Vintage computing strikes again

I was talking with my parents a while back and my mom mentioned my old Atari 400 (http://www.oldcomputers.net/atari400.html for the low down on the specs). That 6502 at 1.8Mhz, geeeeeeshe Louise! And 16k of RAM to boot!

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We both wondered if it was still around Or had gone by the way side. Guess what? The computer that started my computing journey!!!

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Well, heavens to Betsy if a package didn’t arrive yesterday. And yes, that is the way the box was found, open and the lid wouldn’t close, but I was surprised at that it all survived. It even had the fancy keyboard, not the that awful plastic sheet of plastic with bubble switch keys. My friend Phil had the Atari 800 with floppy drives. Well, la’ dee da’! Another friend Nick had an 800 with all the bells and whistles and ran a local BBS from his. Every Saturday morning there was a group that hung out at the local computer shop trading tips, tricks, and software. 

And with most people from this era, we could send hours busily typing in programs from whatever magazine you could buy, find, trade, or borrow. And the magic of trying to save it and retrieve it from tape. I think I lost as much as was saved in the end. 

I remember when I got it, it was for Christmas. Of course being the young, excited lad I was, one afternoon when my parents were out, I pulled it from the closet, ever so carefully pealed back the tape, unboxed it, set it up, and had fun for a couple of hours. They were surprised at how quick I had it setup. I didn’t let them in on the secret until on so many, many moons later. 

I am playing around with a new gallery plugin, so check out the pictures of the unveiling. Much like the NeXT Cube, I am going to see if I can get this one up and running as well. I was really hoping that Xaxon was going to be in the cassette player, but I wasn’t lucky on that note. I am going to have to track down some pieces and parts to get it displaying something once I get it put back together again. Westley was poking around the box and getting curious, so maybe I can get him to help me with this let-me-put-it-in-the-queue project list – LOL. 

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And there was a bonus!! All of the screws for the case were still in the box. They are laying inside the bottom of the case. 

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Pi Update

Hold the presses! There has been a change of plans. After playing around with OSMC and some more thinking and drawing, I am going to change course with my Raspberry Pi project. Instead of a fancy pants media center, I am working towards a very nice audio system for the basement living room. My last real stereo was too many years too count and was a very nice Yahmaha system. Tuner, amp, CD, and booming speakers. It has long since gone and have been stuck with my laptop or iPhone with headphones to listen. 

So I have moved in that direction. While working with OSMC I found an inexpensive audio DAC (Digital Audio Converter) HAT, (pizereoaudio.com) for the RPi. 

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When it showed up I heated up the iron and with help of a little hot glue to hold the headers in place was able to solder it in place. 

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Don’t be harsh on some of the joints. While above beginner I am still in amateur phase. 

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I downloaded Volumio2 as the streaming distro. After doing some reading and comparing it seemed like a good package to do with. It supports audio streaming (of course) from local media and network devices. It also supports AirPlay but my first couple of attempts with it haven’t really gone so well. 

The DAC setup was quite easy. In Volumio2, under the menu is the Playback options menu. In there it was as easy as selecting the HiFiBerry DAC. And before I knew it my RPi was singing to me. The Pi Zero Audio DAC is based on the NXP 1334A. A low-power, low-priced DAC. The card was cheap compared to some of the other HATs out there. There is only line out installed on the card, but there are pads on the board is one is so inclined to add RCA jacks. Their documentation is sparse to proceed with caution if take this route. 

Since the pieces and parts are hanging together I whipped up a quick stand for it. 

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It is a piece of sheet metal from something and I superglued 4 standoffs to it. Simple and works for its purpose.

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Here is my proof-of-concept for my streaming player. I tossed on an old set of Altec speakers I had in the Studio. I have to say it really doesn’t sound hateful. Nothing high-end, but working well for what it is. 

Now that I am moving in this direction, I am starting to pick up some parts for the goal of this project, something which has gelled up nicely over the past few days. The end product is to be a single speaker streaming device. The pictures will work better than my words. I will share the drafts of how I want the case for it to look. 

I order the Pi Zero W that will be used for the end product. It came it quickly and I was pretty jazzed to get the headers soldered on and start to set it up as the main streamer.

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Pretty cool huh? And hands to Adafruit for getting it here so quickly. Help me here though, what is wrong with my picture? Where are the headers you ask? Someone forgot to order them. I remember the mini HDMI connector, and the rotary encoder I am going to use for the volume knob, but no headers! DOH! Well, off to eBay and now I am waiting for them to show up. Which is fine, I am still working the my Volumio installation. Songs needs sorted in various directories and playlists, AirPlay needs to be debugged, and I am learning how to add streams for my local radio stations. 

I have found a couple of nice speakers on Amazon from Viston and Dayton. I need to check them out a little more and pick one of them. From Adafruit I have my eye on the 20W amp for the speaker. I am still working on how I want/will power it all. I still have some time for thinking on that one. 

Stay tuned, I will be back to write up on what I have found about the DAC scene for the RPi and a little more about Volumio2. 

macOS 13 beta and (a couple) maker tools – A quickie review

A proud Old School Apple Mac Fanboy since 1986!

I like to keep up on the new OSes when they are released. For many years I had a developer subscription to make sure I could get a hold of the beta releases for software compatibility testing in our environment. Jobs change, but fortunately so did Apple’s policy to providing public betas. I like to test them out when I can to see what new features abound and how compatible my current tool chains are. 

I had a couple hours of down time at work the other night so I decided my spare MacPro 6,1 (12-core/16GB/1TB) would be my High Sierra (10.13) guinea pig. It used to have 10.12 installed along with my work apps; so it seems like a good baseline. I proceeded to the App Store and downloaded it. 

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My finger was a bit twitchy as the cursor hung over the Install button. “Go for it” I hear in my head. Click. It was going to take some time so I wandered away to get a couple of actions items done. 

I headed back over about 45 minutes later and it was ready for me. I didn’t have a lot of time so this is the quick review part plus I wanted some time left to install the toolchains and apps I used for my maker/hacker projects. I was surprised at how quick it went considering the new filesystem is being used. 

The new filesystem, AFS, conversion went just fine and to date I have not noticed any missing or corrupt files. It is wicked fast compared to the HFS+ it replaces. This alone gives this aging machine a nice boost. It is good to see Apple finally addressing this issue. I was a little jealous of the linux systems running ext4 and ZFS. The new Safari seems nice. I have not played with the Technology Previews that Apple has posted. The block autoplay is a nice feature and one that seems like it should have been there before now. I will keep poking around and post new tidbits as I find them. 

As for the maker tools I wanted to see how the Arduino IDE, esptool.py, and KiCAD would fare. I took things one by one. I grabbed a copy of the Arduino IDE and it fired right up without argument. I had my traveling Arduino Mini clone with me, so I opened one of the example scripts and uploaded it with no problems. Alright, step two. I get esptool.py and install it. As of this post, 10.13 has Python 2.7.1 installed. Again I was able to install it without issue. Since I was working on my ESP8266 + OLED + NTP clock (and had it with me) I brought it out and hooked it up. After updating the Arduino IDE preferences and boards and was able to successfully upload the code to the ESP8266 NodeMCU clone. 

 

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Lastly with time running out, I launched KiCAD (I already had it installed). With just a quick look I was able to open my current project and make a couple of quick edits and save the project. 

I have not stirred the puddin’ with the above apps, but on first run there seems to be great promise for an easy transition to High Sierra this fall. I will keep on adding more tools and beating up on ones I already have installed and then reporting back here. 

OSMC part 2

During my downtime I have been reading up on the OSMC (Open Source Media Center) package for my media center project. It seems to be a nice, well put together, distro that does/is what its’ name says. I checked out some reviews online and this was the version pointed to if you wanted a clean, easy to use, well-supported solution. Checking out their web site definitely gives you the feeling they may have something going on. 

Installation was really easy, I must say the easiest of all distros (about 3) I have dealt with so far. When you head to their downloads page, you click on your OS and it downloads an installer package.

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Have your SD card ready for the next part. 

Note I was using a SD card that had Raspbian on it. I used SD formatter to format the card before trying to use the OSMC installer. Don’t use SD Formatter. In my case, it would not mount the card properly. I had to use Disk Utility to format the card using FAT. 

Double-click on the installer. You can see the installer icon to the left of the Welcome to OSMC screen. 

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Pick your language and hardware platform. Once you click on the next arrow it will guide you through a couple of other steps such as if you want to configure networking. Both wired and wireless are supported. It will then ask you if you want to use a local repo or download a copy from the net. Since I didn’t download it yet, I let the app do the work for me. 

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The speeds finally did increase as I was tempted to head upstairs and grab a snack if it was going to take this long. 

Once it was complete I ejected the card from my MacBook and popped it in the Pi. Once the Pi gets booted up and begins the real installation of OSMC to the card. 

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This doesn’t take long, about 5 minutes. 

When it reboots it comes up with the OSMC interface and it is ready for configuring. At this point it is 1:30am and time for a little rest. Tomorrow night will come with AirPlay test. This is one feature I am really looking for. Not so much for the video but most defiantly for the audio. I am also on the hunt for the available options for listening to radio. We don’t have a home stereo any more. After years, moves, and kids, parts were either worn down, lost, or broken. Part of this project is to try and create an updated home media/audio center. I miss just turning something on and having it play int he background or for active listening. 

So if you are interested, stay tuned and I will keep posting about progress, pitfalls, and ideas.