Older Apple computers can often be something of a collector’s item, with the oldest fetching an enormously high price in auctions. The ones from the late ’80s and early ’90s don’t sell for quite as much yet, but it’s possible that museums and collectors of the future will one day be clamoring for those as well. For that reason, it’s generally frowned upon to hack or modify original hardware. Luckily, this replica of an Apple Macintosh didn’t harm any original hardware yet still manages to run software on bare metal.
The computer is built around a single-board computer, but this SBC isn’t like the modern ARM machines that have become so ubiquitous. It’s a 133MHz AMD 486 which means that it can run FreeDOS and all of the classic DOS PC games of that era without emulation. In order to run Apple’s legacy operating system, however, it does require the use of the vMac emulator, but the 486 is quite capable of handling the extra layer of abstraction. The computer also sports a real SoundBlaster ISA sound card, uses a microSD card for its hard drive, and uses an 800×600 LCD screen.
As a replica, this computer is remarkably faithful to the original and even though it doesn’t ship with a Motorola 68000 it’s still fun to find retro PC gamers that are able to run their games on original hardware rather than emulation. It reminds us of another retro 486 that is capable of running old games on new hardware without an emulator as well.
When [John Floren] obtained a vintage Depraz mouse, he started out being content to just have such a great piece of history in his possession. But if you’re like him, you know it’s not enough to just have something. What would it be like to use it?
To find out, [John] embarked on a mission to build a USB adapter for his not so new peripheral.
Originally used in very early terminals with a Unix GUI, the Depraz mouse utilizes an unusual male DE9 connector rather than the more familiar female DB9 used in RS232 serial mice. Further deviating from the norm, he found that the quadrature encoders were connected directly to the DE9 connector.
Armed with an Arduino Pro
Mini Micro and some buggy sample code, he got to work. The aforementioned buggy code was scrapped and a fresh sketch for the Arduino Pro Mini Micro gave the Depraz mouse the USB interface it lacked. [John] also found that he wasn’t the first hardware hacker to have modified the mouse for their use. Be sure to read to the end the article to find out about the vintage surprise lurking in the mouse shell itself! A demonstration of the mouse in action can be seen in the video below the break.
Looking for a fun mouse hack? Perhaps you’d like to use your more modern USB mouse on a retro computer, or try your hand at recreating an early Apple mouse for use in modern computers.
Continue reading “This Old Mouse: Building A USB Adapter For A Vintage Depraz Mouse”
Building a retro computer, or even restoring one, is a great way to understand a lot of the fundamentals of computing. That can take a long time and a lot of energy, though. Luckily, there is a Twitter bot out there that can let you experience an old 8-bit Atari without even needing to spin up an emulator. Just tweet your program to the bot, and it outputs the result.
The bot was built by [Kay Savetz] and accepts programs in five programming languages: Atari BASIC, Turbo-Basic XL, Atari Logo, Atari PILOT, and Atari Assembler/Editor, which was a low-level assembly-type language available on these machines. The bot itself runs on a Raspberry Pi with the Atari 800 emulator, rather than original hardware, presumably because it’s much simpler to get a working network connection on a Pi than on a computer from the 80s. The Pi runs a python script that polls Twitter every two minutes and then hands the code off to the emulator.
[Kay]’s work isn’t limited to just Ataris, though. There’s also an Apple II BASIC bot for all the Apple fans out there that responds to programs written in AppleSoft BASIC. While building your own retro system or emulating one on other hardware is a great exercise, it’s also great that there are tools like these that allow manipulation of retro computers without having to do any of the dirty work ourselves.
Getting retro hardware up and running again is sometimes a feat, and the amount of effort needed tends to go up exponentially with increased hardware age. Getting an IDE hard drive running again is one thing, but things like peripherals on truly “retro” computers like Commodores and Amigas is another beast altogether if you even have a 30-year-old mouse still lying around. That’s why adapters like Project mouSTer are here to help you connect modern USB hardware to truly ancient computers.
This piece of equipment was built for the Atari ST (hence the name), a
8-bit computer from the mid-80s. It mates a DB9 plug with USB via a small microcontroller which does the translating. The firmware can be flashed over the USB connection so there’s planned support for other machines of this vintage. The chip supports all the features the original mouse did, too, including PS4 pad support and support for joysticks, and comes in an impressively tiny package once assembled which blends in seamlessly.
The project is a great step to getting retro computers working again, even if you can’t find exact OEM replacements anymore. That’s a common problem, and we’ve seen this solved in other ways for other old Ataris. It’s not uncommon to put modern power supplies in retro computers, either, as long as they power up and work after everything’s wired together.
Raspberry Pi clusters are a common enough project, but a lot of the builds we see focus on the hardware side of the cluster. Once it’s up and running, though, what comes next? Raspberry Pis aren’t very powerful devices, but they can still be a great project for learning how to interact with a cluster of computers or for experimental test setups. In this project from [Dino], four Pis are networked together and then loaded with a basic set of software for cluster computing.
The first thing to set up, after the hardware and OS, is the network configuration. Each Pi needs a static IP in order to communicate properly. In this case, [Dino] makes extensive use of SSH. From there, he gets to work installing Prometheus and Grafana to use as monitoring software which can track system resources and operating temperature. After that, the final step is to install Ansible which is monitoring software specifically meant for clusters, which allows all of the computers to be administered more as a unit than as four separate devices.
This was only part 1 of [Dino]’s dive into cluster computing, and we hope there’s more to come. There’s a lot to do with a computer cluster, and once you learn the ropes with a Raspberry Pi setup like this it will be a lot easier to move on to a more powerful (and expensive) setup that can power through some serious work.
Memristors have been — so far — mostly a solution looking for a problem. However, researchers at the University of Michigan are claiming the first memristor-based programmable computer that has the potential to make AI applications more efficient and faster.
Because memristors have a memory, they can accumulate data in a way that is common for — among other things — neural networks. The chip has both an array of nearly 6,000 memristors, a crossbar array, along with analog to digital and digital to analog converters. In fact, there are 486 DACs and 162 ADCs along with an OpenRISC processor.
Continue reading “Memristor Computing On A Chip”
Have you ever heard the old axiom that if you want to design a simple system, ask yourself if your grandmother could use it? Maybe that was on Wired’s mind because they asked a quantum computing expert — particularly IBM’s [Dr. Talia Gershon] — to explain what exactly quantum computing is at 5 levels. In the video they shot, which you can see below, [Dr. Gershon] talks to a younger child, a teenager, an undergraduate computer science student, a graduate student, and then a physicist.
We enjoyed some of the analogies of spinning pennies and the way she was able to bring the topic to an appropriate level for each of the participants. Truthfully, the final segment with the physicist ([Dr. Steven Girvin] was more of a conversation than an explanation, but it was interesting to hear his views on fault tolerance and how likely certain things were to occur in the near future.
Continue reading “Wired And IBM Explain Quantum Computing To Students From Grade School To Grad School”