USB2Serial Adapter As An I/O Device

There was a time when computers had parallel ports. For the hacker types, this meant an eight bit data port, and nine additional pins which could be interfaced with the real world via the 25 pin connector. This is no longer the case, although USB does help with suitable hardware. [Jabi] was working on a project that required controlling one relay to switch a strip of LED’s. His solution was to use a USB to Serial Adapter as an I/O device (Spanish, translated here).

He wrote a short C program, SioFus (Simple Input Output from USB2SERIAL), that converts a simple USB to Serial Port Adapter into an I/O device with 4 inputs and 2 outputs. It’s simple and gets the job done. The code uses ioctl and allows DCD, DSR, CTS and RI to act as inputs while DTR and RTS act as outputs. These pins then likely control transistors that switch the relays. The SioFus code is available on github and there are a couple of to-do’s on [Jabi]’s list if you would like to chip in.

The video after the break supposedly shows the hack in action. Seems like some kind of photo booth which then spits out a QR code, possibly a URL to the picture (post in the comments if you figure out what it does).

If you are looking for a more dedicated hardware, check out the Tiny Bit Dingus – a microcontroller stuffed into a USB plug with a few controllable pins.

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Solder any Expansion Directly to Your Computer’s Memory

Heat up that iron, you’re going to want to try this one: [Hugatry] is adding hardware to his laptop by tapping into the i2c lines on the memory module. We love this because the penalty for borking memory during the soldering process is much lower than when soldering directly to a motherboard!

Until we watched the video after the break we hadn’t realized that memory modules usually have an i2c EEPROM on them. This is actually a standard called Serial Presence Detect which allows the BIOS to poll the memory and configure automatically. It seems ironic that we knew the Raspberry Pi HAT standard uses this same trick but didn’t know it was on computer memory as well.

Hardware-wise this provides an easy method of soldering your own equipment to the bus. From there it becomes a software hack. Linux, of course, makes this quite easy and that is demonstrated by [Hugatry] with an LM75 temperature sensors. We would like to hear from our Windows and OSX using readers on how the i2c bus can be accessed within those OS’s.

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The Most Powerful Bitcoin Mining Rig Yet

In days of yore, one could mine Bitcoin without much more than an AMD graphics card. Now, without specialized hardware it’s unlikely that you’ll make any appreciable headway in the bitcoin world. This latest project, however, goes completely in the other direction: [Ken] programmed a 55-year-old IBM mainframe to mine Bitcoin. Note that this is technically the most powerful rig ever made… if you consider the power usage per hash.

Engineering wordplay aside, the project is really quite fascinating. [Ken] goes into great detail about how Bitcoin mining actually works, how to program an assembly program for an IBM 1401 via punch cards, and even a section about networking a computer from this era. (Bonus points if he can get retro.hackaday.com to load!) The IBM boasts some impressive stats for the era as well: It can store up to 16,000 characters in memory and uses binary-coded decimal. All great things if you are running financial software in the early ’60s or demonstrating Bitcoin in the mid-2010s!

If it wasn’t immediately obvious, this rig will probably never mine a block. At 80 seconds per hash, it would take longer than the lifetime of the universe to do, but it is quite a feat of computer science to demonstrate that it is technically possible. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen one of [Ken]’s mainframe projects, and hopefully there are more gems to come!

Commodore 64 Mods Make A Mobile Computer

Some Commodore C64 owners and enthusiasts keep tinkering with their precious units, adding upgrades all the time. [wpqrek]’s latest upgrade to his C64 makes it totally portable – he added DC-DC converters to allow it to run off external battery sources.

He installed two separate DC-DC converters – one for 5V and another for 9V inside the enclosure. He opted for these high-efficiency converters because he planned to use batteries to power the device and wanted to maximize the juice he was extracting. He wired up a barrel jack socket to accept a 12V input, and another XT60 socket where he could attach a LiPo battery. A common 2200mAh RC battery is enough to power his C64 for 1.5 hours. To ensure the LiPo battery doesn’t get fully discharged, he’s added a simple buzzer circuit that starts beeping at around 3.3V.

How does just adding an external battery help make it portable? Well, he’s already added a small LCD display and a couple of other mods, that we featured in an earlier post. These earlier mod’s didn’t make the unit truly portable. Adding the latest hack does. Check out the video after the break.

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Colorizer for ZX81 clone

[danjovic] is a vintage computer enthusiast and has several old computers in his collection. Among them are a couple of TK-85 units – a ZX81 clone manufactured by Microdigital Eletronica in Brazil. The TK-85 outputs a monochrome video output. And when [danjovic] acquired a SyncMaster 510 computer monitor, he went about building a circuit to “colorise” the output from the ZX81 clone (Portuguese translation).

The SyncMaster 510 supports 15kHz RGB video refresh rate, so he thought it ought to be easy to hook it up to the TK-85, which internally has the video and composite sync signals available. So, if he could lower the amplitude of the video signal to 0.7Vpp, using resistors, and connect this signal to one of the primary colors on the monitor, for example green, then the screen should have black characters with a green background.

DSCN5584-thumbBefore he could do any of this, he first had to debug and fix the TK-85 which seemed to be having several age related issues. After swapping out several deteriorating IC sockets, he was able to get it running. He soldered wires directly to one of the logic chips that had the video and sync signals present on them, along with the +5V and GND connections and hooked them up to a breadboard. He then tested his circuit consisting of the TTL multiplexer, DIP switches and resistors. This worked, but not as expected, and after some digging around, he deduced that it was due to the lack of the back porch in the video signal. From Wikipedia, “The back porch is the portion of each scan line between the end (rising edge) of the horizontal sync pulse and the start of active video. It is used to restore the black level (300 mV.) reference in analog video. In signal processing terms, it compensates for the fall time and settling time following the sync pulse.”

To implement the back porch, he referred to an older hack he had come across that involved solving a similar problem in the ZX81. Eventually, it was easily implemented by an RC filter and a diode. With this done, he was now able to select any RGB value for foreground and background colors. Finally, he built a little PCB to house the multiplexer, DIP switches and level shifting resistors. For those interested, he’s also documented his restoration of the TK-85 over a four-part blog post.

Interview with the Creators of CHIP, a $9 Single-Board Computer

Single-board computing is hot on the DIY scene right now and riding that knife edge is C.H.I.P., a project currently in crowd-funding which prices the base unit at just $9. I was happy to run into the crew from Next/Thing Company who developed C.H.I.P. They were happy because, well, the project’s reception has been like a supernova. Right now they’re at about $1.5M of their original $50k goal. We spoke about running Linux on the board, what connectors and pinout headers are available, as well as the various peripheral hardware they have ready for the board.

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Relays Calculate Square Roots

After seeing an exhibit of an old relay-based computer as a kid, [Simon] was inspired to build a simple two-relay latching circuit. Since then, he’s been fascinated by how relays can function to do computation. He’s come quite a long way from that first latching circuit, however, and recently finished a huge five-year project which uses electromechanical relays to calculate square roots.

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The frame of the square root calculator can hold up to 30 identical relay modules, each of which hold 16 relays on PCBs, for a total of 480 relays. The module-based setup makes repair and maintenance a breeze. Numbers are entered into the computer by a rotary dial from an old phone and stored in the calculator’s relay memory. A nixie tube display completes the bygone era-theme of the device and shows either the current number that’s being entered, or the square root of that number as it’s being calculated.

The real magic of this project is that each relay has an LED which illuminates whenever the relay is energized, which shows the user exactly where all of the bits of the machine are going. [Simon] worked on this project from 2009 and recently completed it in 2014, and it has been featured at the San Mateo Maker Faire and at Microsoft Research in Redmond, WA. We’ve seen smaller versions of this before, but never on this scale and never for one specific operation like square roots.

Video below. Thanks to [Bonsaichop] for the tip!

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