Better SPI Bus Design

Quick, how do you wire up an SPI bus between a microcontroller and a peripheral? SCK goes to SCK, MISO goes to MISO, and MOSI goes to MOSI, right? Yeah. You’ll need to throw in a chip select pin, but that’s pretty much it. Just wires, and it’ll most likely work. Now add a second device. The naïve solution found in thousands of Arduino tutorials do the same thing; just wires, and it’ll probably work. It’s not that simple, and Mr. Teensy himself, [Paul Stoffregen] is here to show you why.

When using multiple SPI devices, a pullup resistor on the chip select lines are a really great idea. Without a pullup, devices will work great when used alone, but will inexplicably fail when used together. It’s not magic; both devices are listening to the bus when only one should be. Putting a pullup on the CS lines keeps everything at the right logic level until a device is actually needed.

How about the MISO line? Most peripherals will disconnect their pins when the chip select signal is active, but there are exceptions. Good luck finding them. There is an easy way to check, though: just connect two resistors so the MISO line floats to a non-logic level when the CS pin is high, and check with a voltmeter. If MISO is driven high or low, you should put a small tri-state buffer in there.

That just covers hardware, and there are a few things you can do in software to reduce the number of conflicts when using more than one SPI device. One of these methods is transactions, or defining the clock rate, setting MSB or LSB first, and the polarity of the clock. Newer versions of the Arduino SPI library support transactions and the setup is very easy. In fact, transaction support in the Arduino library is something [Paul] worked on himself, and gets around the problem of having SPI-related code happening in both the main loop of a program and whenever an interrupt hits. Awesome work, and a boon to the Arduino makers around the world.

[Sprite_TM]’s Keyboard Plays Snake

Hackaday Prize judge, hacker extraordinaire, and generally awesome dude [Sprite_TM] spends a lot of time at his computer, and that means a lot of time typing on his keyboard. He recently picked up a board with the latest fad in the world of keyboards, a board with individually addressable LEDs. He took this board to work and a colleague jokingly said, ‘You’ve had this keyboard for 24 hours now, and it has a bunch of LEDs and some arrow keys. I’m disappointed you haven’t got Snake running on it yet.” Thus began the quest to put the one game found on all Nokia phones on a keyboard.

The keyboard in question is a Coolermaster Quickfire Rapid-I, a board that’s marketed as having an ARM Cortex CPU. Pulling apart the board, [Sprite] found a bunch of MX Browns, some LEDs, and a 72MHz ARM Cortex-M3 with 127k of Flash and 32k of RAM. That’s an incredible amount of processing power for a keyboard, and after finding the SWD port, [Sprite] attempted to dump the Flash. The security bit was set. There was another way, however.

Coolermaster is actively working on the firmware, killing bugs, adding lighting modes, and putting all these updates on their website. The firmware updater is distributed as an executable with US and EU versions; the EU version has another key. Figuring the only difference between these versions would be the firmware itself, [Sprite] got his hands on both versions, did a binary diff, and found only one 16k block of data at the end of the file was different. There’s the firmware. It was XOR encrypted, but that’s obvious if you know what to look for.

flashdata The firmware wasn’t complete, though; there were jumps to places outside the code [Sprite] had and a large block looked corrupted. There’s another thing you can do with an executable file: run it. With USBPcap running in the background while executing the firmware updater, [Sprite] could read exactly what was happening when the keyboard was updating. With a small executable that gets around the weirdness of the updater, [Sprite] had a backup copy of the keyboard’s firmware. Even if he bricked the keyboard, he could always bring it back to a stock state. It was time to program Snake.

The first part of writing new firmware was finding a place that had some Flash and RAM to store the new code. This wasn’t hard; there was 64k of Flash free and 28K of unused RAM. The calls to the Snake routine were modified from the variables the original firmware had. If, for example, the original keyboard had a call to change the PWM, [Sprite] could change that to the Snake routine.

Snake is fun, but with a huge, powerful ARM in a device that people will just plug into their keyboard, there’s a lot more you can do with a hacked keyboard. Keyloggers and a BadUSB are extremely possible, especially with firmware that can be updated from a computer. To counter that, [Sprite] added the requirement for a physical condition in order to enter Flash mode. Now, the firmware will only update for about 10 seconds after pressing the fn+f key combination.

There’s more to playing Snake on a keyboard; Sprite has also written a new lighting mode, a fluid simulation thingy that will surely annoy anyone who can’t touch type. You can see the videos of that below.

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Multi-target IDE for 8-Bit CPUs

A long time ago, [Martin] played with old 8-bit computers. Recently, he’s been honing his assembly skills again, and the idea of an IDE for a boatload of old systems came to him. After a year of work, he announced a multitarget IDE for 8-bit computers that works in your browser.

The project is called ASM80, and includes a code editor, a workspace to put all your code, compilers for the 8080/8085, Z80, 6502, 6800 and 6809 CPUs, emulators for all these CPUs, and emulators for a few Czech computers, the ZX Spectrum, and a few of [Grant Searle]’s single board computers.

What makes this project interesting is the syntax for all the different CPUs is pretty much the same. It’s a real, modular code editor that supports macros and everything you would expect for a code editor for ancient computers.

You can check out an assembler description here. [Martin] also has an offline, desktop-based version of ASM80 called IDE80, with a video demo of that below.

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Espruino Pico, Javascript on a USB Stick

There are probably very few official numbers for this, but web developers at least seem to outnumber the amount of people who regularly poke pins and registers with C. For them, the embedded world must be a scary and foreboding domain, full of bitwise operations and dynamic types. [Gordon] figured there was another way and built a Javascript interpreter for a microcontroller. The latest board built around this interpreter is up on Kickstarter, and its even smaller and more capable than his earlier version.

This isn’t [Gordon]’s first rodeo; last year he launched the (full-sized) Espruino, featuring an ARM Cortex M3 and his very own Javascript interpreter. The large-scale Espruino was a rousing success, and now he’s moving on to a smaller thumb drive-sized footprint for the Pico. The hardware is a bit better, relying on the ARM Cortex M4 STM32F4 with a bit more RAM, and this time the board is slightly cheaper. It still runs the same Javascript interpreter, though, so all the code is exactly what you’d expect.

We haven’t seen many projects using this tiny Javascript of Things, but the new layout does make it fantastically useful. Depending on how the crowd funding campaign turns out, [Gordon] might be adding socket, and USB HID support, along with inline C functions.

A Single Pixel, Color Digital Camera

[Ben] has written all sorts of code and algorithms to filter, sort, and convolute images, and also a few gadgets that were meant to be photographed. One project that hasn’t added a notch to his soldering iron was a camera. The easiest way to go about resolving this problem would be to find some cardboard and duct tape and built a pinhole camera. [Ben] wanted a digital camera. Not any digital camera, but a color digital camera, and didn’t want to deal with pixel arrays or lenses. Impossible, you say? Not when you have a bunch of integral transforms in your tool belt.

[Ben] is only using a single light sensor that outputs RGB values for his camera – no lenses are found anywhere. If, however, you scan a scene multiple times with this sensor, each time blocking a portion of the sensor’s field of view, you could reconstruct a rudimentary, low-resolution image from just a single light sensor. If you scan and rotate this ‘blocking arm’ across the sensor’s field of view, reconstructing the image is called a Radon transform, something [Ben] has used a few times in his studies.

camera [Ben]’s camera consists of the Adafruit RGB light sensor, an Arduino, a microSD card, a few servos, and a bunch of printed parts. The servos are used to scan and rotate the ‘blocking arm’ across the sensor for each image. The output of the sensor is saved to the SD card and moved over to the computer for post-processing.

After getting all the pixel data to his laptop, [Ben] plotted the raw data. The first few pictures were of a point source of light – a lamp in his workspace. This resulted in exactly what he expected, a wave-like line on an otherwise blank field. The resulting transformation kinda looked like the reference picture, but for better results, [Ben] turned his camera to more natural scenes. Pointing his single pixel camera out the window resulted in an image that looked like it was taken underwater, through a piece of glass smeared with Vaseline. Still, it worked remarkably well for a single pixel camera. Taking his camera to the great outdoors provided an even better reconstructed scene, due in no small part to the great landscapes [Ben] has access to.

Reverse Engineering Altium Files

Several times in the last few weeks, I’ve heard people say, ‘this will be the last PCB I design in Eagle.’ That’s bad news for CadSoft, but if there’s one thing Eagle has done right, its their switch to an XML file format. Now anyone can write their own design tools for Eagle without mucking about with binary files.

Not all EDA softwares are created equally, and a lot of vendors use binary file formats as a way to keep their market share. Altium is one of the worst offenders, but by diving into the binary files it’s possible to reverse engineer these proprietary file formats into something nearly human-readable.

[dstanko.au]’s first step towards using an Altium file with his own tools was opening it up with a hex editor. Yeah, this is as raw as it can possibly get, but simply by scrolling through the file, he was able to find some interesting bits hanging around the file. It turns out, Altium uses something called a Compound Document File, similar to what Office uses for Word and PowerPoint files, to store all the information. Looking through the lens of this file format, [dstanko.au] found all the content was held in a stream called ‘FileHeader’, everything was an array of strings (yeah, everything is in text), and lines of text are separated by ‘|’ in name=value pairs.

With a little bit of code, [dstanko] managed to dump all these text records into a pseudo plain text format, then convert everything into JSON. You can check out all the code here.

Playing StarCraft On An ARM

Starcraft

Except for the really terrible Nintendo 64 port, StarCraft has always been bound to desktop and laptop PCs. Blizzard could take the code for StarCraft, port it to an ARM platform, put a version on the Google Play an iTunes store, and sit there while the cash rolls in. This would mean a ton of developer time, though, and potentially years tracking down hard to find bugs.

Or one random dude on the Internet could port StarCraft to an ARM platform. Yes, this means all the zerg rushes and dark templar ambushes you could possibly want are available for tablets and Raspberry Pis.

This godlike demonstration of compiler wizardry is a months-long project of [notaz] over on the OpenPandora team. Without the source for StarCraft, [notaz] was forced to disassemble the Win32 version of the game, convert the disassembly to C with some custom tools, and recompile it for ARM while linking in all the necessary Win32 API calls from the ARM port of Wine. Saying this was not easy is an understatement.

If you have an OpenPandora and want to relive your heady days of youth, you can grab everything you need here. For anyone without an OpenPandora that wants to play StarCraft on a Raspi, you might want to get working on your own recompiled port. Video below.

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