Have you ever wanted to watch someone reverse engineer a piece of hardware and pick up some tips? You can’t be there while [Jeremy] tears open a Netgear N300 router, but you can see his process step by step in some presentation charts, and you’ll get a few ideas for the next time you want to do something like this.
The first part of the presentation might be a little basic for most Hackaday readers, but presumably, the intended audience might not know much about soldering or multimeters. But we enjoyed the methodology used to work out the UART pins on the board. We would have read the baud rate with the scope, which [Jeremy] does, but he also mentions a script to work it out and create a minicom profile that looked interesting.
While the full steampunk aesthetic might be a bit much for most people, those antique gauges do have a certain charm about them. Unfortunately, implementing them on a modern project can be somewhat tricky. Even if you’ve got a stock of old gauges laying around, you’ve still got to modify the scale markings and figure out how to drive them with digital electronics. While we’ve seen plenty of people do it over the years, there’s no debating it’s a lot harder than just wiring up an I2C display.
But maybe it doesn’t have to be. With his Rad-O-Matic, [Hans Jørgen Grimstad] created a pretty convincing “analog” gauge using a small e-ink panel. Of course it won’t fool anyone who gives it a close look, but at a glance, you could certainly be forgiven for thinking it was some kind of vintage indicator. Especially with the cracked and stained Fresnel lens he put in front of it.
For this project [Hans] used a LilyGo T5, which combines an ESP32 with a 2.13 inch electronic paper display. These are presumably meant to be development boards for digital signage applications, but they occasionally show up in hacker projects since they’re so easy to work with. The board pulls data from a RD200M radon sensor over a simple UART connection, and the current reading is indicated by a “needle” that moves across a horizontal scale on the display.
On its own, it wouldn’t look very vintage. In fact, quite the opposite. But [Hans] really helped sell the look on this project by designing and 3D printing a chunky enclosure and then weathering it to make it look like it’s been kicking around since the Cold War.
Pity the poor TTL computer aficionado. It’s an obsession, really — using discrete logic chips to scratch-build a computer that would probably compare unfavorably to an 80s era 8-bit machine in terms of performance. And yet they still forge ahead with their breadboards full of chips and tangles of wire. It’s really quite beautiful when you think about it.
[Duncan] at Shepherding Electrons has caught the TTL bug, and while building his 8-bit machine outfitted it with this discrete logic UART. The universal asynchronous receiver-transmitter is such a useful thing that single-chip versions of the device have been available since the early 1970s. [Duncan]’s version makes the magic of serial communications happen in just 12 chips, all from the 74LS logic family.
As if the feat of building a discrete logic UART weren’t enough, [Duncan] pulled this off without the aid of an oscilloscope. Debugging was a matter of substituting the 2.4576 MHz crystal oscillator clock with a simple 1 Hz 555 timer circuit; the reduced clock speed made it easier to check voltages and monitor the status of lines with LEDs. Once the circuit was working, the full-speed clock was substituted back in, allowing him to talk to his 8-bit computer at up to 38,400 bps. Color us impressed.
We have to admit we weren’t aware of the array of choices that the virtual biking markets offers. [ptx2] went with Zwift, which like most of these platforms, lets you pilot a smart bike through virtual landscapes along with the avatars of hundreds of other virtual riders. A little Bluetooth snooping with Bluetility let [ptx2] identify the bytes in the Flywheel bike’s packets encoding both the rider’s cadence and the power exerted, which Zwift would need, along with the current resistance setting of the magnetic brake.
Integration into Zwift was a matter of emulating one of the smart bikes already supported by the program. This required some hacking on the Cycling Power Service, a Bluetooth service that Zwift uses to talk to the bike. The final configuration has a Raspberry Pi Zero W between the Flywheel bike and the Zwift app, and has logged about 2,000 miles of daily use. It still needs a motor to control the resistance along the virtual hills and valleys, but that’s a job for another day.
Hats off to [ptx2] for salvaging a $2,000 bike for the price of a Pi and some quality hacking time, and for sticking it to The Man a bit. We have to say that most bike hacks we see around here have to do with making less work for the rider, not more. This project was a refreshing change.
The Creality Ender 3 is part of the new wave of budget 3D printers, available for less than $250 from many online retailers. For the money, it’s hard to complain about the machine, and it’s more than suitable for anyone looking to get make their first steps into the world of FDM printing. But there’s certainly room for improvement, and as [Simon] shows in a recent blog post, a little effort can go a long way towards pushing this entry-level printer to the next level.
The first step was to replace the printer’s stepper drivers with something a bit more modern. Normally the Ender 3 uses common A4988 drivers, but [Simon] wanted to replace them with newer Trinamic drivers that offer quieter operation. Luckily, Trinamic makes a drop-in replacement for the A4988 that makes installation relatively easy. You’ll need to change out a few caps and remove some resistors from the board to make everyone play nice, but that shouldn’t pose a challenge to anyone who knows their way around a soldering iron.
Beyond quieter running steppers, the Trinamic TMC2208 drivers also offer direct UART control mode. Of course the Ender’s board was never designed for this, so the MCU doesn’t have enough free pins to establish serial communications with the three drivers (for the X, Y, and Z axes). But [Simon] realized if he sacrificed the SD card slot on the board, the six pins that would free on the controller could be cut and rewired to the driver’s UART pins.
We’d wager most hackers are familiar with FTDI as the manufacturer of the gold standard USB-UART interfaces. Before parts like the ultra cheap CH340 and CP2102 became common, if you needed to turn a USB cable into a TTL UART device, “an FTDI” (probably an FT232RL) was the way to make that happen. But some of the parts in the FT232* family are capable of much more. Wanting to get at more than a UART, [linker3000] designed the Shukran to unlock the full potential of the FT232H.
The FT232H is interesting because it’s an exceptionally general purpose interface device. Depending on configuration it can turn USB into UART, JTAG, SPI, I2C, and GPIO. Want to prototype the driver for a new sensor? Why bother flashing your Teensy when you can drive it directly from the development machine with an FT232H and the appropriate libraries?
The Shukran is actually a breakout for the “CJMCU FT232H” module available from many fine internet retailers. This board is a breakout that exposes a USB-A connecter on one side and standard 0.1″ headers on the other, with a QFN FT232H and all the passives in the middle. But bare 0.1″ headers (in a square!) require either further breadboarding or a nest of jumper wires to be useful. Enter the Shukran. In this arrangement, the CJMCU board is cheap and handles the SMT components, and the Shukran is easy to assemble and makes it simple to use.
The Shukran gives you LEDs, buttons and switches, and a bunch of pull up resistors (for instance, for I2C) on nicely grouped and labeled headers. But most importantly it provides a fused power supply. Ever killed the USB controller in your computer because you forgot to inline a sacrificial USB hub? This fuse should take care of that risk. If you’re interested in building one of these handy tools, sources and detailed BOM as well as usage instructions are available in the GitHub repo linked at the top.
Recently [iot4c] stumbled upon this gorgeous Robotron Reiss plotter from 1989, brand-new and still in its original box. Built before the fall of the Berlin Wall in East Germany, it would be a crime to allow such a piece of computing history to go unused. But how to hook it up to a modern system? Bad enough that it uses some rather unusual connectors, but it’s about to be 2020, who wants to use wires anymore? What this piece of Cold War hardware needed was an infusion of Bluetooth.
While the physical ports on the back of the Robotron certainly look rather suspect, it turns out that electrically they’re just RS-232. In practice, this means converting it over was fairly straightforward. With a Bolutek BK3231 Bluetooth module and an RS-232 to UART converter, [iot4c] was able to create a wireless adapter that works transparently on the plotter by simply connecting it to the RX and TX pins.
A small DC buck converter was necessary to provide 3.3 V for the Bluetooth adapter, but even still, there was plenty of room inside the plotter’s case to fit everything in neatly. From the outside, you’d have no idea that the hardware had ever been modified at all.
But, like always, there was a catch. While Windows had no trouble connecting to the Bluetooth device and assigning it a COM port, the 512 byte buffer on the plotter would get overwhelmed when it started receiving commands. So [iot4c] wrote a little script in Node.js that breaks the commands down into more manageable chunks and sends them off to the plotter every 0.1 seconds. With this script in place the Robotron moved under its own power for the first time in ~30 years by parsing a HP-GL file generated by Inkscape.