What's New...

May 19 2017: I've been collecting single-board computers to play with, originally with an eye to controlling a string of individually-addressable Christmas lights. It started with a Raspberry Pi, and then progressed to four more via Kickstarter and Indiegogo projects. Since I've been playing with SBCs more than microcontrollers lately, I figured it was high time to make a Single Board Computer page.


May 13 2017: Some cleanup on the Arizona page:

  • Sad, sad news. Thanks (in part) to misguided leftist Tucson's minimum wage law, the family Mexican restaurant, Midway Molina's, is closing.
  • Downtown Proper restaurant is gone. But an exciting new Oriental/Sushi place has sprung up in the TEP building. Likewise, Simplicit has opened in the restaurant space at the Temple of Music and Art. Carriage House started off with a Sunday dim-sum buffet, but they seem to have dropped that now and are strictly a cooking school and event venue.
  • There used to be webcams downtown, on campus, and along the freeway. They don't seem to be working anymore.
  • Don't know how I've overlooked the fascinating Hydra clothing shop for so long, with their interesting window displays and their passionate commitment to downtown.

AND

  • I'm adopting a new hobby - visiting the County Fairs in this Great State. In another state, this might be problematic, but Arizona has 15. Already been to three. A map of the counties and info on their fairs has been added to the end of the page.

April 26 2017: Not new: A training course for hacking in the Linux Kernel. At one point it was a contest; the contest part is just about over, but the challengers say "it will live on, it will just look a bit different". The Eudyptula Challenge (via LWN News).

Also, The Zephyr Project, a "modular, scalable platform designed for connected, resource-strained devices", which is code for "microcontrollers". Probably not 8-bitters, though, although it lists Arduino. Not based on Linux, but rather a Wind River product that got open-sourced. Via LWN News, again.


March 04 2017: Nice writeup on the TI-99/4A in The Register. Includes a video of a "Megademo" written for the 4A... this year!


February 22 2017: Facebook is pretty much a useless waste of time. It is not a total waste of time, however; sometimes you pick terrific hints off it, like a Tucson photographer who uses drones for aerial photos and videos.

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This is the first post I've made since we moved off of dial-up to DSL. Yes, I've finally left the Dark Ages and moved up to the Trailing Edge. 1Mb/s isn't High Speed Internet, but it is certainly Higher Speed than 56Kbaud!

Heyu control pageAND, the DSL modem has built-in Wireless. Beyond the simple "I can use my tablet to look at webcomics from the living room", I can also run an Apache server, put up a PHP script to call heyu, so now, "I can use my tablet to turn on the X10-controlled lights from the living room".


February 11 2017: I'm seeing P-51 Mustangs and F-86 Sabres flying formation with A-10s and F-35s lately. They train for air shows here. We always go to the Davis-Monthan Air Show, but that happens on even-numbered years, such as last year. I've added the link to the AZ page.


February 8 2017: The Tucson Gem and Mineral Show is finishing up this week. What started as a single show by the Tucson Gem and Mineral Society has now grown to fill tents and hotel showrooms all over the west side of Tucson and as far up as Marana and Oro Valley. Labradorite heartWe visited the conglomeration of vendors at Kino Sportspark, and Jerri bought some onyx animal figures and a fossil sand-dollar, and I threw in a labradorite heart. Maybe in previous shows there was labradorite, but I saw a lot of it this time. Labradorite cabIt's not as nice as a well-cut cab or slab, but it shows some color.

The thing, though, is I was seeing quite a number of displays of minerals that I had never heard of before. I would have thought that people had already discovered all the minerals, which are merely combinations of elements in the Earth's crust, but not so - new ones are being discovered all the time, such as three previously unknown uranium minerals found in a mine in Utah just last year (from Product Development news):

LeesiteLeesite

LeoszilarditeLeoszilardite (after Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard - hey, you discover a new mineral, you can name it whatever you want!)

RedcanyoniteRedcanyonite

However, there is a bit of annoyance to me, in that there is so much non-lapidary or non-mineralogical stuff involved with the gem and mineral show. Quite a lot of stuff being sold at the Kino site had nothing whatever to do with gems or minerals, such as yard art (Jerri bought a sheet-metal quail) and wind spinners (Jerri bought a stainless-steel heart spinner) and women's clothing (Jerri looked but didn't buy). It takes on a bit of a "county fair" ambiance that detracts from the main focus of the show. But the New Age nonsense really gets me. Of the hefty 200-plus page glossy color guidebook to this year's fair, fully half of it was occupied by articles about the various minerals and their "healing" or "spiritual" properties. For example, "... helps open up your chakras and meridians, creating a harmonious and happy positive energy". I can't really object to the vendors supplying crystal wands and massage stones and the like to a segment of the market that buys into that sort of stuff - it's still money, of course - but to see this pseudo-religious quackery presented in a serious tone in the greater part of the official guidebook... it's annoying. More than just advertisements, which I could just laugh off. I get the spiritual darkness of the "millions of years" necessarily attached to all the fossil displays, but at least I know where that's coming from, and how to respond, so I'm not dismayed or annoyed to see that in an "official" context. There's nothing defensible about New Age spiritual darkness.

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The global warming alarmist have been caught at it again: NOAA cooks the books. Good article, best I've seen, describes the complexities of the matter; too bad it's on the Daily Mail site and you have to put up with the soft porn on the sidebar.

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Updated the Arizona Page: Magpies and Snow Peas are no longer Originals restaurants, and I had forgotten to add a MAJOR Tucson event that we attend pretty much every year that is coming up next month: The Tucson Festival of Books.


January 30 2017: This ECN article alerted me to a pseudo-hologram system developed by an English company, already in use by some London retail establishments, and promoted at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show. The company is Kino-mo, and there's no point in me putting up a picture; only the video does it justice. The thing that comes immediately to mind is the holographic communications devices in Star Wars - it really is just like that! Amazing. I'm thinking this is a company that is going places!


January 3 2017: 2017 kicks off with a huge resource list of 90 single-board computers by Hackerboards. Includes a link to a nifty comparison table. Oh, well, here's the table.


January 2 2017: First post of the year!

  1. Thoughts about Christian filmmaking and Art, inspired by a cool movie, Beyond the Mask that was made in 2015 but we didn't see it on video until last year.
  2. When we came back from the Route 66 trip, I captured another Centennial sign on I-10 after coming back in from New Mexico.
  3. Moved the bit about the TMX1795 being the first microprocessor to the Microcontroller page.
  4. This holiday season we've visited Charro Steak downtown and the Tucson Originals Bisbee Breakfast Club. Arizona page adjusted accordingly.

December 28 2016: As part of our attendance at my Aunt Yvonne's 90th birthday in Pryor, Oklahoma, and to burn off some year-end vacation time, we did a December Route 66 journey through New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. The travelogue is now up.


December 19 2016: Not new, exactly. Great article in Forbes from 2012 about Global Warming, or rather, how the earth is cooling rather than warming. Yes, Forbes is an economics magazine, not a science magazine, and the author, Peter Ferrara, is an economist, not a scientist; however, he is giving his observations as an intelligent man of the proceedings of the International Climate Change Conference, at which, apparently, rational discussion of data was happening (science) rather than breathless hysteria about imminent catastrophe while dismissing any skeptical perspective as "denialism" (activism). Besides, as we have seen, there are "scientists" who advocate for more governmental involvement to forestall global catastrophe, and there are "scientists" who recommend a more cautious and peer reviewed study of the matter. In the same way, there are "economists" who cheer government-driven wealth redistribution and regulation activities, and there are "economists" who would prefer more laissez-faire and individual responsibility. In other words, it doesn't seem to be the "scientist" or "economist" that is the issue so much as the worldview (which includes political leanings) of the individual.


November 30 2016: Another giant computer - the Megaprocessor. Except this one is really giant - 10 meters long and 2 meters high, fills a room. Build out of discrete transistors! Also has programming tools, but as it lives at the British Centre for Computing History, you would have to stand in line to load your program. Even worse than waiting for a card reader that the University of Arizona Computer Science building.

Cambridge Megaprocessor

Via EE Times.


November 27 2016: To finish up the Bluetooth stuff, I note that Cypress has a few BLE dev boards (such as the CY8CKIT-142). TI has two BLE LaunchPads (the CC2650 Launchpad, which is a showcase for their CC26xx "Wireless MCU" devices, and the CC1350). These are all like the Simblee; they are standalone gadgets intended to have their on-board microcontroller programmed. They are not intended to be peripherals, like the BM70/71 or HC-05 or nRF51822. CC2650 BoosterPackHowever, TI has two BoosterPacks, the CC2564 and the CC2650. The CC2564 looks like it is intended for use with TI MSP430 LaunchPads running the Bluetooth stack, but the CC2650 is explicit: "add Bluetooth low energy connectivity to any application using simple UART interface". This does put it in the same class as the BM70/71 and nRF51822. Of course, with the LaunchPad interface pinout, I can't see using it with anything but a LaunchPad. Which is not at all bad.

(I also note that someone has made a BoosterPack board for the HC05. Best of both worlds. Making HC05 or BM70 carriers must not be too tough.)

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Some updates:


November 25 2016: More Bluetooth. It seems that the Simblee is not the only or best BLE module on the market - BM70 BLE ModuleMicrochip has a number of modules similar to the HC-05, such as the BM70, the more compact BM71, and the BM78 which operates in both BLE and "normal" Bluetooth. There is an adapter on which the SMT can be mounted, but the "PICtail" is rather more than the relatively simple HC-05 adapter, so like the Electric Sheep fellow, I would probably just roll my own. At $5 to $10, the price is darn reasonable, too.

nRF51822 BLE ModuleAnd, per a tip in the Nuts & Volts article I got the Microchip from, Adafruit also has a couple of BLE modules, the nRF8001, which is a lot like the HC-05 and BM70 except it looks like it is only a modem, and the recommended, more capable nRF51822 (or the SPI version) that use an "AT" command set like the HC-05. Just a bit more expensive at $18 to $20.


November 20 2016: Bluetooth.

Which is not just a magic audio connection between the Android and my headsets anymore. I understand it somewhat better as "RS232 over RF", or a wireless serial link. Perhaps I may understand it better yet to learn that the audio transmission aspect is separate from the serial communications, but it is the latter in which I am interested.

HC-05 moduleThe HC-05 module is a Bluetooth modem, which allows you to talk over RF from a serial connection from pretty much anything. It accepts a modified Hayes "AT" command set in Command Mode, and sends/receives in Data Mode. Modes are switched via a discrete input. This module can operate in either Master or Slave role (where its brother HC-06 is only a slave, and doesn't cost any less). The module itself is a surface-mount package, and it is often available on this adapter that presents six pins to the controller. There are many more pins which can apparently be utilized by hacking on the module software - it itself contains a microcontroller and a Bluetooth radio. For now, I would be satisfied to play with it as just a Bluetooth modem. It is available all over the place, including GearBest, very inexpensively.

This article contains an intro to Command Mode, and a few more useful AT commands. Also the pinout.

This article is referenced from the above article; more info about getting two modules to pair and talk to each other. Includes something I suspected but didn't know - yes, you can connect your main Linux screen to a serial port and use it like a terminal - with "screen". I knew about "screen" and have used it, didn't know you could use it as a terminal, always used "minicom" with less than satisfactory results. The Elastic Sheep series starts here. He has a little breakout board for all the pins, which maybe I might get someday if my experiments with the module as a modem lead in that direction.

Simblee Breakout Simblee Module

The HC-05 is "standard" Bluetooth. The Simblee works in Bluetooth Low Energy, or BLE, or Bluetooth Smart, or Bluetooth 4.0. It comes as a teeny surface mount module, or (like the HC-05) on a "breakout" board with either 7 GPIO pins (as shown) or 29. It is relatively inexpensive ($20, versus ~$5 for the HC-05) and available from many sources. However, it is not just a modem; it is actually an Arduino, and can only be programmed via the Arduino IDE. An "RFduino USB shield" is required to program it from the host. Normally I dislike restrictions like that, but I've been thinking I probably ought to at least dip my toes in the Arduino world, just to say I did. But I think I'll play with the HC-05 and "typical" Arduino before I come back to this gadget.

Via this less-than impressed EDN article.


November 10 2016: I'm as much or more a retrotechie as anyone could be, but a Rotary Cell Phonerotary cell phone?

That's just silly.


November 9 2016: Apparently, Zee Aero is working on flying cars in the San Fransisco Bay area - "Silicon Valley" - and the locals are complicit in keeping the testing secret. This is the stuff of tech thriller movies, especially those built around Howard Hughes.

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Not really a jet pack (for flying), but it comes out of Arizona State University (no, not UofA).

ASU Jet Pack

What's really interesting is the admission that "we're incredibly engineered as-is", referring to human bodies, in the video clip. But secularists are prone to making such inadvertent statements inconsistent with their worldview. By saying that, I'm assuming the ASU student is a secularist, and I don't know that. My statement still holds true.

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R&D Magazine is a big promoter of the Global Warming (oops I mean Climate Change) meme, but at least they publish reasonable articles in addition to the usual desperate "the world is ending" sort. Like this one that ascribes the slowdown in CO2 emissions to plant life.

Maybe there's global warming happening (just not for the past many years). Maybe human activity is involved. But maybe it's not the global catastrophe that coastal elites (those closest to the rising water levels they fear so much) make it out to be - maybe there's a good side to it as well.

But I still maintain: Even if it is all bad, do we honestly think the government is going to successfully deal with it? Without producing a plethora of side effects that are much worse than the original problem?

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The The Big Hex Machine - a discrete simple computer. I don't know what all the modules are that are interconnected with Cat5 cables, but they must be just flip-flops and gates to stay with the spirit of the enterprise. Built by students of the University of Bristol, who also created a high-level compiler language for it. Impressive.

Big Hex Machine

Via ECN


November 8 2016: Another teensy tiny computer - VoCore2

Also MIPS based. And Open Hardware. And the VoCore2Lite is $4!

VoCore2Developer's site
Community site
Indiegogo project kickoff
Via LWN


October 24 2016: Some clever hobby hacker has got hold of an original Texas Instruments TMS99105 chip, paired it with an FPGA eval board, and produced a super-speed 99/4A. Here's his Hackaday project description and the Github project workspace. Not only is the project amazing, but so is the fact that he actually got his hands on a 99105 chip! I'm always pleased to be running on the actual hardware, but when the actual hardware is so rare, I'd settle for an FPGA implementation of a 99105. Or a 9995. Or even a super-speed 9900. Put an entire TI-99/4A on an FPGA. That would be cool.


October 21 2016: The travelogue for Las Vegas, Death Valley, Kings Canyon, Sequoia, Yosemite, Monterey, and the Pacific Coast Highway is now up on the family page.

The Arizona Page is dressed up a bit, with TucsonTopia, a few more charities/ministries, and shopping locations added.


September 21 2016: Via a link on Embedded.com, a review of a new C-language book, C for Everyone, which is aimed at embedded developers, particularly those for an ARM Cortex-M system. Jack Ganssle, the reviewer, notes that the book is included in a kit from Imagecraft that includes an Arduino-formfactor Cortex-M board, an Arduino experimenter shield, and Imagecraft's Jumpstart ARM environment which includes libraries for greatly simplifying the use of an ARM microcontroller.

Pretty nice. $99. Unfortunately... geared only for Windows. shucks.

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Six discoveries by Nikola Tesla that few people know about

I didn't know Tesla demonstrated transcontinental radio communication before Marconi (see #4)

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Embedded.com is also starting a series on RTOS internals and application. It looks (no surprise) that it's going to be based on some particular company's RTOS product, but hopefully the series content will be of general use.


September 18 2016: Jerri had a Hallmark ornament artist signing event in Phoenix yesterday. While we were there, I made sure I had the opportunity to (well, yes, also to visit Cerreta's for more chocolate) check out a surplus outfit: Apache Reclamation and Electronics. There was not enough time in the half-hour I was there to get more than a taste of this intriguing resource.

Apache Storefront
Unassuming storefront on a mixed-zone street.

Backroom front aisle
The good stuff is in the small area up front. The amazing stuff is in the huge back room.

Location map
Get off I-17 at 7th Ave and take the first right.

Backroom parts bins
Bins of electrolytics. I didn't see any price markings, so apparently you get what you want and the storekeeper (or his family members) tell you how much it is.

Power supply racks
Lots of power supplies and bench equipment. Also motors, meters, relays, bearings, vacuum tubes, circuit breakers...

Sewing machines
... sewing machines, toilet seats, beer coolers...

Garden stuff, traffic signals
... garden stuff, traffic signals, trombone bits...


September 12 2016: Did you know Tucson has a lighthouse?

Tucson LighthouseOn Old Nogales Highway, a couple of miles south of Valencia. It used to be part of a Christian rescue mission operation (hence the "lighthouse"), but now it belongs to a Buddhist retreat.

This was taken on a day we went down to Tubac to visit the original Elvira's Restaurant - we have to try the original before we go to its new little sister in downtown Tucson on Congress Street. On the way back, I notice another Centennial sign, so there's a new addition to my Centennial Signs collection.


September 10 2016: Like I said, catching up. Finally finished and posted the 2015 adventure to Disneyland, Santa Monica, Long Beach, Catalina Island, and San Diego with my young niece and nephew; see the family page.

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Also, via this Product Design and Development article, a story and video of the record-breaking world's largest air cannon that a bunch of Czech students put together that can knock over a stack of boxes at 100 metres. Pretty amazing.


September 4 2016: This is what happens when "scientists" uncritically accept a worldview or philosophy-driven origins story as "science" and therefore unchallengeably true: Scientist proposes seeding extrasolar planets with life. The idea is, if life on earth is due to primitive single-cell organisms evolving over millions of years, we can introduce single-cell organisms on recently-discovered earth-like planets and expect evolution to produce complex life; only this time, by playing "god", humans can accelerate the evolutionary process.

This is science fiction, straight up. What really amazes me is how "scientists" can think that dumping living organisms on a planet multiple light years away can succeed when the concentrated efforts of thousands of scientists in well-equipped laboratories all over a world that is already covered with living organisms have utterly failed to reproduce the alleged "evolution" of any sort of life from non-living chemicals, to say nothing about a progression from (even genetically modified) single-cell organisms to multi-cell organisms. It is Simply. Not. SCIENCE.

Related, this article about a radio telescope picking up signals from a Soviet military satellite, and the SETI people jumping at the hope they had finally detected an alien signal. ONCE AGAIN, "design" is an acceptable scientific principle when applied to discriminating intelligence-generated information from natural signals - but not for the DNA in cells.


August 31 2016: (Trying to get back into this)

One of the reasons X10 became so popular (and cheap, which helped things) is that at some point early on, its protocol became "open", and other people could make X10-compatible devices.

It seems the Z-Wave people have taken the lesson to heart and have made the Z-Wave specification Open! I haven't looked at it yet, and it might be a while, since I'm not that fond of beaming home control signals XBee XB24 around via RF (hence my interest in powerline communications), but Z-Wave is a variation on Zigbee, and it is becoming easier (and cheaper, see above) to get Zigbee modules for MSP430 LaunchPad or any processor with a UART via the popular XBee (available inexpensively via Digi-Key).

(On the other hand, I note that Digi-Key also has teensy Z-Wave modules at an excellent price.)

(AH! And there's a Z-Wave daughterboard for the Raspberry Pi! At $60, a little pricey...)