Hackaday Links: November 1, 2020

We normally chuckle at high-profile auctions where people compete to pay as much as possible for items they clearly don’t need. It’s easy to laugh when the items on the block are things like paint-spattered canvases, but every once in a while some genuine bit of history that really piques our interest goes on sale. Such is the case with what is claimed to be an original Steve Wozniak-built Blue Box, going on sale November 5. The prospectus has an excellent summary of the history of the “Two Steves” and their early business venture making and selling these devices to Berkeley students eager to make free long distance phone calls. The item on sale is a very early rev, most likely assembled by Woz himself. The current owner claims to have bought it from Woz himself in the summer of 1972 while on a roadtrip from Sunnyvale to Los Angeles. Estimated to go for $4,000 to $6,000, we really hope this ends up in a museum somewhere — while we’ve seen attempts to recreate Woz’s Blue Box on Hackaday.io, letting a museum study an original would be a great glimpse into our shared technological history.

Not in the market for old tech? No problem — Digilent wants to get rid of 3,000 PCBs, and quickly. They posted the unusual offer on reddit a couple of days ago; it seems they have a huge stock of populated boards for a product that didn’t quite take the market by storm. Their intention is likely not to flood the market with scopes cobbled together from these boards, but rather to make them available to someone doing some kind of art installation or for educational purposes. It’s a nice gesture, and a decent attempt to keep these out of the e-waste stream, so check it out if you have a need.

Speaking of PCBs, SparkFun has just launched an interesting new service: SparkFun À La Carte. The idea is to make it really easy to design and build prototype boards. Instead of using traditional EDA software, users select different blocks from a menu. Select your processor, add components like displays and sensors, and figure out how you want to power it, and SparkFun will do the rest, delivering a fully assembled board in a few weeks. It certainly stands to suck the fun out of the design process while also hoovering up your pocketbook: “A $949 design fee will be applied to all initial orders of a design”. You can get your hands on the design files, but that comes with an extra fee: “they can be purchased separately for $150 by filling out this form”. But for someone who just needs to hammer out a quick design and get on with the next job, this could be a valuable tool.

Another day, another IoT ghost: Reciva Radio is shutting down its internet radio service. A large banner at the top of the page warns that the “website will be withdrawn” on January 31, 2021, but functionality on the site already appears limited. Users of the service are also reporting that their Reciva-compatible radios are refusing to stream content, apparently because they can’t download anything from the service’s back end. This probably doesn’t have a huge impact — I’d never heard of Reciva before — but it makes me look at the Squeezebox radio we’ve got in the kitchen and wonder how long for the world that thing is. It’s not all bad news, though — owners of the bricked radios will now have a great opportunity to hack them back into usefulness.

By the time this article is published, Halloween will be history and the hordes of cosplaying candy-grubbers who served as welcome if ironic respite from this non-stop horror show of a year will be gone. Luckily, though, if it should come to pass that the dead rise from their graves — it’s still 2020, after all — we’ll know exactly how to defeat them with this zombie invasion calculator. You may remember that last year Dominik Czernia did something similar, albeit with vampires. Switching things up from the hemophagic to the cerebrophagic this year, his calculator lets you model different parameters, like undead conversion percentage, zombie demographics, and attack speed. You’ve also got tools for modeling the response of the living to the outbreak, to see how best to fight back. Spoiler alert: everyone will need to bring Tallahassee-level badassery if we’re going to get through this.

Weird Clocks And A Two Chip Apple I

The Apple I, [Woz]’s original, had about sixty chips on a single board. Most of these chips were logic glue or hilariously ancient DRAMs. The real work was done by the 6502, the 6821 PIA, and the Signetics video chip. It’s a simple computer, really, and following the now popular tradition of two-chip computers, [Dave] built a replica of the Apple I using a 6502 and an ATMega.

The ATMega in this project takes care of everything – the 4k of RAM, the few bytes of ROM, the IO, and even the clock. With the 6502 you can have a little bit of fun with the clock; because the 6502 reads data off the bus a few nanoseconds off the falling edge of the clock and writes on the rising edge, [Dave] played around with the duty cycle of the clock to give the ATMega a bit more time to do its thing. With a 50% duty cycle, the 16Mhz ‘Mega has about eight cycles to decode an address and read or write some data. By making the low part of a clock cycle longer, he has about 45 cycles on the ‘Mega to do all the work. All of this was inspired by a fantastic tutorial on the 6502 clock.

Right now [Dave] has some hex values displaying on a small LCD, while the real I/O is handled by a serial connection to a computer. It’s retro enough, and a future update will include a faux cassette interface, possibly using an SD card for storage.

[Woz] Prints And Spends His Own $2 Bills

[Steve Wozniak’s] damn the man, devil may care attitude continues to show with this recent interview. Here he shows off the pad of $2 bills he had made up. He’ll sell one sheet of them to you for $5. Do you think that’s a scam? He say’s “you’d be an idiot not to buy it for five bucks” and after we dug a little deeper, he’s right.

Now, you really need to watch the video after the break before you read the rest of this feature. Trust us, it’s extremely entertaining. [Woz] mentions that he hired a local printer to make the pads for him, but he got the paper from a high-quality print shop. They meet the specs of the federal government and by law they’re legal tender. Each pad has a page of four bills which can be torn off of the gummed top, and there are perforations between each bill for easy separation.

Nothing illegal is going on here. We followed one of the YouTube commentor’s links to this article [Woz] wrote about his $2 bill exploits. The high-quality printer he buys the paper from is the Bureau of Printing and Engraving. He buys the bills in sheets and pays a premium for that option. Each $2 bill costs him $3. But the fun he’s had over the years is probably worth it.

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Woz’s Watch Makes Air Travelers Nervous

[Steve Wozniak], Last of the freelance hackers and Greatest swordfighter in the world, lives a hacker life you couldn’t even dream about. The folks over at medGadget ran into him and learned about his watch. In their interview (embedded after the break) [Steve] shows off the Nixie tube wristwatch that we can only assume he created himself.

The watch consists of two tiny tubes, a PCB, and battery. There must be an accelerometer in there because the display is switched off unless the watch is held at a certain configurable angle. Once held in the correct position the display flashes the hours, then the minutes.

The time is set by two buttons inside the watch’s case. [Steve] goes on to explain the trepidation his fellow passengers have when he disassembles the watch mid-flight and starts to monkey around with the buttons inside. Not to be stopped at electronic tomfoolery, he also shares his delight in sneaking ceramic knives on board so that he can properly cut his steaks.

Lifestyle aside, the small Nixie clock packages we’ve seen don’t even come close to this. We assume this is pretty hard on the battery and wonder if the watch gets hot if you’re stuck in a long meeting and constantly looking at the time. We can get over both of those limitations just for the cool factor alone.

Update: Reader [Stephen] left a comment pointing to the origin of  the watch. It is controlled by a PIC microprocessor, boasts a four-month battery life at 50 viewings per day, and there’s some code available.  It is for sale but currently out of stock.

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