Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Home Arcade Teardown

Spent the weekend pulling the old monitor, wires, and controls from arcade panel. The arcade panel is being sent to a local machine shop to add a button hole on either side of the joystick. I was able to buy an additional "Gauntlet" arcade panel for $5.00 at the same time we bought the arcade This will provide us with the extra buttons we need as well as some backup sticks. After this panel is returned from the machinist, we'll peel the old "Jungle King" sticker off, and clean it down to a flat black.

This arcade will become a Propeller/Mame arcade allowing us to play Parallax Propeller games as well as arcade classics.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Father & Sons Project: Home Arcade

Matthew and I just returned from the White Rose Gameroom Show in York, PA. The six hour return trip was a little heavier than when we left. One of the outside vendors had several old, non-working arcade machines for sale for $50, so after playing a few hours of pinball, we loaded this machine into my Escort wagon as a new father/son project. Since I repair computers for a living, we should be able to convert this into a MAME arcade for winter. (I have plenty of parts to re-fill the innards of this machine.) Matthew made an interesting comment on the way home. He said that he's pretty certain this will be the one and only arcade machine in the town of Orrville. Being a child of the 80's this kinda makes me sad, but we've got plenty of garage space, and plan to return next year with a van.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Busy Summer!

It's been a while since I've posted to this blog. It's been an extremely busy summer!

I just returned from the Unofficial Propeller Expo West 2009. UPEW, which was hosted at Parallax headquarters was an incredible event! We raised $2000. for the American Red Cross! A recap of the event with pictures and video is posted here. Now with less than 30 days to UPENE 2009 (to be hosted in Norwalk, OH) We are gearing up for another big Propeller event.

If you haven't had a chance to attend an Unofficial Propeller Expo, I'd strong encourage you to attend!


Monday, April 6, 2009

SpinStudio Game Stacker Review

Next to Parallax, uController.com creates and sells some of my favorite Propeller compatible products, and I've had the good fortune to get a sneak peek at a new addition to SpinStudio. The product is SpinStudio Game Stacker. This module plugs directly into the four ports of SpinStudio giving you two NES controller ports, keyboard & mouse, composite video, left & right audio, and SD socket. While many Propeller boards have incorporated a debug LED. Game Stacker takes that one step further with an RGB LED.

This is a perfect product for Propeller game creation, or use as a PropMICRO Propeller based microcomputer. Dozens of great games remakes are already playable on this platform as well as a version of BASIC.

Game Stacker will be sold as kit with an expected price of $35.00. Of course you will need to order a SpinStudio board which comes with the Propeller for $34.99. uController kits come with easy to follow instructions and can be generally soldered together in a single evening.

For those who are uncomfortable with soldering, uController.com says "Please don't let soldering stop you from enjoying our products. If you want the kits soldered for you before they are shipped to you, please contact me and I'd be happy to assemble them for you for a modest charge."

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Wii Nunchuck Interface for the Commodore 64

Adapting the Wii Nunchuck to the Commodore 64

Here's a quick video of the controller in action, playing Master of the Lamps.

After finishing my Propeller Skateboard Project, it wasn't a big stretch to setup this project.
This interface uses the same transistor switching for the joystick, switching out the Accelerometer for a Wii controller. If there is interest, I will make this setup available as a kit from Gadget Gangster in the near future.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Propeller/Commodore Skateboard Interface

This is a project that has been on my TODO list for the past year:
Playing Skate or Die with a real Skateboard Interface!

I was recently inspired to get this finished by Johannes Ahlebrand's release of his Propeller based Commodore tape emulator code and thought I'd demonstrate both projects together. (In all fairness, I didn't tell Johannes that his project would be featured, so don't blame him for the speed. He's working on a faster, polished loader.)

Video part #1 demonstrates both the Propeller TAP loader as well as the Skateboard Interface.

The Skareboard interface is using a Memsic 2125 Accelerometer attached to the tail of the skateboard. It reports back the tilt of the board several times a second. Once a pre-programmed angle is detected, the Propeller triggers one of the switches on the joystick port. (A simple transistor interface.)

I've learned more about creating videos while doing this and lighting mistakes, etc so Shelly and I went back into the workshop again and filmed some additonal footage of the actual game screen. (Hard to photograph!) She had a blast doing the demonstration and is excited to tell her friends that she's famous on Youtube now, so run the views up. :)


Friday, February 13, 2009

Unofficial Propeller Expo West 2009 Annouced!

Unofficial Propeller Expo West 2009 is hosted at Parallax!
June 27th and 28th

Parallax has agreed to host the UPEW this year at their facility in Rocklin, CA.
The official website can be found here, and discussion about the expo
can be found on this forum thread.
No charge for attendance. RSVP required.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

My Visit to Parallax 2009

As I write this I'm just starting to recover from jet-lag. It is time to share my amazing trip to the headquarters of Parallax in Rocklin, CA. This 2300 mile journey taught me a lot about what happens behind the scenes in product development, as well as a good method of dealing with severe flying anxiety.

The many unexpected surprises started from about the first moment I walked through the doors, greeted by the receptionist. While she was answering phones, and paging my host, Ken Gracey, I noticed that she had an open PEkit on her desk as well as twenty or so finished kits on rack behind her. When not answering telephones she was assembling PEkits! Everyone at Parallax works hard to provide quality products, all the way down to the person answering the phone.

I was first taken to the "Purple Room", a conference room to meet with Ken Gracey. Like many shelves and desks throughout Parallax various Stamp, Propeller, and robot projects were on display on the sides of the room. There are so many variations of Boe-bot type robots throughout Parallax that I believe they out number employees 3-to-1. Creative juices really flow at Parallax. (Could it be something they serve in their kitchen?)

Ken then proceeded to give me the tour of Parallax. My first stop being the technical support department where I began to witness to the diversity of individuals that work at Parallax. The first cubical was covered with robots, electronics and reference materials. It looked like this individual has around 10 projects going on all of the time. A virtual toyland, with Parallax projects, gadgets, and proposed robots that just didn't make the grade everywhere, (and around 12 inches of desk space left to work.) I started looking for a cot, pondering that this might be a good place to spend a night. :) The second tech support cubical was extremely organized, with everything having a place, and everything in it's place. It's probably a good thing that they had hotel space for me, because I'm pretty sure the two cubicals would have matched by morning. I wonder if these two guys drive each other crazy from time to time.

The second leg of my tour took me through the Parallax machine room. Two very large mills, CNC machines occupy this room allowing Parallax to fabricate their own metal parts for their kits. When Parallax says "Made in America" they are not kidding. This investment has paid in many popular robots, wheel parts, and kits made onsite.

From the CNC room I was taken into the warehouse. Geek Heaven. Shelves and racks containing boxes of everything Parallax sells. Another surprise was just how open everything was. When I questioned Ken about security he replied with "Parallax has zero employee theft." When someone at Parallax wants to work on project or needs parts all they need to do is walk back and get what they want. The only requirement is that they list the item on an inventory paper with their name. This pays back with extremely product knowledgeable employees that are both happy with technology access, and perfect year-end inventory counts. Other technology companies could really learn from this. (Are you listening?)

The warehouse is connected to the production room where BASIC STAMPS were being built in sheets, and cut. Parallax has their own Pick-n-Place machine and the hardware to produce all of their own products on site anytime they need to produce boards. Products like the Protoboard are made at their overseas Parallax location, allowing them to provide the product inexpensively, but it was pleasing to see that any board could be assembled at whim.
Their recent investment allows them compliance with lead-free production.

On the second day of my visit, I was invited to a Product Planning meeting where several new products were discussed. I can't reveal everything I witnessed there, but I can tell you that there are exciting products on the immediate horizon in robotics, and BASIC Stamp. There are some incredible hurtles that must be leaped to bring a product from idea to market, regulations, FCC certifications, and design coordination. The teamwork at Parallax really showed as I watched them tasking each part of the challenge around the room.

You may have heard the joke, "This business would be great if it weren't for the customers" from tired businessmen. As I wandered around Parallax I saw repeated instances of the Parallax forums being open. Messages were even reviewed in the Product Planning meeting. Parallax really pays attention to both what their customers are interested in, as well as what happens in the forums. (Several forum members have commented that perhaps they should start wearing a tie. You'll be the only one. Parallax employees don't wear ties. ) Several times I saw support people asking for ideas to help solve customer questions. Parallax isn't really about their products, they are about people. The customer really is number one at Parallax.

My trip ended with a trip to Chip Gracey's house where we talked for hours about all things technical until very early in the morning when just before I left to catch my flight home I was invited to see his private office where the Propeller II is being designed. (Wait until you see the number of colors in the next graphics demo!) At the rear of his office was the nicest sound system I've ever seen. Two very large speakers, a stack of audio processors, topped off with a turntable. I tried not to smirk, (after all I was a guest) but a record player??!!! I think Chip caught my look because he immediately offered to let me listen to it. Out of respect I said, "Sure, why not?" Chip put on a 78 from around 50 years ago, and I swear I thought I was actually in the same room with the performer!! The sound was incredible. He switched to something from the Moody Blues, and I found myself ruined for CDs for life! I had always thought that audio CDs where the top of sound quality. I'll never look at vinyl the same way again. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised from someone who creates such a high quality products.

I made it back to my hotel with an hour to spare to pack up and head back to land of corn and Smuckers jelly. After my bags were taken to be loaded on the plane, I suddenly realized that I had packed my anxiety meds in my suitcase and I'd have to find a better way to deal with my issues with air flight. As we started to hit some pretty severe turbulence coming back to winter storms. It occurred to me that the ride was identical to the subways in Chicago. I love the subways and make sure to ride them every time I go to Chicago or DC. I closed my eyes and truly enjoyed the ride.

I was invited to wander around and take pictures everywhere.
You will find them at: http://picasaweb.google.com/jeffledger/ParallaxPhotos#


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Upcoming Visit to Parallax

I feel like Charlie from the story of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. (The Gene Wilder version, not the recent poorly made remake). Thanks to the generosity of the Parallax folks, and a very sneaky spouse, I have the "golden ticket" to explore the halls of Parallax. I'll be making a complete report on this trip, and snapping plenty of pictures and video so that others can enjoy the experience through the lens of my camera. While I'm not a big fan of flight, I'm looking forward to sharing the experience in full reporter style next week.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Propeller and CP/M: A perfect match.

Question: What does a Propeller chip have in common with this old machine?
Answer: They both can run Wordstar 4. (Well sort of)

I've been playing with a board called the N8VEM, a 6"x4" mini CP/M computer with a Z80 processor, powered by 5v. The N8VEM's output device is a standard serial port, this is where the Propeller chip comes in. I've been creating VT100 terminal software for the Propeller, translating all those old Vt100 codes into a window into the past.

Pictures of the project as it progresses can be found here. The Propeller PPDB board is compliments of Parallax, (Thank you Ken!) and the N8VEM board was compliments of James Moxham (Thank you James!)

This is a truely interesting project combining my love of Retrocomputing with modern microcontroller technology. Playing with CP/M 2.2, Wordstar, and BASIC-80 feels a little like being a technology archaeologist at a dig site.