This Mini Soviet Micro Will Have Astounding Attention To Detail

As the retro craze has gone mainstream, we’ve grown used to seeing “mini” versions of classic hardware, preloaded with a selection of games and ready for a wallow in nostalgia. Unfortunately for fans of the less well known platforms, the only devices to get the mini treatment so far are popular ones such as the Nintendo consoles, or the Commodore 64. This is something [Svofski] is aiming to change for one classic micro, by producing a mini version of the Soviet Vector-06c. And unlike the Commodore with its fake keyboard, this one will work in its entirety and have a fully-functional keyboard.

It’s a build that’s not finished yet. But in this case that’s no bad thing, because such is the extreme attention to detail that you’ll want to stick around and watch it unfold. The electronics will come courtesy of an FPGA recreation of the hardware, while the Vector’s unique keyboard is being recreated in miniature, with keycaps designed to fit a particular Alps switch. These are 3D-printed, painted, and then marked with their decals using stencils carefully etched from copper sheet. Even if you have no interest in the Vector-06c, these techniques could find a place in so many other projects.

The wonderfully ingenious and diverse world of Soviet technology has found its way onto these pages many times over the years, including at least one other microcomputer, and even a supercomputer. If your interests extend behind the Iron Curtain though, you might wish to read our colleague [Voja Antonic]’s account of hacking in Communist Yugoslavia.

Soviet Core Memory Experiments

What do you do when you’ve bought some old Soviet core memory modules on eBay? If you are [CuriousMarc], you wire it up to some test connectors and use your test bench to see if the core memory still works. Spoiler alert: it does.

While it seems crude by today’s standard, there was a time when these memory modules would have been the amazing miniature tech of their day. Each little magnetic torus represents a bit and the modules have 1,024 and 4,096 tiny little donuts strung together in a grid.

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Hackaday Links: March 1, 2020

Talk about buried treasure: archeologists in Germany have – literally – unearthed a pristine Soviet spy radio, buried for decades outside of Cologne. While searching for artifacts from a Roman empire settlement, the archeologists found a pit containing the Soviet R-394KM transceiver, built in 1987 and apparently buried shortly thereafter without ever being used. It was found close to a path in the woods and not far from several sites of interest to Cold War-era spies. Curiously, the controls on the radio are labeled not in Cyrillic characters, but in the Latin alphabet, suggesting the radio was to be used by a native German speaker. The area in which it was found is destined to be an open-cast lignite mine, which makes us think that other Cold War artifacts may have fallen victim to the gore-covered blades of Bagger 288.

Good news for Betelgeuse fans, bad news for aficionados of cataclysmic cosmic explosions: it looks like the red giant in Orion isn’t going to explode anytime soon. Betelgeuse has been dimming steadily and rapidly since October of 2019; as a variable star such behavior is expected, but the magnitude of its decline was seen by some astronomers as a sign that the star was reaching the point in its evolution where it would go supernova. Alas, Betelgeuse started to brighten again right on schedule, suggesting that the star is not quite ready to give up the ghost. We’d have loved to witness a star so bright it rivals the full moon, but given the times we live in, perhaps it’s best not to have such a harbinger of doom appear.

If you plan to be in the Seattle area as the winter turns to spring, you might want to check out the Vintage Computer Fair Pacific Northwest. We visited back during the show’s first year and had a good time, and the Living Computers: Museum + Labs, where the event is held, is not to be missed. The Museum of Flight is supposed to be excellent as well, and not far away.

Mozilla announced this week that Firefox would turn on DNS over HTTPS (DoH) by default in the United States. DoH encrypts the DNS requests that are needed to translate a domain name to an IP address, which normally travel in clear text and are therefore easily observed. Easily readable DNS transactions are also key to content blockers, which has raised the hackles of regulators and legislators over the plan, who are singing the usual “think of the children” song. That DoH would make user data collection and ad-tracking harder probably has nothing to do with their protests.

And finally, sad news from California as daredevil and amateur rocketeer “Mad” Mike Hughes has been killed in a crash of his homemade rocket. The steam-powered rocket was to be a follow-up to an earlier, mostly successful flight to about 1,900 feet (580 m), and supposed to reach about 5,000 feet (1.5 km) at apogee. But in an eerily similar repeat of the mishap that nearly killed Evel Knievel during his Snake River Canyon jump in 1974, Mike’s parachute deployed almost as soon as his rocket left the launch rails. The chute introduced considerable drag before being torn off the rocket by the exhaust plume. The rocket continued in a ballistic arc to a considerable altitude, but without a chute Mike’s fate was sealed. Search for the video at your own peril, as it’s pretty disturbing. We never appreciated Mike’s self-professed Flat Earth views, but we did like his style. We suppose, though, that such an ending was more likely than not.

RC Ground Effect Vehicle Skims Over The Water

In the 1960s the Soviet Union began experimenting with what they called ekranoplans, ground effect vehicles (GEVs) that were something of a hybrid between a ship and a large airplane. Their stubby wings didn’t provide enough lift for the vehicle to fly in the traditional sense, the craft essentially rode on a cushion of pressurized air produced by the aerodynamic interaction between the wings and the surface of the water. But after decades of testing, the ekranoplan never became much more than a curiosity for American intelligence agencies to ponder over.

Now [Peter Sripol] has built his own version of what the CIA dubbed the “Caspian Sea Monster”, and judging by the video of him “flying” it around a lake, the design seems to tick all the boxes. The advantage of a GEV is that it’s far faster than a ship and more fuel efficient than an aircraft of similar size. They also operate low enough to avoid enemy radar, which made them very appealing for military applications. Not that any of those characteristics apply to an RC vehicle, but at least it looks cool.

Ironically, it took some extra effort for [Peter] to keep his scratch built ekranoplan from getting airborne. Built out of foam covered with aluminum tape, the craft was light enough that even the tiny wings were enough to break it free from the ground effect if it got going fast enough. It didn’t help that the electric ducted fan motors used were probably a bit too powerful as well.

But by carefully adjusting the throttle and control surfaces, [Peter] was able to keep his craft firmly planted in the ground effect most of the time. Seeing the large RC craft floating just a few inches over the water is very impressive, and thanks to the application of some Soviet-style iconography on its burnished aluminum body, it looks like found-footage from a Cold War test program.

Hackaday readers will likely be familiar with [Peter] and his exploits. From building his own human-scale airplane out of foam board to convincing a cordless drill that it can fly, he’s creations have never been overly concerned with the status quo.

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3D-Printer And CNC Make This Russian Calculator Bilingual

Let’s be clear right up front: there are probably more obvious solutions to the problem of using a Russian calculator when you don’t speak Russian than printing new keys and engraving translated markings on them. But easy solutions are boring and generally considered beyond the scope of Hackaday articles, so let’s dive in.

They say that mathematics is the universal language, but that’s only true to an extent. Still, even with our limited non-existent Cyrillic skills, the Russian keyboard on this RPN calculator isn’t that hard to figure out. But as [Amen] points out, in the midst of fevered calculations, one prefers not to mentally translate Χ→П to STO or remember that В↑ is the Enter key. So he printed a set of replacements for the confusing keys from PLA. While pondering how to safely fixture such small parts for the later engraving step, [Amen] hit on a genius solution: move the print bed to the CNC router and fixture everything in one go. The resulting characters are large enough to be legible and deep enough to be filled with air-drying polymer clay for contrast. After sanding and polishing, the calculator looks like it came from the Министерство электронной промышленности that way.

Honestly, we’d love to get a look inside this calculator. The insides of Russian electronics can be fascinating, and we’ve even seen entire forums dedicated to decapping Russian parts. But we understand the desire to keep it intact.

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Spy Tech: Tiny Spy Plane Becomes Cold War Prize

What looks like something famous, is much smaller, and is embroiled in a web of cold war cloak-and-dagger intrigue? It sounds like the answer could be Mini-Me from the Austin Powers movies, but we were actually thinking of the D-21 supersonic spy drone. Never heard of it? It didn’t have a very long service life, but it was a tiny little unmanned SR-71 and is part of a spy story that would fit right in with James Bond, if not Austin Powers.

The little plane had a wingspan of only 19 feet — compared to the SR-71’s 56 foot span — and was 42 feet long. It could fly at about Mach 3.3 at 95,000 feet and had a range of around 3,500 miles. It shared many characteristics with its big brother including the use of titanium and a design to present a low RADAR cross-section.

The Spy Who Photographed Me

With today’s global economy and increased international cooperation, it is hard to remember just how tense the late 1960s were. Governments wanted to see what other governments were up to. Satellite technology would eventually fill that role, but even though spy satellites first appeared in 1959, they used film that had to be retrieved by an airplane as it fell from the sky and then processed. Not exactly real time. More effective satellites would have to wait for better imaging technology — see the video below for just how bad those old satellite images were. That left spy planes to do the bulk of the work.

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In Soviet Russia, Computer Programs You

We admire [Alex Studer’s] approach to schoolwork. His final assignment in his history class was to do an open-ended research project on any topic and — this is key — using any medium. He’d recently watched a video about how Tetris came from the former Soviet Union, and adding in a little eBay research set out to build a period-accurate Soviet computer replica. The post covers the technical details, but if you want to read the historical aspects the school paper is also online.

The first decision was what CPU to use and [Alex] picked the U880 which is a Soviet Z80. All the usual parts you would use with a Z80 have U880 equivalents, so that fleshed out the rest of the design. There were a few concessions made. Instead of a bulky analog monitor, the replica uses an LCD display. Instead of an audio cassette recorder, the new machine uses a CompactFlash socket. We don’t think those are bad decisions. He also replaced the Soviet EPROMs with modern parts. Although the original parts appeared to program correctly, they were unreliable in operation. [Alex] theorizes that his programmer did not generate enough programming voltage to fully program the cells, so they would pass at the low speeds used by the programmer, but not work in the actual circuit.

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