Commodore 64 Web Server Brings 8-Bit Into The Future

These days, most webservers are big hefty rackmount rigs with roaring fans in giant datacenters. [naDDan]’s webserver is altogether more humble, as it runs on a single Commodore 64. 

The C64 is running Contiki OS, an operating system for 6502-based computers. It’s built with an eye to networking, requiring ethernet hardware for full functionality. In [naDDan]’s case, he’s outfitted his C64 with an ETFE network adapter in the cartridge port to get it online. It serves up the HTML file off a 1541C floppy drive, with the drive buzzing away every time someone loads up the page.

The page itself is simple, showing some basic information on a simple blue background. There is some scrolling text though, as is befitting the 8-bit era. It’s also available in four languages.

[naDDan’s] server can be found here, according to his video, but at the time of writing, it was down for the count. Whether that’s due to a dynamic DNS issue or the simple fact that an 8-bit 6502 isn’t up to heavy traffic is up for debate. Regardless, try for yourself and see how you go. Video after the break.

Watch Out SiC, Diamond Power Semiconductors Are Coming For You!

The vast majority of semiconductors products we use every day are primarily constructed on a silicon process, using wafers of pure silicon. But whilst the economics are known, and processes mature, there are still some weaknesses. Especially for power applications. gallium nitride (GaN) and silicon carbide (SiC) are materials that have seen an explosion in uses in the power space, driven especially by an increase in electric vehicle sales and other high-power/high-voltage systems such as solar arrays. But, SiC is expensive and very energy intensive. It looks like diamond substrates could become much more common if the work by Diamfab takes off.

Diamond, specifically thin films of synthetic diamond formed on a suitable substrate, exhibits many desirable properties, such as a vastly superior maximum electric field compared with silicon, and a thermal conductivity five times better than copper. Such properties give diamond structures a big power and voltage advantage over SiC, which is in turn a lot better the pure silicon. This also means that diamond-based transistors are more energy efficient, making them smaller and cheaper, as well as better performing. Without the high formation temperatures needed for SiC, diamond could well be their downfall, especially once you factor in the reduced environmental impact. There is even some talk about solid-state, high-voltage diamond insulator capacitors becoming possible. It certainly is an interesting time to be alive!

We do cover news about future semiconductors from time to time, like this piece about cubic boron arsenide. We’ve also seen diamond being used as a battery, albeit a very weak radiative one.

[via EETimes]

IR Camera Is Excellent Hacking Platform

While there have been hiccups here and there, the general trend of electronics is to decrease in cost or increase in performance. This can be seen in fairly obvious ways like more powerful and affordable computers but it also often means that more powerful software can be used in other devices without needing expensive hardware to support it. [Manawyrm] and [Toble_Miner] found this was true of a particular inexpensive thermal camera that ships with Linux installed on it, and found that this platform was nearly perfect for tinkering with and adding plenty of other features to turn it into a much more capable tool.

The duo have been working on a SC240N variant of the InfiRay C200 infrared camera, which ships with a Hisilicon SoC. The display is capable of displaying 25 frames per second, making this platform an excellent candidate for modifying. A few ports were added to the device, including USB and MicroSD, and which also allows the internal serial port to be accessed easily. From there the device can be equipped with the uboot bootloader in order to run essentially anything that could be found on any other Linux machine such as supporting a webcam interface (and including a port of DOOM, of course). The duo doesn’t stop at software modifications though. They also equipped the camera with a lens, attached magnetically, which changes the camera’s focal length to give it improved imaging capabilities at closer ranges.

While the internal machinations of this device are interesting, it actually turns out to be a fairly capable infrared camera on its own as well. The hardware and software requirements for these devices certainly don’t need a full Linux environment to work, and while we have seen thermal cameras that easily fit in a pocket that are based on nothing any more powerful than an ESP32, it does tend to simplify the development process dramatically to include Linux and a little more processing power if you can.

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Flexible Actuator Flaps For 100,000,000 Cycles Without Failure

Flexible PCBs are super-useful things, but they can have a limited fatigue life. [Carl Bugeja] has been using them to create flexible actuators, though, and he’s getting an amazing 100,000,000 cycles out of them after some rigorous development.

[Carl] explores all manner of optimizations to his flippy actuators in the video. He tried making them oscillate faster by putting a hole in the middle to reduce drag. Other tricks include getting the arm thickness just right, and experimenting with rigidity through adding or removing sections of soldermask.

Fundamentally, though, he learned the key to longevity laid in the copper traces on the flex PCBs themselves. After enough flexural cycles, the traces would fail, killing the actuator. He experimented with a variety of solutions, eventually devleoping a ruggedized two-arm version of his actuator. Twenty samples were put to the test, oscillating at 25 Hz for two weeks straight. All samples survived the test, in which they were put through around 107,820,000 cycles.

[Carl] has put in plenty of hard work on this project, and his actuators have come a long way since we saw them last. He hopes to use the better actuators to improve his FlexLED display. Video after the break.

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Hackaday Prize 2023: Building A Relay ALU

There’s much truth in the advice that, to truly understand something, you need to build it yourself from the ground up. That’s the idea behind [Christian]’s entry for the Re-engineering Education category of the 2023 Hackaday Prize. Built as an educational demonstrator, this is a complete arithmetic-logic unit (ALU) using discrete relays — and not high-density types either — these are the big honking clear-cased kind.

The design is neatly, intentionally, partitioned along functional lines, with four custom PCB designs, each board operating on 4-bits. To handle a byte-length word, boards are simply cascaded, making a total of eight. The register, adder, logic function, and multiplex boards are the heart of the build with an additional two custom boards for visualization (using an Arduino for convenience) and IO forming the interface. After all, a basic CPU is just an ALU and some control around it, the magic is really in the ALU.

The fundamental logical operations operating upon two operands, {A, B} are A, ~A, B, ~B, A or B, A and B, A xor B, can be computed from just four relays per bit. The logic outputs do need to be fed into a 7-to-1 bit selector before being fed to the output register, but that’s the job of a separate board. The adder function is the most basic, simply a pair of half-adders and an OR-gate to handle the chaining of the carry inputs and generate the carry chain output.

3D printed cable runs are a nice touch and make for a slick wiring job to tie it all together.

For a more complete relay-based CPU, you could check out the MERCIA relay computer project, not to mention this wonderfully polished build.


Books You Should Read: Red Team Blues

Martin Hench really likes playing on the Red Team — being on the attack. He’s a financial geek, understands cryptocurrency, understands how money is moved around to keep it hidden, and is really good at mining data from social media. He puts those skills together as a forensic accountant. Put simply, Martin finds money that people want hidden. Against his better judgment, Marty does the job of a lifetime, and makes an absolute mint. But that job had hair, and he’s got to live through the aftermath. It turns out, that might just be a challenge, as three separate groups want a piece of him.

Red Team Blues, a work of fiction by [Cory Doctorow] about cryptocurrency, trust, finance, and society as a whole. When [Doctorow] offered to send us a copy to review, we jumped at the chance, and can give it a hearty recommendation as a fun and thoughtful tale. The moral seems to be that while everyone plays the sordid finance game, the government should really work harder to disentangle the mess, but maybe we would do better if more people opted for integrity. There is also a real point to be made about the dark side of cryptocurrency, in that it enables crime, ransomware, and money laundering on a global scale. For all the pluses for privacy and anonymity, there’s some real downsides. The characters spend most of the book wrestling with that dichotomy in the background.

The book took something of a moralizing turn just over halfway through. Which, depending on your viewpoint, you’ll either really appreciate, or have to hold your nose a bit to get through. But the suspense pulls the reader through it, making for an overall enjoyable read. As an added bonus, you might end up with a better mental image of how the pieces of digital privacy, finance, and the real world all fit together.

The book has all the fun references to Tor, Signal, Bitcoin, and computer history you could want. And the central MacGuffin is an interesting one: a cryptocurrency that runs on proof-of-secure-enclave, eliminating the ridiculous power consumption of proof-of-work schemes. All of this with some rich Silicon Valley lore setting up the background. Our conclusion? Two wrenches up.

Old Clock Transformed Into Mesmerizing Light Display

It’s easy to find a cheap clock at any dollar store that will manage to tell the time, but chances are that the plastic-fantastic construction won’t do you any aesthetic favors. Fear not, though, for [ROBO HUB]’s upcycled design turns a humble clock into a mesmerizing horological display of beauty.

The build starts by scavenging the movement out of a cheap plastic clock. A CD is then glued to the front of the movement to serve as a reflective backing plate. For numerals, the clock uses F3, F6, F9, and F12 keys nabbed from a keyboard.

The real party trick, though, is in the lighting. This build is elevated beyond hackneyed 90s desk clocks by the inclusion of a ring of LED strip lighting. When switched on, the LED light reflects and refracts on the surface of the CD, creating a mesmerizing shifting pattern featuring all the colors of the rainbow.

CDs are actually quite magical from an optical perspective and have all kinds of nifty uses.

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