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.

Vintage Computer Festival West Is Almost Here

If you’ve got an interest in technology, a penchant for that particular shade of yellowed plastic, and happen to be located in the California area, then we’ve got the event for you. The Vintage Computer Festival West is happening this weekend, August 3rd and 4th, at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California.

The Vintage Computer Festival offers a truly unique experience for anyone with a passion for all the silicon that’s come before. Where else could you sit in on a roundtable of early Apple employees discussing the bevy of authentic ultra-rare Apple I computers that will be on display, or get up close and personal with a restored Apollo Guidance Computer? If you really want to dive in on the deep end, Hackaday’s own Bill Herd will be in attendance giving his lecture about the effects of heat and time on the internal components of decades-old pieces of hardware.

Still skeptical? Perhaps you’ll get a kick out of the exhibit that celebrates more than two decades of Quake by hosting a LAN game where the classic game is running on less common platforms like the RS/6000 series or the Sun Ulta. If you’re interested in seeing modern reconstructions of classic technology, there will be plenty of that on display as well. Eric Schlaepfer will be showing off his transistor-scale replica of the iconic 6502 microprocessor, and you won’t want to miss the Cactus in all its rainbow colored toggle switch and blinkenlight glory.

Of course, if you’re in the market for your very own piece of computing history, there’s no better place to be. The consignment area gives showgoers a chance to buy and sell all manners of vintage and unique hardware, harking back to the days where the best way to get your hands on a computer (or the parts to build one) was by attending a dedicated event. Plus, no shipping fees!

Put simply, there really is something for everyone at the Vintage Computer Festival. Even if you weren’t around to experience Apple II or Commodore 64 in their prime, these events are a rare opportunity to learn about the early days of a technology that today we all take for granted. Have you ever wondered how programs were entered into those early computers with nothing more than a bank of toggle switches and an array of LEDs? One of the passionate exhibitors at VCF will be more than happy to walk you through the process.

At the end of the day, preserving this technology and sharing it with future generations is really what it’s all about. Just as in previous years, Hackaday is proud to sponsor the Vintage Computer Festival and further their goal of ensuring this incredible shared heritage isn’t lost.

The Vintage Computer Festival East Is Happening This Weekend

This weekend is the premier vintage computer meetup on the East Coast. It’s VCF East, and it’s all going down this weekend, Friday to Sunday afternoon, in Wall, New Jersey.

2019 is a fantastic year for computer history, being the 50th anniversary of Unix, and the 40th anniversary of Atari. For that, there will be exhibits of dozens of systems running some sort of *nix, including systems from Apple, AT&T, DEC, IBM, NeXT, SGI, and Sun. For the Atari extravaganza, you’re getting the full line of Atari 8-bitters, some STs, and a Falcon 030. There will be other exhibits about POTS, so bring a landline phone, a progress update on a 1/10th scale, pulse-level simulator of the ENIAC, and someone will assuredly have Super Mario Brothers for the C64 running.

Keynotes reflect this great year of computer history with a keynote by the one and only Ken Thompson, co-inventor of Unix. On Sunday, there’s a talk with Joe Decuir, engineer who helped develop the Atari VCS and Atari 800. There’s also a Homebrew Computing Discussion Panel.

As always, there will be a flea market, an understated highlight of any Vintage Computer Festival. It’s like a museum you can buy. One time there was an LCD for an Apple IIc. Too rich for my blood, but technically the first Apple laptop.

As with all VCF East events, it’s held at the InfoAge Science & History Center the site of the Camp Evans Signal Corps R&D lab during World War II. It’s basically the site of what would become DARPA. You’ve also got the Silverball pinball museum just up the road in Asbury Park. There’s plenty to do and see on the Jersey Shore this weekend, and it’s not even Labor Day.

Hackaday Links: April 21, 2019

A Russian company has developed a drone with a very interesting control scheme. It’s a VTOL fixed wing, that takes off like a bicopter, transitions to use wings for lift, flies around for half an hour or so, and then lands on its tail. This is a big ‘un; the reported weight is 50 pounds. Although the available footage really doesn’t give any sense of scale, we would estimate the wingspan as somewhere between four and five feet. Fixed-wing VTOLs are close to the holy grail of current drone science — wings actually generate lift, and VTOL means Uber can deliver McDonalds to your driveway.

What happens when you give an idiot a USB killer? $60,000 in damages. A former student at the College of St. Rose killed 59 computers with a USB killer, basically a charge pump that dumps a hundred or so volts back into a USB port, destroying the computer. Yes, you can just buy USB killers on the Internet, and yes you can film yourself zapping computers and posting the videos on social media. Both are dumb ideas.

This week was huge for the preservation of our digital culture. The source for the original Infocom games, such as Zork and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy have been archived and released. This is a rather interesting development, as these games were written in Zork Implementation Lanugage (ZIL), a language that is used by no one and there’s almost zero documentation. Yes, we have the source, but not a compiler. It’s Lisp-ish, and there are people working to make new games in this language. Also this week is the release of the source for Leisure Suit Larry. Hackaday readers will be familiar with Leisure Suit Larry as the protagonist is a 38-year-old loser who lives in his mother’s basement. This game goes off the rails when the protagonist decides to leave the basement, but it was written a long time ago, and I guess Al Lowe didn’t foresee the Internet or something. Tip of the very fancy hat to @textfiles here.

You in Jersey? The Vintage Computer Festival East is May 3-5th, and it’s bound to be a grand time. Keynotes are by Steve Bellovin, co-inventor of USENET, Ken Thompson (!), co-inventor of UNIX, and Joe Decuir, co-inventor of the Atari VCS, Atari 800, and the Commodore Amiga. There’s also a Software Store (new this year), which we can only hope is like walking into Babbage’s. Protip: while you’re there, go up to Asbury Park and visit the Silverball Museum. It’s a whole lot of pinball.

For easier production and assembly of circuit boards, you should only place your components on one side. Doing so means you don’t have to flip the board and run it through the pick and place again, and you don’t have to worry about glue. This is a single-sided circuit board. There’s only one side. It’s a Mobius PCB, the flex-circuit version of a handmade circuit board made with a conductive pen.

This Weekend: Vintage Computer Festival Pacific Northwest

The most iconic parts of computer history come alive next weekend in Seattle during the Vintage Computer Festival Pacific Northwest. It’s all happening March 23rd and 24th at the Living Computers Museum+Labs.

VCF celebrates the great hardware that has sprung up during the technological march of the last fifty years. The VCF series has been around for many years with events in Mountain View, CA and Wall, NJ, but this one is new. VCF Pacific Northwest was founded in 2018 and Hackaday’s own Dan Maloney had a great time at the inaugural event.

Keeping vintage computers running is a trick in itself and this where you can meet those who have made it a mission and a hobby as they set up exhibit tables and show off the rare, exotic, and of course nostalgic equipment. There are exhibits with  PDP-8 PDP-10, and an emulated PDP-6 (because only 23 were sold and none remain). You’ll find a Gigatron TTL computer, several flavors of Atari, and some slightly newer equipment like the Indego RISC-based workstation. There are exhibits on recreating classic computers, and buidling your own single-board computers from open source designs. The event is being held in a museum and this gives you the opportunity to check out their collection.

This year’s lineup of speakers is amazing. Joe Decuir will be speaking on Saturday morning. His long list of inventions and contributions to computing (and video gaming) make it hard to decide what to mention first. He’s well known for his time at Atari, but also developed the Amiga, and worked on USB and a laundry list of other standards.

Hackaday is once again proud to be a sponsor of VCF Pacific Northwest, VCF East, and VCF West.

Hackaday Links: December 2, 2018

CircuitPython is becoming a thing! CircuitPython was originally developed from MicroPython and ported to various ARM boards by Adafruit. Now, SparkFun is shipping their own CircuitPython board based on the nRF52840, giving this board an ARM Cortex-M4 and a Bluetooth radio.

You like contests, right? You like circuit boards too, right? Hackster.io now has a BadgeLove contest going on to create the Blinkiest Badge on Earth. Yes, this is a #badgelife contest, with the goal of demonstrating how much you can do in a single circuit badge. Prizes include a trip to San Francisco, a badass drone, a skateboard, a t-shirt, or socks. YES, THERE ARE SOCKS.

We have a date for the Vintage Computer Festival Pacific Northwest 2019. It’s going down March 23 and 24 at the Living Computers Museum in Seattle. The call for exhibitors is now open so head over and check it out. So far the tentative list of exhibits and presenters include Attack of the SPARC Clones, and I must mention that SPARC systems are showing up on eBay with much higher frequency lately. I have no idea why.

Need another con? How about a KiCAD con? The inaugural conference for KiCAD users is happening next April in Chicago and the call for talk proposals just opened up. The con focuses on topics like using KiCAD in a manufacturing setting, what’s going on ‘under the hood’ of KiCAD, and how to use KiCAD to make an advanced product.

Spanish police have stopped a homemade scooter. Someone, apparently, was tearing around a public road in Galacia on a homemade scooter. From the single picture, we’re going to say ‘not bad.’ It’s a gas-powered weed wacker mounted to a homemade frame.

Every year, in December, we take a look back at what Hackaday has accomplished in the past twelve months. Sure, we gave out hundreds of thousands of dollars in awards in the Hackaday Prize, and yes, we’ve pushed our coverage of tech advancements into weird, uncharted, but awesome territory. Our biggest accomplishment, though, is always how many readers we reach. This year, we had a slight fall-off in our readership in the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea. We’re down from 156 views in 2017 to 75 views this year. While the year isn’t over, we don’t expect that number to change much. What was the cause of this drop-off? We’re not quite sure. Only time will tell, and we’re looking forward to serving fresh hacks every day to the DPRK in 2019.

This Weekend: The Vintage Computer Festival West

This weekend it’s all going down at the Vintage Computer Museum in Mountain View, California. The Vintage Computer Festival West is happening this weekend

What’s going on this year at VCF West? Far too much. The exhibits include everything from floptical disks, a fully restored and operation PDP-11/45, home computers from the UK and Japan, typewriters converted into teletypes, a disintegrated CPU, and LISP machines. The talks are equally spectacular, with a keynote from [Tim Paterson], the creator of 86-DOS, the basis of MS-DOS. You’ll also hear about PLATO, the Internet before the Internet, PDP-1 demonstrations, and if we’re lucky they’re going to fire up the ancient IBM 1401. There will also be a vintage computer consignment, which is at least as interesting as the exhibits. The consignment is basically a museum, but you can buy the exhibits.

VCF West is happening this weekend at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, itself a worthy destination for a day trip. For one weekend a year, though, the Computer History Museum is taken over by VCF attendees and becomes the greatest place to learn about this history of computing. They even have one of those Waymo bug cars in their autonomous vehicle exhibit.

All of this is going down this Saturday and Sunday, starting at 9am. Tickets are $20 for one day, $30 for the entire weekend, and yes, that includes admission to the Computer History Museum. Don’t miss out!