Cheap Displays for Old Hardware

A couple of months ago I dug out my old Commodore hardware again and started tinkering with it – the goal being to finally try out a bunch of mods, hacks, and builds that I missed back in the day. To start with, I bought a cheap TFT display for around 13€ to connect to the C64 and C128.

It was meant to sit on my work bench to e.g. quickly test a naked C64 board. It wouldn’t matter if the video quality wasn’t great. But after I made the necessary adapter cable and hooked everything up, I was a little disappointed to find out that the display wouldn’t show anything other than a black screen interrupted by an occasional flicker. I verified that the display itself was working by connecting it to a Raspberry Pi and I double-checked the cable I had made. Continue reading

The Modular WifiModem64

I’ve been playing with the ESP8266 since late 2014 and it was love on first sight: so many possible uses for such a small device at such a low price tag. And very early on I thought: wouldn’t it be great to build a WiFi “modem” from this? That shouldn’t be too hard. But I didn’t find the time to pursue the idea then. When I remembered again this summer, I was not surprised but still excited to find that others had had the same idea and hadn’t been as lazy as me.

Alwyz’s instructions on how to build such a device couldn’t be easier! I followed them and it worked like a charm. For the next months, my setup then looked like variations of this:

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SD2IEC Revisited

When I discovered the MMC2IEC / SD2IEC project by chance back in 2009, it made me dig up again my soldering iron and electronic components after many years of disuse. I built myself one of those devices on a prototyping board and had a lot of fun doing so. It was the first time that I got involved with micro controllers and I learned a lot in the process.

Now, many years and projects later, I was looking for an excuse to try out KiCAD and to learn how to design my own boards using it. I had already ordered a small PCB I found on the net as a proof-of-concept to see if the Gerber files I produce would result in working boards. When they turned out just as expected I was eager to create something myself. This was the perfect opportunity to revisit the subject and make myself a brand new SD2IEC.

I wanted the design to be based on Shadowolf’s latest version but also make my own additions and changes:

  • The board should be able to tap into the cassette port of the C64 for power supply.
  • It should be board for external use with proper connectors just like my first build.
  • All components should be cheap to buy from Chinese suppliers.

So, this is the first prototype of what I came up with. I call it the “SD2IEC pluggable”:

Continue reading

OpenWRT and the Zsun Card Reader

During the last few weeks since my first post about the Zsun WiFi Card Reader I learned a few things that I haven’t documented yet.

After I was able to confirm that my device has indeed PCB v2 but that flashing should work just the same, I tried the simple method described here:

  1. Insert a FAT formatted micro SD card into the reader and plug the reader into a PC (running Windows, in my case). The card should be assigned a drive letter, say “J:”.
  2. Connect to the WiFi access point created by the reader.
  3. Open
  4. Open the drive/card in the file explorer, create a new folder named “.update.” and copy the SD100-openwrt.tar.gz archive into it.
  5. Open – this should return status code “2”.
  6. Wait patiently for the described LED flashes!
  7. Connect to the new access point called “OpenWRT”.
  8. Open and configure OpenWRT.

This worked like a charm (a big thanks to Warsaw!), but only 5 minutes later I managed to lock myself out with a bad WiFi config. Great. So I went ahead and soldered leads to the serial headers. But while I was able to receive and read the console output just fine I had no success sending any input to that console. Only today I learned that PCB version 2 is missing a jumper that needs to be connected in order to enable serial RX. Connecting this jumper has exceeded my meager soldering skills so far, though.

Fortunately, I learned another fact from a helpful comment on my previous post: By inserting or removing the SD card during boot, OpenWRT can be put into fail-safe mode that will reset the configuration. I kept inserting and removing it in quick succession for about 10 seconds in order to get the timing right. Now I’m able to connect to the WiFi again!

One of the images is showing an Ethernet cable attached directly to the board. This did not work for me and trying it was somewhat naive. It’s been brought to my attention that this might damage the SoC, too. If resetting an OpenWRT installation as described above is not enough, the best way to un-brick the device seems to be through the serial console as described in the comments.


The Zsun WiFi Card Reader

I’m not sure where I read first about the $8 Zsun WiFi Card Reader and the attempts by the people at Warsaw Hackerspace to flash it with their port of OpenWRT. It made me curious, so I went ahead and ordered a sample. Shipping from China took a while but I received the tiny gadget yesterday.

So far I could confirm the documented root access to the stock firmware via telnet on port 11880 using the password “zsun1188”. I have not tried flashing OpenWRT yet as I am not sure which of the at least two different PCB versions I got. Could anyone give me a hint on this?

The Fancy Lantern Stick

I’m not sure about other parts of the world, but back here in Germany we’ve got a tradition called Laternelaufen. It involves lanterns, preferably home-made from cardboard and colored paper, lantern sticks, and a bunch of happily singing children. And of course, it requires a way of lighting the lanterns. Traditionally, this is accomplished by the use of burning candles which are cheap and actually looking great, but will also ever so often result in the lanterns themselves catching fire. So, for many years there have been battery powered lantern sticks featuring a small light bulb on the upper end.

My daughter is very much looking forward to this year’s Laternelaufen events. What a great excuse for myself to get started on a small new project, the Fancy Lantern Stick! Here’s the list of major ingredients:

  • 20cm of PVC tubing 40mm in diameter, normally used for in-house plumbing
  • 50cm aluminum pipe, 6mm in diameter
  • 1 small piece of wooden board, roughly 15mm strong
  • Acrylic spray paint, the colors of your choice
  • Clear lacquer spray
  • 1 Arduino Pro Mini
  • 1 5V Step-up power converter
  • 1 Battery holder for 2 AA sized batteries
  • 8 WS2812B LEDs on separate tiny boards
  • 1 Switch
  • 1 Push-button
  • An assortment of wires, headers and connectors
  • Hot glue

When switched on, the Arduino will produce yellowish-white light from the 8 LEDs and simulate the moderate flickering of a candle flame. The red push-button on the handle triggers special light effects to show off.

The source code for the Arduino sketch is available on Github, and I’ll try to add a couple of photos showing the finished stick once I find the time and manage to borrow it back from my daughter.


I did manage to take a few photos of the finished stick today and added them to the gallery. Also, if there is enough interest I could supply more detailed information on how to build one of these, of course.


Converting .mysql_history Files to New Format

When I upgraded one of my servers from Fedora 20 to 21 recently, I noticed that – among a few other issues – the command line history of my mysql client was missing. Too me, this is valuable information and documentation, even. So I investigated and found, that the file format for the .mysql_history seemed to have changed and the client had just discarded my old data. The new file now contains various characters (including ‘space’) in octal notation and it starts with a special marker line:


I assume that this change might have been caused by either MariaDB or Fedora itself having switched from readline to using libedit.

#!/usr/bin/env php
$oldData = file($argv[1]);
foreach ($oldData as $line) {

The PHP package that comes with Fedora 21 seems to be using the same library. So, after restoring my old .mysql_history from backup it was easily converted to the new format using but a few lines of PHP code:

./convert_history.php ~/.mysql_history.bkp ~/.mysql_history



Wireless Sensor Network, Part 2

Still trying to save my batteries

By now it is time for at least an intermediate update on this project. In the meantime I have indeed revised the sensor boards by adding a switching transistor controlled through one of the remaining digital pins on the ATmega. The firmware was modified, and it will now power down the attached sensors before entering sleep mode. Disappointingly, this resulted in a battery lifetime extended by no more than roughly 10%.

On a mostly unrelated note, the voltage graph now looks “stepped” when compared to the previous one. This seemed to be a direct result of switching from maniacbug’s original driver for the RF24 module to the one newly optimized by tmrh20. I’ve got absolutely no clue why this would affect the voltage measurement against the bandgap reference, but there it was. If you can shed some light on this, please leave me a comment.

The next thing I tried, somewhat desperately, was to reduce the number of data samples by increasing the sleep time from 1 minute to 5 minutes. This had no discernible effect on battery life-time. But at least it leads to the conclusion that I need to further investigate power consumption during sleep mode.

So, just assuming that it was the sensors that were draining the batteries in sleep mode turned out to be a bad idea. Now I really need to replace my crappy 7€ multimeter with something a little more precise that will allow me to actually measure which part of the circuit is drawing which amount of current.

Wireless Sensor Network, Part 1

With all components finally having arrived from China, I built the first couple of wireless sensors a few months ago. They are using the cheap nRF24L01 transceiver modules for data transmission based on the RF24Network network layer. I’m using a Raspberry Pi with the transceiver module directly connected to its GPIO pins as the root node. The sensor nodes are controlled by an ATmega328 microcrontroller flashed with the Arduino firmware for convenience.

Each sensor node currently features a DHT11 humidity sensor, a DS18B20 digital thermometer, a BMP180 barometric pressures sensor and it’s powered by three AA cells. The controller spends most of its time in power-saving sleep mode, waking up to send a data packet about every minute. Each packet contains the readings from the three sensors as well as the battery voltage as determined against the bandgap reference.

The setup is far from final. For one, I’m still not sure how to store the data. Currently, it is just logged into a text file with an occasional and experimental import into OpenTSDB. I haven’t really come to trust OpenTSDB since I haven’t found a suitable and convincing way to backup the HBase data, yet.  Also, I might still replace the Raspberry Pi root node with an Arduino based MQTT relay.

First though, the power consumption of the sensor nodes needs improving. When I started out I was hoping for each node to run for close to a year on a single set of batteries. As you can see in the graph above, with the current design a set of three NiMH batteries with low self discharge lasts for no more than 6 weeks. What comes to mind in order to improve this, is to switch off the sensors and the transceiver in between samples. That is probably what I’ll try next. Please let me know if you’ve got any other ideas!