We often think that not enough people are building things with FPGAs. We also love the retrotechtacular posts on old computer hardware. So it was hard to pass up [karlwoodward’s] post about the Chip Hack EDSAC Challenge — part of the 2017 Wuthering Bytes festival.
You might recognize EDSAC as what was arguably the first operational computer if you define a computer as what we think of today as a computer. [Maurice Wilkes] and his team invented a lot of things we take for granted today including subroutines (Wheeler jumps named after a graduate student).
The point to the EDSAC challenge was to expose people to creating designs with FPGAs, particularly using the Verilog hardware description language (HDL). If you want to follow along or run your own Chip Hack, the materials are available on the Web. You can see an FPGA driving a tape punch to create souvenir tapes in the video, below.
Some of the exercises are pretty simple and that’s perfect if you are starting out. The challenge uses a board with a Lattice ice40 FPGA and the open source toolchain for Lattice we’ve covered before. In fact, we’ve even done our own tutorials on the same basic device (but not the same board). Our final project generated PWM, not paper tape.
For the record, EDSAC was awesome. The execution unit was serial and processed bits that marched in one at a time over a mercury delay line. There is quite a bit of documentation and even some simulators, so if you ever wanted to get your hands into an old computer, this one isn’t a bad one to try.
Continue reading “Learn FPGA Programming from the 1940s”
Fair warning: when you post a video of you doing an incredibly tedious process like manually punching holes in a paper tape to transfer a MIDI file to a music box, don’t be surprised when a bunch of hackers automates the process in less than a week.
The back story on this should be familiar to even casual Hackaday readers. [Martin] from the Swedish group “Wintergatan” is a prolific maker of unusual musical instruments. You’ll no doubt recall his magnificent marble music machine, a second version of which is currently in the works. But he’s also got a thing for music boxes that are programmed by paper tape, and recently posted a video showing his time-consuming and totally manual process for punching the holes in the tape. Since his source material was already in a MIDI file, a bunch of his fans independently came up with ways to automate the process.
The video below shows what he learned from his fans about automating his programming, but also what he learned about the community we all work and play in. Without specifically asking for help, random strangers brought together by common interests identified the problems, came up with solutions, sorted through the good and the bad ideas, and made the work publically available. Not bad for less than a week’s work.
Continue reading “Ad Hoc MIDI to Music Box Project Shows Power of Hacker Community”
Music is a mystery to some of us. Sure, we know what we like when we hear it, but the idea of actually being able to make it baffles us. And the idea of being able to build new instruments to create it, like this paper-tape programmable music box (YouTube, embedded below), is beyond impressive.
You’ll no doubt remember [Martin Molin] of the group “Wintergatan” and his astounding marble madness music machine. This instrument is on a much more modest scale and is centered around an off-the-shelf paper tape music box. But the cheap plastic drive gears kept failing under performance conditions, so [Martin] headed to what appears to be his cave-based workshop and started grinding. He prototyped a new paper drive from Lego Technics, and while it worked, it needed help to pull the paper. What followed was an iterative design process that culminated in a hybrid of plastic and metal Technic parts that drive the paper reliably, and a musical instrument that’s much more than just a tinny wind-up music box. Hear it in action below with another new instrument, the Modulin, which sounds a little like a Theremin but looks like – ah, just watch the video.
The build video hints at more details to come, and we’re hoping for a complete series like that for the marble machine. We’d also love to see details on the Modulin too – if there ever was a hacked musical instrument, that’s it.
Continue reading “Paper Tape Drive for a Live Performance Music Box”
The story for permanent storage for computers begins with the Jacquard loom. Hackaday commenters that are less clever than a Wikipedia article may argue that it was the earlier Bouchon and de Vaucanson looms, but either way we owe permanent storage methods to loom designers. So the story goes that punched cards for weaving brocades and damask patterns in cloth turned into punched cards for tabulating a census, calculating artillery trajectories, and ends with hundreds of gigabytes of storage in a thumbnail-sized micro SD card.
This story glosses over one important fact. The automated looms of the 17th century were simply a way to make a manufacturing process faster. These automated looms were the forebears of numerically controlled machine tools. These machines, first a lathe, followed by mills and all sorts of metalworking tools, first appearing in the 1950s, used punched tape to store the commands required to mill a part out of metal. Just like the SD card on a modern 3D printer.
For [will.stevens’] Hackaday Prize entry, he’s going back to the roots of automated manufacturing and building a punched card reader for his 3D printer. Is the idea sound? Yes. Is it going to be easy? No, [will] is creating his punched card reader on his 3D printer. It’s the ultimate expression of the RepRap philosophy of self-replication, and an interesting engineering challenge, too.
[will]’s idea for a punch card print controller uses relays. It’s a simple control system that encodes the individual steps for the X and Y axes, along with a length of a line. This printer won’t be able to create lines that go in every direction, instead, there are only 48 possible angles this printer can use out of 360 degrees. At large scales, prints and plots will have the jaggies, but at smaller scales, this control system will be able to print something resembling a circle.
[will] has a PDF of his proposed control system, and he’s already hard at work creating the 3D printed relays and solenoids. [will]’s goal for this year’s Hackaday Prize is to create a 2D plotter – just one axis short of a 3D printer, and he’s well on his way to printing off his own punched cards.
Feeling a little nostalgic? Dying to read some paper ticker tapes? You can do it manually, but that’d take forever! [NeXT] decided to make a little PCB to help him out.
Having searched for paper tape readers for years, and even getting halfway through building the mechanical portion of it in his high-school tech class, [NeXT] decided to take a serious stab at it — and by golly, it works!
The reason he finally decided to go down this route is because you just can’t buy them (well, for cheap), and even the DIY or hobby ones out there are notoriously slow — what better reason to design it from scratch?
Continue reading “Reading Paper Tapes From Scratch!”
Back before the days of 8 inch floppy disks, storing computer programs was much more primitive than even a stack of punch cards. The earliest general purpose computers used paper tape, a strip of paper with punched holes designating a 0 or a 1. Thankfully for the computer scientists of the day, these paper tapes weren’t created by hand. No, the Friden SP-2 tape punch took care of the duties of punching holes in these tapes. When [Max] rescued one of these tape punch machines from a trash bin, he knew what he needed to do: connect it to an Arduino so he could create his own paper tapes.
[Max] found a veroboard with a bunch of transistors inside the machine that was added by a previous owner. After finding the manual for the machine he connected it to an Arduino, holding each of the eight control pins high to punch the tape, and then holding another pin high to advance the tape. With this, he was able to punch letters instead of binary code into his paper tape.
[Max] also added an Ethernet shield to his Arduino that checks his email. If an email shows up in a special folder, it outputs the subject line to the tape punch machine, giving him an entirely retro ticker tape machine, built with vintage 60s hardware.
There are a pair of videos of [Max]’s tape punch machine in action below, along with a gallery of the glamorous gut shots of this incredible machine.
Continue reading “Outputting text on a paper tape machine”