Former Ferranti Electric engineer [Martin Mallinson] recently posted a 1980s documentary on YouTube (see the video below the break). It shows in some detail the semiconductor plant at Gem Mill outside of Manchester UK, as seen through the eyes of the ghost of founder Dr. Sebastian Ferranti. This dramatic device seems a little silly at times, but the documentary still provides a very interesting look at the industry at the time.
The Gem Mill plant was one of the first semiconductor facilities, having begun operations in the 1950s by Ferranti. In 1959 they made the first European silicon diode, and went on to commercialize Uncommitted Logic Arrays (ULA) in the early 1980s. Most famously, Ferranti ULAs were used in many home computers of the day, such as the Sinclair ZX81 and ZX Spectrum, Acorn Electron, and the BBC Micro. Much of the factory tour in this documentary is depicting the ULA process, and they hint at an even more advanced technology being developed by the (unnamed) competition — an FPGA? CPLD?
In a series of events worthy of a mystery novel, Ferranti finally closed its doors in 1993 after acquiring a company that was involved with clandestine agencies and illegal arms sales (see Ferranti on Wikipedia). But through a series of acquisitions over the years, many of their products outlived the company and were available under the labels of future owners Plessey, Zetex, and finally Diodes, Inc. The Gem Mill facility was decommissioned in 2004 and in 2008 it was demolished and replaced by a housing estate.
Thanks to [Cogidubnus Rex] for bringing this video to our attention. A couple of other Ferranti documentaries of the same era are also included down below the break.
Continue reading “Ferranti’s Ghost Tours The Chip Factory That Made The ULA”
Over the past few years the number of reported near misses between multirotors, or drones as they are popularly referred to, and aircraft has been on the rise. While evidence to back up these reports has been absent time and again.
We’ve looked at incident reports, airport closures, and media reporting. The latest chapter comes in the form of a BBC documentary, “Britain’s Next Air Disaster? Drones” whose angle proved too sensational and one-sided for the drone manufacturing giant DJI. They have penned an acerbic open letter to the broadcaster (PDF link to the letter itself) that says that they will be launching an official complaint over the programme’s content. The letter begins with the following stinging critique:
As the world’s leader in civilian drones and aerial imaging technology, we feel it is our duty on behalf of the millions of responsible drone users around the globe, to express our deep disappointment at the BBC’s negative portrayal of drone technology and one-sided reporting based on hearsay.
It then goes on to attack the tone adopted by the presenter in more detail : “overwhelmingly negative, with the presenter frequently using the words ‘catastrophic’ and ‘terrifying’.“, before attacking the validity of a series of featured impact tests and highlighting the questionable basis for air proximity incident reports. They round the document off with a run through the safety features that they and other manufacturers are incorporating into their products.
DJI have pulled no punches in their condemnation of the standard of reporting on drone incidents in this document, and it is a welcome and rare sight in an arena in which the voices of people who know something of multirotors have been rather lonely and ignored. The BBC in turn have responded by saying “its investigation had shown positive uses of drones and that its programmes were fair“.
Over the past few years we have reported on this issue we have continually made the plea for a higher quality of reporting on drone stories. While Britain has been the center of reporting that skews negatively on the hobby, the topic is relevant wherever in the world there are nervous airspace regulators with an eye to any perceived menace. These incidents have pushed the industry to develop additional safety standards, as DJI mentions in their letter: “the drone industry itself has implemented various features to mitigate the risks described”. Let’s hope this first glimmer of a fight-back from an industry heavyweight (with more clout than the multirotor community) will bear the fruit of increased awareness from media, officials, and the general public.
If you’d like to see the BBC documentary in question it will be available for the next few weeks to people who see the Internet through a British IP address.
Thanks [Stuart] for the tip!
What is it about a computer that was introduced 36 years ago by a company that would be defunct 12 years later that engenders such passion that people still collect it to this day? We’re talking about the Commodore 64, of course, the iconic 8-bit wonder that along with the other offerings from Commodore International served as the first real computer to millions of us.
There’s more to the passion that Commodore aficionados exhibit than just plain nostalgia, though, and a new documentary film, The Commodore Story, seeks to explore both the meteoric rise and fall of Commodore International. Judging from the official trailer below, this is a film anyone with the slightest interest in Commodore is not going to want to miss.
It will of course dive into the story of how the C64 came to be the best selling computer in history. But Commodore was far from a one-trick pony. The film traces the history of all the Commodore machines, from the PET computers right through to the Amiga. There are interviews with the key players, too, including our own Bil Herd. Bil was a hardware engineer at Commodore, designing several machines while there. He has shared some of these stories here on Hackaday, including the development of the C128 (successor to the C64) and making the C64 speak.
We can’t wait to watch this new documentary
and luckily we won’t have to. It’s set to start streaming on Netflix, Amazon, and iTunes today, so pop up some popcorn and settle in for a two-hour ride through computer history but right now we’re unable to get firm dates on when. However, those of you in the Mountain View area have an even better opportunity this evening.
The Commodore Story will be premiered live at 6:30pm PST at the Computer History Museum. Grab your tickets to the premiere and a Q&A session with Bil Herd, Leonard Tramiel, and Hedley Davis.
Continue reading ““The Commodore Story” Documentary Premieres Today”
PCB art is getting better and better every year. This year, though, is knocking it out of the park. In March, [Andrew Sowa] turned me into money. More recently, [Trammell Hudson] has explored the layers of OSH Park soldermask and silk to create a masterpiece. Now, we’re moving up to full-blown art. [Blake Ramsdell] worked with OSH Park to create a full panel of art in gold, fiberglass, soldermask, and silkscreen. It’s 22×16 inches, and it’s fantastic.
There’s an independent Hackaday meetup going down in Hong Kong this week. The subject of the meetup will be vacuum systems for electron beam melting, mass spectrometry, and building Nixie tubes.
Why does my circuit still work when I remove some caps? This question was posed to the EEVBlog forums, with a picture attached of the worst mess of wires I’ve ever seen. This is — supposedly — not a joke, and a complete, functional CPU built out of 74HC series logic on thirty or so solderless breadboards. A weird bonus of access to the tip line at Hackaday means everyone here becomes experts in the field of absurdly constructed electronics. Want to see the worst PCB ever? We’ve seen it. This is, without question, the most rats nest electronic project anyone has ever built.
[Adam West] died this weekend at the age of 88. [West] is perhaps best known for his performance in Lookwell as a crime-solving, washed-up TV action hero. He is survived by his wife, Marcelle, and six children.
There’s a new documentary on [Nolan Bushnell] and the early days of Atari. Documentarian [Bruno Grampa] will be showing his latest, Easy to Learn, Hard to Master at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View on June 23rd. It’s narrated by [Bil Herd], so we’re a bit prejudiced, but check out the trailer.
Piano rolls are the world’s longest-lasting recording medium, and its first digital one. They were mass-produced from 1896 to 2008, and you can still get some made today, although they’re a specialty item. The technology behind them, both on the player and the recorder side, is simply wonderful.
[lwalkera] sent us in this marvelous video (embedded below) that provides a late-80s peek inside the works of QRS Records, and the presenter seems to be loving every minute of it.
Player pianos are cool enough, with their “draw bar” pulling air through the holes in the paper roll as it goes by, and pneumatically activating the keys. But did you ever think of how the rolls are made?
Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: Piano Rolls, Made By Apple ][“
There’s a new documentary series on Al Jazeera called Rebel Geeks that looks at the people who make the stuff everyone uses. The latest 25-minute part of the series is with [Massimo], chief of the arduino.cc camp. Upcoming episodes include Twitter co-creator [Evan Henshaw-Plath] and people in the Madrid government who are trying to build a direct democracy for the city on the Internet.
Despite being a WiFi device, the ESP8266 is surprisingly great at being an Internet of Thing. The only problem is the range. No worries; you can use the ESP as a WiFi repeater that will get you about 0.5km further for each additional repeater node. Power is of course required, but you can stuff everything inside a cell phone charger.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the most common use for the Raspberry Pi is a vintage console emulator. Now there’s a Kickstarter for a dedicated tabletop Raspi emulation case that actually looks good.
Pogo pins are the go-to solution for putting firmware on hundreds of boards. These tiny spring-loaded pins give you a programming rig that’s easy to attach and detach without any soldering whatsoever. [Tom] needed to program a few dozen boards in a short amount of time, didn’t have any pogo pins, and didn’t want to solder a header to each board. The solution? Pull the pins out of a female header. It works in a pinch, but you probably want a better solution for a more permanent setup.
Half of building a PCB is getting parts and pinouts right. [Josef] is working on a tool to at least semi-automate the importing of pinout tables from datasheets into KiCad. This is a very, very hard problem, and if it’s half right half the time, that’s a tremendous accomplishment.
Last summer, [Voja] wrote something for the blog on building enclosures from FR4. Over on Hackaday.io he’s working on a project, and it’s time for that project to get an enclosure. The results are amazing and leave us wondering why we don’t see this technique more often.
When it comes to manufacturing, no place in the world has the same kind of allure as the Pearl River Delta region of China. Within just an hour-long train ride, two vastly different cultures co-exist, each with its unique appeal that keeps attracting engineers, entrepreneurs, and hustlers alike. On the mainland side, cities like Shenzhen and Guangzhou bring the promise of cheap components, low-cost contract work, and the street cred of “having done the Shenzhen thing.” And on the island, the capitalist utopia called Hong Kong glows with all of its high finance and stories of lavish expat lifestyles.
As the “new” China evolves, it seems like it’s exactly the convergence of these two cultures that will bring the biggest change—and not just to the area but to the whole world. Still, understanding what exactly is going on and what the place is really all about remains a mystery to many. So, this June, we jumped on the bandwagon and headed east, trying to get our own feel for the whole thing.
Here’s what we came back with…
Continue reading “The Factory Of The World – Hackaday Documentary On The Shenzhen Ecosystem”