Posts with «computer hacks» label

Turning A Desk Drawer Into A Flight Yoke

[Christofer Hiitti] found himself with the latest Microsoft Flight Simulator on his PC, but the joystick he ordered was still a few weeks out. So he grabbed an Arduino, potentiometers and a button and hacked together what a joke-yoke.

The genius part of this hack is the way [Christopher] used his desk drawer for pitch control. One side of a plastic hinge is attached to a potentiometer inside a drawer, while the other side is taped to the top of the desk. The second pot is taped to the front of the drawer for pitch control and the third pot is the throttle. It works remarkably well, as shown in the demo video below.

The linearity of the drawer mechanism probably isn’t great, but it was good enough for a temporary solution. The Arduino Leonardo he used is based on the ATmega32u4 which has a built-in USB, and with libraries like ArduinoJoystickLibrary the computer interface very simple. When [Christopher]’s real joystick finally arrived he augmented it with a button box built using the joke-yoke components.

We’ve seen There is no doubt that Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 will spawn a lot of great controller and cockpit builds over the next few years. We’ve already covered a new joystick build, and a 3D printed frame to turn an Xbox controller into a joystick.

Cybercube Makes a Great Computing Companion

Oh, sure, there have been a few cube-shaped PCs over the years, like the G4 and the NeXT cube. But can they really be called cubes when the display and the inputs were all external? We think not.

[ikeji] doesn’t think so either, and has created a cube PC that puts them all to shame. Every input and output is within the cube, including our favorite part — the 48-key ortholinear keyboard, which covers two sides of the cube and must be typed on vertically. (If you’ve ever had wrist pain from typing, you’ll understand why anyone would want to do that.) You can see a gif of [ikeji] typing on it after the break.

Inside the 3D printed cube is a Raspberry Pi 4 and a 5″ LCD. There’s also an Arduino Pro Micro for the keyboard matrix, which is really two 4×6 matrices — one for each half. There’s a 6cm fan to keep things cool, and one panel is devoted to a grille for heat output. Another panel is devoted to vertically mounting the microcontrollers and extending the USB ports.

Don’t type on me or my son ever again.

When we first looked at this project, we thought the tiny cube was a companion macro pad that could be stored inside the main cube. It’s really a test cube for trying everything out, which we think is a great idea and does not preclude its use as a macro pad one of these days. [ikeji] already has plenty of plans for the future, like cassette support, an internal printer, and a battery, among other things. We can’t wait to see the next iteration.

We love a good cyberdeck around here, and it’s interesting to see all the things people are using them for. Here’s a cyberduck that quacks in Python and CircuitPython.

Odyssey Is A x86 Computer Packing An Arduino Along For The Trip

We love the simplicity of Arduino for focused tasks, we love how Raspberry Pi GPIO pins open a doorway to a wide world of peripherals, and we love the software ecosystem of Intel’s x86 instruction set. It’s great that some products manage to combine all of them together into a single compact package, and we welcome the recent addition of Seeed Studio’s Odyssey X86J4105.

[Ars Technica] recently looked one over and found it impressive from the perspective of a small networked computer, but they didn’t dig too deeply into the maker-friendly side of the product. We can look at the product documentation to see some interesting details. This board is larger than a Raspberry Pi, but its GPIO pins were laid out in exactly the same order as that on a Pi. Some HATs could plug right in, eliminating all the electrical integration leaving just the software issue of ARM vs x86. Tasks that are not suitable for CPU-controlled GPIO (such as generating reliable PWM) can be offloaded to an on-board Arduino-compatible microcontroller. It is built around the SAMD21 chip, similar to the Arduino MKR and Arduino Zero but the pinout does not appear to match any of the popular Arduino form factors.

The Odyssey is not the first x86 single board computer (SBC) to have GPIO pins and an onboard Arduino assistant. LattePanda for example has been executing that game plan (minus the Raspberry Pi pin layout) for the past few years. We’ve followed them since their Kickstarter origins and we’ve featured creative uses here and there. LattePanda’s current offerings are built around Intel CPUs ranging from Atom to Core m3. The Odyssey’s Celeron is roughly in the middle of that range, and the SAMD21 is more capable than the ATmega32U4 (Arduino Leonardo) on board a LattePanda. We always love seeing more options in a market for us to find the right tradeoff to match a given project, and we look forward to the epic journeys yet to come.

KVM Uses Many Arduinos

The Arduino platform is one of the most versatile microcontroller boards available, coming in a wide variety of shapes and sizes perfect for everything from blinking a few LEDs to robotics to entire home automation systems. One of its more subtle features is the ability to use its serial libraries to handle keyboard and mouse duties. While this can be used for basic HID implementations, [Nathalis] takes it a step further by using a series of Arduinos as a KVM switch; although admittedly without the video and mouse functionality yet.

To start, an Arduino Uno accepts inputs from a keyboard which handles the incoming serial signals from the keyboard. From there, two Arduino Pro Micros are attached in parallel and receive signals from the Uno to send to their respective computers. The scroll lock key, which doesn’t do much of anything in modern times except upset Excel spreadsheeting, is the toggle switch between the two outputs. Everything is standard USB HID, so it should be compatible with pretty much everything out there. All of the source code and schematics are available in the project’s repository for anyone who wants to play along at home.

Using an Arduino to emulate a USB input device doesn’t have to be all work and no play, the same basic concept can also be used to build custom gaming controllers.

A Physical Knob For Browser Tabs

If you’re like most of us, you have about twenty browser tabs open right now. What if there were a way to move through those tabs with a physical interface? That’s what [Zoe] did, and it’s happening with the best laptop ever made.

The hardware for this build is simply an Arduino and a rotary encoder, no problem there. The firmware on the Arduino simply reads the encoder and sends a bit or two of data over the serial port. This build gets interesting when you connect it to a Firefox extension that allows you to get data from a USB or serial port, and there’s a nice API to access tabs. Put all of this together, and you have a knob that will scroll through all your open tabs.

This build gets really good when you consider there’s also a 3D printed mount, meant to attach to a Thinkpad X220, the greatest laptop ever made. At the flick of a knob, you can scroll through all your tabs. It’s handy if you’re reading three or four or five documents simultaneously, or if you’re just editing video and trying to go through your notes at the same time. A great invention, and we’re waiting for this to become a standard device on keyboards and mice. Check out the video below.

Ergonomic Keyboard Designed from the Ground Up

In 2011, [Fabio] had been working behind a keyboard for about a decade when he started noticing wrist pain. This is a common long-term injury for people at desk jobs, but rather than buy an ergonomic keyboard he decided that none of the commercial offerings had all of the features he needed. Instead, he set out on a five-year journey to build the perfect ergonomic keyboard.

Part of the problem with other solutions was that no keyboards could be left in Dvorak (a keyboard layout [Fabio] finds improves his typing speed) after rebooting the computer, and Arduino-based solutions would not make themselves available to the computer’s BIOS. Luckily he found the LUFA keyboard library, and then was able to salvage a PCB from another keyboard. From there, he programmed everything on a Teensy microcontroller, added an OLED screen, and soldered it all together (including a set of Cherry MX switches).

Of course, the build wasn’t truly complete until recently, when a custom two-part case was 3D printed. The build quality and attention to detail in this project is impressive, and if you want to roll out your own [Fabio] has made all of the CAD files and software available. Should you wish to incorporate some of his designs into other types of specialized keyboards, there are some ideas floating around that will surely improve your typing or workflow.


Filed under: computer hacks

Micro-ATX Arduino is the Ultimate Breakout Board

If you’ve been hanging around microcontrollers and electronics for a while, you’re surely familiar with the concept of the breakout board. Instead of straining to connect wires and components to ever-shrinking ICs and MCUs, a breakout board makes it easier to interface with the device by essentially making it bigger. The Arduino itself, arguably, is a breakout board of sorts. It takes the ATmega chip, adds the hardware necessary to get it talking to a computer over USB, and brings all the GPIO pins out with easy to manage header pins.

But what if you wanted an even bigger breakout board for the ATmega? Something that really had some leg room. Well, say no more, as [Nick Poole] has you covered with his insane RedBoard Pro Micro-ATX. Combining an ATmega32u4 microcontroller with standard desktop PC hardware is just as ridiculous as you’d hope, but surprisingly does offer a couple tangible benefits.

RedBoard PCB layout

The RedBoard is a fully compliant micro-ATX board, and will fit in pretty much any PC case you may have laying around in the junk pile. Everything from the stand-off placement to the alignment of the expansion card slots have been designed so it can drop right into the case of your choice.

That’s right, expansion slots. It’s not using PCI, but it does have a variation of the standard Arduino “shield” concept using 28 pin edge connectors. There’s a rear I/O panel with a USB port and ISP header, and you can even add water cooling if you really want (the board supports standard LGA 1151 socket cooling accessories).

While blowing an Arduino up to ATX size isn’t exactly practical, the RedBoard is not without legitimate advantages. Specifically, the vast amount of free space on the PCB allowed [Nick] to add 2Mbits of storage. There was even some consideration to making removable banks of “RAM” with EEPROM chips, but you’ve got to draw the line somewhere. The RedBoard also supports standard ATX power supplies, which will give you plenty of juice for add-on hardware that may be populating the expansion slots.

With as cheap and plentiful as the miniITX and microATX cases are, it’s no surprise people seem intent on cramming hardware into them. We’ve covered a number of attempts to drag other pieces of hardware kicking and screaming into that ubiquitous beige-box form factor.


Filed under: Arduino Hacks, computer hacks, Microcontrollers

RetroModem for the Commodore 64

Retrocomputers are fun, but ultimately limited in capability compared to modern hardware. One popular pursuit to rectify this is the connection of early home computers to the Internet. To that end, [que] built the Retromodem for the Commodore 64.

The build starts with a case from an Intel 14.4 modem. A little fast for the Commodore 64 era, but anachronism is charming when done tastefully. Inside is an Arduino with an ethernet module to handle the heavy lifting of carrying packets to the outside world.  [que] took the time to wire up status LEDs for the proper vintage look, which really adds something to the project. They switch on and off to indicate the various settings on the modem – it’s great to see in the video below the break the “HS” LED light up when the baud rate is changed to a higher speed.

The project implements most of the Hayes command set, so you can interface with it over a serial terminal just like it’s 1983. [que] doesn’t go into too many details of how it’s all put together, but for the experienced code warrior it’s a project that could be whipped up in a weekend or two. For a more modern take, perhaps you’d like to hook your C64 up over Wifi instead?


Filed under: classic hacks, computer hacks

KIM-1 to COSMAC Elf Conversion — Sort Of

In the mid-1970s, if you had your own computer, you probably built it. If you had a lot of money and considerable building skill, you could make an Altair 8800 for about $395 — better than the $650 to have it built. However, cheaper alternatives were not far behind.

In 1976, Popular Electronics published plans for a computer called the COSMAC Elf which you could build for under $100, and much less if you had a good junk box. The design was simple enough that you could build it on a piece of perf board or using wire wrap. We featured the online archive of the entire Popular Electronics collection, but hit up page 33 of this PDF if you want to jump right to the article that started it all. The COSMAC Elf is a great little machine built around a 40-pin RCA 1802 processor, and for many was the first computer they owned. I lost my original 1802 computer in a storm and my recent rebuild in another completely different kind of storm. But there is a way to reclaim those glory days without starting from scratch.  I’m going to repurpose another retro-computing recreation; the KIM-1.

I’ll admit it, Rewiring a real KIM-1 to take an 1802 CPU would be difficult and unnecessary and that’s not what this article is about. However, I did have a KIM UNO — [Oscar’s] respin of the classic computer using an Arduino mini pro. Looking at the keyboard, it occurred to me that the Arduino could just as easily simulate an 1802 as it could a 6502. Heck, that’s only two digits different, right?

The result is pretty pleasing. A “real” Elf had 8 toggle switches, but there were several variations that did have keypads, so it isn’t that far off. Most Elf computers had 256 bytes of memory (without an upgrade) but the 1802 UNO (as I’m calling it) has 1K. There’s also a host of other features, including a ROM and a monitor for loading and debugging programs that doesn’t require any space in the emulated 1802.

Repurpose

The KIM UNO has 24 switches. There are 16 for the hex digits, of course. The top two rows mimic functions from the original KIM-1. A real Elf had a way to input a byte (usually 8 toggle switches), a load switch, a run switch, a memory protect switch, and a push button wired to a CPU pin. That means the hardware has more than enough switches.

On the display side, a normal Elf had a single-byte hex display although some clones had more. There was also the Q LED that a program could light or extinguish. The KIM UNO hardware has many 7-segment displays so it is possible to put those digits to use like an Elf clone. There isn’t an LED, however, except for the Arduino’s built in LED which is not normally visible in operation. However, the digital displays have decimal points and they are connected to the Arduino. So if you don’t mind using those, you have plenty of LEDs, too.

The hardware is open source and easy to duplicate. [Oscar] sometimes has kits as well and they are very inexpensive (about $20).

The KIM UNO software is open source, so I started there. I first stripped all the code out of the main file other than the parts that drove the display and the keyboard, then built up everything need to suppot 1802 emulation. You can find all the code in my 1802UNO GitHub repository.

Inside the 1802

The 1802 instruction set is very regular and quite simple. Most instructions use the top 4 bits as an op code and the bottom 4 bits to select one of sixteen 16-bit registers. So 0x12 increments register 2 and 0x15 increments register 5. There are only a handful of op codes that don’t follow this pattern. There’s also an 8-bit accumulator called “D” (not to be confused with register D).

One unique feature in the 1802 architecture is the program counter. There isn’t one. Well, more precisely, there are up to 16. Any of the registers can be the program counter and a subroutine call can be as simple as switching the program counter. Unfortunately, that isn’t very reentrant (or good for recursion). If you want a proper subroutine call, you had to code it yourself. RCA provided the “standard call and return technique” that had the unfortunate downside of destroying the accumulator.

With so few instructions, the emulator turns out to be a few switch statements and some pretty simple code. Although it is made to run with the KIM UNO hardware, like the KIM UNO, you should be able to use it with just about any Arduino via the serial port. It isn’t quite as fun as having the real hardware, but it is simpler.

Unreal

The emulator is reasonably accurate except it doesn’t simulate interrupts (since there is no source of them). However, it doesn’t faithfully reproduce the 1802’s load mode which used DMA. Instead, load mode is just completely custom code that enters data into memory. It does not simulate the cycle and register manipulations that go on in a real 1802 using DMA in load mode.

In addition to loading a program with the ersatz load mode, you can also move RAM back and forth to EEPROM or a PC via the serial port.

Serial and Push Buttons

The serial port is just the usual Arduino serial port set for 9600 baud. By default, the serial input will mimic the hardware keys. However, you can use the pipe character (‘|’) to shift the serial port into terminal mode. Then the 1802 code can read data from the serial port. You lose the front panel functions and there’s no way to go back until you cycle the power unless you make the 1802 code release the port.

A few of the push buttons have special functions if you hold them down for more than one second. For example, the AD button writes the EEPROM data into RAM. This is useful for storing a self-contained demo, for example.

You can find a summary of the keyboard and serial commands on the GitHub site. The serial port can do things you can’t do from the front panel, like set a trace mode, dump the CPU registers, and more.

Building

The hardware doesn’t require any changes to the stock KIM UNO kit. There’s a lot to solder and once you solder the displays on, it would be hard to get the Arduino back off the board.

You could probably build the software using the Arduino IDE, but I used Platform IO. That lets me use the editor of my choice, but you ought to be able to get the code to work in the IDE, as well. There is enough memory to make the RAM slightly bigger, but I didn’t do it. Since one way to save and load the RAM is to EEPROM, I didn’t want the RAM to be larger than the EEPROM. In addition, the RAM “maps” like a real Elf (that is, RAM at location 0x0 also appears at 0x4000, 0x8000, etc). This would be more difficult if you added a little bit more than 1K of RAM.

There are a few other options at the top of 1802config.h. You can select how often the screen and keyboard refresh. Higher values are slower to refresh but faster to execute code. You can change the I/O ports associated with the keyboard, displays, and serial port. You can also change the serial escape character.

Examples

There are some examples provided that blink the LEDs and manipulate the serial port. If you look around, there’s a lot of 1802 code on the web. However, be aware that most 1802s don’t have a hardware UART. They emulate serial ports using the Q output and one of the EF inputs. That’s fine for a real device even though it takes lots of code, but for this virtual device, it isn’t practical. You’ll need to rip out any code that does serial I/O and replace it with single I/O instructions.

If you have a binary file (or a format you can convert to binary) I have a converter written in C included on GitHub. You can compile it on nearly any platform and use it to convert. It always assumes address. If that’s not right, you can always open the output in a text editor and adjust.

In addition, there are three ROMs included that you can try. By default, there is a simple high-low game. There are also two monitors, one for use with the built-in keyboard and another for use with a serial port. To select a ROM, edit 1802rom.h and change the comments so the ROM you want is not commented and the others are.

Practical?

Emulators are fun, but as the song goes, there’s nothing like the real thing. If that’s not authentic enough for you, it is possible to build a very authentic looking Elf, even today. The reason real 1802s are still around is they had several desirable characteristics, namely low power consumption and resistance to radiation.

The Arduino simulation has neither of those features. However, it is a fun retrocomputing toy, inexpensive, and a great learning tool. The CPU is simple enough to program directly in machine code and the portability is better than most other old school computers.

If you want to learn more about the 1802 there are several sites dedicated to it and a very helpful Yahoo group. One site has a very prolific software author, but most of the code won’t fit in the 1802 UNO’s 1K RAM. Maybe a version with more memory is in the future.


Filed under: Arduino Hacks, classic hacks, computer hacks, Hackaday Columns

Raiders of the Lost OS: Reclaiming A Piece of Polish IT History

In today’s digital era, we almost take for granted that all our information is saved and backed up, be it on our local drives or in the cloud — whether automatically, manually, or via some other service.  For information from decades past, that isn’t always the case, and recovery can be a dicey process.  Despite the tricky challenges, the team at [Museo dell’Informatica Funzionante] and [mera400.pl], as well as researchers and scientists from various museums, institutions, and more all came together in the attempt to recover the Polish CROOK operating system believed to be stored on five magnetic tapes.

Originally stored at the Warsaw Museum of Technology, the tapes were ideally preserved, but — despite some preliminary test prep — the museum’s tape reader kept hanging at the 800 BPI NRZI encoded header, even though the rest of the tape was 1600 BPI phase encoding. Some head scratching later, the team decided to crack open their Qualstar 1052 tape reader and attempt to read the data directly off the circuits themselves!!

Using an Arduino Mega as a sampling device and the tape in test mode, the team were able to read the tapes, but the header remained inscrutable and accompanied by errors in the rest of the data. Promising nonetheless!

Switching gears, the decision was made to use a logic analyzer to read the tapes and use software to decode the data. While they waited for their new analyzer to ship, one of the team members, [Jacob Filipowicz] harnessed the power of Python to write a program called Nine Track Labs (pictured below) which would allow them to read any kind of magnetic tape, at any speed, BPI, and writing standard. Armed with the software and analyzer, the team was able to successfully recover the data from the tapes in its entirety without errors!

Among the data recovered, there were numerous versions of the CROOK operating system — allowing them to reproduce the OS’s development process, as well as hundreds of other files containing programs and tools hitherto believed to be lost. There was also a backup of a ‘live’ MERA-400 system with a binary CROOK-3 OS, ready to run in emulation. All things considered, the techno-archeological tour-de-force was a smashing success.

If — in your more modern travels — you need to recover an audio recording gone awry, know that you can retrieve that data with a hex editor.


Filed under: classic hacks, computer hacks