You Can Use Visual Studio Code To Write Commodore 64 Assembly

Once upon a time, you might have developed for the Commodore 64 using the very machine itself. You’d use the chunky old keyboard, a tape drive, or the 1541 disk drive if you wanted to work faster. These days, though, we have more modern tools that provide a much more comfortable working environment. [My Developer Thoughts] has shared a guide on how to develop for the Commodore 64 using Visual Studio Code on Windows 11.

The video starts right at the beginning from a fresh Windows install, assuming you’ve got no dev tools to start with. It steps through installing git, Java, Kick Assembler, and Visual Studio Code. Beyond that, it even explains how to use these tools in partnership with VICE – the Versatile Commodore Emulator. That’s a key part of the whole shebang—using an emulator on the same machine is a far quicker way to develop than using real Commodore hardware. You can always truck your builds over to an actual C64 when you’ve worked the bugs out!

It’s a great primer for anyone who is new to C64 development and doesn’t know where to start. Plus, we love the idea of bringing modern version control and programming techniques to this ancient platform. Video after the break.

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Sound And Water Make Weird Vibes In Microgravity

NASA astronaut [Don Pettit] shared a short video from an experiment he performed on the ISS back in 2012, demonstrating the effects of sound waves on water in space. Specifically, seeing what happens when a sphere of water surrounding an air bubble perched on a speaker cone is subjected to a variety of acoustic waves.

The result is visually striking patterns across different parts of the globe depending on what kind of sound waves were created. It’s a neat visual effect, and there’s more where that came from.

[Don] experimented with music as well as plain tones, and found that cello music had a particularly interesting effect on the setup. Little drops of water would break off from inside the sphere and start moving around the inside of the air bubble when cello music was played. You can see this in action as part of episode 160 from SmarterEveryDay (cued up to 7:51) which itself is about exploring the phenomenon of how water droplets can appear to act in an almost hydrophobic way.

This isn’t the first time water and sound collide in visually surprising ways. For example, check out the borderline optical illusion that comes from pouring water past a subwoofer emitting 24 Hz while the camera captures video at 24 frames per second.

A render of a BiC Cristal ballpoint pen showing the innards.

This Is How A Pen Changed The World

Look around you. Chances are, there’s a BiC Cristal ballpoint pen among your odds and ends. Since 1950, it has far outsold the Rubik’s Cube and even the iPhone, and yet, it’s one of the most unsung and overlooked pieces of technology ever invented. And weirdly, it hasn’t had the honor of trademark erosion like Xerox or Kleenex. When you ‘flick a Bic’, you’re using a lighter.

It’s probably hard to imagine writing with a feather and a bottle of ink, but that’s what writing was limited to for hundreds of years. When fountain pens first came along, they were revolutionary, albeit expensive and leaky. In 1900, the world literacy rate stood around 20%, and exorbitantly-priced, unreliable utensils weren’t helping.

Close-up, cutaway render of a leaking ballpoint pen. In 1888, American inventor John Loud created the first ballpoint pen. It worked well on leather and wood and the like, but absolutely shredded paper, making it almost useless.

One problem was that while the ball worked better than a nib, it had to be an absolutely perfect fit, or ink would either get stuck or leak out everywhere. Then along came László Bíró, who turned instead to the ink to solve the problems of the ballpoint.

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Tiny Arduino Drone Even Has An FPV Camera

In the turmoil of today’s world, drones are getting bigger, badder, and angrier. [Max Imagination] has gone the other way with his work, though, building a teeny Arduino drone that can fit in the palm of your hand. Even if you have a small hand!

The drone is based around an Arduino Pro Mini, and uses an MPU6050 IMU for motion sensing and flight control. Communication with the drone is via an NRF24L01. Four small coreless motors are used for propulsion, driven by tiny MOSFETs, and the whole assembly is run via a teeny 220 mAh lithium-polymer battery. Oh, and there’s an FPV camera so you can put on some goggles and see where it’s going!

Control is via MultiWii software, written specifically for building multirotor craft. [Max] flies the craft using a controller of his own creation, again using an NRF24L01 for communication.

It’s a neat build, and a titchy one too! Tiny drones have a character all their own, even if they can’t really stand up to windier outdoor environments. Video after the break.

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The board shown in real life, top and bottom, showing the pinout and alternate functions silkscreened.

A CH552G Devboard In Case You Missed It

We might just never get tired of covering cool small cheap MCUs, and CH552G sure fits this description. Just so you know, here’s a project you should check out – a CH552G devboard that’s as simple as it sufficient, in case you needed a tangible reminder that this chip exists, has a lively community, and is very much an option for your projects.

The devboard design by [Dylan Turner] is so straightforward, it’s almost inspiring – a square of PCB with the chip in the center and plenty of empty space for your mods. Everything is open-source with KiCad sources stored on GitHub. The most lovely aspect of this board, no doubt, is having the pin mapping written on the bottom, with all the alternate pin functions – you won’t have to constantly glance at the datasheet while wiring this one up. Plus, of course, there’s the microUSB port for programming, and the programming mode button that a few CH552 projects tend to lack.

It’s simple, it’s self-documenting, it’s breadboardable, and it’s definitely worth putting into the shopping cart at your PCB fab of choice. Oh, and there are bringup instructions on GitHub, in case you need them. Whether you want to prototype the cheapest macropad or keyboard ever, or perhaps a reflow hotplate, the CH552 delivers. If these CH552 projects aren’t enough to light your fire, here are a dozen more.

Upgrade Your Test Probes

One of the most basic tools for tinkering with electronics is a multimeter. Today, even a cheap meter has capabilities that would have been either very expensive or unobtainable back in the 1970s. Still, even then, a meter was the most affordable way to do various tasks around the shop. Is this cable open? Are these two wires shorted? What’s the value of this resistor? Is the circuit getting power? Is the line voltage dropping? You can answer all those questions — and many more — with a basic meter. But there’s one thing that hasn’t changed much over the years: probes. That’s a shame because there are a lot of useful options.

The probes that came with your meter probably have much in common with the probes a 1970-era meter had. Yeah, the banana plugs probably have a little plastic cover, and the plastic itself might be a little different. Parts are small these days, so the tips might be a little finer than older probes. But if you sent your probes back in time, few people would notice them.

The Blinders Syndrome

One problem is that those probes are usually good enough. We’ve all clipped an alligator clip to a test probe. I’ve even fashioned super pointy probes out of syringes. Years ago, I bought an expensive kit with many attachments I rarely use, like little hooks and spade lugs. Then, I happened to go down the wrong aisle at Harbor Freight.

Back probes ready for action.

In the automotive section, I noticed a tidy plastic box labeled “22 pc. back probe kit.” I’d never heard the term “back probe,” but it was clearly some sort of wire. It turns out the kit has a bunch of very fine needles on banana jacks and some patch cables to connect them to your meter.

They are “back probes” because you can jam them in the back of connectors next to the wire. There are five colors of needles, and each color set has three items: a straight needle, a bent needle, and a 90-degree bend needle.

I’d never heard of this, and that started me down the rabbit hole of looking at what other exotic probes were out there. If you search the usual sources for “back probe,” you’ll see plenty of variations. There are also tons of inexpensive probe kits with many useful tips for different situations. Like everything, the price was much lower than I had paid for the rarely used kit I bought years ago. The only thing I really use out of that kit are the test hook clips and you can buy those now for a few bucks that just push over your probes.


Wire-piercing probe works best for larger wires.

You could probably use the needles to stick through insulation, too. But if that’s your goal, they make piercing clip test probes specifically for that purpose. A little plastic holder has a hook for your wire and a needle that threads in to penetrate the wire.

These alligator clips fit over most probes.

I also picked up some little alligator clips that slide over standard 2mm probe tips. These are very handy and prevent you from having to clip a lead to your probe so you can clip the other end to the circuit. However, if you look for a “test lead kit,” you’ll find many options for about $20. One kit had interchangeable probe tips, alligator clips, spades, SMD tweezers, and tiny hooks for IC legs. The alligator clips on the one I bought are the newer style that has a solid insulating body — not the cheap rubbery covers. They feel better and are easier to handle, too.


Some of the accessories in the test probe kit.

Of course, you can make your own solderless breadboard jumpers, and you’ve probably seen that you can buy jumpers of various kinds. But if you search, you can even find test probes with breadboard wire ends. The other end will terminate in a test hook or alligator clips. You can also get them with banana plugs on the end to plug right into your meter. You can usually find versions with the male pin for a breadboard or a female receptacle for connecting to pins.

Of course, we love hacking components to fit on breadboards. We’ve also seen custom slip-on adapters, which are worth checking out if you are looking to up your probe game.

Make 3D Scenes With A Holodeck-Like Voice Interface

The voice interface for the holodeck in Star Trek had users create objects by saying things like “create a table” and “now make it a metal table” and so forth, all with immediate feedback. This kind of interface may have been pure fantasy at the time of airing, but with the advent of AI and LLMs (large language models) this kind of natural language interface is coming together almost by itself.

A fun demonstration of that is [Dominic Pajak]’s demo project called VoxelAstra. This is a WebXR demo that works both in the Meta Quest 3 VR headset (just go to the demo page in the headset’s web browser) as well as on desktop.

The catch is that since the program uses OpenAI APIs on the back end, one must provide a working OpenAI API key. Otherwise, the demo won’t be able to do anything. Providing one’s API key to someone’s web page isn’t terribly good security practice, but there’s also the option of running the demo locally.

Either way, once the demo is up and running the user simply tells the system what to create. Just keep it simple. It’s a fun and educational demo more than anything and will try to do its work with primitive shapes like spheres, cubes, and cylinders. “Build a snowman” is suggested as a good starting point.

Intrigued by what you see and getting ideas of your own? WebXR can be a great way to give those ideas some life and looking at how someone else did something similar is a fine way to begin. Check out another of [Dominic]’s WebXR projects: a simulated BBC Micro, in VR.