Oscilloscope Learns How To Speak Japanese, And VGA

Nostalgia aside, there are a few things an analog scope can still do better than a digital, with oscilloscope art being a prime example. The blue-green glow of phosphors in a real CRT just add something special to such builds, and as a practitioner of this craft, [Aaron] decided to paint a New Year’s affirmation on his oscilloscope screen, in Japanese calligraphy of all things.

When used in X-Y mode, analog oscilloscopes lend themselves nicely to vector-based graphics, which is the approach [Aaron] has taken with previous “Oscilloclock” builds, like the Metropolis Clock. The current work, however, doesn’t use vector graphics, opting instead to turn the scope into the business end of a VGA display. He had previously developed the hardware needed to convert a VGA signal into X- and Y-axis analog outputs, so the bulk of the work was rendering the calligraphy, first in ink and then scanning and processing the results into a file. In keeping with the Japanese theme, [Aaron] chose a rare scope from Nihon Tsushinki Co., Ltd., from 1963. It’s a beautiful piece of equipment and obviously lovingly restored, and with the VGA adapter temporarily connected, the four Japanese characters scroll gracefully up the screen, delivering the uplifting message: “Steady progress, day by day.

[Aaron] sure puts a lot of work into his analog scope builds, which we’ve featured a few times. Check out the clock he made from Grandpa’s old Heathkit scope, or his Tektronic vectorscope clock. And don’t forget about other forms of oscilloscope art — they can make music too, after all.

A VGA Retro Console With Everything Generated From A Single ARM Cortex M0

The later game consoles of the 8-bit era such as Nintendo’s NES or Sega’s Master System produced graphics that went beyond what owners of early 1980s home computers had come to expect from machines with the same processors, but they did so only with the help of powerful custom chipsets for their day that took care of the repetitive hard work of assembling frames and feeding them to the display device. Reproducing their equivalent with more modern hardware requires either some means of creating similar custom silicon, or a processor significantly more powerful such that it can do the work of those extra chips itself. But even with a modern microcontroller it’s still a significant challenge, so [Nicola Wrachien]’s uChip, a VGA console that does the whole job in software on a humble ARM Cortex M0 is a significant achievement.

If you are familiar with the home computers that used the processor to generate the display output, you’ll know that they spent most of their time working on the lines of the display and only had a few milliseconds of the frame blanking period for the device to perform any computing tasks before returning to the next frame. The 320×240 at 57 frames per second gives a line sync frequency of 30 kHz, and the computing happens while the display is sent the black space at the top and bottom of the screen. This is reckoned to be equivalent of the ATSAMD21E18 microcontroller on the uChip module the system uses running at only 10MHz rather than the 48MHz it is running at in reality, and with these resources it also runs the game logic, USB controller interfacing, reading games from the SD card, and game sound.

The result is a complete game console on a small PCB little longer on its longest side than its connectors. We may have largely seen the demise of VGA on the desktop several years after we called it, but it seems there is plenty of life in the interface yet for hardware hackers.

Super-Simple VGA Adapter Sports Low-Res Output With Only Four TTL Chips

Here at Hackaday we cast a wary eye at tips that come in with superlative claims. Generally, if we post something that claims to be the fastest or the smallest of all time, we immediately get slapped down in the comments by someone who has done it faster or smaller. So we present the simplest TTL video card ever knowing the same thing will happen, but eager to see how anyone might scale things down.

To be fair, [George Foot] does qualify his claim to the simplest usable VGA adapter, and he does note that it descends from [Ben Eater]’s “world’s worst video card”, which he uses for his 6502 breadboard computer. But where [Ben]’s VGA adapter uses about 20 TTL chips and an EEPROM, [George] has managed to decrease the BOM to just four TTL chips along with the memory and a crystal oscillator. This required a fair number of compromises, of course; the color depth is fairly low, as is the resolution. Each pixel appears as a thin horizontal bar rather than a small square, leading the images to be smeared out across the screen. They’re still surprisingly viewable, though, which probably says more about the quality of the pattern-recognition wetware between our ears than anything about the quality of the adapter. [George] gives a tour of the circuit in the brief video below.

It looks like [George] has posted a few improvements to the project since we first spotted it, so we’re looking forward to seeing how much the parts count went up. We’re also keen to see if anyone can outdo the simplicity of this effort — be sure to let us know if you give it a shot.

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Toddler Arcade Cabinet Is A Stand-Up Job

A few years ago, [Mark] built an arcade cabinet into a low table. But once his new gaming buddy [Grayson] came along and started crawling, it wasn’t practical to have a low, pointy table around. Trouble is, [Mark] had already given [Grayson] his first taste with a Thomas the Tank Engine game. Since the kid was hooked, [Mark] rebuilt the table arcade into a toddler-sized arcade cabinet that they can both use.

The brain — a Raspberry Pi running RetroPie — should be familiar to most of our readers. [Mark] found the perfect crappy old monitor when they were upgrading at his office, and found some nice speakers to give it good bass. We love the details like the chrome edging, and especially the kick bar/footrest along the bottom. It can be difficult to decide how to decorate a multi-arcade cabinet, so [Mark] went the sticker bomb route with 700 of them randomly distributed and safe from toddler wear and tear under five coats of clear wood varnish.

We think this looks great, especially since [Mark] doesn’t have a workshop and cut all that MDF by hand on a jigsaw in the kitchen. Check out the happy train engineer after the break.

Maybe once [Grayson] is old enough to break tablets, [Mark] can build a gaming tab-inet out of it. Just sayin’.

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Exposing Computer Monitor Side-Channel Vulnerabilities With TempestSDR

Having been endlessly regaled with tales of side-channel attacks and remote exploits, most of us by now realize that almost every piece of gear leaks data like a sieve. Everything from routers to TVs to the power supplies and cooling fans of computers can be made to give up their secrets. It’s scary stuff, but it also sounds like a heck of a lot of fun, and with an SDR and a little software, you too can get in on the side-channel action.

Coming to us via software-defined radio buff [Tech Minds], the video below gives a quick tour of how to snoop in on what’s being displayed on a monitor for almost no effort or expense. The software that makes it possible is TempestSDR, which was designed specifically for the job. With nothing but an AirSpy Mini and a rubber duck antenna, [Tech Minds] was able to reconstruct a readable black and white image of his screen at a range of a few inches; a better antenna and some fiddling might improve that range to several meters. He also shares a trick for getting TempestSDR set up for all the popular SDRs, including SPRplay, HackRF, and RTL-SDR.

Learning what’s possible with side-channel attacks is the key to avoiding them, so hats off to [Tech Minds] for putting together this simple, easy-to-replicate demo. To learn even more, listen to what [Samy Kamkar] has to say about the subject, or check out where power supplies, cryptocurrency wallets, and mixed-signal microcontrollers are all vulnerable.

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Hackaday Podcast 073: Betrayal By Clipboard, Scratching 4K, Flaming Solder Joints, And Electric Paper

Hackaday editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams review a great week in the hacking world. There’s an incredible 4k projector build that started from a broken cellphone, a hand-cranked player (MIDI) piano, and a woeful story of clipboard vulnerabilities found in numerous browsers and browser-based apps. Plus you’ll love the field-ready solder splice that works like a strike-on box match (reminiscent of using thermite to weld railroad rail) and we spend some time marveling at the problem of finding power cuts on massive grid systems.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (~65 MB)

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Boot-To-BASIC Box Packs A Killer Graphics Engine

In the early days of the home computer era, many machines would natively boot into a BASIC interpreter. This was a great way to teach programming to the masses. However on most platforms the graphics routines were incredibly slow, and this greatly limited what could be achieved. In 2020 such limitations are a thing of the past, with the Color Maximite 2. (Video, embedded below.)

The Color Maximite 2 is a computer based around the STM32H743IIT6 microcontroller, packing a Cortex-M7 32-bit RISC core with the Chrom-ART graphics accelerator. Running at 480MHz it’s got plenty of grunt, allowing it to deliver vibrant graphics to the screen reminiscent of the very best of the 16-bit console era. The Maximite 2 combines this chip alongside a BASIC interpreter complete with efficient graphics routines. This allows for the development of games with fast and smooth movement, with plenty of huge sprites and detailed backgrounds.

[cTrix] does a great job of demonstrating the machine, designed by [Geoff Graham] and [Peter Mather]. Putting the computer through its paces with a series of demos, it shows off the impressive visual and audio capabilities of the hardware. It serves as an excellent spiritual successor to BlitzBASIC from back in the Amiga days. Particularly enjoyable is seeing a BASIC interpreter that adds syntax highlighting – making parsing the code far easier on the eyes!

We’d love to see this become an off-the-shelf kit, as it’s clear the platform has a lot to offer the retro hobbyist. It’s certainly come a long way from the original Maximite of nearly a decade ago. Video after the break.

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