Custom Calculator Brings Us Back To The 70s

There are certain design aesthetics from every era that manage to survive the fads of their time and live throughout history. Ancient Greek architecture is still drawn upon for design inspiration in modern buildings, the mid-century modern style from the 60s still inspires various designs of consumer goods, and the rounded, clean looking cars from the 90s are still highly desirable qualities in automotive design. For electronics, though, we like this 70s-inspired calculator that [Aaron] recently built.

The calculator hearkens back to the days of calculators like the HP-29C with its large buttons and dot-matrix display. [Aaron] built the case out of various woods with a screen angled towards the user, and it uses a LCD display similar to those found in antique calculators. The brain of the calculator is an Arduino which fits easily into the case, and [Aaron] also built the keyboard from scratch with Cherry MX-style mechanical keys soldered together into a custom shape.

The software to run the calculator is fairly straightforward, but we are most impressed with the woodworking, styling, and keyboard design in this build. [Aaron] is also still ironing out some bugs with the power supply as it uses a DC-DC converter to power the device from a single lithium battery. For those who are more fond of early 2000s graphing calculators instead, be sure to take a look at this graphing calculator arcade cabinet.

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Screenshot of the RSA calculator, showing the fields that you can fill into and the results as they propagate through the calculation

Lift The Veil On RSA With This RSA Calculator

Encryption algorithms can be intimidating to approach, what’s with all the math involved. However, once you start digging into them, you can break the math apart into smaller steps, and get a feel of what goes into encryption being the modern-day magic we take for granted. Today, [Henry Schmale] writes to us about his small contribution to making cryptography easier to understand – lifting the veil on the RSA asymmetric encryption technique through an RSA calculator.

With [Henry]’s calculator, you can only encrypt and decrypt a single integer, but you’re able to view each individual step of an RSA calculation as you do so. If you want to understand what makes RSA and other similar algorithms tick, this site is an excellent starting point. Now, this is not something you should use when roll your crypto implementations – as cryptographers say in unison, writing your own crypto from scratch is extremely inadvisable. [Henry] does say that this calculator could be useful for CTF players, for instance, but it’s also undeniably an accessible learning tool for any hacker out there wishing to understand what goes on under the wraps of the libraries we use.

In modern day, cryptography is instrumental to protecting our freedoms, and it’s a joy to see people work towards explaining the algorithms used. The cryptography tools we use day-to-day are also highly valuable targets for governments and intelligence agencies, willing to go to great lengths to subvert our communication security – so it’s even more important that we get acquianted with the tools that protect us. After all, it only takes a piece of paper to encrypt your communications with someone.

Pocket Computer Reminds Us Of PDAs

Before smartphones exploded on the scene in the late 00s, there was still a reasonable demand for pocket-sized computers that could do relatively simple computing tasks. Palm Pilots and other PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants) were all the rage in the ’90s and early ’00s, although for cutting-edge tech from that era plenty of these devices had astronomical price tags. This Arduino-based PDA hearkens back to that era, albeit with a much more accessible parts list.

The build is based around an Arudino Nano with an OLED screen and has the five necessary functions for a PDA: calculator, stopwatch, games, phonebook, and a calendar. With all of these components on such a small microcontroller, memory quickly became an issue when using the default libraries. [Danko] uses his own custom libraries in order to make the best use of memory which are all available on the project’s GitHub page. The build also includes a custom PCB to keep the entire pocket computer pocket-sized.

There are some other features packed into this tiny build as well, like the breakout game that can be played with a potentiometer. It’s an impressive build that makes as much use of the microcontroller’s capabilities as is possible, and if you enjoy projects where a microcontroller is used as if it is a PC take a look at this Arduino build with its own command-line interface.

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Reviving A 1974 Sinclair Scientific Calculator

When a treasure of retrotechnology fails to work, the natural next step is to have a go at repairing it. [Adam Wilson] found himself in this position when he acquired a 1974 Sinclair Cambridge Scientific calculator, and his progress with the device makes for an interesting read.

First up is something of value to all old Sinclair enthusiasts, he’s found a solution to the original battery connectors being prone to failure. A couple of parts stocked by RS can be used as replacements, which should save quite a lot of Sinclairs with crusty connectors.

Saving the connectors should have fixed the calculator, but only served to reveal that it had an electronic fault. Some detective work traced this to the power supply, which is a small switching circuit. The 1974 chip and associated coil had both failed, which rather drew the project to a halt. A second repair-or-spares Cambridge Scientific was sourced, and by good luck it happened to have a working PCB. So [Adam] got a working calculator, and we hope he’ll succumb to the temptation to shoehorn in a PSU from 2022 to get the other one working.

Anyone curious about this slightly unusual calculator should take a look at our teardown of one.

2022 Sci-Fi Contest: Nixie Calculator Is Resplendent In Walnut Enclosure

The Nixie tube is one of the most popular display technologies amongst the hacker and maker set. Glowing numerals can warm even the coldest heart, particularly when they’re energized with hundreds of volts. [ohad.harel] used these glorious displays to build the TORI Nixie Calculator, with beautiful results. 

The build uses seven IN-12 Nixie tubes for numerals, along with an IN-15A which displays mathematical symbols like +, %, and M. It’s equipped with a 32-key keyboard using mechanical key switches. Everything is wrapped up in a beautiful walnut enclosure that fits the tubes and keyboard perfectly, giving the final build a nice mid-century aesthetic.

Impressively, it goes beyond the basic usual calculator functions, also handling conversions between metric and imperial units. It’s a nice feature that would make it a wonderful tool to have on one’s desk beyond the simple aesthetic charm of the Nixie tubes.

Nixie projects never seem to die. Their beauty and warmth captivates builders to this day. Indeed, we’ve even seen some makers go to the trouble of creating new tubes from scratch!

Remoticon 2021 // Rob Weinstein Builds An HP-35 From The Patent Up

Fifty years ago, Hewlett-Packard introduced the first handheld scientific calculator, the HP-35. It was quite the engineering feat, since equivalent machines of the day were bulky desktop affairs, if not rack-mounted. [Rob Weinstein] has long been a fan of HP calculators, and used an HP-41C for many years until it wore out. Since then he gradually developed a curiosity about these old calculators and what made them tick. The more he read, the more engrossed he became. [Rob] eventually decided to embark on a three year long reverse-engineer journey that culminated a recreation of the original design on a protoboard that operates exactly like the original from 1972 (although not quite pocket-sized). In this presentation he walks us through the history of the calculator design and his efforts in understanding and eventually replicating it using modern FPGAs.

The HP patent ( US Patent 4,001,569 ) contains an extremely detailed explanation of the calculator in nearly every aspect. There are many novel concepts in the design, and [Rob] delves into two of them in his presentation. Early LED devices were a drain on batteries, and HP engineers came up with a clever solution. In a complex orchestra of multiplexed switches, they steered current through inductors and LED segments, storing energy temporarily and eliminating the need for inefficient dropping resistors. But even more complicated is the serial processor architecture of the calculator. The first microprocessors were not available when HP started this design, so the entire processor was done at the gate level. Everything operates on 56-bit registers which are constantly circulating around in circular shift registers. [Rob] has really done his homework here, carefully studying each section of the design in great depth, drawing upon old documents and books when available, and making his own material when not. For example, in the course of figuring everything out, [Rob] prepared 338 pages of timing charts in addition to those in the patent. Continue reading “Remoticon 2021 // Rob Weinstein Builds An HP-35 From The Patent Up”

Old Casio Calculator Learns New Tricks

[George Stagg] recently found himself stung by the burden of free time while in lockdown. Needing a project to keep him occupied, he decided to upgrade his 90s Casio CFX-9850G calculator to run custom machine code.

All [George] really wanted was for his vintage calculator to understand Reverse Polish Notation (RPN). The calculator in question can already run its own version of BASIC, however the bespoke Hitachi CPU struggles performance-wise with complex programs, and wouldn’t be a realistic way of using RPN on the calculator. An RPN interpreter written in assembly language would be much faster.

The first step in cracking this calculator wide open was a ROM dump, followed by writing a disassembler. Incredibly, the MAME framework already featured a ‘partial implementation’ of the calculator’s CPU, which was a much needed shot in the arm when it came time to write a full-featured emulator.

With the entire calculator emulated in software, the plan from here involved replacing one of the BASIC commands in ROM with new code that would jump to an address in RAM. With 32KB of RAM there ended up being plenty of room for experimentation, and uploading a program into RAM was simplified by using Casio’s original backup software to dump the RAM onto a PC. Here, the contents of RAM could be easily modified with custom code, then uploaded back into the calculator.

With RAM to burn, new routines were created to write custom characters to the screen, and a new font was created to squeeze more characters onto the display than normal. [George] ended up porting a Forth interpreter, which defaults to RPN style, to finally achieve his humble objective. He also managed to get a version of Conway’s Game Of Life running, check out the video after the break.

We can’t get enough of our calculator hacks here, so make sure to check out the CPU transplant on this vintage Soviet calculator.

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