Steamed Hams Localized Entirely Within A Printed Circuit Board

Maybe you’ve heard of a TV show called The Simpsons. Steamed Hams make a one-gag appearance in an unforgettable luncheon where Principal Skinner poker-faces his way out of a disaster with Superintendent Chalmers. Meanwhile, over on imgur, [Agumander] has put a black and white screencap from Steamed Hams in a printed circuit board.

The memory for this chip is an AT28C64, a 64 kilobit or 8 kilobyte steamed RAM. You call it a steamed RAM despite the fact that it is obviously a ROM. There is no microcontroller on this board or really anything resembling programmable logic. Everything is just logic chips. This board displays a 256×256 1 bit per pixel image over composite video. The sync is generated with the help of a 14MHz crystal and some circuitry taken from the original PONG board. Other than that, it’s just a bunch of NANDs and ORs that roll through the address space of the ROM and spit values out over a composite video port.

The build began by breadboarding everything save for a nifty solderless breadboard power adapter. Three ROM chips were programmed with different images — a cat, something to do with vaporwave, and some guy that looks like the poster from Eraserhead. Everything worked on the breadboard — yes, even at 14 MHz — so the build moved on to a printed circuit board.

The result is fantastic, and should work well on anything with a composite video port. We’re awarding bonus points for putting a socket on the ROM, simply so [Agumander] can change the image without whipping out the desoldering braid. If you need a refresher on Steamed Hams, from the 7th season Simpsons episode ’22 Short Films About Springfield’.

Reverse Engineering The Sound Blaster

The first sound card to output PCM audio — the kind you need for audio samples — wasn’t the Sound Blaster. The AdLib Music Synthesizer Card could output PCM audio over software. The AdLib card also cost $200 at the time of its release. This was too much for some, and in time the Creative Labs Sound Blaster was released for the rock-bottom price of $125. This was a more capable card, and in the years since prices on the used market have gone through the roof. In 1990, you could buy a Sound Blaster for a Benjamin and a half, in 2019, prices on eBay are reaching and exceeding $400.

With the prices of used cards so high, we start to get into the territory where it starts to make sense to reverse engineer and re-manufacture the entire card. This hasn’t been done before, but that’s no matter for [Eric Schlaepfer], or [@TubeTimeUS]; he’s done crazier projects before, and this one is no different.

In reverse-engineering the Sound Blaster, there are a few necessary components. The Sound Blaster had an OPL2 chip for sound synthesis, which you can get through various vendors. The trick, though, is the microcontroller. This is really just an 8051 with a custom mask ROM.

The goal of this project is actually just to dump the ROM on the Intel 8051-alike microcontroller. This is something that’s relatively commonly done in high-tech labs, and luckily the Bay Area has [John McMaster], the guy who will take you into his lab and strip a die from its epoxy. Looking at the chip under the microscope, it was discovered the mask ROM on this chip was an implant ROM, with the ones and zeros represented by invisible ions in the substrate itself. There was no hope of reverse-engineering this chip from a purely visual inspection, but there was a sense amplifier on one of the data lines. By probing this sense amplifier while running through the address space, [Eric] was able to dump all the bytes of the ROM one bit at a time.

However, and there’s always a however, there are clone Sound Blasters out there, usually from China, and you can dump these chips if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on one. [Eric] reached out to the community and found these clone microcontrollers didn’t have the code protect bit set; dumping these was easy. This ROM was compared to the work [Eric] did with the sense amplifier, and after figuring out the order of the bits, it was found the code matched. The code was successfully cloned, and now new Sound Blasters can be made. Don’t tell eBay that, because someone is trying to sell one of [Eric]’s clone cards for $180.

All the code, files, materials, and everything needed to clone a Sound Blaster can be found in [Eric]’s GitHub, although there are a few open questions as to what’s going on in the Sound Blaster’s microcontroller. There’s a ‘secret’ 512-byte ROM on the die, and no one outside of an Intel NDA knows what it does. This could be used for a manufacturing test, but who knows. Other than that, there are a few features in the code that weren’t used, like previously unknown DSP commands, an ADPCM lookup table, and a routine that plays from SRAM without using DMA. It’s a deep dive into the inner workings of the most popular sound card of all time, and it’s quite simply amazing.

Manufacturing New Connectors For The Apollo Guidance Computer

The fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission – the flight that first took man to the surface of the moon — is coming up. By the time this post is published, some YouTube channel will invariably be running a real-time-but-delayed-fifty-years live stream of all the mission events, culminating on the wee hours of July 20th where we wait hours for someone to figure out how to open the door.

[CuriousMarc] and space hardware collector [Jimmie Loocke] have a different type of anniversary in mind. They have an Apollo Guidance Computer sitting on a bed in a motel room, and they’re going to get it up and running by July 20th. That’s the plan, at least. This is no easy feat: the Apollo Guidance Computer looks like two 19-inch, 1U rack units, with no standardized connectors to talk to any other hardware. They’ve just figured out the hardest part of this build by making their own NASA-spec contacts. They can now connect external hardware to the AGC, probably for the first time in decades.

As it stands now, there are external ports on the gigantic bricks of aluminum enclosure that comprise the two AGC modules. These ports are just female pin headers, completely unlike any standard that can be found today. However, the folks at Samtec managed to build the male versions of these pin headers for this project. These pins fit the female sockets on one end, and are standard, square-shaped wire wrapped headers on the other. They are mounted in a milled plastic block, and after everything is wired up, [Marc] and [Jimmie] had a direct electrical connection to the Apollo Guidance Computer. The machine lives again.

There’s still a lot of work to do to get these bricks of computer up and running for the 20th, but this is fantastic progress. Already they’re single-stepping the AGC and running the P63 program that landed on the moon. Check out the video below.

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Modeling The Classic 555 Timer On A Breadboard

Over the years, readers have often commented that microcontrollers (or more specifically, the Arduino) are overkill for many of the projects they get used in. The admonition that the creator “Should have used a 555” has become something of a rallying cry for those who think modern electronic hobbyists are taking the easy way out.

But what if you think even the lowly 555 timer is overkill? In that case, perhaps you’ll be interested in a recent blog post by [TheMagicSmoke], where the reader is walked through the process of creating an analog of the classic integrated circuit on a somewhat larger scale. Finally, we can replace that cheap and handy IC with a mass of wires and components.

Alright, so you’ve probably guessed that there’s no practical reason to do this. Outside of some theoretical MacGyver situation in which you needed to create a square wave using parts salvaged from devices laying around, anyway. Rather, the project is presented as a good way to become more confident with the low-level operation of electronic circuits, which is something we think everyone can agree is a good thing.

The components used include a 74S00 quad NAND gate, a LM358 dual operational amplifier, a 2N2222A transistor, and a handful of passive components. [TheMagicSmoke] not only explains how the circuit is constructed, but shows the math behind how it all works. Finally, an oscilloscope is used to verify it’s operating as expected.

We respect a hacker on a mission, just last month [TheMagicSmoke] put together a similar “back to basics” post on how to interface with an I2C EEPROM.

Thrust Vectoring With Compliant Mechanisms Is Hard

Thrust vectoring is one way to control aerial vehicles. It’s become more popular as technology advances, finding applications on fifth-generation fighter aircraft, as well as long being used in space programmes the world over.[RCLifeOn] decided to try and bring the technology to a prop-powered RC aircraft, in an unconventional way.

After attending a lecture on compliant mechanisms and their potential use in space vehicles for thrust vectoring control, [RCLifeOn] decided to try applying the concept himself. His test mechanism is a fixed-wing with a single-piece motor mount that has enough flex in the right places to allow the motor (and propeller) to be moved in two axes, achieving thrust vectoring control.

After printing a compliant motor mount in a variety of materials, one was selected for having the right balance of strength and flexibility. The vectoring mechanism was fitted to a basic flying wing RC aircraft, and taken to the field for testing. Unfortunately, success was not the order of the day. While the mechanism was able to flex successfully and vector the motor in bench testing, it was unable to hold up to the stresses of powered flight. The compliant mechanism failed and the plane nosedived to the ground.

[RCLifeOn] suspects that the basic concept is a difficult proposition to engineer properly, as adding strength would tend to add weight which would make flight more difficult. Regardless, we’d love to see further development of the idea. It’s not the first time we’ve seen his 3D-printed flight experiments, either. Video after the break.

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Cycloid Drawing Machine Uses Sneaky Stepper Hack

Stepper motors are great for projects that require accurate control of motion. 3D printers, CNC machines and plotters are often built using these useful devices. [InventorArtist] built a stepper-based cycloid drawing machine, and made use of a nifty little hack along the way.

The machine uses a rotating turntable to spin a piece of drawing paper. A pen is then placed in a pantograph mechanism, controlled by another two stepper motors. The build uses the common 28BYJ-48 motor, which are a unipolar, 5-wire design. A common hack is to open these motors up and cut a trace in order to convert them to bipolar operation, netting more torque at the expense of being more complex to drive. [InventorArtist] worked in collaboration with [Doug Commons], who had the idea of instead simply drilling a hole through the case of the motor to cut the trace. This saves opening the motor, and makes the conversion a snap.

[InventorArtist] was able to create a machine capable of beautiful spirograph drawings, and develop a useful hack along the way. Reports are that a jig is in development to make the process foolproof for those keen to mod their own motors. We expect to see parts up on Thingiverse any day now. We’ve also covered the basic version of this hack before.

[Thanks to Darcy Whyte for the tip!]

Divide To Conquer Capacitive Touch Problems

Back in the day, all of your music was on a shelf (or in milk crates) and the act of choosing what to listen to was a tangible one. [Michael Teeuw] appreciates the power of having music on demand, but misses that physical aspect when it comes time to “put something on”. His solution is a hardware controller that he calls MusicCubes.

Music cube makes selection using RFID, and touching to the right raises the volume level

This is a multi-part project, but the most recent rework is what catches our eye. The system uses cubes with RFID tags in them for each album. This part of the controller works like a charm, just set the cube in a recessed part of the controller — like Superman’s crystals in his fortress of solitude — and the system knows you’ve made your decision. But the touch controls for volume didn’t work as well. Occasionally they would read a false touch, which ends up muting the system after an hour or so. His investigations led to the discovery that the capacitive touch plates themselves needed to be smaller.

Before resorting to a hardware fix, [Michael] tried to filter out the false positives in software. This was only somewhat successful so his next attempt was to cut the large touch pads into four plates, and only react when two plates register a press at one time.

He’s using an MPR121 capacitive touch sensor which has inputs for up to 12-keys so it was no problem to make this change work with the existing hardware. Surprisingly, once he had four pads for each sensor the false-positives completely stopped. The system is now rock-solid without the need to filter for two of this sub-pads being activated at once. Has anyone else experienced problems with large plates as the touch sensors? Can this be filtered easily or is [Michael’s] solution the common way to proceed? Share your own capacitive touch sensor tips in the comments below!

Want to get a look at the entire project? Start with step one, which includes a table of contents for the other build logs.