If you plan to attend Supercon or some other hacker conference, know that you’re going to get a badge with a SAO (Simple Add-On) connector, a 4-pin or 6-pin connector that you can plug an addon board onto. There’s myriads of SAOs to choose from, and if you ever felt like your choice paralysis wasn’t intense enough, now you have the option of getting a Jolly Wrencher SAO board!
This board gives you an SMD prototyping space, with 1.27mm (0.05″ pitch) pads, suitable for many passive components, ICs and even modules like the ESP32 WROOM. Those pads are diagonally interspersed with ground-fill-connected pads – if you want to bodge something on the spot, you don’t need to pull separate GND wires. Given the Supercon badge specifics, the SAO-standard SDA and SCL pins have RX and TX labels as well. For bonus points, the eyes are transparent, with LED footprints behind them – it’s my first time designing a PCB where the LED shines through the FR4, and I hope that the aesthetics work out!
This design is open with gerber files available for download, so if you thought of making a quick PCB order, I’m giving you one more .zip file to add to it. Otherwise, it’s possible that you will find a Wrencher board lying around at Supercon! Now, I’d like to tell you how KiCad 6 made it super easy to design this PCB – after all, there’s never enough SAOs, and it’s quite likely you’ll want to design your own special SAO, too.
If you played many games back in the mid-80s to 90s, you might remember the iconic graphics from Sierra’s Online Adventure Games. They were brightly colored (16 colors) and dynamic with some depth. To pay homage, [eviltrout] worked to upscale the images. Despite being rendered at 160×200 at 16 colors and then stretched, storing all those bitmaps even at only 4 bits per pixel would take all the storage available on the floppy disk. The engineers on the game decided instead to take a vector approach to a raster problem.
When [eviltrout] came through to try and upscale the backgrounds, he started by writing some code to extract the draw commands from the engine of the game, known as Adventure Game Interpreter (AGI). Comparing the vector commands to equivalent PNG versions with the best compression, the AGI vector versions were around half the size. Not bad for a couple of game developers in the 80s. Since it is all vector commands under the hood, it should be relatively simple to draw them at a much higher resolution. At least, that’s what he thought. The first issue was with flood fills. Since the canvas is larger, there are gaps between lines, and the flood escapes. A few approaches were taken, such as using a low-resolution reference and marching squares, but neither was satisfactory. Eventually, [eviltrout] expanded flood fills and used thicker lines. He also first rendered to a lower resolution and connected neighboring lines of the same color. Finally, he used ImageMagick to denoise white specs in the output.
We’ve all marveled at the high quality PCB artwork used within the #BadgeLife and other communities to produce eye-catching designs, but those of you who have dipped your toes in the PCB artwork water will know that it’s hardly an easy process. [Jaseg] may have an answer though with gerbolyze, his software for processing SVG files into Gerber layers or KiCAD footprints.
His impetus for building it came from disappointing experience with other scripts that simply tried to rasterise any SVG they were given, or didn’t fully support the complete SVG spec. It’s designed for minimal preprocessing, allowing for as streamlined a process as possible. It includes a bitmap vectoriser to handle everything that can be thrown at it, and the GitHub repository has full instructions including examples of the output for different settings.
This is the latest in a long progression of enhancements to the PCB art process, but it’s not by any means the first time we’ve ventured down this path. In particular [Brian Benchoff] did a lot of work on the production of multi-colour PCBs.
When it comes to mathematics, the average person can probably get through most of life well enough with just basic algebra. Some simple statistical concepts would be helpful, and a little calculus couldn’t hurt. But that leaves out a lot of interesting mathematical concepts that really do have applications in everyday life and are just plain fascinating in their own right.
Chief among these concepts is the Fourier transform, which is the key to understanding everything from how JPEGs work to how we can stream audio and video over the Internet. To help get your mind around the concept, [Jez Swanson] has this interactive Fourier transform visualizer that really drives home the important points. This is high-level stuff; it just covers the basic concepts of a Fourier transform, how they work, and what they’re good for in everyday life. There are no equations, just engaging animations that show how any function can be decomposed into a set of sine waves. One shows the approximation of a square wave with a slider to control to vary the number of component sine waves; a button lets you hear the resulting sound getting harsher as it approaches a true square wave. There’s also a great bit on epicycles and SVGs, and one of the best introductions to encoding images as JPEGs that we’ve seen. The best part: all the code behind the demos is available on GitHub.
Bringing modern protocols and techniques to vintage computers is a favorite pastime for hackers, and over the years we’ve seen some absolutely incredible hardware and software projects designed specifically to do what most people would consider impossible. They’re very rarely practical projects, of course. But that’s never really the point.
Today we present another excellent entry into this niche avenue of hacking: Renderific, a tool to render SVGs on 8-bit Atari computers by [Kevin Savetz]. The MIT licensed program is written in Turbo-BASIC XL and allows computers such the 1200XL and 800XL to not only render the image on screen but output it to an attached plotter. There are a few niggling issues with some files, and apparently the plotter draws the image upside-down for some reason, but on the whole we can now add “SVG Rendering” to the list of things you can do with a nearly 40-year-old computer.
Of course, those who are familiar with these 1980’s machines might wonder how their limited CPUs can possibly cope with such a task. Well, that’s where the impracticality comes in. According to [Kevin], you can be in for quite a wait depending on the complexity of the image. In his tests, some SVGs took up to 45 minutes to fully render on the screen, so you might want to have a snack handy.
If you’re interested in lending a hand with the project, it sounds as though [Kevin] could use some assistance in figuring out why the Atari 1020 plotter doesn’t like the output of his program. There’s also a few SVG functions and forms of Bézier curves that need some work if you’ve got your Turbo-BASIC XL programming books handy.
Badgelife and the rise of artistic PCBs are pushing the envelope of what can be done with printed circuit boards. And if you’re doing PCB art, you really want to do it with vectors. This is a surprisingly hard problem, because very few software tools can actually do DXFs and SVGs properly. Never fear, because [TallDarknWeirdo] has the solution for you. It’s in Eagle, and it uses Illustrator and Inkscape, but then again this is a hard problem.
The demonstration article for this example is just a Christmas tree. It’s somewhat topical green soldermask is standard, FR4 looks like wood, and silver and gold and all that. [TallDarknWeirdo] first split up this vector art into its component pieces — soldermask, bare FR4, and copper — then imported it into Inkscape to make the SVGs. This was then thrown into an online tool that creates something Eagle can understand. The results are better than importing bitmaps, resulting in much cleaner lines in the finished board.
Quick word of warning before we get into this, though: if you’re reading this in 2019 or later, this info might be out of date. Autodesk should be releasing a vector import utility for Eagle shortly, and we’re going to be taking a deep dive into this tool and complaining until it works. Until then, this is the best way to get vector art into Eagle.
[Scott Swaaley] needed a bunch of timing pulleys for the clock he was building. He had already decided on the MXL profile, but he needed so many of these toothed pulleys in so many configurations (hex-bored, hubless) that it would blow out his budget. Plus, he wanted them transparent as well. So why not just laser them out of acrylic?
Not finding anything useful on the manufacturers’ sites, [Scott] decided to create his own web application to generate the shapes and download them as SVGs, dreaming of a resource like Gear Generator except for timing pulleys instead of involute spur gears. [Scott] has the application running on his GitHub. You can create MXL, XL, and L pulleys with any number of teeth and any hole size. From there you can output as an SVG and laser or mill the pulley.