Electronics, coding and hacking. And ADD.

Bomb by Insane


1, 2, 3.. testing.. is this thing still on? Ok, good.

You may or may not have noticed, but I've been a little dormant lately. To be honest, inspiration has been slim to none, the willpower to get out in the shed and do things has been literally absent. The remaining energy to get going is just around the bend, so hang in there.

While we're waiting, let me take you through the latest demo we released for OCS Amiga. This is "Bomb" by Insane:

Pou√ęt link

This demo was made pretty much from scratch in a couple of days, to support the Datastorm party. Good for us, only two demos were submitted to the OCS demo compo, so we nailed the 2nd place.

Since nobody asked, let's walk through the demo and discuss how things were done.

The spinning "INSANE" logo was originally planned as a decrunch part, but during the development of the demo a few things changed. The next part is being decrunched and initialized while the current part is running, but since I had made this part already, I included it anyways. The rotation matrix is all precalculated, so it's basically a line drawing routine you're watching.
The stretcher is a simple liquid effect. I originally wanted the image to flip upside-down, like a coin flip, but didn't have the time to code that, so I ended up with this. I guess it turned out allright, even though a coin-flip would look much better. Oh well, maybe next time.

Fun fact: It didn't quite stick the landing before the screen flash. Notice how it's a little "off."

The twister turned out to be quite the eyecandy. I coded a standard twister routine on a 4 bitplane image, and applied RGB plasma on top of it. The plasma colour scheme is a blend of two gradients: one smooth and one hard/aggressive. The end result is a pretty crazy color scheme which I think looks pretty cool.

Fun fact 1: The background fades to a set of colours predefined in a table. However, I forgot to set more than the two first colours, so what you're seeing are the RGB representations of the assembly opcodes following the table.

Fun fact 2: The effect was too slow to run every 2nd rasterline. Every 3rd line got too ugly, so it alternates between 2 and 3 lines down the screen.

Before the next part I needed a 8-10 second filler part. We decided to do one in the form of a fullscreen logo. To prevent it from being too static, we added the falling bombs in the background.
Now, the zoomer part is the one I'm the most proud of in this demo, but I think the twister part took the edge of it, somehow. This is a 31x31 pixel, (almost) fullscreen, full-color zoom routine that runs 50fps, invented and executed by yours truly. To be honest it's a combination of animation and color cycling, all working in prefect glory to bring the illusion of a growing image.
The end part is dead simple. A 5 bitplane image and an up-scroller in the 6th. The writer runs while the text is scrolled upwards, giving it a "tilted" appearance, if you look carefully.

Hope this was interesting to atleast one of my two readers (hi mom!) and I'll try to pick up some hardware projects again in the near future.

Dumping the Coolbaby console flash


You may remember that in my last post I said I was interested in the NOR flashrom inside the Coolbaby NES game console. Well, I've been obsessing with it lately, so let me review the progress from the past two weeks.

My original idea was to read the IC in situ, I soldered up a ton of breakout pins and was able to dump the contents while the system was running.

Unfortunately, the CPU made it difficult to read the flash rom while the system was powered off. Probably some pull-downs or whatever that caused problems for me, so I removed everything and started from scratch. I even tested the console one last time to make sure everyting was working before I started ripping it apart.

I bought a TSOP56-to-dip adapter, and decided it was time to desolder the flash rom to dump it. I tried to protect most of the board with kapton tape and aluminium foil, and fired up the hot air station.

It went surprisingly well, and a few minutes later the chip was cleaned up and secured in the ZIF TSOP56 adapter.

I decided to use a STM32F4 Discovery board for reading the data. It has lots of nice I/O pins, it's fast, it has native USB and much more.

So, here it is all wired up - not pretty but it works. My apologies if you have OCD and like colour coded wires, I just used what was at hand.

The next step was to write a UART-over-USB for the ARM processor. Then, interface the pins to the flash rom and try to implement the protocol for reading the contents. Once that's in place, I wrote a client on the PC side that receives the data and saves it as a binary file.

Yada yada yada, long story short: success! I present to you a sample from the file. Here you can see part of the adventures games lists:

Next up is figuring out how the games are arranged and how the menus work.

Stay tuned.

Cool NES, baby!


About a week ago I stumbled across a NES clones on Aliexpress called "Coolbaby". It's basically a miniature NES clone, not unlike the NES Classic, with 600 built-in games. It was so small and cute I just had to buy one. Let's take a quick look at it, and have a peek inside.

The console is shipped with two controllers, a MicroUSB power supply and an AV video cable. An HDMI version exists, but unfortunately I didn't see that listing before buying this. With a price tag of just $20 I can afford to upgrade to the HDMI version later. Oh, and before you ask, the cartridge door does not open. It's simply a groove for decoration purposes.

It's in fact so small and cute I admit that is the main reason I bought it. It's kind of hard to show on a two-dimensional screen, but here it is with an iPhone 4 for comparison:

The image quality is good, but the colors appear to be a little off. Looks over-saturated with a hint of pink. With a little luck an onboard resistor DAC may be configured wrong, but I'll look into that.

Opening the console is pretty straight-forward. Remove the rubber feet and unscrew four phillips screws and you're in. Prior to opening it I had no idea what to expect, so I was pleasantly surprised when I saw this clean, neat, single-sided PCB inside:

And yes, it really is single-sided. Here is the bottom side of the board.

The PCB consists of two components. A S29GL512N11TFI02 512mbit flash ROM, and what's probably a NOAC (NES On A Chip) or a variant of it, packaged as chip-on-board and drowned in epoxy resin.

U2 is the IC that interest me the most. I suspect it can be dumped and/or reprogrammed, and I intend to do so. There are tons of test points to hook on to, and with a little luck I may be able to replace the entire IC with something I can reprogram via USB.

Well, that's it for now. I'll probably experiment with the hardware as soon as time allows it.

The console is definitely worth the money, and if you're looking for a quick retro fix, go buy one - just make sure you get the HDMI edition.

A 68k sandwich


A while back I decided to test SeeedStudio's $4.90 PCB service, and yesterday the boards arrived. Three boards were ordered, and without knowing if anyone of them will work, I'll start off by showing you the most simplest, but most ambitious one.

This is the "68k Sandwich", codename for an experimental board for the Commodore Amiga 500:

(Yes the silkscreen text is a bit off)

The name is from its placement between the Amiga's motherboard and the CPU. It will literally be sandwiched in between.

The board is based around an ATmega128, which will (hopefully) be able to disable the Amiga's CPU and take charge of the hardware alone. I think it's too early to spill the beans completely, but I can point out the unpopulated USB port and let you wonder what my plans are. I'm sure most of you will be able to figure it out.

Stay tuned.

Cooling the Orange


I recently got my hands on an Orange Pi Zero, a Raspberry Pi Zero alternative, if you're unfamiliar with it. What I noticed, though, is the OPi's CPU gets hot. So hot that it would crash under heavy load. At first I tried passive cooling with a few stick-on-sinks, and they helped, but I decided to take it one step further and built this:

I drilled a hole in the case and attached the smallest 5v fan I could find on eBay. The fan can be a bit noisy at times, so I decided to control it with a switching PNP transistor, hooked up to pin PA11 and crammed everything inside the small case. This simple Python script is started in rc.local and runs in the background indefinitely:


from pyA20.gpio import gpio
from pyA20.gpio import port
from time import sleep

gpio.setcfg( port.PA11, gpio.OUTPUT)

while 1:
    with open( "/sys/devices/virtual/thermal/thermal_zone0/temp" ) as f:
        content = f.readlines()

    temp = int(content[0])

    if temp >= 50:
        gpio.output( port.PA11,gpio.LOW )

    if temp < 45:
        gpio.output( port.PA11, gpio.HIGH )


As you can see, when the CPU's internal temperature exceeds 50 degrees celcius, the fan is switched on. I have a hysteria of 5 degrees, so it will not switch off again until the temperature is less than 45 degrees celcius. This was tested using the cpuburn tools that really, really stress the CPU.

And, hey, I'm as surprised as you are: it actually works very well; when the fan starts running, the CPU temperature drops a few degrees in a matter of seconds.

I may not need this too often, but it was a fun (and cute) build. Besides, what's cooler than being cool? Ice cold!

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