Does This Demo Remind You of Mario Kart? It Should!

Here’s a slick-looking VGA demo written in assembly by [Yianni Kostaris]; it’s VGA output from an otherwise stock ATmega2560 at 16MHz with no external chips involved. If you’re getting some Super Mario Kart vibes from how it looks, there’s a good reason for that. The demo implements a form of the Super Nintendo’s Mode 7 graphics, which allowed for a background to be efficiently texture-mapped, rotated, and scaled for a 3D effect. It was used in racing games (such as Super Mario Kart) but also in many others. A video of the demo is embedded below.

[Yianni] posted the original demo a year earlier, but just recently added detailed technical information on how it was all accomplished. The AVR outputs VGA signals directly, resulting in 100×120 resolution with 256 colors, zipping along at 60 fps. The AVR itself is not modified or overclocked in any way — it runs at an entirely normal 16MHz and spends 93% of its time handling interrupts. Despite sharing details for how this is done, [Yianni] hasn’t released any code, but told us this demo is an offshoot from another project that is still in progress. It’s worth staying tuned because it’s clear [Yianni] knows his stuff.

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MicroLisp With Matching Parens

Lisp is a supremely elegant programming language, but you won’t find it around much today. That’s a shame; in the 80s and 90s, all the cool kids were using Lisp machines, computers dedicated to the creation and interpretation of Lisp. While the AI renaissance of the 80s is dead, replaced with the machine learning fad of today, Lisp machines have gotten much smaller. Now, they’ll fit in your pocket, and they have parenthesis matching, to boot.

If this build looks familiar, you’re not wrong. A while back, we saw a similar pocket Lisp computer based around the ATMega328 microcontroller with 32k of Flash and 2k of RAM. That’s not a lot by any measure, and a much more suitable processor for an AVR-based pocket Lisp machine would be the big boys of the ATMega family.

The new and improved version of the Tiny Lisp Computer is built around the ATMega1284. If it’s capable enough to run a 3D printer, it should run Lisp very well. With more program space and more RAM come more features including matching parens when entering code, a serial monitor interface, and a program editor – basically a text editor on the chip.

Apart from the larger chip, the circuit remains relatively unchanged. The display is still an OLED that can be had for a few dollars from the usual online retailers, and the other bits of circuitry are still just a handful of resistors, caps, and wire. An off-the-shelf FTDI module (or whatever serial chip you desire) can be added to connect to a serial terminal, and support for a PS/2 keyboard rounds out the board.

Hackaday Links: November 6, 2016

Here’s a life protip for you: get really, really good at one video game. Not all of them; you only want to be good – top 10% at least – at one video game. For me, that’s Galaga. It’s a great arcade game, and now it’s IoT. [justin] has been working on publishing high scores from a Galaga board to the Internet. The electronics are actually pretty simple – just a latch on a memory address, and an ESP8266 for comms.

On with the mergers and acquisitions! Lattice has been sold to Canyon Bridge, a Chinese private equity firm, for $1.3 Billion. Readers of Hackaday should know Lattice as the creators of the iCE40 FPGA platform, famously the target of the only Open Source FPGA toolchain.

The Internet of Chocolate Chip Cookies. Yes, it’s a Kickstarter for a cookie machine, because buying a tube of pre-made cookie dough is too hard. There is one quote I would like to point out in this Kickstarter: “Carbon Fiber Convection Heating Element (1300W) is more energy-efficient than traditional electric elements and heats up instantly.” Can someone please explain how a heating element can be more efficient? What does that mean? Aren’t all resistive heating elements 100% efficient by default? Or are they 0% efficient? The Internet of Cookies broke my brain.

The USB Rubber Ducky is a thumb-drive sized device that, when plugged into a computer, presents itself as a USB HID keyboard, opens up a CLI, inputs a few commands, and could potentially do evil stuff. The USB Rubber Ducky costs $45, a Raspberry Pi Zero and a USB connector costs $6. [tim] built his own USB Rubber Ducky, and the results are great.

MicroLisp, Lisp For The AVR

We’ve seen tiny microcontroller-based computers before, but nothing like this. Where the usual AVR + display + serial connection features BASIC, Forth, or another forgotten language from the annals of computer history, this project turns an AVR into a Lisp machine.

The μλ project is the product of several decades of playing with Lisp on the university mainframe, finding a Lisp interpreter for the 6800 in Byte, and writing a few lisp applications using the Macintosh Toolbox. While this experience gave the author a handle on Lisp running on memory-constrained systems, MicroLisp is running on an ATMega328 with 32k of Flash and 2k of RAM.  In that tiny space, this tiny computer can blink a few boards, write to an OLED display, and read a PS/2 keyboard.

The circuit is simple enough to fit on a breadboard, but the real trick here is the firmware. A large subset of Lisp is supported, as is analog and digitalRead, analog and digitalWrite, I2C, SPI, and a serial interface. It’s an amazing piece of work that’s just begging to be slapped together on a piece of perfboard, if only to have a pocket-sized Lisp machine.

Thanks [gir] for the tip.

CNC Upgrade to Guitar Pickup Winding Machine

The idea of winding inductive guitar pickups by hand is almost unthinkable. It uses extremely thin wire and is a repetitive, laborious process that nevertheless requires a certain amount of precision. It’s a prime candidate for automation, and while [Davide Gironi] did exactly that, he wasn’t entirely satisfied with his earlier version. He now has a new CNC version that is more full-featured and uses an ATMega8 microcontroller.

[Davide Gironi]’s previous version took care of winding and counting the number of turns, but it was still an assisted manual system that relied on a human operator. The new upgrade includes a number of features necessary to more fully automate the process, such as a wire tensioner, a wire guide and traverse mechanism (made from parts salvaged from a broken scanner), and an automatic stop for when the correct number of turns has been reached.


All kinds of small but significant details are covered in the build, such as using plastic and felt for anything that handles the wire — the extremely fine wire is insulated with a very thin coating and care must be taken to not scratch it off. Also, there is the need to compute how far the traverse mechanism must move the wire guide in order to place the new wire next to the previously-laid turn (taking into account the winding speed, which may be changing), and doing this smoothly so that the system does not need to speed up and slow down for every layer of winding.

This system is still programmed by hand using buttons and an LCD, but [Davide Gironi] says that the next version will use the UART in order to allow communication with (and configuration by) computer – opening the door to easy handling of multiple winding patterns. You can see video of the current version in action, below.

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1btn – an Open Source Dash

The availability of cheap radios, omni-present WiFi and powerful web services means the IoT wave is here to stay. Amazon got into the act with its “do only one thing” Dash button. But a more interesting solution would be an IoT “do it all” button.

[Anand] has been working on his 1btn Open Source WiFi connected IoT button for a while. It connects to the Internet over WiFi to trigger whatever action you have assigned to it using a simple, online interface. It’s reconfigurable and open source. Which means it can be used in pretty imaginative ways, and if needed, can be re-flashed with your own custom firmware should you decide to really get under its hood.

The 1btn’s ESP8266 module is usually in sleep mode, waking up when the button is pressed, making the connection, performing the task and then going back to sleep once confirmation is received. A Red/Green LED indicates if the action was successful or not. You can set it up to send e-mails, messages, tweets or perform actions via a custom script, API or the IFTTT – maker channel. To make it hacker friendly, all of the ESP8266 GPIO pins are accessible via headers. This makes it convenient to add external sensors, for example. There’s also a (unpopulated) QFN footprint to allow adding an ATmega device (168P/328P) whose GPIO pins are also accessible via headers. This opens up a large number of additional applications for the device such as home automation.

On the software side, the 1btn connects to a web console, where you can set up an account, configure the device, register its MAC ID, assign it an alias and set up its actions. All of the source files for the 1btn – firmware, enclosure, schematic, BOM, PCB layout and example use cases – are posted on his Github repository.

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When Are 8 Bits More Than 32?

Whenever we write up a feature on a microcontroller or microcontroller project here on Hackaday, we inevitably get two diametrically opposed opinions in the comments. If the article featured an 8-bit microcontroller, an army of ARMies post that they would do it better, faster, stronger, and using less power on a 32-bit platform. They’re usually right. On the other hand, if the article involved a 32-bit processor or a single-board computer, the 8-bitters come out of the woodwork telling you that they could get the job done with an overclocked ATtiny85 running cycle-counted assembly. And some of you probably can. (We love you all!)

redblue_pillWhen beginners walk into this briar-patch by asking where to get started, it can be a little bewildering. The Arduino recommendation is pretty easy to make, because there’s a tremendous amount of newbie-friendly material available. And Arduino doesn’t necessarily mean AVR, but when it does, that’s not a bad choice due to the relatively flexible current sourcing and sinking of the part. You’re not going to lose your job by recommending Arduino, and it’s pretty hard to get the smoke out of one.

But these days when someone new to microcontrollers asks what path they should take, I’ve started to answer back with a question: how interested are you in learning about microcontrollers themselves versus learning about making projects that happen to use them? It’s like “blue pill or red pill”: the answer to this question sets a path, and I wouldn’t recommend the same thing to people who answered differently.

For people who just want to get stuff done, a library of easy-to-use firmware and a bunch of examples to crib learn from are paramount. My guess is that people who answer “get stuff done” are the 90%. And for these folks, I wouldn’t hesitate at all to recommend an Arduino variant — because the community support is excellent, and someone has written an add-on library for nearly every gizmo you’d want to attach. This is well-trodden ground, and it’s very often plug-and-play.

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