Someone’s Made The Laptop Clive Sinclair Never Built

The Sinclair ZX Spectrum was one of the big players in the 8-bit home computing scene of the 1980s, and decades later is sports one of the most active of all the retrocomputing communities. There is a thriving demo scene on the platform, there are new games being released, and there is even new Spectrum hardware coming to market.

One of the most interesting pieces of hardware is the ZX Spectrum Next, a Spectrum motherboard with the original hardware and many enhancements implemented on an FPGA. It has an array of modern interfaces, a megabyte of RAM compared to the 48k of the most common original, and a port allowing the connection of a Raspberry Pi Zero for off-board processing. Coupled with a rather attractive case from the designer of the original Sinclair model, and it has become something of an object of desire. But it’s still an all-in-one a desktop unit like the original, they haven’t made a portable. [Dan Birch has changed all that, with his extremely well designed Spectrum Next laptop.

He started with a beautiful CAD design for a case redolent of the 1990s HP Omnbook style of laptop, but with some Spectrum Next styling cues. This was sent to Shapeways for printing, and came back looking particularly well-built. Into the case went an LCD panel and controller for the Next’s HDMI port, a Raspberry Pi, a USB hub, a USB to PS/2 converter, and a slimline USB keyboard. Unfortunately there does not seem to be a battery included, though we’re sure that with a bit of ingenuity some space could be found for one.

The result is about as good a Spectrum laptop as it might be possible to create, and certainly as good as what might have been made by Sinclair or Amstrad had somehow the 8-bit micro survived into an alternative fantasy version of the 1990s with market conditions to put it into the form factor of a high-end compact laptop. The case design would do any home-made laptop design proud as a basis, we can only urge him to consider releasing some files.

There is a video of the machine in action, which we’ve placed below the break.

Continue reading “Someone’s Made The Laptop Clive Sinclair Never Built”

Weaving With Light: An OLED Fibre Fabric Display

If you think of wearable electronic projects, in many cases what may come to mind are the use of addressable LEDs, perhaps on strips or on sewable PCBs like the Neopixel and similar products. They make an attractive twinkling fashion show, but there remains a feeling that in many cases once you have seen one project, you have seen them all.

So if you are tiring of static sewable LED projects and would like to look forward to something altogether more exciting, take a look at some bleeding-edge research from a team at KAIST, the Korean Advanced Institute of Science & Technology. They have created OLED fibres and woven them into fabric in a way that appears such that they can be lit at individual points to create addressable pixels. In this way there is potential for fabrics that incorporate entire LED displays within their construction rather than in which they serve as a substrate.

The especially interesting feature of the OLED fibres from the KAIST team is that their process does not require any high temperatures, meaning that a whole range of everyday textile fibres can be used as substrates for OLEDs. The results are durable and do not lose OLED performance under tension, meaning that there is the possibility of their becoming practical fabrics for use in garments.

While this technology is a little way away from a piece of clothing you might buy from a store, the fact that it does not rely on special processes during weaving means that when the fibres become commercially available we are likely to see their speedy adoption. Meanwhile you can buy conductive fabric, but you might have to take a multimeter to the store to find it.

Via EENewsLED, and thank you [Carl] for the tip.

Color Organ Dress, A Wearable With Audio Feedback

There is a huge amount of interest among our community in wearable electronics, but it is fair to say that it is a technology that has a way to go at our level in terms of its application. Some twinkly LEDs are all very well, but unless you have the arrived-on-a-spaceship-from-the-future aesthetic of someone like [Naomi Wu] to carry them off they get old rather quickly.

What the sew-on LED sector of wearable electronics is waiting for are some applications, wearable lights that do something rather than just look pretty. And [Moko] has a project that takes them in that direction, with her color organ dress, a garment whose LEDs react to ambient sound with the aid of a MEMS microphone and an Adafruit Gemma M0 microcontroller board. The LEDs form a color wheel which rotates, and stops at a point proportional to the sound level at the time.

The write-up is an interesting one, going into a little detail as it does in the images on the construction of an electronically-enhanced piece of clothing. Wiring everything up is one thing, but there are other considerations such as the incorporation of extra panels to protect them from mechanical stress, and from sweat. From a dressmaker’s perspective it’s a well constructed garment in its own right with an attractive PCB-style pattern (Where did she get that fabric? Or did she print it herself?) and it appears that she’s the fortunate owner of a serger (overlocker).

Well-assembled clothing has made it here before, for example an impressive jellyfish skirt or this laser-cut arcsin dress. And should you wish to make a garment for your next wearable project, you’ll be sure to need a well-stocked textile bench.

Vacuum Tubes: Shipping Through EBay Now Challenging?

There is disquiet in the world of vacuum electronics, that something as simple as shipping a vacuum tube could now be very difficult to achieve. It’s a concern expressed among other places in a video by [Guitologist] that we’ve included below, and includes tales of vacuum tubes being impounded as either dangerous to ship, or not allowed to be shipped across international borders.

Upon investigation it appears that the common thread in all the stories lies with eBay’s Global Shipping Program, the centralised shipping service operated by the online auction giant. We reached out to eBay’s press office on the subject but have yet to receive a reply. It’s best to ask someone who ships a lot of tubes for comment when you have a tube shipping story, so we also had a conversation with TC Tubes. They’re a small company dealing in tubes, and as you might imagine they ship a lot of them (Their website is likely to detain you for a while if you are a tube-head). [Chelsea] from TC Tubes told us that they have encountered no regulatory barriers to tube shipping, and that their only bad experience has been yet again with eBay’s Global Shipping Program.

So it seems there is no cause for panic if you ship tubes, CE marking or RoHS rules haven’t come for your EL34s and your 6550s. Ebay have evidently got some kind of issue with tubes in their shipping operation, and perhaps you should ship by other means if you wish to avoid your tubes going astray. The consensus here among the Hackaday crew is that it could be as simple as uninformed employees not being aware of what tubes are because they aren’t as common as they used to be. After all, with over a hundred years of history behind them it’s not as though any potential issues with their shipping haven’t been comprehensively explored.

We’d still be interested to hear from eBay on the matter though, if they would care to comment.

Continue reading “Vacuum Tubes: Shipping Through EBay Now Challenging?”

Know Your Video Waveform

When you acquired your first oscilloscope, what were the first waveforms you had a look at with it? The calibration output, and maybe your signal generator. Then if you are like me, you probably went hunting round your bench to find a more interesting waveform or two. In my case that led me to a TV tuner and IF strip, and my first glimpse of a video signal.

An analogue video signal may be something that is a little less ubiquitous in these days of LCD screens and HDMI connectors, but it remains a fascinating subject and one whose intricacies are still worthwhile knowing. Perhaps your desktop computer no longer drives a composite monitor, but a video signal is still a handy way to add a display to many low-powered microcontroller boards. When you see Arduinos and ESP8266s producing colour composite video on hardware never intended for the purpose you may begin to understand why an in-depth knowledge of a video waveform can be useful to have.

The purpose of a video signal is to both convey the picture information in the form of luminiance and chrominance (light & dark, and colour), and all the information required to keep the display in complete synchronisation with the source. It must do this with accurate and consistent timing, and because it is a technology with roots in the early 20th century all the information it contains must be retrievable with the consumer electronic components of that time.

We’ll now take a look at the waveform and in particular its timing in detail, and try to convey some of its ways. You will be aware that there are different TV systems such as PAL and NTSC which each have their own tightly-defined timings, however for most of this article we will be treating all systems as more-or-less identical because they work in a sufficiently similar manner.

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Confessions Of A Reformed Frequency Standard Nut

Do you remember your first instrument, the first device you used to measure something? Perhaps it was a ruler at primary school, and you were taught to see distance in terms of centimetres or inches. Before too long you learned that these units are only useful for the roughest of jobs, and graduated to millimetres, or sixteenths of an inch. Eventually as you grew older you would have been introduced to the Vernier caliper and the micrometer screw gauge, and suddenly fractions of a millimetre, or thousandths of an inch became your currency.  There is a seduction to measurement, something that draws you in until it becomes an obsession.

Every field has its obsessives, and maybe there are bakers seeking the perfect cup of flour somewhere out there, but those in our community will probably focus on quantities like time and frequency. You will know them by their benches surrounded by frequency standards and atomic clocks, and their constant talk of parts per billion, and of calibration. I can speak with authority on this matter, for I used to be one of them in a small way; I am a reformed frequency standard nut. Continue reading “Confessions Of A Reformed Frequency Standard Nut”

Four Pi Zeros, Four Cameras, One Really Neat 3D Scanner

Sometimes when you walk into a hackerspace you will see somebody’s project on the table that stands so far above the norm of a run-of-the-mill open night on a damp winter’s evening, that you have to know more. If you are a Hackaday scribe you have to know more, and you ask the person behind it if they have something online about it to share with the readership.

[Jolar] was working on his 3D scanner project on just such an evening in Oxford Hackspace. It’s a neatly self-contained unit in the form of a triangular frame made of aluminium extrusions, into which are placed a stack of Raspberry Pi Zeros with attached cameras, and a very small projector which needed an extra lens from a pair of reading glasses to help it project so closely.

The cameras are arranged to have differing views of the object to be scanned, and the projector casts an array of randomly created dots onto it to aid triangulation from the images. A press of a button, and the four images are taken and, uploaded to a cloud drive in this case, and then picked up by his laptop for processing.

A Multi-view Stereo (MVS) algorithm does the processing work, and creates a 3D model. Doing the processing is VisualSFM, and the resulting files can then be viewed in MeshLab or imported into a CAD package. Seeing it in action the whole process is quick and seamless, and could easily be something you’d see on a commercial product. There is more to come from this project, so it is definitely one to watch.

Four Pi boards may seem a lot, but it is nothing to this scanner with 39 of them.