A modern Tamagotchi PCB design and built-up prototype

Classic Tamagotchi Is Reincarnated In Modern Hardware

If you thought that Tamagotchis were a late ’90s fad that has faded from most people’s memory by now, you’d be wrong: the franchise is still alive and well today, with new models being released regularly. But even the original model from 1996, known as Tamagotchi P1, is being kept alive by a small group of enthusiasts. When ROM dumps of the original hardware began floating around the internet a couple of years ago, even those without the real thing could run these virtual pets in an emulator.

But the whole idea of the Tamagotchi hardware was that it was portable enough to carry around anywhere. If you’re among those who missed that part of the Tamagotchi experience, you’ll be pleased to know that [JC] designed OpenTama: a portable hardware platform that runs an emulated version of the original Tamagotchi P1 software. It’s about as close as it gets to those first-generation virtual pets, but with several additions that make your life easier.

The software platform is [JC]’s TamaLib which we featured last year; in effect it’s an open-source emulator that allows the Tamagotchi ROM to run on a variety of modern hardware platforms. It also contains several additional options like the ability to save and restore your progress or to select customized ROMs. The OpenTama hardware, meanwhile, is a proper 21st-century reimplementation of the original: a small, egg-sized PCB sporting an STM32 microcontroller driving an LCD or OLED display, powered by a 100 mAh battery that can be recharged through a USB-C port.

OpenTama is not limited to the TamaLib software, either: as an open-source general-purpose platform, it can also be used as a learning tool for embedded programming, so if you’ve always wanted to program your own virtual pet, or are simply looking to build a fancy egg timer, OpenTama’s GitHub page is the way to go. We’ve seen quite a few neat Tamagotchi-like projects recently: this 3D-printed one comes with a nice retro LCD screen, while this one’s giant size ensures you don’t forget to feed it.

Continue reading “Classic Tamagotchi Is Reincarnated In Modern Hardware”

Altaid 8800 Puts A Front Panel In Your Pocket

It’s safe to say that the Altair 8800 is one of the most iconic, and important, computers ever created. The kit-built machine is widely regarded as the first commercially successful personal computer, and as such, intact specimens are bona fide historical artifacts when and if they ever come up on the second-hand market. Accordingly there’s a cottage industry out there dedicated to making affordable replicas, which more often than not, leverage modern hardware to emulate the original hardware.

But that’s not what the Altaid 8800 is. For one thing, it looks nothing like the original Altair. More to the point however, it’s not using modern components to emulate an Intel 8080 computer…it actually is an Intel 8080 computer — complete with fully functional front panel for manually entering in programs. It just happens to be small enough to fit into an Altoids tin, hence the name.

Creator [Lee Hart] didn’t just stop at building a miniature 8080 machine, either. He’s also gone through the trouble of producing a sixteen page faux-vintage magazine to describe the project and its operation. Normally we’d call such a document a “manual”, but somehow in this case that seems to downplay the incredible effort and attention to detail that went into it.

Schematics and firmware are available should you wish to build your own version of the Altaid 8800, but we think the prices for the bare PCBs and complete kits that [Lee] is offering are more than fair for what you get. In fact, if you’ve always wanted to play around with front panel programming and the associated blinkenlights, this might be one of the most affordable options available. Though to be clear, you can also hook the Altaid up to your computer with a USB-to-serial cable if you’re not up to punching in programs on those tiny buttons.

You might think this is one of the most creative and unique retrocomputing projects we’ve ever seen, and you’d be right…if it wasn’t for [Lee]’s own Z80 Membership Card. In some ways the precursor to the Altaid 8800, this diminutive triumph also fits in an Altoids tin and features its own era appropriate magazine-style documentation. We’re detecting something of a theme with these projects…but we certainly aren’t complaining.

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Hackaday Links: May 8, 2022

Russia’s loose cannon of a space boss is sending mixed messages about the future of the International Space Station. Among the conflicting statements from Director-General Dmitry Rogozin, the Roscosmos version of Eric Cartman, is that “the decision has been made” to pull out of the ISS over international sanctions on Russia thanks to its war on Ukraine. But exactly when would this happen? Good question. Rogozin said the agency would honor its commitment to give a year’s notice before pulling out, which based on the current 2024 end-of-mission projections, means we might hear something definitive sometime next year. Then again, Rogozin also said last week that Roscosmos would be testing a one-orbit rendezvous technique with the ISS in 2023 or 2024; it currently takes a Soyuz about four orbits to catch up to the ISS. So which is it? Your guess is as good as anyones at this point.

At what point does falsifying test data on your products stop being a “pattern of malfeasance” and become just the company culture? Apparently, something other than the 40 years that Mitsubishi Electric has allegedly been doctoring test results on some of their transformers. The company has confessed to the testing issue, and also to “improper design” of the transformers, going back to the 1980s and covering about 40% of the roughly 8,400 transformers it made and shipped worldwide. The tests that were falsified were to see if the transformers could hold up thermally and withstand overvoltage conditions. The good news is, unless you’re a power systems engineer, these aren’t transformers you’d use in any of your designs — they’re multi-ton, multi-story beasts that run the grid. The bad news is, they’re the kind of transformers used to run the grid, so nobody’s stuff will work if one of these fails. There’s no indication whether any of the sketchy units have failed, but the company is “considering” contacting owners and making any repairs that are necessary.

For your viewing pleasure, you might want to catch the upcoming documentary series called “A League of Extraordinary Makers.” The five-part series seeks to explain the maker movement to the world, and features quite a few of the luminaries of our culture, including Anouk Wipprecht, Bunnie Huang, Jimmy DiResta, and the gang at Makers Asylum in Mumbai, which we assume would include Anool Mahidharia. It looks like the series will focus on the real-world impact of hacking, like the oxygen concentrators hacked up by Makers Asylum for COVID-19 response, and the influence the movement has had on the wider culture. Judging by the trailer below, it looks pretty interesting. Seems like it’ll be released on YouTube as well as other channels this weekend, so check it out.

But, if you’re looking for something to watch that doesn’t require as much commitment, you might want to check out this look at the crawler-transporter that NASA uses to move rockets to the launch pad. We’ve all probably seen these massive beasts before, moving at a snail’s pace along a gravel path with a couple of billion dollars worth of rocket stacked up and teetering precariously on top. What’s really cool is that these things are about as old as the Space Race itself, and still going strong. We suppose it’s easier to make a vehicle last almost 60 years when you only ever drive it at half a normal walking speed.

And finally, if you’re wondering what your outdoor cat gets up to when you’re not around — actually, strike that; it’s usually pretty obvious what they’ve been up to by the “presents” they bring home to you. But if you’re curious about the impact your murder floof is having on the local ecosystem, this Norwegian study of the “catscape” should be right up your alley. They GPS-tagged 92 outdoor cats — which they dryly but hilariously describe as “non-feral and food-subsidized” — and created maps of both the ranges of individual animals, plus a “population-level utilization distribution,” which we think is a euphemism for “kill zone.” Surprisingly, the population studied spent almost 80% of their time within 50 meters of home, which makes sense — after all, they know where those food subsidies are coming from.

Prusa’s Official Enclosure Pulls Out All The Stops

It’s well known in the desktop 3D printing world that you get what you pay for. If you want to spend under $300 USD, you get a Creality Ender 3 and deal with its slightly half-baked nature. Or if you’ve got the money to burn, you buy a Prusa i3 MK3 and know that you’ll remain on the cutting edge thanks to a constantly evolving slicer and regular hardware revisions.

Now it stands to reason that an expensive product will have expensive accessories, but even still, the recently unveiled “Original Prusa Enclosure” is sure to induce a bit of sticker shock in even the most ardent of [Josef Průša]’s fans — the most bare-bones configuration of the 10 kg (22 lbs) box rings up at $349 USD. You read that right, just the enclosure for Prusa’s flagship machine costs more than the average Chinese 3D printer. In fact it costs as much as the kit version of the Prusa Mini, which incidentally, is set to get its own version of the enclosure sometime in the future. If you select all the bells and whistles, a fully-decked out Prusa Enclosure will cost you $700 USD, plus shipping.

Continue reading “Prusa’s Official Enclosure Pulls Out All The Stops”

Reviving A 1974 Sinclair Scientific Calculator

When a treasure of retrotechnology fails to work, the natural next step is to have a go at repairing it. [Adam Wilson] found himself in this position when he acquired a 1974 Sinclair Cambridge Scientific calculator, and his progress with the device makes for an interesting read.

First up is something of value to all old Sinclair enthusiasts, he’s found a solution to the original battery connectors being prone to failure. A couple of parts stocked by RS can be used as replacements, which should save quite a lot of Sinclairs with crusty connectors.

Saving the connectors should have fixed the calculator, but only served to reveal that it had an electronic fault. Some detective work traced this to the power supply, which is a small switching circuit. The 1974 chip and associated coil had both failed, which rather drew the project to a halt. A second repair-or-spares Cambridge Scientific was sourced, and by good luck it happened to have a working PCB. So [Adam] got a working calculator, and we hope he’ll succumb to the temptation to shoehorn in a PSU from 2022 to get the other one working.

Anyone curious about this slightly unusual calculator should take a look at our teardown of one.

3D printed fish leaping through waves

A Crazy Wave Automaton

[Henk Rijckhaert] recently participated in a “secret Santa” gift exchange. In a secret Santa, everyone’s name goes in a hat, and each person must pick a name without looking. Each gives a gift to the person whose name they drew.

Henk needed a gift for Amy, a friend who loves the water and water sports as well as maker-y things.  So he built her a wave automaton — a sea wave and fishies, and documented the build in this video.

The build is mostly plywood and 3D printed parts. We have to  think reprising it in a nice wood and brass would make a lovely project for a hobby wood and metalworker.

The bulk of the project is 30 plywood boards stacked up with spacers. Each board is mounted with a 3D printed stepped bushing on one end that rides in a horizontal slot. On the other end is a 3D printed eccentric riding in an oversized (about 5cm) hole. So the board moves in a circle at one end and back and forth at the other for a very nice simulation of an ocean wave. Continue reading “A Crazy Wave Automaton”

Creating An Image Format For Embedded Hardware

Whether its one of those ubiquitous little OLED displays or a proper LCD panel, once you’ve got something a bit more capable than the classic 16×2 character LCD wired up to your microcontroller, there’s an excellent chance you’ll want to start displaying some proper images. Generally speaking that means you’ll be working with bitmap files, but as you might expect when pushing a decades-old file format into an application it was never intended for, things can get a little messy. Which is why [gfcwfzkm] has created the Portable Image File (PIF) format.

This low-overhead image format is designed specifically for microcontrollers, and can be decoded on devices with at least 60 bytes of free RAM. Images stored with PIF not only require fewer computational resources to process, but equally important, take up less space on flash. The format supports both color and monochrome images, and the GitHub repo even includes a graphical Python 3.10 tool that lets you convert your images to either .pif files or a .h header file for embedding directly into your C code.

[gfcwfzkm] has provided some source code to show you how to get the PIF library up and running, but as of the time of this writing, there isn’t any example code for using PIF within the Arduino environment. That’s no big deal for the old hands in the audience, but we’re interested in seeing how the community can make use of this file format once it’s available in a bit more beginner-friendly package. It’s one of the final unchecked items on the todo list though, so it shouldn’t be long now.

Of course nothing is wrong with using bitmaps to display images in your microcontroller projects, and there’s a certain advantage to fiddling around with the well-known image format. But if a new file type is all it takes to speed up access times and cram a few more images onto the chip, we’re definitely ready to upgrade.