Tiny Quad Core Module Available Soon

We get a lot of new product announcements here at Hackaday, and we run across even more. As excited as a manufacturer might be about their latest Raspberry Pi killer or cheaper Arduino clone, we usually don’t have much to say about new products unless there is something really interesting about them. Our attention was piqued though when we saw the Neutis N5. Shipping in April, the device packs a quad-core ARM processor running at 1.3 GHz with 8 GB of flash memory and 512 MB of RAM, has an extended temperature range, WiFi (802.11N), and Bluetooth (including BLE). There’s also a crypto chip, and all this is packed into a tiny package. Really tiny. Less than 41×30 mm square and less than 4.5 mm thick. There’s a Debian-based distribution and a development board. Oh and the really interesting thing is the price, which is $49 in single quantities.

Some of the I/O ports are multiplexed, but there are plenty of options including audio, Ethernet, HDMI, USB, and more. They clearly mean for these to be put into products. The module claims UL and CE certification, each unit has a unique serial number, and there is a gang programming capability.

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Retrocomputing for the Forgotten

The world runs on marketing hype. Remember the public relations swirl around the Segway? Before it rolled out we were led to believe it was going to be remembered as fire, the wheel, and Segway. Didn’t really happen. Microsoft and IBM had done something similar with OS/2, which you may not even remember as the once heir-apparent to MS-DOS. OS/2 was to be the operating system that would cure all the problems with MS-DOS just as IBM’s new Microchannel Architecture would cure all the problems surrounding the ISA bus (primarily that they couldn’t stop people from cloning it). What happened? OS/2 died a slow agonizing death after the Microsoft/IBM divorce. But for whatever reason [Ryan C. Gordon] decided to write a Linux emulation layer for OS/2 call 2ine (twine).

We like retrocomputing projects even if they aren’t very practical, and this one qualifies. The best analog for 2ine is it is Wine for OS/2, which probably has something to do with the choice of name. You might be ready to click away since you probably don’t have any OS/2 programs you want to run, but wait! The good news is that the post has a lot of technical detail about how Linux and OS/2 programs load and execute. For that reason alone, the post is well worth a read.

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Linux Adds CH341 GPIO

There was a time when USB to serial hardware meant one company: FTDI. But today there are quite a few to choose from and one of the most common ones is the WCH CH341. There’s been support for these chips in Linux for a while, but only for use as a communication port. The device actually has RS232, I2C, SPI, and 8 general purpose I/O (GPIO) pins. [ZooBaB] took an out-of-tree driver that exposes the GPIO, and got it working with some frightening-looking CH341 boards.

He had to make a slight mod to the driver to get six GPIOs in /sys/class/gpio. Once there though, it is easy to manipulate the pins using a shell script or anything that can write to the virtual files corresponding to the GPIO pins.

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You All Know Reginald Fessenden. Who?

Quick, name someone influential in the history of radio. Who do did you think of? Marconi? Tesla? Armstrong? Hertz? Perhaps Sarnoff? We bet only a handful would have said Reginald Fessenden. That’s a shame because he was the first to do something that most of us do every day.

Few know this Canadian inventor’s name even though he developed quite a few innovations. Unlike Colpitts and Hartley we don’t have anything named after him. However, Fessenden was the first man to make a two-way transatlantic radio contact (Marconi’s was one way) and he was a pioneer in using voice over the radio.

He did even more than that. He patented transmitting with a continuous wave instead of a spark, which made modern radio practical. This was unpopular at the time because most thought the spark was necessary to generate enough energy. In 1906, John Fleming (who gave us tubes that are sometimes still called Fleming valves) wrote that “a simple sine-curve would not be likely to produce the required effect.” That was in 1906, five years after Fessenden’s patent.

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Hack Excel for 3D Rendering

[C Bel] teaches Excel and he has a problem. Most of us — especially us Hackaday types — immediately write a VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) macro to do tough things in Excel. Not only is this difficult for non-technical users, but it also isn’t as efficient, according to [C Bel]. To demonstrate that VBA macros are not always needed, he wrote a 3D game engine using nothing but Excel formulae. He did have to resort to VBA to get user input and in a very few cases to improve the performance of large algorithms. You can see his result in the video below or download it and try it yourself.

The game is somewhat Doom-like. Somewhat. As you might expect it isn’t blindingly fast, and the enemy is a big red blob, but as the old Russian proverb goes, “The marvel is not that the bear dances well, but that the bear dances at all.” (And thanks to [Sean Boyce] for recalling that quote.)

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AI Listens to Radio

We’ve seen plenty of examples of neural networks listening to speech, reading characters, or identifying images. KickView had a different idea. They wanted to learn to recognize radio signals. Not just any radio signals, but Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM) waveforms.

OFDM is a modulation method used by WiFi, cable systems, and many other systems. In particular, they look at an 802.11g signal with a bandwidth of 20 MHz. The question is given a receiver for 802.11g, how can you reliably detect that an 802.11ac signal — up to 160 MHz — is using your channel? To demonstrate the technique they decided to detect 20 MHz signals using a 5 MHz bandwidth.

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Catching the (PCIe) Bus

If you are trying to learn about FPGAs, there is only so far you can go with the usual blinking lights and VGA outputs. Eventually, you want to do something more. Although not terribly cheap, you can get FPGA boards in a PCIe form-factor and use them directly with PC software. Is it easy? Well, it isn’t flashing an LED, but there are tools to help. [Angelos Kyriakos] did a Master’s thesis on the very subject and used a project known as RIFFA to help with the task.

RIFFA (Reusable Integration Framework for FPGA Accelerators) is a simple framework for communicating data from a host CPU to an FPGA via a PCI Express bus. The framework requires a PCIe enabled workstation and an FPGA on a board with a PCIe connector. RIFFA supports Windows and Linux, Altera and Xilinx, with bindings for C/C++, Python, MATLAB, and Java. With proper design, RIFFA can transfer quite a bit of data in a short period of time between your computer and your FPGA.

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