Arduino and the Other Kind of Homebrew

Usually, when we are talking about homebrew around here, we mean building your own equipment. However, most other people probably mean brewing beer, something that’s become increasingly popular as one goes from microbreweries to home kitchen breweries. People have been making beer for centuries so you can imagine it doesn’t take sophisticated equipment, but a little automation can go a long way to making it easier. When [LeapingLamb] made a batch using only a cooler, a stock pot, and a propane burner, he knew he had to do something better. That’s how Brew|LOGIC was born.

There are many ways to make beer, but Brew|LOGIC focuses on a single vessel process and [LeapingLamb] mentions that the system is akin to a sous vide cooker, keeping the contents of the pot at a specific temperature.

Honestly, though, we think he’s selling himself a bit short. The system has a remote application for control and is well-constructed. This isn’t just a temperature controller thrown into a pot. There’s also a pump for recirculation.

The common stock pot gets some serious modifications to hold the heating element and temperature probe. It also gets some spring-loaded clamps to hold the lid down. Expect to do a lot of drilling.

The electronics uses an Arduino, a Bluetooth board, and some relays (including a solid state relay). The finished system can brew between 5 and 15 gallons of beer at a time. While the system seems pretty good to us, he did list some ideas he has for future expansion, including valves, sensors for water level and specific gravity, and some software changes.

After reading that the system was similar to a sous vide cooker, we wondered if you could use a standard one. Turns out, you can. If you want to make better beer without electronic hacking, there’s always the genetic kind.

Nintendo 64 Homebrew Via Game Shark

The Nintendo 64 is a classic console now, and much loved, despite losing in commercial stakes to the dominating PlayStation from Sony. It’s one that doesn’t always get as much attention in the homebrew and hacker scene, compared to platforms like the NES and Game Boy. This means the tools required to work with the console aren’t as well-known. However, there’s a remarkably easy way to load homebrew on to the Nintendo 64, if you’ve got the right hardware.

To pull this off, you’ll need a N64 Gameshark, particularly a version higher than 3.0. These included a parallel port and the relevant onboard logic to allow the console to receive data and commands from an attached computer. [Nathan] demonstrates using the gs_libusb utility to deliver homebrew code to the console, using a USB to parallel adapter to make it easy from a modern computer.

The tools are available on github if you wish to try the hack for yourself. Most hacks we see of the platform are of the portable variety, but if you’ve got something fresh, you know who to call.

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A Low Cost VR Headset

Virtual reality systems have been at the forefront of development for several decades. While there are  commercial offerings now, it’s interesting to go back in time to when the systems were much more limited. [Colin Ord] recently completed his own VR system, modeled on available systems from 20-30 years ago, which gives us a look inside what those systems would have been like, as well as being built for a very low cost using today’s technology.

The core of this project is a head tracker, which uses two BBC Microbits as they have both the accelerometer and compass needed to achieve the project goals. It is also capable of tracking an item and its position in the virtual space. For this project, [Colin] built everything himself including the electronics and the programming. It also makes use of Google Cardboard to hold the screen, lenses, and sensors all in the headset. All of this keeps the costs down, unlike similar systems when they were first unveiled years ago.

The ground-up approach that this project takes is indeed commendable. Hopefully we can see the code released, and others can build upon this excellent work. You could even use it to take a virtual reality cycling tour of the UK.

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The Math That Makes Computers Go, Built On a Tiny PCB

A computer is, at its core, just a bunch of transistors wired together. Once you have enough transistors on a board, though, one of the first layers of abstraction that arises is the Arithmetic Logic Unit. The ALU takes in two sets of data, performs a chosen math function, and outputs one data set as the result. It really is the core of what makes computers compute.

An ALU is built into modern processors, but that wasn’t always how it was done. If you’re looking to build a recreation of an early computer you may need a standalone, and that’s why [roelh] designed an ALU that fits in a square inch piece of circuit board using five multiplexer chips and two XOR chips.

One of the commonly used components for this purpose, the 74LS181 ALU, is not in production anymore. [roelh’s] ALU is intended to be a small footprint replacement of sorts, and can perform seven functions: ADD, SUB, XOR, XNOR, AND, OR, A, B, and NOT A. The small footprint for the design is a constraint of our recent contest: Return of the Square Inch Project. Of course, this meant extra design challenges, such as needing to move the carry in and carry out lines to a separate header because there wasn’t enough space on one edge.

Exploring the theory behind an ALU isn’t just for people building retrocomputers. It is integral to gaining an intuitive understanding of how all computers work. Everyone should consider looking under the hood by walking through the nand2tetris course which uses simulation to build from a NAND gate all the way up to a functioning computer based on The Elements of Computing Science textbook.

If you’re a homebrew computer builder, it might be worthwhile to use one of these ALUs rather than designing your own. Of course, if building components from scratch is your thing we definitely understand that motivation as well.

Scribble Your Way To Quick Printed Circuit Boards

There are a variety of techniques employed by electronic constructors seeking the convenience of a printed circuit board without the inconvenience of making a printed circuit board. Dead bug style construction in which the components float on a spiders-web of soldered leads above a ground plane is one, Manhattan style construction in which pads made from small cut squares of bare copper-clad PCB are glued on top of a groundplane is another.

[Freestate QRP] has another take on this type of electronics, with what he calls “Scribble style” construction. He cuts away copper from bare board to create pads and rudimentary tracks, and for him the magic ingredient comes from his choice of an engineer’s scribe to do the job. This is where the “scribble” comes from, creating a pad is as simple as drawing it with the scribe.

Of course, this technique is not entirely new, constructors have been doing this type of work for years with Dremel tools, hand engraving tools, and similar. If you’ve ever tried to do it with a knife or scalpel you will know that it’s hardly an easy task with those hand tools so the prospect of another one doing a better job is rather interesting. He’s ready and able to demonstrate it in action, showing us a couple of RF circuits using the technique.

Have you tried this technique, or one like it? How did you get on, tell us in the comments. Meanwhile, you might like to read our own [Dan Maloney]’s look at dead bug and Manhattan construction.

Homemade Computer from 1970s Chips

Sometimes it starts with a 555 timer and an op-amp. Other times with a small microcontroller. But the timing’s not so great and needs a dedicated timing crystal circuit. And maybe some more memory, and maybe the ATtiny should be swapped out for some 74LS-series chips. And now of course it needs video output too. Before you know it, you’re staring at a 40-chip computer that hearkens back to a simpler, yet somehow more complex, time of computing. At least that’s where [Marcel] is with his breadboard computer based on 1970s-era chips.

For what it does, this homebrew computer is relatively simple and straightforward. It gets 8 bits of processing power from 34 TTL chips. Another 6 round out the other features needed for the computer to operate. It is capable of rendering 64 colors in software and has more than enough memory for a computer of this sort. So far the only recurring problem [Marcel] has had has been with breadboard fatigue, as some of the chips keep popping out of the sockets.

This is a great project for anyone interested in homebrew or 8-bit computing, partially because of some of the self-imposed limitations that [Marcel] imposed on himself, like “only chips from the 70s”. It’s an impressive build on its own and looks to get much better since future plans call for a dedicated PCB to solve the issue with the worn-out breadboards. If you’re already invested in a project like this, don’t forget that the rabbit hole can go a little deeper: you can build a computer out of discrete transistors as well.

Flappy Bird is the New “Does it Run Doom?”

Back in 2014 [Johan] decided to celebrate BASIC’s 30 50 year anniversary by writing his own BASIC interpreter. Now, a few years later, he says he feels he has hit a certain milestone: he can play Flappy Bird, written in his own version of BASIC, running on his own home-built computer, the BASIC-1.

Inside the BASIC-1 is an Atmel XMega128A4, a keyboard from a broken Commodore 64, a joystick port, a serial to TV out adapter, and an SD card adapter for program storage. An attractively laser-cut enclosure with kerf bends houses the keyboard and hardware. The BASIC-1 boots into BASIC just like many of its home computer counterparts from the 80s.

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