2:3 Scale VT100 Terminal Gets Closer To Its Roots

When [Michael Gardi] finished his scaled down DEC VT100 replica a few months ago, he made it very clear that the project was only meant to look like a vintage terminal on the outside. A peek into the case revealed nothing more exotic than a Raspberry Pi running its default operating system, making the terminal just as well suited to emulating classic games as it was dialing into a remote system. But as any hacker knows, some projects end up developing a life of their own.

It started simply enough. The addition of an RS-232 Serial HAT to the Raspberry Pi meant that the 3D printed VT100 could actually operate as a serial terminal using software such as minicom. Then [Lars Brinkhoff] got involved. He loved the look of the printed VT100, and thought it deserved better than a generic terminal emulator. So he went ahead and started developing a custom terminal simulator for it to run.

Reliving those CRT glory days.

The idea here is that an an 8080 emulator actually runs an original VT100 firmware ROM, warts and all. It makes all the beeps and chirps you’d expect from the real hardware, and there’s even some OpenGL trickery used to mimic an old CRT display, complete with scan lines and a soft glow around characters.

Naturally the visual effects consume a fair amount of processing power, so [Lars] cautions that anything lower than the Pi 4 will likely experience slowdowns. Of course, nothing is stopping you from running the simulator on your desktop machine if you’re looking for that classic terminal experience.

Did this gorgeous recreation of the VT100 need to have a true serial interface or a simulator that recreates the unique menu system of the original? Not at all. Even without those additions, it blew us away when [Michael] first sent it in. But are we happy that these guys have put in the time to perfect this already stellar project? We think you already know the answer.

Restoring A Vintage Tube Tester To Its Former Glory

It can be difficult for modern eyes to make much sense of electronics from the 1960s or earlier. Between the point-to-point soldering, oddball components, and the familiar looking passives blown up to comical proportions like rejected props from “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”, even experienced hardware hackers may find themselves struggling to understand what a circuit is doing. But that didn’t stop [Cat0Charmer] from taking the time to lovingly restore this Hickok Cardmatic KS-15874-L2 tube tester.

The good news was that the machine had nearly all of its original parts, down to the Hickok branded tubes in the power supply. Unfortunately it looks like a few heavy handed repairs were attempted over the years, with a nest of new wires and components intermixed with what [Cat0Charmer] actually wanted to keep. The before and after shots of individual sections of the machine are particularly enlightening, though again, don’t feel to bad if you still can’t make heads or tails of the cleaned up version.

Hiding new capacitors inside of the old ones.

As you’d expect for a machine of this age, many of the original components were way out of spec. Naturally the capacitors were shot, but even the carbon composition resistors were worthless after all these years; with some measuring 60% away from their original tolerances.

We particularly liked how [Cat0Charmer] hollowed out the old capacitors and installed the new modern ones inside of them, preserving the tester’s vintage look. This trick wasn’t always feasible, but where it was applied, it definitely looks better than seeing a modern capacitor adrift in a sea of 60’s hardware.

After undoing ham-fisted repairs, replacing the dud components, and installing some new old stock tubes, the tester sprung to life with renewed vigor. The previously inoperable internal neon lamps, used by the tester’s voltage regulation system, shone brightly thanks to all the ancillary repairs and changes that went on around them. With a DIY calibration cell built from the schematics in an old Navy manual, [Cat0Charmer] got the tester dialed in and ready for the next phase of its long and storied career.

We love seeing old hardware get restored. It not only keeps useful equipment out of the scrap heap, but because blending new and old technology invariably leads to the kind of innovative problem solving this community is built on.

The Epic Saga Of Hacking Knights Of The Round

For the uninitiated, Knights of the Round was a hack-and-slash arcade game released by Capcom in 1991 that rather loosely followed the legend of King Arthur and the eponymous Knights of the Round Table. In it, up to three players make their way from stage to stage, vanquishing foes and leveling up their specific character’s weapons and abilities. But [Sebastian Mihai] was looking for a new way to experience this classic title, so he decided to reverse engineer the game and create his own version called Warlock’s Tower.

Those familiar with the original game will no doubt notice some of the differences right away while watching the video below, but for those who don’t have an intimate knowledge of Arthur’s digital adventures, the major changes are listed on the project’s web page. Among the most notable are the removal of cooperative multiplayer and stage time limits. This turns the game from a frantic beat ’em up to a more methodical adventure. Especially since you now have to compete the game in a single life. If we had to guess, we’d say [Sebastian] prefers his games to have a bit of a challenge to them.

Even if you aren’t interested in playing Warlock’s Tower yourself, the story of how [Sebastian] created it is absolutely fascinating. He started with zero knowledge of Motorola 68000 assembly, but by the end of the project, was wrangling multiple debuggers and writing custom tools to help implement the approximately 70 patches that make up the custom build.

The hundreds of hours of work that went into creating these patches is documented as a sort of stream of consciousness on the project page, allowing you to follow along in chronological order. Whether it inspires you to tackle your own reverse engineering project or makes you doubt whether or not you’ve got the patience to see it through, it’s definitely worth a read. If you’re a Knights of the Round fan, you should also take a look at the incredible wealth of information he’s amassed about the original game itself, which honestly serves as an equally impressive project in its own right.

Modified versions of classic games, known colloquially as “ROM hacks” are fairly common among serious fans who want to see their favorite games improved over time. While they aren’t always as ambitious as Warlock’s Tower, they all serve as examples of how a dedicated community can push a product well beyond the scope envisioned by its original creators.

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An ALU As A Desktop Calculator Has Stunning Style From Days Gone By

Those of you with an interest in microcomputer history will know that there is a strong crossover between the path of electronic calculator evolution and the genesis of the integrated CPU. Intel’s 4000 was famously designed for a calculator, and for a while in the 1970s these mathematical helpers were seen as the wonder of the age. [Simon Boak]’s calculator is a curious throwback to that era, as it’s not a decimal calculator as we’d know it but a hexadecimal device that simply computes using the functions of the famous 74181 ALU chip.

An ALU, or to give it its full name an Arithmetic Logic Unit, is a component of a CPU with two inputs and one output that can perform any of a range of binary functions upon the two inputs and return the result on the output. This calculator has two of them for eight bits of raw adding power, with a hexadecimal keypad for setting the inputs and a set of 7-segment displays for showing the results. It’s housed in an achingly retro folded sheet metal console case with wooden end pieces that would have graced any engineer’s desk with pride back in about 1975. We may not need one, but we really want one!

If the 74181 is a mystery to you then fear not, because chip master [Ken Shirriff] has produced some handy explanation work on its operation.

Thanks [Ted Yapo] for the tip.

Enterprise Helm Commands The Entertainment Center

Many a young geek wished they could get a chance to sit at the helm of the USS Enterprise, wildly tapping on unlabeled technicolor buttons with the self-assured confidence of a proper Starfleet officer. For most of us it was a dream unrealized, but right now somebody in the Seattle, Washington area is getting to do exactly that in their media room. We won’t deny being jealous, but at least our collective egos can take some comfort in the knowledge that they had to outsource the construction of their replica helm to the fine folks at [Blackmouth Design].

There’s not a lot of technical details to be had, but considering the page for this project is only meant to show off the company’s design and fabrication skills, we can’t blame them too much. If we were in the business of selling these things, we’d probably keep some of the juicer details under wraps too.

But we do know there’s “Arduino technology” under the hood that fires up different light and sound effects depending on which of the vintage rocker switches has been flipped. The red momentary buttons lined up on the right side of the coffee table sized panel are tied into the home media center to do things like turn off the lights and lower the projector screen. Check out the video below for a brief demo.

In a post on Reddit, one of the engineers behind the project explains that the top surface of the helm is 3/16″ powder coated aluminum, with the plywood that makes up the base laminated in the classic Original Series color scheme of red, grey, and black. The artwork for the astrogator was created from scratch, backlit with LEDs, and placed behind a 1/4″ acrylic panel for protection. We imagine the fact that it’s parallel to the ground means it’s supposed to be a space to place your drinks or popcorn, though if it was in our house, nobody would be bringing food or drink anywhere near it.

In all honesty, while Hackaday is decidedly more about building than buying, we can’t fault anyone for forking over their hard earned cash for craftsmanship of this caliber. After all, we’ve had our eyes on that officially licensed tricorder replica for quite some time now.

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Dreamcast Homebrew Gets Boost From SD Card Cache

While it might have been a commercial failure compared to contemporary consoles, the Sega Dreamcast still enjoys an active homebrew scene more than twenty years after its release. Partly it’s due to the fact that you can burn playable Dreamcast discs on standard CD-Rs, but fans of the system will also point out that the machine was clearly ahead of its time in many respects, affording it a bit of extra goodwill in the community.

That same community happens to be buzzing right now with news that well-known Dreamcast hacker [Ian Micheal] has figured out how to cache data to an SD card via the console’s serial port. At roughly 600 KB/s the interface is too slow to use it as swap space for expanding the system’s paltry 16 MB of memory, but it’s more than fast enough to load game assets which otherwise would have had to be loaded into RAM.

A third-party Dreamcast SD adapter.

In the video below, [Ian] shows off his new technique with a port of DOOM running at 640×480. He’s already seeing an improvement to framerates, and thinks further optimizations should allow for a solid 30 FPS, but that’s not really the most exciting part. With the ability to load an essentially unlimited amount of data from the SD card while the game is running, this opens the possibility of running mods which wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. It should also allow for niceties like saving screenshots or game progress to the SD card for easy retrieval.

[Ian] says he’ll be bringing the same technique to his Dreamcast ports of Quake and Hexen in the near future, and plans on posting some code to GitHub that demonstrates reading and writing to FAT32 cards so other developers can get in on the fun. The downside is that you obviously need to have an SD card adapter plugged into your console to make use of this technique, which not everyone will have. Luckily they’re fairly cheap right now, but we wouldn’t be surprised if the prices start climbing. If you don’t have one already, now’s probably the time to get one.

To be clear, this technique is completely separate from replacing the Dreamcast’s optical drive with an SD card, which itself is a very popular modification that’s helped keep Sega’s last home console kicking far longer than anyone could have imagined.

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Disposable Rocket Stove Keeps You Fueled In The Wild

Don’t know about you, but we can’t start the day without coffee and a shower. If you were to drag us on some overnight trip into the wilderness, we could probably forego the shower for a day, but we will be a grumpy trail mate without some kind coffee, even instant.

Yes, if you were to get us on an overnight outdoor adventure, we would insist on bringing along a couple of these little disposable, self-destructing rocket stoves, if for no other reason than that we can have some coffee without having to forage for a bunch of firewood and build a whole regular-sized campfire. Don’t worry — we’ll share the water because there’s plenty of time built in. Per [smogdog], these Swedish torches will boil water in 20 minutes and burn for 60 — that’s enough time to make a coffee, a bowl of soup, and toast a single marshmallow before the fire consumes the scrap wood.

We love the use of bike chain as a burner to raise up the pot for fire ventilation. But our favorite bit has to be the dual-purpose packaging. It’s nice-looking, it’s informative, and it’s paper, so you can use it as a fire starter. Failing that, [smogdog] has a backup fire starter system — rubbing alcohol in a small spray bottle. Unwrap a protein bar and check out the demo video after the break.

Tired of the same old, boring trail foods? How about flat-pack pasta that morphs into fun shapes when you boil it?

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