A Dual Monitor Setup For The C64, And Yes, It’s VGA Compatible

Few in the 1980s were too fussed about their home computer only supporting a single monitor; indeed, most were satisfied enough by the brand new capabilities on offer at the time. That said, it’s many decades hence, and we really do deserve more. Fear not, for [Ryan Brooks] is here to help with his VG64 VGA Card for the Commodore 64.

The card sits in the cartridge slot of the Commodore 64, and packs a Xilinx CPLD which is responsible for generating the video output signals. It’s hooked up to an SRAM chip which acts as a frame buffer for the video output. Programs can then be loaded on the Commodore 64 which write to the frame buffer, that can then be sent out to an attached VGA monitor hooked up to the cartridge.

It’s not the most useful cart at the moment, as it’s only capable of working with software designed specifically for the hardware. Additionally, it could prove difficult to shift enough data to it to do any kind of fast animation or updates. With that said, it’s an awesome example of just what can be achieved in terms of expanding the Commodore 64, and we’d love to see how far work in this space can go. We’ve seen similar work before, too, albeit with a somewhat smaller 16×2 character LCD. Video after the break.

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Ham Radio Traffic Logger Using A Bug In Baofeng Electronics

A Baofeng radio is often one of the first purchases a new ham radio operator makes these days due to the decent features and low price tag. They are far from perfect, but with a bit of creative inspiration, it’s possible to make the quirks work in your favor. By taking advantage of a loud pop on the earphone outputs whenever the LCD backlight turns on, [WhiskeyTangoHotel] built a radio traffic counter using an ESP8266.

Whenever there is a transmission on one of the frequencies the radio is tuned to, the backlight turns on. Connecting the audio output to an oscilloscope, [WhiskeyTangoHotel] measured a 5V spike whenever this happens. Using a pair of diodes in series to drop the voltage to a safe level, the ESP8266 detects the voltage spike and updates a Google spreadsheet with the timestamp via IFTTT.

This gave [WhiskeyTangoHotel] empirical data on how much traffic passes through the local VHF repeater, but we wouldn’t blame them if the hack itself was the real motivator.

Of course, this would also be a perfect application for the RTL-SDR, which should allow you to do the above and much more, all in software. Add a bit of AI and you can even extract the call signs. The RTL-SDR is also a good tool for learning about RF modulation.

UV5-R image via PE1RQM

Redox Redux: Split Keeb Gets A Num Pad

What’s the worst thing about split keyboards? If they have one general fault, it’s that almost none of them have a number pad. If you can fly on that thing, but struggle with using the top row numbers, you will miss the num pad terribly, trust us. So what’s the answer? Design your own keyboard, of course. [ToasterFuel] had enough bread lying around to cook up a little experiment for his first keyboard build, and we think the result is well done, which is kind of rare for first keebs.

This design is based on the Redox, itself a remix of the ErgoDox that aims to address the common complaints about the latter — it’s just too darn big, and the thumb clusters are almost unusable. We love how customized this layout is, with its sprinkling of F keys and Escape in the Caps Lock position. Under those keycaps you’ll find 100% Cherry MX greens, so [ToasterFuel] must have pretty strong fingers to pound those super clackers.

Everything else under the hood is pretty standard, with a pair of Arduino Pro Micros running the show. [ToasterFuel] had to wire up the whole thing by hand because of the num pad, and we’re impressed that he built this entire project in just three weeks. And that includes writing his own firmware!

Already found or built a split you love, but still miss the num pad? Why not build one to match your keyboard?

A Self-Driving Bicycle Is Something To Marvel At

One of the most annoying things about bicycles is that they don’t stay up on their own, especially when they’re stationary. That’s why they come with stands, after all. That said, if you had plenty of advanced electronic and mechanical equipment fitted to one, you could do something about that, and that’s just what [稚晖君] did.

The video of the project comes without subtitles or any translation, but the gist of it is this. A reaction wheel is fitted to the seat tube, along with a motor which can turn the handlebars via a linkage attached to the head stem. There’s also a motor to drive the bicycle forward via a friction drive to the rear wheel. Combine these with an inertial measurement unit and suitable control system, and you have a bike that can balance while standing perfectly still.

The performance of the system is impressive, and is even able to hold the bike perfectly upright while balanced on a fence rail. Thanks to an onboard camera and LIDAR system, the bike can also drive itself around with no rider on board, which is quite a spooky image. Find a way to do the same while hiding the extra mechanics and you’d have one hell of a Halloween display.

Similar projects have been attempted in the past; we featured a self-balancing bike built as a university project back in the distant past of 2012. Video after the break.

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An Explanation Of A Classic Semiconductor Riddle

Back in 1996, Bob Pease posed an experiment in an April Fools column. “Take an ordinary NPN transistor, ground the base, pull the emitter up to 12 V with a 1 KΩ resistor and measure the collector voltage referenced to ground.” Do the experiment, and you might be surprised to find a small negative voltage present on the collector. [Filip Piorski] has always loved the riddle, and has explained how it works in a Youtube video.

The key to the trick is the breakdown voltage of the transistor; normally somewhere around 7-8 volts for a typical small NPN transistor. At this point, where the base-emitter junction enters the breakdown regime, it begins to emit light. This light actually travels through the silicon lattice, where it reaches the base-collector junction, which acts like a photodiode under the right conditions. This generates the negative voltage seen at the collector under these conditions.

[Filip] goes on to try the experiment with a TO-3 transistor with the top cut off so he could visualise the effect in action. His photos, taken in a dark room, show tiny flecks of light appearing at spots on the silicon die. If you’ve got more insight on the effect in action, drop a comment below.

It might seem like a simple curiosity, however silicon junctions and their light emissions are an area of active research in semiconductor physics. Video after the break.

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Survey Of Simple Logic Simulators

A few months ago, a tweet by [Ken Shirriff] asking about simple digital simulators caught my attention. The topic came up again in May when a repair video by [CuriousMarc] featured one such simulator called Logisim-evolution. It made me want to take a fresh look on what’s out there and which features set the different simulators apart.

So today, let’s take a quick survey of a few such simulators that I found. I’m focusing on plain logic simulators, analyzing ones and zeros using Boolean logic. They are not doing SPICE-like analog analysis of transistor logic gates, but they’re still quite handy for proofing out designs.

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Final Weekend For Display Challenge Of The Hackaday Prize

This is the final weekend to enter your display-related project in the 2021 Hackaday Prize. The good news is, pretty much anything that has a display on it fits the bill here.

The goal of the “Rethink Displays” challenge is to envision interesting ways to visualize data. How many times an hour do you reach for an unlock a smartphone just to get a small bit of data — current temperature, upcoming appointment, the next street to turn on, or how much time is left on your soufflé. There must be another way!

The newspaper is an eInk display that hides in plain sight among non-dynamic framed artwork.

That’s where you come in! Show off us a clever way to convey meaning by choosing a display that makes sense for the type of data and power budget available. Maybe it’s an ePaper display that camouflages itself as wall art, a set of analog meters for the current weather, or a way to upcycle old displays to live on after their portable lives have ended.

This doesn’t need to be a final product. Ten entries will be selected to receive a $500 prize and move on to the final round at the end of October. So if you spend this weekend pulling together a proof of concept, and do a superb job of telling the story of what you’re building, you’ll be firmly in the running! Finalists will have plenty of time to work on completing the designs.

Have a great idea but no time to work on it? Let people know it’s up for grabs by sharing the concept below.