Category Archives: Slightly Off Topic

I’m keeping the CoCo 2

Thanks to all of you for indulging me yesterday as I tried to decide whether or not I should keep my beloved TRS-80 Tandy Color Computer 2 (CoCo 2).

I conducted a survey asking this very question.  As of this morning, 158 readers responded to the survey, 81.4% replied (rather, shouted) “Keep it!”:

And so I shall.

It’s not just the survey that swayed me. Many of you pointed to the active community of CoCo 2 enthusiasts on the web that keep these simple machines alive and well and even continue innovating with add-on boards/features.   I know now that when the time is right, I should fire the old girl up and run a few simple programs–perhaps even code one of those Family Computing programs. (Incidentally, if anyone has a suggestion of how to connect the CoCo2 to a modern TV with HDMI or composite/component inputs, please comment!)

Many of you also told me that I would likely have regrets in the future if I sold the CoCo 2.

I suspect you’re all right about that.

And then Robert Gulley commented:

“As someone who is downsizing radios myself, I still have my limits. Keep the computer, mainly because it is a connection, no, a very important connection, to your past. As I have grown older I have come to realize the significance of being connected to the things which touch your soul, and therefore I keep watch over those things.”

Robert knows me pretty well, so I took these words to heart.

I only have wonderful memories with the CoCo 2 and hanging with my best friend, Junior, as we tried to hack and tinker with programs.

I’ve decided that I’m going to hang the CoCo 2 on the wall in my shack and, eventually, turn it into some sort of functional art. I want to be able to pluck it from the wall and connect it to a monitor from time to time. I might even take some of your suggestions and employ it in a simple ham radio application…just because.

Thanks again for helping me with this decision!

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Should I let go of the CoCo 2?

[Click here to read the follow-up to this post.]

We radio enthusiasts are a nostalgic bunch. Let’s just admit that and get it out of the way.

I’ve always found it difficult to let go of vintage radios, but over the past three years I have. I used to have well over a dozen boat anchors (heavy metal tube/valve radios) here at SWLing Post HQ. Today, I have three: my Scott Marine Model SLR-M, Signal Corps BC-348Q and Minerva Tropic Master (the Minerva being the lightweight of the bunch).

I found solace in donating some of my radios to museums and selling or giving them to friends who appreciate and will maintain them.

This radio played no small part in my life.

Outside of vintage radios, I have much less trouble selling or giving away my stuff; especially consumer electronics. I have very little attachment to those. I’ve never fallen in love with a phone, laptop, desktop or desktop PC.

Save my first personal computer, the TRS-80 Tandy Color Computer 2 (a.k.a. Coco 2).

I always tell people the two things from my childhood that had the most impact on my life were my Zenith Transoceanic shortwave radio and my Tandy Color Computer 2.

The shortwave radio kindled my interest in world news, languages, culture, music and traveling. And…well, it eventually lead to a lifelong passion in radio and, consequently, the SWLing Post.

Incidentally, The CoCo 2 taught me a skill that would also change my life.

Without knowing it at the time, the CoCo 2 taught me programming.

I couldn’t afford game cartridges as a kid, so I programmed my own simple CoCo 2 games with Family Computing magazine (remember them–?).

Each month, Family Computing featured a number of programs and games  you could input yourself. It was brilliant! My best friend, Junior, had a subscription to the magazine and would bring each issue over to the house and we’d type in lines and lines of code with the ultimate goal of playing a game or making our computers do something new.

Of course, 11 year old kids aren’t the best typists, so we’d always had to debug the code, following the error trail before the program would work. We’d also modify the code afterwards to see how it would change the program–it was amazing fun!

 

Keep in mind my CoCo 2 only had a whopping 16K of memory and all of it was volatile. Each time I’d turn the unit off, I’d lose everything I’d typed in. That is, until I could afford a tape recorder to save and load my programs (I still have it around here somewhere…).

Fast forward a dozen or so years…

In my first “real” job out of college, my manager noticed quickly that I could program and modify local copies of company databases so that my applications were more efficient and tailored to my job. The database system used a formula language that followed the same logic as the CoCo2’s Basic, so was pretty simple to pick up once I sorted out the commands and syntax. To be clear, I wasn’t hired for programming or IT skills, in fact it never came up in the interview as I was being hired for my French language skills.

 

Other than the Coco 2, I had no IT or computer studies in any formal setting–not in high school and not in college. Within three years at the company, I was promoted and sent to Europe to tie together and develop a number of database systems for the company’s various international sites. It was an dynamic, fun and rewarding career.

None of that would have ever happened had it not been for the CoCo 2.

So why am I considering selling the Coco 2?

Frankly, I never use it and don’t even have the adapter to plug it into any of my modern monitors. I’ve only been keeping it for sentimental reasons. I’ve been trying to let go of things I don’t use and this would certainly fall into this category.  I doubt it’s worth a lot…perhaps $20-$40? I’m not really sure.

Then again, I almost gave my Zenith Transoceanic away once and am very thankful now that I didn’t.

As I was about to put the CoCo 2 on eBay, I pressed pause and wrote this post instead.

What do you think?  Should I sell it or keep it? What would you do? 

Also, are there any other early PC enthusiasts out there? Please share your thoughts! While this isn’t a PC blog, I image this might be a common thread among us radio enthusiasts. Please comment!

And for fun, here’s a little poll to help sway me:


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The TV-B-Gone: reviewing a fun and (incredibly) useful kit!

The TV-B-Gone kit

Post readers might recall that I attended and presented at  Circle of HOPE (Hackers On Planet Earth 2018 in New York City.

One of the many cool things about HOPE was the Hardware Hacking Village: a space with 40 or so fully-stocked soldering stations that HOPE attendees could use anytime during the conference.

One of the many HOPE Hardware Hacking Village tables

I built two kits at the conference: The Cricket QRP transceiver (read about that here) and a very cool little product called the TV-B-Gone.

What is the TV-B-Gone? As the name implies, it’s a TV remote control with only one function, one button and one mission: to turn off TVs!

The TV-B-Gone is packed with power codes for virtually any TV or monitor on the market. Simply point the remote at a TV, click its one button, and wait as the device cycles through loads of power codes in a few seconds.

At first blush, this might sound like a mischievous little device. I mean, imagine watching the World Cup finals at your favorite pub or bar and someone turns off all of the TVs in the establishment at a crucial moment in the game? I’m sure some purchase the TV-B-Gone for this very purpose.

That’s not me. I’m not into pranks and that’s not why TV-B-Gone designer (and Maker community giant) Mitch Altman designed this product. It was more about creating an “environmental management device”–a way to control the ubiquitous TV messages/media bombarding us in situations where they really don’t belong.

Mitch Altman in his element, teaching a class in the Hardware Hacking Village at HOPE 2018.

I’ll be the first to admit here that I’m a radio guy (big surprise, right–?) and really have no love for TVs. We have one 28″ TV in our home and it only receives one PBS station although we do use this TV it to watch the odd TV program or series via Netflix or Amazon Prime Video. I never consume news via TV unless a news-worthy event is one that must be seen. I prefer consuming news via radio or reading newspapers with objective reporters that I trust.

So when I met Mitch at HOPE and saw that he was selling a kit version of the TV-B-Gone for $20 US, I couldn’t fork out my money fast enough!

I bought the kit and built it at a table not even 10 feet away from him.

I meant to take photos of the TV-B-Gone kit as I built it, but was quite distracted helping a father and his 10 year old son both build their first kits (HumanaLight kits, of all things!) across from me.

Even though my attention was divided, I still completed the kit in well under an hour. I didn’t have two spare AA batteries to power it for testing purposes, but Mitch was nearby and gave me two new AA cells.

The TV-B-Gone kit is powered by two common AA batteries

After pushing the only button on this remote, the small green LED started blinking–“a good sign” said Mitch. Then he had me turn on the front-facing camera of my Android phone to verify the LEDs were blinking (front-facing cameras don’t filter IR light–who knew?). They were blinking/flickering like mad.

Mitch said, “Now you have the power to turn off TVs…and you should!

The TV-B-Gone kit sports four powerful LEDs that are effective up to 150 feet away.

I bought this kit with one specific use in mind: hotel dining rooms.

I travel quite a lot and almost always stay in hotels that provide breakfast in a small dining room area of the lobby. I’m often travelling with family, so I wake up quite early, head to the breakfast area, grab a cup of coffee, and catch up with SWLing Post correspondence, comments and posts. Most of the time, I’m the only person in the dining room, yet the TV is blaring the news (often an outlet I don’t like) and there is no remote to be found.

This is where the TV-B-Gone could bring peace to my morning. But would it work? Time to find out!

On a trip through Connecticut in August, I stayed a few nights at a Hilton Garden Inn. I found an excellent spot to work on a comfy couch in a corner nook of the lobby. The couch faced a fireplace and was perfect for relaxing and catching up on work. One morning, I woke at 5:30 AM, headed down to the lobby and grabbed a cup of coffee. Unfortunately, right above the fireplace in this small nook was perched a monster flat screen TV with the news blaring. At 5:30 AM!?!

There was no remote to be found, so I reached into my bag, pulled out the TV-B-Gone, pressed the button and within 5 seconds, the TV turned off.

I knew then: I’d fallen in love with this $20 kit.

Then again in New York, last week, I was having breakfast at 6:00 AM in a small hotel. The only other people in the dining room were obviously with the military and there together for breakfast and a chat/debriefing before starting their day. None of them were watching the TV which was blaring commercials–in fact, they had all positioned themselves at the farthest point from the TV and facing away. I had a hunch they wouldn’t mind if I turned off the TV, so I pulled out the TV-B-Gone and didn’t even remove it from the poly bag I keep it in. One press of the button and seconds later the TV went silent.

I heard one of the guys at the other table say, “I hope they keep that thing turned off!”

I won’t lie: it felt like I was wielding a super power.

My EDC Pack easily accommodates the TV-B-Gone.

My TV-B-Gone remote now permanently lives in a dedicated pocket at the front of my EDC pack (a Tom Bihn Stowaway, in case you’re interested).

My TV-B-Gone remote now travels with me everywhere.

If you’re like me and would like a little device to manage your environment, I strongly recommend the TV-B-Gone.

I had a lot of fun building the kit version of TV-B-Gone, but if you don’t care to build one, Mitch has pre-built key chain versions of this same remote on his website for a mere $24.95. Note that the kit version comes with all you need to set up the remote for international use (power codes and configuration differ based on region). If you purchase a pre-built keychain, make sure you buy the version for the part of the world where you intend to use it.

TV-B-Gone Retailers:

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Raspberry Pi Vintage Radio

This project was a winner in the Maker Share Mission May contest. While not strictly shortwave, of course, many of SWLing Blog readers enjoy, as I do, all things radio, and especially creative and new expressions of radio. Here is a brief excerpt from the MakerShare posting:

Vintage radios are fascinating. At one point the radio was the main method for mass communication of news and entertainment and was manufactured in a variety of styles to be prominently displayed in a home. Unfortunately, many vintage radios that have been physically preserved no longer function and it is impractical for them to be repaired. Described is the design and implementation of the Raspberry Pi Radio (RPiRadio), a device that bypasses the analog electronics of a vintage radio and digitally recreates the behavior of a vintage radio that is able to be tuned to vintage radio programming.

The whole posting may be found here, with extensive details on the building of the radio and how it was programmed for sound replicating the vintage radio era.

While I love tinkering with old radios and trying to bring them back to life, some radios are just beyond reasonable repair. This can bring old radios back to life in a way which seeks to honor their past – a very cool idea indeed!

Robert Gulley, AK3Q, is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post.       Robert also blogs at All Things Radio.

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Our Galaxy Expressed as Jazz

Rather than take pictures of the Milky Way, astronomer Mark Heyer decided to capture it in a completely different art form.

This amazing video is part of an article from Interesting Engineering  depicting the motion of the Milky Way translated into a musical score.

While most astronomers love capturing unique and stunning images of the Milky Way, one astronomer wanted to capture the galaxy in a unique way. Astronomer Mark Heyer expressed how the galaxy moves in the musical composition “Milky Way Blues.”

This is no Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” as the music isn’t simply inspired by the galaxy’s sounds; it is the galaxy’s sounds. The University of Massachusetts Amherst professor created an algorithm that transformed the data into a series of notes.

“This musical expression lets you ‘hear’ the motions of our Milky Way galaxy,” he says. “The notes primarily reflect the velocities of the gas rotating around the center of our galaxy.”

Heyer assigned notes to the atomic, molecular and ionized gases that can be found between the stars in our galaxy. He then gave different pitches, tones and note count to the velocity and spectra of each gas phase. For example, atomic gases were given an acoustic bass sound, molecular gasses got woodblocks and piano, and ionized gases became saxophone notes.

“Astronomers make amazing pictures, but they’re a snapshot in time and therefore static. In fact, stars and interstellar gas are constantly moving through the galaxy but this motion is not conveyed in those images. The Milky Way galaxy and the universe are very dynamic, and putting that motion to music is one way to express that action.” He chose to compose this piece using a pentatonic scale – with five notes in the octave instead of seven – and in a minor key, because “when I heard the bass notes it sounded jazzy and blue,” he said.

You can read more about this incredible process here.

Watch the video here.

Enjoy!

Robert Gulley, AK3Q, is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post.       Robert also blogs at All Things Radio.

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