Hacking Apollo Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, April 22 at noon Pacific for the Hacking Apollo Hack Chat with “CuriousMarc” VerdiellKen ShirriffMike Stewart, and Carl Claunch!

When President Kennedy laid down the gauntlet to a generation of scientists and engineers to land a man on the Moon before the close of the 1960s, he likely had little idea what he was putting in motion. The mission was dauntingly complex, the science was untested, and the engineering was largely untried. Almost everything had to be built from scratch, and entire industries were born just from the technologies that had to be invented to make the dream come true.

Chief among these new fields was computer science, which was barely in its infancy when the 1960s started. By the end of the decade and the close of the Space Race, computers had gone from room-filling, power-guzzling machines to something compact and capable enough to fly men to the Moon and back. The computers that followed all built on the innovations that came about as a result of Apollo, and investigating the computers of the era and finding out what made them tick is an important part of our technological culture.

That’s where this retrocomputing dream team came into play. Together, they’ve poked and prodded at every bit of hardware from the Space Race era they could find, including a genuine Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) that was rescued from the trash. What’s more, they actually managed to restore it to working condition with a series of epic hacks and sheer force of will.

Marc, Ken, Mike, and Carl will stop by the Hack Chat to talk about everything that went into getting the AGC working again, along with anything else that pops up. Come ready to have your Apollo-era hardware itches scratched by the people who’ve been inside a lot of it, and who have seen first-hand what it took to make it to the Moon and back.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, April 22 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

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’54 Motorcycle Saved By Electric Conversion

While it’s nice to be able to fully restore something vintage to its original glory, this is not always possible. There might not be replacement parts available, the economics of restoring it may not make sense, or the damage to parts of it might be too severe. [onyxmember] aka [Minimember Customs] was in this position with an old ’54 Puch Allstate motorcycle frame that he found with no engine, rusty fuel tank, and some other problems, so he did the next best thing to a full restoration. He converted it to electric.

This build uses as much of the original motorcycle frame as possible and [onyxmember] made the choice not to weld anything extra to it. The fuel tank was cut open and as much rust was cleaned from it as possible to make room for the motor controller and other electronics. A hub motor was laced to the rear wheel, and a modern horn and headlight were retrofitted into the original headlight casing. Besides the switches, throttle, and voltmeter, everything else looks original except, of course, the enormous 72V battery hanging off the frame where the engine used to be.

At a power consumption of somewhere between three and five kilowatts, [onyxmember] reports that this bike likely gets somewhere in the range of 55 mph, although he can’t know for sure because it doesn’t have a speedometer. It’s the best use of an old motorcycle frame we can think of, and we also like the ratrod look, but you don’t necessarily need to modify a classic bike for this. A regular dirt bike frame will do just fine.

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Restoring A Dead Commodore 128DCR

Another day, another retro computer lovingly restored to like-new condition by [Drygol]. This time, the subject of his attention is a Commodore 128DCR that earned every bit of the “For Parts, Not Working” condition it was listed under. From a spider infestation to a cracked power supply PCB, this computer was in quite a state. But in the end he got the three decade old machine back in working condition and even managed to teach it a few new tricks along the way.

Obviously the shattered PSU was the most pressing issue with the Commodore. Interestingly, the machine still had its warranty seal in place on the back, so whatever happened to this PSU seems to have occurred without human intervention.

Rather than just replacing the PSU, [Drygol] first pieced the board back together with the help of cyanoacrylate glue, and then coated the top with an epoxy resin to give it some mechanical strength. On the back side the traces were either repaired or replaced entirely with jumper wires where the damage was too severe.

With the PSU repaired and tested, he moved on to cleaning the computer’s main board and whitening all the plastic external components. Even the individual keycaps took a bath to get them looking like new again. This put the computer in about as close to like-new condition as it could get.

But why stop there? He next installed the JiffyDOS modification to improve system performance, and wired in an adapter that lets the computer output a crisp 80 columns over S-Video. It’s safe to say this particular Commodore is in better shape now than it was when it rolled off the assembly line.

While an impressive enough final result, this is still fairly tame for [Drygol]. If you want to see a real challenge, take a look at the insane amount of work that went into recreating this smashed Atari 800XL case.

Amstrad Portable Gets A Modern LCD Transplant

Playing classic games on the real hardware is an experience many of us enjoy, but sometimes the hardware is just a bit too retro for modern sensibilities. A case in point is the miserable monochrome LCD that was originally installed in the Amstrad PPC640 portable 8086 PC that [Drygol] recently picked up. He decided that his portable Amstrad sessions would be far more enjoyable if he swapped it out for a display that didn’t have 30+ years on the clock.

To quell the complaints of any of the vintage hardware aficionados out there, it’s worth mentioning that the original LCD was actually damaged and needed to be replaced anyway. Granted [Drygol] could have tried to find a contemporary panel to replace it with, but looking at the incredible before and after shots of the modded PPC640, it’s hard to argue he didn’t make the right decision by throwing a modern display into the otherwise largely original computer.

Getting the new LCD’s PCB ready for installation.

[Drygol] says he picked up a cheap 4:3 LCD TV on eBay, and as luck would have it, found that the new panel dropped perfectly into the original frame. Getting it buttoned back up required the removal of the RF can and all the female connections on the TV’s PCB, plus he had to cut some holes in the back of the display enclosure to mount the LCD’s controls, but overall it looks very stock.

Of course, getting the new LCD display in the original frame was only half the battle, it still needs to be connected up to the computer somehow. To get everyone playing nicely with each other, [Drygol] is using a commercially available MDA/CGA/EGA to VGA converter that is installed where the batteries would have gone originally. Wired to the PPC640’s external monitor connector, it allows him to drive the new display without having to use the original LCD interface.

[Drygol] has made something of a name for himself by performing some of the most impressive restorations and modifications of retro hardware in recent memory. From the unbelievable work that went into repairing a smashed Atari 800XL case to his gorgeous custom Amiga A500, his projects are sure to please the retro hardware lovers in the audience.

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Restoring A Rusty Rebar Cutter

We’ve all probably come across hunks of junk that used to be tools, long-neglected and chemically welded into a useless mass of solid rust. Such items are available for a pittance at the local flea market, or more likely found in an old barn or rotting on a junk pile. They appear to be far beyond salvage, but with the proper application of elbow grease and penetrating lubricants, even a nasty old seized-up rebar cutter can live again.

We honestly almost passed up on the video below when it came across our feed. After all, a rebar cutter is a dead-simple device, and half the fun of restoration videos like those made by [my mechanics] is seeing all the parts removed, restored, and replaced. But it ended up being far more interesting than we expected, and far more challenging too.

The cutter was missing its original handle and looked for all the world like it had been cast from a solid piece of iron oxide. [my mechanics] was able to get the main pivot bolts free with a combination of leverage, liberal application of penetrating oil, drilling, and the gentle persuasion of a hydraulic press.

These efforts proved destructive to both bolts, so new ones were made on the lathe, as were a number of other parts beyond saving. New cutters were fabricated from tool steel and a new handle was built; before anyone comments on anyone’s welding skills, please read [Jenny]’s recent article on the subject.

The finished product is strikingly dissimilar to the starting lump of oxidized junk, so there’s going to to be some debate in calling this a “restoration” in the classical sense. The end result of a [my mechanics] video is invariably a tool or piece of gear that looks far better than it did the day it was made, and any one of them would get a place of honor on our shelf. That said, he’d probably be swiftly shown the door if he worked at the Smithsonian.

Whatever you want to call these sort of videos, there are tons of them out there. We’ve featured a few examples of the genre, from the loving rehabilitation of classic Matchbox cars to rebuilding an antique saw set. They’re enough to make us start trolling garage sales. Or scrap yards.

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Hackaday Podcast 040: 3D Printed Everything, Strength V Toughness, Blades Of Fiber, And What Can’t Coffee Do?

Hackaday Editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams opine on the coolest hacks we saw this week. This episode is heavy with 3D printing as Prusa released a new, smaller printer, printed gearboxes continue to impress us with their power and design, hoverboards are turned into tanks, and researchers suggest you pour used coffee grounds into your prints. Don’t throw out those “toy” computers, they may be hiding vintage processors. And we have a pair of fantastic articles that cover the rise and fall of forest fire watchtowers, and raise the question of where all those wind turbine blades will go when we’re done with them.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (59 MB)

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Extreme Refurbishing: Amiga Edition

The last Amiga personal computer rolled off the assembly line in 1996, well over 20 years ago. Of course, they had their real heyday in the late 80s, so obviously if you have any around now they’ll be in need of a little bit of attention. [Drygol] recently received what looks like a pallet of old Amiga parts and set about building this special one: The Vampiric Amiga A500.

The foundation of this project was a plain A500 with quite a bit of damage. Corrosion and rust abounded inside the case, as well as at least one animal. To start the refurbishment, the first step was to remove the rust from the case and shields by an electrochemical method. From there, he turned his attention to the motherboard and removed all of the chips and started cleaning. Some of the connectors had to be desoldered and bathed in phosphoric acid to remove rust and corrosion, and once everything was put back together it looks almost brand new.

Of course, some other repairs had to be made to the keyboard and [Drygol] put a unique paint job on the exterior of this build (and gave it a name to match), but it’s a perfect working Amiga with original hardware, ready to go for any retrocomputing enthusiast. He’s no stranger around here, either; he did another extreme restoration of an Atari 800 XL about a year ago.