Examples of ZX81 computer game screens

The Labor Of Love That Is Recovering Lost Software

At the beginning of the home computer revolution, the humble compact cassette was far and away the most popular choice for microcomputer data storage, especially on the European continent. As a volunteer at the Museum of Computing, [Keith] was instrumental in recovering and archiving the early works of Roger Dymond, a pioneering developer of early computer software in the United Kingdom.

In his video, [Keith] goes to great lengths detailing the impact that Roger Dymond had on the early home computing scene. After being let go from his council apprenticeship, Roger turned his attention to developing games for the ZX81, and later the ZX Spectrum. With the help of his family, he went on to run a moderately successful mail-order games publishing venture for several years. Increasing advertising costs and a crowded development scene saw Roger’s business become nonviable by 1983, but not before developing several gambling-style games and a standout Space Invaders clone.

Fast forward to 2021, and while some of Roger’s Spectrum software had been archived, much had been marked as ‘missing’ by online archivists. After further research, [Keith] realized that another potentially important tape had been forgotten about. ‘Games Compendium’ for the ZX81 had been completely lost to time, with the only evidence that it had ever existed coming from a 1983 advert in ‘Sinclair User’ magazine. Being written for the earlier model ZX81, the compendium would undoubtedly be of interest to software archivists and game historians.

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Ray Casting 101 Makes Things Simple

[SSZCZEP] had a tough time understanding ray tracing to create 3D-like objects on a 2D map. So once he figured it out, he wrote a tutorial he hopes will be more accessible for those who may be struggling themselves.

If you’ve ever played Wolfenstein 3D you’ll have seen the technique, although it crops up all over the place. The tutorial borrows an animated graphic from [Lucas Vieira] that really shows off how it works in a simplified way. The explanation is pretty simple. From a point of view — that is a camera or the eyeball of a player — you draw rays out until they strike something. The distance and angle tell you how to render the scene. Instead of a camera, you can also figure out how a ray of light will fall from a light source.

There is a bit of math, but also some cool interactive demos to drive home the points. We wondered if Demos 3 and 4 reminded anyone else of an obscure vector graphics video game from the 1970s? Most of the tutorial is pretty brute force, calculating points that you can know ahead of time won’t be useful. But if you stick with it, there are some concessions to optimization and pointers to more information.

Overall, a lot of good info and cool demos if this is your sort of thing. While it might not be the speediest, you can do ray tracing on our old friend the Arduino. Or, if you prefer, Excel.


Vektor Kollektor Inspector

With the world opening up again, [Niklas Roy] and [Kati Hyyppä] have been busy making a public and collaborative project. Meet the Vektor Kollektor, a portable drawing machine experience, complete with a chip-tune soundtrack. It’s great to see public art meet the maker community with zero pretension and a whole lot of fun!

The build started with an HP7475A pen plotter from the 80s, one that was DOA (or was fried during initial testing). [Niklas] and [Kati] kept the mechanism but rebuilt the controls allowing for easy integration with an Arduino Nano and to be powered with a motorcycle battery.

The magic seems to be less in the junk-bin build (which is great) and more in the way this team extended the project. Using a joystick with arcade buttons as an input, they carted Vektor Kollektor to public parks and streets where they invited others to make art. The Kollekted drawings are available on a gallery website in a very cool animated form, freely available for download, on t-shirts, 3D prints, and on coffee mugs because, why not?

Some select drawings are even spray-painted on walls using a large plotter, and we really hope [Niklas Roy] and [Kati Hyyppä] share details on that build soon. Of course this comes hot on the heels of the workshop window cyborg we saw from these two hardware artists.

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ClOCkTAL: For When Reading A Clock Is Just Too Easy

Over on Hackaday.io, [danjovic] presents clOCkTAL, a simple LED clock for those of us who struggle with the very concept of making it easy to read the time. Move aside binary clocks, you’re easy, let’s talk binary coded octal. Yes, it is a thing. We’ll leave it to [danjovic] to describe how to read the time from it:

Do not try to do the math using 6 bits. The trick to read this clock is to read every 3-bit digit in binary and multiply the MSBs by 8 before summing to the LSBs.

Simple. If you’re awake enough, that is. Anyway, we’re a big fan of the stripped-down raw build method using perf board, and scrap wood. No details hidden here. The circuit is straightforward, being based on a minimal configuration needed to drive the PIC16F688 and a handful of LEDs arranged in a 3×4 matrix.

An interesting detail is the use of Bresenham’s Algorithm to derive the one event-per-second needed to keep track of time. And no, this isn’t the more famous Bresenham’s line algorithm you may be more familiar with, it’s much simpler, but does work on the same principle of replacing expensive arithmetic division operations with incremental errors. The original Bresenham’s Algorithm was devised for using with X-Y plotters, which had limited resolution, and was intended to allow movements that were in an imperfect ratio to that resolution. It was developed into a method for approximating lines, then extended to cover circles, ellipses and other types of drawables.

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3d printed GLaDOS home assistant

GLaDOS Voice Assistant Passive-Aggressively Automates Home

With modern voice assistants we can tell a computer to play our favorite music, check the weather, or turn on a light. Like many of us, [nerdaxic] gave in to the convenience and perceived simplicity of various home automation products made by Google and Amazon. Also like many of us, he found it a bit difficult to accept the privacy implications that surround such cloud connected devices. But after selling his Home and Echo, [nerdaxic] missed the ability to control his smart home by voice command. Instead of giving in and buying back into the closed ecosystems he’d left behind, [nerdaxic] decided to open his home to a murderous, passive aggressive, sarcastic, slightly insane AI: GLaDOS, which you can see in action after the break.

Using open source designs from fellow YouTube creator [Mr. Volt], [nerdaxic] 3d printed as much of the GLaDOS animatronic model as he was able to, and implemented much of the same hardware to make it work. [nerdaxic] put more Open Source Software to use and has created a functional but somewhat limited home AI that can manage his home automation, give the weather, and tell jokes among other things. GLaDOS doesn’t fail to deliver some great one liners inspired by the original Portal games while heeding [nerdaxic]’s commands, either.

A ReSpeaker from Seeed Studio cleans up the audio sent to a Raspberry Pi 4, and allows for future expansion that will allow GLaDOS to look in the direction of the person speaking to it. With its IR capable camera, another enhancement will allow GlaDOS to stare at people as they walk around. That’s not creepy at all, right? [nerdaxic] also plans to bring speech-to-text processing in-house instead of the Google Cloud Speech-To-Text API used in its current iteration, and he’s made everything available on GitHub so that you too can have a villainous AI hanging on your every word.

Of course if having GLaDOS looming isn’t enough, you could always build a functional life size Portal turret or listen to the radio on your very own Portal Radio.

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A bee pollinates a flower.

Even Bees Are Abuzz About Caffeine

Many of us can’t get through the day without at minimum one cup of coffee, or at least, we’d rather not think about trying. No matter how you choose to ingest caffeine, it is an awesome source of energy and focus for legions of hackers and humans. And evidently, the same goes for pollinator bees.

You’ve probably heard that there aren’t enough bees around anymore to pollinate all the crops that need pollinating. That’s old news. One solution was to raise them commercially and then truck them to farmers’ fields where they’re needed. The new problem is that the bees wander off and pollinate wildflowers instead of the fields they’re supposed to be pollinating. But there’s hope for these distracted bees: Scientists at the University of Greenwich have discovered that bees under the influence of caffeine are more likely to stay on track when given a whiff of the flower they’re supposed to be pollinating.

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Cisco Router Repair Revives Piece Of Internet History

These days, it would be fair to say that the Internet as we know it runs on Cisco hardware. While you might never see them at work, there’s an excellent chance that every web-bound packet leaving your computer or smartphone will spend at least a few milliseconds of its life traveling through hardware built by the San Jose, California based company. But of course, even a telecommunications giant like Cisco had to start somewhere.

Cisco’s first commercial router, the Advanced Gateway Server (AGS), was released in 1986 and helped put the company (and the Internet) on the path towards unfathomable success. [Andreas Semmelmann] had wanted to add one of these microwave-sized machines to his collection for some time, so when an AGS+ popped up in the local classifieds he didn’t hesitate to make the hour drive to go pick it up. But like many pieces of vintage computing equipment, it needed a little help getting back on its feet.

What 4 MB of flash looked like in the late 1980s.

Since he had to take the router apart anyway to diagnose what ailed it, [Andreas] decided to take photographs along the way and document this piece of Internet history. He walks the reader through the massive processor, Ethernet, and serial cards that are housed in the unit’s rack-like enclosure. We appreciate him taking the scenic route, as it gives us a great look inside what would have been state-of-the-art telecommunications gear when this version of the AGS hit the market in 1989.

The walk-through is full of interesting details that make us appreciate just how far things have come in the last 32 years. Imagine yanking the EPROMs out of the board and firing up the UV eraser each time you needed to update your router’s firmware. Or needing a special adapter to convert the AUI-15 connectors on the back panel to the now ubiquitous RJ45 jack.

After this stroll down memory lane, [Andreas] gets to the actual repair work. It likely won’t surprise the regular Hackaday reader to find that the power supply wasn’t operating to spec, and that some aged capacitors and a shorted rectifier diode needed to be replaced to put it back on an even keel. But even with the PSU repaired, the router failed to start. The console output indicated the software was crashing, but hardware diagnostics showed no obvious faults.

Replacing these failed PSU components was just the beginning.

With some part swapping, firmware flashing, and even a bit of assistance from Cisco luminary [Phillip Remaker], the issue was eventually identified as a faulty environmental monitoring (ENVM) card installed in the AGS+. As luck would have it the ENVM capability isn’t required to boot the router, so [Andreas] was able to just disconnect the card and continue on with his exploration of the hardware that helped build the Internet as we know it.

Considering its age, this piece of 1980s Cisco gear ended up being in relatively good shape. But that’s not always the case. Over the years we’ve found ourselves in awe of the incredible amount of time, effort, and skill, it takes to restore some of these classic machines. We have great respect for the dedicated individuals who are willing to take on the challenge of keeping these pieces of history up and running for future generations to marvel at.

[Thanks to Bob for the tip.]