Broadcast Engineer at BellMedia, Computer history buff, compulsive deprecated, disparate hardware hoarder, R/C, robots, arduino, RF, and everything in between.
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Realtime GPS+GPRS tracking of vehicles using Arduino

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Javier from CookingHacks writes:

We made a step by step article about how to track vehicles using Arduino + GPRS / GPS. Then we integrated the information using the Google Maps API. All the code is available with open source license.

Via the contact form.

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30 Years later TED finds his voice: A Commodore Story Part II

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Commodore v364, a speech powered computer from the 1980s.

[Continued from 30 Years later TED finds his voice: A Commodore Story Part I]

Like parents standing on the porch waiting to see their children off to their first day of school we waited for what comes next in a release to production. Among our children: The C116 ($49 Sinclair killer), the C264 ($79 office computer), and the V364 – The computer with an interactive desktop that could speak (courtesy of [John Fegans] who gave us the lion’s share of what made the C64 software great).

Something happened then, and by something I mean nothing. Nothing happened. We waited to assist in production builds and stood ready to make engineering change notices, and yet nothing happened. It was around this time that [Mr. Jack Tramiel] had left the company, I know why he left but I can’t tell due to a promise I made. Sadly, without [Tramiel's] vision and direction the new product releases pretty much stopped.

What happens when Marketing tries to design a computer: a TED in a C64 case known as a C16

What happens when Marketing tries to design a computer: a TED in a C64 case known as a C16.

Meanwhile in Marketing, someone came up with the idea to make the C264 more expensive so that they could then sell it for a prohibitively high price in. They changed the name, they told us to add chips, and they added software that (at best) wasn’t of interest to the users at that price. They wanted another C64, after all it had previously been the source of some success. Meanwhile the C116 and the V364 prototypes slowly melded into the random storage of a busy R&D lab. We literally didn’t notice what had happened; we were too busy arguing against abominations such as the C16 — a “creation” brought about by a shoving a TED board into a C64 case (the term inbred came to mind at the time).

The inside of a c116, a $49 computer with 121 colors and sound.

The inside of a c116, a $49 computer with 121 colors and sound.

With the passing of Winter and the final sign-off by FCC we found the time to catch up on our hygiene and start to think about what to do next.  Within a relatively short period we started to re-coagulate into functioning groups and were running the gauntlet again with the new pair of machines; the Commodore LCD and the C128.  The LCD and C128 were mostly for short field gains and the hail-Mary of the Amiga which was believed to be a company saver if marketed correctly. Time passed and we never really asked what happened to “Talking TED” as rumors of another office closing abounded and the numbness of 18 hour days created so much tunnel vision that it became hard to remember anything else, like where you parked. My car actually sat in the lot for 3 months and was towed subsequently away after the snow melted.

Doubt and faded velum are all that’s left of this moment in time from almost two generations ago. For me the Early 1980s at Commodore Business Machines was Camelot. The role of Merlin was played by our brilliant chip designers, our quests many and fruitful as we dutifully searched for the Holy Grail of home computing. I had entered as a squire and came out a knight with no visible scars and one heck of a story. Near the end we grabbed a child off the street, (or was it a technician in QA?) and — like in the Camelot musical — told him to ride from town to town telling the story of Commodore. This was a company that at one time had offices circling the world; the sun never set on Commodore.


Jack Tramiel at CES holding TED computers

A few years ago I ran into [Chris Liendo] [Chris] from the New York Times at Vintage Computer Festival East. I know my jaw dropped, I felt my tongue drying out. I had not seen this picture nor did I know of its existence. Right there in the late [Jack Tramiel’s] hands is proof that my memory wasn’t just about a rouge prototype in the R&D lab, this was the culmination of many departments and several offices. It was our group that put those computers in [Mr. Tramiel’s] hands. These are among a very few hand-crafted units ever brought into existence.

Sometime last year I found a PCB in my collection, one that I actually didn’t readily identify for a score of milliseconds… it had open ROM sockets, it had a TED chip, it had a speech chip… it was a V364 PCB. I had no interest in turning it on or fixing it as it was a relic and placeholder for machines that I had seen working long ago. We old engineers make lousy collectors, we toss the boards and occasionally break pins and toss them in the air while talking. If we are talking to collectors at the time we toss them even higher.

Commodore v364/C364 "Talking" TED

Commodore v364/C364 “Talking” TED

Jump forward to this year’s Vintage Computer Festival East. I knew there was one collector who would be there that relished the TED line of computers more than any of the other festival-goers. He had gone as far as writing some pretty capable diagnostics for TED. I knew he would be a good custodian. A deal was done and [Rob Clarke] returned to Switzerland, the new owner of a rare v364 mainboard.

According to [Rob], it required replacing around 10 chips but then TED cleared his throat and spoke… in a female voice. The full video of [Rob’s] repair and TED talking including his/her entire 256 word vocabulary is shown here:

How strange that with all of the things I remember from that era, I had forgotten that TED was a she, not a he.

[Photo of Jack Tramiel from NY Times]

[Video and photo of working TED courtesy Rob Clarke]

Filed under: computer hacks, Featured
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Afroman Demonstrates Boost Converters

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boosIf you need to regulate your power input down to a reasonable voltage for a project, you reach for a switching regulator, or failing that, an inefficient linear regulator. What if you need to boost the voltage inside a project? It’s boost converter time, and Afrotechmods is here to show you how they work.

In its simplest form, a boost converter can be built from only an inductor, a diode, a capacitor, and a transistor. By switching the transistor on and off with varying duty cycles, energy is stored in the inductor, and then sent straight to the capacitor. Calculating the values for the duty cycle, frequency, inductor, and the other various parts of a boost converter means a whole bunch of math, but following the recommended layout in the datasheets for boost and switching converters is generally good enough.


[Afroman]‘s example circuit for this tutorial is a simple boost converter built around an LT1370 switching regulator. In addition to that there’s also a small regulator, diode, a few big caps and resistors, and a pot for the feedback pin. This is all you need to build a simple boost converter, and the pot tied to the feedback pin varies the duty cycle of the regulator, changing the output voltage.

It’s an extremely efficient way to boost voltage, measured by [Afroman] at over 80%. It’s also exceptionally easy to build, with just a handful of parts soldered directly onto a piece of perfboard.

Video below.

Filed under: hardware, parts
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Low Cost Lab Frequency Reference

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The internals of a home built 10 MHz frequency reference.

[Mark] wanted an accurate frequency reference for his electronics lab. He specified some requirements for the project, including portability, ability to work inside a building, and low cost. That ruled out GPS, cesium standard clocks, rubidium standard clocks, and left him looking for a low cost Oven Controlled Crystal Oscillator (OCXO).

The Low Cost 10 MHz Frequency Reference is based around a Morion OCXO. These Russian oscillators are available from eBay second hand at about $40 a pop. With a stability well within the requirements, [Mark] order a few.

The next step was to stick all the components in a box. The two OCXOs in the box need about 3 amps to heat up, which is provided by a 12 V PSU. For portability, a sealed lead acid battery was added. The front panel shows the supply voltages, switches between mains and battery supplies, and provides connectivity to the OCXOs.

Since OCXOs work by heating a crystal to a specific temperature, they can use quite a bit of power in the heating element. To increase battery life, a neoprene foam insulator was wrapped around the OCXOs.

For less than $100, this portable tool will aid in calibrating equipment or creating very accurate clocks.

Filed under: tool hacks
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The Hackaday Prize Semifinalist Update

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There are only a few more days until The Hackaday Prize semifinalists need to get everything ready for the great culling of really awesome projects by our fabulous team of judges. Here are a few projects that were updated recently, but for all the updates you can check out all the entries hustling to get everything done in time.

Replacing really, really small parts

accThe NoteOn smartpen is a computer that fits inside a pen. Obviously, there are size limitations [Nick Ames] is dealing with, and when a component goes bad, that means board rework in some very cramped spaces. The latest problem was a defective accelerometer.

In a normal project, a little hot air and a pair of tweezers would be enough to remove the defective part and replace it. This is not the case with this smart pen. It’s a crowded layout, and 0402 resistors can easily disappear in a large solder glob.

[Nick] wrapped the closest parts to the defective accelerometer in Kapton tape. That seemed to be enough to shield it from his Aoyue 850 hot air gun. The new part was pre-tinned and placed back on the board with low air flow.

How to build a spectrometer


The RamanPi Spectrometer is seeing a lot of development. The 3D printed optics mount (think about that for a second) took somewhere between 12 and 18 hours to print. Once that was done and the parts were cleaned up, the mirrors, diffraction grating, and linear CCD were mounted in the enclosure. Judging from the output of the linear CCD, [fl@C@] is getting some good data with just this simple setup.

Curing resin and building PCBs

uv[Mario], the guy behind OpenExposer, the combination SLA printer, PCB exposer, and laser harp is chugging right along. He finished his first test print with a tilted bed and he has a few ideas on how to expose PCBs on his machine.

You don’t need props to test a quadcopter

bladesGoliath, the gas-powered quadcopter, had a few problems earlier this month. During its first hover test a blade caught a belt and bad things happened. [Peter] is testing out a belt guard and tensioner only this time he’s using plywood cutouts instead of custom fiberglass blades. Those blades are a work of art all by themselves and take a long time to make; far too much effort went into them to break in a simple motor test.

Filed under: The Hackaday Prize
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Barn Door tracker built with Lego Technic for Entry-Level Astrophotography

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Brian Carter’s Barn Door Tracker was designed primarily with Lego partsPhotographer Brian Carter designed a barn door tracker using Legos and a Mindstorms EV3 brick to take incredible photos of the universe.

Read more on MAKE

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