Tag Archives: Hardware

In which I get teary over an archive of Byte magazine covers


I came across this archive of all the Byte magazine covers which some energetic soul has scanned. They go all the way back to the first issue in January 1977.

Major flashback!

Here’s the first one I bought at McGills Technical Books in Elizabeth Street, Melbourne:

I’m pretty sure it cost me $AU4.50; about $18 or more in current dollars. I was a poor student and I agonized over spending that much.

In a world where computers are everywhere, it’s hard to imagine how exciting it was to get your hands on a real computer in 1977.

480px-Apple_I_ComputerThere was a thriving market in development boards for the different microprocessors, but you had to assemble them from scratch by soldering components to a board. If you were really cashed up you could get a fully assembled board like this one from an obscure company in California with a cute name:

I pored over the ads in Byte, vacuumed up the articles on assembly language, threaded interpretive languages and wire wrapping and eventually conned Janine to divert much-needed funds from our house savings for a Z80 Starter System from SD Systems.

1024 bytes of RAM (expandable to 2048 bytes!), a 2K EPROM programmer, a cassette interface to store programs and the all-important S100 bus expansion so I would never have to buy another computer again. Doesn’t sound like much but it eventually had:

  • Sargon chess
  • Space Invaders
  • A 3D graphical maze
  • A voice synthesiser using the Votrax SSI-263AP
  • An AY-3-8910 as a 3-voice programmable sound generator
  • A floppy disk interface for a 720K 3.5″ drive

If it wasn’t for the fact that I still have the S100 cards pinned to my wall for nostalgia I wouldn’t believe I ever had the time (or the nous) to do all that.

Here is the wire wrap board with all the specialty chips crammed up one end to maximise the board usage:


… and here’s the rat’s nest of wire-wrap on the back:



I need to go off for a quiet sob now, or maybe get inspired to get off my arse and build something.

Review: Avantree Bluetooth Music Adapter BTTC-200X

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with Bluetooth.

photo 2

When it first came out in the nineties it looked like it would end the tangle of cables on my desktop, but the reality has fallen short.

Apple have embraced Bluetooth for keyboards and mice, but the PC world is dominated by proprietary 2.4GHz dongles for wireless communication which gobble up a USB port before eventually getting lost. Unfortunately adoption has been slow so Bluetooth is often at a premium price compared to similar devices.

Bluetooth devices are also far from “plug and play”. The pairing process is often hit and miss, and I defy you to set up a Bluetooth headset without reading the manual – “Hold down button B for five seconds until the light flashed red then enter the code 8888 (maybe…. if you’re asked for it)“.

On top of that, after nearly twenty years there is still no guarantee that the headset you use with your mobile phone will connect to any other device, say a laptop. It’s almost as though the vendors want to lock you into using their headsets exclusively with their phones… No, stop. That’s crazy talk.

That said, once it works it (mostly) works, but the audio quality has never been a high point. The Avantree Bluetooth Music Adapter attempts to fill some of the gaps in wireless connectivity, at least for streaming audio. It allows you to:

  1. Transmit audio to a Bluetooth device from an analog audio source (such as a CD player).
  2. Receive audio from a Bluetooth device and pass it to an analog destination (such as a stereo receiver).

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Elgato Video Capture

Every time I get new computer hardware I think “cool, now I can do some video editing”. And every time I discover it’s still a slow and painful process.

Turns out a dual core MacBook Pro is finally enough to handle it nicely… or perhaps it’s just that the software sucks less nowadays.

I bought an Elgato Video Capture USB widget on Amazon (at half the retail price in Australia by the way, even with shipping) and, in the grand tradition of Mac software, it is trivially easy to use. You just:

  • Plug the three RCA jacks into the Video Out from your VCR (or other video source)
  • Plug the USB connector into a spare USB port.
  • Install the software (Drag it from the CD to the Applications folder)

Whatever is coming out of the video device now appears in a window. Press the Big Red Record Button and you are saving your priceless VHS videos and can edit them to your heart’s content.


Anyway, let’s get on with embarrassing the kids. Here’s a snippet from a VHS recording we did at ScienceWorks back in 1994 where they got to play with video special effects.

Your brakes have failed. Abort, Retry or Ignore?

Medical devices, in-car electronics, police radios and smart phones are going wireless so they can be controlled remotely. The manufacturers seem to assume that no hacker will figure out how to access them, much less completely control them.


This video makes you wonder why cheesy programs like CSI has to make shit up when the real world has such intriguing (and unsettling) stuff going on.