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ESP Gets FCC and CE

พุธ, 12/17/2014 - 16:00

The ESP8266 Internet of Things module is the latest and greatest thing to come out of China. It’s ideal for turning plastic Minecraft blocks into Minecraft servers, making your toilet tweet, or for some bizarre home automation scheme. This WiFi module is not, however, certified by the FCC. The chipset, on the other hand, is.

Having a single module that’s able to run code, act as a UART to WiFi transceiver, peek and poke a few GPIOs, all priced at about $4 is a game changer, and all your favorite silicon companies are freaking out wondering how they’re going to beat the ESP8266. Now the chipset is FCC certified, the first step to turning these modules into products.

This announcement does come with a few caveats: the chipset is certified, not the module. Each version of the module must be certified by itself, and there are versions that will never be certified by the FCC. Right now, we’re looking at the ESP8266-06, -07, -08, and -12 modules – the ones with a metal shield – as being the only ones that could potentially pass an FCC cert. Yes, those modules already have an FCC logo on them, but you’re looking at something sold for under $5 in China, here.

Anyone wanting to build a product with the ESP will, of course, also need to certify it with the FCC. This announcement hasn’t broken down any walls, but it has cracked a window.

Filed under: hardware

Trinket EDC Contest Drawing #3 Results

พุธ, 12/17/2014 - 13:00

We’ve held our third drawing for the Trinket Everyday Carry Contest. Once again we’ve used a Pro Trinket to pick the random winner. This week’s winner is [Scissorfeind] with his project Stylin’ safety jacket

In true hack style, [Scissorfeind] went into this project with two goals: A jacket that will be visible at night, and keep him “looking f*cking sick”. The jacket itself is a faux leather affair from a thrift store. [Scissorfeind] added some studs for bling, and he’s working on adding a ton of electronics for light.

The Pro Trinket will be driving a series of LED matrices, which [Scissorfeind] is working on turning into POV displays. The matrices come from an LED clock which [Scissorfeind] saved from the landfill. In fact, most of the parts in the jacket are upcycled from e-waste. The jacket is just starting to come together. We can’t wait to see the final results!

We hope that [Scissorfeind] enjoys his Bus Pirate V3.6  from The Hackaday Store. The Bus Pirate was designed by former Hackaday writer [Ian Lesnet] as a Swiss Army knife of electronic communications. If you’re trying to connect to a circuit with  SPI, I²C, JTAG, or UART, the Bus Pirate has you covered. It can do plenty more though – from reading analog data to programming components. Check out [Brian Benchoff’s] full review on the Bus Pirate V3.6 product page!

If the pseudo random number gods didn’t smile on you this week, don’t worry, there are still two more chances to win a random drawing! Our next drawing will be on 12/23/2014 at 9pm EST. The prize will once again be a Cordwood Puzzle! To be eligible you need to submit your project as an official entry and publish at least one project log during the week.

The main contest entry window closes on January 2, 2015 – but don’t wait for the last minute! Hit the contest page and build some awesome wearable or pocketable electronics!

Filed under: contests, Featured

DRM Protection Removed for… Coffee?

พุธ, 12/17/2014 - 10:00

Keurig, the manufacturer of a single-serve coffee brewing system, has a very wide following amongst coffee drinkers. Their K-cup (pre-packaged coffee grounds with a coffee filter, all in a plastic container) is an interesting concept and makes brewing a single cup of coffee much more efficient over making a whole pot. Their newer line of coffee makers, the Keurig 2.0, has some interesting (and annoying) security features though, which [Kate Gray] has found an interesting and simple way around.

The DRM security in these coffee makers is intended to keep third-party “cups” from being used in the Keurig. It can recognize an authentic Keurig cup, and can stop the operation of the coffee pot if a knockoff is placed in the machine. We can only assume that this is because Keurig makes a heap of cash by selling its canisters of coffee. The simple solution? Removing one wire from a wiring harness inside of the case.

There are other ways around the security on these devices, but when [Kate Gray] actually investigated, she found the security decidedly lacking. With something this simple, one can only speculate how much Keurig has really invested in making sure users don’t use third-party cups of coffee in their machines, but it also brings up the classic question of who really owns hardware if we can’t use it in the way we want, rather than the way the manufacturer wants.

You can read more about the project on its Reddit page. Thanks to [MyOwnDemon] for the tip!

Filed under: home hacks

Battery Basics – Choosing a Battery for Your Project

พุธ, 12/17/2014 - 07:00

If choosing a rechargeable battery for your project intimidates you, [Afroman] has prepared a primer video that should put you at ease. In this tutorial for battery basics he not only walks you through a choice of 5 rechargeable chemistries and their respective tradeoffs, but gives a procedure that will allow you to navigate through the specs of real-world batteries for sale – something that can be the most intimidating part of the process.

You cannot learn everything about batteries in 9 minutes, but watching this should get you from zero to the important 80% of the way there. Even if your project does not give you the specs you need to begin buying, [Afroman] tells you what to measure and how to shop for it. In particular, the information he gives is framed in the context you care about, hopefully ensuring you are not waylaid by all the details that were safe to ignore. If this is not enough, [Afroman]’s prequel video on battery terminology has more detail.

Much like your high school English teacher told you, you need to know the rules before you can choose to break them. Many of battery absolute Dos or Don’ts are written for the manufacturer, who provides for the consumer, not the hacker. Hackaday has published hundreds of battery articles over the years; search our archives when you are ready for more.

Filed under: how-to, parts

UAV Coaxial Copter Uses Unique Drive Mechanism

พุธ, 12/17/2014 - 04:00

Personal UAV’s are becoming ubiquitous these days, but there is still much room for improvement. Researchers at [Modlab] understand this, and they’ve come up with a very unique method of controlling pitch, yaw, and roll for a coaxial ‘copter using only the two drive motors.

In order to control all of these variables with only two motors, you generally need a mechanism that adjusts the pitch of the propeller blades. Usually this is done by mounting a couple of tiny servos to the ‘copter. The servos are hooked up to the propellers with mechanical linkages so the pitch of the propellers can be adjusted on the fly. This works fine but it’s costly, complicated, and adds weight to the vehicle.

[Modlab’s] system does away with the linkages and extra servos. They are able to control the pitch of their propellers using just the two drive motors. The propellers are connected to the motors using a custom 3D printed rotor hub. This hub is specifically designed to couple blade lead-and-lag oscillations to a change in blade pitch. Rather than drive the motors with a constant amount of torque, [Modlab] adds a sinusoidal component in phase with the current speed of the motor. This allows the system to adjust the pitch of the blades multiple times per rotation, even at these high speeds.

Be sure to watch the demonstration video below.

Filed under: drone hacks

Retrotechtacular: Pipeline to the Arctic

พุธ, 12/17/2014 - 01:00

They said it couldn’t be done, and perhaps it shouldn’t have been attempted. Shouldas and couldas aside, the oil crisis of the 1970s paved the legislative way for an 800-mile pipeline across the Alaskan frontier, and so the project began. The 48-inch diameter pipe sections would be milled in Japan and shipped to Alaska. Sounds simple enough. But of course, it wasn’t, since the black gold was under Prudhoe Bay in Alaska’s North Slope, far away from her balmy southern climes.

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System was constructed in three sections: from Valdez to Fairbanks, Fairbanks to a point in the Brooks Pass, and south from Prudhoe Bay to the mountain handoff. Getting pipe to the Valdez and Fairbanks is no big deal, but there is no rail, no highway, and no standard maritime passage to Prudhoe Bay. How on earth would they get 157 miles worth of 58-foot sections of pipe weighing over 8 tons each up to the bubblin’ crude?

Barges! Ridiculously huge, specifically-built barges with 35-foot stanchions to hold pipe sections stacked on decks as large as football fields. Four barges were built close to the steel mills, two in Japan and two in Hong Kong. Several other barges were constructed stateside, departing regularly from Tacoma to meet the demanding timeline of the project. The barges headed for Prudhoe Bay from Asia would be towed 3300 miles by a pair of heroic tugboats to rendezvous with the other barges at Nome.

About 150 miles from Prudhoe Bay, the tugs encountered the arctic ice floe as expected. What they didn’t expect was no sign of an open channel. Time was of the essence here: if they didn’t make it to Prudhoe and back within about a month, they’d be mired in ice all winter long. Each tug was towing two barges in tandem. Since no channel ever opened, they decided to anchor each tug’s rear barge, take the lead barges through the ice all nice and easy, and come back for the rest. Ninety miles of ice cakes and cursing later, they reached the open waters of the Arctic Ocean and floored it for Prudhoe Bay. Pretty slick stuff, eh?

Retrotechtacular is a weekly column featuring hacks, technology, and kitsch from ages of yore. Help keep it fresh by sending in your ideas for future installments.

Filed under: Hackaday Columns, Retrotechtacular

FPGA Ambilight Clone Packs a Ton of Features

อังคาร, 12/16/2014 - 22:00

[Stephen] designed a standalone Ambilight clone built around an FPGA and recently added many new features to make his design even better. His original design was based around a Spartan 3-E FPGA, but his new design uses the Papilio One board with a Spartan-6 LX9 FPGA. This gives him dedicated DSP hardware and more RAM, allowing him to add more processing-intensive features.

[Steven]’s new board can drive up to 4096 LEDs total, and each LED is colored from one of 256 segmented screen areas. The output of the LEDs is smoothed over a configurable time period which makes the result a bit more pleasant. [Steven] also added color correction matrices and gamma correction tables to make up for differences in LED coloration and so the output can be fine-tuned to the color of the wall behind the TV.

Finally, [Steven] added multiple configurations which can be stored in Flash memory. The FPGA can detect letterboxes and pillarboxes in the video stream and change to a corresponding configuration automatically, so settings rarely need to be manually adjusted. He also added an extensive serial interface to configure all of the parameters and configurations in Flash. Be sure to check out the video after the break to see his setup in action.

Filed under: led hacks

Create an Inclinometer Using a Raspberry Pi

อังคาร, 12/16/2014 - 19:00

The latest gizmo that you can make using the cheap and easy Raspberry Pi is here courtesy of [Mark Williams]. He has hooked up an inertial measurement unit (IMU) to the Pi and built an inclinometer to use to measure the various angles of an off-road vehicle.

This particular guide goes through the setup of SDL to control the video output to a small screen. Then, a function is created to rotate the images based on input from the IMU so that the vehicle position can be shown graphically on the screen. Now, when your truck is about to roll over on a hill, you’ll get advance warning!

Of course, this whole project is predicated on installing the IMU and getting it up and running on the Raspberry Pi in the first place. [Mark] has you covered on a guide for setting that up as well. This delves into setting up the IMU over I2C to get it talking to the Raspberry Pi, and then converting the raw data from the IMU into data that is more usable. Be sure to check out [Mark]’s page for all of the code and details!

Filed under: Raspberry Pi

Boy Off The Grid For Years Writes GUI for DOS

อังคาร, 12/16/2014 - 16:00

In a hacker version of Jumanji, when [fiberbundle]’s parents divorced, his thrice-fugitive new stepfather took him to a remote location in Australia without any access to technology or the outside world. With him he brought an old 486, a gift from his real dad. Lest the police discover them, [fiberbundle] was forbidden contact from most of society and even restricted in the books he was allowed to read.

The boy spent years trying to get the most he could out of his two-generations-old PC. Using only two textbooks from a decade and a half earlier, DOS 6.0, and QBasic he managed to write his own shell dubbed OSCI (pronounced “Aussie”), a ray-caster 3d engine and lots more. No mentors, no Internet. The computers at school were even more outdated Power Macs.

Eventually life returned him to civilization to be mindblown by modern technology 1000x as powerful. He went from playing text-based adventures had to write for himself, to seeing Crysis. From QBasic to C++. From ASCII art “shooters” to Half-Life 2. From a 486 to a 4-core CPU. From a rural library to Wikipedia.

Follow the link above to see screens of his projects over the years. As of yet no one has verified the story, but, even if only that it is worth a read.

Thanks [Gustavo] for the tip.

Filed under: classic hacks

Using Lasers for Hair Growth

อังคาร, 12/16/2014 - 13:00

HowToLou is back with a rather interesting build: One hundred laser diodes for hair growth.

Before you guffaw at the idea of lasers regrowing hair lost to male pattern baldness, there’s a surprising amount of FDA documents covering the use of laser diodes and red LEDs for hair growth and an interesting study covering teeth regrowth with lasers. Yes folks, it’s a real thing, but something that will never get a double-blind study for obvious reasons.

[Lou] is building his hat with 100 laser diodes, most of which were sourced from Amazon. These diodes were implanted in a piece of foam flooring, a rather interesting solution that puts dozens of diodes in a flexible module that’s pretty good for making a wearable device.

The lasers are powered by three AA batteries, stuffed into a four-slot battery holder that was modified to accommodate a power switch. [Lou] has been wearing a nine-diode hat for a month now, and if the pictures are to be believed, he is seeing a little bit of hair growth. At the very least, it’s an interesting pseudo-medical build that seems to be producing results.

Hats like these are commercially available for about $700. [Lou] built his for about $60. We’re calling that a win even if it doesn’t end up working to [Lou]’s satisfaction. Just don’t look at the lasers with your remaining eye.

Filed under: laser hacks, wearable hacks

DIY Video Microscope Used For Soldering SMD Parts

อังคาร, 12/16/2014 - 10:00

Fortunately (or unfortunately), [ucDude] has had the opportunity to try out a high quality video microscope while soldering some small surface mount components. He loved it, the problem was he had a hard time going back to using just his eyes. He wanted a video microscope but the cost for a professional one could not be justified. The solution? Build one!

[ucDude] called on one of his photographer friends to help. After discussing the project they decided to use a webcam and a lens from an SLR camera. Testing with the webcam resulted in an image that could not be zoomed-in enough, plus having to connect it to an external computer proved to be a bulky solution. They next tried a Raspberry Pi, camera module and zoom monocular. It worked great! The entire assembly was then mounted to a camera boom stand making it easy for the camera to be positioned over the work area and out of the way of hands and soldering irons. The Raspberry Pi’s HDMI output is plugged straight into an HD monitor. The result is exactly what [ucDude] was looking for. Now he can quickly and confidently solder his surface mount circuit boards.


Filed under: tool hacks

Meet Registroid – Mutant Cash Register Music Sequencer

อังคาร, 12/16/2014 - 07:00

73 years ago WWII was in full swing, the world’s first computer had not yet crunched atomic bomb physics and department store cash registers had to add up your purchases mechanically. Back then, each pull caused the device to whirl and kerchunk like a slot machine. [David] & [Scott] kidnapped one of those clunkers and forced it to sing a new tune. Thus the Registroid was born, a self-described “mutant vintage cash register that is a playable, interactive electro-house looping machine.” Why did no one else think of this yet?

Inside, the adding gears and tumbling counters were gutted to make room for the electronics, amp and speaker. Keys were converted to Arduino inputs that then feed to MAX/MSP which serves as a basic midi controller. On top, five “antennae” lamps with LEDs serve as a color organ where they pulse with the audio as split up by an MSGEQ7 equalizer chip. Each row of latching keys corresponds to a different instrument: drum beats, baselines, synths, and one-shots.

We have seen similar things done to a Game Boy and typewriter before, but a cash machine is new to us. Perhaps someday someone will flip the trend and type their twitter messages from an antique harpsichord.

The Registroid appears quite popular when on display at local events, including some wonder when a secret code opens the cash drawer.

Filed under: classic hacks, musical hacks

Trinket EDC Contest Entry: Shame On You!

อังคาร, 12/16/2014 - 04:00

[BDM] is helping others keep WiFi safe with “Shame On You!“, his entry in Hackaday’s Trinket Everyday Carry Contest. We all have that family member, friend, or neighbor who just can’t seem to get their WiFi locked down. Shame On You will show them how easy it is to detect such a hotspot, which hopefully will motivate them to correct the issue. [BDM] was a bit worried when he learned that Adafriut already has an open WiFi detector as one of their Pro Trinket example projects. However, we think he has added more than enough features to make his project stand out.

Shame On You is using a Pro Trinket running at 3.3 volts, along with an ESP8266 WiFi module. Power comes from a LiPo battery and is handled by an Adafruit LiPo backpack. Like several other EDC contest entries, Shame On You is using a cell phone shell as a case. The display is a 1.27″ color OLED with an SD card. A disc style vibrator motor will also help get the user’s attention.

[BDM] hasn’t made much progress this last week, as he’s been battling some Christmas light cutting bandits. Logging each week’s work doesn’t always have to be technical, sometimes life intervenes!

We’re heading into our third week here in the Trinket Everyday Carry Contest, but there is still plenty of time to enter! The main contest runs until January 2, but we’re having random drawings every week! Don’t forget to write a project log before the next drawing at 9pm EDT on Tuesday, December 16th. You and all of the other entrants have a chance to win a BusPirate 3.6 from The Hackaday Store!


Filed under: contests, Featured

Home Computers Behind The Iron Curtain

อังคาร, 12/16/2014 - 01:00

I was born in 1973 in Czechoslovakia. It was a small country in the middle of Europe, unfortunately on the dark side of the Iron Curtain. We had never been a part of Soviet Union (as many think), but we were so-called “Soviet Satellite”, side by side with Poland, Hungary, and East Germany.

My hobbies were electronics and – in the middle of 80s – computers. The history of computers behind the Iron Curtain is very interesting, with a lot of unusual moments. For example – communists at first called cybernetics as “bourgeois’ pseudoscience” (as well as sociology or semiotics), “used to enslave a mankind by machines”. But later on they understood the importance of computers, primarily for science and army. So in 50s the Eastern Bloc started to build its own computers, separately and “in its own way.”

The biggest problem was a lack of modern technologies. There were a lot of skilled and clever people in eastern countries, but they had a lot of problems with the elementary technical things. Manufacturing of electronics parts was divided into diverse countries of Comecon – The Council for Mutual Economic Assistance. In reality, it led to an absurd situation: You could buy the eastern copy of Z80 (made in Eastern Germany as U880D), but you couldn’t buy 74LS00 at the same time. Yes, a lot of manufacturers made it, but “it is out of stock now; try to ask next year”. So “make a computer” meant 50 percent of electronics skills and 50 percent of unofficial social network and knowledge like “I know a guy who knows a guy and his neighbor works in a factory, where they maybe have a material for PCBs” at those times.

We can talk a lot about Czechoslovak computers, for example the SAPO computer (7000 relays and 400 vacuum tubes, 1958) or Epos 2 (1968, diodes and transistors). Later on Comecon decided to build clones – better said “unlicensed pirate copies” – of western computers, namely IBM-360 or DEC PDP-11. In 1974 Comecon came with another strategy: build a line of small computers.

Just for context: at those times the CoCom embargo denied the export of modern technology to the Soviet bloc, for example modern CPUs (e.g. 68000). But eastern manufacturers made their own copies, based on reverse engineering, espionage and datasheets. Czechoslovak IC manufacturer Tesla made 8080 clone MHB8080 and copy of Intel 3000, a Germany supplier made 8008 and Z80 clones (U808D and U880D), Soviets produced 8080 and 8086 clones, Bulgarian plants made, for example, floppy disk mechanics etc.

I have to apologize to all other post-Comecon countries. They had their own home computer scenes, but I don’t know details about their computers etc. But we can say each country behind the Iron Curtain made its own home computers in 80’s. It was half on half “own design” and “clone of a western computer”. For example, Bulgarians had “Pravetz” computers, compatible with Apple II (but one type was compatible with Oric-1).

In Czechoslovakia, there was the major electronics factory named Tesla. Its name should be an abbreviation of “Technika Slaboprouda” (“Low Voltage Technology” in English), but I guess it obviously referred to [Nicola Tesla]. It was formed as a holding of diverse electronics-related plants. One Tesla made semiconductors, another one made TVs, yet another produced record player chassis. It was a little bit of competition in the world of “total cooperative” (I remember they taught us that “competition is bad” in basic school, because “workers should cooperate in developing of socialism, neither compete nor rival”).

One of Czechoslovak computer prodigies, [Eduard Smutný], together with his twin brother [Tomáš] designed the industrial computer JPR-12, based on Israeli ELBIT, and pushed it into production in Tesla. Some years later they made JPR-1, the simple 8bit computer, based on 8080. One important moment about this computer was that these designers published complete schematics and PCBs in Czechoslovak hobby magazine “Amatérské Rádio”. It was curious – you could not buy parts like LEDs in a store, but there was a very strong hobbyist’s scene. These people made radio transmitters or home automation or HiFi amplifiers. The communist regime surprisingly supported them (or better say: don’t repressed them) in their activities, because it felt the economy needed technically skilled people.

The JPR-1 was a single board computer with 8080 and its support chips (8224 and 8228) and some memory on a board. [Smutný] also designed other boards, for example alphanumeric TV display, port board, memory board, membrane keyboard, serial ports etc. Tesla made a whole line of these boards as an industrial computer, named SAPI. [Smutný] also made a Z80-based equivalent JPR-1Z, because (as he said) JPR-1 could work as CP/M machine, but Turbo Pascal needed Z80 instructions.

Tesla Ondra.

His last computer was “Ondra” (1986) – simple Z80-based computer with 64kB of RAM, built on single board, embedded in single case with the keyboard. Author says it was inspired by Sinclair’s ZX-81, but he couldn’t rely on ULA or similar custom VLSI, so he designed all these functions like RAM refresh or display timing as very clever hardware hacks, based on 8253 timers / counters and other parts, available in Comecon. Tesla made just about 1000 pieces of this computer, the majority of them was used in clubs of youth electronics.


Other Tesla computers were designed by Slovak engineer [Roman Kišš]. The first one, PMI-80, was a classic Single Board Computer, like e.g. well known KIM-1. PMI-80 has 8080 equivalent MHB8080, 1 kB RAM, 8255 PIO (you can add second PIO and expand the port lines), calculator keyboard (5×5 matrix) and calculator LED display (9 positions). Its monitor takes 1kB of ROM. Users can connect some hardware to control and store the programs on cassette tape (all controlled by software, no special IC). PMI-80 was widely used as a school computer or as a simple industrial computer.

The second computer, designed by [Kišš] , was PMD 85. The “85” doesn’t refer to Intel 8085. Kišš says he was inspired by Hewlett-Packard’s computer HP-85. PMD 85 has 32kB of user RAM, 16kB of video RAM, 4kB of Monitor ROM and it was based on 8080A. PMD 85 came with EPROM module with built BASIC G. G is for Graphic – and PMD 85 was the first Czechoslovak 8bit computer with fine graphic mode 288 x 256 pixels (Black and White).

PMD 85-1

PMD-85 became quite popular. It had his drawbacks; sockets for some IOs weren’t precise and some IO could sometimes overheat. On the other hand, it was really the best Czechoslovak computer of the time. Tesla made some successors, named PMD 85-2, PMD 85-2A and PMD 85-3, with better keyboard, more memory, color display or ALL RAM mode. Czech fans made a lot of games and utilities for PMD, as well as hardware add-ons, from industrial printer interface to a joystick interface. PMD still has a strong community in both Czech and Slovak Republic till today and you can buy or build for example floppy disk drive or MIF-85 – a sound interface based on SAA1099.

PMD has some clones, namely Maťo, Zbrojováček or Didaktik Alfa, manufactured not by Tesla, but by a co-op, a school supplier, or the arms manufacturer Zbrojovka Brno.

If PMD-85 was the most beloved computer, its cousin, the IQ-151 was the widely hated one. It was designed by Czech company ZPA, a research plant focused on industrial automation. IQ-151 was a very big and heavy computer. It contains “mainboard” with 8080 CPU and some support parts, dock for expansion module and the infamous power supply which overheated, but it couldn’t provide enough power for more than two modules. If you wanted to work you have to connect at least a display module and a BASIC module. It was really a horrible computer. Poorly designed, poorly manufactured, with terrible keyboard seemingly based on a doorbell. The manufacturer made some necessary changes later on, but users disliked IQ-151.

The IQ-151 was planned as a school computer and some schools actually got it. At the dawn of the Eastern Bloc, the IQ-151 was upgraded to work in a local area network, with some kind of CP/M. The Mathematics and Physics department at the Charles University in Prague developed their own operating system, AMOS, and a Pascal compiler.

Let me say a little remark about “home computers”. Ondra or PMD-85 were home computers as we understand this term now: single case with keyboard, cassette tape as storage and TV for video out. But “home” is strongly misleading in the conjunction with Czechoslovak computers. The price of these computers was really fantastic – six month average salary or so, so the majority of production was bought by schools, clubs, industrial plants or research institutes. Technically, there were home computers, but almost nobody had these computers really at home as own, personal computer.

So the question is: What did we have in our households as our real home computer? Simple answer is: Everything we could smuggle from Western Germany, Austria or Britain. The most popular brands were Sinclair and Atari. You could buy, unofficially, of course, Sinclair ZX Spectrum and Atari 800 XL at prices about one month salary. Sometimes some official importer went mad and bought 1000 pieces of Sharp MZ-821 and sold them on the local market. The same situation was with Sord m5 – there were about 1000 m5s in Czechoslovakia. At the end of 80s some Amigas or Atari STs appeared in Czechoslovakia, but again individually imported.

But none of these importers ever imported any literature, manuals, just anything, so Czechoslovak computer fans were “hackers with a reason”. Total lack of information made us find fragments of knowledge almost everywhere. In hobby magazines, bad photocopies of foreign catalogs, books, foreign magazines. My friend, for example, had only an Atari 800XL, a list of instruction names for 6502 and disassembler software, so he reconstructed the whole instruction code table and meaning of codes by trial and error. I rewrote his remarks and “discoveries” on my typewriter in three exemplars, sent them to club newsletter.

Needless to say there was not only the official electronics and radio magazine Amatérské Rádio, but some computer clubs issued their own magazines too. They were published at varying levels of quality, from four papers joined by paperclip to professional brochures, issued in series of tens or hundreds copies. Members of these clubs shared their knowledge, lent documentation and made copies of software, from cassette to cassette, free of charge. Yes, it was breaking the copyright, and it was everywhere – from hobbyists to big corporations.

The ZX Spectrum and Atari 800XL

There was two strong scenes: one around Sinclair/Spectrum, and one around Atari, both with thousands of owners. Some people had Commodore C64, some Sord, Sharp MZ or Amstrad CPC, with tens or hundreds owners of each type. But there was rare computers too. For example, my friend’s father on his business trip “to the West” bought a Laser 210, which was rare computer here. It was very expensive, so he did not buy any software or something more. My friend then had a computer with literally no software or knowledge, he had a User Manual only, and he couldn’t find anyone with the same computer to share info or software.

Talking about software – the situation was even more ridiculous! Try to guess – how many software titles for home computers could you buy in Czechoslovak software shops in 1987? No, it wasn’t 1000. Not even 500. Neither 100 nor 50… No, not 10. The correct answer is: You couldn’t buy software in a shop! There were no shops with software or computer games. It was smuggled and copied from western countries. On the other side the lack of software meant that nearly every computer owner had to learn a little bit programming, at least in BASIC. There were a lot of skilled programmers who wrote games, compilers, and database programs. Another curiosity: when you wrote a software, it was illegal to sell it! That only became legal in 1988 and you still had to get an authority agreement.

To answer to the question “why Czechoslovak home computers uses primarily cassette tapes and not floppy disks?” Because you couldn’t simply buy a floppy disk at your local shop. There were five or ten better equipped shops in the whole country and they maybe had floppy disks. They got for example ten boxes of 5.25” floppies, sold out in one hour, and no more for two, three, six months… The only solution was smuggling, or black market. It got slightly better at the end of 80s.

Didaktik Gama

In 1987 manufacturer of school supplies Didaktik Skalica, maker of PMD clone Didaktik Alfa, made another computer named Didaktik Gama – a real clone of ZX Spectrum, extended with 8255 PIO and with RAM expanded to 80 kB. They bought a lot of original ULAs somewhere, so they built ZX Spectrum clone and started to sell it for a reasonable price. At the very end of 80’s we could buy this Czechoslovak computer at home for about one month salary.

This was the official part of Czechoslovak personal computers. We have to mention two local phenomena. The first one was a “capitalist enclave” – JZD Slušovice (JZD means ‘agricultural cooperative’). Its leader built a market oasis with a lot of economical exceptions, so they could buy ICs directly for foreign currencies, Dollars or Deutsche Marks. Therefore they made very sophisticated computers with contemporary design, for example based on Z80, with two floppy drives, RAM disk and CP/M. Oh, pardon, not CP/M, it was MIKROS or TNS-DOS – it was totally compatible with CP/M, but it was unlicensed. At the end of 80s they planned 16-bit computers compatible with PC, but then the Eastern Bloc collapsed and we could buy the original PC directly, mainly at the sales in neighbor countries like Austria or Germany.

The second phenomenon of these times was hobby computers. Mentioned earlier Amatérské Rádio published a lot of schematics and PCBs for different single board computers from Czechoslovak hobbyists. These computers had only one or very few exemplars. Amatérské Rádio itself published its own modular computer system Mikro-AR. But the most weird design I can remember was Mistrum computer – it was compatible with ZX Spectrum, but ULA was simulated by a bunch of chips from 74LSxx line. An unbelievable piece, a monument of an era in which people could develop computers, but couldn’t do it easy as “buy components and build”, the era of true hacking not for fun, but of necessity.

When the Eastern bloc fell down, we quickly filled the technological gap and started to use contemporary hardware, buy software (well… slowly) and adapt ourselves to standard computer economics (I worked with AT286 and laser printer in my first job in spring 1992). But you know – we sometimes reminisce our first computers…

Czechoslovak “home computers” from behind the Iron Curtain – or better say “Officially-made 8bit computers you could meet in 80’s”:

JPR-1 (SAPI-1):

Multi board computer, based on 8080A, 1kB RAM, up to 8kB EPROM. Other boards added RAM, EPROM, TV display 20 lines x 40 characters, QWERTY membrane keyboard etc. Built-in MIKRO BASIC and monitor. Its primary aim was industry.





Single board school CPU 8080A, 1.1111MHz (10MHz / 9), 1kB RAM, 1kB ROM, 25 key calculator type keyboard, 9 digit 7 segment LED display. Built-in monitor. Tape I/O. Created as didactic tool for technical schools.



PMD 85-1

CPU 8080A, 2.048MHz, 48kB RAM (later models with 56kB or 64kB), 4 kB ROM (later model with 8kB). Standard QWERTY keyboard, TV OUT 288×256 monochrome graphics, 25 lines, 48 chars. Last model can use 8 colors, first model just 4: black, white, grey and blinking). Tape deck as storage. 1bit beeper. Two parallel ports, serial port (8251). It uses ROM cartridges with BASIC (later you could buy Pascal too).





School computer, based on CPU 8080A, 2MHz, 32kB RAM (up to 64), 6kB EPROM (+ cartridges), 32 lines x 32 characters TV OUT (later 64 characters per line), you can add graphic monochrome module with 512×256 pixels resolution. Single bit speaker. 5 expansion slots, two of them were permanently taken by display adapter and BASIC. Very poor power supply, tends to overheat.

Tesla Ondra:

Very rare computer. CPU U880D (Z80 clone from GDR), 2MHz, 64kB RAM, 4kB ROM, TV display 20 lines x 40 chars, graphic mode 320 x 240 monochrome. QWERTY keyboard, tape interface. BASIC was on the tape and you had to load it before use.


Didaktik Gama:

ZX Spectrum clone with original ULA (later models Didaktik M and Didaktik Kompakt from early 90’s use ULA1 from USSR, so the display was square shaped instead of rectangle and there were some timing incompatibilities). It was the first real home computer you could buy.


About the author

[Martin Malý] works as a media technology consultant and team leader of developers for some Czech newspapers. He has experience from startups and did a lot of web projects (e.g. was a Lead developer, Programmer, Administrator, Manager and Ideologist for a cutting edge Czech blogging system called Bloguje.cz).

His biggest hobby, beside programming, is microelectronics and old computers. He did some task programming on railroad engines, based on microcontrollers (8051 family, AVR, Microchip) and some “homebrew” gadgets, computers etc. He joined his two hobbies together in ASM80.com – an online IDE and assembler for 8bit CPUs.

[Martin] is an Evangelist and Teacher of New Web Technologies (OpenID, OAuth, cloud computing, HTML5, Node.js, Coffeescript and other stuff) as well as Evangelist of HTML5 development for mobile devices.

He does quite a bit of writing – starting with some juvenile textperiments, continuing through a series of blogs and online magazines, and he ended up as an Editor-in-Chief of zdrojak.cz – an online mag about web technologies.

Filed under: classic hacks, slider

Reverse Engineering a Robotic Arm

จันทร์, 12/15/2014 - 22:00

Not too many people will argue that Robot Arms aren’t cool. [Dan] thinks they are cool and purchased a LabVolt Armdroid robotic arm on eBay for a mere $150. Unfortunately, he did not get the power supply or the control unit. To most, this would a serious hurdle to overcome, but not for [Dan]. He opened up the robot and started probing around the circuit board to figure out what was going on.

Since there was a DB9 connector on the outside of the robot arm, he assumed it was a standard RS-232 controlled device. Good thing he checked the internal circuitry because this was not the case at all. There was no mircocontroller or microprocessor found inside.  [Dan] painstakingly reversed engineered the circuit board and documented his results. He found that there were SN76537A chips that drove the 6 unipolar stepper motors and SN75HC259 latches to address each individual motor.

Now knowing how the robot works, [Dan] had to figure out how to control the robot from his computer. He started by making a custom Parallel Port to DB9 cable to connect the computer to the arm. After a series of several programs, starting with simply moving just one arm joint, the latest iteration allows manual control of all joints using the computer keyboard. A big ‘Thanks’ goes out to [Dan] for all his work and documentation.


Filed under: robots hacks

Making A Paintball Gun from Scratch

จันทร์, 12/15/2014 - 19:00

[Ben’s] big brother [Brian] has been slowly building up a respectable mini-machine shop in his garage over the past few years, collecting odds and ends off of Craigslist for cheap. Looking for a fun project to do together, they decided to try their hand at building a paintball gun — completely from scratch.

They have a Spyder paintball gun that they have taken apart many times — but it uses a stacked tube configuration for the firing mechanism — a bit too complex for a first project. After discovering ZDSPB.com (which is an awesome site that has animations of all the different styles of paintball guns) they settled on making a Tippman clone.

Trying to keep the budget as small as possible, [Brian] found a free 3D CAD program from the makers of Pro/E — it’s called Creo Elements/Direct Modeling Express 6.0, and with that they began designing the gun…

Once they had the mechanism down pat they just had to start machining. Here’s the highly anticipated first test fire — can you hear the joy in the success?

And after a bit more refinement, semi automatic mode.

Fancy something a bit bigger? How about ‘Ol Painless, a paintball mini-gun? Or if you’re more of a sneaky player, why not make your own paintball gun silencer?

Filed under: weapons hacks

Gift Your Next Robot With the Brain of a Roundworm

จันทร์, 12/15/2014 - 16:00

A group of developers called [OpenWorm] have mapped the 302 neurons of the Caenorhabditis elegans species of roundworm and created a virtual neural network that can be used to solve all the types of problems a worm might encounter. Which, when you think about it, aren’t much different from those a floor-crawling robots would be confronted with.

In a demo video released by one of the projects founders, [Timothy Busbice], their network is used to control a small Lego-rover equipped with a forward sonar sensor. The robot is able to stop before it hits a wall and determine an appropriate response, which may be to stop, back up, or turn. This is all pretty fantastic when you compare these 302 neural connections to any code you’ve ever written to accomplish the same task! It might be a much more complex route to the same outcome, but its uniquely organic… which makes watching the little Lego-bot fascinating; its stumbling around even looks more like thinking than executing.

I feel obligated to bring up the implications of this project. Since we’re all thinking about it now, let’s all imagine the human brain similarly mapped and able to simulate complex thought processes. If we can pull this off one day, not only will we learn a lot more about how our squishy grey hard drives process information, artificial intelligence will also improve by leaps and bounds. An effort to do this is already in effect, called the connectome project, however since there are a few more connections to map than with the c. elegans’ brain, it’s a feat that is still underway.

The project is called “open”worm, which of course means you can download the code from their website and potentially dabble in neuro-robotics yourself. If you do, we want to hear about your wormy brain bot.

Filed under: robots hacks

DIY Chicken Feed Indicator Tells You When To Feed The Chickens

จันทร์, 12/15/2014 - 13:00

While prepping for the upcoming apocalypse, the [prepforshtf] folks had time to design and build an automatic chicken feeder. It’s a very simple design (the best kind) that is made from standard PVC drain pipe. The pipe is positioned vertically and filled with chicken feed. A T-joint at the bottom of the pipe allows chickens to access the food inside. As food is eaten away, gravity pulls more food down to the feeding area.

That sounds pretty straight forward but it quickly became clear that checking the food level was a chore, almost as much as just feeding the chickens everyday. To remedy the requirement to constantly check the food level, the automatic feeder system was taken apart and modified to include a level indicator. Now, inside the 4-inch pipe resides a plate that resembles a butterfly valve.

This plate doesn’t control the flow of feed like a normal butterfly valve would, the feed actually holds the plate in a vertical position until the feed level drops below the plate. Since the plate has a heavier side, it will rotate when the feed no longer holds it in position. A large red pointer was attached to the plate’s axle and, since it is on the outside of the feeder, it allows a clear indication that the feeder needs a refill.

This is a great project that shows that even simple projects can be very beneficial in everyday life. With no electronics or batteries to fail, this feed indicator will certainly be very reliable. No doubt the chickens will be happy. Check this out for a more involved electricity-powered feeder.

Filed under: home hacks

Taste the Rainbow One Color at a Time

จันทร์, 12/15/2014 - 10:00

It’s the end of another fall semester of Bruce Land’s ECE4760 class at Cornell, and that means a fresh crop of microcontroller-based student projects. For their project, [Alice, Jesse, and Mikhail] built a Skittle-sorting miniature factory that bags and seals same-colored candies into little pouches of flavor.

Their design is split into three stages, which are visually delineated within the all-cardboard housing. Skittles are loaded into a funnel at the top that leads to the color detection module. The color is determined here with an RGB LED and OPT101 photodiode driven by an ATMega1284.  Because the reflected RGB values of red and orange Skittles are so similar, the detector uses white light to make the final determination.

Once the matchmaking is over, a servo in the second stage rotates to the angle that corresponds with the color outcome. The Skittle then slides down a cardboard chute, passes through a hole in a cardboard disk, and drops into a hanging bag. Once the bags have reached the predetermined capacity, another servo moves the carousel of bags to a nichrome wire sealing rig. Lead factory worker [Jesse] must intervene at this point to pull the bags off the line. You can see the full walk-through and demonstration of this Skittle flavor separator after the break.

Filed under: Microcontrollers

Hackaday Links: December 14, 2014

จันทร์, 12/15/2014 - 07:00


The Progressive Snapshot is a small device that plugs into the ODB-II port on your car, figures out how terrible of a driver you are, and sends that data to Progressive servers so a discount (or increase) can be applied to your car insurance policy. [Jared] wondered what was inside this little device, so he did a teardown. There’s an Atmel ARM in there along with a SIM card. Anyone else want to have a go at reverse engineering this thing from a few pictures?

[Alex]’s dad received a special gift for his company’s 50th anniversary – a Zippo Ziplight. Basically, its a flashlight stuffed into the metal Zippo lighter we all know and love. The problem is, it’s battery-powered, and Zippo doesn’t make them any more. It also uses AAAA batteries. Yes, four As. No problem, because you can take apart a 9V and get six of them.

‘Tis the season to decorate things, I guess, and here’s a Hackaday snowflake. That’s from [Benjamin Gray], someone who really knows his way around a laser cutter.

HHaviing trouble wiith a debounce ciircut? HHer’s a calculator for just thhat problem. Put iin the logiic hhiigh voltage level, the bounce tiime, and the fiinal voltage, and you get the capaciitor value and resiistor value.

A harmonograph is a device that puts a pen on a pendulum, drawing out complex curves that even a spirograph would find impressive. [Matt] wanted to make some harmonographs, but a CNC and a printing press got in the way. He’s actually making some interesting prints that would be difficult if not impossible to make with a traditional harmonograph – [Matt] can control the depth and width of the cut, making for some interesting patterns.

The Mooltipass, the Developed On Hackaday offline password keeper, has had an interesting crowdfunding campaign and now it’s completely funded. The person who tipped it over was [Shad Van Den Hul]. Go him. There’s still two days left in the campaign, so now’s the time if you want one.

Filed under: Hackaday links