A Mainframe Tape Drive Emulator

Retro computer fans come in all shapes and sizes. Some like the big name machines from the dawn of the home computer era, others like collecting quirky pieces like early laptops and handheld devices. Even more obscure are those who choose to collect old mainframe hardware. This can be challenging, due to its relative obscurity and the limited resources available. [skaarj] is just one such fanatic, however, and has begun creating a PERTEC tape drive emulator for his Cold War era mainframe.

For those of us who didn’t work in industrial computing back in the 1980s, the PERTEC interface is an unfamiliar beast. It became somewhat of a defacto standard for connecting tape drives to mainframes. [skaarj] aims to understand and emulate this interface, creating a device with a full suite of capabilities. The PERTEC Whisperer is intended to be capable of reading and writing from PERTEC tape drives, including dumping tapes to an integrated SD card. The device will also be able to emulate a drive when connected to a mainframe.

Thus far, the adventure has already netted some successes. [skaarj] learned useful tricks, like rewinding a 9-track Qualstar 1260 with VHS tape, and how to pull apart the protocols involved using an old-school HP1662 logic analyzer. We can’t wait to see where the project goes next, and it might just have us hunting for a mainframe to call our very own.

Hackaday Links: April 14, 2019

Look at this prototype Apple smartphone from 1993! For a long time, Apple has been in the phone game, with many failed attempts to combine a laptop screen with a phone. The most noteworthy attempt would be the Snow White phone designed around 1982, but this didn’t go to market. Apple tried again in 1993 with the Walt phone, and now we have someone willing to tear open a prototype. The guts are apparently a contemporary PowerBook (something along the lines of a PowerBook 140 or 170), which means you’re probably looking at a 68030 processor and between 2 and 8 Megabytes of RAM. The rest of the hardware looks fairly standard; SCSI drive and a fax/modem adapter. The software, though, is Hypercard. Here’s the video of the thing booting, and it’s an interesting look at the ‘computer appliance’ trend from the late 90s; once again, Apple was ahead of the curve.

Disregarding any of the implications of geopolitics of the time (as we do with these sorts of things), the Horten Ho 299 was a jet-powered flying wing that first flew in 1944. It’s in the Smithsonian now (and on display, at Dulles) and is a weird, strange, but incredibly interesting footnote in aviation history (because of the implications of geopolitics at the time, but again, we’re not going to get into that). Now the Horten flies again. A company unrelated to Herr Horten has recreated the one-man flying wing. It’s a real experimental aircraft now. Sure, it’s a piston-powered airplane, but if you want to fly something that looks even cooler than something Burt Rutan grew out of fiberglass, this is what you want.

For the past few months, Hackster has been running a BadgeLove contest, now the entries are closed and the winners are here. The Badge Of All Badges is a contactless/NFC badge, the blinkiest has some awesome documentation, and the best art is directly from Pokemon Yellow.

Vinyl has made a comeback, and so far we’ve been accepting of that. The album art is better when it’s bigger, and a record is more of an experience than popping in a CD or streaming some music. There’s a reason your favorite Beatles song is the B-side of Abbey Road. What’s the next frontier of high-end audio? Reel to reel, and Thorens is making a new tape machine. First off: it costs thirteen thousand dollars. It’s a quarter inch tape, and yeah, you can totally find a machine that will play quarter inch tapes for far less money.

Due to my vocation, I am awash in press releases every day. This doesn’t give me access to technology trends, far from it. It gives me access to marketing trends. Want to know about the fog, or ‘the cloud at ground level’? The first time anyone with two brain cells saw that phrase was in an unsolicited email, and it’s in my inbox. The latest trend — and I assure you this didn’t happen last year — is advertising explicit targeted towards April 20th. 4/20 is now mainstream, because marketing decided you can sell stuff to stoners. I’m looking at an email right now that starts with, “Hi Brian, With 4/20 fast approaching I thought you’d be interested….” There’s another one for vapes. This year, 4/20 has become a consumer holiday, so this year be on the lookout for the new, innovative ways you’re being sold stuff.

Interstellar 8-Track: The Not-So-Low-Tech Data Recorders Of Voyager

On the outside chance that we ever encounter a space probe from an alien civilization, the degree to which the world will change cannot be overestimated. Not only will it prove that we’re not alone, or more likely weren’t, depending on how long said probe has been traveling through space, but we’ll have a bonanza of super-cool new technology to analyze. Just think of the fancy alloys, the advanced biomimetic thingamajigs, the poly-godknowswhat composites. We’ll take a huge leap forward by mimicking the alien technology; the mind boggles.

Sadly, we won’t be returning the favor. If aliens ever snag one of our interstellar envoys, like one of the Voyager spacecraft, they’ll see that we sent them some really old school stuff. While one team of alien researchers will be puzzling over why we’d encode images on a phonograph record, another team will be tearing apart – an 8-track tape recorder?

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Visit Tapigami Tape City, Where Tape Is The Fabric Of Society

With so many cool things going on at Bay Area Maker Faire, it takes something special to stand out from the crowd. Covering several hundred square feet of floor and wall with creations made of tape would do the trick. Welcome to Tapigami Tape City, a traveling art exhibit by [Danny Scheible].

Many of us used construction paper, glue, and tape to express our creativity in our youth. Tapigami’s minimalism drops the paper and glue, practitioners of the art stick to tape. It is an accessible everyday material so there is no barrier to entry to start having fun. And while tape does have some obvious limitations, it is possible to get quite creatively elaborate and still use tape almost exclusively.

The Tapigami booth is very happy to accommodate those wishing to learn the way of tape. At their table, young and old alike are welcome to sit down and start building basic shapes out of masking tape. This begins with cones, cylinders, and cubes which are then combined into more complex creations — it’s kind of like OpenSCAD, but all with tape.

Attendees of Bay Area Maker Faire should not miss seeing Tape City in person, it’s quite the sight to behold in the south-east corner of Zone 2. (Not far from the Tindie/Hackaday booth, stop by and say hi!) And while it’s plenty of fun to stick to tape, we can see the Hackaday demographic taking these concepts up a few notches. If you’ve pulled off something mind blowing using tape, you know where our tip line is.

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Super-Blue CNC Part Fixturing

Simple clamps are great if you need to keep the pressure on two parallel surfaces, but if you have an irregular plane, or you need to cut through it, clamps are not the correct tool. The folks at [NYC CNC] feature a video with a clever hack borrowing from other disciplines. Painters tape is applied to the top of a level mounting surface in the machine and then burnished. The same is done to the bottom of the workpiece. Superglue is drizzled between the tape layers and pressed together so now the stock is held firmly below the toolhead.

Some parts are machined in the video, which can be seen below, and the adhesion holds without any trouble. One of the examples they cut would be difficult to hold without damage or stopping the machine. The accepted wisdom is that superglue holds well to a slightly porous surface like tape, but it doesn’t like do as well with smooth surfaces like metal. Removing residue-free tape at the end of a cut is also cleaner and faster than glue any day.

If you have yet to cut your teeth, you can watch our very own Elliot Williams getting introduced to CNC machines or a portable machine even a child can use.

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Magnetic Tape Storage May Not Be Retro

Magnetic storage is quickly becoming an antiquated technology but IBM may have given it a few more years. Currently, magnetic storage is still manufactured as hard disk drives (HDDs) but you won’t find a tape drive in a modern consumer computer. That’s not likely to change but IBM is pushing the envelope to make a tape drive that will be smaller and more economical than other massive storage options. In many ways, they’re the antithesis of solid state drives (SSDs) because tape drives are slow to retrieve data but capable of holding a lot inexpensively.

Three advances are responsible for this surge in capacity. Firstly, the tape “grains,” where each bit is recorded, have been shrunk by sputtering metal to a film instead of painting it on. Secondly, better servo control allows the reading mechanisms to read those tiny grains with the necessary accuracy. Lastly, stronger computation is used to read the data by using error detection and correction because when your tape is traveling four meters per second, it takes a long time to go back and double-check something.

IBM’s tape drive won’t replace your hard drive but it could back it up daily, many times over.

Check this out if your wetware needs a memory boost or this if your breakfast needs a memory boost.

Hey NASA, Do You Want Your Stuff Back?

What would you do if you found hidden away artifacts of aerospace technology from the Apollo era?

You call NASA.

Two hulking computers — likely necessitating the use of a crane to move them — and hundreds of tape reels were discovered in the basement of a former IBM engineer by their heir and a scrap dealer cleaning out the deceased’s home. Labels are scarce, and those that are marked are mostly from the late 1960s through the mid 1970s, including data from the Pioneer 8 to 11 missions, as well as the Helios missions.

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