On November 26, 2015, Eben Upton and his engineering team at the Raspberry Pi Foundation announced the release of another member of the Pi family – Pi Zero. As far as I know, this is the first usable computer that runs Linux and costs $5 USD. This is an amazing accomplishment.
Rather than blog out all of the technical details, I suggest you download the latest issue of the MagPi. This is one of my favorite magazines, and the 40th issue is one of the best ever. It contains everything you need to know about the new Pi.
Cynics may argue that this Pi really does not qualify as a $5 computer since you need to invest in a couple of special cables to make is useful. Also, you need to solder in a pin header if you want to use the IO capabilities. So what? This is just another proof of Sopwith’s theorem – “If it works out of the box – what fun is that?”
The fact anyone can purchase a computer with this power at a $5 price point says it all. I suspect this device will be more popular with hackers and makers than with schools, but this remains to be seen.
Eben posted a video explaining the reasoning behind building a $5 computer. I am struck by his passion and dedication to the education of young people. His humbleness is striking.
After a year of living in London, Mrs. Sopwith and I are now back in our USA home in the Los Angeles area. Our life in the US is more complicated than life in the UK. In London, we rented a small flat and used public transportation to get around. Life was so simple.
Here is California, we have cars, a big house and lawn to maintain, insurance, taxes, utilities, and all the other headaches of living in the Western US. One of my biggest gripes about life in the US is the cost of mobile telephones and television. Ol’ Sopwith does not like to complain, but I have a strong belief that many companies in the US are committed to ripping off the unwary public.
Take DirecTV for example. I have been a customer for 15 years. Five years ago, I upgraded my satellite dish and receivers to the digital package. My monthly bill is $110 USD for TV programming without movie packages or any other add-ons. To me, this is a lot of money. When I looked at my bill recently, I discovered they were charging me $26 in junk fees every month. I usually smell smoke when I wire up my electronic projects wrong; in this case I smell smoke from a greed driven satellite provider.
About a year ago I posted a ‘How-To‘ document describing how to connect an AM2315 temperature sensor to a Pi. I received many emails and many people posted responses to my blog entry.
One of the most interesting emails I received was from Dr. Michael Glenn, Plant Physiologist and Director of Research, at the US Department of Agriculture. Dr. Glenn was trying to solve a problem.
As we all know, global warming is an important topic today. Regardless of your personal views on the subject, the only way we will ever know the true facts about the impact of a warmer earth is to study it. Dr. Glenn and his research team do just that.
Being far from home and living in London is very interesting. As a hacker, maker, and hobbyist from the US, a Radio Shack or an order from Mouser, Adafruit, etc is taken for granted. Things are different here.
There is not a Radio Shack nearby. The nearest equivalent is Maplin and these stores are everywhere. Every time I walk by one – I ‘pop in’ as they say here.
Last Saturday I ‘popped in’ to one and found a very interesting electronic kit. The Velleman Digitally Controlled FM Radio (MK194). Velleman is a Belgium based company that makes all kind of neat stuff. The kit was on sale for £12. How could I resist?
This kit is about as close as you can get to re-living the good-ole’ days of Heathkits. In the 60’s and 70’s Heathkits were all the rave among us geeks. I built a digital alarm clock that worked for more than 25 years. What is the big deal? Well, I was 14 years old when I built this clock. And it served as my alarm clock until I was 39. Every day – it was there. The power supply finally failed and its service ended.That my friends, is the definition of loyalty. Hand built and reliable.
Anyone that ever built a Heathkit remembers the yellow assembly manuals. They are legendary for their quality. Oh the joy of a Heathkit!
Heathkit Digital Clock
In my recent posts I hacked a BV4618 LCD to prepare it for use in my Tastic RFID project. Now that I have the BV4618 working and an improved and simple code library (sopBV4618_S), we return to the Tastic tool. If you are not familiar with the Bishop Fox Tastic project you can read about it here.
Ol’ Sopwith again wants to make it clear that I am not interested in the dark-side of RFID hacking. Nor do I encourage anyone to do so. The goal of this project is to learn about RFID and how it all works. Fascinating stuff.
After researching the Tastic RFID documentation I ordered three PCB’s using the Tastic project PCB documents. The vendor I used was OSH Park. Highly recommended outfit that does great work.
In Part-2 of this blog post series I provided a detailed ‘How-To’ for new users of the ByVac BV4618 LCD for their Arduino projects. It is clear to me there are plenty of Arduino hobbyists who want to hack LCD’s and need a simple way to wire them up and write to them.
The ByVac BV4618 LCD is a great choice. You can actually get it up and running with three wires – V+, Gnd, and Tx. Writing text to the display is pretty straightforward using the BV4618_S library. The library is useful, but Ol’ Sopwith does not think the class is easy enough to use for beginners.
To solve this problem I extended the BV4618_S class library and created a new class named sop4618_S. The class is brain-dead simple to use and it hides all the complexities of the VT100 code sequences.
In Part-1 of this blog post series Ol’ Sopwith described the ByVac BV4618 LCD and how to wire it up to an Arduino Uno. If you are interested in how to program an Arduino to talk to this LCD, pull up a chair and let’s get started.
I wrote up a detailed implementation guide for the BV4618 LCD that walks through the entire process to get the LCD into one of your cool Arduino projects. If you are new to the Arduino and want a quick guide on how to setup the developer IDE you can follow this guide.
Arduino ‘How-To’ Series
My previous post describes my new venture into RFID hacking using a Tastic RFID stealer. The Tastic gadget requires a serial 4×20 LCD to display a proximity cards site code and serial number. I purchased a ByVac BV4618 LCD as a replacement to the LCD listed in the Tastic specifications due to local availability.
As Sopwith always advises, the first thing you need to do with a new gadget is to download the datasheet. You can find it here. The internal controller/driver of the LCD is a Hitachi HD44780. This very popular device can be found in all types of LCD applications. The BV4618 piggybacks on the HD44780 providing a very convenient communication interface.
The BV4618 provides three interfaces. A serial interface provides support for both TTL and RS-232. This means you can connect a MCU such an Arduino or Raspberry PI, or use 12V serial connections to a serial port on a PC. There is also an I2C interface and support for a small numeric keypad.
Sopwith’s Current Project (BV4618 LCD)
Have not blogged much over the summer because the Mrs. and I have moved to London on a temporary work assignment. Anyone who has been an expat understands the complexities of a relocation. Now that we are here and settled, I can get back to my hacking projects. I bought my Rasberry Pi’s with me and purchased a couple of Arduino’s and bench tools at a local Maplin store.
My latest interest is in RFID cards. The use of this technology is exploding. Since I am in the security business, understanding how RFID is used for secure access to large data centers and other secure facilities is important. In my research, I came across an interesting project involving an Arduino Nano. The Tastic RFID stealer is a very clever hack.
According to Mrs. Sopwith, I have mellowed considerably over the years. This is a good thing because ol’ Sopwith used to be a pretty intense fellow. There are still a couple of things that can get me quickly riled up: The complete breakdown of personal privacy and the proliferation of the advertising assault by the media.
Now, I would much rather be posting about solder and such – but these issues are important.
Let me give you an example. Last weekend Mrs. Sopwith finally capitulated and said she would like to get a Kindle. Like many people, the Mrs. loves the physicality of a book and resisted electronic book reading. Now that we are going to do some traveling, she agreed to get a Kindle.
Sopwith currently has two Kindles. I think they are terrific. So – off to Best Buy. We look at our options with the salesman and decided the best fit for the Mrs. was a Kindle Fire HD. The Fire HDX was overkill. So off to the checkout where I paid $139.00 US + CA sales tax.
When I got the unit home I plugged it in and did not fire it up until it was fully charged. Upon startup, I walked through the registration process and linked the Kindle with Mrs. Sopwith’s Amazon account.
Then – the nightmare began! When I was presented the Kindle home screen I was bombarded by flashing images, ads, and unending visual noise. It reminded me of running a web browser with the pop-up blocker disabled. I quickly traversed the menu structure to find the checkbox that would disable the ads. Alas – I found it, but to my horror I discovered I would have to pay $15 to disable the ads.