Upgrading Old Synths To OLED

Roland’s Alpha Juno 2 is an analog, polyphonic synth made in the mid-80s. While it isn’t as capable as the massive synths made around that time, it was very influential synth for the techno scenes of the late 80s and early 90s.

[Jeroen] is lucky enough to have one of these synths, but like all equipment of this era, it’s showing its age. He wanted to replace the character LCD in his Alpha Juno 2 with an OLED display. The original character LCD was compatible with the Hitachi HD44780 protocol, and still today OLEDs can speak this format. What should have been an easy mod turned into editing hex values on the EEPROM, but he still got it to work.

While the original character LCD could display one line of 16 characters, the ROM in the synth didn’t know this. Instead, the display was organized as a 2×8 display in software, with line one starting at address 0h, and line two starting at 40h. For a drop-in replacement, [Jeroen] would need a display the characters organized in this weird 2×8 format. None exist, but he does have a hex editor and an EEPROM burner.

With the Alpha Juno’s firmware in hand thanks to someone who does a few firmware hacks to this synth, [Jeroen] had everything he needed. All that was left to do was going through the code and replace all the references to the second line of the character LCD.

After burning and installing the new ROM, the OLED display was a drop-in replacement. That meant getting rid of the whiney EL backlight in the original display, and making everything nice and glowy for a few nights on a dark stage.

Solder Stencils with a 3D Printer

If you are soldering with paste, a stencil makes life a lot easier. Sure, you can apply paste by hand with a syringe, but a modern PCB might have hundreds or even thousands of pads. Like a lot of us, [Robert Kirberich] doesn’t like paying to have stencils made and he wondered if he could use his 3D printer to make stencils. He found the answer was yes.

Continue reading “Solder Stencils with a 3D Printer”

Local Hacker Discovers Card Edge Connectors

When [turingbirds] was looking around for the absolute minimum connector for a JTAG adapter, he wanted something small, that didn’t require expensive adapters, and that could easily and reliably connect a few JTAG pins to a programmer. This, unsurprisingly, is a problem that’s been solved many times over, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. [turingbirds] found his better solution by looking at some old card edge connectors.

Instead of 0.1″ pitch pin headers, weirder and more expensive connectors, the Tag Connect, or even pogo pins, [turingbirds] came up with a JTAG adapter that required no additional parts, had a small footprint, and could be constructed out of trash usually found behind any busy hackerspace or garage. The connector is based on the venerable PCI connector, chopped up with a Dremel and soldered to a JTAG or ISP programmer.

This is simply a card edge connector, something the younglings seem to have forgotten. Back in the day, card edge connectors were a great way to connect peripherals, ports, and anything else to the outside world. They were keyed, and you could only put them in one way. They were relatively cheap, and with a big coil of ribbon cable, you could make custom adapters easily. For low-speed connections that will only be used a few times, it’s very hard to beat a card edge connector.

Of course the connector itself is only half of the actual build. To turn a chopped up PCI connector into a JTAG adapter, [turingbirds] made footprint and part files for his favorite PCB design tool. In this case it’s Eagle, and the libraries that will plop one of these connectors down are available on GitHub.

Is this the latest and greatest way to plug a programmer into a board? No, because this has been around for 30 or 40 years. It does, however, put a programming port on a PCB with zero dollars in components, a minimum of board footprint, and uses parts that can be salvaged from any pile of old computers.

Adafruit Interviews The CEO Of FTDI

When it comes to electronic hobbyists and EEs, there is no company that deserves a few raised eyebrows than FTDI. They made their name with USB converter chips, namely USB to serial chips that are still very popular today. So popular, in fact, that clones of these chips are frequently found in the $2 Arduinos from China, and other very low-cost devices. A little more than a year ago, a few clever people noticed FTDI drivers were bricking these counterfeit chips by setting the USB PID to 0000. The Internet reacted to this move and FTDI quickly backed down from that position. The Windows driver was fixed, for about a year until the same shenanigans were found again.

Adafruit recently sat down with [Fred Dart], CEO of FTDI, giving us all the first facts and figures that aren’t from people frustrated with Windows’ automatically updated drivers. The most interesting information from [Fred Dart] is how FTDI first found these counterfeit chips, what FTDI chips are being counterfeited, and how many different companies are copying these chips.

The company first realized they were being cloned when they couldn’t reproduce results of a Chinese-made ‘FTDI’ USB to RS232 cable that behaved strangely. A sample of the cables were shipped to FTDI and after inspecting the chip inside, FTDI found it was a clone with a significantly different architecture than a genuine chip.

So far, the counterfeiters appear to only be counterfeiting the SSOP version of the FT232RL and occasionally the older FT232BL chip. From what FTDI has seen, there appears to be only one or two companies counterfeiting chips.

As the CEO of FTDI, [Fred] has a few insights into what can be done to stop counterfeiters in China. The most important is to trademark the logo. This isn’t just the logo for a webpage, but one that can be laser etched onto the plastic package of the chip. US Customs has been very amenable to identifying counterfeit components, and this has led to several shipments being destroyed. Legal action, however, is a bit hard in China, and FTDI is dealing with a gang that counterfeits more than FTDI chips; there’s a high likelihood this gang was responsible for the fake Prolific PL23o3 chips a few years ago.

As far as FTDI bricking counterfeit chips is concerned, [Fred Dart] wasn’t silent on the issue, he merely wasn’t asked the question and didn’t bring it up himself.

The Internet of Broken Things (or, Why am I so Cold?)

Although the Internet of Things (IoT) is a reasonably new term, the idea isn’t really all that new. Many engineers and hackers have created networked embedded systems for many years. So what’s different? Two things: the Internet is everywhere and the use of connected embedded systems in a consumer setting.

The Philips Hue light bulb
The Philips Hue light bulb

Like anything else, there’s a spectrum of usefulness to IoT. Watching The Expanse, the other day (which is not a bad show, by the way), I noticed that if you had the right IoT lights, you could run an app that would change your lighting to suit the show in real-time. I don’t have those lights, but I suppose when the action moves to a dark sub-basement, your lights dim and when you are in a space ship’s reactor room, they turn red, and so on. Fun, but hardly useful or life-changing.

On the other hand, there are some very practical IoT items like the Nest thermostat. It might seem lazy to want to monitor and control your thermostat from your tablet, but if you are frequently away from home, or you have multiple houses, it can be a real positive to be able to control things remotely. With the recent blizzard on the U.S. east coast, for example, it would be great to turn on the heat in your weekend cottage 150 miles away while you were still at work or home. However, the Nest recently had a hiccup during an upgrade and it has made many of their customers mad (and cold). I’ll get back to that, in a minute. First, I want to talk about the problems with deploying something that will be in many varied environments (like people’s homes) that controls something real.

Continue reading “The Internet of Broken Things (or, Why am I so Cold?)”

Get Your Hackaday Belgrade Tickets Now

We have just opened up registration for Hackaday | Belgrade — a hardware conference on April 9th. Get your ticket now and make arrangements to visit Belgrade this Spring. Tickets are inexpensive, travel costs from other parts of Europe are very reasonable, the weather will be beautiful, and the all-day madness that we have planned will make you wish it were a week instead of just sixteen hours. These tickets will sell out so please share this post with your friends so they are not left ticketless.

Packed with Amazing People

mike
If you don’t recognize the name you will almost certainly recognize his internet persona: Mike’s Electric Stuff. He’s been regularly featured on the front page of Hackaday as he churns out a unique body of work like tearing down Flir’s low-end gear to discover it’s identical to their high-end offerings.

Hackaday is a global community and that is what makes Hackaday | Belgrade spectacular. We are still accepting proposals for talks through February 15th but haven’t yet made all of the decisions regarding presenters — you should submit a proposal! We’ll publish an article about all of the presenters once we have wrapped up the call for proposals. Expect to hear back about this around February 22nd.

One thing I am very excited about is that Mike Harrison will be at the conference. His talk will cover his exploration of an absurdly expensive and complicated relic which was used in the 1950’s for large-format video projection. Mike’s ability to unlock understanding of complex (and awesome) electronics is quite amazing; this talk is not to be missed. But Mike is just one of a dozen presenters from all over Europe. Several members of the Hackaday crew will be on hand and the venue will be packed with hundreds of fellow hardware hackers. You won’t want to miss this.

You Will Hack This Badge

hackaday-belgrade-badge-prototypeThis is the first Hackaday event where we have an active electronic badge. Voja Antonic has been hard at work with the design and just published the first details a few days ago.

The central feature of the badge is an 8×16 LED matrix driven by a PIC microcontroller. It’s running a USB bootloader which will let you flash your own custom code without needing a programmer. We were speaking with some of our friends over at Microchip regarding the bootloader and they offered to supply all the microcontrollers for the badge, an offer we were happy to accept.

Voja has already programmed the first demo application seen here, it’s Tetris written in assembly language. Impressive!

We were overwhelmed by the popularity of badge hacking at the Hackaday SuperConference last November. You can bet that badge hacking will be one of the most popular activities at Hackaday Belgrade. I have written a hardware emulator to work on some animations. It uses the SDL2 library to display the LED matrix and take three button inputs (the final badge design will have four buttons arranged in up/down/left/right configuration). Our hope is to host a demoscene competition that is open to anyone, whether you can attend the conference or not. More on that later.

Live Music and Hacking

As the evening sets in and the talks wind down, we have lined up bands and DJs to take the stage and carry us well into night. You won’t have to stop the badge hacking or anything else that you’re into, but you won’t have to solder in silence either.

As you can tell, this conference goes way beyond talks. This is hardware culture and you’ve just got to be there. Running from 10am until 2am, there’s more than enough to keep you occupied for one day. But make sure to hang out on the event page to get inside information on other non-formalized social events that will happen the night before and the day after. See you in Belgrade!

The Coming Age of 3D Integrated Circuits

The pedagogical model of the integrated circuit goes something like this: take a silicone wafer, etch out a few wells, dope some of the silicon with phosphorous, mask some of the chip off, dope some more silicon with boron, and lay down some metal in between everything. That’s an extraordinarily basic model of how the modern semiconductor plant works, but it’s not terribly inaccurate. The conclusion anyone would make after learning this is that chips are inherently three-dimensional devices. But the layers are exceedingly small, and the overall thickness of the active layers of a chip are thinner than a human hair. A bit of study and thought and you’ll realize the structure of an integrated circuit really isn’t in three dimensions.

Recently, rumors and educated guesses coming from silicon insiders have pointed towards true three-dimensional chips as the future of the industry. These chips aren’t a few layers thick like the example above. Instead of just a few dozen layers, 100 or more layers of transistors will be crammed into a single piece of silicon. The reasons for this transition range from shortening the distance signals must travel, reducing resistance (and therefore heat), and optimizing performance and power in a single design.

The ideas that are influencing the current generation of three-dimensional chips aren’t new; these concepts have been around since the beginnings of the semiconductor industry. What is new is how these devices will eventually make it to market, the challenges currently being faced at Intel and other semiconductor companies, and what it will mean for a generation of chips several years down the road.

Continue reading “The Coming Age of 3D Integrated Circuits”