[Taylor and Amy] love taking on retro computer projects. This week they’re building a MiniPET from Tynemouth and The Future is 8 Bit. It’s a pretty awesome kit which sadly isn’t available anymore. Taylor bought one of the last ones as part of a charity sale at the 2023 Vintage Computer Festival Southwest.
If you haven’t seen their YouTube channel yet, check it out! The two have been best friends since 1984. Their channel has just the right mix of education and comedy, with pacing fast enough to keep things interesting. It’s really refreshing to see two people enjoying a project together.
The MiniPET is of course a reproduction of the hardware in the Commodore PET, the machine which predated the VIC-20 and of course the Commodore 64. The kit starts with installing a few discrete parts — resistors, capacitors, and diodes. Then come the IC sockets. [Taylor and Amy] ran into a bit of trouble when it came time to install the chips. While installing the 40-pin 65C21 Peripheral Interface Adapter (PIA), one pin bent under the socket. [Taylor] popped the chip back out, and replaced it — which resulted in 3 bent pins!
Anyone who’s installed new DIP parts has been through this. The pins are always bent out a bit from the factory. The old “Bend it in using a table” method usually works — but if you want perfect pins, try a pin straightener. These versatile tools can even be 3D printed.
Once the pin problems are solved, it’s time to power up the kit and see if it will work. That’s when we get to see that magic moment when a project first comes to life. Check out the video – you’ll see what we mean.
[Xander Naumenko] has created something truly impressive — a working RISC-V CPU completely contained in a Terraria world. And then for added fun, he wrote the game of pong, playable in real time, from within the game of Terraria. It’s all based on the in-game wiring system, combined with a bit of a hack that uses the faulty lamp mechanic to create a very odd AND gate. In Terraria, the existing logic gates have timing issues that make them a no-go for complicated projects like this one. The faulty lamp is intended to do randomized outputs, by stacking multiple inputs to get a weighted output when a clock signal is applied. The hack is to simply give this device a single input, turning it into a clocked IF gate. Two of them together in series makes a clocked AND gate, and two in parallel make a clocked OR gate.
Why would [Xander] embark on this legendary endeavor? Apparently after over eight thousand hours clocked in game, one gets a bored of killing slimes and building NPC houses. And playing with the game’s wiring system turned on a metaphorical lightbulb, that the system could be used to build interesting systems. A prototype CPU, with a completely custom instruction set came next, and was powerful enough to compute Fibonacci. But that obviously wasn’t enough. Come back after the break for the rest of the story and the impressive video demonstration.
We live in a world where most of us take the transistor for granted. Within arm’s length of most people reading this, there are likely over ten billion of them sending electrons in every direction. But the transistor was not the first technology to come around to make the computer a possibility, but if you go to the lengths of building something with an alternative, like this vacuum tube computer, you may appreciate them just a tiny bit more.
This vacuum tube computer is called GLASNOST, which according to its creator [Paul] means “glass, no semiconductors” with the idea that the working parts of the computer (besides the passive components) are transparent glass tubes, unlike their opaque silicon-based alternatives. It boasts a graphical display on an oscilloscope, 4096 words of memory, and a custom four-bit architecture based only on NOT, NOR, and OR gates which are simpler to create with the bulky tubes.
The project is still a work in progress but already [Paul] has the core memory figured out and the computer modeled in a logic simulator. The next steps are currently being worked through which includes getting the logic gates to function in the real world. We eagerly await the next steps of this novel computer and, if you want to see one that was built recently and not in the distant past of the 1950s, take a look at the Electron Tube New Automatic Computer that was completed just a few years ago.
Mechanical displays use a variety of different methods to represent data with physical objects, and [AIRPOCKET]’s Mechanical Display aims to be a platform anyone can use. Each “pixel” in this display is a panel of some kind, and different effects can be had by moving individual panels to different angles. Not only can images be represented, but the patterns of the movements themselves can be beautiful as well.
These sorts of displays are fertile ground for artistic expression (one memorable implementation of this basic idea was the wooden mirror, which used varnished tiles of wood) but anyone looking to use the concept has usually been on their own when it comes to implementation.
The idea [AIRPOCKET] has is to make this kind of installation easier to implement. This method uses economical mini RC servos and 3D-printed pieces to create modular segments that can be assembled into whatever configuration one may need.
The material of the panels matters, too. Just below the page break, you can see a large unit with each “pixel” consisting of a mirrored square that reflects daylight. There’s also a video of an earlier prototype that uses some ridged two-color pieces to create a simple 4×4 three-level greyscale display.
There are a lot of possibilities if [AIRPOCKET] can make this sort of display more easily accessible, and that makes it a contender in the 2023 Hackaday Prize.
There are a huge number of products available in the modern world that come with network connectivity now, when perhaps they might be better off with out it. Kitchen appliances like refrigerators are the classic example, but things like lightbulbs, toys, thermostats, and door locks can all be found with some sort of Internet connectivity. Perhaps for the worse, too, if the security of these devices isn’t taken seriously, as they can all be vectors for attacks. Even things like this Rigol oscilloscope and its companion web app can be targets.
The vulnerability for this oscilloscope starts with an analysis of the firmware, which includes the web control application. To prevent potentially bricking a real oscilloscope, this firmware was emulated using QEMU. The vulnerability exists in the part of the code which involves changing the password, where an attacker can bypass authentication by injecting commands into the password fields. In the end, the only thing that needs to be done to gain arbitrary code execution on the oscilloscope is to issue a curl command directed at the oscilloscope.
In the end, [Maunel] suggests not connecting this oscilloscope to the Internet at all. He has informed the producer about it but as of this writing there has not been a resolution. It does, however, demonstrate the vulnerabilities that can be present in network-connected devices where the developers of the software haven’t gone to the lengths required to properly secure them for use with the modern Internet. Even things not connected to a traditional Internet connection can be targets for attacks.
At the dawn of the Space Race, when computers were something that took up whole rooms, satellites and probes had to rely on analog electronics to read from their various sensors and transmit the resulting data to the ground. But it wasn’t long before humanity’s space ambitions outgrew these early systems, which lead to vast advancements in space-bound digital computers in support of NASA’s Gemini and Apollo programs. Today, building a spacecraft without an onboard computer (or even multiple redundant computers) is unheard of. Even the smallest of CubeSats is likely running Linux on a multi-core system.
As such, software development has now become part an integral part of spacecraft design — from low-level code that’s responsible for firing off emergency systems to the 3D graphical touchscreen interfaces used by the crew to navigate the craft. But as you might expect, the stakes here are higher than any normal programming assignment. If your code locks up here on Earth, it’s an annoyance. If it locks up on a lunar lander seconds before it touches down on the surface, it could be the end of the mission.
To get a bit more insight into this fascinating corner of software development, we invited Jacob Killelea to host last week’s Software for Satellites Hack Chat. Jacob is an engineer with a background in both aero and thermodynamics, control systems, and life support. He’s written code for spacecraft destined for the Moon, and perhaps most importantly, is an avid reader of Hackaday.
The standard Raspberry Pi computers have been in short supply for a while now, so much so that people are going to great lengths to find replacements. Whether it’s migrating to alternative single-board computers or finding clones of the Pi that are “close enough”, there are solutions out there. This method of building a full-size Raspberry Pi with all of the bells and whistles using the much-less-in-demand Pi Zero also stands out as a clever solution.
[SpookyGhost] didn’t build this one himself, but he did stumble across it and write a pretty extensive how-to and performance evaluation for the board, which can be found here. The adapter connects to the Zero’s HDMI and USB ports, and provides all the connectors you’d expect from a larger Pi such as the 3B. It’s not a perfect drop-in replacement though — you don’t get the 3.5 mm audio jack, and the micro SD card location doesn’t match up with where it should be on a “real” Pi.
All things considered, this is one of those solutions that seems obvious in retrospect but we still appreciate its elegance. It might disappear as soon as chip shortages stop being an issue, but for now we’ll take any solutions we can. If you don’t already have a Pi Zero on hand, we’ve seen some other successes replacing them with thin clients or even old smartphones.