evolve and stay on the cutting edge is another story entirely.

Just ask the maintainers of Audacity. The GPLv2 licensed multi-platform audio editor has been providing a powerful and easy to use set of tools for amateurs and professionals alike since 1999, and is used daily by…well, it’s hard to say. Millions, tens of millions? Nobody really knows how many people are using this particular tool and on what platforms, so it’s not hard to see why a pull request was recently proposed which would bake analytics into the software in an effort to start answering some of these core questions.

Now, the sort of folks who believe that software should be free as in speech tend to be a prickly bunch. They hold privacy in high regard, and any talk of monitoring their activity is always going to be met with strong resistance. Sure enough, the comments for this particular pull request went south quickly. The accusations started flying, and it didn’t take long before the F-word started getting bandied around: fork. If Audacity was going to start snooping on its users, they argued, then it was time to take the source and spin it off into a new project free of such monitoring.

The situation may sound dire, but truth be told, it’s a common enough occurrence in the world of free and open source software (FOSS) development. You’d be hard pressed to find any large FOSS project that hasn’t been threatened with a fork or two when a subset of its users didn’t like the direction they felt things were moving in, and arguably, that’s exactly how the system is supposed to work. Under normal circumstances, you could just chalk this one up to Raymond’s Bazaar at work.

But this time, things were a bit more complicated. Proposing such large and sweeping changes with no warning showed a troubling lack of transparency, and some of the decisions on how to implement this new telemetry system were downright concerning. Combined with the fact that the pull request was made just days after it was announced that Audacity was to be brought under new management, there was plenty of reason to sound the alarm.

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Projecting Moving Images In Air With Lasers

You’ve seen it a million times in science fiction movies and TV shows: a moving holographic display. From Princess Leia asking for help to virtual tennis on Total Recall, it is a common enough idea. [Dan Smalley]’s team at BYU has made progress in projecting moving 3D images in thin air. While they might not be movie quality, they are a start, and, after all, you have to start somewhere.

The display traps a small particle in the air with a laser beam and then moves that particle around, leaving behind an illuminated path in the air. You can see the effect in the video below. The full paper explains how a type of ray tracing allows the relatively small optical trap display to appear larger and more fluid. While it does make images seem to appear behind the display’s actual volume, it also requires eye tracking to work since the illusion only works from a certain perspective.

These are not, of course, technically holograms. That’s actually an advantage in some cases because holograms require a tremendous amount of data that increases rapidly as the size of a display scales up. The optical trap display uses a much more manageable data rate.

We’ve seen optical trap displays before. In fact, volumetric displays seem to be all the rage lately.

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