The Longest Project Ever to Run in MAKE Magazine

Atari 2600PC from MAKE Volume 02

Atari 2600PC from MAKE Volume 02

Out of the 30 volumes of MAKE we’ve produced over the years, which project holds the record for taking up the most number of pages? The Atari 2600PC by Joe Grand, which spanned a jaw-dropping 35 pages back in Volume 02 (2005). Having worked on MAKE since the beginning, this project is legendary in my mind. Why did Joe decide to build it?

From his intro:

From an engineering perspective, the design of the Atari 2600 hardware is both simple and complex — yin and yang, so to speak — and it has enticed me for many years. The goal of this project is to cram a full-featured PC system into a retro Atari 2600 videogame case. Not only is this a real challenge, but it’s extremely rewarding. Since I want to retain as much of the original look and feel of the Atari system as I can, I will be using part of the original Atari circuitry and the original game controllers.

Wanna check it out? Here’s a PDF of the full project for your viewing pleasure.

We still have some copies of Volume 02 in the Shed if you need them for your collection.

MAKE Volume 02

Power Racing Season is Heating Up

The Power Racing Series (PPPRS), where grown men and women ride around on souped up toy cars (like the pink Power Wheels Jeep shown above) is gearing up for another season. The phenomenon, mostly centered around the Midwestern U.S. hackerspace scene, has been around since 2009 and seen an impressive growth every year since then.

New Formats
I asked Jim Burke, founder of the series, to update us on what to expect from the new season:

The Power Racing Series is undergoing some expansion this year. We’ll be attending Kansas City in June, Detroit in July and we’ll have an awesome night race for our season finale at Maker Faire Chicago in Evanston! Our championship is now decided by a “best 2 out of 3″ so teams that wish to compete in all three races will have the points from their best weekends allotted towards the championship while smaller teams who could only make some of the races can still enter 2 events and be competitive.

There will also be some additions to our current race lineup. Our drag race will now feature an unlimited modded Nerf gun target shoot. Teams will be required to shoot targets with a Nerf gun as they drag down the straight. Whomever hits all of their targets and crosses the line first wins.

Our 75 minute endurance race will now also be a relay race. Teams will be required to switch drivers every 15 minutes. Mayhem will take place in the pits as each team member, large or small, will have to race their machine. This year not only will we have a podium, but also opening ceremonies for the hackerspaces. So far its the usual suspects but there’s still time for hackerspaces to sign up.

New Rules and Trophies
The PPPRS awards points on what rank you finish, but also when you impress the crowd with your elite hacker style, known in PPPRS as Moxie. However, 2012 sees a new change in how Moxie is handled. Jim breaks it down:

This year our Moxie points for crowd performance will be over double the value as last year, so teams that aren’t the fastest out there will have a better shot at the title than ever before.

Trophies awarded include the Tesla Cup, the grand prize of the PPPRS, as well as the Moxie Cup, which rewards style, and the Chapman Cup for those who score well in the position competition. There is also a few assorted prizes like the Crash & Burn, who flame out spectacularly.

The 2012 Competition
The PPPRS site has a listing of the participating teams, but here are some highlights:

Pumping Station:One

The hackerspace that created the PPPRS is still very active in leading the series. Check out their throwdown as they try to lure non-participating spaces Arch Reactor, Freeside Atlanta, Workshop 88, Quad Cities Co-Lab, and NYC Resistor into the fray. It sounds like they’ll be gunning for the Moxie Cup with their Blues Brothers impression. It’s golden!

The Hack Factory

Twin Cities’ original hackerspace, the Hack Factory is busting out a new whip this year, the pink Jeep pictured at the top of this post. They’ve also worked out some of the bugs from Car 612, which featured backward steering that the team hadn’t been able to fix in time for last year’s Detroit Maker Faire race. Good luck to Videoman, Swinkdaddy and the others on the team! (photo by Anne Petersen)


Karen and Ted of team i3Detroit released the above video showing off their cool factor. Are they also making a run for the Moxie Cup?

Sector 67

The reigning PPPRS World Champions, Madison’s Sector 67 seems ready to continue their dominance. According to Jim they’re bringing two new cars to 2012′s races, one built for speed and one for Moxie. (pic by Dan Silvers)

Milwaukee Makerspace

Tom Gralewicz’s nigh-legendary Pink Trike (pic by Pete Prodoehl) broke in half its first race, but quickly returned to the fray. Jim updates:

Last year he retired from racing and vowed to return as a constructor. So far nobody has seen what he is working on, but if it is anything like the Pink Trike it will be a masterpiece.

The team has also included Royce Pipkin’s Grave Digger and David Feng’s Big Jake.

Did I miss your team? Leave an update in comments! — JB

Jim finished up by saying he’d love to see more participation by spaces new to the PPPRS. Are you itching to join the PPPRS? Build a car and do it! Check out the Power Racing Series site and find all the information and rules you need to participate.

How-To: Styrofoam Concrete

Concrete that uses chunks or beads of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam as aggregate has lots of interesting applications. It’s lighter, for one, so if you’re casting something intended to be portable (like Halloween yard tombstones) “EPScrete” can save you some lifting and groaning. It would also be expected to have better thermal insulation properties than plain-Jane concrete, and of course there’s the green angle: EPS is tough to recycle, and any that gets cast into concrete objects doesn’t end up in landfills (at least not immediately).

And while there is rather a lot of general discussion about EPScrete, online, there doesn’t seem to be much by way of hands-on instruction. That’s why I was pleased to discover this series of short posts from Nori Lamphere at her personal blog Our House, who did a great job, around this time last year, of keeping an online notebook describing her construction of an EPScrete wall using shredded foam slabs recycled from packing inserts. There are eleven posts in the series, which starts here.

Though you can make EPScrete using new polystyrene beads, Nori wanted to use directly recycled material, so she needed a way to grind up the foam slabs quickly. She started out using a wood chipper with a screen fitted over its exhaust port to keep the chunks inside until they’re small enough, but eventually switched to a homemade electric foam shredding machine, and developed a specific volumetric mix which includes recycled latex paint added to improve workability and flexural strength. Besides the recipe, she gives a detailed mixing protocol, and goes on to describe the construction of the wall itself.  [Thanks, Nori!]

EPS-crete wall

Repurpose – Sierra Magazine’s Craft Column

Many makers and crafters rightly see an environmentalist side to the way we reuse things and get creative with trash. The Sierra Club agrees. For over a year now, my wife Wendy has been having fun writing the “Repurpose” column for their magazine Sierra. It’s a beginner-friendly craft column that shows people how to turn common household throwaways into new useful objects.

I think it’s unusual for a major environmental organization to give regular space to craft how-to, but it shows that switch-flipping people’s self-image from helpless consumer to empowered and enlightened maker can be as much a part of environmentalism as fighting headline political battles over large wilderness areas.

In the print version of Sierra, “Repurpose” is a one-page overview, and complete instructions for the projects are published online. So far, our favorites are the Cassette Tape Purse and the Blazer Backpack, but they’re all neat, and Wendy has been enjoying getting to know the Dremel (among other tools). Here’s a link archive:

Voice-Controlled Wheelchair Prototype

Lego builder Yaya Lu created a prototype voice-controlled wheelchair out of Lego Mindstorms NXT elements, along with such 3rd party add-ons as Rotacaster omniwheels and a Dexter Industriues NXTBee module.

One of the problems with voice command systems is that the voice commands will be different for each of the approximately 7,000 languages used on Earth. To allow my control system to be able to be used by speakers of any of these languages, I make my voice commands language-independent by using a combination of short and long sounds (“dit” and “dah”). To recognize these commands I use a second NXT computer brick (see below) with a LEGO sound sensor and an NXTBee sensor attached to send my voice commands to the wheelchair. The commands used are three “dit” or “dah” sounds. This gives a total of 8 commands. This second NXT brick is programmed in RobotC to recognize these sound commands and to type “dit” or “dah” (plus the recognized command) on to the NXT screen to enable the speaker to check that their voice command has been recognized.

The radio commands are sent from the transmitter NXTBee and are received by the second NXTBee attached to the wheelchair robot. The NXT computer brick on the wheelchair then obeys a RobotC program that translates these commands into the movements: wheelchair forwards, wheelchair backwards, wheelchair spin clockwise, wheelchair spin anti-clockwise, wheelchair sideways left, wheelchair sideways right, and wheelchair stop.

[via the NXT Step]

“Star Castle” Finally Ported to Atari 2600

Absolutely epic maker tale from former Atari dev Scott Williamson, who writes:

So, you may be wondering why anyone would bother to make a version of a 30 year old vector arcade game on an arcane 33 year old platform? I was inspired by one of the greatest and most influential game programmers of all time to make something that he said was impossible. I don’t consider this a game development project, rather an alternative history art piece, a demonstration that it could indeed be done.

Back story: Porting Star Castle to the 2600 was the first assignment of now-legendary Atari game pioneer Howard Scott Warshaw, who eventually decided that “a decent version couldn’t be done” on the console hardware, and reorganized the core gameplay elements of Star Castle into Yar’s Revenge, which went on to become Atari’s best-selling original title for the 2600.

Now story: Williamson, who worked for Atari starting in ’87, became fascinated with the Star Castle challenge. He dug into the attic for his old Atari notebooks, cobbled together a development environment, and after much head-scratching and code-crunching, managed to pare Star Castle—sprites, sounds, AI, and all—down to 8K ROM / 128 bytes RAM (yes, that’s individual bytes, with no prefix). Then he designed fantastic retro Atari-style packaging for the game, including a clear-cased custom cartridge with internal LEDs that flash during gameplay.

That’s right: The cartridge lights up.

Don’t miss this one, folks. Link below. [Thanks, Scott!]

Star Castle 2600, the Story

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