Old Fax Machine Shows Signs of Life


[Dmitry] is a Moscow based artist. He’s also a an avid circuit bender and hardware hacker. His latest project is entitled “signes de vie” or signs of life. [Dmitry] started with an Arduino and an old thermal fax machine. He removed the thermal print head and replaced it with a row of 10 LEDs. These old fax machines would use rolls of paper, cutting each sheet of as it was printed. [Dmitry] kept the roll system, but treated his paper with fluorescent dye. As the paper passes under the LEDs, it pauses for a moment and the LEDs are flashed. This causes a ghostly glow to remain on the paper for several minutes as the next rows are printed.

While [Dmitry] could have made this the world’s biggest tweet printer, he chose to go a more mathematical route. Each printed row of dots represents a generation of one-dimensional cellular automata. Cellular automation is a mathematical model of generations of cells. All cells exist on a grid, and can be alive or dead. The number of neighboring live cells determines if any given cell will live on to the next generation. One common implementation of cellular automation is Conway’s Game of Life. In [Dmitry's] implementation, a bank of switches select which of the 256 common cellular automata rules controls the colony. A second bank selects how long each generation lasts – from 1 to 18 seconds.

We really like how the paper becomes a printed, yet temporary history of the colony. [Dmitry] doesn’t say if he’s using a single long strip of paper, or if he created a loop. We’re hoping for the latter. Finally a useful implementation of the old black fax loop prank.

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Game of Life Clock


[Alex] wanted to make an LED clock. But simply making an LED array clock was far too easy — so he decided to make it follow some interesting rules…

Ever heard of John Conway’s Game of Life? It’s quite simple — there are four rules.

  1. Any live cell with fewer than two live neighbours dies, as if caused by under-population.
  2. Any live cell with two or three live neighbours lives on to the next generation.
  3. Any live cell with more than three live neighbours dies, as if by overcrowding.
  4. Any dead cell with exactly three live neighbours becomes a live cell, as if by reproduction.
    [from Wikipedia]

So [Alex] decided to make his clock LED matrix follow these rules, with lit pixels representing life. Every minute, on the minute, the time is displayed. But as soon as it is displayed, the rules take over, and the display disintegrates, following the rules of the Game of Life. It makes for an very interesting display that’s just waiting to be scaled up to a larger size!

He’s done a great job writing it up on his blog, and has included his code as well — so if you’re so inclined, take a look! If not, stick around after the break to see the clock in action.

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MSP430 Launchpad Game of Life shield

[100uf] built an LED matrix shield for the MSP430 launchpad. His goal with this design was to have it play Conway’s Game of Life. It does just that, as you can see in the clip after the break. But it’s just waiting to learn some more tricks. After he tires of watching the cellular automaton he can try his hand at making some LED pendant animations.

As you can tell, the board was made in his home workshop. It’s not etched, but milled using the CNC machine shown in this image gallery. This is a single-sided PCB, which works well enough for the surface mount components and the downward facing pin sockets. But we wonder how difficult it was to solder the legs of that 8×8 LED matrix. It does have plastic feet at each corner that serve as standoffs to separate the body from the copper layer. But it still looks like a tight space into which he needed to get his iron and some solder.

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Small life on a character LCD

[Duality] just finished programming Conway’s Game of Life on a character LCD. The game is a great programming exercise that everyone should undertake at one point or another. It uses a very simple set of rules to evolve the playing area from a given starting state. In this case the game grid is only 64 pixels, one for each of the positions on this 16×2 character LCD screen. This makes for very quick games as the cells tend to quickly reach an equilibrium as they arrive at the outer borders. See for yourself in the clip after the break.

We could have sworn we’ve seen this before, but with four times the playing space thanks to some custom characters. We couldn’t find an example of that, but the idea is to use a larger grid (something more like what’s seen on this graphic LCD) by generating a set of custom characters that slices each 5×8 pixel character into four smaller discrete areas. Something along the lines of what is being done with this spectrum analyzer.

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Conway’s Game of Life in HD

We’re going to have to take [Mike's] word for it that he built Conway’s Game of Life with high-definition video output. That’s because this screenshot is his only proof and it looks a bit fuzzy to us. But we are interested in the project which used an FPGA to generate a 1080p VGA output of the classic programming challenge.

One of the biggest benefits of using an FPGA for this application is the hardware’s parallel processing ability. For every frame of the game, the area around each living cell must be analyzed to produce the next evolutionary step. Most of the time this means processing all of the pixels in the playing area, which is the case here. [Mike] is using VHDL to program a Papilio Plus which has a Spartan 6 chip on it. He separated his code into the different components when writing about it. This makes it easy to find the chunks relating to the game if that’s what you’re interested in. If you just want to see how he implemented the VGA interface that’s well documented as well.

If you’re not familiar, Conway’s Game of Life has simple rules regarding when a cell will live, die, or be reborn. As [Mike] points out, every programmer should give it a shot at some point. We’ve seen many iterations from the very large to the very small.

Playing chess on a microcontroller

[Arthur Benemann] started a little project for his electrical engineering program, and suffered the worst case of feature creep we’ve ever seen. He just posted an instructable of his picChess project that is able to play chess on a VGA monitor with a keyboard, with sound, a clock, temperature sensor. Apparently, [Arthur] was bored one evening and threw in an implementation of Conway’s game of life.

[Arthur] chose a DSPIC33F μC for his project with everything laid out on a bread board. He’s quite proud of his VGA routine, the first time he’s ever used DMA. We’re really impressed by [Arthur]‘s chess engine – his is the first homebrew chess engine we’ve seen on Hack A Day. Although the engine is a brute-force search with Alpha-beta pruning, the engine itself seems fairly advanced that will even supports castling.

Although a few rules aren’t supported and the ELO rating of the engine isn’t known, [Arthur]‘s engine should still be able to beat an amateur player. A fairly impressive feat indeed.

Check out [Arthur]‘s video after the break.

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A Charlieplex display and a board layout tip

[Ben] is getting himself up to speed with microcontrollers. He jumped into the deep end by taking on this Charlieplex LED matrix build. As you can see after the break, he not only made the display work, but coded Conway’s game of life to run on the ATtiny85 that drives the device. What you see above is the prototype version that [Ben] used to make sure he had the hardware just right. He’s seeing the project through to a manufactured board and this is where the layout tip comes from. In order to make sure he had enough space for all of his components he printed out the board artwork, taped it to some Styrofoam, and then inserted all of the through-hole parts. Now he can be sure that physically the design works, we’ll keep our fingers crossed that everything is also kosher electrically.

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