Adding Character To The C64

The venerable Commodore 64, is there anything it can’t do? Like many 1980s computer platforms, direct access to memory and peripherals makes hacking easy and fun. In particular, you’ll find serial & parallel ports are ripe for experimentation, but the Commodore has its expansion/cartridge port, too, and [Frank Buss] decided to hook it up to a two-line character LCD.

Using the expansion port for this duty is a little unconventional. Unlike the parallel port, the expansion port doesn’t have a stable output, as such. The port contains the data lines of the 6510 CPU and thus updates whenever RAM is read or written to, rather then updating in a controlled fashion like a parallel port does. However, [Frank] found a way around this – the IO1 and IO2 lines go low when certain areas of memory are written to. By combining these with latch circuitry, it’s possible to gain up to 16 parallel output lines – more than enough to drive a simple HD44780 display! It’s a testament to the flexibility of 74-series logic.
It’s all built on a C64 cartridge proto-board of [Frank]’s own design, and effort was made to ensure the LCD works with BASIC for easy experimentation. It’s a tidy mod that could easily be built into a nice enclosure and perhaps used as the basis for an 8-bit automation project. Someone’s gotta top that Amiga 2000 running the school district HVAC, after all!

Manual LCD Makes Information Display Tedious, Educational

The HD44780 is one of the first chips we learned about as a kid, and chances are good you’ve used one in your project at some point, and almost certain that you’ve interacted with one in your life. The character LCD is ubiquitous, easy to interface, and very robust. They come in sizes from 8 x 1 to 20 x 4 and even larger, but they almost all have the same pinout, and there are libraries in many embedded environments for interacting with them. [The 8-Bit Guy] decided to interface with one using just switches and a button, (YouTube, embedded) with the intent of illustrating exactly how to use them, and how easy they are.

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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.

Fail of the Week: Reset Issues with 595 and HD44780


We really like to see hardware hackers stepping out of the safe and polished boundaries of available Arduino libraries. One example of this is a project which [Matteo] thought worked: using a shift register to drive a character LCD. This can be a desirable way to do things, because it takes the GPIO usage down from six to just three connections. If you don’t remember seeing that one earlier this month take another look. The gist of it is that [Matteo] hacked one function in the LiquidCrystal library to make it happen.

What makes this a truly great fail is that the problem was not immediately apparent, and is difficult to reliably reproduce. The LCD is unstable depending on how the Arduino board is reset. When connecting the Arduino to a computer the screen doesn’t work until you press the reset button. But press the reset button repeatedly and you get a non-functional screen plus the gibberish seen above.

There’s not much to go on here, but we think it’ll be a lot of fun to state your theory on the malfunction and suggesting for testing/fixing the issue. This could be a lot of things, the controller on the display getting mixed-up, the 595 missing an edge (or something along those lines). Do you fix this with hardware (ie: capacitor to avoid voltage dip), a software issue (need a longer delay after startup), or a combination of the two?

2013-09-05-Hackaday-Fail-tips-tileFail of the Week is a Hackaday column which runs every Wednesday. Help keep the fun rolling by writing about your past failures and sending us a link to the story — or sending in links to fail write ups you find in your Internet travels.

Hackaday Links: February 9, 2014


Here’s a quick tip to extend the usefulness of your multimeter. It’s a set of mini test hooks soldered to alligator clips with a short hunk of stranded wire in between. You can buy mini test hooks that go right on the metal probes of your meter, but the weight and bulk of the meter probes and cords sometimes get in the way. This rig allows more flexibility because of that wire.

Staying on the theme of test equipment tips, here’s a simple way to make a Y-connector for logic analyzers. [Thomas] uses a dual-row pin header, shorting each pair of pins so that both rows are connected. When this is plugged into a pin socket it leave two pins for connecting your test equipment and the rest of the project hardware.

After seeing our feature of a 3-wire Character LCD [Chad] wrote in to mention he built a 1-wire version using an ATmega328.

If you’re going to be in Anaheim this week you can stop by the ATX-West expo and see a 3D printer with a 1m x 1m x 0.5m printing area. [Thanks Martin]

Speaking of 3D printers, here’s a big delta robot (seven feet tall) outfitted for alternative material printing. It’s printing a CT scan of ribs and a heart in hot glue. This seems to be a popular material for more artistic uses. We just saw a hexapod which deposits hot glue as it roams.

The weaponized quadcopter post from Tuesday was a controversial one. The really bad part of it was the laser, which strapped to anything is extremely dangerous. But the other hack may have just been poorly executed. Hackaday alum [Jeremy Cook] wrote in to mention that fireworks and quadcopters can be used more responsibly. He strapped a sparkler to his quadro and used it to make light graffiti. You may remember that [Jeremy] wrote an introduction to light graffiti for us back in November.

Minimalist user interface for headless Raspberry Pi applications


[Jason Birch] just finished building a beautifully simple user interface for the Raspberry Pi. The goal was to keep it small and intuitive while still providing a range of functionality. His add-on hardware gives feedback using several LEDs and a four-line character LCD screen. It provides control using just four momentary press switches.

The base for the add-on hardware is a chunk of protoboard the same size as the Pi itself. This is just slightly wider than the LCD screen, leaving room along the top for the row of buttons with different colors of LEDs in between them. Look closely in that nest of point-to-point wiring and you’ll find the dual pin-socket which mates with the RPi GPIO header. One important note from [Jason] mentions that the LCD screen R/W pin must be tied to ground. This keeps it from going into read mode, which would push 5V over the I/O pins, potentially damaging the 3.3V tolerant header on the RPi.

Throw in a battery and that pretty much covers the hardware. To see how he’s using it you’ll want to view the video clip after the break.

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Space invaders played on a 16×2 character display

This Space Invaders game does more with less. [Rjk79] managed to make a video game using a two-line character display. The game consists of a wave of invaders on the top line, with the defender cannon on the bottom. The invader isn’t just stationary, but randomly moves to the left and the right. The image above captured a little bit of motion blur from the defender moving into position before firing on the enemy.

An Arduino board controls the 16×2 HD44780 character display. The game also includes sounds generated by the piezo buzzer seen on the breadboard. All the way to the right you can see the Wii Nunchuk breakout board which provides directional control and the firing trigger. If you want to recreate this one for yourself [Rjk79] is sharing the source code on Pastebin. There’s also a demo video found after the jump.

If you don’t have a character LCD on hand you might try this other Space Invaders clone that uses an 8×8 led matrix.

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