New Controller For Retro Console

In the world of retro gaming, when using emulators and non-native hardware it’s pretty common to use whatever USB controller happens to be available. This allows us to get a nostalgic look while using a  configurable controller. One thing that isn’t as common is using the original hardware while still finding a way to adapt a modern controller to an old console. This is exactly what you need though, when you’re retro gaming on a platform with notoriously terrible controllers.

[Scott] enjoys his Atari 5200 but the non-centering and generically terrible joystick wasn’t well received even in the early 80s when the console was in its prime. He decided that using a Dual Shock controller from a Playstation 2 would provide a much better gaming experience, and set about building an adapter. He found that in a way the Dual Shock controller was an almost perfect pairing for the Atari because it has two analog control sticks built-in already. There’s also an array of information on pairing the Dual Shock controller with AVR microcontrollers, so he wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel. From there, it was just a matter of pairing communications protocols between the two pieces of hardware.

The project page goes into quite a bit of detail on SPI communication protocols and the needs of both the Atari and the Playstation controller. If you’re a retro gaming fan, really into communication protocols, or have always had a love-hate relationship with your Atari because the controllers were just that bad, it’s worth checking out. If this is too much, though, there are other ways to get that Atari nostalgia.

Thanks to [Baldpower] for the tip!

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Adding Analog Touch To (Nearly) Any Mechanical Keyboard

The new hotness for DIY electronics is mechanical keyboards, and over the past few years we’ve seen some amazing innovations. This one is something different. It adds an analog sensor to nearly any mechanical key switch, does it with a minimal number of parts, and doesn’t require any modification of the switch itself. It’s a reddit thread and imgur post, but the idea is just so good we can overlook the documentation on this one.

The key development behind this type of sensor is realizing that nearly every mechanical keyswitch (Cherry MX, Kalth, Gateron) has a spring in the bottom. A spring is just a coil of wire, and an inductor is just a coil of wire, too. By putting a spiral trace on the PCB of a mechanical keyboard underneath the keyswitch, you can sense the inductance of this spring. This does require a little bit of additional hardware, in this case an LDC1614 inductance to digital converter, but this is an I2C-readable part that can, theoretically, be integrated rather easily with any mechanical keyboard PCB and firmware.

The downside to using the LDC1614 is that sampling is somewhat time-limited, with four channels or individual keys being polled at 500 Hz. This isn’t a problem if the use-case is adding analog to your WASD keys, but it may become a problem for an entire keyboard. Additionally, the LDC1614 is a slightly expensive part, at about $2 USD in quantity 1000. A fully analog keyboard using this technique is going to be pricey.

Right now, the proof-of-concept for this analog mechanical keyswitch is just a 0.1 mm flexible PCB that is shoehorned inbetween a Cherry MX red and a (normal) mechanical keyboard PCB. The next step in the development will be a 2×4 keypad with analog sensors, and opening up the hardware and firmware examples up under a GPL license.

Hackaday Links: July 8, 2018

Software-defined radio has been around for years, but it’s only recently that it’s been accessible to those of us who don’t have tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment in their lab. Here’s a new book from Analog Devices that gives you the lowdown on software-defined radio. It’s heavy on MATLAB and components from Analog, but it’s still a solid foundation for SDR.

Do you like cyberpunk? Do you like stories about rebellious people overthrowing the system? How about androids? Do you like androids? Here’s a Kickstarter that’s tying all of that togetherNeptune Frost is (will be?) a movie about an e-waste village in Burundi that’s home to the ‘world’s most subversive hacking collective’, a coltan miner and an inter-sex runaway. It’s literally got everything.

Hey, this is cool, Hackaday has been cited in a journal article. The title of the article is An open-source approach to automation in organic synthesis: The flow chemical formation of benzamides using an inline liquid-liquid extraction system and a homemade 3-axis autosampling/product-collection device,  and can be found in Tetrahedron Volume 74, Issue 25, 21 June 2018, Pages 3152-3157.

Asteroid day was a few days ago, and there’s a Kickstarter to go with it. The Planetary Society, headed up by Bill Nye (a science guy) is raising awareness about the threat of asteroid impacts. There’s hilarious swag that says ‘Kick Asteroid’, even though actually kicking an asteroid might be a bad idea; a gravity tractor would be the best method of nudging the orbit of an asteroid given enough time.

Last year, a company in the US trademarked the word ‘RetroPie’ and used that trademark to sell Raspberry Pis loaded up with (you guessed it) RetroPie software. This company also used the trademark to force anyone else doing the same to stop. Obviously, this didn’t sit well with the developers of RetroPie. After some generous legal help, the RetroPie trademark issue has been resolved. That’s a tip of the hat to Eckland & Blando who offered some pro bono legal work.

Dive Inside This Old Quartz Watch

In an age of smartwatches, an analog watch might seem a little old-fashioned. Whether it’s powered by springs or a battery, though, the machinery that spins those little hands is pretty fascinating. Trouble is, taking one apart usually doesn’t reveal too much about their tiny workings, unless you get up close and personal like with this microscopic tour of an analog watch.

This one might seem like a bit of a departure from [electronupdate]’s usual explorations of the dies within various chips, but fear not, for this watch has an electronic movement. The gross anatomy is simple: a battery, a coil for a tiny stepper motor, and the gears needed to rotate the hands. But the driver chip is where the action is. With some beautiful die shots, [electronupdate] walks us through the various areas of the chip – the oscillator, the 15-stage divider cascade that changes the 32.768 kHz signal to a 1 Hz pulse, and a remarkably tiny H-bridge for running the stepper. We found that last section particularly lovely, and always enjoy seeing the structures traced out. There are even some great tips about using GIMP for image processing. Check out the video after the break.

[electronupdate] knows his way around a die, and he’s a great silicon tour guide, whether it’s the guts of an SMT inductor or a Neopixel close-up. He’s also looking to improve his teardowns with a lapping machine, but there are a few problems with that one so far.

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Rolling Old School with Copy Protection from the 1980s

Oh, for the old days when sailing the seas of piracy was as simple as hooking a couple of VCRs together with a dubbing cable. Sure, the video quality degraded with each generation, but it was so bad to start out with that not paying $25 for a copy of “Ghostbusters” was a value proposition. But then came The Man with all his “rules” and “laws” about not stealing, and suddenly tapes weren’t so easy to copy.

If you’ve ever wondered how copy protection worked in pre-digital media, wonder no more. [Technology Connections] has done a nice primer on one of the main copy protection scheme from the VHS days. It was dubbed “Analog Protection System” or “Analog Copy Protection” by Macrovision, the company that developed it. Ironically, Macrovision the company later morphed into the TiVo Corporation.

The idea for Macrovision copy protection was to leverage the difference between what a TV would accept as a valid analog signal and what the VCR could handle. It used the vertical blanking interval (VBI) in the analog signal, the time during which the electron beam returns to the top of the frame. Normally the VBI has signals that the VCR uses to set its recording levels, but Macrovision figured out that sending extra signals in the VBI fooled the VCR’s automatic gain controls into varying the brightness of the recorded scenes. They also messed with the vertical synchronization, and the effect was to make dubbed tapes unwatchable, even by 1985 standards.

Copy protection was pretty effective, and pretty clever given the constraints. With Digital Rights Management, it’s easier to put limits on almost anything — coffee makers, arcade games, and even kitty litter all sport copy protection these days. It almost makes us nostalgic for the 80s.

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Learn What Did and Didn’t Work In this Prototyping Post-Mortem

[Tommy] is a one-man-shop making electronic musical things, but that’s not what this post is about. This post is about the outstanding prototyping post-mortem he wrote up about his attempt to turn his Four-Step Octaved Sequencer into a viable product. [Tommy] had originally made a hand-soldered one-off whose performance belied its simple innards, and decided to try to turn it into a product. Short version: he says that someday there will be some kind of sequencer product like it available from him, “[B]ut it won’t be this one. This one will go on my shelf as a reminder of how far I’ve come.”

The unit works, looks great, has a simple parts list, and the bill of materials is low in cost. So what’s the problem? What happened is that through prototyping, [Tommy] learned that his design will need many changes before it can be used to create a product, and he wrote up everything he learned during the process. Embedded below is a demo of the prototype that shows off how it works and what it can do, and it helps give context to the lessons [Tommy] shares.

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Friday Hack Chat: Simulating Analog

Simulation is a valuable tool for any hardware developer. Instead of building hardware for a long debugging session, you can emulate a microcontroller and blink your lights with some Javascript. Instead of working on a Bluetooth protocol for your fitness wearable, you can just whip up some Javascript and get it working that way. Once all your Javascript is in order, then you can finally move over to hardware. It saves development time, and it saves money.

But this is all digital. What do you do if you’re working on an analog system? Lucky for you, there’s a system built for analog and mixed-signal analysis, and it’s been around for decades. This week we’re talking all about PSpice, a simulator for analog analysis that will give you voltages and currents across every node in a schematic.

For this week’s Hack Chat, we’re going to be talking about PSpice with [Abha Jain] and [Alok Tripathi]. [Abha] has worked at Cadence for 19 years and has been part of the PSpice R&D team for the last decade. She’s an MTech in VLSI Design Tools and Technology and holds multiple EDA patents. [Alok] graduated in 1993 with a B. Tech in Electrical Engineering. He started working at the Department of Atomic Energy in 1993 as a power supply and control system designer for particle accelerators. Currently, he’s working with Cadence and is the Product Engineering Architect for PSpice and OrCAD.

For this Hack Chat, we’re going to be discussing the challenges of system-level simulation, improving reliability, yield, and productivity of circuit design, the issues of Spice simulation, and answer the question, ‘on an infinite grid of one Ohm resistors, what is the resistance between two nodes a knight’s move apart?’ You are, of course, encouraged to add your own questions to the Hack Chat. You can do that by leaving the questions as a comment on this Hack Chat’s event page.

join-hack-chat

Our Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week it’s going down at an unusual time: 8 AM Pacific, Friday, March 30th  Want to know what time this is happening in your neck of the woods? Have a countdown timer!

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 Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.