Atari At 50: The Story Of Our Lives

It’s been a year of anniversaries, what with the 40th birthday of both the Commodore 64 and the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. But there’s another anniversary that in a sense tops them all, today marks 50 years since Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney incorporated Atari Inc, a name that will forever be synonymous with the development of the computer game industry. PC Magazine have marked the event with a retrospective, an affectionate look at the progress from Spacewar! coin-ops to the unsuccessful Jaguar console of the 1990s, and it pulls no punches over the lacklustre management that oversaw its decline in later years.

For us the high points of the Atari story were the VCS console and the ST line of computers, which probably best represent the brand’s successes in Europe where this is being written. It’s with something of a wince that we remember watching an Atari Lynx advert in a British cinema, in which the laugh came when the teenager-unaffordably high price was revealed. At least diehard Atari fans can take solace in that by then Commodore was equally being run into the ground.

One criticism PC Magazine makes is that the current Atari incarnation is doing little beyond rehashing past glories, and perhaps they’re right. Last year we covered their release of some new cartridges for the VCS.

You Have About Four Months To Find A Lost Satellite

In the annals of technical achievement originating from the United Kingdom there lies a forgotten success story that should have led to greater things but instead became a dead-end even before it had happened. We’re referring of course to Prospero, a British satellite that holds the honour of being the only one to have been launched on board a British-developed satellite launch platform. On the 28th of October 1971 it was launched aboard a Black Arrow rocket from the Woomera launch site in Australia and successfully entered orbit to complete its mission. When it was launched the Black Arrow program had already been canceled by the British government, with the launch proceeding only because rocket and satellite were by then already on the pad.

A never flown Black Arrow rocket and the Prospero flight spare, in the Science Museum, London.
A never flown Black Arrow rocket and the Prospero flight spare, in the Science Museum, London.

So the Brits became the sixth nation to develop a satellite launch capability, and promptly canned it. Prospero was a success though and remains in orbit, and was even re-activated periodically as late as the 1990s. With its fiftieth anniversary approaching in October we think it’s worth looking for to mark the occasion, and so would like to remind you of its existence and the impending anniversary. If any community can find a lost satellite, hear its call if it is still transmitting anything, and maybe even wake it up, it’s you lot. Hackaday readers never cease to amaze us with their talents, and we know that among you will be people with what it takes to find Prospero.

To help you along your way there’s a lot of information about the satellite to be found online, including the details of an unsuccessful attempt to contact it a decade ago for the anniversary in 2011, and a real-time tracker to help you find its position. Maybe some of you have a decent enough telescope to take a snap of it as it passes over, but if a radio signal could be retrieved from it that would be particularly impressive. Watch out though, you might find yourself hearing an Orbcomm satellite on the same frequency.

So if any of you fancy firing up your SDRs and pointing an antenna skywards over the next few months, we’d like to hear about your progress. It’s possible that the craft may by now be incapable of life, but if anything can be found it’s worth a try.

This isn’t the first satellite rescue attempt documented here on Hackaday. A few years back we put out the call to rescue ICE/ISEE-3.

Celebrating The 4004’s 0x31st Anniversary

This weekend marked the 49th anniversary of the legendary Intel 4004 microprocessor, and to celebrate [Erturk Kocalar] combined the old and new in this intriguing Retroshield 4004 / Busicom 141-PF calculator project. We have reported on his Arduino shield project before, which lets you connect a variety of old microprocessors to an Arduino so you can experiment with these old chips with a minimum of fuss.

[Erturk] decided to use the Arduino to simulate the hardware of the Busicom 141-PF, a calculator famous for bringing us the microprocessor. In addition to the calculator, the Arduino has to simulate the Intel 4004 CPU’s supporting chips, which include ROM, RAM, and shift registers. If you want to build one of these yourself, all the design files are open source, or you can get an assembled shield from his Tindie store. In either case, you will have to provide your own 4004, which are surprisingly still available. (Tindie and Hackaday share the same parent company, Supplyframe. We’ve got nothing to do with Intel.)

We really appreciate the detailed explanation that [Erturk] provides about the inner workings of the calculator. Interfacing the emulator to the original ROM code running on the 4004 is non-trivial — take a look at the explanation of the spinning drum printer, for example. We enjoyed perusing the annotated ROM listing, as well as reading the story of the efforts which have been undertaken to prevent these historical documents from being lost forever. Be sure to check out the history of the 4004 and its inventor Federico Faggin if you’d like to delve deeper.


Plastic Model Emulates The First Untethered Spacewalk

Here’s something really wonderful. [Dave Akerman] wrote up the results of his attempt to use a high-altitude balloon to try to re-create a famous image of NASA’s Bruce McCandless floating freely in space with the Earth in the background. [Dave] did this in celebration of the 34th anniversary of the first untethered spacewalk, even going so far as to launch on the same day as the original event in 1984. He had excellent results, with plenty of video and images recorded by his payload.

80’s “Astronaut with MMU” model kit.

Adhering to the actual day of the spacewalk wasn’t the only hurdle [Dave] jumped to make this happen. He tracked down an old and rare “Astronaut with MMU” (Mobile Maneuvering Unit) plastic model kit made by Revell USA and proceeded to build it and arrange for it to remain in view of the cameras. Raspberry Pi Zero Ws with cameras, LoRA hardware, action cameras, and a UBlox GPS unit all make an appearance in the balloon’s payload.

Sadly, [Bruce McCandless] passed away in late 2017, but this project is a wonderful reminder of that first untethered spacewalk. Details on the build and the payload, as well as the tracking system, are covered here on [Dave]’s blog. Videos of the launch and the inevitable balloon burst are embedded below, but more is available in the summary write-up.

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Hackaday Links: September 10, 2017

Hackaday is 13! We’re going through a bit of a rebellious phase. There’s hair where there wasn’t hair before. Thirteen years ago (Sept. 5, 2004), [Phil Torrone] published the first Hackaday Post. [Phil] posted a great writeup of the history of Hackaday over on the Adafruit blog — we were saved from the AOL borg because of the word ‘hack’ — and interviewed the former and current editors of your favorite DIY website. Here’s to 13 more years and to [Phil] finding a copy of the first version of the Jolly Wrencher designed in Macromedia Flash.

Hackaday is having an unconference in the UK! Tickets for next weekend’s event went fast, but don’t worry — we’re hosting a Bring A Hack the day before.

Hurricanes are an awesome force of nature. As we learned from Harvey a week ago, livestreamed footage from the eyewall of a hurricane is fascinating. [Jeff Piotrowski] seems to be the streamer of choice. If you’re looking for something to gawk at, here you go.

Another burn is over, and I still have no idea how they moved the fuselage of a 747 from Palmdale to the playa.

You know we’re doing this whole Hackaday Prize thing where we’re giving a ton of money to people for creating cool hardware, right? We’re almost done with that. The last round of The Hackaday Prize is going on right now. The theme is anything goes, or rather there is no theme. The goal of this round is to build cool stuff. This round ends on October 16th, and yes, we’ll have the results for the Assistive Technologies round out shortly.

[Prusa] makes a lot of printers, and that means he needs to make a lot of parts to make a lot of printers. Obviously, a PTFE-cutting robot is the solution to this problem

October 5th is the Open Source Hardware Summit in Denver. Hackaday and Tindie are going, and it’s going to be a blast.  The location has moved in the last week — now it’s about half a mile away from the old venue. The speaker schedule is up, board nominations are open, and somewhere, someone is organizing a Lulzbot/Sparkfun booze cruise the day after the summit. I should be getting a van to add capacity to this trip, so if you’re interested leave a note in the comments.

Show Me The Data: Year #02 has just turned two today and we couldn’t be more excited about how far we’ve come. What started out as a simple proof-of-concept, inspired by ye-olde idea of a “virtual hackerspace,” has truly evolved into a global playground for some of the best, brightest, and most creative minds you have ever met. It also became a home and the place to spend sleepless nights for many of us on the team, and we’re excited to share a few ideas on where we are headed going forward.

But before we do that, let’s look at some data.

The Data

We’re thrilled to report that over the last two years, has grown from zero to a 121,158-member strong community, who have together created a total of 9,736 projects. To put this in context, it is more than a two-fold growth from last year’s milestone of 51,838 users / 4,365 projects. And it doesn’t seem to be showing any signs of slowing down.



Though these “vanity” metrics sure are a nice validation, the number that gets us the most excited is the fact that the 9,731 projects currently on the site have been created by a total 4,966 different users. What’s even better is the fact that 949 projects are a result of collaboration between two or more people. Altogether, a total of 7,170 different users have participated in the creation of the vast body of engineering knowledge currently residing on

Continue reading “Show Me The Data: Year #02”

Barcode Challenge


This morning we logged into Google to find a Barcode instead of the normal logo (how strange that Google would change their graphic!). Apparently today is the anniversary of the Barcode. This method of easily labeling items for computer scanning is used for every type of commodity in our society. But do you know how to get the cryptic information back out of the Barcode?

Here’s the challenge:  The image at the top of the post was created by the devious writers here at Hack a Day. Leave us a comment that tells us what the message says and explains how you deciphered it. There are programs that will do this for you and some smartphones can do this from a picture of the code, but we’re looking for the most creative solutions.

The winner will be decided in a totally unfair and biased way and gets their name plastered all over Hack a Day (and possibly slandered a bit).  So get out there and start decoding that machine-readable image.

Update: We’ve announced a winner for this challenge.