Examples of ZX81 computer game screens

The Labor Of Love That Is Recovering Lost Software

At the beginning of the home computer revolution, the humble compact cassette was far and away the most popular choice for microcomputer data storage, especially on the European continent. As a volunteer at the Museum of Computing, [Keith] was instrumental in recovering and archiving the early works of Roger Dymond, a pioneering developer of early computer software in the United Kingdom.

In his video, [Keith] goes to great lengths detailing the impact that Roger Dymond had on the early home computing scene. After being let go from his council apprenticeship, Roger turned his attention to developing games for the ZX81, and later the ZX Spectrum. With the help of his family, he went on to run a moderately successful mail-order games publishing venture for several years. Increasing advertising costs and a crowded development scene saw Roger’s business become nonviable by 1983, but not before developing several gambling-style games and a standout Space Invaders clone.

Fast forward to 2021, and while some of Roger’s Spectrum software had been archived, much had been marked as ‘missing’ by online archivists. After further research, [Keith] realized that another potentially important tape had been forgotten about. ‘Games Compendium’ for the ZX81 had been completely lost to time, with the only evidence that it had ever existed coming from a 1983 advert in ‘Sinclair User’ magazine. Being written for the earlier model ZX81, the compendium would undoubtedly be of interest to software archivists and game historians.

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A retro, cylindrical monitor next to what appears to be a cassette tape with a USB cable plugged into it.

A Raspberry Pi-Packing Cassette Powers This ZX Spectrum Emulator

Sometimes we are vaguely aware of the inexorable march of technological progress. Other times it thrums steadily under the surface while we go about our lives. And sometimes, just sometimes, it smacks us right in the face.

Few projects can demonstrate the advancement and miniaturization of computing technology like putting an entire functional computer inside a storage medium that once only held mere kilobytes of data. And that’s exactly what [JamHamster] has done by stuffing a Raspberry Pi Zero W inside a cassette tape to run his ZX Spectrum emulator. It’s an impressive and clean build, and it pairs so well with a downright gorgeous, retro inspired, CRT-lookalike LCD monitor, which is another creation of his.

A Raspberry Pi Zero with several areas lightly trimmed away inside an open cassette tape.

The Pi did have to undergo a bit of light surgery; though he managed to lose only four GPIO pins in the operation. He also put a ton of love into a literally-highly-polished aluminum heatsink, which is entirely hidden within the case but does keep the computer cool in its claustrophobic quarters. Of course, [JamHamster] isn’t new to these cassette builds. You may recognize his work from the TZXDuino, a virtual tape loader for the ZX Spectrum.

Honestly, sometimes we just have to sit back and be amazed at the kind of computer power that can be packed into such tiny packages. The Pi Zero isn’t the smallest or the most powerful of options, but it is far more capable than the computer it is emulating here. So whether they’re hiding inside outdated storage formats or powering a stock-looking sleeper PSP, we just can’t help but be impressed.

Cassette Lamp Is A Throwback To The Pencil-Winding Glory Days

The audio cassette was the first music format that truly championed portability. It was robust, compact, and let people take music on the go to soundtrack their very lives. It was later supplanted by the higher-quality CD and then further digital technologies, but the format remains a nostalgic highlight for many. It also inspired this excellent lamp build from [Fab].

The lamp consists of 8 clear cassettes assembled into a rough cube-like shape on a 3D printed frame. The cassettes are edge-lit from below by a set of WS2812B LEDs, letting them glow in full-color splendour. The real magic of the lamp is the interface, however. A pencil can be inserted to turn the tape reels, just like rewinding a real cassette. However, in this case, they’re attached to a pair of rotary encoders, which are used to vary the color of the LEDs. As a bonus, the entire lamp runs off a Wemos D1, making it possible to update the lamp remotely over the Internet.

It’s a stylish build that would make an excellent conversation piece in any hip maker’s loungeroom. It’s a great nod to the creator of the compact cassette, [Lou Ottens], who passed away earlier this month. Video after the break.

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Reel In The Years With A Cassette Player Synth

Variable-speed playback cassette players were already the cool kids on the block. How else are you going to have any fun with magnetic tape without ripping out the tape head and running it manually over those silky brown strips? Sure, you can change the playback speed on most players as long as you can get to the trim pot. But true variable-speed players make better synths, because it’s so much easier to change the speed. You can make music from anything you can record on tape, including monotony.

[schollz] made a tape synth with not much more than a variable-speed playback cassette player, an Arduino, a DAC, and a couple of wires to hook it all up. Here’s how it works: [schollz] records a long, single note on a tape, then uses that recording to play different notes by altering the playback speed with voltages from a MIDI synth.

To go from synth to synth, [schollz] stood up a server that translates MIDI voltages to serial and sends them to the Arduino. Then the DAC converts them to analog signals for the tape player. All the code is available on the project site, and [schollz] will even show you where to add Vin and and a line in to the tape player. Check out the demo after the break.

There’s more than one way to hack a cassette player. You can also force them to play full-motion, color video.

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Hands-On: The Pandemic DEF CON Badge Is An Audio Cassette

My DEF CON Safe Mode badge just arrived in the mail this afternoon. The Vegas-based conference which normally hosts around 30,000 attendees every year has moved online in response to the global pandemic, and the virtual event spins up August 6-9. Known for creative badges, North America’s most well-known infosec con has a tick-tock cycle that alternates electronic and non-electronic badges from year to year. During this off-year, the badge is an obscure deprecated media: the audio cassette.

This choice harkens back to the DEF CON 23 badge which was an vinyl record — I have the same problem I did back in 2015… I lack access to playback this archaic medium. Luckily [Grifter] pointed everyone to a dump of the audio contents over at Internet Archive, although knowing how competitive the badge hacking for DEF CON is, I’m skeptical about the reliability of these files. Your best bet is to pull the dust cover off your ’88 Camry and let your own cassette roll in the tape deck. I also wonder if there are different versions of the tape.

But enough speculation, let’s look at what physically comes with the DEF CON 28 badge.

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IoT Cassette Scroller Never Needs A Pencil

The see-through electronics craze of the ’80s and ’90s clearly had an effect on [MisterM], and we can totally relate. Those candy-colored components inside undoubtedly launched a few thousand kids in the direction of electronics, as we can attest.

Though the odds seemed very much against him, [MisterM] was able to fit all the necessary components for a scrolling IoT notifier inside a standard cassette tape. It took a bit of surgery on both the Raspberry Pi Zero W and the donor cassette in the name of getting all the components to fit in such a tight space. We’re glad he kept at it, because it looks amazing.

The Raspi uses Adafruit.IO and IFTTT to get all kinds of notifications — tweets, weather, soil moisture, you name it — and scrolls them across an 11×7 LED matrix. A vibrating disc motor gives a buzzing heads up first, so [MisterM] doesn’t miss anything. Hit the break button and flip this thing over, because the build video is all queued up on the B-side.

If you’d rather play around with cassette decks, add in some playback speed potentiometers to mess with the sound, or go all out and make a Mellotron.

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DIY Cassette Tape Guitar Delay

Digital delay pedals are pretty good nowadays and even the cheaper ones do a pretty good job at emulating the sound of old analog delay effects. And that’s good, because the original delay effects can run you a pretty penny. If you’re in to DIY electronics, though, analog delay effects can still be built without breaking the bank, and, as an example, [Matsound] has made a tape delay using an old tape deck and regular cassette tapes.

The core of the build is a portable 3-head cassette recorder, in this case a Marantz PMD430. The circuit has been around for a while – it was originally found in an issue of Stompboxology in the 90’s. The basic idea is that with a three-head recorder (erase, record, play) the distance between the record and play heads creates a delay and you increase this delay by slowing down the recorder’s motor. You combine the output from the recorder with the dry signal from your input and, viola, tape delay.

[Matsound] added a cool feature where you can control the speed of the motor with a control voltage, so if you connect it to a keyboard and produce different voltages from different keys, you get weird, spacey effects. The video gives an overview of the features and some details of the build process are in the video’s description.

A nice build built into a nice case and a great effect! Maybe you wouldn’t take it out gigging with you, but it sure sounds pretty good!  Other delay pedals have been mentioned on the site before, like this digital delay pedal and here’s another take on the cassette tape delay.

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