Recreating The Golden Era Of Cable TV

Fewer and fewer people have cable TV subscriptions these days, due to a combination of poor business practices by cable companies and the availability of alternatives to cable such as various streaming platforms. But before the rise of the Internet that enabled these alternatives, there was a short period of time where there were higher-quality channels, not too many commercials, a possibly rose-tinted sense of wonder, and where MTV actually played music. [Irish Craic Party] created this vintage cable TV network to capture this era of television history.

The hardware for this build is a Raspberry Pi driving an LCD display recovered from an old iPad. There’s a custom TV tuner which handles changing the channels and interfaces with an Apple Remote. Audio is sent through old computer speakers, and the case is built from 3D printed parts and some leftover walnut plywood to give it an era-appropriate 80s or early 90s feel. We’ve seen other builds like this before, but where this one really sets itself apart is in the software that handles the (television) programming.

[Irish Craic Party] has gone to great lengths here to recreate the feel of cable TV from decades ago. It has recreations of real channels like HBO, Nickelodeon, and FX including station-appropriate bumpers and commercials. It’s also synchronized to the clock so shows start on the half- or quarter-hour. Cartoons play on Saturday morning, and Nickelodeon switches to Nick-at-Nite in the evenings. There are even channels that switch to playing Christmas movies at the appropriate times, complete with Christmas-themed commercials.

The build even hosts a preview channel, one of the more challenging parts of the build. It continually scrolls through the channels and shows what’s currently playing and what will be showing shortly, complete with a commercial block at the top. For those who were around in the 90s it’s almost a perfect recreation of the experience of watching TV back then. It can even switch to a video game input when tuned to channel 3. There’s almost too much to go into in a short write-up so be sure to check the video after the break.

Thanks to [PCrozier] for the tip!

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OScope Advert From 1987 Rocks It

We can’t remember ever seeing a late-night TV ad for oscilloscopes before but, for some reason, Tektronix did produce a video ad in 1987. You can see it below and enjoy the glorious music and video production standards of the 1980s.

We assume this was made to show at some trade show or the like. Even if there was a Home Shopping Network in 1987, we doubt many of these would have been sold despite the assertion they were “low cost” — clearly a relative term in this case.

You’ve got to wonder if the narrator understood what he was saying or if he was just reading from a script. Pretty impressive either way. We loved these old scopes, although we also like having very capable scopes that don’t strain our backs to lift.

On the bright side, these scopes today are pretty affordable on the used market if you can find one that doesn’t need a repair with an exotic part. For example, we found several 2221s or 2221As for under $200 without looking hard. The shipping, of course, could potentially almost double the price.

While you can get a modern scope for $200, it probably isn’t the same quality as a Tektronix. Then again, the new scope won’t have CRTs and exotic Tektronix parts to wear out, either. Picking a scope is a pretty personal affair, though, so one person’s great scope might be another person’s piece of junk.

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New Drivers For Ancient Webcam

For those of us who are a little older, the 90s seem like they were just a few years ago. The younger folks might think that the 90s were ancient history though, and they might be right as we’ve been hearing more bands like Pearl Jam and The Offspring playing on the classic rock stations lately. Another example of how long ago the 90s were is taking a look at the technological progress that has happened since then through the lens of things like this webcam from 1999, presuming you load up this custom user space driver from [benjojo].

Thankfully the driver for this infamous webcam didn’t need to be built completely from scratch. There’s a legacy driver available for Windows XP which showed that the camera still physically worked, and there’s also a driver for Linux which was used as a foundation to start working from. From there a USB interface was set up which allowed communication to the device. Not a simple task, but apparently much easier than the next steps which involve actually interpreting the information coming from the webcam. This is where a background in digital signal processing is handy to have. First, the resolution and packet size were sorted out which led to a somewhat recognizable image. From there a single monochrome image was pieced together, and then after deconstructing a Bayer filter and adding color, the webcam is back to its former 90s glory.

[benjojo] has hosted all of the code for this project on a GitHub page for anyone who still has one of these webcams sitting around in the junk drawer. The resolution and color fidelity are about what we’d expect for a 25-year-old device that predates Skype, Facebook, Wikipedia, and Firefox. And, while there are still some things that need to be tweaked such as the colors, white balance, and exposure, once that is sorted out the 90s and early 00s nostalgia is free to flood in.

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Hackaday Links: July 18, 2021

Tell the world that something is in short supply, and you can bet that people will start reacting to that news in the ways that make the most sense to them — remember the toilet paper shortage? It’s the same with the ongoing semiconductor pinch, except that since the item in short supply is (arguably) more valuable than toilet paper, the behavior and the risks people are willing to take around it are even more extreme. Sure, we’ve seen chip hoarding, and a marked rise in counterfeit chips. But we’d imagine that this is the first time we’ve seen chip smuggling quite like this. The smuggler was caught at the Hong Kong-Macao border with 256 Core i7 and i9 processors, valued at about $123,000, strapped to his legs and chest. It reminds us more of “Midnight Express”-style heroin smuggling, although we have to say we love the fact that this guy chose a power of 2 when strapping these babies on.

Speaking of big money, let’s say you’ve pulled off a few chip heists without getting caught, and have retired from the smuggling business. What is one to do with the ill-gotten gains? Apparently, there’s a big boom in artifacts from the early days of console gaming, so you might want to start spreading some money around there. But you’d better prepare to smuggle a lot of chips: last week, an unopened Legend of Zelda cartridge for the NES sold for $870,000 at auction. Not to be outdone, two days later someone actually paid $1.56 million for a Super Mario 64 cartridge, this time apparently still in the tamperproof container that displayed it on a shelf somewhere in 1996. Nostalgia can be an expensive drug.

And it’s not just video games that are commanding high prices these days. If you’ve got a spare quarter million or so, why not bid on this real Apollo Guidance Computer and DSKY? The AGC is a non-flown machine that was installed in LTA-8, the “lunar test article” version of the Landing Module (LM) that was used for vacuum testing. If the photos in the auction listing seem familiar, it’s with good reason: this is the same AGC that was restored to operating condition by Carl Claunch, Mike Stewart, Ken Shiriff, and Marc Verdiell. Sotheby’s estimates the value at $200,000 to $300,000; in a world of billionaire megalomaniacs with dreams of space empires, we wouldn’t be surprised if a working AGC went for much, much more than that.

Meanwhile, current day space exploration is going swimmingly. Just this week NASA got the Hubble Space Telescope back online, which is great news for astronomers. And on Mars, the Ingenuity helicopter just keeps on delivering during its “operations demonstration” mission. Originally just supposed to be a technology demonstration, Ingenuity has proven to be a useful companion to the Perseverance rover, scouting out locations of interest to explore or areas of hazard to avoid. On the helicopter’s recent ninth flight, it scouted a dune field for the team, providing photographs that showed the area would be too dangerous for the rover to cross. The rover’s on-board navigation system isn’t great at seeing sand dunes, so Ingenuity’s images are a real boon to mission planners, not to mention geologists and astrobiologists, who are seeing promising areas of the ancient lakebed to explore.

And finally, most of us know all too well how audio feedback works, and all the occasions to avoid it. But what about video feedback? What happens when you point a camera that a screen displaying the image from the camera? Fractals are what happens, or at least something that looks a lot like fractals. Code Parade has been playing with what he calls “analog fractals”, which are generated just by video feedback and not by computational means. While he’d prefer to do this old school with analog video equipment, it easy enough to replicate on a computer; he even has a web page that lets you arrange a series of virtual monitors on your screen. Point a webcam at the screen, and you’re off on a fractal journey that constantly changes and shifts. Give it a try.

Living Robots: Revisiting BEAM

You’re hit by the global IC shortage, reduced to using stone knives and bearskins, but you still want to make something neat? It’s time to revisit BEAM robots.

Biology, electronics, aesthetics, and mechanics — Mark Tilden came up with the idea of minimalist electronic creatures that, through inter-coupled weak control systems and clever mechanical setups, could mimic living bugs. And that’s not so crazy if you think about how many nerves something like a cockroach or an earthworm have. Yet their collection of sensors, motors, and skeletons makes for some pretty interesting behavior.

My favorite BEAM bots have always been the solar-powered ones. They move slowly or infrequently, but also inexorably, under solar power. In that way, they’re the most “alive”. Part of the design trick is to make sure they stay near their food (the sun) and don’t get stuck. One of my favorite styles is the “photovore” or “photopopper”, because they provide amazing bang for the buck.

Back in the heyday of BEAM, maybe 15 years ago, solar cells were inefficient and expensive, circuits for using their small current were leaky, and small motors were tricky to come by. Nowadays, that’s all changed. Power harvesting circuits leak only nano-amps, and low-voltage MOSFETs can switch almost losslessly. Is it time to revisit the BEAM principles? I’d wager you’d put the old guard to shame, and you won’t even need any of those newfangled microcontroller thingies, which are out of stock anyway.

If you make something, show us!

[Eric] Talks Crystal Radios

The AM broadcast band doesn’t have a lot of mainstream programming on it across much of the United States today. That’s a shame because a lot of kids got their first taste of radio and electronics by building simple crystal radios. [Eric Wrobbel] has a well-done page discussing some of the crystal radio kits and toys that have been around.

[Eric] should know, as he’s written two books on toy crystal radios. The pictures range from a 1945-era “Easy Built Radio Kit” which looks like a piece of masonite with a coil, some Fahnestock clips, and a cat whisker, to a very slick looking Tinymite from 1949. Honestly, though, the one we really want is the X-50 Space Helmet Radio that comes in a box marked “For Young Moon Travelers.”

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RuneScape GBA Controller Is A Nostalgic Mash-Up

For gamers, the early 2000s certainly stand out as a memorable era. The dawn of the 21st century ushered in the sixth generation of home video game consoles, with Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft all releasing their systems within a few years of each other. Nintendo also released their Game Boy Advance at around the same time, representing a minor revolution for mobile gaming. On the PC front, a free-to-play MMORPG called RuneScape was redefining people’s expectations of browser-based software.

Now, thanks to modern technology and the expert guidance of [TiKevin83], these varied bits of video game history can be used in conjunction for maximum rose-tinting effect. Using homebrew software on the GameCube and a healthy collection of wires and adapters, the GBA can be used as a controller for your adventures through the realm of Gielinor. After nearly two decades, the dreams of gamers everywhere have come true.

Well, that might be a stretch. In fact, we’d wager that nobody in human history has ever looked at the GBA and thought it would be a particularly good controller for an MMORPG. Watching the video after the break, it’s not hard to see why. Using the handheld system’s digital pad to control the mouse in RuneScape looks to be precisely as clunky as you’d imagine. But of course, that’s hardly the point.

So how is it accomplished? A homebrew tool for the GameCube’s “Game Boy Player” accessory allows the GBA, when connected to the console via the appropriate adapter cable, to mimic a standard controller. Once the GBA is running in this mode, it can then be connected to the computer using a Wii U to USB adapter. Finally, the program JoyToKey is used to map the GBA’s buttons to mouse and keyboard input for “Old School” RuneScape.

If you’d like to do something similar but aren’t quite committed enough to collect up all the Nintendo-branded ephemera this method requires, you may be interested in this DIY adapter that allows the venerable GBA to be used as a standard Bluetooth controller.

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