Broadcast Engineer at BellMedia, Computer history buff, compulsive deprecated, disparate hardware hoarder, R/C, robots, arduino, RF, and everything in between.
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Gamecube controller to N64 adapter

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Scasagrande shared his Gamecube controller to N64 adapter in the project log forum:

Today I bring to you my Gamecube controller to N64 adapter. Basically I was playing my N64 and was sad about how the analogue sticks are getting old and loose. So I did some research, found some Arduino code someone had already written, and designed a small PCB around this. You can find the KiCAD files on GitHub.
In addition, I was thinking about SSB64 and how with this I could change the button mappings to allow for C-stick smash attacks with the GCN controller. I haven’t uploaded my changes to the code yet as I still want to tweak things.

Via the forum.

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Stepping Through Code on a Pace 4000 Set Top Box

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[Lee] wrote in to tell us about a Set Top Box he hacked. Before the cable industry lawyers get out their flaming swords… he’s not stealing cable, or really doing much of anything. This is a hack just for the adventure and thrill of making someone else’s hardware design do your bidding without any kind of instructions.

He posted about the adventure in two parts. The first is finding the JTAG header and identifying the pins. Arduino to the rescue! No really, and this is the type of Arduino use we love. Using a package called JTAGenum the board becomes a quick tool for probing and identifying JTAG connections.

The image above shows a different piece of hardware. From looking at it we’re pretty sure this is a Bus Blaster which is specifically designed for JTAG debugging with ARM processors. This is the beginning of the second part of his documentation which involves code dumping and stepping through lines code (or instructions) using OpenOCD and GDB. It’s a chore to follow all that [Lee] discovered just to write his name to the display of the box. But we certainly found it interesting. The display has a convoluted addressing scheme. We assume that there are cascading shift registers driving the segments and that’s why it behaves the way it does. Take a look for yourself and let us know what you think in the comments.

Filed under: ARM, classic hacks
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Vector Laser Projector is a Lesson in Design Processes

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After two years of EE coursework, [Joshua Bateman] and [Adam Catley] were looking for a fun summer project. Instead of limping along with the resources they could put together themselves, they managed to get their school — Bristol University — to foot the bill!

Now Uni’s aren’t in the habit of just forking over funding for no reason, and we thing that’s why the two did such a great job of documenting their work. We’re used to seeing blogs devoted to one project, but this one has a vast portfolio of every piece of work that went into the build. Before any assembly started they drew out design diagrams to form the specification, laid out the circuit and the board artwork, and even worked out how the software would function in order to make sure the hardware met all their needs.

When the parts arrived the work of hand-populating the surface mount boards began. This is reflected in the fast-motion video they recorded including this clip which features a 176 pin LQFP. The driver board is a shield for a Raspberry Pi which drives the Galvanometers responsible for the X and Y movements of the mirror.

The video below shows off their success and the blog makes a great resource to point to when applying for work once a freshly minted diploma is in hand.

What do you think the next step should be? We’d advocate for a trip to crazy-town like this RGB laser projector we saw several years ago. Of course the same classic vector games we saw on Thursday would be equally awesome without alerting this hardware at all.

Filed under: laser hacks
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Hacking a Pogoplug into a $20 PBX

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Pogoplug Series 4 Backup Device

The Pogoplug Series 4 is a little network attached device that makes your external drives accessible remotely. Under the hood of this device is an ARM processor running at 800 MHz, which is supported by the Linux kernel. If you’re looking to build your own PBX on the cheap, [Ward] runs us through the process. Since the Pogoplug 4 is currently available for about $20, it’s a cheap way to play with telephony.

Step one is to convert the Pogoplug to Debian, which mostly requires following instructions carefully. After the Pogoplug is booting Debian, the Incredible PBX bundle can be installed. We’ve seen this bundle running on a Raspberry Pi in the past. Incredible PBX’s preconfigured setup based on Asterisk and FreePBX gives a ton of functionality out of the box.

With your $20 PBX running, there’s a lot that can be done. Google’s Voice service allows unlimited free calling to the USA and Canada. With Internet connectivity, you get email notifications for voicemails, and can query WolframAlpha by voice.

Filed under: phone hacks
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Build Your Own Retrocomputer with Modern Chips

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If you’ve ever wanted to get started in retrocomputing, or maybe the Commodore 64 you’ve been using since the 80s just gave up the ghost, [Rick] aka [Mindrobots] has just the thing for you: a retrocomputer based on a PIC microcontroller and a Parallax Propeller.

The two chips at the heart of the computer are both open source. The Propeller is the perfect board to take care of the I/O, video, and audio outputs because it was purpose-built to be a multitasking machine. The microcontroller is either a PIC32MX150 or a PIC32MX170 and is loaded with a BASIC interpreter, 19 I/O pins, a full-screen editor, and a number of communications protocols. In short, everything you would ever want out of a retro-style minicomputer.

The whole computer can be assembled on a PCB with all the outputs you can imagine (VGA, PS/2, etc) and, once complete, can be programmed to run any program imaginable including games. And, of course, it can act as a link to any physical devices with all of its I/O because its heart is a microcontroller.

Retrocomputing is quite an active arena for hackers, with some being made from FPGAs and other barebones computers being made on only three chips. It’s good to see another great computer in the lineup, especially one that uses open chips like the Propeller and the PIC.

Filed under: classic hacks, hardware
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The Spooky Nature of Electromagnetic Radiation

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image of the face of einstein

Our story begins a little over one hundred years ago in Bern, Switzerland, where a young man employed as a patent clerk went off to work. He took the electric trolley in each day, and each day he would pass an unassuming clock tower. But today was different, it was special. For today he would pose to himself a question – a question whose answer would set forth a fascinating dilemma.

The hands of the clock appeared to move the same no matter if his trolley was stopped or was speeding away from the clock tower. He knew that the electromagnetic radiation which enabled him to see the clock traveled at a finite speed. He also knew that the speed of the light was incredibly great compared to the speed of his trolley. So great that there would not be any noticeable difference in how he saw the hands of the clock move, despite him being at rest or in motion. But what if his trolley was moving at the speed of the reflected light coming from the clock? How would the hands of the clock appear to move? Indeed, they could not. Or if they did, it would not appear so to him. It would appear as if all movement of the clock’s hands had stopped – frozen in an instant of time.  But yet if he looked at the hands of the watch in his pocket, they would appear to move normally. How does one explain the difference between the time of the clock tower versus the time of his watch? And which one was correct?

There was no way for him to know that it would take three years to answer this question. No way for him to know that the answer would eventually lead to the discovery of matter and energy being one and in the same. No way to know that he, this underemployed patent clerk making a simple observation, would soon unearth the answer to one of the greatest mysteries that had stumped every mind that came before his – the very nature of time itself.

Now it might have taken Einstein a few years to develop the answer we now know as the Special Theory of Relativity, but it most certainly took him no longer than a few days to realize that Isaac Issac Newton…

must be wrong.

animated image of a light clock

Einstein was known for his ‘thought experiments’ – with the light clock being one of them. Let the animation above1 represent his pocket watch. The imaginary clock consists of two mirrors, with a pulse of light that bounces between them. The repeating pattern represents a basic clock, whose time can be calculated by:

T = 2h/c

Where h = the distance between the mirrors, c = the speed of the light pulse and T = time.

It is important to note that this is the way the light clock would appear to him, no matter if his trolley was moving or at rest. Both he and the clock are considered to be in the same frame of reference.

animated image of moving light clock

Let the animated image above1 represent the clock tower as his trolley is speeding away. Once the trolley starts moving, he and the clock tower are now considered to be in different frames of reference. To calculate time on this clock will take some basic algebra and geometry2.

light clock with labels

If we set time equal to distance divided by velocity, then we can use the Pythagorean Theorem, to get:

c²t² = v²t² + w²


t²(c² – v²) = w²


t²(1 – v²/c²) = w²/c²

Then square root both sides and double the second part of the pulse (opposite side of right triangle, or (w)) to get:

time equation of special relativity

According to this equation, the time between ticks of the moving clock will increase as the velocity (v) increases. Or put more simply – time runs slower for moving objects. Notice what happens when (v) is equal to zero. The equation becomes identical to our original of T = 2h/c. Now notice what happens when (v) is equal to or greater than (c). The equation becomes undefined. Thus the trolley cannot travel faster than or equal to (c), the speed of light. This includes all things with mass, and even gravity itself.

If you keep following this rabbit down the hole, you will find that the speed of light, and all electromagnetic radiation, will always be the same for all frames of reference. This is counter-intuitive, but proven to be true. Keep going further and you’ll end up with one of the most profound revelations in all of human history – E = mc2.

Remember these neat little facts next time you’re hacking away with lasers and wireless modules, and the spooky nature of the laws that govern them.

[Source 1: Time Dilation Dialation Travel Resource Center]

[Source 2: Special Relativity: What Time is it?Michael Fowler, Physics Department, UVa.]

Filed under: Hackaday Columns
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