Circuit Art Brings Out The Lifelike Qualities Of Electricity

Functional circuit sculptures have been gaining popularity with adventuring electronic artists who dare attempt the finicky art form of balancing structure and wire routing. [Kelly Heaton’s] sculptures however are on a whole other creative level.

Not only does she use the circuits powering her works as part of their physical component, there are no controllers or firmware to be seen anywhere; everything is discrete and analog. In her own words, she tries to balance the “logical planning” of the engineering side with the “unfettered expression” of artworks. The way she does this is by giving her circuits a lifelike quality, with disorganized circuit structures and trills and chirps that mimic those of wildlife.

One of her works, “Birds at My Feeder”, builds up on another previous work, the analog “pretty bird”. On their own, each one of the birds uses a photoresistor to affect its analog-generated chirps, providing both realistic and synthetic qualities to their calls. What the full work expands on is a sizable breadboard-mounted sequencer using only discrete components, controlling how each of the connected birds sing in a pleasing chorus. Additionally, the messy nature of the wires gives off the impression of the sequencer doubling as the birds’ nest.

There are other works as well in this project, such as the “Moth Electrolier”, in which she takes great care to keep structural integrity in mind in the design of the flexible board used there. Suffice to say, her work is nothing short of brilliant engineering and artistic prowess, and you can check one more example of it after the break. However, if you’re looking for something more methodical and clean, you can check out the entries on the circuit sculpture contest we ran last year.

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Adding A Co-Processor To Help SNES Games With Slowdown

The Super Nintendo port of Gradius III is notable for being close to the arcade original, with its large, bright and colorful graphics. However, due to the limitation of the console’s hardware, the port is also well known for having constant slowdowns during gameplay, particularly during later sections. [Vitor] hacked away at the game and made a patched version of the ROM use a co-processor to eliminate those issues.

The slowdown seen here in Gradius is not uncommon to SNES players, many games of that era suffer from it when several sprites appear on the screen at once. This is partially due to the aging CPU Nintendo chose, supposedly in order to maintain NES backwards compatibility before the idea got scrapped. Unable to complete its tasks by the time the next frame needs to be shown, the hardware skips frames to let the processor catch up before it can continue. This is perceived as the aforementioned slowdown.

Around the later stage of the SNES’s life, games started using additional chips inside the cartridges in order to enhance the console’s performance. One of them is the SA1, which is a co-processor with the same core as the main CPU, only with a higher clock rate. By using it, games had more time to run through the logic and graphics manipulation before the next frame. What [Vitor] did was port those parts of Gradius III to the SA1, essentially making it just like any other enhanced cartridge from back in the day.

Unlike previous efforts we’ve seen to overclock the SNES by giving it a longer blanking time, this method works perfectly on real unmodified hardware. You can see the results of his efforts after the break, particularly around stage 2 where several bubbles fill the screen on the second video.

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New Life For Old Nintendo Handhelds With ESP32

The Game Boy Pocket was Nintendo’s 1996 redesign of the classic 1989 handheld, giving it a smaller form factor, better screen and less power consumption. While it didn’t become as iconic as its predecessor, it still had enough popularity for modders such as [Eugene] to create new hardware for it. His Retro ESP32 board is a drop-in replacement for the console’s motherboard and screen, giving it a whole new life.

[Eugene] is no stranger to making this kind of mod, his previous Gaboze Pocaio project did the exact same thing with this form factor, only with a Raspberry Pi instead of the ESP32-WROVER used here. His choice of integrated SoC was based on the ODROID-GO, which is a similar portable console but with its own custom shell instead.

This project doesn’t stop at the hardware though, the Retro ESP32 (previously dubbed Gaboze Express) also offers a user-friendly interface to launch emulators. This GUI code can be used with the ODROID as well since they share the same hardware platform, so if you have one of those you can try it out right now from the software branch of their repository.

If the idea of replacing retro tech innards with more modern hardware is something that interests you, look at what they did to this unassuming Osborne 1, or this unwitting TRS-80 Model 100. Poor thing didn’t even see it coming.

Giving The Amstrad CPC A Voice And A Drum Kit

Back in the ’80s, home computers weren’t capable of much in terms of audio or multimedia as a whole. Arguably, it wasn’t until the advent of 16-bit computers such as the Amiga that musicians could make soundtrack-quality music without having to plug actual studio gear up to their machines. [Michael Wessel] is trying to bring some of that and many more features to the Amstrad CPC with his ambitious LambdaSpeak 3 project, an expansion card built completely up from scratch and jam-packed with features.

First, and likely giving it its name, is the speech synthesizer. [Michael] has made an emulation mode where his card can act just like the original SSA-1 expansion, being able to be controlled by the same software as back then. By default, the card offers this mode with an Epson S1V30120 daughterboard (which is based on DECTalk synthesis), however for further authenticity you also have the option of fitting it with an SP0256-AL2 chip, the same one used in the original Amstrad hardware in 1985.

As for the more musical part of the project, the board supports 4-channel PCM playback, much like the Amiga’s sound offering. This can be used for a drum machine sequencer program, and it has an Amdrum mode, emulating another expansion from the original Amstrad days. Sample playback can also be used alongside the speech synthesis as shown here, with random allophone beats that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Kraftwerk recording. Finally, by using the UART interface included on the LambdaSpeak, you can also turn the CPC itself into a synth by giving it MIDI in/out and interfacing a controller in real time with the computer’s AY-3-8912 sound chip.

If you like modern expansions giving old computers new life, did you know that you can get just about any retro computer online, perhaps a TRS-80, an Amiga and even a Psion Organizer? And if you’re interested in just using old systems’ sound chips with modern USB MIDI controllers, it’s easy to make a microcontroller do all the heavy lifting.

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A Macro Keyboard In A Micro Package

Remember back in the early-to-mid 2000s when pretty much every cheap USB keyboard you could find started including an abundance of media keys in its layout? Nowadays, especially if you have a customized or reduced-sized mechanical keyboard, those are nowhere to be seen. Whenever our modern selves need those extra keys, we have to turn to external peripherals, and [Gary’s] Knobo is one that looks like it could’ve come straight out of a fancy retail package.

The Knobo is a small macro keypad with 8 mechanical Cherry-style keys and a clickable rotary encoder knob as its main feature. Each key and knob gesture can be customized to any macro, and with five gestures possible with the knob, that gives you a total of thirteen inputs. On top of that, the build and presentation look so sleek and clean we’d swear this was a product straight off of Teenage Engineering’s money-printing machine.

The actions you can do with those inputs range from simple media controls with a volume knob all the way to shortcuts to make a Photoshop artist’s life easier. Right now you can only reprogram the Knobo’s Arduino-based firmware with an In-Circuit Serial Programmer to change what the inputs do, but [Gary] is currently working on configuration software so that users without any programming knowledge will be able to customize it too.

Knobs are just one of those things that everyone wants to use to control their computers, much like giant red buttons. Alternative input devices can range from accessibility-designed to just downright playful. Whatever the inspiration is for them, it’s always nice to see the creativity of these projects.

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Workbench Fume Extractor Sucks, But Has A Charming Personality

Shop safety is important regardless of what kind of work you do. For those of us soldering, that means extracting the noxious fumes released by heating up the solder flux used in our projects. [yesnoio] brings to us his own spin on the idea of a fume extractor, and it pulls out all stops with bells and whistles to spare.

The Workbench Assistant bot, as [yesnoio] describes it, is an integrated unit mounted atop a small tripod which extends over the working area where you’re soldering. Inside the enclosure are RGBW lights, an IR camera, and an Adafruit ItsyBitsy M4 Express driving the whole show. Aside from just shining a light onto your soldering iron though, the camera senses thermal activity from it to decide when to ramp up the server-grade fan inside which powers the whole fume extraction part of the project.

But the fun doesn’t stop there, as [yesnoio] decided to go for extra style points. The bot also comes with an amplified speaker, playing soundbites whenever actions such as starting or stopping the fan are performed. These soundbites are variations on a theme, like classic Futurama quotes or R2-D2’s chattering from Star Wars. The selectable themes are dubbed “performers”, and they can be reprogrammed easily using CircuitPython. This is a neat way to give your little desktop assistant some personality, and a fun way to break up the monotony of soldering up all those tiny SMD components on your next prototype.

If even after all this you still need more than just a cute little robotic voice beeping at you to convince you to get a fume extractor for your bench, then maybe some hands-on results could give you that little push you need. And if you’re already convinced and want to build your own, there is no shortage of DIY solutions we’ve seen around here at Hackaday. Check out this one in action after the break!

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Doing What Id Couldn’t: Returning Music To Jaguar Doom

While the rest of the world has by and large forgotten the Atari Jaguar, the generously marketed console still has a fan base, and even some dedicated hackers prodding away at it. [Cyrano Jones] is one of them, and he managed something many considered unthinkable: restoring in-game music to the Jaguar port of Doom.

The Jaguar version of the classic shooter was developed by id Software themselves, and is generally considered one of the better console ports. For example, the large number of buttons on the Jaguar controller allowed players to select weapons directly rather than having to cycle through them. Unfortunately, the complete lack of music during gameplay was a glaring omission that took several points off of an otherwise fairly solid presentation.

The common culprit blamed for this was that the Jaguar’s DSP was already being used for math processing, so it didn’t have any cycles left for music playback. Coupled with a tight deadline, id probably cut their losses and released it without in-game music rather than try and spend more time engineering a solution. To compensate for the lack of in-game music, id did include the famous soundtrack in the intermission screens rather than entirely strip it out.

As [Cyrano] found out by studying the source code that’s been available since 2003, sound effects in the Jaguar version of Doom are played using something called a “ring buffer”: a cyclical fixed-length data buffer which constantly gets outputted as audio. With a patch of unused memory he could fit a second ring buffer in, rendering the music to it with close to no performance hit elsewhere in the code and then mixing both buffers for the final audio output. It looks as though id already had some of this solution in place, but with enough issues that forced them to abandon the idea in order to release the game on time.

Software hacks are not the only things that the Jaguar fan base can do though, and a fine example of a hardware one is this custom mod showing what it could’ve looked like with the CD add-on in an integrated unit.

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