Floppy disks

Adafruit Hack Chat Helps You Copy That Floppy

You might think the era of the 3.5 inch “floppy” disk is over, and of course, you’d be right. But when has that ever stopped hackers before? Just because these disks are no longer being manufactured doesn’t mean you can’t find them, or that the appropriate drives aren’t readily available. In fact, as [Ladyada] explained during this week’s Floppy Interfacing Hack Chat with Adafruit, the ongoing chip shortages mean its often easier and cheaper to track down old hardware like this than it is modern microcontrollers and other high-tech components.

Hack Chat posterWhat awaits the brave hacker that picks up a box of random floppies and a dusty old drive at the local thrift store? More than you might expect. As the Hack Chat goes on, it becomes increasingly obvious that these quaint pieces of antiquated technology can be rather difficult to work with. For one thing there are more formats out there than you’ve probably considered, and maddeningly, not all drives are able to read all types (even if they say they do). That means a disk which might seem like a dud on one drive could work perfectly fine in another, which is why the team at Adafruit recommend having a few on hand if you want to maximize your chances of success.

Now here comes the tricky part: unless you happen to have a 1990s vintage computer laying around, getting these drives hooked up is decidedly non-trivial. Which is why Adafruit have been researching how to interface the drives with modern microcontrollers. This includes the Adafruit_Floppy project, which aims to port the well known Greaseweazle and FluxEngine firmwares to affordable MCUs like the Raspberry Pi Pico. There’s also been promising developments with bringing native floppy support to CircuitPython, which would make reading these disks as easy as writing a few lines of code.

But wait, surely this is a solved problem? Why not just pick up a cheap USB floppy drive from the A to Z online retailer we all love to hate? Unfortunately, these gadgets are something of a mixed bag. [Ladyada] pulls one apart on camera to show that what you’re actually getting with one of these units is a new old stock laptop floppy drive hooked up to a dodgy purpose-built chip that connects to the original 26-pin flex cable and offers up a USB interface. That would be great, if it wasn’t for the fact that the chip is exceedingly selective about what kind of disks it will read. If you’re only worried about bog standard IBM-formatted disks they can work in a pinch, but like they say, you get what you pay for.

So is it all just academic? Is there really any reason to use a floppy disk in 2022? The fine folks at Adafruit would argue that the skills necessary to read usable data out of a stream of magnetic flux changes may very well come in handy in unexpected ways down the road. But even if not, there’s at least one good reason to cultivate the technology required to reliably read from these once ubiquitous storage devices: archiving the data stored on these disks before they invariably succumb to so-called “bit rot” and are potentially lost to history.

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Hackaday Links: October 3, 2021

It’s one thing to speculate about what’s happening with the Mars helicopter Ingenuity, but it’s another to get an insider’s view on recent flight problems. As we previously reported, Ingenuity is starting to face a significant challenge, as a seasonal atmospheric pressure drop on Mars threatens to make the already rarefied air too thin to generate useful lift. Mission controllers tested the chopper at higher rotor speeds, and while that worked, later attempts to fly using that higher speed resulted in an abort. The article, written by one of the NASA/JPL engineers, is a deep dive into the problem, which occurred when Ingenuity sensed excessive wiggle in two of the servos controlling the rotor swashplate. The thought is that accumulated wear in the servos and linkages might be causing the problem; after all, Ingenuity has made thirteen flights so far, greatly exceeding the five flights originally programmed for it. Here’s hoping they can adapt and keep the helicopter flying, but whatever they do, it’ll have to wait a few weeks until Mars completes its conjunction and pops back out from behind the Sun.

With all the attention understandably paid to the recent 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, it’s easy to forget that barely a month after that day, a series of what appeared to be follow-on attacks started: the Anthrax Attacks. Members of Congress and media outlets were targeted via the mail with highly refined anthrax spores, leading to the deaths of five people, with dozens more injured and exposed to anthrax. IEEE Spectrum has an interesting article that goes into some of the technology that was rapidly deployed in an attempt to sanitize the mail, including electron beam and X-ray irradiation to kill any spores. The article also points out how this wasn’t the first time people were afraid of the mail; outbreaks of yellow fever in 1899 led to fumigation of the mail with sulfur, after perforating it with a wicked-looking paddle.

Attention PCB-design newbies — now’s your chance to learn the entire PCB design process from the ground up, with the guidance of industry professionals. TeachMePCB is back again this year, offering to teach you everything you need to know about properly laying out a PCB design in pretty much any EDA software you want. The course requires a two- to five-hour commitment every week for two months, after which you’ll have designed a PCB for a macropad using a Raspberry Pi Pico. The course facilitator is Mark Hughes from Royal Circuits, who did a great Hack Chat with us last year on PCB finishes. This seems like a great way to get up to speed on PCB design, so if you’re interested, act soon — 460 people are already signed up, and the deadline is October 10.

Some of us really love factory tours, no matter what the factory is making. All the better when the factory makes cool electronics stuff, and better still when it’s our friends at Adafruit showing us around their New York City digs. True, it’s a virtual tour, but it has pretty much become a virtual world over the last couple of years, and it’s still a great look inside the Adafruit factory. Hackaday got an in-person tour back in 2015, but we didn’t know their building used to be a Westinghouse radio factory. In fact, the whole area was once part of the famed “Radio Row” that every major city seemed to have from the 1920s to the 1960s. It’s good to get a look inside a real manufacturing operation, especially one that’s right in the heart of a city.

And finally, those with a fear of heights might want to avoid watching this fascinating film on the change-out of a TV transmitter antenna. The tower is over 1,500′ (450 m) tall, lofting an aging antenna over the flat Florida terrain. Most of the footage comes from body-mounted cameras on the riggers working the job, including the one very brave soul who climbed up the partially unbolted antenna to connect it to the Sikorsky S64 Skycrane helicopter. It’s a strange combination of a carefully planned and slowly executed ballet, punctuated by moments of frenetic activity and sheer terror. The mishap when releasing the load line after the new antenna was placed could easily have swept the whole rigging crew off the antenna, but luckily nobody was injured.

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Illustrated Kristina with an IBM Model M keyboard floating between her hands.

Keebin’ With Kristina: The One With The Index Typewriters

You may have noticed that I neglected to write an introductory paragraph for the last one of these — I was just too excited to get into the keyboards and keyboard accessories, I guess. I can’t promise that I’ll always have something to say up here, but this week I definitely do: thank you for all the tips I’ve received so far! The readers are what make Hackaday great, and this little keyboard roundup column is no exception. Fabulous fodder, folks!

Kamina Chameleon

[deshipu]'s DIY keyboard with various center modules
This is [deʃhipu]’s daily driver. Vroom!
Like any keyboard enthusiast worth their soldering iron, [deʃhipu] keeps trying for the ultimate keyboard — ideally, one that runs CircuitPython and makes a great daily driver for high-speed typing.

The latest version is the Kamina, a one-piece split with a SAMD21 brain that is slim and narrow without being cramped. [deʃhipu] started by splitting the Planck layout, spreading it, adding a number row, and eventually, an extra column of Kailh Chocs on the right hand. One-piece splits are great as long as the split suits your shoulders, because everything stays in place. When you do move it around, both halves move as one and you don’t have to mess with the positioning nearly as much as with a two-piece. And of course, since he designed it himself, it fits.

The really cool thing here is the center module concept. It’s functional, it looks nice, and as long as it doesn’t get in the way of typing, seems ideal. So far, [deʃhipu] has made a couple different versions with joysticks, encoders, and buttons, and is currently working on one with a Home button made for cell phones to take advantage of their built-in optical trackpads.

Esrille NISSE Looks Nice

This is the Esrille NISSE keyboard and it comes in two sizes! Okay, the two sizes don’t look that different, but the key spacing specs say otherwise. To me, this looks like an Alice with a better and ortholinear layout. These bat-wing beauties are new to me, but they’ve been around for a few years now and are probably difficult to stumble upon outside of Japan. Although Esrille doesn’t seem to make any other keyboards, they do make a portable PC built on the Raspberry Pi compute module.

The Esrille NISSE keyboard
Image via Esrille.

I love me a one-piece split when its done properly, and this one seems to be pretty darn close to perfect. How do I know? You can print out a paper-craft version to try out either of the two sizes. I didn’t take it quite that far, but you can bet that I opened the smaller size’s image in a new tab and put my hands all over the screen to test the layout.

I especially like the thumb clusters and the inside keys on this thing, but I think the innermost thumb keys would be too painful to use, and I would probably just use my index finger. I would totally buy one of these, but they’re a little too expensive, especially since the smaller one costs more. (What’s up with that?) The great news is that the firmware is open-source. Between that and the paper-craft models, a person could probably build their own. Check out [xahlee]’s site for a review and a lot more pictures of the NISSE and similar keebs.

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ESP32-S2 And RP2040 Hack Chat With Adafruit

Join us on Wednesday, January 27 at noon Pacific for the ESP32-S2 and RP2040 Hack Chat with Adafruit!

It’s always an event when we have Adafruit on the Hack Chat, and last time was no exception. Then, the ESP32-S2 was the new newness, and Adafruit was just diving into what’s possible with the chip. It’s an interesting beast — with a single core and no Bluetooth or Ethernet built-in, it appears to be less capable than other Espressif chips. But with a faster CPU, more GPIO and ADCs, a RISC-V co-processor, and native USB, the chip looked promising.

Among their other duties, the folks at Adafruit have spent the last six months working with the chip, and they’d now like to share what they’ve learned with the community. So Limor “Ladyada” Fried, Phillip Torrone, Scott Shawcroft, Dan Halbert, and Jeff Epler will stop by the Hack Chat to show us what’s under the hood of the ESP32-S2. They’ve worked on a bunch of projects using the chip, and they’ve taken a deep-dive into the chip’s deep-sleep capabilities, so stop by the Chat with your burning questions about low-power applications or anything ESP32-S2-related and ask away.

Plus, a late and exciting addition to the agenda: they’ll be talking about the recently released RP2040, the first custom chip from the folks at Raspberry Pi. We’ve already started talking about the Raspberry Pi Pico​, the dev board that uses the chip, and Adafruit will share what they’ve learned about the RP2040 so far.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, January 27 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you tied up, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

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Learning To Speak Peloton

Recently [Imran Haque]’s family bought the quite popular Peloton bike. After his initial skepticism melted to a quiet enthusiasm, [Imran] felt his hacker curiosity begin to probe the head unit on the bike. Which despite being a lightly skinned android tablet, has a reputation for being rather locked down. The Peloton bike will happily collect data such as heart rate from other devices but is rather reticent to broadcast any data it generates such as cadence and power. [Imran] set out to decode and liberate the Peleton’s data by creating a device he has dubbed PeloMon. He credits the inspiration for his journey to another hacker who connected a Raspberry Pi to their bricked exercise bike.

As a first step, [Imran] step began with decoding the TRRS connector that connects the bike to the head unit. With the help of a multi-meter and a logic analyzer, two 19200bps 8N1 RS-232 channels (TX and RX) were identified. Once the basic transport layer was established, he next set to work decoding the packets. By plotting the bytes in the packets and applying deductive reasoning, a rough spec was defined. The head unit requested updates every 100ms and the bike responded with cadence, power, and resistance data depending on the request type (the head unit did a round-robin through the three data types).

Once the protocol was decoded, the next step for [Imran] was to code up an emulator. It seems a strange decision to write an emulator for a device with a simple protocol, but the reasoning is quite sound. It avoids a 20-minute bike ride every time a code change needs to be tested. [Imran] wrote both an event-driven and a timing-accurate emulator. The former runs on the same board as the PeloMon and the latter runs on a separate board (an Arduino).

The hardware chosen for the PeloMon was an Adafruit Feather 32u4 Bluefruit LE. It was chosen for supporting Bluetooth LE as well as having onboard EEPROM. A level shifter allows the microcontroller to talk directly to the RS-323 on the bike. After a few pull requests to the Adafruit Bluetooth libraries and a fair bit of head-banging, [Imran] has code that advertises two Bluetooth services, one for speed and another for power. A Bluetooth serial console is also included for debugging without having to pull the circuit out.

The code, schematics, emulators, and research notes are all available on GitHub.

Read My Lips, Under This No-Sew Mask

Humans continuously communicate with our bodies, and face masks cover one of the most expressive parts. For some, this is a muffler on strangers, but devastating for people who rely on lip-reading. Several masks exist that have a clear window for precisely this purpose, but they’re specialty and high-demand. [Erin St Blaine] over at Adafruit shows how she makes windowed masks with stuff you may already have in your house. Even if your sewing machine is locked up the local maker-space, you are in luck, because you don’t need a single stitch. For the thread-inclined, it is easy to tweak the recipe.

The part of the mask that touches your face is terry cloth, but any breathable cotton towel should work. There is a PDF in the instructions where you can print templates in four sizes. You will also find a cutout for the plastic window salvaged from your cold soft drink cup. A water bottle should work too. Flexible glue holds the fabric together, but to attach the ear-loops, we fall back on our old friend, the red Swingline. If you don’t have that color and brand, any stapler will do in a pinch. Don’t forget to add some defogger and keep smiling.

Wear your homemade mask proudly and fasten it well, but not too fast.

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ESP32-S2 Hack Chat With Adafruit

Join us on Wednesday, May 6 at noon Pacific for the ESP32-S2 Hack Chat with Limor “Ladyada” Fried and Scott Shawcroft!

When Espressif released the ESP8266 microcontroller back in 2014, nobody could have predicted how successful the chip was to become. While it was aimed squarely at the nascent IoT market and found its way into hundreds of consumer devices like smart light bulbs, hackers latched onto the chip and the development boards it begat with gusto, thanks to its powerful microcontroller, WiFi, and lots of GPIO.

The ESP8266 was not without its problems, though, and security was always one of them. The ESP32, released in 2016, addressed some of these concerns. The new chip added another CPU core, a co-processor, Bluetooth support, more GPIO, Ethernet, CAN, more and better ADCs, a pair of DACs, and a host of other features that made it the darling of the hacker world.

Now, after being announced in September of 2019, the ESP32-S2 is finally making it into hobbyist’s hands. On the face of it, the S2 seems less capable, with a single core and neither Bluetooth nor Ethernet. But with a much faster CPU, scads more GPIO, more ADCs, a RISC-V co-processor, native USB, and the promise of very low current draw, it could be that the ESP32-S2 proves to be even more popular with hobbyists as it becomes established.

To talk us through the new chip’s potential, Limor “Ladyada” Fried and Scott Shawcroft, both of Adafruit Industries, will join us on the Hack Chat. Come along and learn everything you need to know about the ESP32-S2, and how to put it to work for you.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, May 6 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.
Continue reading “ESP32-S2 Hack Chat With Adafruit”