Introducing The Shitty Add-On V1.69bis Standard

The last few years have seen a rise of artistic PCBs. Whether these are one-off projects with a little graphic on the silkscreen or the art of manufacturing and supply chains, these fancy PCBs are here to stay. Nowhere is this more apparent than the loose confederation of Badgelife enthusiasts, a hardware collective dedicated to making expressive and impressive electronic baubles for various hacker conferences. Here, hundreds of different hardware badges are created every year. It’s electronic art, supported by a community.

Some of these badges aren’t technically badges, but rather small, blinky add-ons meant to connect to a main badge, and these add-ons are all backed by a community-derived standard. The Shitty Add-On Standard is how you put smaller PCBs onto bigger PCBs. It is supported by tens of thousands of badges, and all of the people who are spending their free time designing electronic conference badges are using this standard.

It’s been more than a year since the Shitty Add-On standard was created, and in that time the people behind the work have seen the shortcomings of the first edition of the standard. Mechanically, it’s not really that strong, and it would be neat if there were a few more pins to drive RGB LEDs. This has led to the creation of the latest revision of the Shitty Add-On Standard, V.1.69bis. Now, for the first time, this standard is ready for the world to see.

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World’s Oldest Computer Festival is This Weekend

There was a time when owning a home computer was kind of a big deal. In the days before the popularization of the Internet, so-called “computer shows” were the best way to meet with others to swap advice, information, and hardware. Of course today, things are very different. The kind of people who are building their computers just buy the parts online, and everyone else is probably using a $200 laptop from Walmart that isn’t worth spending the time or money on to upgrade.

Small sampling of the talks at TCF 2019

So while the Trenton Computer Festival (TCF) may have started in 1976 as a way for people to buy early computers like the Altair 8800, over the years it has morphed into something much closer to the modern idea of a “con”. Those who visit the 44th TCF on March 23rd at the College of New Jersey will likely spend most of their time at the festival attending the 40+ talks and workshops that will be happening in a span of just six hours. But anyone who’s got some cash to burn can still head over to the flea market area where they’ll be able to buy both modern and vintage hardware.

Talks run the gamut from Arduino to quantum computing, and if you don’t see something that piques your interest in this year’s program, one might wonder how you found yourself reading Hackaday in the first place. If you manage to find some spare time between all the talks, the New Jersey chapter of the The Open Organisation Of Lockpickers (TOOOL) will be there giving a hands-on lock picking class, and if you don’t mind taking the crash course, you can even get your ham radio license. All for the princely sum of just $20 at the door.

In fact, there’s so much going on at TCF that it can be somewhat overwhelming. As I found out during my visit last year, the number of simultaneous events means you’ll almost certainly have some difficult decisions to make. I’ll be making the trip out to the College of New Jersey campus again this year for TCF, and will have plenty of Hackaday stickers and buttons to give out to anyone who manages to stop me while I dash between talks.

A USB MUXer, For All Your Programming Needs

What if there were something like a KVM switch for your micro programmer, logic analyzer, and other various tools? There was a time when KVM switches (keyboard, video, and mouse, by the way) were metal enclosures surrounding an absurdly complicated rotary switch. This fact has a few applications if you ever want to switch a whole lot of stuff; if you ever need a bazillion-pole, two-way rotary switch, don’t spend your money at Mouser or Digikey, just look at eBay for some really old KVM or parallel port switches. Modern times require modern solutions, so here’s a 16-channel, bi-directional switched bus multiplexer. It connects wires to other wires with USB control, and if you need something like this, you really need something like this.

The SensorDots Port MuxR is a crowdfunding project for a project that began as a programming jig for another project. The MappyDot is a micro LIDAR unit that’s about the size of a postage stamp and has a microcontroller. Obviously, programming those microcontrollers was a pain (and don’t get me started on buying pre-programmed microcontrollers from the manufacturer), but there was a solution: a custom programming rig with dozens of pogo pins that automated the programming of an entire panel of boards. It was a useful tool, and now it’s a good idea for a Kickstarter project.

The Port MuxR takes a set of eight pins, and sends that out to one of eight ports. Alternatively, it can take a set of four pins, and send that to sixteen ports. All of this is controlled via USB, and it works with 0-5V signaling. If you know what this means, you probably have a reason to be interested in it.

Is it a sexy project? No, not at all. It’s an 8-pole, 8-throw rotary switch, controllable over USB. It is interesting, and it’s something a lot of us are going to need eventually.

The Joy Of Properly Designed Embedded Systems

The ages-old dream of home automation has never been nearer to reality. Creating an Internet of Things device or even a building-wide collection of networked embedded devices is “easy” thanks to cheap building blocks like the ESP8266 WiFi-enabled microcontroller. Yet for any sizable project, it really helps to have a plan before getting started. But even more importantly, if your plan is subject to change as you work along, it is important to plan for flexibility. Practically, this is going to mean expansion headers and over-the-air (OTA) firmware upgrades are a must.

I’d like to illustrate this using a project I got involved in a few years ago, called BMaC, which grew in complexity and scope practically every month. This had us scrambling to keep up with the changes, while teaching us valuable lessons about how to save time and money by having an adaptable system architecture.

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New Part Day: Pyboard D is Smaller, Wireless, and Has Expansion Modules

Historically, microcontrollers’ limited computing power and storage space meant software had to be written in low-level languages out of necessity. In recent years small affordable chips grew powerful enough that they could theoretically run higher level languages, sparking numerous efforts to turn that theory into reality. MicroPython delivered on this promise in a big way when their Kickstarter-funded pyboard was delivered along with its open source software. Several years have since passed, and now it is time for an upgraded pyboard: the D-series.

We’ve talked with [Damien George] back when the original Kickstarter was still underway. Since the launch of pyboard and release of MicroPython source code, we’ve played with ports running on an ESP8266 and on a BBC micro:bit. The software ecosystem has continued to grow, most recently we looked at LittlevGL graphics library. But just because all the flashy action has been happening on the software side doesn’t mean the hardware side has been sitting stagnant.

Pyboard-D upgraded from original pyboard’s STM32F4 to more capable STM32F7 chips. Witnessing the popularity of MicroPython on networked darlings ESP8266 and ESP32, there will be a pyboard D variant with a Murata 1DX on board for WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity. The new pyboard will be extremely compact with limited edge connections so a fine-pitched connector is required to bring out all the pins. To bring the new pyboard back to its educational and tinkerer roots, a breakout board will take those pins and spread them out in a breadboard friendly form factor. These breakout boards can also host small (12 mm x 12 mm) “tiles” to add individual features.

The wireless pyboard D will obviously invite comparison tests with an ESP32 running MicroPython, and its hardware expansion tiles invites comparison with Adafruit’s Wings. It’ll be interesting to see how they fare once widely available and we can get our hands on them. If you’ve picked up an earlier release at FOSDEM 2019, we invite you to share your experience in comments.

[via Adafruit blog]

Cortex M0 Becomes Platform-Game Platform

The Arduino Uno is an incredibly popular microcontroller platform. By virtue of being simple to understand, and having just enough processing power to be dangerous, it’s won fans the world over. In recent times, there have been efforts to replace it with something more powerful. The Arduino Zero is just one such device attempting to take the crown, and [Nicola Wrachien] decided to try game development on the platform.

[Nicola] chose to use the uChip, which is a remix of the Arduino Zero into a smaller form factor. This was combined with a 160×128 TFT display and a handful of buttons for control. The uChip module, along with the TFT are fitted to [Nicola]’s custom PCB which ties everything together.

By overclocking the SPI port to 24 MHz, [Nicola] is able to run a basic 2D platformer in excess of 50 frames per second. The frame rate is capped at a round 40 fps to keep things smooth and stable, and the results are impressive. Gameplay is fluid and responsive, and the screen looks vibrant with 16 bits per pixel providing plenty of colors to play with.

We love to see game systems hewn out of raw microcontrollers and displays. [Nicola]’s work goes to show that with a little tinkering, significant performance improvements are yours for the taking. For similarly impressive DIY handheld hacks, check out Star Fox on the Arduboy. Video after the break.

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A Raspberry Pi Terminal Fit For Fallout 76

The Fallout series of video games provide a wonderful alternative history that answers the question of what might have happened had the microchip never been invented. Yes, most things run on tubes, and apparently you can implement an AI that passes a Turing test in tubes (does the Turing test apply if you’re comparing it against NPCs?). Of course, as with all of computer history, the coolest parts of Fallout are the computer terminals, so [LowBudgetTech] decided to build one. All the files are available, and if you have a Pi sitting around this is a good weekend project.

This terminal has a host of features that are well-suited for the modern vault dweller. Of note, the entire case is 3D printed, in multiple pieces. Sure, considering the display is an LCD it’s a tiny bit thick, but you don’t get the Atomic age aesthetic without a big CRT, do you? The keyboard is a standard, off-the-shelf mechanical keyboard for clicky goodness with vintage-style keycaps. There’s a 3.5″ USB floppy drive, because there’s nothing that will survive a nuclear holocaust like magnetic media. The rest of the build is a Raspberry Pi 3B+, which is more than enough compute power to open a door shaped like a gear.

As for what you would do with a retro-inspired Pi terminal, well, it would make a good computer for the workbench, and since the case is already designed for a 3.5″ drive, you could use this to archive some old media. If there’s one thing the apocalypse tells us, it’s that these old terminals will still be kicking after a few hundred years.