Imaging And Emulating An HP-IB disk drive

If you look on the back of old, old test equipment, you’ll find a weird-looking connector that’s either labeled IEEE-488, GPIB, or HP-IB. It’s a very old interface designed by HP for their test equipment, and it was licensed to other manufacturers for everything from power supplies to logic analyzers. Hewlett-Packard also made computers and workstations once upon a time, and it’s no surprise this interface also made it into these boxes. They even had external hard drives that operated over the HP-IB interface.

[Chris] has a few of these old computers, and wanted to see if he could emulate one of these HP-IB hard drives. There is a project to emulate these hard drives, but the electrical connection is a bit tricky; you need an IEEE-488 card, and those really aren’t made anymore.

Nevertheless, [Chris] found an old ISA IEEE-488 last year, and installed it in the PC system he’s using for all his retro explorations. After getting the card and cable to fit in the case of his PC, [Chris] connected a real HP-IB disk to his modern computer running HPDrive, made an image, and connected an old HP 150 computer. The image was read by the HP 150, and [Chris] had a vintage computer running off an emulated drive.

An Electronic Woodwind With An Onboard Synthesizer

About a year ago, we saw a project on Hackaday.io for a MIDI wind controller. Keyboard MIDI controllers are a dime a dozen, but if you want something that actually sounds like a brass or woodwind instrument, you need something that’s controlled by a breath sensor. Since then, this project has been updated with an onboard synthesizer. It sounds great, and thanks to some interesting components, the part count is actually really low.

The synthesizer used for this project is just a single chip – the DSP-G1 from [Jan Ostman]. This isn’t a custom ASIC or anything fancy; it’s just an 8-pin ARM microcontroller in DIP format, the LPC810.

The rest of the instrument is just a series of pressure sensors along the body, and a breath sensor. The plan is to stuff all the electronics – a microcontroller to read the touch and breath sensors, the DSP-G1 chip, and the battery  – inside the body of the instrument. That’s something that would be incredibly cool, and much more capable than the wind controllers that are available today.

You can see a few videos of the wind controller below.

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The First PipBoy We’ll See This Year

You heard that we’re shutting down Hackaday on November 11, 2015, right? That’s the release of Fallout 4, and trust me: I’m not getting anything done that day.  A new game in the Fallout series means more power armor cosplay builds, and hundreds of different wearable electronics from the friendly folks at Vault-Tec. I speak of the PipBoy, the wrist-mounted computer of the Fallout series, and [THEMCV] built the first one we’ll see this year. It won’t be the last.

The PipBoy [THEMCV] created is the 3000a model, the same one found in Fallout 3 and New Vegas. We’ve seen a few real-live versions of the PipBoy before; this one used the PipBoy prop that came with the Amazon exclusive special edition of Fallout 3. Things have changed in the years since the release of Fallout 3, and  to build his PipBoy, [THEMCV] just bought one from Shapeways.

The electronics consist of a Raspberry Pi Model A, 3.5″ LCD, a battery pack, and a great piece of software to emulate the software of the PipBoy 3000. It looks great, but [THEMCV] still needs to find a few retrofuturistic buttons and dials to complete the PipBoy experience.

Video below.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: HOMER, A 2D GPU For Microcontrollers

Just about the hardest thing you’ll ever do with a microcontroller is video. The timing must be precise, and even low-resolution video requires relatively large amounts of memory, something microcontrollers don’t generally have a lot of. HDMI? That’s getting into microcontroller wizard territory.

Despite these limitations, [monnoliv] is working on a GPU for microcontrollers. It outputs 1280×720 over HDMI, has a 24 bit palette, and 2D hardware acceleration.

It’s a very interesting project; usually, if you want graphics and a display in a project, you’re looking at a Linux system, and all the binary blobs and closed source drivers that come with that. [monnoliv]’s HOMER video card doesn’t need Linux, and it doesn’t need a very high-powered microcontroller. It’s just a simple SPI device with a bunch of memory and an FPGA that turns the most minimal microcontroller into a machine that can output full HD graphics.

This isn’t the only open source graphics card for microcontrollers in the Hackaday Prize; just a few days ago, we saw VGAtonic, another SPI-controlled video card for microcontrollers, this time outputting VGA instead of HDMI. Both are excellent projects, and if either makes it into production, they’ll both be cheap: under $100 for both of them. Just the thing if you want to play around with high-resolution video without resorting to Linux.


The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Astronaut Or Astronot: Round 1 Over, Round 2 Begins

For the last two weeks, we’ve been asking everyone over on hackaday.io to participate in the current round of community voting. We were asking everyone to choose the projects that were Most Likely To Be Widely Used. We just turned off voting for this round, and it’s time for round two: Which project is most likely to save the planet?

Before we get to that, I need to pick a random person on hackaday.io, figure out if they have voted, and if so, send off a $1000 gift card to the Hackaday store. Vidya time:

No one won a $1000 gift card for the Hackaday store this week. In lieu of that, we’re arming the t-shirt cannon and aiming it at three random people who did vote. They are, in order of appearance, [Nick], [dbcarp], and [Eugene].

If you’re wondering about the results of this current round of voting and which projects the Hackaday community think are most likely to be widely used, hold tight. There are a lot of votes, and all that needs to be tabulated and computed and presented in a friendly graphical format. Also, it’s Friday afternoon. The winners of the first round of voting will be announced on Monday.

Round Two…. Most Likely To Save The Planet

It’s time for a new round of voting! This time, the theme is, Most Likely To Save The Planet. Voting is easy, just go over to the community voting page. You will be presented with two projects entered in the Hackaday Prize. One of these projects will invariably be more likely to save the planet. It is your task to decide which one. Vote for the project that is more likely to save the planet, and you’re in the running for t-shirts or Hackaday store gift cards in the drawing next week.

Here’s a video showing you how to vote:

That’s all you have to do to vote in the Hackaday Prize community voting. Here’s a link to go do thatWe’ll do the same thing next Friday afternoon – choose a random person on Hackaday.io, and if they have voted, they get a $1000 gift card for the Hackaday store. The only losing move is not to play, so go vote.


The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

An Interview With The CEO Of MakerBot

A few days ago, we posed a question to the Hackaday community. If you could ask the CEO of MakerBot a question, what would it be?

It’s an interesting proposition; there is no company serving the maker community – and those of us who refuse to call ourselves part of the maker community – more hated than MakerBot. They’ve patented ideas uploaded to Thingiverse. They’ve turned their back on the open hardware community they grew out of, They’re undercutting their own resellers, and by all accounts, they don’t know how to make a working extruder. MakerBot was the company that would show the world Open Hardware could be successful, but turned into a company that seemed to reject Open Hardware and Open Source more than any other.

Needless to say, the readers of Hackaday responded. Not with actual questions for the MakerBot CEO, mind you, but oh how you responded. This effort by MakerBot was likened to the hail Mary thrown by Radio Shack  a few years ago. We know how that turned out.

Nevertheless, questions were collected, The MakerBot CEO was interviewed by Lady Ada, and a summary compiled. You can check that interview, originally posted on the Adafruit blog, below.

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Review: FriedCircuits USB Tester

Over the last decade or so, USB has somehow changed. It’s not just for connecting printers, keyboards, mice, and webcams any more. It’s not even just for stuff you would have plugged into a serial port. It’s a power outlet. If you want to charge your phone, plug it into a power outlet that can deliver up to 2.5 Watts. Unintended consequences, I guess. If you ever find yourself in 1995 again, go over to Intel and tell them to bump up the current limit.

Being a power outlet, having a device to measure current, voltage, power, and all the other intricacies of the what’s going on inside a USB cable would be neat. The USB Tester from Fried Circuits is that device.

DSC_0009The Fried Circuits USB tester isn’t so much a single device, but a small set of tools that allow you to probe everything going on inside a USB cable. In its simplest form, it’s just a board with a USB A connector at one end, a USB micro connector at the other, and breakouts for measuring current, voltage, the differential data signals, and that weird ID pin that’s useful if you’re working with USB chargers or OTG devices.

This breakout board also has two rows of five pins broken out. That’s for the USB Tester Backpack, which is really the heart of this device. This backpack features a microcontroller and a 128×64 resolution OLED display for current, voltage, and power monitoring, reading the voltage on the data lines, and graphing everything on the display. Everything you would ever want to know about a USB port – except for the actual bits being shoved through, of course – is right there on the display. Press the button on the side a few times, and whatever info you need will be presented in tall, very readable numbers.

The Entire Reason For Buying One

If you’re only going to use this to look at voltages, amps, and current flowing through a USB cable, you’re throwing your money away with this USB Tester. If simple, at-a-glance monitoring is what you need, you can hop on Amazon and get a USB current/voltage meter for $15. Even Adafruit has one for $7.50. If you only need to read the volts and amps for a USB device, your money is better spent elsewhere.

USBData
The Fried Circuits Java app.

The Fried Circuits USB tester does something none of these other USB meters can do. It can log all the data to a computer over USB.

In my initial review of the USB Tester for the Hackaday Store, the only ‘official’ option for recording data from the Tester to a computer was a Java app. The developer of the USB Tester, [Will], chose Java because of the ‘write once, run anywhere’ Sun and Oracle have been shoving down our throats for the last 20 years. In theory, Java was an excellent choice for a datalogging solution for the USB Tester.

In practice, however, it just didn’t work. By [Will]’s own admission, it was the first thing he’s ever done in Java, and I think he set some of the options in NetBeans wrong. I could not get the data logging app to run on my Windows 8 box, or my OS X box, or my Linux boxxen. The only way I could run this app was by digging out an old XP box. Apparently, [Will]’s copy of NetBeans was configured for Java 5 or something.

[Will] knew about this problem, and last month he officially teamed up with [Edouard Lafargue] of wizkers.io. This is a platform for scientific instruments that runs in a Chrome App. The choice of running instrumentation in a Chrome app may seem odd, but this is apparently the new hotness; you can program an Arduino in a Chrome app, and there’s a lot of interesting stuff happening in this space.

You can try out the Chrome app right here, and with the USB Tester everything works as intended:

Wizkers
The Wizkers.io app.

The Wizkers.io app can do everything you would expect from a datalogging app. It will tell you the volts, amps, watts, mWh, and mAh of the device currently under test. There are pretty graphs, and everything can be downloaded to a computer for further analysis.

It might seem like cheating to review this device with a 3rd party app, but by [Will]’s own admission, there were problems with the Java-based logger, and the Chrome app works perfectly. There’s also the delicious irony that a Chrome app is more portable than one written in Java. I appreciate that.

Of course the USB Tester also outputs this data over a serial connection (in JSON format, too!). If you just want to connect this to a computer, solder up some wires to the TX and RX lines.

Conclusion

If you want a device that just tells you how many mA a USB device is sucking up, you don’t need this. You can buy something for less than $10 that will tell you that. If you’re developing some USB hardware, you’ll eventually want to characterize how much power your device is drawing and when it’s drawing that much power. This will require a data logging tool, and apart from cutting up a few USB cables and wiring it into an expensive power supply, you can’t do better than the Fried Circuits USB tester.