Browsing Modern Day BBS on the Epson PX-8 Laptop

As you read this, there are still people chatting away on Bulletin Board Systems all over the world. Running on newly written software and without the need to actually use a dial-up modem, these (slightly) more modern takes on the BBSs of yore can be compelling diversion for those who might want to decompress a bit from contemporary social networks.

[Blake Patterson] is one of these people, and he writes in to tell us about his recent experiments with using a particularly gorgeous example the Epson PX-8 “Geneva” laptop on modernized BBSs. The form factor of the device makes it a fairly convenient client for chatting, despite the somewhat unusual screen. Luckily, modern BBS software is able to cope with the PX-8’s 80 character by 8 line LCD display, it’s just a matter of getting the thing online.

The trick is tethering the PX-8 to a Linux machine as a serial terminal. [Blake] had to build a serial cable for the laptop, and then used a basic USB-to-serial converter to get it connected to a Raspberry Pi. Once you’ve logged in over serial, you can simply fire off a telnet command to connect to the BBS of your choice. In the video after the break, he demonstrates what it’s like browsing and chatting on a BBS using the PX-8. The screen certainly takes a bit of getting used to, but actually works fairly well given the nature of the BBS interface.

[Blake] recently gave us a look at a Wi-Fi “modem” for retro computers based on the ESP8266, if you’d rather cruise your favorite BBS without a dangling Pi.

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Keeping Streets Ice-Free with the Raspberry Pi

[Revanth Kailashnath] writes in to tell us about an interesting project he and his team have been working on for their “Real Time Embedded Programming” class at the University of Glasgow. Intended to combat the harsh and dangerous winters in Glasgow, their system uses a Raspberry Pi and a suite of sensors to automatically deploy a brine solution to streets and sidewalks. While the project is still only a proof of concept and hasn’t been deployed, the work the team has done so far runs the gamut from developing their own PCBs to creating a web-based user interface.

The core idea is simple. If the conditions are right for ice to form, spray salt water. Using salt water is a cheap and safe way of clearing and preventing ice as it simply drops the temperature at which water freezes. The end result is that the ice won’t form until it gets down to 10F (-12C) or so. Not a perfect solution, but it can definitely help. Of course, you don’t want to spray people with salt water as they pass by, so there’s a bit more to it than that.

Using the venerable DHT22 sensor the team can get the current temperature and humidity, which allows them to determine when it’s time to start spraying. But to prevent any wet and angry pedestrians, a HC-SR501 PIR motion sensor is used. If the system sees motion it will stop for a while to let the activity quiet down.

Monitoring the sensors and controlling the pump is done by a daemon written in C++, which also logs data to an SQL database, which in turn feeds their PHP web interface. In the video after the break, [Revanth] demonstrates how the system is constantly making decisions based on the input of the various sensors. Environmental data and motion is analysed every few seconds to provide a real-time solution.

We’ve covered a few projects aimed at melting ice and snow by heating concrete, but it’s interesting to see a “smart” approach to this common winter annoyance.

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Visualizing Blocked Ads with the Pi Sense Hat

Pi-hole is an open source project to turn that Raspberry Pi collecting dust in your drawer into a whole-network ad blocking appliance. Not only does it stop ads from showing up on all your computers and mobile devices, it also keeps track of how many ads have been blocked and where they came from. Just in case you wanted to know how many thousands of ads you missed out on for a given time period.

While the graphs generated in the web interface of Pi-hole are slick and all, what if you just wanted a quick way of visualizing how effective your ad blocking system is? You’re not so much worried about the exact figures, you just want something to blink away on your desk and let you know all those ads are going to /dev/null. Enter the aptly named pi-hole-visualizer by [simianAstronaut].

With the addition of a Sense HAT to the Pi running the ad blocking, this Python script will generate an animated visualization that can be easily interpreted even from a distance. The primary display is a bar graph of DNS traffic, where the height and color of each column indicate relative activity within a specific time interval. A second screen shows a spiral graph which gives you an idea of what percentage of ads were blocked before they hit your devices.

An array of options can be given to the script from the command line; controlling both physical aspects of the display like orientation and LED brightness, as well the configurable parameters for the different available visualizations. As an added bonus, there’s also support for using the Sense HAT joystick to switch between modes interactively.

Turning the Raspberry Pi into an ad blocking appliance goes back to the olden days of the original Raspberry Pi, but it’s interesting to see how advanced the concept has become. Just remember, not all ads are bad.

A Hacker’s Epic Quest to Keep His Son Entertained

Little humans have a knack for throwing a wrench in the priorities of their parents. As anyone who’s ever had children will tell you, there’s nothing you wouldn’t do for them. If you ever needed evidence to this effect, just take a gander at the nearly year-long saga that chronicles the construction of an activity board [Michael Teeuw] built for his son, Enzo.

Whether you start at the beginning or skip to the end to see the final product, the documentation [Michael] has done for this project is really something to behold. From the early days of the project where he was still deciding on the overall look and feel, to the final programming of the Raspberry Pi powered user interface, every step of the process has been meticulously detailed and photographed.

The construction methods utilized in this project run the gamut from basic woodworking tools for the outside wooden frame, to a laser cutter to create the graphical overlay on the device’s clear acrylic face. [Michael] even went as far as having a custom PCB made to connect up all the LEDs, switches, and buttons to the Arduino Nano by way of an MCP23017 I2C I/O expander.

Even if you aren’t looking to build an elaborate child’s toy that would make some adults jealous, there’s a wealth of first-hand information about turning an idea into a final physical device. It isn’t always easy, and things don’t necessarily go as planned, but as [Michael] clearly demonstrates: the final product is absolutely worth putting the effort in.

Seeing how many hackers are building mock spacecraft control panels for their children, we can’t help but wonder if any of them will adopt us.

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Making Custom Silicon For The Latest Raspberry Pi

The latest Raspberry Pi, the Pi 3 Model B+, is the most recent iteration of hardware from the Raspberry Pi Foundation. No, it doesn’t have eMMC, it doesn’t have support for cellular connectivity, it doesn’t have USB 3.0, it doesn’t have SATA, it doesn’t have PCIe, and it doesn’t have any of the other unrealistic expectations for a thirty-five dollar computer. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t a lot of engineering that went into this new version of the Pi; on the contrary — the latest Pi is filled with custom silicon, new technologies, and it even has a neat embossed RF shield.

On the Raspberry Pi blog, [James Adams] went over the work that went into what is probably the most significant part of the new Raspberry Pi. It has new, custom silicon in the power supply. This is a chip that was designed for the Raspberry Pi, and it’s a great lesson on what you can do when you know you’ll be making millions of a thing.

The first few generations of the Raspberry Pi, from the original Model B to the Zero, used on-chip power supplies. This is what you would expect when the RAM is soldered directly to the CPU. With the introduction of the Raspberry Pi 2, the RAM was decoupled from the CPU, and that meant providing more power for more cores, and the rails required for LPDDR2 memory. The Pi 2 required voltages of 5V, 3.3V, 1.8V, and 1.2V, and the sequencing to bring them all up in order. This is the job for a power management IC (PMIC), but surprisingly all the PMICs available were more expensive than the Pi 2’s discrete solution.

The MXL7704, with four switching power supplies. The four symmetric gray and brown bits are inductors.

However, where there are semiconductor companies, there’s a possibility of having a custom chip made. [James] talked to [Peter Coyle] of Exar in 2015 (Exar was then bought by MaxLinear last year) about building a custom chip to supply all the voltages found in the Raspberry Pi. The result was the MXL7704, delivered just in time for the production of the Raspberry Pi 3B+.

The new chip takes the 5V in from the USB port and converts that to two 3.3V rails, 1.8V and 1.2V for the LPDDR2 memory, 1.2V nominal for the CPU, which can be raised and lowered via I2C. This is an impressive bit of engineering, and as any hardware designer knows, getting the power right is the first step to a successful product.

With the new MXL7704 chip found in the Raspberry Pi 3B+, the Pi ecosystem now has a simple and cheap chip for all their future revisions. It might not be SATA or PCIe or eMMC or a kitchen sink, but this is the kind of engineering that gives you a successful product rather than a single board computer that will be quickly forgotten.

Beautiful Pi-Powered Cocktail Machine

Science fiction has long had the idea that a good drink should just appear from a sliding panel in a wall. Bartending is to be the preserve of robots and AIs – manual control is for the past, and in an effort to continue our progress to towards that sci-fi future, Reddit user [HighwingZ] has built a beautiful machine that mixes and serves drinks.

Instead of a sliding wall panel, [HighwingZ] has built a hexagonal container. Five of the six sides contain bottles to fill the drink with, the last panel contains the spigot and a spot for the glass. The machine works by weighing the liquid that gets poured into the glass using a load cell connected to a HX711 load cell amplifier. An aquarium pump is used to push air into whichever bottle has been selected via some magnetic valves which forces the liquid up its tube and into the glass. A simple touch screen UI is used so the user can select which drink and how much of it gets poured. All of this is connected to a Raspberry Pi to control it all.

The whole thing is built into a great looking wooden showcase with see-through sides, so you can see the bottles to be used to make the drinks. [HighwingZ] put the Python code that controls everything on github for anyone wanting to make their own. There are a few cocktail making hacks on the site, like this one, or this one if you need some inspiration.

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The Better RetroPie Handheld

The Raspberry Pi has become the best video game console on the planet. With RetroPi, anyone can play Super Mario 3, Doctor Mario, and even Doki Doki Panic. Adafruit’s PiGRRL Zero and [Wermy]’s reconfabulation of an old brick Game Boy to house a Raspi Zero and display have made the Raspberry Pi portable, along with all those retro games we love so dearly.

There’s a problem with these builds, though. They only use the Raspberry Pi Zero, and with that the limitations on emulation performance, and the Raspi 3 is far too big for a portable console. What’s the solution? It’s the greatest homebrew console ever created. For this year’s Hackaday Prize, [DeanChu] is building the Retro-CM3. It’s a retro handheld with a 3D printed enclosure, that’s powered by the Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3. Stand back, folks. We have a winner that will top the Raspberry Pi and 3D printing subreddits.

The key feature for this build is, of course, the raw processing power of the Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3. This is a Raspberry Pi 3 with 4 GB of eMMC stuffed onto a board that fits into an SODIMM socket. The pins on this device give you access to the GPIOs and the DSI connector. All you really need to turn this into an amazing vintage emulation console is a breakout board with a few buttons, power supply, and a display.

The extra components for this build include a 3.2 inch LCD using the DPI interface. There’s a speaker, and a 2000mAh battery. The real tricky part here is the custom PCB, breaking out the DPI pins on the Compute Module, adding a small speaker, and throwing a small STM32 to read the buttons. It’s an entire system, ready to be housed in a 3D printed enclosure.

This is, simply, the best Raspberry Pi portable you’ll ever see, at least until we get a Rasberry Pi Zero with the capabilities of the Pi 3. It’s an excellent use of the very small Compute Module, and one of the most polished Hackaday Prize entries we’ve seen thus far.