Hackaday Links: June 24, 2018

What do you do if you’re laying out a PCB, and you need to jump over a trace, but don’t want to use a via? The usual trick is using a zero Ohm resistor to make a bridge over a PCB trace. Zero Ohm resistors — otherwise known as ‘wire’ — are a handy tool for PCB designers who have backed themselves into a corner and don’t mind putting another reel on the pick and place machine. Here’s a new product from Keystone that is basically wire on a tape and reel. It’s designed to jump traces on a PCB where SMD zero ohm resistors and through-hole jumpers aren’t possible. I suppose you could also use it as a test point. They’re designed for high current applications, but before we get to that, let’s consider how much power is dissipated into a zero ohm resistor.

By the way, as of this writing, Mouser is showing 1,595 for Keystone’s 5100TR PCB jumpers in stock. They come on a reel of 1,000, and a full reel will cost you $280. This is significantly more expensive than any SMD zero ohm resistor, and it means someone bought four hundred of them. The electronic components industry is weird and you will never understand it.

There’s a new product from ODROID, and you want it. The ODROID-GO is a Game Boy and Sega Master System emulator running on an ESP-32, has a fantastic injection molded case, and looks phenomenal.  You can buy it now for $32. Does this sound familiar? Yes, a few months ago, the PocketSprite was released. The PocketSprite is the tiniest Game Boy ever, and a project [Sprite_TM] introduced to the world at the 2016 Hackaday Superconference.

This week, the speaker schedules for two awesome cons were announced. The first is HOPE, at the Hotel Penn on July 20th. Highlights of this year? [Mitch Altman] is talking about DSP, [Chelsea Manning] will be on stage, someone is talking about HAARP (have fun with the conspiracy theorists), and someone is presenting an argument that [Snowden] is an ideological turd. The speaker schedule for DEF CON was also announced. The main takeaway: god bless the CFP board for reigning in all the blockchain talks, the Nintendo Switch was broken wide open this year, but there’s only a talk on the 3DS, and there’s more than enough talks on election hacking, even though that was a success of propaganda instead of balaclava-wearing hackers.

The C.H.I.P. is no more, or at least that’s the rumor we’re running with until we get some official confirmation. When it was introduced, the C.H.I.P. was a Linux system on a chip with complete register documentation. It appears the end of C.H.I.P. is upon us, but have no fear: there’s a community building the PocketC.H.I.P., or the C.H.I.PBeagle. It’s a single board computer based around the OSD3358 from Octavo, the same system found in the PocketBeagle. Source in KiCAD, and people are working on it. Thanks [smerrett79] for the tip.

This Thermal Printer has Serious Game

[Dhole], like the fox, isn’t the first to connect his computer to a Game Boy printer but he has done a remarkable job of documenting the process so well that anyone can follow. The operation is described well enough that it isn’t necessary to scrutinize his code, so don’t be put off if C and Rust are not your first choices. The whole thing is written like a story in three chapters.

The first chapter is about hacking a link cable between two Game Boys. First, he explains the necessity and process of setting the speed of his microcontroller, a NUCLEO-F411RE development board by STMicroelectronics. Once the rate is set, he builds a sniffer by observing the traffic on the cable and listens in on two Game Boys playing Tetris in competition mode. We can’t help but think that some 8-bit cheating would be possible if Tetris thought your opponent instantly had a screen overflowing with tetrominoes. Spying on a couple of Game Boys meant that no undue stress was put on the printer.

Chapter two built on the first chapter by using the protocol to understand how the printer expects to be spoken to. There is plenty of documentation about this already, and it is thoughtfully referenced. It becomes possible to convince a Game Boy that the connected microcontroller is a printer so it will oblige by sending an image. Since there isn’t a reason to wait for printing hardware, the transfer is nearly instantaneous. In the image above, you can see a picture of [Dhole] taken by a Game Boy camera.

The final chapter, now that all the protocols are understood, is also the climax where the computer and microcontroller convince the printer they are a Game Boy that wants to print an image. In the finale, we get another lesson about measuring controller frequency without an oscilloscope. If you are looking for the hack, there it is. There is a handful of success in the form of old receipts with superimposed grayscale images since virgin thermal printer paper by Nintendo costs as much as a used printer.

This story had a happy ending but grab your reading glasses for the smallest Game Boy and here’s someone who wrote their own Game Boy color game.

Investigating the World’s Rarest Game Boy

Early last year, a very unique Game Boy Color showed up on Chinese shopping site Taobao. Rather than the rather anemic-looking display of the original GBC, this version was modified with a modern IPS LCD. Even in the pictures shown on the product page, it was clear the display on this unit was far more advanced than anything Nintendo ever packed into a Game Boy. The retro gaming community went wild, and soon the site was overwhelmed with orders. The majority of the sales were canceled by the seller, and it’s believed as few as 75 of these hacked GBCs were actually shipped out.

Thanks to one of his viewers, [Colin] was able to get his hands on one of these extremely rare customized handhelds. Clearly a man after our own heart, his first inclination was to tear the thing apart and see how they built it. While he had a fairly good idea of how they managed this hybrid of modern and classic technology, there were a couple of surprises inside.

The device has a completely stock main board, and as such works and plays like a normal GBC. But upon flipping the main board over, [Colin] found a nest of thin magnet wire connecting the new display controller to individual buttons on the front panel. As he later confirmed when he reassembled the system, this allows the user to adjust the display’s brightness by holding “Select” and using the directional pad.

As for the screen itself, the big surprise was that it’s clearly pulled out of a relatively recent smartphone. The screen is physically much larger than the opening in the GBC’s front panel, but through some software trickery the image is displayed only in the area that’s visible to the player. [Colin] managed to get a hold of a few contacts “in the know” who confirmed to him that both the hardware and software for the display controller were specifically created for this application, and are unlikely to be duplicated by anyone else.

Considering most of the Game Boy hacks we cover are about somebody jamming modern hardware into them, it’s an interesting change of pace to see a group that was so adamant about retaining as much original hardware as possible while still managing to improve the user experience.

[Thanks to Doc Oct for the tip]

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Repairing A Sunburned Game Boy Screen

The original Game Boy is a classic. Sure, it had no backlight, but there is something special about playing on that classic green screen. Unfortunately, some of these older systems are suffering a terrible fate — screen burn. Game Boy’s played best with lots of light — especially out in the sun. But that same sun did terrible things to the screen. A black splotch in the center of the LCD is the telltale sign of a burned Game Boy. You might think that screen replacement is the only option, but [The Retro Future] shows us how to repair this issue.

A reflective LCD is a layer cake made up of polarizers, two panes of glass, and a reflector. The burns often seen on Game Boy screens usually are in the polarizer and the optically clear glue which attaches the plastic polarizer to the glass. We’re guessing these burns happen when someone leaves their Game Boy out in the sun. Between the sun rays directly striking the top polarizer and the rays bounced back from the reflector at the rear of the screen, that poor polarizer doesn’t stand a chance.

Repairing the burn is a delicate operation, as one false move could crack the thin LCD glass. The first step is to carefully peel off the burned polarizer. This leaves a mess of dried glue, which can be scraped off or dissolved with alcohol. A new linear polarizer can then be placed on the front of the screen. [The Retro Future] chose not to glue the polarizer, but we’re betting some UV cure LOCA (Liquid Optically Clear Adhesive) from a cell phone screen protector would do the trick.

If you love the look of the classic Game Boy, but want to play just about any classic game, grab a Raspberry Pi zero, and build a retro Pi Boy.

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Pi Handheld With a Mindblowing Enclosure

The Raspberry Pi is possibly the world’s most popular emulation platform these days. While it was never intended to serve this purpose, the fact remains that a small, compact computer with flexible I/O is ideally suited to it. We’ve featured a multitude of builds over the years using a Pi in a mobile form factor to take games on the go. [Michael]’s build, however, offers a lot more than a few Nintendo ROMs and some buttons from eBay. It’s a tour de force in enclosure design.

The build starts with the electronics. In 2017 it’s no longer necessary to cobble together five different accessory boards to handle the controls, battery charging, and display. Boards like Kite’s Super All In One exist, handling everything necessary for a handheld game console. With this as a starting point, he then set out to recreate Nintendo’s classic Game Boy, with a few tweaks to form and function.

It’s a textbook example of smart planning, design, and execution. We are taken through the process of creating the initial CAD drawings, then combining 3D printed parts with wood and carbon fibre for a look that is more akin to a high-end piece of hi-fi gear than anything related to gaming. The attention to detail is superb and the write-up makes it look easy, while [Michael] shares tips on how to safely cut carbon fibre to make your own buttons.

The final results are stunning, and it’s a great example of why a fine piece of wood is always a classy way to go for an enclosure. For another great example, try this walnut keyboard, or check out the roots of the Raspberry Pi Game Boy movement.

Game Boy Advance Hiding In a Medical Device

It turns out that medical manufacturers also do hacking once in a while. [JanHenrikH] recently tweeted a photo of an ECG-Trigger-Unit that he’d opened up. Inside he found that the LCD screen was that of a Game Boy Advance (GBA) and the reason he could tell was that the screen’s original case was still there, complete with GAME BOY ADVANCE SP written on it.

In the manufacturer’s defense, this device was likely made around the year 2000 when gaming products were some of the best sources for high speed, high quality, small LCDs displays.  This design document for a portable ECG measurement instrument from as recently as 2013 cites reasons for using a GBA as:

  • impressive plotting results,
  • no serious transmission delays, and
  • fine graphics processing capability.

The Verge had even turned up this US patent from 1997 that has the diagnostic medical device be a cartridge for plugging into a Game Boy. At the time, PCs were frequently used for medical displays but this patent cites issues such as the higher cost of PCs, software installation issues, and crashing. However, they talk about the crashing being due to running word processing and spreadsheet software on the same PC, something not likely to happen if the PC is dedicated to bedside monitoring.

But despite all those pros, wouldn’t you feel surprise and alarm when you first glimpse the Game Boy inside the device that’s monitoring your heart? We also have to wonder what licensing these products went through in the countries in which they were used. This particular device was made by German company Medical Imaging Electronics.

Game Boy hacks aren’t limited to the medical industry though. Here on Hackaday, we’ve seen them turned into remote controls for flying drones and we’ve seen Game Boy cartridge emulators that use STM32. Finally, if you’re wondering where you saw [Jan Henrik]’s name before, he was one of the two hackers driving the motorized armchair in a photo in our [Jenny List]’s SHACamp 2017 write-up.

Our thanks to [geonomad] for the tip!

Yes, Of Course Someone Shot the Eclipse on a Game Boy Camera

This one shouldn’t surprise us, but there is something particularly enjoyable about seeing the total eclipse of the Sun through a Game Boy camera.

The Game Boy got its camera accessory back in 1998 when CCD-based cameras with poor resolution were just becoming widely available to the public. This camera can capture 128×112 pixel images in the four value grey scale for which the handheld is so loved.

Having taken part in eclipse mania ourselves we can tell you that unless you did some serious research and prep for photographing the thing, this makes as much sense as pulling out your smartphone did. We posit that it certainly produced a more pleasing result.

[jhx] says this is more a weird halo effect of the shot than it is a quality image of totality. At this resolution, the moon-covered Sun should be very few pixels in size, right? But fidelity is for photographers, this is for hackers. Getting the digital image off of the Game Boy camera involved using an Interact Mega Memory cartridge on a Game Boy Pocket to transfer it over, then using a USB 64M cartridge to copy from the Mega Memory and ultimately to a computer.

Glamour shots ain’t easy, yo. But it is possible to read images directly off the Game Boy camera thanks to some reverse engineering work.

[via Kotaku]