I'm not sure I've seen Nick sign on yet - you out there, Nick?
probably cleaning his desk
Hi, I'm here!
The wheels were spinning.
There he is. Welcome Nick, and welcome to everyone on this fine Hack Chat Wednesday! I'm Dan, I'll be modding today. Let's welcome Nick Bild to the Hack Chat today to talk about turning ideas into prototypes.
Nick, can you give us a little backstory on yourself?
Hello everyone :-)
Sure! Thanks so much for having me...
I have degrees in computer science and bioinformatics and professionally I've been a software engineer for about 15 years, splitting my time between industry and academia...
About a year and a half ago I got interested in the idea of teaching myself about electronics in my free time. I decided to design and build a retrocomputer based around the 6502 processor as a first project. I knew nothing at the start...I was literally googling "what is the difference between voltage and current"...
https://hackaday.io/project/165050-vectron-64). I learned a lot in the process, and by the end I was hooked...It took me several months to build and debug (I had almost no tools other than a multimeter at the time; no logic analyzer, etc.) The result was the Vectron 64 (
With the confidence from building my first project, I started quickly building devices based on my other ideas. At this point, I've finished 17 substantial projects, 13 of those being published on Hackaday. Some of my more popular projects are...
https://hackaday.io/project/167062-shaides) - glasses that control devices around the house with a wave of the hand.- ShAIdes (
https://hackaday.io/project/168727-tipper) - AR glasses that predict if a baseball pitch will be in or out of the strike zone.- Tipper (
https://hackaday.io/project/170649-deep-clean) - watches a room and flags all surfaces as they are touched for special attention on the next cleaning to help prevent the spread of contagious disease.- Deep Clean (
https://hackaday.io/project/171049-vectron-ai) - interfaces with the Vectron 64 to provide gesture detecting AI to control and Atari 2600 game.- Vectron AI (
https://hackaday.io/project/172138-safe-meeting) - keeps an eye on you during your Zoom calls, and if it sees inappropriate attire, the video is immediately muted.- Safe Meeting (
I haven't (yet) had the chance to turn any of my prototypes into finished consumer-ready products, but I have had some success in quickly turning ideas into working prototypes, so I'd be happy to your answer questions about that, and general questions about any of my projects.
PS - My desk is not normally that clean :)
Phew -- one of us...
So with the Vectron build, did you find your IT background prepared you in any way? Or had your education kind of abstracted the bits and bytes so much that it was like starting from scratch?
That was one of the reasons I wanted to build the Vectron. I was used to working at such a high level of abstraction, that I wanted to learn what was really happening, beyond some boxes labeled "RAM" and "CPU" with lines connecting them...
When you deal with these older chips you can understand everything that's happening. You can envision every signal on the bus and get a very deep understanding.
The modern abstractions are good, yes, writing assembly and building your own computer isn't terribly practical...
Yeah, that's exactly why I want to build a machine from scratch. Spent so many years programming at a high level that it feels important to get back to the register level and recapture some of what I learned in my teens.
But it's VERY educational.
I grew up in the 80s with Commodores and Color Computers, etc., so the nostalgia factor was also there.
But then, I didn't really know much beyond LOAD "*".
Now I can crack open an old computer and know what's really going on with all those beautiful through-hole chips.
It was also a great way to learn about electronics in general--you'll run into LOTS of problems trying to get a computer running on a breadboard.
Lots of knowledge comes out of debugging.
Any other retrocomputing fans out there? Or we can switch to another topic?
@Nick Bild Couldn't agree more with your sentiment of learning by debugging a complex system like a computer.
Any thoughts about moving Vectron-64 from the "mess o' wires" phase to a something neater and more permanent? Like a PCB, or perhaps a wirewrap?
I soldered or wire wrapped all the TTL chips together back in the 70's at Xerox
Or ar ethe wires just too much a part of its charm?
They are a bit charming, but also a pain! Yes, I've thought about creating a PCB for the Vectron. But if I hadn't started with a breadboard, I wouldn't have learned as much about power distribution, RF interference, and so on.
So, I also extended the Vectron in a couple ways...
I'm just surprised the excess wire don't create problems in the logic
I added VGA, built a VR game with headset, and built an AI extension for gesture recognition to control an Atari 2600 game.
Anyone else have interesting uses of their own retro stuff?
Practical question then: Have you found a decent breadboard? Every one I buy seems to make it really hard to insert leads, and some just have the metal clips get pushed out the back.
I had some major issues with others, like contacts not being made, or intermittent.
That kind of thing is very painful to deal with.
I'd like to implement a PID controller in 6502 assembly and see how fast I can get it to refresh. That would be a "fun" learning experience to me...
That is one area not to cheap out, I still use point to point wiring to avoid those problems.
Ah yes - Jameco. Should have guessed. I can remember seeing ads in Popular Electronics for them like 40 years ago. Thanks!
True about breadboards -- don't go cheap. You'll waste a lot of time to save $5.
I like that "fun" is in quotes -- truth!
It's fun, yet sometime awful.
But worth it when it finally works.
@Nick Bild I got a bit obsessed with the retro sound chips after taking apart a Vectrex, I really like the idea of bread boarding for development, in practice though I find point to point wiring on proto board to be faster and more reliable, even with inevitably having to back and fix/bodge/redo a few bits.
No doubt, breadboards have limits. When I built Vectron VGA I used perfboard for the clock divider. Until the clock frequency was lower I wouldn't trust a breadboard.
Depends on the board, but as a general rule, I'd be concerned about >10MHz.
Yeah perf board with the copper pads seem to be fast and more robust when soldering the components in
Pretty much anything is better than a breadboard. :) But they are so convenient and fast.
Especially when you don't know what you're doing and have to make lots of changes!
Don't ask how I know that.
Have you found the need to advance your test instrument suite past the multimeter-only phase yet?
Oh yes. Definitely yes! I got a Saleae Logic 8 after I finished the Vectron, and first used it on Vectron VR. It made life so much easier and easily shaved weeks of troubleshooting off the build.
@Andy Geppert - I bit the bullet and just bought a PID controller for the CNC http://www.vhipe.com/product-private/SuperPID-Home.htm
https://www.alliedelec.com/product/twin-industries/8200-45/70012521/ to give me a ground and power plane. I like this stuff from that respect, but it's still tedious to run all those bus wires. I'm thinking I might abandon the approach and switch to a PCB. We shall see. I do like the idea of just finishing what I started though.PROTOBOARD SUGGESTION: I'm working on a 6502 computer build using
How do you deal with having to pay $10 to ship that last $0.52 part you need?
@jim That looks great - using it on a DIY CNC, I'm guessing? I'd still like to do a 6502 PID just for "street cred."
And wait 10 days.
I definitely could have given up at several points, but it drives me nuts if I can't figure something out, so I tend to just push through the mundane stuff too.
I do the best I can to plan ahead and buy things up front (although that almost never works)...
@newdendrite My solution is to have 40 different projects going on so I can always order multiple useful things for different projects and feel like I'm wasting shipping... Or, I just add stuff that I might use some day...
So I look to see if there are multiple sources.
Often Amazon has the part I need, and tends to be much quicker than electronics suppliers.
I wish there were more physical electronics stores where I could go grab parts -- but not in my area.
Just ordered two Jameco breadboards. I have no impulse control
I think that's very common for hardware hackers.
@ Andy no I have a Shapeoko XL and building another from scratch. I need the PID to slow the router down for milling Plex
I don't know why, but I might eventually need it.
Nick, you asked "Anyone else have interesting uses of their own retro stuff?" As a proud owner of a KIM-1 (original 6502 board) which was my first computer and that still woks, my answer is no. EVERY time I think about it, I ask myself why build a retro when a simple PIC or ATMEGA will do it better faster and cheaper. Respect the Retro, you bet - but that is my answer :)
Fair enough. I don't think anyone builds a 6502 computer because the computer itself is practical though.
Anyone interested in home automation? Machine learning?
I am :-)
I don't know, I think part of the fun of retro is seeing what it can do, especially for applications that weren't even dreamt of when the machines were mainstream. Like crypto mining on a Z80
where does one get started in machine learning??
@Dan Maloney RE applications for retro - yeah, for sure! Just how far can we take this retro tech?!
Yeah, I'm actually interested in how you made the lead from retro 6502s to AI with the latest in Edge computing
A tough question maybe, but I mean it with respect - do hard core EEs throw shade your way for your projects (which look pretty creative to me) because they lack a well thought out circuit board and so on....
Build an S-100 system with custom boards - don't miss it, had a wet darkroom with large format film - don't miss it.
Not the sentimental type with all the cool tools and resources we now have. . . these are the good days.
Yes DrG, that happens. I'm not an EE, I'm a hobbyist, so I'm OK with that. As long as I can build the devices I dream up and they work, I'm happy. If I were to have to burden myself with lots of extra tasks that don't actually help me get to my goal, I'd be far less productive (and happy with my hobby).
But you've got to admit it was pretty magical to see images come to life in the developer tray. Photoshop may be better in every tangible way, but that was some magical stuff.
Dan, I'm not stuck on any particular technology. I like old stuff, I also like modern tech. Whatever tool helps me build my ideas.
@ Dan Maloney
Yes is was pretty cool but the novelty wore off within a couple decades. A guy I worked with at Xerox started Adobe and I am hooked on it's magic.
Oh yeah, for sure, just seemed like a big leap. Just wondering what got your attention about AI projects that got you going down that path.
https://hackaday.io/project/168727-tipper). Determining all of the factors that you need to look at, and determining an appropriate algorithm would be very hard work...The possibilities. For example, take Tipper (
With ML, you just create a model and feed it a bunch of data. It figures out the algorithm.
This used the Vectron 6502 computer to do gesture recognition and control an Atari 2600 game.
I really liked that one. Thought the way you executed the k-nearest algo in assembly was pretty slick
Thanks. Here's what the Vectron "saw".
Anyone doing lots of Zoom calls these days?
This one mutes video on your Zoom call if it sees your underwear.
Not that anyone would ever need such a thing. lol
So -- the training set for that one must have been... interesting?
Haha, yeah, that's one way to put it.
For the breadboard haters and lovers alike. Vectron VGA.
That's Vectron 64 on the left, the rest is the VGA generator.
You'll need to order more boards, Dan.
Also, desk not quite so clean. Told you so! :)
Jeez, I guess so. I'm actually thinking about a CDP1802 breadboard build. It was that microprocessor in my "first" computer, a COSMAC VIP that I still have no idea how my parents afforded.
Breadboard tetris... :-D
Hmm, maybe there's an idea there...breadboard Tetris...
You seem to be already doing it with your breadboards on the table... :-D
Yes, I got it :) It just made me start thinking of a mechanical version of tetris
Nick, do you carry a nerd notebook to write down ideas wherever you are?
I think it can be done with electromagnets under the table
We're just about out of time for today, so I want to thank Nick for his time. I really enjoyed the Chat today and getting a chance to pick Nick's brain. The Hack Chat channel is always open, so feel free to stay on and continue the conversation. But for now, thanks Nick! And thanks to everyone for the great discussion!
I use Google Tasks. That way it's always available.
I thought google tasks were killed already
Thanks a lot for a fun chat Nick (and, of course Dan The Man). Good stuff!
And now I'm off to ponder just what a purely mechanical Tetris game would entail...
Thanks so much all for joining!
Sorry to give you the bug...