(Re)Making A ColecoVision

[Leaded Solder] found some ColecoVision game cartridges at a flea market, and like most of us would, thought, “I’ll build a ColecoVision console from scratch to play them!” Well, maybe most of us would think of that, but not actually do it. He did and you can read about the results in great detail since he wrote up two posts, one covering the design and one covering the construction.

The ColecoVision was a game console that famously could be expanded into a nice — for its day — personal computer. It even had a daisy wheel printer in that configuration. However, in either configuration, the game console was the brains of the operation. According to [Leaded Solder] the price of a unit in working order is high even though over 2 million were made because of several design problems that make them less likely to survive the decades. Rather than repair and modify an original unit, it was cheaper and much more educational to build new.

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Making Smalltalk On A Raspberry Pi

Today, you probably don’t think much about object-oriented programming, it’s just part of the landscape. But decades ago, it was strange and obscure technology. While there were several languages that led up to the current object-oriented tools we use today, one of the most influential was Xerox PARC’s Smalltalk language. [Michael Engel] took a C++ implementation of the Smalltalk VM, some byte code for a complete Smalltalk system, a Raspberry Pi “bare metal” library, and produced a Smalltalk workstation running on a bare Raspberry Pi — even a Pi Zero. The code is on GitHub and is admittedly a work in progress.

Smalltalk was interesting — and sometimes annoying — because everything was an object. Literally everything. The system took over the entire machine. It provided the GUI, the compiler, and the run time libraries. That’s probably why it was easy for [Michael] to forego the usual Linux OS for his project.

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Hackaday Links: July 12, 2020

Based in the US as Hackaday is, it’s easy to overload the news with stories from home. That’s particularly true with dark tales of the expanding surveillance state, which seem to just get worse here on a daily basis. So we’re not exactly sure how we feel to share not one but two international stories of a dystopian bent; one the one hand, pleased that it’s not us for a change, but on the other, sad to see the trend toward less freedom and more monitoring spreading.

The first story comes from Mexico, where apparently everything our community does will soon be illegal. We couch that statement because the analysis is based on Google translations of reports from Mexico, possibly masking the linguistic nuances that undergird legislative prose. So we did some digging and it indeed appears that the Mexican Senate approved a package of reforms to existing federal copyright laws that will make it illegal to do things like installing a non-OEM operating system on a PC, or to use non-branded ink cartridges in a printer. Reverse engineering ROMs will be right out too, making any meaningful security research illegal. There appear to be exceptions to the law, but those are mostly to the benefit of the Mexican government for “national security purposes.” It’ll be a sad day indeed for Mexican hackers if this law is passed.

The other story comes from Germany, where a proposed law would grant sweeping surveillance powers to 19 state intelligence bodies. The law would require ISPs to install hardware in their data centers that would allow law enforcement to receive data and potentially modify it before sending it on to where it was supposed to go. So German Internet users can look forward to state-sponsored man-in-the-middle attacks and trojan injections if this thing passes.

OK, time for a palate cleanser: take an hour to watch a time-lapse of the last decade of activity of our star. NASA put the film together from data sent back by the Solar Dynamics Observatory, a satellite that has been keeping an eye on the Sun from geosynchronous orbit since 2010. Each frame of the film is one hour of solar activity, which may sound like it would be boring to watch, but it’s actually quite interesting and very relaxing. There are exciting moments, too, like enormous solar eruptions and the beautiful but somehow terrifying lunar transits. More terrifying still is a massive coronal mass ejection (CME) captured in June 2011. A more subtle but fascinating phenomenon is the gradual decrease in the number of sunspots over the decade as the Sun goes through its normal eleven-year cycle.

You’ll recall that as a public service to our more gear-headed readers that we recently covered the recall of automotive jack stands sold at Harbor Freight, purveyor of discount tools in the USA. Parts for the jack stands in question had been cast with a degraded mold, making the pawls liable to kick out under load and drop the vehicle, with potentially catastrophic results for anyone working beneath. To their credit, Harbor Freight responded immediately and replaced tons of stands with a new version. But now, Harbor Freight is forced to recall the replacement stands as well, due to a welding error. It’s an embarrassment, to be sure, but to make it as right as possible, Harbor Freight is now accepting any of their brand jack stands for refund or store credit.

And finally, if you thought that the experience of buying a new car couldn’t be any more miserable, wait till you have to pay to use the windshield wipers. Exaggeration? Perhaps only slightly, now that BMW “is planning to move some features of its new cars to a subscription model.” Plans like that are common enough as cars get increasingly complex infotainment systems, or with vehicles like Teslas which can be upgraded remotely. But BMW is actually planning on making options such as heated seats and adaptive cruise control available only by subscription — try it out for a month and if you like it, pay to keep them on for a year. It would aggravate us to no end knowing that the hardware supporting these features had already been installed and were just being held ransom by software. Sounds like a perfect job for a hacker — just not one in Mexico.

Printed TS100 Case Beats The Heat With A Bearing

As we’ve said many times in the past, the creation of custom cases and enclosures is one of the best and most obvious applications for desktop 3D printing. When armed with even an entry-level printer, your projects will never again have to suffer through the indignity of getting hot glued into a nondescript plastic box. But if you’re printing with basic PLA, you need to be careful that nothing gets too hot inside.

Which was a problem when [Oleg Vint] started work on this 3D printed case for the popular TS100 soldering iron. But with the addition of a standard 608 bearing, the case provides a safe spot for the iron to cool off before it gets buttoned back up for storage. Of course, you can also use the flip-out perch to hold the iron while you’re working.

The bearing stand that served as inspiration for the case.

As [Oleg] explains on the Thingiverse page for the case, he actually blended a few existing projects together to arrive at the final design. Specifically, the idea of using the 608 bearing came from a printable TS100 stand originally designed in 2017 by [MightyNozzle]. Released under Creative Commons, [Oleg] was able to mash the bearing stand together with elements from several other printable TS100 cases to come up with his unique combined solution.

In a physical sense, this project is a great example of the sort of bespoke creations that are made possible by desktop 3D printing. But it’s also a testament to the incredible community that’s sprung up around this technology. While the logistics of it still could use some work, seeing hackers and makers swap and combine their designs like this is extremely inspiring.

[Thanks Arturo182]

Maybe One Of The Most Adorable Obstacle Avoiding Robots You’ve Seen

We’re all pretty well-acquainted with the obstacle avoiding robot. These little inventions use a proximity sensor to detect an object in front of the robot, then circumvent the object accordingly. Brown Dog Gadgets’ little robot really caught our eye, mostly because it’s kind of cute.

This little robot combines a few LEGO pieces, Arduino, and Brown Dog Gadgets’ own in-house invention, Crazy Circuits. The LEGO pieces make up the body of the robot, craftily enclosing a small portable battery pack used to power the bot. Brown Dog Gadgets uses another home-grown design, their robotics controller board, breaking out a few GPIO pins of an Arduino-compatible microcontroller into LEGO-compatible connections. This makes it easy to interface two of our favorite DIY STEM tools using a solderless connection.

Add a few LEGO wheels and a caster for pivoting and you’ve got a pretty simple, little robot. Fortunately, Brown Dog Gadgets was very thorough in their write-up, so head on over to their Instructable for all the details.

In the meantime, we’ve got a rich history of obstacle-avoiding robots here on Hackaday. Take a look around.

7-Segment Display Is No Small Feat

The 7-segment display certainly is a popular build, and surprisingly people still come up with new takes on this over a hundred-year-old way to represent numbers. This time [jegatheesan.soundarapandian] is making it big by building a giant 7 feet tall 7-segment display.

Apparently, the plan is to build a giant clock so he started off by making the first digit. To keep it cheap and simple the segments are made from corrugated cardboard which was carefully cut, folded, and then glued together. The light-diffusing lid is simply made from white paper. He used the ubiquitous WS2812B strips to light up the segments, but things turned out to be more complicated as he was not able to get enough strips to fill up all the segments. This forced him to cut up the strip into individual pieces and space them out by reconnecting the LEDs with wires. Cutting, stripping, and soldering 186 wires took him almost 10 hours. An Arduino Uno serves as the brains of the device and there is a nice Android app to control it via Bluetooth.

We are excited to see the complete clock once it is finished. In the meantime let us remember other epic displays like that made from 144 individual 7-segment displays or the giant LED video wall using 1200 ping pong balls.

Video after the break.

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SoftCore CPU Comparison

Monty Python once did a sketch where people tried to summarize Proust in fifteen seconds. Although summarizing eight FPGA-based CPUs is almost as daunting, [jaeblog] does a nice job of giving a quick sketch of how the CPUs work with the Xilinx Vivado toolchain and the Digilent Arty board.

The eight CPUs are:   VexRiscv, LEON3, PicoRV32, Neo430, ZPU, Microwatt, S1 Core, and Swerv EH1.

The comparison criteria were very practical: A C compiler (gcc or llvm) for each CPU and no CPUs that were tied to a particular FPGA. Two of the CPUs didn’t fit on the Arty board, so their comparisons are a bit more theoretical.  There were other considerations such as speed, documentation, debugging support, and others.

It was interesting to see the various CPUs ranging from some very mature processors to some new kids on the block, and while the evaluations were somewhat subjective, they seemed fair and representative of the things you’d look for yourself. You can also get the test code if you want to try things for yourself.

The winner? The post identifies three CPUs that were probably the top choices, although none were just perfect. Of course, your experience may vary.

If you want an easy introduction to adding things to a soft CPU, this RISC-V project is approachable. Or if you prefer SPARC, check out this project.