The ZX Spectrum Takes To The Airwaves Again

A perk of writing for Hackaday comes in the vast breadth of experience represented by our fellow writers. Through our colleague [Voja Antonić] for example we’ve gained an unparalleled insight into the cutting edge of 8-bit computing in 1980s Yugoslavia, of his Galaksija home computer, and of software being broadcast over [Zoran Modli]’s Ventilator 202 radio show.

We’re strongly reminded of this by hearing of the Slovenian Radio Študent broadcasting the classic Slovenian ZX Spectrum text adventure game Kontrabant 2, at the behest of the  Slovenian Computer History Museum. It’s been four decades and a lot of turbulent history, but once again 8-bit code will be heard on FM in Europe.

Some of our younger readers may never have experienced the joy of loading software from cassette, but in those days it represented a slow alternative to the eye-wateringly expensive floppy drives of the day. The software was represented as a serial bitstream translated into tones and recorded on a standard cassette recorder which was standard consumer electronics back then, and when played back through a speaker it was an ear-splitting sound with something in common with that of a modem handshake from a decade or more later. This could easily be transmitted over a radio station, and a few broadcasters tried experimental technology shows doing just that.

We haven’t heard from any listeners who managed to catch the game and run it on their Spectrum, but we hope that Slovenia’s retrocomputing community were out in force even if Audacity and a n emulator replaced the original hardware. Given that more than one hacker camp in our community has sported radio stations whether legal or not, it would be nice to hear the dulcet tones of 8-bit software on the airwaves again.

Meanwhile if cassettes are too cheap for you, feast your eyes on Sir Clive’s budget storage solution.

Thanks [Stephen Walters].

An Audio Delay, The Garden Hose Way

Creating music in 2024 is made easier by ready access to a host of effects in software that were once the preserve only of professional studios. One such is the delay; digital delays are now a staple of any production software where once they required infrastructure. [Look Mum No Computer] is no stranger to the world of Lo-Fi analogue music making, and along with his musical collaborator [Hainback], he’s created an analogue delay from an unexpected material: garden hose pipe.

The unit takes inspiration from some commercial 1970s effects, and lends a fixed short delay intended to give a double-tracking effect to vocals or similar. It involves putting a speaker at one end of a reel of hose and a microphone at the other, while the original unexpectedly used Shure SM57 capsules as both speaker and microphone they use a very small loudspeaker and a cheap microphone capsule.

The sound is not what you’d call high quality. Indeed, it’s about what one might expect when listening down a long pipe. But when mixed in behind the vocals, it gives a very pleasing effect. The duo use it on their new EP which, as you might expect, is released on vinyl.

If such effects interest you, also take a look at a 1950s reverb room at the famous Abbey Road Studios in London.

Continue reading “An Audio Delay, The Garden Hose Way”

A pile of red Swiss Army knives, probably collected by TSA.

Introducing The Swiss Army… Tool?

You’ve probably used one for everything from opening packages to stripping wires in a pinch (because you know better than to use your teeth). We’re talking about the blade of the iconic Swiss Army knife. And while there are many different models out there, they all feature at least one knife among their utensils. Until now.

Citing pressure due to the increase in worldwide knife violence, the company announced that they’ll be releasing a new range of tools without blades. Carl Elsner, fourth-generation CEO of Swiss Army knife maker Victorinox, is also concerned about increasing regulations surrounding knives at sporting events and other activities. And he has a point: according to the UN’s Global Study on Homicide 2023 (PDF), 30% of European homicides were committed with some type of sharp object.

In an interview with The Guardian, Elsner spoke of creating more specialized tools, such as one for cyclists, who don’t necessarily need a blade. He also mentioned that Victorinox have a tool specifically for golfers, but we’d like to point out that it features, among other things, a knife.

It’s going to be a long time before people stop assuming that the skinny red thing in your pocket contains a knife, especially at the airport. What TSA agent is going to take the time to check out your tool? They’re going to chuck it in the bucket with the rest of them. Would you consider buying a blade-less multi-tool? Let us know in the comments.

Don’t have much need for a knife? Here’s a bench tool that has it all.

(Main and thumbnail photos via Unsplash)

POV Digital Clock Is The Literal Sands Of Time

Sand has been used to keep track of the passage of time since antiquity. But using sand to make a persistence of vision digital clock (English translation) is something altogether new. And it’s pretty cool, too.

The idea behind the timepiece that [Álvaro Gómez Giménez] built is pretty simple drop a tiny slug of fine sand from a hopper and light it up at just the right point in its fall. Do that rapidly enough and you can build up an image of the digits you want to display. Simple in concept, but the devil is in the details. Sand isn’t the easiest material to control, so most of the work went into designing hoppers with solenoid-controlled gates to dispense well-formed slugs of sand at just the right moment. Each digit of the clock has four of these gates in parallel, and controlling when the 16 gates open and close and when the LEDs are turned on is the work of a PIC18F4550 microcontroller.

The build has a lot of intricate parts, some 3D printed and some machined, but all very carefully crafted. We particularly like the big block of clear plastic that was milled into a mount for the main PCB; the translucent finish on the milled surfaces makes a fantastic diffuser for the 96 white LEDs. The clock actually works a lot better than we expected, with the digits easy to make out against a dark background. Check it out in the video below.

Between the noise of 16 solenoids and the sand getting everywhere, we’d imagine it wouldn’t be a lot of fun to have on a desk or nightstand, but the execution is top-notch, and an interesting and unusual concept we haven’t seen before. Sure, we’ve seen sandwriting, but that’s totally different. Continue reading “POV Digital Clock Is The Literal Sands Of Time”

Fully 3D Printed Case Is Stacked High With Mini PCs

Over the years we’ve seen no shortage of 3D printed cases designed to hold several Raspberry Pi computers, often with the intent to use them as convenient desktop-sized platforms for experimenting with concepts such as server load balancing and redundancy.

The reason the Pi was always the star of the show is simple enough to explain: they were small and cheap. But while the Pi has only gotten more expensive over the years, x86 machines have gotten smaller and cheaper. Which is how a project like the N100 Obelisk was born.

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Ask Hackaday: Do You Calibrate Your Instruments?

Like many of you, I have a bench full of electronic instruments. The newest is my Rigol oscilloscope, only a few years old, while the oldest is probably my RF signal generator that dates from some time in the early 1950s. Some of those instruments have been with me for decades, and have been crucial in the gestation of countless projects.

If I follow the manufacturer’s recommendations then just like that PAT tester I should have them calibrated frequently. This process involves sending them off to a specialised lab where their readings are compared to a standard and they are adjusted accordingly, and when they return I know I can trust their readings. It’s important if you work in an industry where everything must be verified, for example I’m certain the folks down the road at Airbus use meticulously calibrated instruments when making assemblies for their aircraft, because there is no room for error in a safety critical application at 20000 feet.

But on my bench? Not so much, nobody is likely to face danger if my frequency counter has drifted by a few Hz. Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: Do You Calibrate Your Instruments?”

Raspberry Pi Narrates (And Tattles On) Your Cat, Nature Documentary Style

Detecting a cat with a raspberry pi and camera is one thing, but [Yoko Li]’s AI Raspberry Pi Cat Detection brings things entirely to another level by narrating your feline’s activities, nature documentary style.

The project is ostensibly aimed at tattling on the housecats by detecting forbidden behavior such as trespassing on the kitchen counter. But we daresay that’s overshadowed by the verbose image analysis, which describes the scene in its best David Attenborough impression.

This feline exemplifies both the beauty and the peaceful nature of its kind. No email will be sent as the cat is not on the kitchen counter.

Hard to believe that just a few years ago this cat detector tool was the bee’s knees in cat detection technology. Things have certainly come a long way. Interested? The GitHub repository has everything needed to roll your own and we highly recommend watching it in action in the video, embedded below.

Continue reading “Raspberry Pi Narrates (And Tattles On) Your Cat, Nature Documentary Style”