Review: Pine64 Pinecil Soldering Iron

There was a time when decent quality soldering irons were substantial affairs, soldering stations with a chunky base unit containing the electronics and a lightweight handheld iron for the work. That has changed with the arrival of a new breed of microprocessor controlled lightweight handheld irons. There’s a new kid on the block from a company we associate more with open-source phones, laptops, and single board computers, Pine64 have produced the Pinecil. It’s a lightweight handheld iron with some innovative features at an attractive price, but does it raise the bar sufficiently to take on the competition?

I put the Pinecil through its paces, and and although the device is fully open source, give it a teardown for good measure. Spoiler: it’s my new favorite.
Continue reading “Review: Pine64 Pinecil Soldering Iron”

Raspberry Pi 4 Brings Cloud Gaming To Nintendo Switch

Companies like Google and Microsoft have been investing heavily in the concept of cloud gaming, where a player uses their computer or a mobile device to stream the video feed of a game that’s running on powerful machine tucked away in a data center somewhere. With this technology you can play the latest and greatest titles, even if the device you’re using doesn’t have the processing power to run it locally.

Considering the Switch is already a portable system, it’s not too surprising Nintendo doesn’t seem interested in the technology. But that didn’t stop [Stan Dmitriev] from doing a bit of experimentation on his own. With little more than a Raspberry Pi 4 and Trinket M0, he’s demonstrated that users can remotely interact with the Switch well enough to play games in real time.

The setup is fairly straightforward. A cheap HDMI capture device is used to grab the video from the Nintendo Switch dock, which is then streamed out to web with the help of the Pi’s hardware video encoder. Input from the user is sent over the Pi’s UART to the Trinket, which itself is running a firmware specifically developed for mimicking Nintendo Switch controllers. With so many elements involved, naturally some latency comes into play. The roughly 100 millisecond delay [Stan] is reporting isn’t exactly ideal for fast-paced gaming, but is certainly adequate for more relaxed titles.

On the software side of things, the project is using a SDK developed by [Stan]’s employer SurrogateTV. Right now you need to apply if you want to get your game or other interactive gadget up on the service, though he says it will be opened up to the public next year. But even without all the details, we’ve got a clear idea of how both the video capture and user input sides of the equation are being handled. For personal use, all you’d really need to do is put together a simple web interface to tie it all together.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a microcontroller used to interface with the Switch. Other consoles are a bit more selective about what kind of hardware they will talk to, but the Microsoft Adaptive Controller could potentially allow you to do something similar on the Xbox.

[Ben Eater]’s Breadboarding Tips

A solderless breadboard is a place where ideas go to become real for the first time. Usually, this is a somewhat messy affair, with random jumpers flying all about the place, connecting components that can be quickly swapped to zero in on the right values, or to quickly change the circuit topology. Breadboards aren’t the place to make circuit artwork.

That is, however, not always the case, and we’ve seen more than a few examples from [Ben Eater] on breadboarding that approaches the circuit sculpture level of craftsmanship. And like any good craftsman, [Ben] has shared some of his breadboarding tips and tricks in a new video. Starting with a simple 555 blinkenlight project that’s wired up in the traditional anything-goes fashion, [Ben] walks us through his process for making a more presentation-worthy version.

His tools are high-quality but simple, with the wire strippers being the most crucial to good results. Surprisingly, [Ben] relies most heavily on the simple “scissors-style” strippers for their versatility, rather than the complicated semi-automatic tools. We found that to be the biggest take-home from the video, as well as the results of practice. [Ben] has done tons of this type of breadboarding before, which means when he “eyeballs” stripping 0.3 inches of insulation, he can do it down to a ten-thousandth precision.

Granted, there’s not much new here, but watching this video is a little like watching [Bob Ross] paint — relaxing and strangely compelling at the same time. You can get more of the same with pretty much any of his videos that we’ve covered, like this 6502 breadboard computer build. We’ve also seen [Eater]-inspired builds that are pretty impressive, like this full-8-bit breadboard computer.

Continue reading “[Ben Eater]’s Breadboarding Tips”