You can’t have enough retro computers

I’ve noticed that many members of York Hackspace are quite enthusiastic about old computers. As I look around the hackspace right now, I see that the ratio of modern PCs to retro PCs is about one quarter.

Most of these machines are, or have been, repair projects. I thought I’d share a quick roundup of the various machines people are working on. If nothing else, it’s a great excuse to fill a blog post with pictures of retro tech. As if I needed an excuse. This might take more than one post, so this one is mostly what I’ve been working on.

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One particular interesting work in progress involves something like a cross between teletext and the world wide web. I am, of course, talking about ‘Viewdata’. In particular, I’m talking about simulating a prestel service on a modern PC and connecting it, via a sound-card-based phone line simulator, to a Sinclair ZX Spectrum. This is a project that’s been on the backburner for a while with some other members of the space, but we have two fully working ZX Spectrums and each one has a fully working Prism VTX 5000 prestel modem which allows the spectrum to connect to a prestel service. Watch this space, perhaps soon we will be able to tweet from a speccy. I tried to get a photo of it running, but sadly neither of the two TV screens in the space would cooperate. They both have analog tuners, but neither has a remote and the one with buttons on the screen couldn’t be tuned to the right frequency.

One of the two spectrums is mine (the one in the picture). This is one that I got for free from a friend, along with a cassette recorder. It wasn’t working when I got it, so I had to spend a little money on some replacement parts. There was a RAM chip missing and a blown transistor, no wonder it was free. I also decided to upgrade it from the 16k model to the 48k model. The prestel modem came from ebay along with some other stuff that I sold on for a profit. The whole thing was rather cheap.

Another repair project is this Atari 520st. The power supply needs some things fixing, it can’t quite deliver the current required to run the floppy disk drive at the moment. Even if it did, the drive belt is long gone and so we need a replacement. Would you believe that this was found in a skip, along with the monitor and a whole bunch of disks and documentation?

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Now here’s one for the IBM keyboard fans. This is an IBM 5155. The “luggable”. It has a proper buckling spring keyboard. This too needs a little bit of work. One of the floppy disk drives is a little dodgy and makes some nasty noises, but it has two, so the worst case scenario is to just use one. It’s got a copy of IBM PC-DOS and also a 20MB hard-disk. The problem is that the hard-disk doesn’t work. That’s why it’s not installed at the moment. The hard-disk controller seems to work though, so the project here is to build an interface to allow something like a USB flash disk to be plugged in where the hard disk would go.

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Last but not least for this post, is Luke’s commodore amiga with colour screen. This is also a bit of a rescue project. I’ll have to post more details about this one next time, but for now here is a sneak peek. He’s even got two joysticks for it, and of course he also has the obligatory “I can’t believe it’s not streetfighter” title. I can’t wait to play it. dsc_5475 dsc_5476 dsc_5477

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I hope you found that interesting. If you want to help out with one of these projects or just have a look at some of these machines, feel free to come along to the next open meeting. Perhaps I’ll post some more in-depth details of the projects as they progress, if there is any interest.

A multimedia system fit for a hackspace

Being able to leave equipment permanently in place and attached to the walls or ceiling is a luxury we gained when we moved in to our new space. So naturally enough, when we had a projector and an amplifier system lying around doing nothing, it only made sense to give the space a proper multimedia setup.

Projector showing demo image

We put the projector on the ceiling a little while ago, but hadn’t really connected it up until we got the amp and speakers.

With a little bit of planning followed by shopping for the right cables, we now have a setup that should cater for most circumstances. Our projector can now take HDMI, VGA or Mini Displayport (or anything else you can convert to HDMI) with sound provided via a Cambridge audio A1 mk3 Stereo amplifier.

Cambridge audio amplifier and speakers

We can also cast audio to a Raspberry Pi using DLNA. The Pi is connected directly to the amp at the moment and so only does audio, but we plan to get an HDMI switch that will allow us to use the Pi for casting video to the projector without having to sacrifice the wired option.

Raspberry Pi in case, connected to amp

This solution makes it easy to connect almost any device we need to the system. The long HDMI cable ends at a desk on the other side of the room that is convenient for placing a laptop for showing a video or presentation. As the HDMI cable carries both audio and video, this is the only cable we need going to the projector setup, where a converter box splits the HDMI out to VGA and a pair or RCA connectors for audio. Unfortunately the projector doesn’t have any digital inputs, so we had to go for VGA. The other input options are provided by a kit of converters.

HDMI converter boxVideo format converters

We still need to get the speakers mounted on the wall for a proper cinema experience.

The software for the DLNA was a little awkward, but we got it working in the end. The Pi is running GMediaRenderer, a DLNA renderer for GStreamer. This had to be compiled from source and took some fiddling before it worked how we wanted it. This was worth doing though as we were then able to customise how it looked in the client app. Our logo is on it! We can already cast sound from laptops too, pulseaudio-dlna can cast sound from your linux PC to any DLNA device on the network and it works great.

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3D printed coat hooks, wi-fi enabled bike lights and virtual reality

Just an average Wednesday open night down at York Hackspace.

Nick took an old plank from a pallet and with a little elbow grease and some shared knowledge turned it into a fine backing plate to the hold the coat hooks that he designed and printed on the space 3D printer.

Finished Coat Hooks

I took a very cheap hand plane and managed to get a good enough edge on it to let Nick clean up old pallet wood and turn it into quite a fine looking board.

This ended up with a fine mess of wood shavings that Nick was particularly pleased with.
Everybody likes to make some mess.

We had the loan of a PS4 and VR Headset for the night and Nathan spent some time playing at “Job” a virtual world created by the future robots to simulate what it was like to do Job in the 21st century. A lot more fun than it sounds. Everybody was enjoying his attempts to “repair” a car.

Through some more donations of kit we now have a fine looking multimedia setup in the works. It started with a projector that got attached to the ceiling. Then an amplifier and some speakers that is to be mounted on top of a shelving unit ( if you know of any spare shelving please let us know). Then through a convoluted set of connections and boxes we should be able to hook all the ageing kit up to most things. Wire lengths where measured ( in feet, meters, ceiling tiles and string lengths) and we may be able to hook it up next week. It will be useful for doing presentations or just playing tutorials from Youtube. Even the laser painting might be setup at some point.

As any true hackspacer knows things can always be improved with more LEDs and so I added a few more to his bike. Wrapped around the handmade wooden box on the front they currently provide a neat running light setup, red and white back and front then pulsing orange down the side. As they are run from an ESP8266 chip that has built in wifi it seems only a natural next step to add a wifi hotspot to the bike and a web server to control the lights.

More Bike Lights

Many more things where happening. John was having some problems with his new 3D printer but was having fun developing shapes in OpenSCAD. Dave and John where discussing wiring up sheds and sharing the tools to do it. A surprising amount of time spent trying to find something to play music to test the speakers, /dev/urandom, the computers random number generator, only goes so far. I really love the mixture of physical and digital that is happening in the space especially when there is a big group. Oh and we have a new member, Carwyn.

See you all next week.

We are now five years old

We celebrated our fifth birthday last Wednesday! (26th of October)

The first real YHS meeting was on October the 26th 2011 at Guppy’s enterprise club. (See our history page.) This was timed quite nicely, the exact day was a Wednesday this year, no need to break the open evening rhythm.

We lit up the space with all the LEDs we could find, filled a table with food and proceeded to disorient ourselves with a combination of alcohol and VR games.

Table full of party food

A plethora of party snacks.

For such a special occasion, there had to be a giant double-layer Millie’s cookie with the York Hackspace logo recreated in icing.

giant cookie with York Hackspace logo

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We went to Derby Mini Maker faire

We’ve been to lots of maker events. This weekend we went to Derby mini maker faire. This is the third year we’ve been to the event along with spacehack and some other projects from hackspace members. As usual the whole day had a great atmosphere.

Spacehack at Derby

Spacehack has now been to eighteen events and still it keeps going. We have a long list of problems to fix as spacehack slowly takes on the persona of the ageing and barely space-worthy spacecraft is was designed to simulate. We don’t have any events planned for spacehack at the moment, so perhaps we’ll have a chance to fix things before the next event.

Bob also brought some retro computing gear along. He was demoing the RC2014 Z80 Microcomputer he and the PiDP8 recreation of the PDP8 computer powered by a raspberry pi. To add some extra retro-tech into the mix, he was using a psion netbook as a serial terminal for the PiDP8.

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John also brought along his tetris table. It’s a table with a grid of LEDs that plays tetris. Many people, including me, were very easily distracted by the tetris table and held up the queue of people wanting to play.

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In the four years I have been to the Derby maker faire (as a visitor at first and now an exhibitor) it has always improved each year. We look forward to DMMF 2017 being even better.

I’ll leave you with this video of a dinosaur having a wander around the makerfaire.

The space is ours!

We recently got a new space!

Our space at Fulford Business Centre

Our space at Fulford Business Centre

The timing of this move has worked out nicely. Our fifth birthday is approaching and so we have decided to have a combined “welcome to the new space” and “happy fifth birthday” celebration on our open evening on the 26th of October. Come along and join us. If you can; bring some party food too!

On the 15th of August 2016 we moved in to our new home in Fulford business centre. This is a significant change from our previous meeting places. Our previous space was only temporary, this one isn’t. It’s also the largest space we’ve had so far.

We have lots of equipment already available at the space, including a 3D printer, soldering equipment and oscilloscopes. But we want to add more as and when we can. If you have some equipment to donate, we’d love to hear from you.

We want to grow our membership, and we encourage anyone to join us. Come along to an open evening to have a chat and find out more. York Hackspace is run for it’s members by it’s members, not for profit.

So, join us at the next open evening, and be sure not to miss the celebration on the 26th.

Happy hacking!

Goodbye, Stonebow!

Back in August, we moved into Stonebow House along with the Arts Barge people.  As the developers now want to start doing work on the building, we’ve moved out.  From the fourth floor, with no working lift, there was a lot of manual handling down the narrow fire escape to the car park with all our gear!


View from Stonebow house; flickr photo shared by choffee under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

Having a temporary space to use when we like has been a great thing for the Hackspace (and not just because of the beautiful views either) – it’s attracted some new members, and given us a chance to see what freedoms that offers.  Being able to leave tools and gadgets out has given us a great community feeling, and it’s certainly saved me a lot of backache carrying my stuff to and fro.

Sharing with the other artists has also been really enjoyable – we’ve seen people doing all sorts of creative things, and we’ve had a fair amount of interest in our own work too.

We’re still working on finding “Hackspace 3.0”, so watch this space (and if you know anyone who might be able to offer us cheap office space, please let us know)!

We’ll continue to meet weekly in the Black Swan (or other pub as agreed) to keep the momentum going until we have a new space.

York Hackspace new space – Stonebow House

York Hackspace has a new space! We’ve got a sort of corner of a room on the second floor of Stonebow House, an unoccupied office building, which is being allocated as temporary pop-up art studio space whilst the developers negotiate planning permissions with the council. This means it’s not permanent – in around six months or so this’ll be sorted out and we’ll be kicked out again – but till then, we’ve got some space to work in and leave things in at last! Now we just need some furniture such as tables and chairs.

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Manchester MakeFest 2015

We were in Manchester last weekend, we took Spacehack and some other things to MakeFest 2015.

As usual Spacehack was thoroughly enjoyed by many ambitious new crew members, who all exploded in the vast expanse of deep space. As usual, Spacehack came home with more failed controls than when it left.

There was also a great atmosphere in the pub on Saturday evening. John took plenty of photos while he was there, I have selected a few to put in this post, you can see them all here: https://flic.kr/s/aHski3i5Xo

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Raspberry Jam at The Digital Garage from Google, Leeds

On Saturday we took SpaceHack to Leeds to a Raspberry Jam event set up by Alan O’Donohoe and Claire Garside as part of their great JamPackedUK roadshow, in partnership with the Raspberry Pi Foundation and Google.org.

The day was well organized, and there was a variety of things to do and toys to play with.  Makey Makey was set up with PlayDoh (and sweets), and was connected to a Pi running scratch, so people could program with it.  Sonic Pi was also set up, which was fun to play with, and there was a demonstration set up with BareConductive paint.  My personal favourite was WaterColorBot, a robot that can paint pictures with block paints.  Bob even got it to draw our logo!

WaterColorBot paints YHS

Apart from the ready-to-go demonstrations (which were very fun and interactive), there was also an area set up to tinker with some Raspberry Pi, and a room upstairs for the workshops that were running.

As usual, we had plenty of folk playing SpaceHack, and it was great to see so many different people around – teachers, kids, and other hackers.  There were a few members from Preston Hackspace, who are relatively new; it’s always nice to see other local groups starting up!

Teamwork

All in all, it was a great day out, topped off nicely by the free water taxi back to the station!

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