An Odd Home Computer From The 1980s

If you were around when the Altair 8800 was king, you might remember the name Cromemco. They were an early vendor of add-ons for the Altair, along with companies like Godbout and Morrow. The company was mostly famous for a very crude digital camera for the Altair and a similarly-crude graphics interface card. They graduated into building S-100 bus computers. Like many similar companies, they could taste the upcoming home PC market, and they wanted a piece of it. Their answer? The $1,800 C-10 Cromemco Personal Computer, and you can see [Vintage Geek’s] thoughts on the odd machine in the video below.

The system ran CP/M and, like many similar systems, got lost in the rush to get the IBM PC. Compared to other computers of the time, the C-10 was compact. The keyboard layout seems odd today, but there wasn’t really much standardization in those days.

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Measuring Planck’s Constant (Again)

There are many well-known physical constants, but it always interests us when someone can approximately measure them using equipment you probably have. We could pretend it is because we want to help kids do science projects, but who are we really kidding? It is just the cool factor. [Stoppi] shows us several neat ways to measure Planck’s constant (German language, Google Translate link) using things like LEDs, solar cells, and common test equipment. If you don’t want to translate the web page, you can also see the setup and the math behind it in the video below.

If complex math triggers you, this might not be the video for you. The particular test in the video does require a very low current measurement, but that’s not very hard to arrange these days. There are actually several methods covered in the post, and one of them uses one of those familiar “component testers” that has an Atmel CPU, a socket, and an LCD. These can measure the forward current of LEDs, and if you know the wavelength of the LED, you can determine the constant. There’s even a custom device that integrates several LEDs to do the job.

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A 6502 Overlay Debugger

Retired hardware engineer [Plasmode] recently took on the challenge of building a debugger for the 6502 designed to sit atop the microprocessor while seated in a solder less breadboard. The result is the Diagnostic Overlay for W65C02 Breadboard, consisting of 128 kB SRAM and a 1250-gate CPLD. Except being 0.8 in wide, the overlay debugger is otherwise the same size as the 6502’s 40-pin DIP package, so it doesn’t overhang other portions of your circuit.

Being an initial concept prototype, [Plasmode] mounted the chips dead-bug style on perf board — a process he himself found tiring. If he builds additional debuggers, presumably he will consider making a PCB.

The prototype was constructed using point-to-point soldering with 30-ga wire wrap wire.  It was all done under the inspection microscope.  There are not many connections, but they are rather tedious so I can only do a dozen or so wires per session.  It took me 2 days and several hours total to finish the prototype board.

This design is based on the CRC65 Frugal 6502 Single Board Computer, of course omitting the 6502 itself. Instead of a physical ROM memory chip, he implemented a 64-byte boot loader inside the CPLD and a serial port. This lets him to bootstrap the system over the serial port. He plans on expanding this to include other DIP-packaged retro microprocessors in the future. Check out his project page ( above ). If you want to dig deeper, he posted the schematics here.

Transforming A Keyboard To A Mouse In Software

You’ve probably heard the old saying that if it looks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck… So when is a keyboard a mouse? When software makes it quack like a mouse — that is, if mice quacked. [Blackle Mori] took a cheap USB keypad and, using the libevdev Linux system, made it impersonate a mouse.

The code on GitHub isn’t complex, but the details can take some time to get right. The code takes over all input events from the device. [Blackle] dumped out events sent from the keypad, but the stock evtest program would probably have done just as well.

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Smart Doorbell Focuses On Privacy

As handy as having a smart doorbell is, with its ability to remotely see who’s at the front door from anywhere with an Internet connection, the off-the-shelf units are not typically known for keeping user privacy as a top priority. Even if their cloud storage systems were perfectly secure (which is not a wise assumption to make) they have been known to give governmental agencies and police free reign to view the videos whenever they like. Unfortunately if you take privacy seriously, you might need to implement your own smart doorbell yourself.

The project uses an ESP32-CAM board as the doorbell’s core, paired with a momentary push button and all housed inside a 3D-printed enclosure. [Tristam] provides a step-by-step guide, including printing the enclosure, configuring the ESP32-CAM to work with the popular open-source home automation system ESPHome, handling doorbell notifications automatically, and wiring the components. There are plenty of other optional components that can be added to this system as well, including things like LED lighting for better nighttime imaging.

[Tristam] isn’t much of a fan of having his home automation connected to the Internet, so the device eschews wireless connections and batteries in favor of a ten-meter USB cable connected to it from a remote machine. As far as privacy goes, this is probably the best of all worlds as long as your home network isn’t doing anything crazy like exposing ports to the broader Internet. It also doesn’t need to be set up to continuously stream video either; this implementation only takes a snapshot when the doorbell button is actually pressed. Of course, with a few upgrades to the ESP circuitry it is certainly possible to use these chips to capture video if you prefer.

Thanks to [JohnU] for the tip!

A Quarter Century Of The IMac

Growing older as an engineer turns out to be a succession of moments in which technologies and devices which you somehow still imagine to be cool or exciting, reveal themselves in fact to be obsolete, indeed, old. Such a moment comes today, with the25th anniversary of the most iconic of 1990s computers, Apple’s iMac. The translucent all-in-one machine was and remains more than simply yet another shiny Mac, it’s probably the single most influential home computer ever. A bold statement to be sure, but take a look at the computer you’re reading this on, indeed at all your electronic devices here in 2023, before you dismiss it.

Any colour you want, as long as it's beige
Any colour you want, as long as it’s beige. Leon Brooks, Public domain.

Computers in the 1990s were beige and boring. Breathtakingly so, a festival of the generic. If you had a PC it came in the same beige box as every single other PC, the only thing breaking the monotony being one of those LED 7-segment fake-MHz displays. Apple computers took the beige and ran with it, their PowerMac range being merely a smoother-fronted version of all those beige-box PCs. This was the period following the departure of Steve Jobs during which the company famously lost its way, and the Bondi blue Jonny Ive-designed iMac was the signature product of his triumphant return.

That’s enough pretending to have drunk the Apple Kool-Aid for one article, so  why are we marking this anniversary? The answer lies not in the iMac’s hardware, though its 233MHz PowerPC G3 and ATI graphics driving a 15″ CRT were no slouch for the day, nor even in its forsaking of all their previous proprietary interfaces for USB. Instead it’s the design influence of this machine, as it ushered in a new era of technological devices whose ethos lay around how they might be used rather than in simply showering the interface with features. At the time the iMac spawned a brief fashion for translucent blue in everything from peripherals to steam irons, but in the quarter century since your devices have changed immeasurably in its wake. We still don’t like that weird round mouse though.

Header image: Rama, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Hackaday Podcast Ep 232: Chaos Communications Camp Placeholder Edition

Editor-in-Chief Elliot Williams is off at Chaos Communications Camp, and Assistant Editor Tom Nardi is off on vacation, so there’s no real podcast this week.

If you need something to watch, let us suggest the talks!

Or listen to our pathetic excuses here:

Honestly, you’d be better off not downloading this one.