The bike is of a recumbent design, featuring a relaxed riding position well suited to the sophisticated nature of a steam-powered vehicle. Sporting a wooden frame, the build carries a strong steampunk aesthetic. The flash boiler packs 100 feet of copper pipe, and there’s an electric pump and controller to handle water delivery from the stylish brass tank. The setup is capable of producing steam within 30 seconds of startup. Motive power is courtesy of a 1.5 inch bore single-cylinder steam engine, connected to the rear wheel via a belt drive.
The story of Linux so far, as short as it may be in the grand scheme of things, is one of constant forward momentum. There’s always another feature to implement, an optimization to make, and of course, another device to support. With developer’s eyes always on the horizon ahead of them, it should come as no surprise to find that support for older hardware or protocols occasionally falls to the wayside. When maintaining antiquated code monopolizes developer time, or even directly conflicts with new code, a difficult decision needs to be made.
Of course, some decisions are easier to make than others. Back in 2012 when Linus Torvalds officially ended kernel support for legacy 386 processors, he famously closed the commit message with “Good riddance.” Maintaining support for such old hardware had been complicating things behind the scenes for years while offering very little practical benefit, so removing all that legacy code was like taking a weight off the developer’s shoulders.
The rationale was the same a few years ago when distributions like Arch Linux decided to drop support for 32-bit hardware entirely. Maintainers had noticed the drop-off in downloads for the 32-bit versions of their distributions and decided it didn’t make sense to keep producing them. In an era where even budget smartphones are shipping with 64-bit processors, many Linux distributions have at this point decided 32-bit CPUs weren’t worth their time.
The Raspberry Pi the closest thing to a modular laptop. That’s the idea behind the Pi-Top, a laptop with a Raspberry Pi as a brain. Need an upgrade? No problem, just get the latest Pi, they’re up to four now.
Now the people behind the Pi-Top are releasing what can best be described as a brick of computing. The Pi-Top 4 is a designed as ‘The Sony Walkman for Making’, in which the form factor becomes a building block of anything you can imagine and probably a lot of things you can’t. Inside is a Raspberry Pi 4, a small OLED display, and a few buttons. On the bottom is a detachable ‘foundation plate’ that allows the Pi-Top 4 to connect to sensors, LEDs, and switches. The idea of all this building is that the brick-shaped Pi-Top 4 becomes a building block in anything you can imagine, be that a drone, a humanoid robot, or a portable photo booth. All of this is powered by the Raspberry Pi 4, no slouch when it comes to computational power.
Sometimes for a retrocomputing enthusiast it can be challenging to see a surviving machine gutted and used for another purpose. But in the case of [Tom Pick]’s Radio Shack TRS-80 based Steam Machine PC we can forgive him, because it began with a very unpromising machine that had most definitely seen better days.
The TRS-80 in question is a Model III, the all-in-one console device with a numerical keypad, CRT monitor, and dual 5.25″ floppy drives built in. This provided plenty of space for the components of a modern PC with a 12″ LCD monitor. The PC itself is a run-of-the mill 2.6 GHz Pentium and nothing exceptional, but its input devices are of note. The keyboard is a Red Dragon mechanical item which has been made to look the part in place of the old Radio Shack item with a set of custom colour-coded keycaps, while the pointing device in a particularly neat touch is a modern Radio Shack-branded mouse. The boot screen is the proper Radio Shack logo from the TRS-80’s heyday, meaning that if you didn’t know any differently you might think this was meant to be. Sadly the two floppy drives are unconnected, though we’re sure it would be possible to make a modern PC see them for a bit of 360k storage goodness.
We don’t see as many projects featuring the TRS-80 series as we should, and the model III is a particular rarity. Far more common in these pages is the portable Model 100, most recently gaining a cellular connection.
Houston’s historic third ward, aka “The Tre,” is ripe rife with history, and some of that history is digitally preserved and accessible through an art installation in the form of repurposed payphones. We love payphones for obvious reasons and seeing them alive and kicking warms our hearts. Packing them with local history checks even more boxes. Twenty-four people collaborated to rebuild the three phones which can be seen in the video after the break, including three visual artists, three ambassadors, and eighteen residents who put their efforts into making the phones relevant not only to the ward but specifically to the neighborhood. One phone plays sound clips from musicians who lived or still live in the ward, another phone has spoken word stories, and the third has field recordings from significant locations in The Tre.
Each phone is powered by a solar cell and a USB battery pack connected to a Teensy with an audio adapter board, and a 20 watt amplifier. Buttons 1-9 play back recorded messages exclusive to each phone, star will record a message, and zero will play back the user-recorded message. Apps for smart phones are easy for young folks to figure out but the payphones ensure that these time capsules can be appreciated by people of any age, regardless of how tech savvy they are and that is wise as well as attractive. The coin return lever and coin slot also have associated sound clips unlike regular payphones so the artists get extra credit.
Late last year, artist [Steve Messam]’s project “Whistle” involved 16 steam engine whistles around Newcastle that would fire at different parts of the day over three months. The goal of the project was bring back the distinctive sound of the train whistles which used to be fixture of daily life, and to do so as authentically as possible. [Steve] has shared details on the construction and testing of the whistles, which as it turns out was a far more complex task than one might expect. The installation made use of modern technology like Raspberry Pi and cellular data networks, but when it came to manufacturing the whistles themselves the tried and true ways were best: casting in brass before machining on a lathe to finish.
The original whistles are a peek into a different era. The bell type whistle has three major components: a large bell at the top, a cup at the base, and a central column through which steam is piped. These whistles were usually made by apprentices, as they required a range of engineering and manufacturing skills to produce correctly, but were not themselves a critical mechanical component.
In the original whistle shown here, pressurized steam comes out from within the bottom cup and exits through the thin gap (barely visible in the image, it’s very narrow) between the cup and the flat shelf-like section of the central column. That ring-shaped column of air is split by the lip of the bell above it, and the sound is created. When it comes to getting the right performance, everything matters. The pressure of the air, the size of the gap, the sharpness of the bell’s lip, the spacing between the bell and the cup, and the shape of the bell itself all play a role. As a result, while the basic design and operation of the whistles were well-understood, there was a lot of work to be done to reproduce whistles that not only operated reliably in all types of weather using compressed air instead of steam, but did so while still producing an authentic re-creation of the original sound. As [Steve] points out, “with any project that’s not been done before, you really can’t do too much testing.”
Embedded below is one such test. It’s slow-motion footage of what happens when the whistle fires after filling with rainwater. You may want to turn your speakers down for this one: locomotive whistles really were not known for their lack of volume.
Tamiya’s Mini 4WD toy line primarily consists of small 1:32 scale toy cars powered by AA batteries, which have no remote control and are guided around a plastic track by horizontally oriented drive guide wheels. Tuning and racing these cars is popular in many parts of the world, but this build is a little different.
After initial experiments with a modified Tamiya chassis are unsuccessful, a fresh build using a bespoke aluminium chassis is begun. A sturdy boiler is created, feeding into a piston which is used to drive all four wheels through a series of driveshafts.
It’s interesting to watch the iterative design process solve various problems such as piston wear and gearing. Performance is underwhelming for those used to the immense speed of the electric toys, but we’d love to see a competition series using steam powered racers.