Hackaday Links: June 7, 2020

For many of us who were in college at the time, the 1989 release of Will Wright’s classic SimCity sounded the death knell of our GPAs. Being able to create virtual worlds and then smite them with a tornado or a kaiju attack was the stuff of a procrastinator’s dreams. We always liked the industrial side of the game best, and took great pains in laying out the factory zones, power plants, and seaports. Those of a similar bent will be happy to know that Maxis, the studio behind the game, had a business simulations division, and one of their products was a complete refinery simulator the studio built for Chevron called, unsurprisingly, SimRefinery. The game, which bears a striking resemblance to SimCity, has been recovered and is now available for download, which means endless procrastination by playing virtual petrochemical engineer is only a mouse click away.

Speaking of time wasters, we stumbled upon another simulation this week that sucked away a couple of hours of productivity. As RTL-SDR.com reports, YouTuber called Information Zulu has a 24/7 live stream showing arrivals and departures at Los Angeles International Airport. That may sound boring, but the cameras used to watch the runways are virtual, and the planes are animated based on ADS-B data being scooped up by an RTL-SDR dongle. We pinged Information Zulu and asked for a rundown of the gear behind the system, but never heard back. If we do, we’ll post a full article on what we learned, because the level of detail is amazing. The arriving and departing planes sport the correct livery for the airline, the current weather conditions are shown, taxiing is shown in real time, and there’s even an audio feed from air traffic control.

If you’re looking to gain back a little of the productivity lost to the last two items, Digi-Key might be able to help with their new PCB Builder service. All you have to do is upload your gerbers and select your materials, and they’ll give you options for a bunch of different quick-turn fabrication houses. Looks mighty convenient.

Steve Mould dropped a video this week about vibration analysis. That might not sound very exciting, but the fascinating bit is how companies are now using motion amplification video techniques to show how and where industrial equipment is moving, even if those motions are too subtle to be seen by the naked eye. It’s frankly terrifying to see how pipes flex and tanks expand and contract, and how pumps and motors move relative to each other. The technique used is similar to the way a person’s pulse can be detected on a video by the subtle color change as blood rushes into capillaries. We’d love to see someone tackle a homebrew version of this so we can all see what’s going on around us.

And finally, we want to remind everyone that the Hackaday Prize is back, and that you should get your entries going. What’s new this year is the Dream Team challenges, where four worthy non-profits organizations will each assemble a three-person team to work on a specific pain-point in their process. The application deadline has been extended to June 9, and there are two $3,000 microgrants, one in June and one in July, for each team member. So look through the design briefs and see if your skills match their needs.

Manufacturing SimCity For The NES

Late last year, news broke of impossibly rare artifact from the age of the Nintendo Entertainment System. SimCity was the classic simulation game for PC and just about every other console, and it was written for the NES but never released. Now one guy finally got around to digging out his copy, which was dumped at the Portland Retro Gaming Expos and finally put on the Internet. It’s an unfinished game but it’s mostly playable, even if it is a bit more primitive than the PC version.

[Matt] wanted to build his own copy of SimCity for the NES, so that’s what he did. It’s a project that took months of work and a ton of research, but finally there’s a professional-looking cartridge version of SimCity.

With the ROM for SimCity loose on the Internet, that part of the build was relatively easy. You can still get EPROMs or EEPROMs, UV erasers, and a good programmer will run you fifty bucks through the usual vendors. There are even places on the Internet that will split up the emulator-compatible ROM file into two files for the character and program ROM in each NES cartridge. The trick here is finding the right cartridge with the right mapper. It turns out there are only four games that you can simply drop SimCity ROM chips into and expect everything to work. All of these games cost a small fortune, but their Famicom versions are cheap.

After carefully desoldering the Famicom game, soldering in the new chips, and applying a fancy professional label, [Matt] had his cartridge version of SimCity for the NES. It’s for a Famicom, though, but you can get adapters for that. Check out the video below.

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