A 65-in-1 The 2024 Way

If necessity is the mother of invention, nostalgia must be its stepmother, or its aunt at the very least. The desire to recreate long-obsolete devices simply because they existed while we were growing up is a curious trait, but one that’s powerful enough to drive entire categories of hardware hacking — looking at you, retrocomputing buffs.

Hardware nostalgia isn’t all about 6502s and Z80s, though. Even more basic were the electronic toys of the 1970s, such as the Radio Shack 65-in-1 kit that [Tom Thoen] is currently recreating. The 65-in-1 was a breadboarding kit aimed at the budding electrical engineer, with components mounted to colorful cardboard by spring terminals. The included “lab manual” had circuits that could be quickly assembled using a handful of jumper wires. It was an endlessly fascinating toy that undoubtedly launched many careers, present company included.

The original 65-in-1 was $21.95 in 1976, or about $120 today.

While the passage of time may not have dulled [Tom]’s memories of his original 65-in-1, technology has marched on, meaning that certain allowances had to be made to create a modern version. He wisely eschews the cardboard for PCBs, one for each of the major component blocks provided in the original, and uses female header connectors in place of the springs. Component choice is tailored for the times; gone are the ferrite rod antenna and variable capacitor of the original, as well as the incandescent lamp, which is replaced by an LED that would have been a significant fraction of the kit’s $21.95 price back in 1976. There’s no BOM yet, so we can’t say for sure if any of the transistors are germanium, but it’s clear that there aren’t any of the old TO-1 cans. But dismay not, originalists, for the meter, relay, CdS photocell, and “solar battery” all made the final cut.

[Tom] has done some beautiful work here, with more to come. We imagine that 3D printing could be used to recreate some details like the original Morse key and speaker grille. We love the laser-engraved backing board, too, as it captures some of the charm of the original’s wooden box. This isn’t the only love for the “Science Fair” brand we’ve seen lately, either; the nostalgia seems to be contagious.

A Deep Dive Into A 1980s Radio Shack Computer Trainer

For those of us who remember Radio Shack as more than just an overpriced cell phone store, a lot of the nostalgia for the retailer boils down to the brands on offer. Remember the Realistic line of hi-fi and stereo gear? How about Archer brand tools and parts? Patrolman scanners, Micronta test instruments, and don’t forget those amazing Optimus speakers — all had a place in our development as electronics nerds.

But perhaps the most formative brand under the Radio Shack umbrella was Science Fair, with a line of kits and projects that were STEM before STEM was a thing. One product that came along a little too late for our development was the Science Fair Microcomputer Trainer, and judging by [Michael Wessel]’s deep dive into the kit, we really missed the boat. The trainer was similar to the earlier “100-in-1”-style breadboarding kits, with components laid out on a colorful cardboard surface and spring terminals connected to their leads, making it easy to build circuits using jumper wires. The star of the show in the microcomputer trainer was a Texas Instruments TMS1100, which was a pretty advanced chip with a 4-bit CPU with its own ROM and RAM as well as a bunch of IO lines. The trainer also sported a peppy little 400-kHz crystal oscillator clock, a bunch of LEDs, a seven-segment display, a speaker, and a rudimentary keyboard.

The first video below is a general introduction to the trainer and a look at some basic (not BASIC) programs. [Michael] also pulls out the oscilloscope to make some rough measurements of the speed of the TMS1100, which turns out to be doing only about 400 instructions per second. That’s not much, but in the second video we see that it was enough for him to nerd-snipe his collaborator [Jason] into coding up an 80-nibble Tower of Hanoi solver. It’s a little awkward to use, as the program runs in spurts between which the user needs to check memory locations to see which disc to move to which peg, but it works.

It looks like people are rediscovering the Microcomputer Trainer all of a sudden. It might be a good time to pick one up.

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Young Inventor Builds Motor Without Rare Earths

[Robert Sansone] is a 17-year-old from Florida and, like most of us, he likes to tinker. He’s apparently got the time for it because he’s completed at least 60 projects ranging from animatronic hands to a high-speed go-kart. However, his interest in electric vehicles coupled with his understanding of the issues around them led him to investigate synchronous reluctance motors — motors that don’t depend on expensive rare earth magnets. His experiments have led to a novel form of motor that has greater torque than existing designs.

Rare earths are powerful but expensive, costing much more than common metals like copper or steel. Traditionally, synchronous reluctance motors use steel rotors and air gaps and exploit the difference in reluctance — a term for magnetic resistance– to generate rotation. [Robert’s] idea was to replace the air gap with a different material to increase the ratio of reluctance between the rotor and the gap. Reconfiguring the motor to a more traditional configuration shows startling results: the new design generated almost 40% more torque and did so more efficiently, as well.

His work has earned him first prize, and $75,000, in this year’s Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair. It took 15 tries to get the motor to its current state, something made easier with 3D printing. There are plans for a 16th version that [Robert] hopes will perform even better. We can’t wait to see what he’ll do next.

Electric vehicles have made people look into many motor design topologies. The reluctance motor has been around for a long time, but controlling them has become significantly easier. That’s true of many kinds of motors.

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A Simple Science Fair AM Transmitter

A crystal radio is a common enough science fair project, but the problem is, there isn’t much on anymore. The answer is, of course, obvious: build your own AM transmitter, too. AM modulation isn’t that hard to do and [Science Buddies] has plans for how to build one with a canned oscillator and an audio transformer.

We don’t imagine the quality of this would be so good, but for a kid’s science project it might be worth a shot. Maybe something like “What kind of materials block radio waves?” would be a good project statement.

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Relive Radio Shack’s Glory Days By Getting Goofy

The Golden Age of Radio Shack was probably sometime in the mid-1970s, a time when you could just pop into the local store and pay 49 cents for the resistors you needed to complete a project. Radio Shack was the place to go for everything from hi-fi systems to CB radios, and for many of us, being inside one was very much a kid in a candy store scenario.

That’s not to say that Radio Shack was perfect, but one thing it did very well was the education and grooming of the next generation of electronics hobbyists, primarily through their “Science Fair” brand. Some of us will recall the P-Box kits from that line, complete projects with all the parts and instructions in a plastic box with a perfboard top. These kits were endlessly entertaining and educational, and now [NetZener] has recreated the classic neon “Goofy Light” P-Box project.

As it was back in the day, the Goofy Light is almost entirely useless except for learning about DC-DC converters, multivibrators, RC timing circuits, and the weird world of negative resistance. But by using the original Science Fair instructions, compiling a BOM that can be filled from Mouser or Digikey, and making up a reasonable facsimile of the original P-Box chassis, [NetZener] has done a service to anyone looking for a little dose of nostalgia.

It would be interesting if someone brought back the P-Box experience as a commercial venture, offering a range of kits with circuits like the originals. If that happens, maybe some of the offerings will be based on that other classic from Radio Shack’s heyday.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Measuring 3D Magnetic Fields

Sometimes you have to start out with big goals. Ninth-graders [Finja Schneider] and [Myrijam Stoetzer] are aiming to make a magnetic field scanner that would be helpful in finding large underground metallic objects, like unexploded WWII bombs that pose a real threat whenever a new parking garage is excavated in Germany. But even big goals have to start out somewhere, so they’re gaining experience with the sensors and the math necessary to recreate 3D magnetic flux vector fields on household objects like sawblades and magnetized screwdrivers.

Magnetized screwdriver in the "valley"
Magnetized screwdriver in the “valley”

For their science-fair project, [Finja] and [Myrijam] took a mid-80s fischertechnik “toy” 2D scanner kit, mounted a 3D magnetic sensor to it, and wrote some firmware to scan around and pass the data back to a computer where they reconstructed the field lines and made some nice visualizations. Along the way, they tried a number of designs, from a DIY chassis on carbon-fiber rails to sensors with ferrofluid. They document their successes and failures equally nicely in their lab report (PDF, German). You can get a lot of the gist, however, from [Myrijam]’s blog and their Hackaday.io entry.

You might also recognize [Myrijam] from her work with [Paul Foltin] on their eye-controlled wheelchair interface. These are some really cool projects! We’re excited to see how they develop, and are stoked that the future of hacking is in such capable hands.

A Modern But Classic Enigma Machine

Hacking has always brought more good to the world than not hacking. The successful efforts of the Allies during World War II in deciphering the Enigma machine output still reminds us of that. Today, the machine is a classic example of cryptography and bare-metal computing.

We have covered quite a few DIY Enigma machines in the past, yet 14 years old [Andy] really impressed us with his high school science fair project, a scratch built, retro-modern Enigma machine.

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