Threat Meter Gauges Risk of Creeper-Assisted Suicide

If you’ve played even just a few minutes of Minecraft, you know what a creeper is. For those not familiar with the wildly popular sandbox game, a creeper is a monster that creeps along silently until it’s close to a player, whereupon it self-destructs by exploding. Sometimes it kills the player outright, and other times the explosion blows them into lava or off a cliff, or off a cliff and then into lava. Creepers have no friends.

But now there’s a way to avoid creeper attacks, or at least get a little heads up that these green nasties are lurking about. With [John Allwine]’s creeper detector, Minecraft players can get a real-world indicator of the current in-game creeper threat. The hardware end is simple enough — it’s just a SparkFun RedBoard and a small strip of Neopixels in a laser-cut plywood case. The LEDs lie behind a piece of etched acrylic to diffuse their glow — extra points for the creeper pattern in the lens. The detector talks over USB to a Minecraft mod that [John] wrote to interface the game with the real world. The closer a creeper gets to the player, the brighter the light. — and when it flashes, watch out. See it in action in the video below, if you can stomach watching someone dig straight down. Never dig straight down.

If interfacing the Minecraft world and the real world sounds familiar, maybe it’s because we featured [John]’s SerialCraft mod a while back and admired the potential for using Minecraft as a gateway for getting kids into hardware hacking. We agree that this is a great project to work on with kids, but we may just order the parts to do it for our own Minecraft world. Creeper hate isn’t just for kids.

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New Life For An Obscure Apple Plotter

We’ve all at some point or other seen something done online by somebody else, and thought “I’d like to have a go at that!”. When [Phooky] saw the artwork on the #PlotterTwitter hashtag, he remembered a past donation of a plotter to the NYC Resistor hackerspace. Some searching through the loft revealed a dusty cardboard box containing not the lovely Hewlett-Packard he’d hoped for, but instead an Apple 410 Color Plotter. This proved to be such an obscure part of the legacy Apple product line that almost no information was available for it save for a few diagrams showing DIP switch settings for the serial port.

Undeterred, he took a look inside and found a straightforward enough control board featuring a Z80 processor and support chips with 1983 date codes. The ROMs were conveniently socketed, so after dumping their contents, he was able to identify the routine for the plotter’s test program, and thus work from there to deduce its command set.  A small matter of the plotter using hardware handshaking lines to signal a full buffer later, and he was able to use it to produce beautiful plots. Should you be one of the lucky few remaining Apple 410 owners, you may find his software library for it to be of some use.

If you’d like to see some more aged plotter action on these pages, we’ve had an analog Hewlett Packard here in the past, as well as a vintage drum plotter.

Thanks [Sophi] for the tip.

Bomb Defusal Fun With Friends!

Being a member of the bomb squad would be pretty high up when it comes to ranking stressful occupations. It also makes for great fun with friends. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is a two-player video game where one player attempts to defuse a bomb based on instructions from someone on the other end of a phone. [hephaisto] found the game great fun, but thought it could really benefit from some actual hardware. They set about building a real-life bomb defusal game named BUMM.

The “bomb” itself consists of a Raspberry Pi brain that communicates with a series of modules over a serial bus. The modules consist of a timer, a serial number display, and two “riddle” boxes covered in switches and LEDs. It’s the job of the bomb defuser to describe what they see on the various modules to the remote operator, who reads a manual and relays instructions based on this data back to the defuser. For example, the defuser may report seeing a yellow and green LED lit on the riddle module – the operator will then look this up and instruct the defuser on which switches to set in order to defuse that part of the bomb. It’s the challenge of quickly and accurately communicating in the face of a ticking clock that makes the game fun.

[hephaisto] took this build to Make Rhein-Main 2017, where they were very accepting of a “bomb” being brought onto the premises. The game was setup in a booth with an old analog S-video camera feed and a field telephone for communication – we love the detail touches that really add atmosphere to the gameplay experience.

Overall, it’s a great project that could easily be recreated by any hackerspace looking for something fun to share on community nights. The build files are all available on the project GitHub so it’s easy to see the nuts and bolts of how it works.

We’ve seen builds that bring video games into the real world before – like this coilgun Scorched Earth build. Fantastic.

Solar Controller Reverse Engineered In Both Directions

[Jared Sanson] has a solar power setup on his beach house, consisting of 6 panels and a 24V battery bank, supplied by Outback Inc. Their chargers and inverters pair over a seemingly proprietary connection with a controller known as the MATE. The MATE has a standard serial output which gives some details about the operation, but [Jared] wasn’t getting the detailed information they could get from the controller’s screen. This meant it was time to reverse engineer the proprietary connection instead, which [Jared] calls MateNET.

The controller interfaces with the chargers over a Cat5 cable. [Jared] initially suspected RS-485, but it turned out to be regular serial at 0-24V logic levels, at 9600 baud, 9n1. To figure out the pinout, [Jared] went through the MATE circuitry with a fine-toothed comb, discovering an ATMEGA32. Since both the MATE’s user output & its connection to the other equipment are both serial, a logic mux is used to split the ATMEGA32’s single UART between the two serial connections. With the physical layer sorted, it was time to figure out how the protocol worked.

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C64 Keyboard Emulation Over Serial

There’s a lot of reasons you might want to emulate the keyboard on your Commodore 64. The ravages of time and dust may have put the original keyboard out of order, or perhaps you need to type in a long program and don’t fancy pecking away with the less-than-stellar feedback of the standard keys. [podstawek] has come up with the solution: a Commodore 64 keyboard emulator that works over serial.

It’s a simple concept, but one that works well. A Python script accepts incoming keypresses or pre-typed text, then converts them into a 6-bit binary code, which is sent to an Arduino over the serial connection. The Arduino uses the 6-bit code as addresses for an MT8808 crosspoint switch.

MT8808 Functional Diagram from Datasheet

The MT8808 is essentially an 8×8 matrix of controllable switches, which acts as the perfect tool to interface with the C64’s 8×8 keyboard matrix. Hardware wise, this behaves as if someone were actually pressing the keys on the real keyboard. It’s just replacing the original key switches with an electronic version controlled by the Arduino.

[podstawek] already has the setup working on Mac, and it should work on Linux and Windows too. There’s a little more to do yet – modifying the script to allow complex macros and to enable keys to be held – so check out the Github if you want to poke around in the source. Overall it’s a tidy, useful hack to replace the stock keyboard.

The C64 remains a popular platform for hacking — it’s even had a Twitter client since 2009.

Air Conditioner Speaks Serial, Just Like Everything Else

Like so many other home appliances, it’s likely that even your air conditioner has a serial interface buried inside it. If you’re wondering why, it’s because virtually every microcontroller on the planet has a UART built in, and it’s highly useful for debugging during the development process, so it makes sense to use it. Thus, it was only a matter of time before we saw a hacked airconditioner controlled by a Raspberry Pi.

[Hadley] was growing frustrated with the IR remote for his Mitsubishi air conditioner; it can issue commands, but it’s a one way interface – there’s no feedback on current status or whether commands are received, other then the occasional beep or two. Deciding there had to be a better way, [Hadley] grabbed a Saleae Logic Analyser and started probing around, determining that the unit spoke 5 V TTL at 2400 bps with even parity. The next step was to start talking back.

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Quick Arduino Hack Lets Tach-less Car Display Shift Points

A tachometer used to be an accessory added to the dash of only the sportiest of cars, but now they’re pretty much standard equipment on everything from sleek coupes to the family truckster. If your daily driver was born without a tach, fear not – a simple Arduino tachometer is well within your reach.

The tach-less vehicle in question is [deepsyx]’s Opel Astra, which from the video below seems to have the pep and manual transmission that would make a tach especially useful. Eschewing the traditional analog meter display or even a digital readout, [deepsyx] opted to indicate shift points with four LEDs mounted to a scrap of old credit card. The first LED lights at 4000 RPM, with subsequent LEDs coming on at each 500 RPM increase beyond that. At 5800 RPM, all the LEDs blink as a redline warning.  [Deepsyx] even provides a serial output of the smoothed RPM value, so logging of RPM data is a possible future enhancement.

The project is sensing engine speed using the coil trigger signal – a signal sent from the Engine Control Unit (ECU) which tells one of the ignition coilpacks to fire. The high voltage signal from the coilpack passes on to the spark plug, which ignites the air-fuel mixture in that cylinder. This is a good way to determine engine RPM without mechanical modifications to the car. Just make sure you modify the code for the correct number of cylinders in your vehicle.

Simple, cheap, effective – even if it is more of a shift point indicator than true tachometer, it gets the job done. But if you’re looking for a more traditional display and have a more recent vintage car, this sweeping LED tachometer might suit you more.

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