Altair 8800 Front Panel For An 8080 Emulator

It appears a very important anniversary passed by recently without anyone realizing. The January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics featured the Altair 8800 on the cover, otherwise known as the blinky box that launched a revolution, the machine that made Microsoft a software powerhouse, and the progenitor of the S-100 bus. The 40-year anniversary of the Altair wasn’t forgotten by [dankar], who built a front panel emulator with the help of some much more modern components.

The build unofficially began with an Intel 8080 emulator written for an Arduino. The 8080 is the brains of the Altair, and while emulators are cool, they don’t have the nerd cred of a panel of switches and LEDs. The hardware began as a bunch of perfboard, but [dankar] wired himself into a corner and decided to make a real schematic and PCB in KiCAD.

Despite the banks of LEDs and switches, there really isn’t much to this front panel. Everything is controlled by shift registers, but there is a small amount of SRAM in the form of an SPI-capable 23LC1024. This comes in handy, because [dankar] is running CP/M 2.2 on this front panel emulator from disk images saved on an SD card. Everything you would want from a computer from 1975 is there; an OS, BASIC, and enough I/O to attach some peripherals.

Hackaday Links: April 12, 2015

Everyone loves Top Gear, or as it’s more commonly known, The Short, The Slow, And The Ugly. Yeah, terrible shame [Clarkson] the BBC ruined it for the rest of us. Good News! A show featuring the Dacia Sandero drones will be filling the Top Gear timeslot. And on that bombshell…

More Arduino Drama! A few weeks ago, Arduino SRL (the new one) forked the Arduino IDE from Arduino LLC’s repo. The changes? The version number went up from 1.6.3 to 1.7. It’s been forked again, this time by [Mastro Gippo]. The changes? The version number went up to 2.0. We’re going to hold off until 2.1; major releases always have some bugs that take a few weeks to patch. Luckily the speed of the development cycle here means that patch should be out soon.

Need an ESP8266 connected to an Arduino. Arachnio has your back. Basically, it’s an Arduino Micro with an ESP8266 WiFi module. It also includes a Real Time Clock, a crypto module, and a solar battery charger. It’s available on Kickstarter, and we could think of a few sensor base station builds this would be useful for.

[Ben Heck] gave The Hacakday Prize a shoutout in this week’s episode. He says one of his life goals is to go to space. We’re giving that away to the project that makes the biggest difference for the world. We’re not sure how a [Bill Paxton] pinball machine fits into that category, but we also have a Best Product category for an opportunity to spend some time in a hackerspace… kind of like [Ben]’s 9 to 5 gig…

[Jim Tremblay] wrote a real time operating system for a bunch of different microcontrollers. There are a lot of examples for everything from an Arduino Mega to STM32 Discovery boards. Thanks [Alain] for the tip.

45s – the grammophone records that play at 45 RPM – are seven inches in diameter. Here’s one that’s 1.5 inches in diameter. Does it work? No one knows, because the creator can’t find a turntable to play it on.

Are we betting on the number of people who don’t get the joke in the second paragraph of this post? Decide in the comments.

An RGB Word Clock, Courtesy Of WS2812s

A word clock – a clock that tells the time with illuminated letters, and not numbers – has become standard DIY electronics fare; if you have a soldering iron, it’s just what you should build. For [Chris]’ word clock build, he decided to build an RGB word clock.

A lot has changed since the great wordclock tsunami a few years back. Back then, we didn’t have a whole lot of ARM dev boards, and everyone’s grandmother wasn’t using WS2812 RGB LED strips to outshine the sun. [Chris] is making the best of what’s available to him and using a Teensy 3.1, the incredible OctoWS2812 library and DMA to drive a few dozen LEDs tucked behind a laser cut stencil of words.

The result is blinding, but the circuit is simple – just a level shifter and a big enough power supply to drive the LEDs. The mechanical portion of the build is a little trickier, with light inevitably leaking out of the enclosure and a few sheets of paper working just enough to diffuse the light. Still, it’s a great project and a great way to revisit a classic project.

Documenting Poorly Documented LED Strips

While [Drew] was in China for the Dangerous Prototypes Hacker Camp, he picked up some very bright, very shiny, and very cheap LED strips. They’re 5 meter “5050” 12V strips with 20 LEDs per meter for about $15 a spool. A good deal, you might think until you look at the datasheet for the controller. If you want an example of how not to document something, this is it.

A normal person would balk at the documentation, whereas [Drew] decided to play around with these strips. He figured out how to control them, and his efforts will surely help hundreds in search of bright, shiny, glowy things.

You are expected to tell the difference between 'GMODE', 'OMODE' and 'CMODE' in this pinout.
You are expected to tell the difference between ‘GMODE’, ‘OMODE’ and ‘CMODE’ in this pinout.

The datasheet for the LPD6803 controller in this strip – available from Adafruit here – is hilarious. The chip takes in clocked data in the order of Green, Red, and Blue. If anyone can explain why it’s not RGB, please do so. Choice phrasing includes, “VOUT is saturation voltage of the output polar to the grand” and “it is important to which later chip built-in PLL regernate circuit can work in gear.” Apparently the word ‘color’ means ‘gray’ in whatever dialect this datasheet was translated into.

Despite this Hackaday-quality grammar, [Drew] somehow figured out how to control this LED strip. He ended up driving it with an LPC1768 Mbed microcontroller and made a demo program with a few simple animations. You can see a video of that below.

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Cultivating The Fungus Amongus

A while ago, [Kyle] built an automated mushroom cultivator. This build featured a sealed room to keep contaminants out and enough air filtering and environmental controls to produce a larger yield of legal, edible mushrooms than would otherwise normally be possible.

Now, he’s at it again. He’s expanded the hardware of his build with a proper, grounded electrical box for his rig, added more relays, implemented PID for his temperature and humidity controller, and greatly expanded the web interface for his fungiculture setup.

Like the previous versions of his setup, this grow chamber is controlled by a Raspberry Pi with a camera and WiFi module. Instead of the old plastic enclosure, [Kyle] is stepping things up with a proper electrical enclosure, more relays, more humidity and temperature sensors, and a vastly improved software stack. Inside the enclosure are eight relays for heaters and humidifiers. The DHT22 sensors around the enclosure are read by the Pi, and with a proper PID control scheme, controlling both the temperature and humidity is simply a matter of setting a number and letting the machine do all the work.

The fungi of [Kyle]’s labor include some beautiful pink and white oyster mushrooms, although with a setup like this there’s not much fungiculture he can’t do.

Overengineering Beer Pong

If there’s one game that deserves to be overengineered with hundreds of LEDs, sensors, and electronic modules, it’s beer pong. [Jeff] has created the most ostentatious beer pong table we’ve ever seen. It’s just shy of playing beer pong on a single gigantic LED display, and boy, does it look good.

The table includes a 32×12 grid of LEDs in the center of the table, with 10 pods for Solo cups at each end of the table. These pods have 20 RGB LEDs each and infrared sensors that react to a cup being placed on them. The outer edge of the table has 12 LED rings for spectators, giving this beer pong table 1122 total LEDs on 608 individual channels.

With that many LEDs, how to drive all of them becomes very important. There’s a very large custom board in this table with a PIC24 microcontroller, TLC5955 PWM drivers, and enough IDC headers to seriously reconsider using IDC headers.

Put enough LEDs on something and it’s bound to be cool, but [Jeff] is taking this several steps further with some interesting features. There’s a Bluetooth module for controlling the table with a phone, a VU meter to give the table some audio-based visualizations, and air baths for cleaning the balls; drop a ball down the ‘in’ hole, and it pops out the ‘out’ hole, good as new. If you’ve ever wondered how much effort can go into building a beer pong table, there you go. Video below.

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Building A Pinball Emulator

Building a MAME machine – an arcade cabinet that will play everything from Galaga to Street Fighter II – is surely on the ‘to build’ list of thousands of Hackaday readers around the world. It’s a relatively simple build, provided you can put a sheet of MDF in your car; it’s just an emulator, and if you can find a CRT and have an old computer sitting around, you’re already halfway there.

There is another class of arcade games that can be emulated. This is, of course, pinball machines. [Jan] built a virtual pinball cabinet over the last few months and his build log is incredible. If you’ve ever wanted to build a pinball emulator, this is the guide to reference.

The most important part of a pinball emulator is the displays. For this, [Jan] is using a 40-inch TV for the playfield, a 28-inch monitor to display the backglass art, and a traditional 128×32 DMD. Instead of manufacturing his own cabinet, he repurposed an old electromechanical machine, Bally’s Little Joe.

The software is the real star of the show with PinballX serving as the front end, with Future Pinball and Visual Pinball serving as the emulators. These emulators drive the displays, changing out back glasses, and simulating the physics of the ball. The computer running all of this has a few neat electromechanical bits including a shaker motor, an original Williams replay knocker, and some relays or solenoids give the digital table a tremendous amount of force feedback. This is the way to do it, and if you don’t have these electromechanical bits and bobs securely fastened to the machine, you really lose immersion.

You can check out a video of the table in action below.

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