WordStar Reborn

Wordstar was the word processor that helped sell the personal computer. At one time, it was ubiquitous, and many authors had a hard time giving it up. Some, like George R. R. Martin, apparently are still refusing to give it up. But most of us have moved on. Thanks to an open-source clone, WordTsar, you may not have to. This is a modern interpretation of our old friend.

Programmers that write were especially fond of WordStar since it had a non-document mode and was often the best text editor you had available for writing code. Being able to do your documentation without switching brain gears is useful, too. Touch typists love the efficiency of easy control of things without resorting to cursor keys or a mouse — the same thing vi and emacs fans enjoy but in a different way.

The software runs on multiple platforms and has some new features. Installation on Linux is easy because it is packaged in an AppImage file. Of course, you can also fire up your best CP/M machine, replica, or emulation and run the real WordStar, but — honestly — WordTsar seems more practical if you wanted to go back to using this kind of wordprocessor or editor for everyday use.

Of course, some word processors were actual hardware. If you want some cheap CP/M hardware, that’s easy enough, too.

Scorched Moon: Secret Project A119

In today’s world, it is hard to realize how frightened Americans were at the news of Sputnik orbiting the Earth. Part of it was a fear of what a rival nation could do if they could fly over your country with impunity. Part of it was simply fear generated by propaganda. While America won the race to the moon, that wasn’t clear in the 1950s. The Soviet Union was ahead in the ability to deliver bombs using planes and missiles. They launched Sputnik on a modified ICBM, while American attempts to do the same failed spectacularly. The Air Force wanted ideas about how to respond to Sputnik, and one of the most disturbing ones was project A119, a project we were reminded of recently by a BBC post.

In all fairness, the Soviets had an almost identical plan, code-named E4. Fortunately, both sides eventually realized these plans weren’t a good idea. Oh, did we forget to mention that A119 and E4 were plans to detonate a nuclear device on the moon?

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Tiny Orrery Keeps The Planets In Their Places

[Frans] claims to have made the world’s smallest wooden orrery. We won’t take a position on that — such things are best left up to the good folks at Guinness. But given that the whole thing is seriously in danger of being dwarfed by a USB-C connector, we’d say he’s got a pretty good shot at that record.

The key to keeping this planetarium so petite while making it largely out of wood is to eschew the complex gear trains that usually bring the Music of the Spheres to life in such devices. The layered base of the orrery, with pieces cut from a sheet of basswood using a laser cutter, contains a single tiny stepper motor and just two gears. A zodiac disc sits atop the base and is the only driven element in the orrery; every other celestial body moves thanks to a pin set into the zodiac disc. An ESP32 C3 contacts a NASA feed once a day to get the relative positions of the planets and uses the zodiac disk to arrange everything nicely for the day. The video below shows the “Planet Spinner” in action.

We love the look of this project; the burnt edges and lightly smoked surface of the laser-cut wooden parts look fantastic, and the contrast with the brass wires is striking. We’ve seen an orrery or two around here, executed in everything from solid brass to Lego, but this one really tickled our fancy. Continue reading “Tiny Orrery Keeps The Planets In Their Places”

Making Music By Probing Magnetite Crystals

Well, noises anyway. [Dmitry Morozov] and [Alexandra Gavrilova] present an interesting electronics-based art installation, which probes a large chunk of crystalline magnetite, using a pair of servo-mounted probes, ‘measuring’ the surface conductivity and generating some sound and visuals.

It appears to have only one degree of freedom per probe, so we’re not so sure all that much of the surface gets probed per run, but however it works it produces some interesting, almost random results. The premise is that the point-to-point surface resistivity is unpredictable due to the chaotically formed crystals all jumbled up, but somehow uses these measured data to generate some waveshapes vaguely reminiscent of the resistivity profile of the sample, the output of which is then fed into a sound synthesis application and pumped out of a speaker. It certainly looks fun.

From a constructional perspective, hardware is based around a LattePanda fed samples by an ADS1115 ADC, which presumably is also responsible for driving the LCD monitor and the sound system. An Arduino is also wedged in there perhaps for servo-driving duty, maybe also as part of the signal chain from the probes, but that is just a guess on our part. The software uses the VVVV (Visual Live-programming suite) and the Pure Data environment.

We haven’t seen magnetite used for this type of application before, we tend to see it as a source of Iron for DIY knifemaking, as a medium to help separate DNA or just to make nanoparticles, for erm, reasons.

Hackaday Prize 2023: Bolt Bot Micro Servo Droids

This Hackaday prize entry from [saul] is the beginning of a reconfigurable kit of 3D printed parts and servo motors for robotics learning. With just access to a printer, a few cheap-as-chips servo motors, an Arduino, and some nuts and bolts, you could be hacking together robot walkers within a few hours of starting!

Bolt Bots is very simple to understand, with all the mechanics and wiring out there in the breeze, but strictly for indoor use we reckon. If you want to add remote control to your application, then drop in one of the ubiquitous nRF24L01 boards and build yourself a copy of the remote control [saul] handily provides in this other project.

There really isn’t a great deal we can say about this, as it’s essentially a build kit with quite a few configuration options, and you just have to build with it and see what’s possible. We expect the number of parts to proliferate over time giving even more options. So far [saul] demonstrates a few flavors of ‘walkers’, a rudimentary ‘robot arm’, and even a hanging drawbot.

The bolt hardware can be found in this GitHub repo, and the remote control code in this second one.

Servo-based designs are sometimes sneered at due to their dubious accuracy and repeatability, but with a little of effort, this can be vastly improved upon. Also, multi-legged walkers need multiple servos and controllers to drive ’em. Or do they?

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Retro Gadgets: I Swear Officer, I Was Listening To 45

Audio in cars has a long history. Car radios in the 1920s were bulky and expensive. In the 1930s, there was the Motorola radio. They were still expensive — a $540 car with a $130 radio — but much more compact and usable.  There were also 8-tracks, cassettes, CDs, and lately digital audio on storage media or streamed over the phone network. There were also record players. For a brief period between 1955 and 1961, you could get a car with a record player. As you might expect, though, they weren’t just any record players. After all, the first thing to break on a car from that era was the mechanical clock. Record players would need to be rugged to work and continue to work in a moving vehicle. As you might also expect, it didn’t work out very well.

It all started with Peter Goldmark, the head of CBS Laboratories. He knew a lot about record players and had been behind the LP — microgroove records that played for 22 minutes on a side at 33.3 RPM instead of 5 minutes on a side at 78 RPM. He knew that a car record player needed to be smaller and shock-resistant. Of course, in those days, it would have tubes, but that could hardly be helped.

The problem turned into one of size. A standard 10- or 12-inch disk is too big to easily fit in the car. A 45 RPM record would be more manageable, but who wants to change the record every three or four minutes while driving?

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Moisture Duck Gives You A Green Thumb

Around the Hackaday bunker, any plant other than a cactus has a real chance of expiring due to thirst. Perhaps we should build some of [MakersFunDuck]’s Moisture Duck boards. As you can see in the video below, the simple PCB with an ATtiny13A tells you when it is time to water the plants. The video also covers several exotic methods of determining the watering status, some of which are pretty complex.

The board is simple because the operation of the device is simple. A fixed resistor creates a voltage divider with the soil, and dry soil has higher resistance than moist soil. A pot sets a threshold, and the microcontroller measures the voltages.

Of course, if you can’t remember to water the plants, you probably can’t remember to change batteries either. So the device sleeps most of the time, and only wakes up every eight seconds to conserve battery. It would be nice to alarm on a low battery, and, honestly, we would probably have made the sleep time longer.

The video covers how he minimizes corrosion, but we aren’t sure how well the board will survive in damp soil, but with a little protection, it might last a while. Besides that, you could probably just consider them almost disposable.

If you are really lazy, you can also automate the actual watering. You can even build that into a smart flower pot.

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