Pi Pico Emulates ROM For Speedy Retro Hacking

If you’ve ever worked on a system that loads its software from a ROM or EPROM, you know how much of a hassle it can be to make frequent changes to the code. Pulling the chip, flashing it, and sticking it back into the socket each time you change a line isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time. Which is why [Nick Bild] has come up with the PicoROM, a way to emulate a ROM chip using the Raspberry Pi Pico.

With the Pi Pico standing in for the original ROM, updating firmware takes a fraction of the time and doesn’t require you to actually disconnect any of the hardware. [Nick] had done something similar with FPGAs in the past, but the far cheaper and easier to work with Pi Pico makes this version particularly appealing. The secret to getting it to work is the overclocking potential of the Pico, which he says has been pushed to 400 MHz for this particular application.

PicoROM on a breadboard.

The downside is that you can’t access the Pico’s onboard flash when the chip is running that fast. To get around that limitation, all of the code is loaded into the microcontroller’s RAM. With a healthy 264 KB of memory this isn’t really a problem when emulating 32 KB chips, but [Nick] says his method would quickly fall apart for larger ROMs.

Beyond the Pi Pico itself, [Nick] is using a trio of 74LVC245AN 8-bit logic level shifters so the chip can talk to the 5 V logic of his homebrew 6502 computer. With everything wired up on a simple breadboard, PicoROM has no trouble serving up the operating system as it hums along at 2 MHz.

Of course, a modern high-performance microcontroller isn’t strictly necessary. In the past we’ve covered devices that could emulate an EPROM using 1990s era silicon.

Screen capture of the WWN project, from the project's website, showing the instructions for WWN which are themselves presented as a WWN site.

Making Web Pages With Word?

If you’ve ever examined the messy HTML that results from doing a Save As HTML from Microsoft Word, you can appreciate [Jim Yuill]’s motivation for his WordWebNav (WWN) project. [Jim] uses Word to document his technical projects, and wanted an easy way to generate web pages. Not only is Word-generated HTML nearly unreadable, [Jim] notes there are known bugs, as well. His project attempts to solve these shortcomings, and adds new features like a navigation pane and headers, among others. Here is a link to a dummy project which shows off these features.

There are, of course, other ways of generating web pages from your technical documentation — there is the Markdown / Pandoc combination, various Wiki solutions, or GitHub Pages, for example. If you’re Python-focused, there’s always the Jupyter Notebooks / JupyterLab approach which we wrote about in 2019. But these presume the source documents are in a certain format. If you have years of existing documentation in Word, or you prefer (or are required) to use Word, [Jim]’s WWN tool might be of interest.

The open source, Python-based program can be found in the project’s GitHub repository. [Jim] has a lot of experience writing software, and the clean and well-organized source code reflects this. Do you convert project documentation to HTML for browsing, be it local or online? If so, share your techniques in the comments below.

A Giant Engine Needs A Giant Engine Stand

Engine stands are great to have on hand for when you need to work on an engine outside a vehicle. However, if your engine is particularly large, you might find off-the-shelf solutions difficult to find. [Liebregts] was recently contacted by someone in just such a pickle, who had an 8-litre Bentley engine from 1928 and nothing to put it on. Thus, constructing a custom engine stand was in order.

The original home of the hefty 8-liter engine.

The stand is built out of stout 50x50x4mm steel tubing in order to handle the weight of the gigantic vintage engine. It’s designed with an eye to ground clearance, such that an engine crane can easily slide under the stand when it’s time to lift the engine back in the car. It also allows the whole engine to be turned upside down, and even raised and lowered. This makes it easier to get to different parts of the engine, while keeping the center of gravity where it needs to be to avoid the whole assembly falling over.

It’s not a hugely complicated build, but it goes to show just how much of a difference it can make when you have the right tools for the job. With the engine out and on its stand, it’s much easier to work on and handle the many complicated tasks in its restoration. It also benefits from being custom built to suit the dimensions of the Bentley engine. Everything fits and it just works!

While few of us have rare 1928 Bentleys in need of an engine-out service, it’s a build that should serve as great inspiration for those working on similar tasks. Meanwhile, consider building yourself a custom engine crane to help out around the garage.

Extending bicycles can lift it's rider a meter into the air on four pneumatic pistons

Extending Bicycle Will Let You Stand Out Above The Crowd

Some bicycles are built primarily for practicality, while others are more focused on novel looks. [Make It Extreme]’s latest project, the extending bicycle, falls squarely in the latter category.

Built around four custom-machined pneumatic pistons, this electric bike can lift the rider about a meter into the air with the flick of a switch. The front pair forms the bicycle’s forks, while the rear pair is mounted between the frame and swingarm. A small onboard compressor is used to charge a pair of modified fire extinguishers, which feed the pistons via pneumatic valves mounted on the handlebars. The wheels and brakes were scavenged from an old scooter. Since the length between the crankset and rear wheel never changes, there is no need to struggle with chain tensioners as the ride height changes.

While we would hate to face-plant from that height, it certainly looks like a fun ride and conversation starter. This is the case for many of [Make It Extreme]’s projects, like a ridable tank track and monowheel motorcycle.

Continue reading “Extending Bicycle Will Let You Stand Out Above The Crowd”

A Microcontroller Friendly AR Headset On The Cheap

Generating the real-time images required for augmented reality (AR) goggles usually requires a fair amount of processing power, to the point that DIY efforts based around the Raspberry Pi often have trouble keeping up. But what if your AR aspirations don’t require fancy high-resolution graphics? If text and the occasional icon is enough to get the job done, then these lo-fi AR goggles from [bobricius] might be the ideal solution.

As with previous homebrew AR rigs we’ve seen, this one starts with an affordable headset designed to project the display of a smartphone onto a pair of curved optical combiners. But instead of tucking a phone into the headset, [bobricius] is using a custom PCB that holds a pair of ST7789 1.3 inch 240 x 240 IPS displays. Connected over SPI and supported by just about any microcontroller you’d care to use, tossing some textual data over your field of vision can be accomplished in just a few lines of code.

[bobricius] has actually put together a couple different versions of the PCB for this project. One uses his custom ATSAMD21E18-based “ArmaBrain” module that packs the MCU and an array of common components onto a 28 mm square board that can be easily dropped into other projects. If you’d rather roll your own solution, the second version of the board that simply holds the two displays in the appropriate position and routes the SPI lines to a convenient header should do nicely.

We’ve seen augmented reality displays using microcontrollers like the ESP32 before, but those were essentially just remote displays for a more powerful system. We like this simplified approach, as there are plenty of applications where just getting a few lines of text or some low-resolution images would be more than sufficient for the task at hand. Plus, the commercially-made headset this project is based on certainly looks better than some of the other donor goggles we’ve contemplated modifying in the past.

Continue reading “A Microcontroller Friendly AR Headset On The Cheap”

Image of detonation engine firing

Japanese Rocket Engine Explodes: Continuously And On Purpose

Liquid-fuelled rocket engine design has largely followed a simple template since the development of the German V-2 rocket in the middle of World War 2. Propellant and oxidizer are mixed in a combustion chamber, creating a mixture of hot gases at high pressure that very much wish to leave out the back of the rocket, generating thrust.

However, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has recently completed a successful test of a different type of rocket, known as a rotating detonation engine. The engine relies on an entirely different method of combustion, with the aim to produce more thrust from less fuel. We’ll dive into how it works, and how the Japanese test bodes for the future of this technology.

Deflagration vs. Detonation

Humans love combusting fuels in order to do useful work. Thus far in our history, whether we look at steam engines, gasoline engines, or even rocket engines, all these technologies have had one thing in common: they all rely on fuel that burns in a deflagration. It’s the easily controlled manner of slow combustion that we’re all familiar with since we started sitting around campfires. Continue reading “Japanese Rocket Engine Explodes: Continuously And On Purpose”

People's Computer Company logo, drawn in a 1970's artistic style

Perusing The People’s Computing Company

If you are a certain age, you might recall the People’s Computing Company (PCC) from the 1970s. It was not really a company, but rather a folksy computer newsletter in the visual style of the times. In the first issue, published in October 1972, founders Dennis Allison, Bob Albrecht and George Firedrake explained their reasons for starting the newsletter:

Computers are mostly used against people instead of for people, used to control people instead of to free them; time to change all that — we need a … People’s Computer Company

The Computer History Museum (CHM) in Mountain View CA has a print collection of these issues donated by [Jim Warren], spanning its ten-year publication run (it changed name to Recreational Computing in 1979). Despite the museum being closed to the public these days over Covid concerns, CHM supporter [Bob Zeidman] has scanned all the issues and they are available at the CHM collections archive.

It’s really fun to browse through these old issues, and see the kinds of topics which were of interest back then. Many would still be of interest today, and many others have become obsolete by advances in technology (but are still fun to read if you have an interest in retro-computing). For example, in the first issue you can read about why you might use different lenses on your Bell & Howell film projector, a comparison of DEC and HP computers as used in educational settings, and how to save money on your teleprinter maintenance contracts and consumables like TTY paper, ribbons, and punched paper tape. If you have some time to kill, check out these archives and take yourself back to a time when desktop publishing meant literally typing and drawing freehand with metal styli on special stencils which were mounted on drums in your mimeograph machine one page at a time.

The PCC was an early supporter of copyright-free software, teaching computer programming, using computer games as a learning tool, and encouraging computer literacy for everyone. They did this not only via the newsletter, but educational books, an organization called ComputerTown USA! for teaching kids, and spin-off periodicals like DragonSmoke and Dr. Dobb’s Journal of Computer Calisthenics & Orthodontia (edited by [Jim Warren] mentioned above) which went on to become the popular computer magazine Dr. Dobb’s Journal which stayed in publication until 2014. We wrote a piece a few years ago about a software-defined radio project from the PCC back in 1975. Do you have any favorite old journal archives that you like to peruse from time to time?