A recent writeup by Tom Nardi about using the 6502-based NES to track satellites brought back memories of my senior project at Georgia Tech back in the early 80s. At our club station W4AQL, I had become interested in Amateur Radio satellites. It was quite a thrill to hear your signal returning from space, adjusting for Doppler as it speeds overhead, keeping the antennas pointed, all while carrying on a brief conversation with other Earth stations or copying spacecraft telemetry, usually in Morse code.
The Vintage Computer Festival East is going down right now, and I’m surrounded by the height of technology from the 1970s and 80s. Oddly enough, Hackaday frequently covers another technology from the 80s, although you wouldn’t think of it as such. 3D printing was invented in the late 1980s, and since patents are only around for 20 years, this means 3D printing first became popular back in the 2000’s.
In the 1970s, the first personal computers came out of garages. In the early 2000s, the first 3D printers came out of workshops and hackerspaces. These parallels pose an interesting question – is it possible to build a 1980s-era 3D printer controlled by a contemporary computer? That was the focus of a talk from [Ethan Dicks] of the Columbus Idea Foundry this weekend at the Vintage Computer Festival.
There was a time that the Commodore PET was the standard computer at North American schools. It’s all-in-one, rugged construction made it ideal for the education market and for some of us, the PET started a life-long love affair with computers. [Ruiz Brothers] at Adafruit has come up with a miniature PET model run on a microcontroller and loaded up with a green LED matrix for a true vintage look.
While not a working model of a PET, the model runs on an Adafruit Feather M0 Basic Proto which is an Atmel ATSAMD21 Cortex M0 microcontroller and can display graphics on Adafruit’s 16×9 charlieplexed led matrix.The ATSAMD21 is the chip used in the Arduino Zero, so I’m sure we’ll see more of this chip in the future. Like all of the tutorials at Adafruit, this one is very detailed with step-by-step animated pictures to help you along. Obviously, you don’t need the exact hardware that they’re using, but if you’re putting in an order from Adafruit anyway, why not?
The plans for the 3D printed PET are available for free, so even if you don’t want to put their LED matrix and microcontroller in it, you can still print yourself out a great looking prop and 3D printing the PET will only use about a dollar’s worth of filament. Of course, while this is a cool retro model, if you have a Commodore PET lying around, you could probably do something else with it. We don’t, so that sound you hear is the sound of our 3D printer printing up the past.
Here at the Vintage Computer Festival, we’ve found oodles of odds and ends from the past. Some, however, have gotten a modern twist like [bitfixer’s] recent Commodore PET project upgrades.
First off is [bitfixer’s] Augmented Reality upgrade. By the power of two iPhones and one raspberry Pi, the user dons a Google-Cardboard-esque heads-up-display and can visualize a 3D, ASCII rendering of the world before them. Not only does this view show up in the HUD, however, it’s also streamed to a Raspberry Pi whch then serializes it info a video display on the Commodore PET.
This hack builds on some of [bitfixer’s] prior work getting ASCII video streaming up-and running. Of course, the memory on the Commodore PET is nowhere near capable of being able to process these images. In fact, streaming and storing the video data onto the PET’s memory would fill it up in under one second! Instead, [bitfixer] relies on some preprocessing thanks to the far-more-powerful (by comparison) Raspberry Pi and iPhone processors that are capturing the images.
Next off is [bitfixer’s] full-color video display on the same Commodore PET. Again, leveraging another RaspPi to encode and reduce the video to bitmap images, the Commodore PET simple grabs these images and streams them to the screen as fast as possible–at a beloved 5.8 frames per second.
What would happen if Oculus-quality virtual reality was created in the 80s on the Commodore PET? [Michael Hill] knows, because he created a stereoscopic video headset using a PET.
This build is an extension of [Michael]’s exhibit last year at VCF East where he displayed a video feed with PETSCII. Yes, that means displaying video with characters, not pixels.
This year, he’s doubling the number of screens, and sending everything to two iPhones in a Google Cardboard-like VR headset. Apart from the optics, the setup is pretty simple: cameras get image data, it’s sent over to a PET, and a stream of characters are sent back.
It’s impossible to film, and using it is interesting, to say the least. Video below.
Thought the Vintage Computer Festival would just be really old computers with hundreds of people pecking 10 PRINT “HELLO” 20 GOTO 10? Yeah, there’s plenty of that, but also some very cool applications of new hardware. [Michael Hill] created PetPix, a video player for the Commodore PET and of course the C64.
PetPix takes any video file – or streaming video off a camera – and converts 8×8 pixel sections of each frame to PETSCII. All the processing is done on a Raspberry Pi and then sent over to the PET for surprisingly fluid video.
There is, of course, a video of PetPix available below. There are also a few more videos from [Michael] going over how PetPix works.
Thought we forgot about this, didn’t you? Well, the Hackaday Retro Edition is still going strong, and this time we have a few more retro successes that were able to load our retro site with ancient hardware.
First up is a submission by [rusbus]. He had a Power Macintosh 6100/60 lying around – the first Macintosh with a PowerPC processor instead of the Motorola 68k – and loaded up our retro site. There are some weird quirks about the 6100, notably the AAUI Ethernet tranceiver connected to a 10BASE-T network.
Although some browsers are available for the 6100, notably iCab (it’s not great, but it also works on 68k machines), [rusbus] had to settle for Internet Explorer 3.01. He eventually got it working and has a picture to prove it.
On the subject of finding a proper web browser, [azog] loaded up the retro site with a Commodore PET. There aren’t any web browsers for a PET, you say? Well, [azog] had to make one.
The network adapter is a Retroswitch Flyer Internet Modem, and after finding some network-aware projects on the Retroswitch site such as an IRC and Telnet client, [azog] put together an extremely crude web browser. In BASIC. Old BASIC. We’re impressed.
With [azog]’s browser, the PET opens up a channel to a URL, reads the text coming in, and processes it. There’s only 1kb of video RAM and 32kb of system RAM, so small luxuries like scrolling are nearly impossible. An amazing piece of work, really.
Finally, [Bob] from Portugal sent in a neat Flickr gallery of a Schneider euro XT he found in his basement. It’s based on the IBM PC/XT running an Intel 8088 processor, but is enclosed in a ‘the keyboard is the computer’ form factor reminiscent of a C64 or TRS-80. He hasn’t gotten it on the Internet yet, but it’s still a cool piece of kit.