Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Modern Homebrew Computing

As a youngster I read the book Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, by Steven Levy and have always longed to understand what it was like to be present at the moment of creation of machines like the Apple I, or the KIM. Sadly, being a "next-genner" I was born too late, and too far from places like Silicone Valley. I grew up with machines like the Commodore 64, and the Apple IIe, and certainly experienced the heyday of the 8bit computer, but wish I could have been a fly on the wall when Woz lit up his first microcomputer. The early home machines hold a very special place in my heart, and I have a reasonable collection of Commodore, Atari, Apple, and Sinclair machines stashed around my home and office. I still enjoy the simple days of computing, before spam, spyware, and viruses.

In the last year I've been playing with an incredible new device called the Propeller. The Propeller is an innovative micro controller, which is capable of eight simultaneous operations (8 cpu cores), and operates at speeds between 80-114mhz. With very little coaxing it can communicate with VGA and TV screens, PS2 keyboard/mouse, even save data on a piece of SD media. It has 32 I/O connections which have been interfaced with hundreds of devices. Several games, miniOS, and basic have been written for this chip.

It doesn't take an EE qualification to work with the minimal amount of electronics required to play with the Propeller. In fact, anyone with causal experience with a soldering iron can now realize the joy of building their own microcomputer. The technology has taken many leaps in the last year I've been involved with it, but there is so much more that it can do, and plenty of room for others to become addicted to the experience of seeing a microcomputer, designed with your own hands come to life.

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