A Z80 Computer At The Next Level

At the close of the 8-bit home computer era there were some machines produced that attempted to bridge the gap between the 8- and 16-bit worlds, either by providing a 16-bit device with a backwards compatibility mode, or an 8-bit one with enhanced capabilities to compete with its newer rivals. These products largely fell by the wayside in the face of new 16-bit only platforms, but they and the various enhanced versions of 8-bit processors that appeared over subsequent decades present a fascinating glimpse of what might have been. It’s a theme [Konstantin Dimitrov] explores with his Z20X computer project, a machine using the Zilog eZ80 processor running at 20 MHz, with 512 kB of external memory, and an interface for a 7″ TFT screen module.

The eZ80 is a more recent development, a pipelined processor capable of much higher clock speeds and addressing up to 16 MB of memory while maintaining software compatibility with the Z80. Had it come to market in the late 1980s it would have been a sensation, but instead it has appeared in embedded computers and perhaps of most interest to Hackaday readers, in TI’s line of programmable calculators.

The Z20X is designed to be a through-hole board, with the only SMD component the eZ80 itself. We can understand the motivation behind this, but at the same time wonder whether its likely builders in 2020 will be people unfazed by SMD assembly. It has a system of processor modules in case of future upgrades, and an expansion backplane with an option of an RC2014-compatible bus. There are also PS/2 keyboard and mouse connectors, a serial bus, and an on-board sound chip. The website is short on details of any software, but we’d expect it to work with the typical Z80 retrocomputer offerings such as a BASIC interpreter and the CP/M operating system.

This machine is likely to appeal to retrocomputing enthusiasts, but had it appeared even without the display in a previous decade it would no doubt have become an object of desire. It does however serve as a reminder that the Z80 line has been updated, and though most of us will have moved on it still offers a few chips that could be of interest. Meanwhile for a comparison, take a look at last year’s review of the latest in the range of RC2014 retrocomputer boards.

Thanks [yNos] for the tip.

Reaching Serenity: Porting Git To A Homebrew Operating System

Life is all about the little joys — such as waking up in the morning and realizing there’s still plenty of time before you have to actually get up. Or getting up anyway to watch a delightful sunrise as the city slowly wakes up, or as [Andreas Kling] chose, porting your favorite development tool to the operating system you wrote.

With the aesthetics of ’90s UI design and the functionality of a simpler 2000s Unix-style system core in mind, and personal reasons to keep himself busy, [Andreas] started SerenityOS a little while back. Of course, writing your own operating system is always a great educational exercise, but it takes a certain amount of commitment to push it beyond an experimental playground phase. So ideally, you’d eventually want to use it as your actual main system, however, as software developer, [Andreas] was missing one crucial component for that: git. Well, he decided to change that and just port it — and as someone who likes to record his hacking sessions, you can watch him along the way.

Admittedly, watching someone tweaking some build tools and compiler settings would normally sound anything but overly exciting, but it adds a few more layers to it when doing so for a work-in-progress OS written from scratch — from digging into libc implementations to an almost reverse engineering approach to the build environment. If you take pleasure in people’s thought process in problem solving and (spoiler alert) their success, you will enjoy watching [Andreas]. On the other hand, if you’re more curious about a fresh approach at a desktop operating system, SerenityOS itself might be worth looking into. Of course, there are other options for that as well.

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Hackaday Links: February 23, 2020

If you think your data rates suck, take pity on New Horizons. The space probe, which gave us lovely pictures of the hapless one-time planet Pluto after its 2015 flyby, continued to plunge and explore other, smaller objects in the Kuiper belt. In January of 2019, New Horizons zipped by Kuiper belt object Arrokoth and buffered its findings on the spacecraft’s solid-state data recorders. The probe has been dribbling data back to Earth ever since at the rate of 1 to 2 kilobits per second, and now we have enough of that data to piece together a story of how planets may have formed in the early solar system. The planetary science is fascinating, but for our money, getting a probe to narrowly miss a 35-kilometer long object at a range of 6.5 billion km all while traveling at 51,500 km/h is pretty impressive. And if as expected it takes until September to retrieve all the data from the event at a speed worse than dialup rates, it’ll be worth the wait.

Speaking of space, if you’re at all interested in big data, you might want to consider putting your skills to work in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. The Berkeley SETI Research Center has been feeding data from the Green Bank Telescope and their Automated Planet Finder into the public archive of Breakthrough Listen, a 10-year, $100 million initiative to scan the million closest stars in our galaxy as well as the 100 nearest galaxies for signs of intelligent life. They’re asking for help to analyze the torrents of data they’re accumulating, specifically by developing software and algorithms to process the data. They’ve set up a site to walk you through the basics and get you started. If you’re handy with Python and have an interest in astronomy, you should check it out.

Staying with the space theme, what’s the best way to get kids interested in space and electronics? Why, by launching a satellite designed to meme its way across the heavens, of course. The Mission for Education and Multimedia Engagement satellite, or MEMESat-1, is being planned for a February 2021 launch. The 1U cubesat will serve as an amateur radio repeater and slow-scan TV (SSTV) beacon that will beam down memes donated to the project and stored on radiation-hardened flash storage. In all seriousness, this seems like a great way to engage the generation that elevated the meme to a modern art form in a STEM project they might otherwise show little interest in.

It looks as though Linux might be getting a big boost as the government of South Korea announced that they’re switching 3.3 million PCs from Windows to Linux. It’s tempting to blame Microsoft’s recent dropping of Windows 7 support for the defenestration, but this sounds like a plan that’s been in the works for a while. No official word on which distro will be selected for the 780 billion won ($655 million) effort, which is said to be driven by ballooning software license costs and a desire to get out from under Microsoft’s thumb.

And finally, in perhaps the ickiest auction ever held, the “Davos Collection” headed to the auction block this week in New York. The items offered were all collected from the 2018 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where the world’s elites gather to determine the fate of the 99.999%. Every item in the collection, ranging from utensils and glassware used at the many lavish meals to “sanitary items” disposed of by the billionaires, and even hair and fluid samples swabbed from restrooms, potentially holds a genetic treasure trove in the form of the DNA it takes to be in the elite. Or at least that’s the theory. There’s a whole “Boys from Brazil” vibe here that we find disquieting, and we flatly refuse to see how an auction where a used paper cup is offered for $8,000 went, but if you’d like to virtually browse through the ostensibly valuable trash of oligarchs, check out the auction catalog.

An Open Source Ebike

In the ebike world, there are two paths. The first is a homemade kit bike with motors and controllers from China. The second is a prebuilt bike from a manufacturer like Giant, with motors and controllers from China, which will be half as fast and cost three times as much. The choice is obvious, and there are other benefits to taking the first path as well, such as using this equipment which now has an open source firmware option.

The Tong Sheng TSDZ2 drive is popular in the ebike world because it’s an affordable kit motor which has a pedal-assist mode using torque sensors, resulting in a more polished experience. In contrast, other popular kit motors tend to rely on less expensive cadence sensors which are not as smooth or intuitive. This new open source firmware for the TSDZ2 further improves on the ride by improving the motor responsiveness, improving battery efficiency, and opening up the ability to use any of a number of color displays. (More information is available on a separate Wiki.)

If you have a TSDZ2-based ebike it might be time to break out the laptop and get to work installing this firmware. If you’re behind the times and still haven’t figured out that ebikes are one of the best ways to travel, here is the proof you need.

Thanks to [coaxial] for the tip! Photo via Reddit user [PippyLongSausage].

The Smallest Cell Phone Picture

Mobile phones are the photography tool for most of us, but they are a blunt tool. If you love astrophotography, you buy a DSLR and a lens adapter. Infrared photography needs camera surgery or a special unit. If you want to look closer to home, you may have a microscope with a CCD. Your pocket computer is not manufactured for microscopy, but that does not mean it cannot be convinced. Most of us have held our lens up to the eyepiece of some binoculars or a microscope, and it sort of works, but it is far from perfect. [Benedict Diederich] and a team are proving that we can get darn beautiful images with a microscope, a phone holder, and some purpose-built software on an Android phone with their cellSTORM.

The trick to getting useful images is to compare a series of pictures and figure out which pixels matter and which ones are noisy. Imagine someone shows you grainy nighttime footage from an outdoor security camera. When you pause, it looks like hot garbage, and you can’t tell the difference between a patio chair and a shrubbery. As it plays, the noisy pixels bounce around, and you figure out you’re looking at a spruce bush, and that is roughly how the software parses out a crisp image. At the cost of frame rate, you get clarity, which is why you need a phone holder. Some of their tests took minutes, so astrophotography might not fare as well.

We love high-resolution pictures of tiny things and that isn’t going to change anytime soon.

Thank you [Dr. Nicolás De Francesco] for the tip.

Raspberry Pi Slips Out New PCB Version With USB C Power Fix

When the Raspberry Pi people release a fresh model in their line of fruity single board computers, it’s always an event of great interest. The Raspberry Pi 4 brought some significant changes to the formula: they moved to mini micro HDMI and USB-C power sockets, for instance. The early adopters who scored one of those Pi 4s were in for a shock though, if they had all but the most basic USB C power cables the device wouldn’t power up. Now the Register has news that they have slipped out with little fanfare an updated version of the board containing a fix for this problem.

Our colleague Maya Posch delved deeply into the USB C specification and delivered a pithy analysis at the time which demonstrated that the fault lay with the configuration of the sense resistors used by intelligent USB C power sources to determine what power to supply. For the addition of a single surface mount resistor the problem need never have existed, and we’re guessing that’s how they fixed it.

There’s no need to despair should you have one of the older boards, though. They will still work as they always have done with the so-called “dumb” power supplies and cables, and meanwhile we’re sure that future Pi boards will have had a lot of attention paid to their USB power circuitry.

3D Printed Breadboard Helper Makes Wiring Neater And Easier

Breadboards make it simple to prototype and test circuits. If you use flexible wires with pins to make connections, it usually results in a rat’s nest. For many of us, using solid wire makes a rat’s nest, too. However, the very neat among us will cut solid wire to just the right length and strip just the right amount of wire and lay the wires very flat and neat along the board. [Moononournation] did a 3D print that makes the latter method much easier. You can find his Breadboard Wire Helper on Thingiverse and see a video, below.

The idea is simple: start with a piece of wire stripped on one side, then count out the number of holes it needs to traverse and push the stripped end through the hole. Trim the wire to fit. To complete the other side, lay the wire flat along the tool to the edge. Now you can see where to strip that side of the wire. After you remove the insulation, you can bend the wire down and cut the wire to fit. Now you have a perfect size and shape wire to place in the actual breadboard.

Granted, this isn’t that hard to do with the existing breadboard if it isn’t too packed. You could even use a spare breadboard. But it is a little easier to trim the wire to the right size with this jig. If you don’t want to 3D print it, you could probably pull the tape off the back of a cheap board and remove the springs to get a similar effect.

So while this little tool probably won’t change your life, it might make it a little easier. What other tools do you use when breadboarding? Let everyone know in the comments.

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