Sawed Off Keyboard

Have you ever had to cut a piece of furniture in two to get it into a new place? Yours truly has, having had to cut the longer part of a sectional sofa in two to get it into a high-rise apartment. That’s what [Charles]’ sawed off keyboard immediately reminded us of. It sounds just as crazy, but brilliant at the same time.

In [Charles]’ case he wanted a keypad whose keys were customizable, and that would make a single keypress do common things like cut, copy and paste, which are normally ctrl-X, ctrl-C and ctrl-V in Windows. To do that he literally sawed off the numeric keypad from a full-sized keyboard. He also sawed off the end to the left of the QWERTY keyboard, and glued it onto the open end of his keypad.

The circuit board was too wide to fit in his new keypad, but he couldn’t stretch out the connections from the keypad’s keys to the board. So he did what any self-respecting hacker would do, he cut the circuit board where there were a manageable number of traces, leaving one part that would fit inside the keypad and another part that he could connect the traces to using a few wires. Lastly, he’d started with a PS/2 keyboard but he wanted USB output and programmability. So he redirected the PS/2 wires to an Arduino compatible Pro Micro and wrote some conversion code which you can find on his GitHub.

What other transformations can we do to keyboards? [Shrodingers_Cat] combined his with some DVD case covers to come up with a pedal board for use with his feet. And given that the keys on the numeric keypad are redundant, [Kipkay] put it to use as a hiding place for valuables instead.

Relay Computer: You Can Hear It Think

Modern digital computers have complex instruction sets that runs on state-of-the-art ALUs which in turn are a consequence of miniaturized logic gates that are built with tiny transistors. These tiny transistors are essentially switches. You could imagine replacing with electromagnetic relays, and get what is called a relay computer. If you can imagine it, someone’s done it. In this case, [jhallenworld].

The Z3 was the first working programmable, fully automatic digital computer designed by Konrad Zuse. The board employs modern semiconductor devices such as memory and microcontrollers, however, the CPU is all relays. A hexadecimal keyboard allows for program entry and a segment display allows tracking the address and data. The program is piped into serial to the parallel decoder and fed to the CPU where the magic happens. Since the core is electromechanical it is possible to connect the output to peripherals such as a bell as demonstrated near the end of the video.

This project is a good balance of retro and modern to be useful to anyone interested in mechanical computers and should be a lot of fun for the geek kind. Hacking this computer to modify the instruction set should be equally rewarding and a good exercise for students of computing theory.

There is a SourceForge page dedicated to the project with the details on the project including the instruction set and architecture. Check out the video below and if you are inspired by the project, be sure to check out the [Clickity Clack]’a Videos on designing a relay computer bit by bit.

Pac Man On The Colour Computer 3

The 1980s were the heyday of the venerable Z80, a processor that found its way into innumerable home computers, industrial systems, and yes — arcade machines. However, not everyone had a Z80 based machine at home, and so sometimes porting is required. [Glen] is tackling this with a port of Pac Man to the Radio Shack Colour Computer 3.

The key to any good arcade port is authenticity – the game should feel as identical to the real thing as possible. The Atari 2600 port got this famously wrong. Porting to the Colour Computer 3 is easier in theory – with more RAM, a Motorola 6809 CPU running at a higher clock rate, and a more powerful graphics subsystem, fewer compromises need to be made to get the game to run at a playable speed.

The way [Glen] tackled the port is quite handy. [Glen] built a utility that would scrape a disassembled version of the original Pac Man Z80 code, look up the equivalent 6809 CPU instruction, and replace it, while placing the original Z80 code to the side as a comment. Having the original code sitting next to the ported instructions makes debugging much easier.

Level 256 as seen in [Glen]’s port.
There was plenty of hand tweaking to be done, and special effort was made to make sure all the data the original code was looking for was accessible at the same addresses as before. There was also a lot of work involved in creating a sprite engine that would reliably display the game video at a playable frame rate.

Overall, the port is highly faithful to the original, with the game code being identical at the CPU level. [Glen] reports that the same patterns used on the arcade machine can be used to complete the mazes on the Colour Computer 3 version, and it faithfully recreates the Level 256 bug as well. It’s an impressive piece of work to create such an authentic port on a home computer from 1986.

For another classic port, but with the temporal vectors flipped, check out Portal 2 on the Apple II.

 

Cryptocurrency Mining Post-Bitcoin

While the age of using your own computer to mine Bitcoin during spare CPU cycles has long passed, average folks aren’t entirely shut out of the cryptocurrency game yet. Luckily, Bitcoin isn’t the only game in town anymore, and with GPUs coming down in price it’s possible to build a mining rig for other currencies like Etherium.

[Chris]’s build starts with some extruded aluminum and a handful of GPUs. He wanted to build something that didn’t take up too much space in the small apartment. Once the main computer was installed, each GPU was installed upwards in the rack, with each set having its own dedicated fan. After installing a fan controller and some plexiglass the rig was up and running, although [Chris] did have to finagle the software a little bit to get all of the GPUs to work properly.

While this build did use some tools that might only be available at a makerspace, like a mill and a 3D printer, the hardware is still within reason with someone with a little cash burning a hole in their pockets. And, if Etherium keeps going up in value like it has been since the summer, it might pay for itself eventually, providing that your electric utility doesn’t charge too much for power.

And if you missed it, we just ran a feature on Etherium.  Check it out.

This 6502 Computer Project Is A Work Of Art

If you were a home constructor in the 8-bit era, the chances are that if you built a microcomputer system you would have ended up with a bare printed circuit board and a terminal. If you were on a budget you might have had a piece of stripboard as well, or maybe even wire-wrap. Beautiful cases were out of reach, they came with expensive commercial computers that were not the preserve of impoverished hobbyists.

Constructing an 8-bit machine in 2017 is a much easier process, there are many more options at your disposal. There is no need to make a bare PCB when you have a 3D printer, and this is demonstrated perfectly by [Dirk Grappendorf]’s 6502 computer project. He’s built from scratch an entire 6502 system, with a text LCD display, and housed it in a case with a keyboard that would put to shame all but the most expensive commercial machines from back in the day.

But this is more than just a hobby project thrown together that just happens to have a nice case, he’s gone the extra mile to the extent that this is professional enough that it could have been a product. If you’d been offered [Dirk]’s machine in 1980 alongside the competitors from Apple and Commodore, you’d certainly have given it some consideration.

We’ve seen retrocomputers too numerous to mention on these pages over the years, so if they are your thing perhaps it’s time to draw your attention to our VCF West reports, and to our reviews of computer museums in Germany, and Cambridge or Bletchley, UK.

Thanks [Colin] for the tip.

Complete IR Control

What can you do with an IR remote? How about anything? Maybe not. We’ll settle for issuing arbitrary commands and controlling tasks on our computer.

The first step in [Fungus]’s hack is straightforward: buy an IR receiver for a buck, plug it into an Arduino, and load up some IR-decoding code. If you haven’t done this before, you owe it to yourself to take some time now. Old IR remotes are very useful, and dead simple, to integrate into your projects.

But here comes the computer-control part. Rather than interpret the codes on the Arduino, the micro just sends them across the USB serial to a laptop. A relatively straightforward X11 program on the (Linux) computer listens for codes and does essentially anything a user with a mouse and keyboard could — that is to say, anything. Press keys, run programs, open webpages, anything. This is great for use with a laptop or desktop, but it’d also be a natural for an embedded Raspberry Pi setup as well.

Hacking the code to do your particular biddings is a simple exercise in monkey-patching. It’s like a minimal, hacked-together, USB version of LIRC, and we like it.

Thanks [CoolerVoid] for the tip!

DIY VT220 Keyboard

There’s always been interest in the computers of old, and people love collecting and restoring them. When [peterbjornx] got his hands on a DEC VT220 video terminal, it was in good shape – it needed a bit of cleaning, but it also needed a keyboard. [Peter] couldn’t afford to buy the keyboard, but the service manual for it was available, so he decided to convert a modern keyboard to work with his new terminal.

The original keyboard for the VT220 is the LK201. This keyboard communicates with the terminal using 8-N-1 (eight data bits, no parity, one stop bit) over RS232 at 4800 baud. This meant that it would be pretty simple to implement this on microcontroller in order to communicate with the terminal. [Peter] chose the Arduino Nano. However, the LK200 was more than just a keyboard for communicating with the terminal, it also housed a speaker and LEDs which the terminal used to communicate with the user. Rather than put these into the adapter unit, [Peter] decided to put these into the keyboard – a few holes and a bit of wiring, and they were in.

[Peter]’s write-up includes a description of some of the issues he encountered as well as a picture of the keyboard. He’s put the schematic online and the code up on GitHub. In case you were wondering, he used Vim on the VT220 to write his article. You could also use a Raspberry Pi to help out your dumb terminal, or just hook the terminal directly to your Linux box and go from there.