MiniDisc Player Supports Full Data Transfer

Between the era of the CD and the eventual rise and domination of streaming music platforms, there was a limbo period of random MP3 players mixed in with the ubiquitous (and now officially discontinued) iPod. In certain areas, though, the digital music player of choice was the MiniDisc, a miniature re-writable CD player with some extra digital features. Among them was the ability to transfer music to the discs over USB, but they did not feature the ability to transfer the songs back to a computer. At least until now, thanks to this impressive hack from [asivery].

Although it sounds straightforward, this trick has a lot of moving parts that needed to come together just right. The MiniDisc player uses a proprietary encoding format called ATRAC, so a codec is needed for that. The MiniDisc player stores data from the disc in a 40-second buffer when playing, so the code reads the data directly from DRAM in 40-second chunks, moves the read head, repeats the process as needed, then stitches the 40-second parts back together. It can work on any Sony NetMD portable, if you are lucky enough to still have one around.

The project is a tremendous asset to the MiniDisc community, especially since the only way to recover data from a MiniDisc player prior to this was to use a specific version known as the RH-1. As [asivery] reports, used RH-1 players are going for incredibly high prices partially because of this feature. Since this new method demonstrates that it’s possible to do with other devices, perhaps its reign in the MiniDisc world will come to a close. For those still outside the loop on this esoteric piece of technology, take a look at this MiniDisc teardown.

Thanks to [Maarten] for the tip!

Framework Board Gets This Round Display PC Rolling

The Framework laptop is already a very exciting prospect for folks like us — a high-end computer that we can actually customize, upgrade, and repair with the manufacturer’s blessing? Sounds like music to our ears. But we’re also very excited about seeing how the community can press the modular components of the Framework into service outside of the laptop itself.

A case in point, this absolutely gorgeous retro-inspired computer built by [Penk Chen]. The Mainboard Terminal combines a Framework motherboard, five inch 1080 x 1080 round LCD display, and OLKB Preonic mechanical keyboard into a slick 3D printed enclosure that’s held together with magnets for easy access. Compared to the Raspberry Pi that we usually find tucked into custom computer builds like this, the Framework board offers incredible performance, not to mention the ability to run x86 operating systems and software.

[Penk] has Ubuntu 22.04 LTS loaded up right now, and he reports that everything works as expected, though there are a few xrandr commands you’ll need to run in order for the system to work properly with the circular display. The standard Ubuntu UI doesn’t look particularly well suited to such an unusual viewport, but we imagine that’s an issue you’ll have to learn to live with when experimenting with such an oddball screen.

It was just a few weeks ago that we brought you word that Framework was releasing the mechanical drawings for their Mainboard module, and we predicted then that it would be a huge boon to those building bespoke computers. Truth be told we expected a cyberdeck build of some sort to be the first one to hit our inbox, but you certainly won’t catch us complaining about seeing more faux-vintage personal terminals.

DIY Metal Detector Gives You The Mettle To Find Some Medals

Hurricane season is rapidly approaching those of us who live in the northern hemisphere. While that does come with a good deal of stress for any homeowners who live in the potential paths of storms it also comes with some opportunities for treasure hunting. Storms tend to wash up all kinds of things from the sea, and if you are equipped with this DIY metal detector you could be unearthing all kinds of interesting tchotchkes from the depths this year.

The metal detector comes to us from [mircemk] who is known for building simple yet effective metal detectors. Unlike his previous builds, this one uses only a single integrated circuit, the TL804 operational amplifier. It also works on the principle of beat-balance which is an amalgamation of two unique methods of detecting metal.  When the wire coils detect a piece of metal in the ground, the information is fed to an earpiece through an audio jack which rounds out this straightforward build.

[mircemk] reports that this metal detector can detect small objects like coins up to 15 cm deep, and larger metal objects up to 50 cm. Of course, to build this you will also need the support components, wire, and time to tune the circuit. All things considered, though it’s a great entryway into the hobby.

Want to learn more about metal detecting? Check out this similar-looking build which works on the induction balance principle.

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Hard(er) Drives: Impractical, Slow, Amazing, And Incredible

Computer memory is a problem that has been solved for many years. But early on, it was more than just a small problem. We’ve many of the different kinds at Hackaday over the years, and we’ll link to some of them later on. But one of the original types of memory was called Delay Line memory, which worked by waiting for a signal to propagate slow enough through a device that it was essentially stored in the device. This was highly inefficient, but still a neat concept- one that [Tom7] has taken to entirely new levels of amazing and impractical as seen in the video below the break.

Such factors as “harm to society” are artfully considered

Starting with a demonstration of orbiting chainsaws, he then moves on to explaining how radio propagation waves could be used to temporarily store data while it’s in transit. He missed the opportunity to call it cloud storage, but we’ll forgive him. Extrapolating that further, he decided to use the Entire Internet to store data without its permission, utilizing large ICMP packets and even making it available as block storage in Linux.

Not content to use the entire Internet to store a few kb of data, he moved on to several thousand virtualized NES game systems which are all playing “an inventory management survival horror game” commonly known as Tetris. [Tom7] deconstructs Tetris, analyzing its Random Number Generator, gaming the system to store data in virtual NES consoles by the thousands. What data did he store? The source code to Tetris for the NES. And what did he do with it? Well, he mounted it and ran the program, of course!

The last Harder Drive we’ll leave for those who want to watch the video, because it’s a bit on the “ewww gross!” side of things but is also a bit less successful due to some magic smoke being released.

If none of these things we’ve mentioned were enough, then watch the video for an excellent breakdown of the cost, efficiency, and even the harm to society. For fun, he also tosses blockchain into the mix to see how it fares against the Harder Drives. There’s also at least one easter egg in the video, and the whimsical discussion of engineering is both entertaining and inspiring. How would you implement a Harder Drive?

[Tom7] also gives you the opportunity to follow along with the fun and mayhem by making much of the code available for your perusal. For more fun reading, check out this walk down computer memory lane that we covered last year, as well as a look into Acoustic Delay Line memory.

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RSS Printer Gives You The Hard Copy News You Desire

The days of yore saw telex machines and dot-matrix printers with continuous feed paper churning out data in hardcopy form in offices around the world. [Jan Derogee] wanted a bit of that old-school charm, and set about building a RSS news printer using a venerable old printer in his possession. 

The build relies on an ESP8266, with the WiFi-enabled microcontroller readily capable of jumping online and querying RSS feeds for content. It scrapes the XML files for title, description, and publication date information, and formats this for output to the printer. The microcontroller then spits out the data over a Commodore serial interface to a Brother HR-5C printer. Unlike dot-matrix printers of its contemporary era, the HR-5C is a thermal printer. Once loaded up with a roll of the appropriate paper, it can print continuously without requiring any hard-to-source ink ribbons.

Armed with a continuous supply of wireless internet and 210 mm rolls of thermal printer paper, [Jan]’s system should provide news summaries to him for years to come. We’ve seen similar retro news ticker projects before, too. Video after the break.

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Several relays and switches mounted on a metal frame

The Simplest Electro-Mechanical Telephone Exchange That Actually Works

While rarely seen by users, the technology behind telephone exchanges is actually quite interesting. In the first hundred or so years of their existence they evolved from manually-operated switchboards to computer-controlled systems, but in between those two stages was a time when dialling and switching was performed electromechanically. This was made possible by the invention of the stepping switch, a type of pulse-operated relay that can connect a single incoming wire to one of many outgoing wires.

Public telephone exchanges contained hundreds of these switches, but as [dearuserhron] shows, it’s possible to make a smaller system with way fewer components: the Cadr-o-station is built around one single stepper switch. Although it looks rather complicated, the only other components are a bunch of ordinary 24 V relays and a few power supplies. Together they make up a minimal telephone exchange that connects up to ten handsets.

It doesn’t have all the functionality of a larger system however, as only a single voice circuit is made to which all phones are automatically connected. Still, it does allow users to dial a number and let the other phone ring, which might be good enough for a home or indeed the hackerspace where it’s currently sitting. It’s also a fine demonstration of how relatively simple technology can be applied to make a surprisingly complex system.

[dearuserhron] wrote an in-depth article on the workings of electromechanical telephone exchanges, which might come in helpful to anyone who’d like to design such a system for their own home. For a more general introduction into analog phone technology, check out our analysis of a 1970s rotary telephone.

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Old Casio Calculator Learns New Tricks

[George Stagg] recently found himself stung by the burden of free time while in lockdown. Needing a project to keep him occupied, he decided to upgrade his 90s Casio CFX-9850G calculator to run custom machine code.

All [George] really wanted was for his vintage calculator to understand Reverse Polish Notation (RPN). The calculator in question can already run its own version of BASIC, however the bespoke Hitachi CPU struggles performance-wise with complex programs, and wouldn’t be a realistic way of using RPN on the calculator. An RPN interpreter written in assembly language would be much faster.

The first step in cracking this calculator wide open was a ROM dump, followed by writing a disassembler. Incredibly, the MAME framework already featured a ‘partial implementation’ of the calculator’s CPU, which was a much needed shot in the arm when it came time to write a full-featured emulator.

With the entire calculator emulated in software, the plan from here involved replacing one of the BASIC commands in ROM with new code that would jump to an address in RAM. With 32KB of RAM there ended up being plenty of room for experimentation, and uploading a program into RAM was simplified by using Casio’s original backup software to dump the RAM onto a PC. Here, the contents of RAM could be easily modified with custom code, then uploaded back into the calculator.

With RAM to burn, new routines were created to write custom characters to the screen, and a new font was created to squeeze more characters onto the display than normal. [George] ended up porting a Forth interpreter, which defaults to RPN style, to finally achieve his humble objective. He also managed to get a version of Conway’s Game Of Life running, check out the video after the break.

We can’t get enough of our calculator hacks here, so make sure to check out the CPU transplant on this vintage Soviet calculator.

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