8-Bit Video Game Is Best Of Retro Gaming On A Shoestring Budget

[Petri] wrote in to show off the 8-bit gaming system and original platformer which he and [Antti] developed. Don’t get us wrong now, it’s impressive that the duo were able to put together what looks like a very interesting game. But we’ve seen many industry-leading video games developed with just one or two people (we’re thinking all the way back to the days of Atari). Nope, what’s most interesting to us is that the console is also their creation. We should note that the title screen was the work of their friend [Juho].

Take this with a grain of salt, as the bottom right image in the vignette obviously includes an Arduino. But isn’t it a testament to the state of open hardware and the sharing of knowledge through the Internet that this is even possible on the hobby level? And just because we call it “hobby” doesn’t mean you have to lower your expectations. This thing is full featured. Watch the clip after the break to see the ATmega328 driving a 104×80 resolution screen with a 256 color palette, while using four audio channels for the chiptunes. The thing even utilizes an original NES controller port for user input.

And for those of you who are thinking we’ve seen the same thing before, we never get tired of seeing projects where a lot of hard work has obviously paid off!

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Breadboard Friendly ARM Board Based On STM32F4


Umm yeah… this is more like it. The STM32F4Stamp is a project which [Frank Zhao] put together to make his ARM prototyping process more like is was back when everything came in a DIP format. As you can see, it’s just narrow enough to leave one row open on the breadboard for jumper wires.

Don’t get us wrong, we do really like STM’s own Discovery Boards for the hardware they deliver at a very low price. But the dual-row pin headers on the larger versions (all except the F0 variant) make it tricky to connect your peripherals. This is pushed to the point that a large percentage of hacks we’ve seen with the Discovery boards are actually just to make connecting external hardware easier.

You may be thinking that there’s a lot missing from this board, but we disagree. Obviously there’s still a USB port which can be used to power the board via a 3.3V regulator. But since the STM32 chips have a built-in bootloader the USB connection can also be used to flash firmware to the processor. Nice! It’s open hardware if you want roll your own. For your convenience we’ve embedded the schematic after the break, along with [Frank’s] demo video.

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Maglite 18650 Battery Conversion

maglite 18650

Maglite’s used(?) to be the king of flashlights, but replacing those pesky D-cell batteries is kind of ridiculous in this day and age. So [Travis] decided to upgrade it to make use of the ever-so-common, 18650 lithium-ion battery.

Not looking to purchase any components [Travis] performed this hack using simple recycled household parts. You could solder tabs on the 18650’s so they better mimic a typical alkaline battery cell, but [Travis] notes that because most solder tarnishes the electrical conductivity isn’t always the greatest. So instead, he used aluminum foil. It doesn’t look professional, but it does the job and keeps all the components unmodified so the lithium cells can be used elsewhere if needed. To center the batteries inside the Maglite he used a few strips of cardboard from a case of beer — again, this is just making use of what was available. That being said however, if you wanted to do a professional job on it, nothing is stopping you! A 3D printed 18650 to D-cell adapter would look quite nice… Finally, in order to make the battery spring contact the smaller surface area of the lithium cells, all you have to do is flip it around backwards and slightly bend the inner spring out. That’s about it.

It’s a pretty simple hack we admit, but definitely super handy. In a past project [Travis] also replaced the halogen bulb with a high power LED, making this flashlight even more powerful — and because the LED driver accepts a broader range of voltages it lasts longer too. If you need more inspiration for retrofitting flashlights with LEDs check out this switch-mode driver board hack.

Unfortunately this hack does reduce the Maglite’s thief-head-bashing-ability with such light batteries.

ScareMail Tries To Disrupt NSA Email Surveillance


Are you on the NSA’s email watchlist? Do you want to be?  This project is called ScareMail and it’s designed to mess with the NSA’s  email surveillance programs.

[Benjamin Grosser] has written it as a plugin for many popular web browsers, and it uses an algorithm to generate a clever but ultimately useless narrative in the signature of your email using as many probable NSA search terms as possible. The idea behind this is if enough people use it, it will overload the NSA’s search results, ultimately making their email keyword tracking useless.

So how does it work? The algorithm starts with natural language processing (NLP) and an original source of text — he picked Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Using the processor it identifies all nouns and verbs in the original text and replaces them with properly formatted and conjugated “scary” words that he’s indexed from a list of hypothetical NSA key words. To ensure each signature is unique, he makes use of a Markov chain to generate new texts that are completely different each time. The result is a somewhat coherent paragraph that doesn’t make any real sense.

But wait! Surveillance like this is bad, but hypothetically it could work! Well, maybe. But the point is: 

ScareMail reveals one of the primary flaws of the NSA’s surveillance efforts: words do not equal intent.

Stick around after the break to see a proper video explanation of ScareMail by [Ben] himself.

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Fail Of The Week: How A Cheap USB AC Adapter Might Indirectly Burn Your House Down

This Fail of the Week will remind our readers that every project they make, no matter how small they might be, may have big consequences if something goes wrong. Shown in the picture above is an oven that [Kevin] tweaked to perform reflow soldering. The story is he had just moved into a new place a few weeks ago and needed to make a new batch of boards. As he had cycled this oven many times, he was confident enough to leave the room to answer a few emails. A few minutes later, he had the unfortunate experience of smelling something burning as well as discovering white smoke invading his place.

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Persistence Of Vision Planetary Map

POV planetary map

Looking at the looping GIF above you’re probably thinking, oh, another hard drive POV setup… Well… Not quite.

This is one of [Dev’s] latest projects, and it is a planetary map that shows the angular positions of all 8 of the major celestial bodies from any given date between 1800 and 2050. It’s also capable of showing analogue clock hands, the phases of the moon, and other simple graphics.

The main unit is a hard disk, but [Dev] milled off many of the features on it to give it a more exposed, purpose-built look. He designed the LED bearing PCB from scratch using EagleCAD, which sits on the back of the drive, with the spindle poking through. It has 8 rings of 5 surface mounted LEDs, which shine through opaque plastic diffuser rings that he printed using Shapeways — they feature small recesses to fit snugly on the board over the LEDs. On the top level is a 1mm thick black disc of some unknown material that [Dev] had sitting around, which now has 8 holes machined into it in the exact position of the LEDs.

A Cortex-M0 drives the LEDs using an LPCXpresso board which allows the LEDs to sit across only one byte of a hardware I/O port. On the software end, each rotation of the disk is segmented into three hundred and sixty 1 degree slices. This system allows him to achieve a circular resolution of 8×360 pixels at 25 frames per second. Not bad for a persistence of vision device!

Stick around after the break to see the rather entertaining demo video of the device.

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The Game Of NIM

game of nim

[Greg] has been fascinated with the Game of NIM ever since he was a freshman in highschool. Recently he remembered it and decided to try his hand at making an AI version to play, written using Visual Basic.

If you’re not familiar with the game, it’s fairly simple. Each row of lights represents a certain type of object. The players make take as many objects from any one row, per turn. The player with the last object loses.

Now, as you can imagine, writing an AI into a game can be a rather challenging ordeal. [Greg’s] first attempt was to use a memory structure that captures every possible move. There’s only 15 moves, and 1 to 7 lights, and the options decrease as the game goes on so… That can’t be too bad, right? Upon running his freshly written code he got an out-of-memory error. Not just any out-of-memory error either, over an Exabyte of memory was needed! Whoops.

He eventually figured the proper code out, and what resulted in game play was a very interesting experience. You see, the computer learns from each game played. At first, it’s like playing a young child — easy to trick and beat. But as the games progressed, the computer picked up his patterns and never made the same mistake again. He simply lost track of the number of games he played with it, but it just kept getting better at better. Must be pretty satisfying to make something that learns from you — kind of like parenthood…

Anyway, [Greg] has an awesome writeup available on his blog, so you should definitely check it out — we can only summarize so much! Stick around after the break to see a video of the game in action.

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