The Desktop Computer Returns As Amiga-Infused Retro Case

The desktop computer is dead. No, I don’t mean computers that are meant to sit either on or underneath a desk. I’m talking about computer cases that are placed on a desk horizontally, probably with a monitor on top. The ‘monitor stand case’ was a mainstay for most of the 80s and 90s, but died out when CRTs became too heavy.

Now, though, there’s an interesting Kickstarter project that aims to bring the desktop computer case back, and it’s doing it as an upgrade to the classic Amiga 500, Amiga 1200, and Amiga 600 computers.

The idea for this project began all the way back in the 80s, with the Checkmate A1500 computer case. This case was designed to add expansion capabilities to the low-end Amiga 500 computer, transforming it into a desktop system with extra floppies, a hard drive, and an expansion port. In effect, you could have a ‘professional’ Amiga system for half the price of Commodore’s product offerings.

Now the Checkmate is back, this time with a case upgrade that will transform an A500, A600, A1200, or even the PPC Aeon Tabor A1222 motherboard. There’s another trick this case has to offer: it’s also compatible with MicroATX and Mini-ITX motherboards, meaning yes, there is now going to be a real desktop case that you can throw a motherboard in and a monitor on top.

The death of the desktop computer is an absolutely tragic tale that has resulted in people dropping towers on a floor and propping up their LCDs on piles of books. The reason why we do this is understandable — when CRTs got too heavy for plastic enclosures, computers became towers. Now, though, we’re all using featherweight LCDs, and computers could easily return to the desktop.

Hands On With The Smallest Game Boy Ever Made

The PocketSprite is the tiniest fully-functional Game Boy Color and Sega Master System emulator. Not only is it small enough to fit in your pocket, it’s small enough to lose in your pocket. It’s now available as a Crowd Supply campaign, and it’s everything you could ever want in a portable, WiFi-enabled, fully hackable video game console. It also plays Witcher 3. And probably Crysis, because of the meme.

This has been a year and a half in the making. The first hardware version of the PocketSprite was revealed at the 2016 Hackaday Superconference by hardware engineer extraordinaire [Sprite_TM]. As [Sprite] has a long list of incredibly impressive hardware hacks like installing Linux on a hard drive and building a Matrix of Tamagotchis, he always has to keep pushing deep into the hardware frontier.

In 2016, [Sprite] showed off the tiniest Game Boy ever, powered by the then brand-spankin’ new ESP32. This was released as Open Source, with the hope that a factory in China would take the files and start pumping out mini Game Boys for everyone to enjoy. Now, a year and a half later, it’s finally happened. In a collaboration with manufacturing wizard [Steve K], [Sprite] is the mastermind behind TeamPocket. The pocket-sized Game Boy-shaped emulator is now real. This is our hands-on review.

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Crowdfunding Is Now A Contract Between Company And Backer

Kickstarter is not a store. Indiegogo is not a store. Crowdfunding is not buying something — you’re merely donating some money, and you might get a reward for your pledge. Caveat emptor doesn’t apply, because there is no buyer, and no one can figure out what the correct Latin translation for ‘backer’ is. These are the realities that have kept Indiegogo and Kickstarter in business, have caused much distress in people who think otherwise, and have been the source of so, so many crowdfunding follies.

Now, finally, crowdfunding is being legally recognized as a store. The Register reports a court in England has ruled against Retro Computers Ltd and said it had formed a contract of sale with crowdfunding backer Rob Morton. For one person, at least, for one of their pledges, Indiegogo is a store.

The crowdfunding campaign in question is the Retro Computers’ Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega Plus, a small device not unlike the Commodore 64 direct to TV joysticks. The Spectrum Vega simply plugs into your TV, reads an SD card, and plays old ‘speccy games. Clive Sinclair, the genius who brought us the Spectrum, strange flat CRTs, and a host of other inventions, was involved in this campaign. In the years since the campaign ended, there have been numerous updates and Retro Computers still says they intend to deliver the device. Morton, apparently fed up with the delays, brought a suit against Retro Computers for the grand sum of £584: £85 for the Spectrum pledge, £5 for shipping, and the remainder for travel expenses and lost wages for the court date.

District Judge Clarke of Luton County Court heard the case and ruled against Retro Computers, finding there was a contract of sale between Morton and Retro Computers Ltd.. Evidence included a number of copies of Morton’s order, a document the judge pointed out as saying ‘this order’ and not ‘this pledge’. Additionally, the judge found the fine print on Indiegogo does not negate a contract of sale; there was still an implied agreement between Morton and Retro Computers, and Retro Computers had breached the contract by not delivering a Spectrum.

It should go without saying that this finding does not apply to every project on Indiegogo, it does not apply to Kickstarter, and nor does it apply to every crowdfunding campaign. This does not even apply to all backers of the Spectrum Vega Plus. Still, there are hundreds of thousands of backers for crowdfunding projects that haven’t received what they paid for, and if nothing else this story gives just a little bit of satisfaction to anyone that’s still waiting on an undelivered product.

Your 3D Printer Could Print Stone

Most of our  3D printers print in plastic. While metal printing exists, the setup for it is expensive and the less expensive it is, the less impressive the results are. But there are other materials available, including ceramic. You don’t see many hobby-level ceramic printers, but a company, StoneFlower, aims to change all that with a print head that fits a normal 3D printer and extrudes clay. You can see a video of the device, below. They say with some modifications, it can print other things, including solder paste.

The concept isn’t new. There are printers that can do this on the market. However, they still aren’t a common item. Partially, this is a cost issue as many of these printers are pricey. They also often require compressed air to move the viscous clay through tubes. StoneFlower has a syringe pump that doesn’t use compressed air.

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Real-Life Electronic Neurons

All the kids down at Stanford are talking about neural nets. Whether this is due to the actual utility of neural nets or because all those kids were born after AI’s last death in the mid-80s is anyone’s guess, but there is one significant drawback to this tiny subset of machine intelligence: it’s a complete abstraction. Nothing called a ‘neural net’ is actually like a nervous system, there are no dendrites or axions and you can’t learn how to do logic by connecting neurons together.

NeruroBytes is not a strange platform for neural nets. It’s physical neurons, rendered in PCBs and Molex connectors. Now, finally, it’s a Kickstarter project, and one of the more exciting educational electronic projects we’ve ever seen.

Regular Hackaday readers should be very familiar with NeuroBytes. It began as a project for the Hackaday Prize all the way back in 2015. There, it was recognized as a finalist for the Best Product, Since then, the team behind NeuroBytes have received an NHS grant, they’re certified Open Source Hardware through OSHWA, and there are now enough NeuroBytes to recreate the connectome of a flatworm. It’s doubtful the team actually has enough patience to recreate the brain of even the simplest organism, but is already an impressive feat.

The highlights of the NeuroBytes Kickstarter include seven different types of neurons for different sensory systems, kits to test the patellar reflex, and what is probably most interesting to the Hackaday crowd, a Braitenberg Vehicle chassis, meant to test the ideas set forth in Valentino Braitenberg’s book, Vehicles: Experiments in Synthetic Psychology. If that book doesn’t sound familiar, BEAM robots probably do; that’s where the idea for BEAM robots came from.

It’s been a long, long journey for [Zach] and the other creators of NeuroBytes to get to this point. It’s great that this project is now finally in the wild, and we can’t wait to see what comes of it. Hopefully a full flatworm connectome.

The Sounds of Silence? Muzo Fails to Deliver

If you fly much or work in a loud office, you know that noise-canceling headphones can be a sanity saver. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just have noise-canceling without the headphones? Apparently, a lot of people think that’s a good idea and funded a project called Muzo. [Electroboom] borrowed one and — mystified how such a device could work — set out to test it. Along the way, in the video below, you can see him do a neat demonstration with two speakers canceling each other in his closet.

Based on [Electroboom’s] tests and the tests from other users, it doesn’t appear that Muzo does much to reduce noise. It might add some noise of its own, but that’s a far cry from what people expected the unit to do.

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A Modern, Upgraded BASIC Stamp

Back in the Before Times, when microcontroller development required ultraviolet light, building anything was a pain. You probably had to burn a ROM onto a chip with a parallel programmer, there was no in-circuit programming, and who knows what would happen if you needed a serial port.

This changed in the early 90s with the introduction of the BASIC Stamp from Parallax. This was a simple microcontroller development board using Microchip PIC. With a little bit of clever firmware developed by Parallax, you could write code in BASIC, upload your code over a serial or parallel port (which every computer had), and blink a LED with just a few lines of code. All microcontroller development boards — including the Arduino — owe a debt to the BASIC Stamp. It is the grandfather to the Arduino, and it is very, very old.

Microchip didn’t update the BASIC Stamp, but that doesn’t mean someone else can’t handle that. [Bruce Eisenhard] is crowdfunding an improved, updated version of the famous 24-pin BASIC Stamp. It’s got modern parts, runs seven hundred times faster than the original, and is still chock full of BASIC interpretation.

This upgraded Stamp is built around NXP’s LPC11U3 micrcontroller, an ARM Cortex-M0 part with about a hundred times more Flash than the chip in the original Stamp. Programming is done through modern IDEs, and yes, there’s a USB port. This project is pin-compatible with the original BASIC Stamp, so if your microcontroller project from twenty years ago is dying, this is the replacement for you.

The BASIC Stamp was an awesome device for its time, even though it cost more than two hundred dollars in today’s money. [Bruce]’s campaign is offering one of these for $25, which is pretty reasonable for what it is.