RGB Graphics On A DEC Rainbow With Reverse-Engineered Monitor

One of the delights of the boring pre-VGA era is that you get to express your creativity when it comes to making a random color CRT work with an equally exciting dual CPU computer like the DEC Rainbow 100. This is the situation that the folk over at Usagi Electric found themselves in with a recent project. The Rainbow 100 is an interesting computer in that it can boot not only DOS with its 8088 processor, but also CP/M on the Z80 processor. Although generally used in monochrome mode, it supports a color graphic card to output RGB signals via its male DB15 connector.

DEC Rainbow 100 to Princeton Ultrasync adapter. With strain-relief zip tie.
DEC Rainbow 100 to Princeton Ultrasync adapter. With strain-relief zip tie.

Unfortunately, the target monitor – a Princeton Ultrasync – featured a female DB25 connector that obviously wasn’t going to connect directly, thus requiring a spot of reverse engineering. Making this very easy, the PCB containing the input connector had the traces clearly marked with the intended signal, which just left the mapping of the two connectors. One complication here was with the Rainbow 100 outputting an RGB signal with sync-on-green, whereas the monitor expected a separate synchronization signal.

Fortunately, most analog monitors aren’t particularly fussy so long as they get the expected signal somewhere in the input, which just left the final issue, of the Rainbow 100 outputting the monochrome signal on a special monochrome pin. This allowed everything to work as it should, and leaving those of us who joined the computing era in the 90s appreciative of standard VGA cables, other than for those weird Sun and Apple systems with their proprietary connectors.

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Labor Day BBQs May Feature NYPD

Planning to host a large backyard wingding in the NYC metro area this weekend? Be sure to watch the skies for uninvited guests. That’s right, the NYPD are deploying drones over “large” Labor Day events and yes, even private barbecues. The strategy was announced during a briefing about J’ouvert — that’s a yearly Caribbean festival that marks the end of slavery. It generally brings crowds of thousands and draws a strong police presence to Brooklyn.

While this particular invasion may come as a bit of a shock, this certainly isn’t the first time the NYPD has deployed drones in the name of public safety or in response to emergencies. Data shows they have used them 124 times this year, which is up a staggering 31 times from the four events in 2022.

As you may have guessed, this has invited backlash from privacy and civil liberties advocates. One pointed out that this action “flies in the face of the POST Act,” a city law that requires the NYPD to provide transparency about their various surveillance tactics. The advocates cite the fact that regulations have not kept up with the proliferation of technology.

No matter what happens in the future with regulations, the NYPD can always crash large parties the old fashioned way. Usually, the neighbors will complain at some point, unless they were all invited.

Photo via Unsplash.

Hefty 3D Printed Quadcopter Meets Nasty End

You can readily buy all kinds of quadcopters off the shelf these days, but sometimes it’s more fun to build your own. [Michael Rechtin] did just that, with a hefty design of his own creation.

The build is an exploration of all kinds of interesting techniques. The frame itself uses generative design techniques to reduce weight while maintaining strength, while the motors themselves make heavy use of 3D-printed components. The design is modular and much of it slots together, too, and it uses a homebrewed flight controller running dRehmflight. It draws 2.5 kW from its lithium polymer batteries and weighs over 5 kg.

The DIY ethos led to some hurdles, but taught [Michael] plenty along the way. Tuning the PID control loop posed some challenges, as did one of the hand-wound motors being 5% down on thrust.  Eventually, though, the quad flew well enough to crash into a rectangular gate, before hitting the ground. Any quad pilot will tell you that these things happen. Drilling into the quad with a battery still inside then led to a fire, which did plenty of further damage.

[Michael’s] quad doesn’t appear to be specifically optimized to any one task, and it’s easy to see many ways in which it could be lightened or otherwise upgraded. However, as a freeform engineering thinking exercise, it’s interesting to watch as he tackles various problems and iteratively improves the design. Video after the break.

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An Electric Unicycle, In Minimalist Form

When self balancing scooters hit the market a few years ago they brought alongside them a range of machines, from the hoverboard kids toys which have provided so many useful parts, to the stand-astride electric unicycles. These last machines have a bulky battery and controller box atop the wheel, and [Dycus] set his sights on this by transferring it to a backpack with the vehicle’s IMU sensor relocated to one of the pedals.

Such a job is not merely a simple case of rewiring with some longer cables, as a first challenge the IMU communicates via I2C which isn’t suitable for longer distances. This is solved by a chipset which places the I2C on a differential pair, but even then it’s not quite a case of stepping on and zipping about. The PID parameters of the balancing algorithm on a stock machine are tuned for the extra weight of the battery on top, and these needed to be modified. Fortunately there have been enough people hacking the STM microcontroller and firmware involved for this task to be achievable, but we’d rate it as still something not for the faint-hearted.

The final result can be seen in the video below, and the quality of the physical work shows as very high. The former battery box is repurposed into a stylish backpack, and though the newly minimalist foot pedals and wheel are a little less easy to get going he zips around with ease.

Hungry for more? This ain’t the first we’ve shown you.

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Hackaday Prize 2023: 10 KW Electronic Load

[tinfever] needed a high-power benchtop electronic load for an upcoming project, and by their own admission decided foolishly to build their own. And we’re glad they did. The thing is, whilst this isn’t exactly a super-cheap project to build, buying a commercial offering with a capability of 10 kW and up to 30 kW pulsed, is going to cost an absolute fortune.

A selection of small resistors

Built inside a cubic frame using what appears to be standard 2020 aluminum rails and fixturing, the modular construction is nice and clean, with plenty of space around the load boards to allow the cooling air to circulate.

The operating principle is very simple; custom PCBs act in parallel to provide any load needed, by switching in the on-board load resistor. Each load board handles all the details of switching and dumping the power due to the inductance in the system wiring and the wire-wound resistors themselves.

Whilst we know that wire-wound resistors are reverse-wound to minimize inductance, there will still be some, and each load board will contribute a little more when the whole system is scaled up. Also, each load PCB handles its own temperature sensing, and current measurement passing these data off to the control PCB. A front-end connector PCB provides a variety of connection options to interface to the DUT (Device Under Test.) The system controller is based around an STM32 processor which deals with quite a lot more than you might think is needed on a first look.

The sense currents from each load need to be sensed, scaled, and summed to keep the overall load accuracy within the 1% spec. Also, it is on duty for PWM control of the cooling fans, handling the user interface, and any other remote connectivity. There are a lot of details on the project page, as we’re only skimming the surface here. If you’re interested in building an active load, this is a project you really should be digging into.

We shall watch with interest for when [tinfever] scales up this eight-slot prototype to the full specification of 52 stages! When working with power applications, there comes a point when you really need an electronic load, and to that end, here’s one with a very specific use case to get you started.

There is also the option of buying something cheap from the usual sources and hacking on some custom firmware to adapt it a little to your needs.


On Vim, Modal Interfaces And The Way We Interact With Computers

The ways in which we interact with computers has changed dramatically over the decades. From flipping switches on the control panels of room-sized computers, to punching holes into cards, to ultimately the most common ways that we interact with computers today, in the form of keyboards, mice and touch screens. The latter two especially were developed as a way to interact with graphical user interfaces (GUI) in an intuitive way, but keyboards remain the only reasonable way to quickly enter large amounts of text, which raises many ergonomic questions about how to interact with the rest of the user interface, whether this is a command line or a GUI.

For text editors, perhaps the most divisive feature is that of modal versus non-modal interaction. This one point alone underlies most of the Great Editor War that has raged since time immemorial. Practically, this is mostly about highly opiniated people arguing about whether they like Emacs or vi (or Vim) better. Since in August of 2023 we said our final farewell to the creator of Vim – Bram Moolenaar – this might be a good point to put down the torches and pitchforks and take a sober look at why Vim really is the logical choice for fast, ergonomic coding and editing.

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Hackaday Podcast 234: Machines On Fire, Old Kinect New Kinect, And Birth Of The Breadboard

It might sound like a joke, but this week, Elliot Williams and Tom Nardi start things off by asking how you keep a Polish train from running. Like always, the answer appears to be a properly modulated radio signal. After a fiery tale about Elliot’s burned beans, the discussion moves over to the adventure that is home CNC ownership, the final chapter in the saga of the Arecibo Telescope, and the unexpected longevity of Microsoft’s Kinect. Then it’s on to the proper way to cook a PCB, FFmpeg in the browser, and a wooden cyberdeck that’s worth carrying around. Finally, they’ll go over the next generation of diode laser engravers, and take a look back at the origins of the lowly breadboard.

Check out the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Download it yourself. You don’t need the cloud!

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