The Altair-Duino

The most exciting and satisfying kit I built in 2018 was the Altair-Duino, an Arduino based emulator of the Altair 8800, the legendary microcomputer designed in 1974 by MITS (Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry  Systems) and featured on the cover of the January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics.

Although I was only 9 years old when that issue of PE was published, I remember reading and making photocopies of the article at my local library a few years later. 

At such a tender age, I didn’t have any of the resources needed to build my own Altair.  It would have taken me two and a half years to have saved up the $439 cost of the kit at my $2/week allowance, and while I had access to my grandfather’s radio and TV work bench, his parts bins contained hundreds of vacuum tubes but hardly any transistors and no computer chips.

So imagine my excitement when I discovered this year that a modern day emulator was available in kit form.  The Altair-Duino kit is offered by KB0WWP, Chris Davies and based on the Altair 8800 emulator project published on hackster.io by David Hansel.  The Altair-Duino kit comes complete with a high quality etched PCB, bamboo case, replica face plate, and all components and hardware. 

What’s even better is the price – online inflation calculators suggest that the original Altair kit’s $439 price tag would be equivalent to $2,057 in 2018 dollars, but the complete Altair-Duino kit is only $149…  WOW!

It is worth mentioning that another modern day Altair emulator option for retro computing fans is Mike Douglas’ Altair 8800 Clone (www.altairclone.com) which is available built for $621 at the time of this writing.

The Build

Building the Altair-Duino was straightforward and simple for my kit building skills, which I would rate as proficient.  Using the very good documentation found online on the http://www.adwaterandstir.com site I built the complete kit in about 5 hours’ time over two days.

Assembling the kit involves soldering 72 resistors, 36 transistors, 36 LEDs, and 25 toggle switches on the top side of the PCB.  The bottom of the board holds the Arduino Due and a Bluetooth board, the SD card, and a few discreet components to regulate the power supply.

The fit and finish of the kit is exceptionally well done. The beautiful face plate serves as a handy template for properly aligning both the LEDs and the toggle switches when attaching them to the PCB, and the shallow wooden cabinet is pre-drilled for the rear connections panel and has a cut out slot on the backside so the builder can easily access the SD card which comes pre-loaded with the Altair software.

Operations

The Adwater & Stir website has an excellent operations page that includes a link to the original Altair 8800 operations manual which can be used with the Altair-Duino as it is 100% compatible with the original Altair 8800.  The operations page also provides easy to follow step-by-step directions that I found easy to follow and useful for instant gratification.

I connected my Altair-Duino to my PC via the USB cable and Windows 10 recognizes the device on COM 4.  The Altair-Duino can also be connected via a serial cable or Bluetooth.  

Using the recommended terminal program PuTTY, I have had fun experimenting with a couple of the various pre-loaded versions of BASIC: Bill Gates’ 4k Altair BASIC and MITS 16K ROM BASIC, have puttered around with SuperCALC and have enjoyed a nostalgic trip through the Underground Empire of ZORK.

There is much more that can be done with the Altair-Duino and I look forward to experimenting further. 

Have you built an Altair-Duino or do you have the Mike Douglas Altair 8800 clone?  Did you have an original Altair back in the day?  I’d love to hear from you – please comment or drop me a line at ab1dq@protonmail.com.

© 2018 James M. Surprenant


Something new from AB1DQ

Hello and welcome to the new AB1DQ blog, I hope you find this site informative, inspiring and fun.

My name is James M. Surprenant and AB1DQ is my amateur radio call sign. I hold an Amateur Extra Class license and earned my first ticket as KB1IAR in 2002.

Although I came to ham radio later in life, I have always been fascinated with radio and electronics ever since I was a child ‘wasting time’ at my grandfather’s workbench.

My intent for this new blog is that it should be a place for me to share ideas of personal interest and projects that are currently on my workbench.

This is a personal site and like most persons, I’m not one dimensional. I have many personal interests including, but not limited to, photography, spirituality, cigars, whisky, baseball, poetry and music. Thus not all of the content here will be related to electronics and radio. I ask that all visitors here consume the content I share with an open mind, take what they need and leave the rest.

So, thank you VERY much for visiting – please drop me at ab1dq@protonmail.com and let me know what you think.

This “Cheshire Cat” is my ham radio logo and appears on my QSL card.
It was created by professional cartoonist and fellow ham radio operator N2EST, Jim Massara. Lear more about Jim and his work at http://www.hamtoons.net.

73 de AB1DQ
James
Cheshire, CT

Altar Q Cigar by Oscar Valladares

I smoked my first Altar Q cigar by Oscar Valladares a couple of weeks ago at a whisky tasting at the Owl Shop in New Haven, Connecticut.  It was my first cigar from Oscar Valladares, although I have been meaning to try their Leaf for some time.  The Altar Q impressed me with a lot of flavor that evening and I noted that it paired particularly well with the Laphroaig Lore Scotch whisky that was being poured.

It is noontime New Year’s Eve 2018 and I stopped in at the Owl again today to try another Altar Q. after running some year-end errands.

The cigar comes boxed in a wooden box of 16 with the cigars separated by paper. The cigars do not have a cellophane wrapper but instead have a beautiful wide 3.5” paper foot band honoring Mayan tobacco.  Currently Neptune Cigar offers the box of 16 for $168 which makes the cost of an individual stick $10.50 – a bit pricey for me, but really worth it.

Oscar Valladares Tobacco, is located in Danli, Honduras. It started operating on 2012, the Factory was founded by Oscar Valladares, Hector Valladares and Bayron Duarte, with experience in the tobacco industry; Oscar worked for more than 9 years with Rocky Patel and Bayron worked for more than 20 years for General Cigars and Oliva.

The Altar Q is a 52 ring gauge 6” cigar and features a Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper, a Honduran Copan region binder and Honduran long fillers.  The appearance is oily and smooth, seamless with very few visible veins.  The cigar has a triple-cap and a pigtail.  Construction is fairly firm, and just a bit squishy.

I cut the cigar with my notch cutter and found the pre-light draw to be flavorful – very spicy, leathery, earth and classic tobacco flavored.

First third

Upon lighting, the Altar Q starts off with a big bite of spicy pepper – wow.  Also notable from the get go are subtle citrus, slight honey notes and some nuttiness.  The draw is very good and the burn is decent, a little uneven and required some slight touching up.  The cigar produces good smoke and produces a nice solid salt and pepper ash.

Second third

The strong pepper flavor is yielding a bit to a nice nutty and citrus flavor at the start of the second third.  The draw and burn both continue to be very good.  Just beyond the mid-point the flavor is becoming nuttier and the creaminess begins, however, the cigar needed re-lighting at this point, just as my first Altar Q needed a couple of weeks ago.

Final third

The last third begins with more creaminess, some nuttiness and the ever-present pepper.  The burn remained good and even and the draw was perfect.  As I smoked my way through the last third, the flavor became more and more creamy – a very tasty and satisfying smoke.

Overall

I consider the Altar Q an instant classic and a new favorite.   It pairs exceptionally well with a smoky peaty scotch such as Laphroaig Lore or a hot pot of Lapsong Souchong tea. I would rate it a 9 out of 10 and I look forward to picking up a full box before too long.

© 2019 James M. Surprenant