Breadboard Breaks The Speed Barrier

It is common wisdom that solderless breadboards are only good for low frequencies. But how fast can they really go? There’s been a contest going on to see who can make the fastest breadboard-mounted oscillator and [Joe Smith] has been trying to keep his leading position. He’s already managed 6 GHz and now he’s shooting for 20 GHz, as you can see in the video below.

One of the biggest challenges at these frequencies is just measuring your output. You may have a scope, but how does it do at 20 GHz? So half of the story is how [Joe] managed to monitor his output.

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Breadboard Computer Plays Snake On Character Display; Also In A Browser!

If building a homebrew computer on a breadboard is your thing, you’re most certainly familiar with [Ben Eater], whose design of using nothing but logic gates has served as inspiration for many replicas over the years. [visrealm] took the concept and expanded upon it, even adding a 16×2 LCD that let’s you play Snake by moving a single pixel on the character display!

Making the most of tiny resolution is impressive — it’s a difficult constraint for the game field. But there are other tricks at work as well. [visrealm] uses different intensities to distinguish between the snake and its food which is kind of a dark pixel in the demo shown after the break. But what stands out most is that the breadboard build is really only half of the story. In addition, [visrealm] built an entire emulator that resembles his actual breadboard design, which can be programmed and used via browser, giving WebAssembly a whole new meaning. While that’s convenient for anyone interested to play around with these breadboard computers, but lacks the patience to build one themselves, it also functions as the real one’s programming environment. In addition, an ESP8266 is used to load a new program directly via WiFi.

All the code and some build notes are available on GitHub, and if you’re looking for a nifty LCD emulator for your web site, there’s a standalone repository for that as well. But in case you need a better display option for your own breadboard computer, how about adding a VGA connector? And if you don’t build your own yet, it’s never too late to start.

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Machine Learning Algorithm Runs On A Breadboard 6502

When it comes to machine learning algorithms, one’s thoughts do not naturally flow to the 6502, the processor that powered some of the machines in the first wave of the PC revolution. And one definitely does not think of gesture recognition running on a homebrew breadboard version of a 6502 machine, and yet that’s exactly what [Nick Bild] has accomplished.

Before anyone gets too worked up in the comments, we realize that [Nick]’s Vectron breadboard computer is getting a lot of help from other, more modern machines. He’s got a pair of Raspberry Pi 3s in the mix, one to capture and downscale images from a Pi cam, and one that interfaces to an Atari 2600 emulator and sends keypresses to control games based on the gestures seen by the camera. But the logic to convert gesture to control signals is all Vectron, and uses a k-nearest neighbor algorithm executed in 6502 assembly. Fifty gesture images are stored in ROM and act as references for the four known gesture classes: up, down, left, and right. When a match between the camera image and a gesture class is found, the corresponding keypress is sent to the game. The video below shows that the whole thing is pretty responsive.

In our original article on [Nick]’s Vectron breadboard computer, [Tom Nardi] said that “You won’t be playing Prince of Persia on it.” That may be true, but a machine learning system running on the Vectron is not too shabby either.

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Hackaday Links: April 19, 2020

While the COVID-19 pandemic at least seems to be on a downward track, the dystopian aspects of the response to the disease appear to be on the rise. As if there weren’t enough busybodies and bluenoses shaming their neighbors for real or imagined quarantine violations on social media, now we have the rise of social-distancing enforcement drones. These have been in use in hot zones around the world, of course, but have only recently arrived in the US. From New Jersey to Florida, drones are buzzing about in search of people not cowering in fear in their homes and blaring messages about how they face fines and arrest for seeking a little fresh air and sunshine. We’re all in favor of minimizing contact with potentially infected people, but it seems like these methods might be taking things a bit too far.

If you somehow find yourself with some spare time and want to increase your knowledge, or at least expand your virtual library, Springer Publishing has some exciting news for you. The journal and textbook publisher has made over 400 ebook titles available for free download. We had a quick scan over the list, and while the books run the gamut from social sciences to astrophysics, there are plenty of titles that are right in the wheelhouse of most Hackaday readers. There are books on power electronics, semiconductor physics, and artificial intelligence, as well as tons more. They all seem to be recent titles, so the information isn’t likely to be too dated. Give the list a once-over and happy downloading.

Out of all the people on this planet, the three with the least chance of being infected with SARS-CoV-2 blasted off from Kazakhstan this week on Soyuz MS-16 to meet up with the ISS. The long-quarantined crew of Anatoly Ivanishin, Ivan Vagner, and Chris Cassidy swapped places with the Expedition 62 crew, who returned to Earth safely in the Soyuz MS-15 vehicle. It’s a strange new world they return to, and we wish them and their ISS colleagues all the best. What struck us most about this mission, though, was some apparently surreptitiously obtained footage of the launch from a remarkably dangerous position. We saw some analysis of the footage, and based on the sound delay the camera was perhaps as close as 150 meters to the launchpad. It’s hard to say if the astronauts or the camera operator was braver.

And finally, because neatness counts, we got this great tip on making your breadboard jumpers perfectly straight. There’s something satisfying about breadboard circuits where the jumpers are straight and exactly the length the need to be, and John Martin’s method is so simple you can’t help but use it. He just rolls the stripped jumpers between his bench and something flat; he uses a Post-it note pad but just about anything will do. The result is satisfyingly straight jumpers, ready to be bent and inserted. We bet this method could be modified to work with the stiffer wire normally used in circuit sculptures like those of Mohit Bhoite; he went into some depth about his methods during his Supercon talk last year, and it’s worth watching if you haven’t seen it yet.

An Adapter To Solve Your ESP-01 Breadboard Woes

The ESP-01 launched the ESP8266 revolution back in 2014, and while today you’re far more likely to see somebody use a later version of the chip in a Wemos or NodeMCU development board, there are still tasks the original chip is well suited for. Unfortunately, they can be tricky to use while prototyping because they aren’t very breadboard friendly, but this adapter developed by [Miguel Reis] can help.

Of course, the main issue is the somewhat unusual pinout of the ESP-01. Since it was designed as a daughter board to plug into another device, the header is too tight to fit into a breadboard. The adapter that [Miguel] has come up with widens that up to the point you can put it down the centerline of your breadboard and have plenty of real estate around it.

The second issue is that the ESP-01 is a 3.3 V device, which can be annoying if everything else in the circuit is running on 5 V. To get around this, the adapter includes an SPX3819 regulator and enough capacitors that the somewhat temperamental chip gets the steady low-voltage supply it needs to be happy.

[Miguel] has released the schematics and board files so you can spin up your own copy of the adapter, but they’re also available for around $3 USD from his Tindie store.

The ATtiny Series Is A Great Companion In Isolation

As a consequence of the social distancing and self isolation, many a maker has been searching for ways to cure boredom. So what happens when you put a maker in a closed space with electronics parts. The answer is a bunch of random microcontroller projects that help beat boredom. [Danac1886] posts a video with a bunch of experiments with the ATtiny series of microcontrollers which can be a source of time-killing inspiration for these tough days of solitude.

The video is based upon a variety of controllers ranging from the ATtiny85 to the ATtiny84 and even includes the ATtiny2313. There is also a project with the ATtiny10, an SMD SOT23-6 package that is quite amazing to behold. All the devices can be programmed using the Ardino as an ISP so all you need is another Arduino lying around in case you do not have an AVR ICSP.

As for the projects themselves, there is an assortment of things that start with the basic blinking LED, adding an I2C LCD and then moving on to a 7 segment display counting up with variable speed controlled with a pot. We really loved how much these tiny projects inspire and can help someone get started with basic electronics and programming.

If you are looking to get started, have a look at the Jumbo LED with the Attiny10 and we assure you, it will brighten your day.

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3D Printed Breadboard Helper Makes Wiring Neater And Easier

Breadboards make it simple to prototype and test circuits. If you use flexible wires with pins to make connections, it usually results in a rat’s nest. For many of us, using solid wire makes a rat’s nest, too. However, the very neat among us will cut solid wire to just the right length and strip just the right amount of wire and lay the wires very flat and neat along the board. [Moononournation] did a 3D print that makes the latter method much easier. You can find his Breadboard Wire Helper on Thingiverse and see a video, below.

The idea is simple: start with a piece of wire stripped on one side, then count out the number of holes it needs to traverse and push the stripped end through the hole. Trim the wire to fit. To complete the other side, lay the wire flat along the tool to the edge. Now you can see where to strip that side of the wire. After you remove the insulation, you can bend the wire down and cut the wire to fit. Now you have a perfect size and shape wire to place in the actual breadboard.

Granted, this isn’t that hard to do with the existing breadboard if it isn’t too packed. You could even use a spare breadboard. But it is a little easier to trim the wire to the right size with this jig. If you don’t want to 3D print it, you could probably pull the tape off the back of a cheap board and remove the springs to get a similar effect.

So while this little tool probably won’t change your life, it might make it a little easier. What other tools do you use when breadboarding? Let everyone know in the comments.

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