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The "Secret Life of..." series

This section concentrates on the Channel 4 series "The Secret Life of..." with Tim Hunkin and his ever suffering assistant Rex Garrod - who seems to get lumbered with all the dangerous stuff.

If you're not sure why those names sound familiar, Tim also had a cartoon series of 'do-it-yourself' experiments in a leading UK newspaper and now mainly occupies himself building interactive displays for museums.

Rex was one of the team members on the BBC's Robot Wars with his extremely successful robot 'Cassius'.

Since the "Secret Life of..." series videos are primarily targetted at educational use, they're quite hard to find. After much searching, and a nice letter to Channel 4 the following company is where you can buy (PAL or NTSC format) the videos from:

Send to: Team Video, PO BOX 38194, London, W10 5WZ
By fax: +44 (0)208 960 9784
By phone: +44 (0)208 960 5536
For NTSC videos, VHS and DVD versions are available. Team Video Pacific

There are 9 videos in the series, each containing two programs:

  1. Sewing machine/Refrigerator
  2. Central heating/TV set
  3. Washing machine/Vacuum cleaner
  4. Motor car/Internal combustion engine
  5. Quartz watch/Telephone
  6. Video recorder/Radio set
  7. Fax machine/Lift
  8. Word processor/Electric light
  9. The photocopier/The office

Muppets multimedia!

Complete sound sample

Every time I look around for "The Muppet Show" music for the original 1980's show, I always find they're bits missing. To avoid disappointment you can download them in full from the following links, with thanks to Dan Maloney for digitising them:
"The Muppet Show" Opening titles (A zipped 44.1kHz WAV file, 50 secs duration) 1.9MB
"The Muppet Show" Closing titles (A zipped 44.1kHz WAV file, 40 secs duration) 1.6MB

You might also want to look at the official Jim Henson's Muppets website by following the link on my links page.

Making Millionaire's shortbread

Though unlikely to make you millions of pounds, they're still quite fun to make - the following recipe is enough for 20 pieces which despite the four stage process required is still worth it for the outcome.

1. Making the base

You will need:

  • 7oz plain flour
  • 5oz butter or margarine
  • 2oz white sugar
Cream the soft butter and sugar together in a large bowl with a wooden spoon, and rub in the flour to form a fine breadcrumb mix. Add a couple of teaspoons water then get your hands in: form the ingredients into a ball.
Put the ball straight onto a large (12x9") baking tray and flatten out to the 4 corners.
Cook the shortbread on gas mark 4 for 25-30 minutes until brown, and leave to cool completely.
Target model
Caramel stage 2. Adding the caramel

You will need:

  • 5oz butter or margarine
  • 2oz sugar
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup
  • 150ml condensed milk
Chuck everything into a pan and place the pan on a medium heat in order to melt the butter completely.
Continue to heat while simultaneously stirring with a metal spoon, be sure to stir in a figure of eight rather than just round and round as this will lead to a very burnt pan!
When the mixture comes to a boil reduce to a low heat just enough to sustain the bubbling. Keep stirring the molten lava like mixture until it starts to change colour from cream to fudge colour.
Pour the caramel layer on top of the shortbread and leave to cool in the fridge.
3. Melting the chocolate topping

You will need:

  • 5oz milk chocolate
  • ½oz butter
Prepare a bain marie with an inch of boiling water at the bottom of a pan whose diameter is slightly less than that of a randomly selected glass bowl.
Break the chocolate into small pieces to make melting faster and more even, the butter (optional) makes it easier to spread out later. Take care not to 'cook' the chocolate to the point where it separates and goes dark and slimey, the consistency should just be like a tin of light brown paint.
Swiftly transfer the bowl of hot chocolate and pour over the chilled caramel layer, spreading evenly with a palette knife.
Bain marie stage
Completed stage 4. Consumption

You will need:

  • knife
  • stomach
Once the chocolate has hardened cut the contents of the tray into 20 pieces. To prevent the caramel layer dragging and the chocolate layer cracking cut in two stages - one partial cut through the soft upper and a second pass to cut the shortbread.
Remove from the tray.

6502 processor written in VHDL

The 6502, conceived in 1975, is a simple 8 bit microprocessor with one working register (A) and two index registers (X and Y). As it's now over 20 years old the patent has expired and it can be used as a general purpose micro as part of larger more complicated systems inside FPGAs. The 'Free-6502' core is an opcode compatible CPU core with the following basic features: It is based on version 0.7 of the Free-6502 with a little additional work to implement BCD mode arithmetic. One of the slightly amusing parts of the design is the use of an Excel spreadsheet to describe the microcode, which is then exported and recycled into the VHDL required for the CPU core. With no special care taken towards optimising for area or speed, the default settings in the Xilinx Foundation M1.5 software produced a design with the characteristics as follows.

Implemented at 12.5MHz (using only a clk period constraint)

There are 3 possible downloads to choose from
  1. Foundation project - for use with the Xilinx Foundation M1.5 software, this should be unzipped into the C:\fndtn\active\projects\ per usual. It contains a simple schematic using the core; a testrom; and some i/o buffers. This can be used as a basis for other designs or at the very least as a quick way to evaluate the core with Xilinx family parts.
  2. Details of changes - a summary of the changes made to the original VHDL to add the BCD arithmetic to the arithmetic and logic unit (ALU). Also includes a simple test ROM and source code to validate the changes made compared with a real 6502.
  3. The original VHDL - suitable for use with other vendor's FPGA tools, archived here are as the original website seems to be offline.

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