Hackaday Links: Some Sort Of Fool’s Day, 2018

A few years ago, writing for a blog called Motherboard of all things, [Emanuel Maiberg] wrote PC Gaming Is Still Way Too Hard. The premise is that custom building a gaming PC is too hard, because you have to source components and comparison shop. Again, this was written for Motherboard. Personally, I would have shopped that story around a bit more. Now, the same author is back again, telling us PC Building Simulator is way more fun than building a real computer. It’s my early nomination for worst tech article of the year.

Speaking of motherboards, This is a GoFundMe project to re-create the Amiga 4000 mainboard, with schematics. Building PCs is too hard, but the Amiga architecture is elegant. Some of these boards are dying due to electrolytic capacitor and battery leakage. This project is aiming to deconstruct an original A4000 board and turn it into Gerbers and schematics, allowing new boards to be manufactured. Building a PC is way too hard, but with this GoFundMe, you won’t have to design an entire system from scratch. Don’t worry, I already tipped off the Motherboard editors to this one.

Alright, story time. In 6th grade science class, the teacher was awesome. On the days when there was really no chance of any learning happening (the day before Christmas break, the last day of school), the teacher broke out the Electric Chicken. What’s an Electric Chicken? It’s a test tube rack, two wires, and a Wimshurst generator. “Here, grab ahold of this for as long as you can.” It got even cooler when you get a bunch of kids to hold hands and tell them pride is better than pain. Here’s a Kickstarter for a mini Wimshurst generator. It’s made out of PCBs! Hat tip to [WestfW] for finding this one.

It’s no secret that I get a lot of dumb press releases. Most of these are relegated to the circular file folder. It’s also no secret I get a lot of ICO announcements hitting my email. These, also, are trashed. I recently received a press release for an ICO that goes beyond anything else. ONSTELLAR is a blockchain-powered social media network for paranormal and metaphysical enthusiasts.  It’s the crypto for Coast to Coast AM listeners, UFO enthusiasts, and people who think PKE meters are real. This is it, we’ve reached peak crypto.

If you want to decapsulate an IC — and why wouldn’t you? — the usual way of doing things involves dropping acid, ego death, toxic chemicals, and a fume hood. There is another way. Here’s [A Menadue] decapping a quartz watch IC with just fire. The process is about as ‘hold my beer’ as you would expect. Just take a small butane torch, heat up a chip, and recover the die. A bit of ultrasonic cleaning later and you get a pretty clean chip. Microscope not included.

An Amiga 500 For The 21st Century

There was a period in the late 1980s when the home computer to own did not come with an Apple logo and was not an IBM, Compaq, or any of the other clones, but instead sported a Commodore logo. The Amiga 500 was an all-in-one console-style cased machine that maybe wasn’t quite the computing powerhouse you might have wished it to be, but gave you enough of the capabilities of the more accomplished 16-bit machines of the day to be an object of desire while also having a games catalogue second to none.

A500s have survived in reasonable numbers, but inevitably working A500s haven’t. Fortunately there are decent emulators, and it was for one of these that [intric8] has produced an extremely well-done installation of a Raspberry Pi 3 in an Amiga case. The intention has been throughout to avoid modification or damage to the Amiga case, and eventually to have all Amiga internal peripherals including the floppy drive in a fully working condition.

The result has a Tynemouth Software USB adaptor for the Amiga keyboard, and a set of nicely designed 3D printed backplates to bring the extended Raspberry Pi ports to the back of the case. The floppy isn’t yet interfaced and there isn’t a socket for the quadrature mouse, but otherwise it’s a very tidy build. He might be interested in one of the several USB to quadrature interfaces we’ve featured over the years.

You might ask why so much effort should be put in for an emulation of an A500, and in a sense you’d be right to do so. The Pi will run the emulator from any case or none. But if you happen to have a spare A500 case, why not give this one a go!

Converting Power Supplies for Antique Computers

Just because something is “never used” doesn’t mean it’s good. [Inkoo Vintage Computing] learned that lesson while trying to repair an Amiga 500 and finding parts online that were claimed to be “new” in that they were old stock that had never been used. The problem was that in the last 30 years the capacitors had dried out, rendering these parts essentially worthless. The solution, though, was to adapt a modern PSU for use on the old equipment.

The first hurdle to getting this machine running again was finding the connector for the power supply. The parts seemed to have vanished, with some people making their own from scratch. But after considering the problem for a minute longer they realized that another Commodore machine used the same parts, and were able to source a proper cable.

Many more parts had to be sourced to get the power supply operational, but these were not as hard to come across. After some dedicated work with the soldering iron, the power supply was put to use running the old Amiga. Asture readers will know that [Inkoo Vintage Computing] aren’t strangers to the Amiga. They recently were featured with a nondestructive memory module hack that suffered from the same parts sourcing issues that this modification had, but also came out wonderfully in the end.

“The Commodore Story” Documentary Premieres Today

What is it about a computer that was introduced 36 years ago by a company that would be defunct 12 years later that engenders such passion that people still collect it to this day? We’re talking about the Commodore 64, of course, the iconic 8-bit wonder that along with the other offerings from Commodore International served as the first real computer to millions of us.

There’s more to the passion that Commodore aficionados exhibit than just plain nostalgia, though, and a new documentary film, The Commodore Story, seeks to explore both the meteoric rise and fall of Commodore International. Judging from the official trailer below, this is a film anyone with the slightest interest in Commodore is not going to want to miss.

It will of course dive into the story of how the C64 came to be the best selling computer in history. But Commodore was far from a one-trick pony. The film traces the history of all the Commodore machines, from the PET computers right through to the Amiga. There are interviews with the key players, too, including our own Bil Herd. Bil was a hardware engineer at Commodore, designing several machines while there. He has shared some of these stories here on Hackaday, including the development of the C128  (successor to the C64) and making the C64 speak.

We can’t wait to watch this new documentary and luckily we won’t have to. It’s set to start streaming on Netflix, Amazon, and iTunes today, so pop up some popcorn and settle in for a two-hour ride through computer history but right now we’re unable to get firm dates on when. However, those of you in the Mountain View area have an even better opportunity this evening.

The Commodore Story will be premiered live at 6:30pm PST at the Computer History Museum. Grab your tickets to the premiere and a Q&A session with Bil Herd, Leonard Tramiel, and Hedley Davis.

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Resurrecting An Amiga CD32

As an editor on Amiga magazines in a previous life, this is kind of bittersweet. [RetroManCave] was donated an Amiga CD32 games system, and it is trying to resurrect it. If you’ve not heard of it, the CD32 was a 1993 games console based on the Amiga home computer system. It was the last gasp for Commodore, the beleaguered company behind the Amiga. In this first video of a series, they take the system apart, take you through what’s inside and boot it up. The system boots, but there is some sort of problem with the video sync, and they will be taking a closer look at fixing that next. We have featured a couple of similar projects from [RetroManCave] before, such as their brain transplant on a Big Trak toy and Commodore 64 fix. This video (after the break) is worth a watch if you are curious about old systems like this, want some tips on resurrecting old hardware or just want to shed a tear as your misspent youth is torn apart before your eyes.

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Hackaday Links: January 28, 2018

In case you haven’t heard, we have a 3D printing contest going on right now. It’s the Repairs You Can Print Contest. The idea is simple: show off how you repaired something with a 3D printer. Prizes include $100 in Tindie credit, and as a special prize for students and organizations (think hackerspaces), we’re giving away a few Prusa i3 MK3 printers.

[Drygol] has made a name for himself repairing various ‘home’ computers over the years, and this time he’s back showing off the mods and refurbishments he’s made to a pile of Amiga 500s. This time, he’s installing some new RAM chips, fixing some Guru Meditations by fiddling with the pins on a PLCC, adding a built-in modulator, installing a dual Kickstart ROM, and installing a Gotek floppy adapter. It’s awesome work that puts all the modern conveniences into this classic computer.

Here’s an FPGA IoT Controller. It’s a Cyclone IV and a WiFi module stuffed into something resembling an Arduino Mega. Here’s the question: what is this for? There are two reasons you would use an FPGA, either doing something really fast, or doing something so weird normal microcontrollers just won’t cut it. I don’t know if there is any application of IoT that overlaps with FPGAs. Can you think of something? I can’t.

Tide pods are flammable.

You know what’s cool? Sparklecon. It’s a party filled with a hundred pounds of LEGO, a computer recycling company, a plasmatorium, and a hackerspace, tucked away in an industrial park in Fullerton, California. It’s completely chill, and a party for our type of people — those who like bonfires, hammer Jenga, beer, and disassembling fluorescent lamps for high voltage transformers.

A few shoutouts for Sparklecon. The 23b Hackerspace is, I guess, the main host here, or at least the anchor. Across the alley is NUCC, the National Upcycled Computing Collective. They’re a nonprofit that takes old servers and such, refurbishes them, and connects them to projects like Folding@Home and SETI@Home. This actually performs a service for scientists, because every moron is mining Bitcoin and Etherium now, vastly reducing the computational capabilities of these distributed computing projects. Thanks, OSH Park, for buying every kind of specialty pizza at Pizza Hut. I would highly encourage everyone to go to Sparklecon next year. This is the fifth year, and it’s getting bigger and better every time.

Amiga Gets a PS/2 Keyboard Port

Name any retrocomputer — Apple II, Sinclair, even TRS-80s — and you’ll find a community that’s deeply committed to keeping it alive and kicking. It’s hard to say which platform has the most rabid fans, but we’d guess Commodore is right up there, and the Amiga aficionados seem particularly devoted. Which is where this Amiga PS/2 mouse port comes from.

The Amiga was a machine that was so far ahead of its time that people just didn’t get it. It was a true multimedia machine before multimedia was even a thing, capable of sound and graphics that hold up pretty well to this day. From the looks of [jtsiomb]’s workstation, he’s still putting his Amiga to good use, albeit with an inconvenient amount of cable-swapping each time he needs to use it. The remedy this, [jtsiomb] put together an emulator that translates scancodes from an external PS/2 keyboard into Amiga keyboard signals. Embedded inside the Amiga case where it can intercept the internal keyboard connector, the emulator is an ATmega168 that does a brute-force translation by way of lookup tables. A switch on the back allows him to choose the internal keyboard or his PS/2 keyboard via a KVM switch.

Are Amigas really still relevant? As of two years ago, one was still running an HVAC system for a school. We’re not sure that’s a testament to the machine or more a case of bureaucratic inertia, but it’s pretty impressive either way.

[via r/electronics]