[Adrian] comments that the BBC Master 128 is a rare 8-bit computer, and we agree — we couldn’t remember hearing about that particular machine, although the BBC series is quite familiar. The machine has a whopping 128 K of RAM, quite a bit for those days. It also had a 6502 variant known as the 65C12, which has an extra pin compared to a 6502 and doesn’t use the same clock arrangement. A viewer sent him one of these machines, which apparently was used in the BBC studios. You can see this rare beauty in the video below.
The computer has a very nice-looking keyboard that includes a number pad. There are also expansion ports for printers and floppy disk drives. It has some similarities to a standard BBC computer but has a number of differences externally and internally.
Of course, we were waiting for the teardown about 15 minutes in. There were some corroded batteries but luckily, they didn’t do much damage. The power supply had a burned smell. Cracking it open for inspection was a good time to convert the power supply to run on 120 V, too.
After some power supply repair, it was time to power the machine up. The results were not half bad. It started up with a cryptic error message: “This is not a language.” Better than a dead screen. The keyboard wasn’t totally working, though. A bit of internet searching found that the error happens when the battery dies and the machine loses its configuration.
More walkthroughs will take a bit more work on the keyboard. But we were impressed it came up as far as it did, and we look forward to a future installment where the machine fully starts up.
If you’ve ever owned a shortwave radio, you’ve probably listened at least a little to the BBC World Service. After all, they are a major broadcasting force, and with the British Empire or the Commonwealth spanning the globe, they probably had a transmitter close to your backyard. Recently, the BBC had a documentary about their early years of shortwave broadcasting. It is amazing both because it started so simply and when you think how far communications have progressed in just a scant 100 years.
Today, the BBC World Service broadcasts in over 40 languages distributing content via radio, TV, satellite, and the Internet. Hard to imagine it started with four people who were authorized to spend 10 pounds a week.
Running a radio station is, on the face of it, a straightforward technical challenge. Build a studio, hook it up to a transmitter, and you’re good to go. But what happens when your station is not a single Rebel Radio-style hilltop installation, but a national chain of transmitter sites fed from a variety of city-based studios? This is the problem facing the BBC with their national UK FM transmitter chain, and since the 1980s it has been fed by a series of NICAM digital data streams. We mentioned back in 2016 how the ageing equipment had been replaced with a modern FPGA-based implementation without any listeners noticing, and now thanks to [Matt Millman], we have a chance to see a teardown of the original 1980s units. The tech is relatively easy to understand from a 2020s perspective, but it still contains a few surprises.
In each studio or transmitter site would have been a 19″ rack containing one of these units — a card frame with a collection of encoder or decoder cards. These are all custom-made by the BBC’s engineering department to a very high standard, and use period parts such as the familiar Z80 microprocessor and some Philips digital audio chips, which followers of high-end consumer audio may recognize. As you’d expect for a mission critical device, many of the functions are duplicated for redundancy, with their outputs compared to give warning of failures.
The surprise comes in the NICAM encoder and decoder — it’s a custom LSI chip made exclusively for the BBC. This indicates the budget available to the national broadcaster, and given that these units have in some cases been working for over 35 years, we’re guessing that the license payers got their money’s worth.
We’ve seen plenty of impressive robots of all sizes here at Hackaday, but recently we were particularly inspired by [Hans Jørgen Grimstad] and his thrifty mini sumo build.
Using the BBC micro:bit platform as a starting point, Hans seized the opportunity to build a competitive mini sumo bot without breaking the bank. According to his blog, the enchanting little machine uses commonly available parts and cost around $30 when built in 2020 (or $50 according to the more recent video, perhaps taking into account the cost of hardware in these trying times).
The results can be seen in the video below. Some sacrifices were made – Hans admits that the 3.3 V linear regulator gets a little toasty, but the design is kept much simpler by doing away with a switching regulator. The 700 RPM N20 motors are wired directly up to the 6 V battery pack, giving this plucky wrestler plenty of sumo-smashing power.
Hans hopes that the build can lower barriers to entry for new builders in robot tournaments, being something that can easily be put together in a garage or local makerspace for a low, low price. The mini sumo form factor is a great beginner or amateur project, made even easier when makers like Hans put all the nitty-gritty details up on GitHub. This is certainly not the first accessible sumo robotics project that we have covered, and it won’t be the last. We hope we see loads more of these endearing robotic gladiators at future events.
After Young built the prototype, three of these were made and put into cases cut out of scrap plexiglass) from a dumpster — hence they became known as Crystal Palaces after the 1851 glass and iron structure of the same name.
[Sam] decides to build this using some inductors and an old tape head. After proving out the concept on a breadboard, he mounts sixteen inductors on a 3D-printed circular frame. The rotating pickup transfers the signal via slip-rings at the top. An array of input jacks and level pots are mounted on the enclosure’s face plate, which contains a vector board full of op amps that drive the coils. Strictly speaking, the original fader used capacitive coupling, not inductive, but that doesn’t detract at all from this project. And as he states upfront, he intentionally didn’t dig too deep into the original, so as to put his own spin on the design.
If you compare the early PC market for the US and the UK, you’ll notice one big difference. While many US schools had Apple computers, there were significant numbers of other computers in schools, as well. In the UK, pretty much every school that had a computer had an Acorn BBC Micro. [RetroBytes] takes us down memory lane, explaining how and why the schools went with Econet — an early network virtually unknown outside of the UK. You can see the video, which includes an interview with one of the Acorn engineers involved in Econet.
Nowadays, you don’t have to convince people of the value of a network, but back then it wasn’t a no brainer. The driver for most schools to adopt networking was to share a very expensive hard disk drive among computers. The network used RS-422, a common enough choice in Apple computers, spacecraft, and industrial control applications.
Over the past few years the number of reported near misses between multirotors, or drones as they are popularly referred to, and aircraft has been on the rise. While evidence to back up these reports has been absent time and again.
We’ve looked at incident reports, airport closures, and media reporting. The latest chapter comes in the form of a BBC documentary, “Britain’s Next Air Disaster? Drones” whose angle proved too sensational and one-sided for the drone manufacturing giant DJI. They have penned an acerbic open letter to the broadcaster (PDF link to the letter itself) that says that they will be launching an official complaint over the programme’s content. The letter begins with the following stinging critique:
As the world’s leader in civilian drones and aerial imaging technology, we feel it is our duty on behalf of the millions of responsible drone users around the globe, to express our deep disappointment at the BBC’s negative portrayal of drone technology and one-sided reporting based on hearsay.
It then goes on to attack the tone adopted by the presenter in more detail : “overwhelmingly negative, with the presenter frequently using the words ‘catastrophic’ and ‘terrifying’.“, before attacking the validity of a series of featured impact tests and highlighting the questionable basis for air proximity incident reports. They round the document off with a run through the safety features that they and other manufacturers are incorporating into their products.
Over the past few years we have reported on this issue we have continually made the plea for a higher quality of reporting on drone stories. While Britain has been the center of reporting that skews negatively on the hobby, the topic is relevant wherever in the world there are nervous airspace regulators with an eye to any perceived menace. These incidents have pushed the industry to develop additional safety standards, as DJI mentions in their letter: “the drone industry itself has implemented various features to mitigate the risks described”. Let’s hope this first glimmer of a fight-back from an industry heavyweight (with more clout than the multirotor community) will bear the fruit of increased awareness from media, officials, and the general public.