50-Year-Old Program Gets Speed Boost

At first glance, getting a computer program to run faster than the first electronic computers might seem trivial. After all, most of us carry enormously powerful processors in our pockets every day as if that’s normal. But [Mark] isn’t trying to beat computers like the ENIAC with a mobile ARM processor or other modern device. He’s now programming with the successor to the original Intel integrated circuit processor, the 4040, but beating the ENIAC is still little more complicated than you might think with a processor from 1974.

For this project, the goal was to best the 70-hour time set by ENIAC for computing the first 2035 digits of pi. There are a number of algorithms for performing this calculation, but using a 4-bit processor and an extremely limited memory of only 1280 bytes makes a number of these methods impossible, especially with the self-imposed time limit. The limited instruction set is a potential bottleneck as well with these early processors. [Mark] decided to use [Fabrice Bellard]’s algorithm given these limitations. He goes into great detail about the mathematics behind this method before coding it in JavaScript. Generating assembly language from a working JavaScript was found to be fairly straightforward.

[Mark] is also doing a lot of work on the 4040 to get this program running as well, including upgrades to the 40xx tool stack, the compiler and linker, and an emulator he’s using to test his program before sending it to physical hardware. The project is remarkably well-documented, including all of the optimizations needed to get these antique processors running fast enough to beat the ENIAC. We won’t spoil the results for you, but as a hint to how it worked out, he started this project using the 4040 since his original attempt using a 4004 wasn’t quite fast enough.

Using Gravitational Lensing To Transmit Power And Detect Aliens

Most of us will have at some point have bought a long power cable to charge the bike on the deck, but [Slava G. Turyshev] has a slightly more ambitious idea. In this recent paper, he outlines how an advanced civilization could use a star or two to transmit power or send signals over an interstellar distance. And his idea is also simple enough that we could do it right now, with existing technology, or detect if someone else is doing it.

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We Like Big Keyboards And We Cannot Lie

So, let’s say you’re good at DOTA. Like, world-class good. How good do you think you’d be on a keyboard that’s 16 feet long, with a space bar the size of a person? Well, you’d need the rest of your team, that’s for sure.

Alienware have created the world’s largest mechanical keyboard and mouse, which are working, 14:1 scale representations of their AW420K keyboard and AW720M mouse. And they got Team Liquid to try it out.

While this may be a marketing ploy, it took quite a lot of work and weeks of 3D printing to faithfully reproduce those peripherals on that scale.

What’s really impressive are the custom key switches, which are described early on in the video after the break. They are nearly a foot wide with the keycap on, and they have an incredible four inches of travel.

Each of the 87 key switches is made with two snugly-fitting pieces of PVC, a thick rubber band, and of course, an actual, regular-size key switch to register the presses. Not satisfied with that, the team added a small piece of measuring tape to produce a nice clicky, tactile feedback. And, oh yeah, that space bar? The stabilizer is made from a 1″ copper pipe. Be sure to check it out in action after the break.

This just so happens to be the same size as the last keyboard we saw claiming to be the world’s largest, which was rejected from the Guinness Book because it’s not an exact replica of an existing keyboard. So, somebody call Guinness, we suppose.

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Trouble Brewing For RISC-V As Issue Of Technology Transfer Is Questioned

Within the messy world of international politics, a major consideration by governments concerns which types of kn0w-how and technology can be transferred and sold to other nations, with each type facing restrictions depending on how friendly the political relations are with the target country at that point in time. Amidst all of this, there are signs that a so far relatively minor player in the world of CPU instruction set architectures – RISC-V – may become a victim of this, as a bipartisan group of US politicians is petitioning the White House to restrict transfer of know-how (so-called Intellectual Property, or IP) to RISC-V, as this may benefit adversaries like China.

As a US citizen who is involved in the RISC-V ecosystem, [Andrew ‘bunnie’ Huang] feels rather strongly about this, and has written an open letter to the US President, pleading to not restrict the way that US citizens can deal with the Switzerland-based RISC-V organization. This comes as the California-based RISC-V startup SiFive has announced that it’ll lay off 20% of its workforce. Depending on how a restriction on RISC-V is implemented, this could mean that US citizens would be forbidden from contributing to this ISA and surrounding ecosystem.

China has made it clear that RISC-V is a big part of its strategy to loosen its dependence on the West along with its investments in its MIPS-based Loongson processors, all of which strengthens the case for restricting US participation in RISC-V, even if it forces US companies like SiFive to move countries or cease its operations.

(Thanks to [cbjamo] for the tip)

Hackaday Prize 2023: Ending 10 Years On A High Note

It’s a fact of life — all good things must eventually come to an end. The trick is not to focus so much on the chapter that’s closing, but look ahead to what comes next. This is precisely how the Hackaday Prize ended its incredible ten-year run on Saturday during Supercon.

This final year of the competition saw some of the most impressive entries we’ve ever had, leaving us with five exceptionally promising winners. These projects exemplify the qualities that the Hackaday Prize was designed to seek out and amplify and make a perfect capstone for this grand experiment in philanthropic hacking.

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Flipped Transformer Powers Budget-Friendly Vacuum Tube Amp

If you’ve ever wondered why something like a radio or a TV could command a hefty fraction of a family’s yearly income back in the day, a likely culprit is the collection of power transformers needed to run all those hungry, hungry tubes. Now fast-forward a half-century or more, and affordable, good-quality power transformers are still a problem, and often where modern retro projects go to die. Luckily, [Terry] at D-Lab Electronics has a few suggestions on budget-friendly transformers, and even shows off a nice three-tube audio amp using them.

The reason transformers were and still are expensive has a lot to do with materials. To build a transformer with enough oomph to run everything takes a lot of iron and copper, the latter of which is notoriously expensive these days. There’s also the problem of market demand; with most modern electronics favoring switched-mode power supplies, there’s just not a huge market for these big lunkers anymore, making for a supply and demand equation that’s not in the hobbyist’s favor.

Rather than shelling out $70 or more for something like a Hammond 269EX, [Terry]’s suggestion is to modify an isolation transformer, specifically the Triad N-68X. The transformer has a primary designed for either 120 or 230 volts, and a secondary that delivers 115 volts. Turn that around, though, and you can get 230 volts out from the typical North American mains supply — good enough for the plate supply on the little amp shown. That leaves the problem of powering the heaters for the tubes, which is usually the job of a second 6- or 12-volt winding on a power transformer. Luckily, the surplus market has a lot of little 6.3-volt transformers available on the cheap, so that shouldn’t be a problem.

We have to say that the amp [Terry] put these transformers to work in sounds pretty amazing — not a hint of hum. Good work, we say, but we hope he has a plan in case the vacuum tube shortage gets any worse.

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All About Cats, And What Ethernet Classifications Mean Beyond ‘Bigger Number Better’

Although it probably feels like forever to many of us since Category 5 Ethernet cabling became prevalent, now that 2.5 and even 5 Gbit Ethernet has trickled into the mainstream, a pertinent question that many probably end up asking, is when you should replace Cat-5e wiring with Cat-6, or even Cat-7. Since most of us are likely to use copper network wiring for the foreseeable future in our domiciles and offices, it is a good question that deserves a good answer. Although swapping a Cat-5e patch cable with a Cat-7 one between a network port and computer is easy enough, replacing all the network cable already pulled through the conduits of a ‘future-proofed’ home is not.

The good news is probably that Category 8 Class II (Cat-8.2) is all you need to run your 40 Gbit Ethernet network with standard twisted pair wiring. The bad news is that you’re limited to runs of only thirty meters before signal degradation begins to kick in. If you take things down a notch to Cat-6A or Cat-7 (ISO/IEC 11801 Class EA and F, respectively), you can do 100 meter runs at 10 Gbit/s just like 100 meters runs at 1 Gbit/s were possible with Cat-5e before. Yet what differentiates these categories exactly?

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