Lucky Cat POV Display Ditches the Waving and Windmills Out of Control

If you’ve been in a Japanese restaurant, you’ve probably seen a maneki-neko, the lucky cat charm, where a cat welcomes you with a beckoning arm. It’s considered to bring good luck, but we’re not sure if [Martin Fitzpatrick] is pushing his luck with this Lucky Cat POV display. He hacked one of the figurines so the arm forms a persistence of vision (POV) display, where blinking LEDs on the paw create a dot-matrix style display.

Inside the hapless neko is a Wemos D1, motor driver, and a few other components that turn the cat into a working display. The five LEDs he attached to the paw are wide enough to display 5×7 characters. The tricky part in the mechanical design is getting signals from a stationary base to a spinning arm(ature). In this case it was easily solved with a 6-wire slip ring from Adafruit. [Martin] revs the lucky cat up using a brushed DC motor and a couple of gears.

The ESP8266 is running MicroPython — the combination should make this a snap to hook into any web service API you want to display your own messages. Right now the arm doesn’t have positional awareness so the message isn’t locked in a single position like it would be if a hall effect sensor was used. But [Martin] says there’s plenty of room left inside the cat and a future upgrade could include stashing the batteries inside for a cordless, all-in-one build. If he takes that on it’s a perfect time to add some type of shaft encoding as well.

Check the Lucky Cat showing off in the clip after the break.

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Windows for Workgroups 3.11 in 2018

It’s been 25 years since Microsoft released Windows for Workgroups 3.11. To take a trip back to the end of the 16-bit era of operating system, [Yeo Kheng Meng] got WFW 3.11 running on a modern Thinkpad.

To make things difficult, a few goals were set for the project. Obviously, this wouldn’t be much fun in a virtual machine, so those were banned. A video driver would be needed, since WFW 3.11 only supports resolutions up to 640×480 in software. Some basic support for sound would be desirable. Finally, TCP/IP networking is possible in WFW 3.11, so networking hardware would allow access modern internet.

[Yeo Kheng Meng] accomplished all of these goals on a 2009 Thinkpad T400 and throughly documented the process. Some interesting hacks were required, including the design of a custom parallel port sound card based on the Covox Speech Thing. Accessing HTTPS web servers required a man-in-the-middle attack to strip SSL, since the SSL support on WFW 3.11 is ancient and blocked by most web servers today.

If you want your own WFW 3.11 laptop, the detailed instructions will get you there. [Yeo Kheng Meng] has also provided the hardware design for the sound card. You can watch a talk on the process after the break.

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Scratch-Built Ornithopter: Here’s How I Flapped My Way to Flight

One of humankind’s dreams has always been to fly like a bird. For a hacker, an achievable step along the path to that dream is to make an ornithopter — a machine which flies by flapping its wings. An RC controlled one would be wonderful, controlled flight is what everyone wants. Building a flying machine from scratch is a big enough challenge, and a better jumping-off point is to make a rubber band driven one first.

I experimented with designs which are available on the internet, to learn as much as possible, but I started from scratch in terms of material selection and dimensions. You learn a lot about flight through trial and error, and I’m happy to report that in the end I achieved a great little flyer built with a hobby knife and my own two hands. Since then I’ve been looking back on what made that project work, and it’s turned into a great article for Hackaday. Let’s dig in!

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VCF East XIII is Right Around the Corner

The middle of May is a very special time at the Jersey Shore. It’s finally warm enough that business owners decide they might as well unlock their doors, but still cool enough that you can go on the boardwalk without having to bump into sweaty strangers. It’s a time for saltwater taffy without the risk of skin cancer, for hot dogs without seagulls trying to steal them from you. You get the idea.

This year it’s also when the Vintage Computer Festival East will be held in Wall, New Jersey. Running from May 18th to the 20th, VCF East XIII will play host to talks, workshops, and demonstrations focusing on the storied days before we all started carrying supercomputers in our pants. Of course it wouldn’t be a computer festival without vendor tables, and there’s even a consignment area where VCF staffers will sell your old gear while you peruse the show.

Here’s hoping that [Don Eyles] brings his hardcopy of the lunar module source code with him. Our own [Greg Charvat] got a close look at this incredible piece of history.
A trio of keynote speakers will help set the tone of VCF East. On Friday [Bill Dromgoole] will discuss the ongoing restoration of a UNIVAC 1219-B military mainframe. Once designed to handle the radar on a Navy destroyer, thanks to the tireless efforts of [Bill] and his merry band, it’s currently on the hunt for the Wumpus. Saturday will see NASA contractor [Don Eyles] explain how he hacked his way around a stuck “Abort” button on Apollo 14, deftly avoiding the kind of problems the previous guys had in getting to the Moon. Finally on Sunday [Dave Walden] will talk about his work in Ye Olden Days of the Internet: programming the very first routers, known as “Internet Message Processors” or IMPs.

If you’re looking to get up close and personal with tech of yesteryear, you’ll definitely want to check out the exhibit area. Arguably the largest single draw of VCF, this is where you’ll see everything from 1980’s robots to software defined radio on the MITS Altair 8800. In previous years we’ve seen WWII Enigma machines, as well all the cool toys that kids had back in the day.

As usual we’ll be there to take plenty of pictures and dive into the sundry amusements offered by the show and the InfoAge Museum which plays host to it. Hackaday is once again a proud sponsor of VCF East and their continuing efforts to preserve technology history for future generations. We’d love to see you there and we’re always looking for the inside scoop on interesting hardware so don’t be shy about tracking me down with your story!

1960’s Console Stereo gets Raspberry Pi Touch Screen

When he was but a wee hacker, [WhiskeyDrinker] loved to play with the big console stereo his grandparents had. The idea of a functional piece of furniture always appealed to him, and he decided that when he grew up and had a place of his own he’d get a similar stereo. Fast forward to the present, and a Craigslist ad for a working Penncrest stereo seemed to be a dream come true. Until it wasn’t.

The original physical controls are connected to the Pi’s GPIO

As difficult as it might be to believe, sometimes things we read on the Internet are not true. The “working” Penncrest radio turned out to be a dud. But realizing that the look of the cabinet was more important to him than historical accuracy, [WhiskeyDrinker] decided to outfit it with a Raspberry Pi powered touch screen that would look as close to stock hardware as possible.

The final result really does look like some kind of alternate timeline piece of consumer electronics: where chunky physical buttons and touch screens coexisted in perfect harmony. The vintage stereo aficionados will probably cry foul, but let them. [WhiskeyDrinker] did a fantastic job of blending old and new, being respectful to the original hardware and aesthetic where it made sense, and clearing house where only nostalgia had lease.

A HiFiBerry DAC+ Pro is used to get some decent audio out of the Raspberry Pi, and the touch screen interface is provided by Volumio. [WhiskeyDrinker] mentions that it even has a GPIO plugin which he successfully used to handle getting the physical buttons to play nice with their digital counterparts.

Updating old audio gear is always a sensitive subject around these parts. Sometimes they go so far that the original hardware is almost an afterthought. On the other side of the spectrum are the projects which try to take modern gear and mimic the look of the classics. In any event, one thing is clear: they don’t make ’em like they used to.

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8-bit game uses our favourite IC and Zero lines of code

If a hacker today wanted to build a simple game, he or she could whip it up using an Arduino board and a few other bits and pieces in about an hour, only to be greeted with “where’s the hack?” But when you look at [OiD]’s SPEBEG (Single Player Eight Bit Electronic Game), you’ll understand why building anything using old-skool 70s tech is so awesome and educational.

The SPEBEG is a simple 8-bit game where you aim with the joystick at the target and fire to gain points. As your score increases, so does the game speed. It doesn’t need a single line of code, since the whole design is completely hardware based. And it uses the venerable 555. The display is an 8×8 LED matrix while score and levels are displayed on two 7-segment LED displays.

An 8-bit bus forms the backbone of the game and it is all held together by lots of 74-series TTL logic. The 555 provides a 47 kHz secondary clock, while the 100 Hz signal after the rectifier diodes is used to introduce the essential “randomness” that every game requires. [OiD] does a good job of describing the whole circuit by breaking it down into byte-sized chunks and walking us through each. For something so simple to build using modern technology, he needed over 25 different chips to build it, and ended up setting himself back by almost 200 €.

But there’s one more part of this project that amazes us, and that is its construction technique. [OiD] purchased IC sockets with extra long pins and a lot of thin, enamel (insulated) copper wire. A soldering station with a fine tip and high temperature setting allowed him to heat the end of the copper wire to melt its enamel insulation, so it could be soldered to the long pin sockets. Using this method, he assembled the circuit using point-to-point soldering, pretty much like wire wrapping. Only, instead of wrapping the wires, he soldered them.

Despite all of his efforts, the game was pretty much unplayable when he first built it almost five years back. He recently pulled it out of storage, swatted all the hardware bugs, and fixed it nicely. Check out the video after the break. [OiD]’s project is decidedly more simple compared to this game that was Fabricated from the Original Arcade Pong Schematics.

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Raspberry Pi Becomes Cycle Exact Commodore Drive Emulator

The Commodore 1541 disk drive is unlike anything you’ll ever see in modern computer hardware. At launch, the 1541 cost almost as much as the Commodore 64 it was attached to ($400, or about $1040 at today’s value). This drive had a CPU, and had its own built-in operating system. Of course, anyone using a Commodore 64 now doesn’t deal with this drive these days — you can buy an SD2IEC for twenty dollars and load all your C64 games off an SD card. If you’re cheap, there’s always the tape drive interface and a ten dollar Apple Lightning to 3.5mm headphone adapter.

But the SD2IEC isn’t compatible with everything, and hacking something together using the tape drive doesn’t have the panache required of serious Commodoring. What’s really needed is a cycle-accurate emulation of the 1541 disk drive, emulating the 6502 CPU and the two 6522 VIAs in this ancient disk drive. The Raspberry Pi comes to the rescue. [Steve White] created the Pi1541, an emulation of the Commodore 1541 disk drive that runs on the Raspberry Pi 3B.

Pi1541 is a complete emulation of the 6502 and two 6522s found inside the Commodore 1541 disk drive. It runs the same code the disk drive does, and supports all the fast loaders, demos, and copy protected original disk images that can be used with an original drive.

The only hardware required to turn a Raspberry Pi 3 into a 1541 are a few transistors in the form of a bi-directional logic level shifter, and a plug for a six-pin serial port cable. This can easily be constructed out of some Sparkfun, Adafruit, Amazon, or AliExpress parts, although we suspect anyone could whip up a Raspberry Pi hat with the same circuit in under an hour. The binaries necessary to run Pi1541 on the Raspberry Pi are available on [Steve]’s website, and he’ll be releasing the source soon.

This is a great project for the retrocomputing scene, although there is one slight drawback. Pi1541 requires a Raspberry Pi 3, and doesn’t work on the Raspberry Pi Zero. That would be an amazing bit of software, as ten dollars in parts could serve as a complete emulation of a Commodore disk drive. That said, you’re still likely to be under $50 in parts and you’re not going to find a better drive emulator around.

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