Rock Out Without Getting Knocked Out

It’s a constant battle for musicians — how to practice your instrument without bothering those around you? Many of us live in apartments or shared accommodation, and having to wait until the apartment is empty or only being able to practice at certain times of day can be restrictive, especially if you need to practice for an upcoming gig or if the creative juices start flowing and it’s 3 AM! [Gavin] was having this issue and started developing Porter, a guitar/bass practice device which works with all effects pedals and is portable and rechargeable. So you can grind away your epic heavy metal solo no matter the time of day!

While there have been similar solutions, many musicians weren’t satisfied with the sound and often couldn’t support inputs from distortion pedals. They usually chewed through batteries and were just not a great solution to the problem. [Gavin] has spent the last two years fine-tuning the design. It’s a fully analog design, with built-in rechargeable batteries to boot. So it not only sounds great, but it can last as long as your practice session does with a 15-hour runtime when fully charged!

Initially, the project began as a headphone amplifier but morphed into a design specifically for guitar and bass, with preamp and power amp stages and adjustable input impedance – 500kΩ for guitars and 1MΩ for bass. The latest revision also changed to a different power amp that further reduced THD and led to an even better sound. The schematics are up on the project page, but [Gavin] is also hoping to do a crowdfunding campaign to get these devices out into the hands of guitarists everywhere!

8-Bits And 1,120 Triodes

While it’s currently the start of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, it will inevitably get cold again. If you’re looking for a unique way of heating your workshop this year, you could do worse than build an 8-bit computer with a bunch of 6N3P vacuum tubes. While there are some technical details, you might find it a challenging build. But it is still an impressive sight, and it took 18 months to build a prototype and the final version. You can find the technical details if you want to try your hand. Oh, did we mention it takes about 200 amps? One of the prototype computers plays Pong on a decidedly low-tech display, which you can see below.

The architecture has 8 data bits and 12 address bits. It only provides six instructions, but that keeps the tube count manageable. Each tube has two triodes in one envelope and form a NOR gate which is sufficient to build everything else you need. In addition to tubes, there are reed relays and some NVRAM, a modern conceit.

Operating instructions are to turn it on and wait for the 560 tubes to warm up. Then, to quote the designer, “… I check the fire extinguisher is full, and run the code.” We wonder if one of the six instructions is halt and catch fire. Another quote from the builder is: “It has been a ridiculous amount of soldering and a fantastic amount of fun.” We can imagine.

If the computer seems familiar, we covered the first and second prototypes named ENA and Fred. We’ve also seen tube-base single-board computers.

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A man in a red plaid shirt draped over an olive t-shirt holds sandpaper in one hand an an aluminum tube filled with white beads in the other over a wooden table.

Activated Alumina For Desiccating Your Filament

When you first unwrap a shiny new roll of filament for your FDM printer, it typically has a bag of silica gel inside. While great for keeping costs low on the manufacturing side, is silica gel the best solution to keep your filament dry at home?

Frustrated with the consumable nature and fussy handling of silica gel beads, [Build It Make It] sought a more permanent way to keep his filament dry. Already familiar with activated alumina beads, he crafted a desiccant cylinder that can be popped into the oven all at once instead of all that tedious mucking about with emptying and refilling plastic capsules.

A length of aluminum intake pipe, some high temperature epoxy, and aluminum mesh are all combined to make a simple, sealed cylinder. During the process, he found that using a syringe filled with the epoxy led to a much more precise application to the aluminum cylinder, so he recommends starting out that way if you make these for yourself.

We suspect something with a less permanent attachment at one end would let you periodically swap out the beads if you wanted to try this hack with the silica beads you already had. Perhaps some kind of threaded pipe fitting? If you want a more active dryer, try making one with a Peltier. If you want to know just how dry your filament is getting, you could also put in a sensor. You might also wonder, do you really need to dry filament at all?

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Portable, Full-Size Arcade Cabinets

Believe it or not, there was a time when the only way for many of us to play video games was to grab a roll of quarters and head to the mall. Even though there’s a working computer or video game console in essentially every house now doesn’t mean we don’t look back with a certain nostalgia on those times, though. Some have turned to restoring vintage arcade cabinets and others build their own. This hackerspace got a unique request for a full-sized arcade cabinet that was also easily portable as well.

The original request was for a portable arcade cabinet, and the original designs were for a laptop-like tabletop arcade. But further back-and-forth made it clear they wanted full-size cabinets that just happened to also be portable. So with that criteria in mind the group started building the units. The updated design is modular, allowing the controls, monitor, and Raspberry Pi running the machines to be in self-contained units, with the cabinets in two parts that can quickly be assembled on-site. The base is separate and optional, with the top section capable of being assembled on the base or on something like a tabletop or bar, and the electronics section quickly drops in.

While the idea of a Pi-powered arcade cabinet is certainly nothing new, the quick build, prototyping, design, and final product that’s mobile and quickly assembled are all worth checking out. There is even more information on the build at the project’s GitHub page including Fusion 360 models. If you need your cabinets to be even more portable, this tabletop MAME cabinet is a great place to start.

A Previously Unknown Supplier For A Classic Chip

It’s common enough for integrated circuits to be available from a range of different suppliers, either as licensed clones, or as reverse-engineered proprietary silicon. In the case of a generic circuit such as a cheap op-amp it matters little whose logo adorns the plastic, but when the part in question is an application processor it assumes much more importance. In the era of the 486 and Pentium there were a host of well-known manufacturers producing those chips, so it’s a surprise decades later to find that there was another, previously unknown. That’s just what [Doc TB] has done though, finding a 486 microprocessor from Shenzhen State Micro. That’s not a brand we ever saw in our desktop computers back in the 1990s.

Analysis of a couple of these chips, a DX33 and a DX2-66, shows them to have very similar micro-architecture but surprisingly a lower power consumption suggesting a smaller fabrication process. There’s the fascinating possibility that these might have been manufactured to serve an ongoing demand for 486 processors in some as-yet-unknown Chinese industrial application, but before any retrocomputer enthusiasts get their hopes up, the chips can’t be found anywhere from Shenzhen State Micro’s successor company. So for now they’re a fascinating oddity for CPU collectors, but who knows, perhaps more information on these unusual chips will surface.

Meanwhile we’ve looked at the 486’s legacy in detail  before, even finding there could still just be 486-compatible SoCs out there.

Powering Airplanes With Microwaves: An Aviation Physics Challenge Amidst Many

Falling firmly under the fascinating science category of ‘What if…?’ comes the idea of powering airplanes with beamed microwaves. Although the idea isn’t crazy by itself, since we can even keep airplanes flying using just solar power (though with no real useful payload), running through the numbers as [Ian McKay] does in a recent article in IEEE Spectrum makes it clear that there are still some major hurdles if we want to make such a technology reality. Yet is beamed microwave power that much more far out than other alternative ways to power aviation?

Most of the issues are rather hard limits with the assumed technology (phased microwave arrays), with the need for 170 meter diameter ground transmitters every 100 km along the route (including floating transmitters on the oceans with massive power cables, apparently). Due to the limited surface area on something like a Boeing 737-800 you’d need to cram the full take-off power needs (~30 MW) on its ~1,000 m2 surface area available for receiver elements, or 150 Watt per rectifying antenna (rectenna) element assuming a wavelength of 5 cm.

The good news is that the passengers inside would probably survive if the microwave-like shielding keeps up, and birds passing through the beams are likely to survive if they’re fast enough. It’d ruin a whole part of the local radio spectrum from leaked microwaves, of course. Unfortunately beaming MW levels of microwaves across 100 km is still beyond our capabilities.

After this fun science session, [Ian] then looks at alternatives like batteries and hydrogen, neither of which come even close to the energy density (or relative safety) of commercial aviation fuels. Perhaps synthetic aviation fuel might be the ticket, but at this point beamed microwave power is as likely to replace aviation fuel as batteries or hydrogen, though more likely than countries like the United States building out a fast & cheap high-speed rail network.

The SS United States: The Most Important Ocean Liner We May Soon Lose Forever

Although it’s often said that the era of ocean liners came to an end by the 1950s with the rise of commercial aviation, reality isn’t quite that clear-cut. Coming out of the troubled 1940s arose a new kind of ocean liner, one using cutting-edge materials and propulsion, with hybrid civil and military use as the default, leading to a range of fascinating design decisions. This was the context in which the SS United States was born, with the beating heart of the US’ fastest battle ships, with light-weight aluminium structures and survivability built into every single aspect of its design.

Outpacing the super-fast Iowa-class battleships with whom it shares a lot of DNA due to its lack of heavy armor and triple 16″ turrets, it easily became the fastest ocean liner, setting speed records that took decades to be beaten by other ocean-going vessels, though no ocean liner ever truly did beat it on speed or comfort. Tricked out in the most tasteful non-flammable 1950s art and decorations imaginable, it would still be the fastest and most comfortable way to cross the Atlantic today. Unfortunately ocean liners are no longer considered a way to travel in this era of commercial aviation, leading to the SS United States and kin finding themselves either scrapped, or stuck in limbo.

In the case of the SS United States, so far it has managed to escape the cutting torch, but while in limbo many of its fittings were sold off at auction, and the conservation group which is in possession of the ship is desperately looking for a way to fund the restoration. Most recently, the owner of the pier where the ship is moored in Philadelphia got the ship’s eviction approved by a judge, leading to very tough choices to be made by September.

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