Indiegogo Calls Time On The ZX Vega

It has been an exciting time to be a retro computer enthusiast in recent years, and the availability of affordable single board computers, systems-on-chip, and FPGAs have meant that retro hardware could be accurately reproduced or emulated. A host of classic micros have been reborn, to delight both the veterans who had the originals, and a new crop of devotees.

Today we have news of the impending demise of one of the higher-profile projects. The ZX Vega+ is a handheld Sinclair Spectrum console bearing the Sinclair name that came with an impeccable pedigree in that it had the support of the man himself. It seemed like a good proposition on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo, and when it made its debut there in early 2016 it attracted over half a million pounds worth of backing in short order. Things soon went sour though, with reports of a falling-out within Retro Computers, followed by multiple missed deadlines and promises undelivered over the last couple of years. With little sign of either the money or the console itself, it seems Indiegogo have now lost patience and will be sending in the debt collectors to recover what they can. Whether the backers will see any of their money is unclear.

It’s fair to say that the ZX Vega saga has been a tortuous and rather sordid one, out of which few players emerge smelling of roses. In a way though it is entirely in keeping with the spirit of the 8-bit era, as the period from the late 1970s onwards was littered with the financially bare corpses of dubiously run companies in the home computer industry. Meanwhile if you are hankering for a Vega it should be easy enough to create one for yourself, as Retro Computers Ltd admitted that under its skin was a copy of the FUSE software emulator. We suspect that most Hackaday readers could take a Raspberry Pi and a suitable LCD, pair them with a 3D-printed case and an 18650 cell, and be playing Manic Miner in no time. Far simpler than this convoluted Spectrum project!

Hands On With The Smallest Game Boy Ever Made

The PocketSprite is the tiniest fully-functional Game Boy Color and Sega Master System emulator. Not only is it small enough to fit in your pocket, it’s small enough to lose in your pocket. It’s now available as a Crowd Supply campaign, and it’s everything you could ever want in a portable, WiFi-enabled, fully hackable video game console. It also plays Witcher 3. And probably Crysis, because of the meme.

This has been a year and a half in the making. The first hardware version of the PocketSprite was revealed at the 2016 Hackaday Superconference by hardware engineer extraordinaire [Sprite_TM]. As [Sprite] has a long list of incredibly impressive hardware hacks like installing Linux on a hard drive and building a Matrix of Tamagotchis, he always has to keep pushing deep into the hardware frontier.

In 2016, [Sprite] showed off the tiniest Game Boy ever, powered by the then brand-spankin’ new ESP32. This was released as Open Source, with the hope that a factory in China would take the files and start pumping out mini Game Boys for everyone to enjoy. Now, a year and a half later, it’s finally happened. In a collaboration with manufacturing wizard [Steve K], [Sprite] is the mastermind behind TeamPocket. The pocket-sized Game Boy-shaped emulator is now real. This is our hands-on review.

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Hackaday Links: February 11, 2018

Are you a student? Are you part of a hackerspace? We have a contest going on right now where you can win a fancy new Prusa i3 MK3. The Repairs You Can Print contest is a challenge to do something useful with that machine that spits out tugboats. We’re looking for functional repairs of items around your house, office, or garage. Did you repair something with a 3D printer? Then you too can get in on the action! Enter now! Check out the entries!

You may know Flite Test as the group who do everything surrounding remote control flight (mostly fixed wings, a nice counter to the quadification of the hobby over the last few years). Flite Test designs and sells airplanes made out of Dollar Tree foam board, they have yearly, bi-coastal meetups, and they’re all-around awesome dudes. Now, they want to build the Disneyland of RC flight. [Josh Bixler], the face of Flite Test and a guy who has a plane named after him, wants to buy a golf course and turn it into the world’s best RC flying park, with a ~2000 foot grass strip for general aviation. We’re looking at their crowdfunding campaign, and it looks promising it might be funded by the time this goes live.

A while ago, [Peter Jansen], the guy who built a tricorder and a laser-cut CT scanner, made a magnetic camera. This Hall Effect camera is a camera for magnetism instead of light. Now, this camera has been fully built and vastly improved. He’s capturing ‘frames’ of magnetism in a spinning fan at 2000 Hz (or FPS, terminology kind of breaks down here), and it’s beautiful.

Oh thank God we can finally buy GPUs again. Try buying them with Bitcoin.

In the last few years, CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, has expanded. Originally, this was one of the treaties that banned the import or export of rhino horn, but recently this expanded to the export of rosewood thanks to increased demand in China for rosewood furniture. The laws of unintended consequences kicked into effect, and importing anything made out of rosewood is now a mess of permits and inspections at the border, including musical instruments. Travelling orchestras, for example, are at risk of having their string section confiscated because of rosewood tuning pegs. Cooler minds may now be prevailing, and there’s some hope the regulations may be changed during the next meeting of the CITES convention next year.

As noted a few months ago, there was a possibility of Broadcom buying Qualcomm for one… hundred… Billion dollarsThis offer was rejected, with Qualcomm saying the offer wasn’t high enough. Broadcom fired back with an offer of $82 per share, or $121B. This offer was rejected this week.

Need some EMC testing? [Zach]’s got your back. He’s reserved some time in a 10m EMC chamber for testing NeuroBytes this week. If you have an Open Source project that needs a pre-test scan for unintentional radiator, you can get in on the action. This is just a pre-test, you’re not getting certification, and you’re not going to test anything with radios, and you need to ship [Zach] your stuff. But still, free test time. Woo.

Crowdfunding Is Now A Contract Between Company And Backer

Kickstarter is not a store. Indiegogo is not a store. Crowdfunding is not buying something — you’re merely donating some money, and you might get a reward for your pledge. Caveat emptor doesn’t apply, because there is no buyer, and no one can figure out what the correct Latin translation for ‘backer’ is. These are the realities that have kept Indiegogo and Kickstarter in business, have caused much distress in people who think otherwise, and have been the source of so, so many crowdfunding follies.

Now, finally, crowdfunding is being legally recognized as a store. The Register reports a court in England has ruled against Retro Computers Ltd and said it had formed a contract of sale with crowdfunding backer Rob Morton. For one person, at least, for one of their pledges, Indiegogo is a store.

The crowdfunding campaign in question is the Retro Computers’ Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega Plus, a small device not unlike the Commodore 64 direct to TV joysticks. The Spectrum Vega simply plugs into your TV, reads an SD card, and plays old ‘speccy games. Clive Sinclair, the genius who brought us the Spectrum, strange flat CRTs, and a host of other inventions, was involved in this campaign. In the years since the campaign ended, there have been numerous updates and Retro Computers still says they intend to deliver the device. Morton, apparently fed up with the delays, brought a suit against Retro Computers for the grand sum of £584: £85 for the Spectrum pledge, £5 for shipping, and the remainder for travel expenses and lost wages for the court date.

District Judge Clarke of Luton County Court heard the case and ruled against Retro Computers, finding there was a contract of sale between Morton and Retro Computers Ltd.. Evidence included a number of copies of Morton’s order, a document the judge pointed out as saying ‘this order’ and not ‘this pledge’. Additionally, the judge found the fine print on Indiegogo does not negate a contract of sale; there was still an implied agreement between Morton and Retro Computers, and Retro Computers had breached the contract by not delivering a Spectrum.

It should go without saying that this finding does not apply to every project on Indiegogo, it does not apply to Kickstarter, and nor does it apply to every crowdfunding campaign. This does not even apply to all backers of the Spectrum Vega Plus. Still, there are hundreds of thousands of backers for crowdfunding projects that haven’t received what they paid for, and if nothing else this story gives just a little bit of satisfaction to anyone that’s still waiting on an undelivered product.

Hackaday Links: November 26, 2017

Hey, it’s sometime between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. We’re blowing out everything in the Hackaday Store. There’s some great deals in there. Tindie, our lovable robot dog is also heading up hundreds of Tindie deals for Cyber Monday. If you want some electronic stuff direct from the people who make it, this is the sale to check out.

Looking for some other Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales? Adafruit has compiled a list of retailers so I don’t have to. Thanks, Phil. There are deals from Lulzbot to Makerbot, LittleBits to Sparkfun.

The engineer responsible for Dieselgate has been sentenced to 40 months in prison. There are two takeaways from this: 1) The Nuremberg Defense doesn’t work. 2) Don’t build a business plan around breaking the law, despite what the libertarian hellscape of Hacker News tells you.

The theme for next year’s DEF CON has been announced. It’s, “1983”. What does that mean? Brutalist architecture, first of all. They’re also going for a ‘year before 1984’ thing, where everyone installs always-on, far-field microphones in their house and connects them to the Internet. In other news, Alexas and Google Homes are on sale this Black Friday. Big props for the official DEF CON style guide with typefaces and colors, though.

Over on Hackaday.io, [Frank] has created a very interesting and very cool game for the Vectrex. It’s called Bloxorz, and you can think of it as a cross between Marble Madness and Q*Bert. It’s a puzzle game, and now it’s a project on Kickstarter. Want to check out what this game looks like? Take a look at the video. It’s big into the tradition of early-90s puzzle games (a genre we wish would come back), and if I had a Vectrex, I’d buy one.

I told you SparkleCon tickets are on sale, right?

Here’s an argument you can settle. What is the grit designation of sandpaper? Sandpaper comes in various grits, from 60 (very coarse) to 1500, 2000, and 6000 (for polishing, basically). Here’s a question: how are these numbers derived? I have a vague memory from my youth where someone who probably didn’t know what they were talking about said grit sizes are the number of abrasive particles per some unit of area. A 60-grit sandpaper would have sixty particles of aluminum oxide per square quarter inch, for example. This sounds too stupid to be correct, doesn’t fit with the mesh sizes of different grades of sandpaper, and a cursory Googling does not tell me how sandpaper grit sizes are derived. What say you, Hackaday peanut gallery? Where do the numbers on the back of a sheet of sandpaper actually come from?

Real-Life Electronic Neurons

All the kids down at Stanford are talking about neural nets. Whether this is due to the actual utility of neural nets or because all those kids were born after AI’s last death in the mid-80s is anyone’s guess, but there is one significant drawback to this tiny subset of machine intelligence: it’s a complete abstraction. Nothing called a ‘neural net’ is actually like a nervous system, there are no dendrites or axions and you can’t learn how to do logic by connecting neurons together.

NeruroBytes is not a strange platform for neural nets. It’s physical neurons, rendered in PCBs and Molex connectors. Now, finally, it’s a Kickstarter project, and one of the more exciting educational electronic projects we’ve ever seen.

Regular Hackaday readers should be very familiar with NeuroBytes. It began as a project for the Hackaday Prize all the way back in 2015. There, it was recognized as a finalist for the Best Product, Since then, the team behind NeuroBytes have received an NHS grant, they’re certified Open Source Hardware through OSHWA, and there are now enough NeuroBytes to recreate the connectome of a flatworm. It’s doubtful the team actually has enough patience to recreate the brain of even the simplest organism, but is already an impressive feat.

The highlights of the NeuroBytes Kickstarter include seven different types of neurons for different sensory systems, kits to test the patellar reflex, and what is probably most interesting to the Hackaday crowd, a Braitenberg Vehicle chassis, meant to test the ideas set forth in Valentino Braitenberg’s book, Vehicles: Experiments in Synthetic Psychology. If that book doesn’t sound familiar, BEAM robots probably do; that’s where the idea for BEAM robots came from.

It’s been a long, long journey for [Zach] and the other creators of NeuroBytes to get to this point. It’s great that this project is now finally in the wild, and we can’t wait to see what comes of it. Hopefully a full flatworm connectome.

Cheap, Full-Duplex Software Defined Radio With The LimeSDR

A few years ago, we saw the rise of software-defined radios with the HackRF One and the extraordinarily popular RTL-SDR USB TV tuner dongle. It’s been a few years, and technology is on a never-ending upwards crawl to smaller, cheaper, and more powerful widgets. Now, some of that innovation is making it to the world of software-defined radio. The LimeSDR Mini is out, and it’s the cheapest and most capable software defined radio yet. It’s available through a Crowd Supply campaign, with units shipping around the beginning of next year.

The specs for the LimeSDR mini are quite good, even when compared to kilobuck units from Ettus Research. The frequency range for the LimeSDR Mini is 10 MHz – 3.5 GHz, bandwidth is 30.72 MHz, with a 12-bit sample depth and 30.72 MSPS sample rate. The interface is USB 3.0 (the connector is male, and soldered to the board, but USB extension cables exist), and the LimeSDR is full duplex. That last bit is huge — the RTL-SDR can’t transmit at all, and even the HackRF is only half duplex. This enormous capability is thanks to the field programmable RF transceiver found in all of the LimeSDR boards. We first saw these a year or so ago, and now these boards are heading into the hands of hackers. Someone’s even building a femtocell out of a Lime board.

The major selling point for the LimeSDR is, of course, the price. The ‘early bird’ rewards for the Crowd Supply campaign disappeared quickly at $99, but there are still plenty available at $139. This is very inexpensive and very fun — on the Crowd Supply page, you can see a demo of a LimeSDR mini set up as an LTE base station, streaming video between two mobile phones. These are the golden days of hobbyist SDR.