Modern Demo For A Casio PB-700 Pocket Computer Plotter

[Fred] has a Casio PB-700 pocket calculator / computer, complete with the companion docking station featuring a four-color pen plotter, model FA-10, and a microcassette tape recorder, model CM-1. He really wanted to see what this plotter could do, but there were no demos that he could find. So despite only having one working pen, [Fred] took matters into his own hands and proceeded to make his own.

What if I made a program where I type what I want to draw and the PB-700 just draws it?

Penguin from Penguindrum eating Popcorn

[Fred] succeeds, shoehorning several sub-projects into a single convoluted work flow: request an image from the PB-700 and after a long pause the plot emerges. The cute microcassette recorder is too much of a hassle, so he emulates the audio interface on a PC using a utility called casutil that reads and writes .wav files in PB-700 format. Much of his effort is spent figuring out how to request an image from Midjourney without being banned, but eventually comes up with a workable but shaky solution. The last steps are to convert the image into a line drawing, and then wrap up all those X-Y coordinates into a Basic program and send it back down to the PB-700 for plotting.

You can read more details in the PloTTY GitHub repository. There were several of these pocket computers with plotters coming out of Japan in the 1980s. In addition to this Casio, the Radio Shack TRS-80 PC-1 and PC-2 come to mind, which were re-branded versions of the Sharp PC-1211 and PC-1500 models. We wrote about them last year. This author had a PC-2 in 1985 and used it to plot antenna patterns at his desk, bypassing the IT department’s red tape. Have you ever used any of these pocket plotters? If so, let us know in the comments below. Thanks to [Altomare] for send us the tip.

An Arduino Nano connected to a portable tape recorder

Audio Tape Interface Revives Microcassettes As Storage Medium

In the early 1980s cassette tapes were the standard storage medium for home computer users; readers of a certain age will remember fiddling with audio jacks, tape counters and signal levels, then waiting for several minutes while a program (hopefully) loaded correctly. While most people happily upgraded to much more reliable floppy disks, [Zack Nelson] decided to go back in time and add a suitably classic storage medium to a retrocomputing project, in the form of a cassette interface. The cassette player he had available was a Pearlcorder L400, which uses the smaller microcassette instead of the familiar audio tapes used in your Walkman or boombox.

A microcassette and a computer interface for a tape recorder[Zack] designed the entire thing from the ground up: first he decided to use differential Manchester encoding,  which provides immunity against common disturbances like speed variations (which cause wow and flutter). The data is encoded in the frequency range from 1 kHz to 2 kHz, which suits the bandwidth of the cassette player. Next, he designed the interface between the computer and the tape recorder; built from an op-amp and a comparator with a handful of discrete components, it filters the incoming signal and clips it to provide a clean digital signal to be read out directly by the computer.

The system is demonstrated by hooking it up to an Arduino Nano, which reads out the data stream at about 3000 baud. The noise it makes should bring back memories to anyone brought up with the “PRESS PLAY ON TAPE” message; if it inspires you to make your own, we’re happy to report that full schematics and source code are available. [Zack] is not the first one to make his own cassette interface; we’ve seen a somewhat more complicated analog design before, as well as one based on an FPGA.

Microcassette Recorders Become A Tape Delay

Long before audio engineers had fancy digital delays, or even crappy analog delays, there were tape delays. Running a tape around in a loop with a record and play head is the basis of the Echoplex and Space Echo, and both of these machines are incredible pieces of engineering.

Microcassette recorders are not, in general, incredible pieces of engineering. They do, however, have a strip of magnetic tape, a record head, and a play head. Put two of them together, and you can build your own tape delay.

The basic principle of a tape delay is simple enough – just run a loop of tape round in a circle, through a record and playback head, record some audio, and send the output to an amplifier. In practice, it’s not that simple. [dogenigt] had to manufacture his own tape loop from microcassettes, a process that took far too long and was far too finicky.

For a control circuit, [dogenigt] is using four audio pots and one linear pot for speed control. The audio pots are responsible for input gain, feedback, the amplitude of the clean signal, and the output of the signal after it’s been run through the delay.

Apart from being one of those builds that’s very dependent on the mechanical skill of the builder, it’s a pretty simple delay unit, with all the electronics already designed for a stripboard layout. You can hear an example of what it sounds like below.

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