Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Off-Topic: A Simple Electronics Project

As I continue to read forward into the book, I'm quickly realizing that I won't be posting updates on experiments every day. Some of these experiments are monsters -- likely to take days or even a week of careful wiring and testing before I can share results. Charles warned me about this at Maker Faire, but did I listen? Nope.

My Bluetooth-powered Arcade Controller
So, in between writing up my results and thoughts on the 36 experiments in the book, I figure I can share a few odds and ends here and there, and maybe point readers to some interesting books or projects or websites I've found (or find) that might be relevant to the electronics hobby.

I'll start out with one I built a few weeks back. I wrote about this project in greater detail for and you can read the original post here, but here's the nutshell version:

I like to play old Atari 2600 games as well as 80s/90s-style arcade games on my computer and I've been wanting to introduce my 7 year old (and maybe my 4 year old) to some of these games. I found an interesting project over at involving creating a small handheld box with a joystick and a few buttons on top... pair it up via Bluetooth to a computer or laptop and play away. I also have a Mac laptop and an Apple TV connected to the flatscreen in our living room, allowing me to put whatever is on the screen of my laptop on the big screen... this was looking good.

Some of the components for building the Arcade Controller.
Total parts purchased were under $40 (if I remember correctly) for the tiny Bluetooth keyboard device, some buttons, and a joystick. I bought the box for $3 or $4 at a hobby shop. The small Bluetooth device required a tiny amount of soldering. I painted the thing purple, powered it with some rechargeable AAA batteries (and a battery harness I already owned), and what do you know... Atari 2600 games once again on a big TV screen. (I've also really been enjoying playing Joust on my flatscreen with some unusual looks from the family.)

Here's a link to the online instructions to build your own.

And here's a link to Stella, the Atari 2600 emulator.

And here's a link to grab some of the Atari 2600 games. (I own a LOT of original cartridges, so I don't think I'm violating any laws here...)

The Atari 2600 game Adventure on a flatscreen.
Yeah, that's Adventure. And yes, the very first Easter Egg is still tucked in there if you know where to look. (I found it back when I was 7 or 8 and had no idea what it was. It was totally accidental, using the Bridge at one particular point and hearing that blip that indicated you'd picked something up... to see that glowing little dot was quite strange.)

Total time to wire it all up was about an hour... drilling the holes and painting the box actually took the most time. I highly recommend hunting down those special jumper wires that insert onto headers... saved a LOT of headache not having to solder to header posts... which I hate doing. Radio Shack Part # 2760151 and worth every penny.

You'll get some practice on using your multimeter to verify connections as well as with your soldering rig. Follow the instructions carefully and you'll also understand how the joystick works -- each position (Up, Down, Left, Right) is nothing but a signal that is triggered by four small switches inside the joystick device. These are interpreted as keyboard presses -- the Stella or MAME software that runs games uses keyboard presses to simulate firing, jumping, etc... you're just using the small Bluetooth device to send a handful of signals as keyboard presses to your computer. It's really quite cool.

A peek inside the box as wiring was being done.

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