The Quaint History Of The Commodore ChessMate

The Commodore International of the 1970s was a company which dabbled in a bit of everything when it came to consumer electronics, with the Commodore ChessMate being a prime example of the circuitous way that some of its products came to be. Released in 1978, its existence was essentially the result of MOS Technology releasing the KIM-1 single board computer in 1976. In May of that year, [Peter Jennings] traveled all the way from Toronto, Canada to Cleveland, USA to attend the Midwest Regional Computer Conference and acquire a KIM-1 system and box of manuals for a mere $245. On this KIM-1 he’d proceed to develop his own chess game, called MicroChess, implemented fully in 6502 ASM to fit within the 1 kB of RAM.

As one of the first major applications to run on the KIM-1, it quickly became an international hit, which caught the attention of Commodore – which had acquired MOS Technology by then – who ended up contacting [Peter] about a potential chess computer project. This turned out to based on the custom MOS 6504 CPU, while sharing many characteristics with the KIM-1 SBC. Being a MicroChess-only system, the user experience was optimized for more casual users, with the user manual providing clear instructions on how to start a new game and how to enter the position of a newly moved piece, along with no less than eight difficulty settings.

If you’re feeling like making your own ChessMate, or want to dig into the technical details, this excellent article by [Hans Otten] has got you covered.

Top image: Commodore ChessMate Prototype in 1978. (Credit: Peter Jennings)

(Thanks to [Stephen Walters] for the tip)

Balloon To Fly During Solar Eclipse

The Great American Eclipse was a solar eclipse that passed nearly the entire continental United States back in 2017. While it might sound like a once-in-a-lifetime event to experience a total solar eclipse, the stars have aligned to bring another total solar eclipse to North America although with a slightly different path stretching from the west coast of Mexico and ending off the cost of Newfoundland in Canada. Plenty of people near the path of totality have already made plans to view the event, but [Stephen] and a team of volunteers have done a little bit of extra preparation and plan to launch a high-altitude balloon during the event.

The unmanned balloon will primarily be carrying a solar telescope with the required systems onboard to stream its images live during its flight. The balloon will make its way to the stratosphere, hopefully above any clouds that are common in New Brunswick during the early spring, flying up to 30,000 meters before returning its payload safely to Earth. The telescope will return magnified images of the solar eclipse live to viewers on the ground and has been in development for over two years at this point. The team believes it to be the first time a non-governmental organization has imaged an eclipse by balloon.

For those who have never experienced a total solar eclipse before, it’s definitely something worth traveling for if you’re not already in its path. For this one, Canadians will need to find themselves in the Maritimes or Newfoundland or head south to the eastern half of the United States with the Americans, while anyone in Mexico needs to be in the central part of the mainland. Eclipses happen in places other than North America too, and are generally rare enough that you’ll hear about a total eclipse well in advance. There’s more to eclipses than watching the moon’s shadow pass by, though. NASA expects changes in the ionosphere and is asking ham radio operators for help for the 2024 eclipse.

Increase Your Blinkenlights With This Silicon Wafer Necklace

Necklaces aren’t often very high-tech, mostly because of the abuse they have to go through being worn. This was obviously a problem that needed solving, so [Matt Venn] decided to change that by making a necklace out of ASICs just in time for Supercon.

Although this isn’t the first time [Matt] made such a necklace, he though his previous one was “too hip-hop” and not enough “15 million dollar Nikon Lithography Stepper”. Obviously, this means designing the whole chain, art included, from scratch with the blinkenlights to match. Together with [Pat Deegan] and [Adam Zeloof], the team created a beautiful technopunk necklace with art on every chain link and of course a real silicon wafer with a RISC-V tapeout from 2022 on it.

With [Adam] doing modeling for the chain links, and [Pat] and [Matt] designing the electronics required for the mandatory blinkenlights, and some last-minute soldering and assembling the project was finished just in time for Supercon, where it fit right in with all the other blinkenlights. It even runs on one of the RISC-V cores from the same tapeout as the central wafer!

A large, teardrop-shaped van with a wide, friendly face sits in a grassy field. A grey canvas pop top is opened on its top and solar panels extend from either side of its roof, making it look somewhat like a large insect with wings extended.

An Off-Grid EV Camper Van

Despite our predilection for creature comforts like electricity, it can be nice to get away from it all from time-to-time. Students from Eindhoven University of Technology developed Stella Vita to let you glamp from the power of the sun alone.

Solar-powered vehicles have been plying the highways for decades, but we’re only now getting vehicles with multiple seats that could potentially be used for transport outside of protected race conditions. While production vehicles that can charge off the sun are yet to appear in any appreciable numbers, universities are continuing to push the envelope of what’s possible in a solar car.

Stella Vita is a whale shark-esque camper van designed to be as aerodynamic as possible while still housing all the accoutrements one would want when car camping including a large bed, inductive cooktop, fridge, shower, sink, toilet, and standing room via a pop top. The 2 kW solar array expands to 4 kW when parked via two wings extending from the pop top that also function as awnings for your base camp. By keeping the car lightweight (1,700 kg or 3,700 lb) and aerodynamic, it can go about 600 km (370 mi) on a single charge with its 60 kWh battery.

While it’s still experimental, the team took Stella Vita on a road trip of 3,000 km (1,900 mi) to the south of Spain and were able to get there with only a couple charging stops to account for technical difficulties. A full charge on solar alone takes 2-3 days, which we can see being a convenient amount of time to stop in one spot for your outdoor adventures before heading home or to your next destination.

If you want to build a slightly smaller off-grid camper that’s fueled by coffee instead, you might want to check out this bike camper orĀ this other example.

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There’s No AI In A Markov Chain, But They’re Fun To Play With

Amid all the hype about AI it sometimes seems as though the world has lost sight of the fact that software such as ChatGPT contains no intelligence. Instead it’s an extremely sophisticated system for extracting plausible machine generated content from the corpus on which it is trained. There’s a long history behind machine generated text, and perhaps the simplest example comes in the form of a Markov chain. [Ben Hoyt] takes us through how these work, and provides some Python code so that you can roll your own.

If you’re uncertain what a Markov chain is, consider the predictive text on your phone. It works by offering the statistically most likely next word in your sentence, and should you accept all of its choices it will deliver sentences which are superficially readable but otherwise complete nonsense. He demonstrates with very simple short source texts how a collocate probability map is generated for two-word phrases, and how from that a likely next word can be extracted. It’s not AI, but it can be a lot of fun to play with and it opens the door to the entire field of computational linguistics. We haven’t set one loose on Hackaday’s archive yet but we suspect it would talk a lot about the Arduino.

We’re talking about Markov chains here with respect to language, but it’s also worth remembering that they work for music too.

Header: Bad AI image with Dall-E prompt, “Ten thousand monkeys with typewriters”.

Testing Various Properties Of LEGO-Compatible Axles

If you ever wondered what’d happen if you were to use LEGO Technic parts, but they were made out of something other than plastic, the [Brick Experiment Channel] has got you covered. Pitting original Lego axles against their (all except steel commercially available) equivalents made out of carbon fiber, aluminium and steel, some of the (destructive) results are very much expected, while some are more surprising.

Lego-compatible axle test results. (Credit: Brick Experiment Channel, YouTube)

Starting off with the torque test, each type of axle is connected with others and rotated with increasing torque until something gives out. Unsurprisingly, the plastic Technic part fails first and renders itself into a twist, before the carbon fiber version gives up. Aluminium is softer than steel, so ultimately the latter wins, but not before a range of upgrades to the (LEGO-based) testing rig, as these much stronger axles require also strong gears and the like to up the torque.

When it comes to durability, all except the original LEGO version didn’t mind having plastic rubbing against them for a while. Yet for friction in general, the plastic version did better, with less friction. Whether or not this is due to material wearing away is a bit of a question. Overall, stainless steel gets you a lot of strength, but in a dense (8000 kg/m3) package, aluminium comes somewhat close, with 2700 kg/m3, and carbon fiber (1500 kg/m3) does better than the original part (1400 kg/m3), with only a bit more weight, though at roughly ten times the cost.

On that note, we’re looking forward to the first 100% stainless steel LEGO Technic kit, reminiscent of the era when Meccano came in the form of all-metal components and a bucket of bolts.

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Detecting Neutrinos, The Slippery Ghost Particles That Don’t Want To Interact

Neutrinos are some of the most elusive particles that are well-known to science. These tiny subatomic particles have no electric charge and an extremely small mass, making them incredibly difficult to detect. They are produced in abundance by the sun, as well as by nuclear reactions on Earth and in supernovae. Despite their elusive nature, scientists are keen to detect neutrinos as they can provide valuable information about the processes that produce them.

Neutrinos interact with matter so rarely that it takes a very special kind of detector to catch them in the act. These detectors come in a few different flavors, each employing its unique method to spot these elusive particles. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at how these detectors work and some of the most notable examples of neutrino detectors in the world today.

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