Using your Pocket C.H.I.P as a portable Logic Analyzer

Pocket C.H.I.P + USB Analyzer

So a time ago I purchased a cheap USB Logic Analyzer from eBay that works great with a PC, and it’s been really helpful to debug several projects to date. It uses the Logic software from Saleae as hinted by the label on it, although I am not sure if the device is supposed to be a cheap knockoff of one of the (pricier) genuine Saleae analyzers, or it was just designed to be “Saleae-compatible” and use their software. Read More

Mini HTTP Daemon Service for RaspberryPi/Linux apps

So recently I had to design a relatively convoluted system with a database that communicates with a hardware controller board and a RFID reader. Among other things, the system has to respond to several commands issued from a web frontend over HTTP, and report the status of each sub-system, sensor, etc hopefully in JSON or similar web-friendly format.

For this task I picked a Raspberry Pi as the platform, and made a program in C that talks directly to the hardware and handles everything including the HTTP requests.  Now, this is definitely not the first time that I need to write a program that has to listen for requests and reply with simple data over HTTP,  so I thought that perhaps it would be useful to encapsulate this functionality in a small module that I could later re-use in other projects.

So I ended up doing exactly that, and uploaded the code to my GIT-Hub Repository, so you’ll find the result from that here: https://github.com/battlecoder/httpdpi.

Before you dive into the code, please bear in mind that it’s an extremely simple service that will only respond to GET requests, but has all it needs to reply with different status codes, text, and binary data. It only uses sockets and POSIX threads, so it’s very fast, doesn’t depend on a huge framework, and can run in parallel with your code. It’s also really easy to expand if you want to support other types of requests.

Since it doesn’t have obscure dependencies, it should also compile on most linux boxes including other small computers like C.H.I.P, Beaglebone, etc.

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ORC-KIT with standalone H-Bridge Drivers (and some updates)

So in the sort of tutorial I wrote about ORC-KIT I mentioned that it was possible to use other boards instead of Adafruit’s friendly motor shield, and in fact, there was space in the board for a couple of very cheap and widely available L9110S Dual H-Bridges, which should give you more control over the build, and “free” some precious Arduino pins that you can use for extra sensors and actuators. You can actually change the Arduino for something else, but that’s beyond the scope of this post.

H-Bridge?

H-Bridges are simple circuits that allow you to control the flow of current through a “load” with 2 control signals (A and B). When the load is a motor, you can make it spin forward, reverse or stop completely by changing the digital values on A and B. H-Bridges normally have an ENABLE line as well, which you can toggle yourself or leave permanently “ON”. Controlling the speed of the motors is easier if you can turn each bridge on and off quickly using PWM pulses applied to the enable lines, but that’s not always possible. The L9110S boards don’t have an enable pin, for instance, so we will need to manipulate only the 2 basic control signals to drive our motors if we use this controller.

Each of these Dual H-Bridge modules can drive 2 motors and has a 6 pin header for the 4 control signals plus power.

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Introducing ORC-KIT!

Earlier this year I embarked on the journey of designing a simple but expandable robot that any electronics enthusiast could build. I knew several nice kits from brands like LegoMakeblock, OWI Robotics, etc, but I considered them to be normally either too expensive or too simple and limited. There are also many generic unbranded kits on eBay which suspiciously have all pretty much the same design but vary mostly in their debatable choices for hardware and layout.

I wanted to do something flexible but not too expensive nor flashy, much like the unbranded kits, but with better design practices in mind, and engineered to be heavily customizable.

Fully assembled Vanilla ORC-KIT with some extras.

Fully assembled Vanilla ORC-KIT with some extras.

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Random Numbers, Distributions and Games (Part 2)

Continuing from my previous post on randomness, I’d like to talk about non-uniform distributions, which certainly don’t get all the love they deserve. When people talk or think about randomness in games, they commonly think about fair distributions. And I know we spent a lot of time in Part 1 actually trying to achieve perfect uniformity because it brings “fairness” to games,  but in reality, there are cases where you don’t want your random events to be ruled by a “fair” distribution at all.

Reality Check #4: Sometimes uniformity is bad

Fun fact: For a lot of “random” events in nature, every possible outcome rarely has the same chance of occurring, so perhaps trying to achieve that uniformity in games could be a mistake to begin with.

Let’s take rabbits for instance.

Yes, rabbits.

If you observe the population of rabbits of a given area, you’ll notice that they’ll have a”typical average size”. Let’s call that size X. You’ll find that most rabbits in the area will be around that size. There will be a rare few that are either considerably smaller than X or considerable bigger (outliers), but for the most of it, rabbits will be “just around” X in size. Same goes for any other quantifiable trait that depends on enough factors to be considered random.

They will most-likely follow what is called a Normal (or Gaussian) distribution, which is said to appear in nature all the time. The function that defines this distribution is also called the Gaussian Bell, due to the shape of the curve.

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Random Numbers, Distributions, and Games (Part 1)

DISCLAIMER: This is a rather long post on the topic of random numbers, so …uh, sorry for that. 

I want to talk about a couple of interesting things related to randomness and its many nuisances especially when applied to games. But before we get to that I guess I’ll introduce the basic notions for those of you who are not familiar with this whole thing. You can skip the first two sections if you know what a PRNG is, and how it works.

What is Random

Random is commonly defined as “unpredictable“. In general, when we are unable to find a pattern that would allow us to anticipate the outcome or occurrence of an event, we call it “unpredictable” and there’s a chance we will consider the event “random”.

You’ll also hear of “true randomness”, and things like natural atmospheric noise, lightning bolts, or particles falling from the space being used as sources and examples of it. But while we can’t currently predict when and where lightning will hit, events in the universe like electric discharges in clouds are most likely just a massively complicated function of a number of different factors, and not really something that happens with no rhyme or reason. It’s quite possible that if we were able to simulate each particle and sub-particle inside a group of storm clouds and their relevant vicinity, lightning would be trivial to anticipate with accuracy. This makes its “unpredictability” debatable,  I guess.

Having said that, let’s not forget that “predictable” and “unpredictable” are relative to an “observer”.  What we consider true random events could totally have a logic behind, but what matters is that from our -and our system’s- point of view, they are impossible to predict, and if the machine (or person) is unable to anticipate the occurrence of an event, the definition applies, regardless of the event’s “actual” predictability.

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DIY Desk Clock

I used to have a small desk clock that I purchased for a trip. It was cheap but it had some really nice features that I quite liked. It had large digits that I could see from my bed each morning, and it was also able to measure and display the current room temperature, which I always thought was incredibly cool for a clock.

The problem is, that it required a lot of batteries to work; 4XAAA for the fancy LCD backlight and soothing RGB glowing action, and 2xLR66 (button cells) for keeping the thing ticking and actually displaying time and temperature on its LCD screen.  It worked reasonably well, but it was running through the batteries way too fast, in my opinion.

I didn’t really care about the AAA batteries dying in a month, because I could always use rechargeable batteries there, but the small LR66 batteries were killing me. Replacing them each 5-6 months or less wasn’t really a pleasure, especially since it meant setting time, date and alarms all over again, every time.

So I adventured in the journey of building my own clock. My main objective was to keep the number of batteries low, while also having the nice features of my previous clock, like the big numbers and the temperature readings.

SPOILERS: This is what I ended up making. No, it's not a bomb.

SPOILERS: This is what I ended up making. No, it’s not a bomb.

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USB Adventures Part 2: Custom HID and USB Composite Devices

So in a previous post I’ve discussed how to communicate with a custom HID device using libhid and a Raspberry Pi running linux.

This post is a sort of sequel. I’ll talk about some of the issues and nuances I found when working on a more complex (but related) project; In this case a  Composite USB Device that I had to implement on a PIC 18F4550 microcontroller.

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Raspberry Pi, C and custom HID Devices

So I’m writing a program in C that needs to interact with a custom HID device I built. This program will be running on a Raspberry Pi. This isn’t a massively complicated task but it can be daunting when there’s not a single “barebone” example or tutorial out there on how to do this. So I decided to write this sort of guide in case it may come in handy for anyone (including myself, in a future).

Compiling libhid

Libhid is an open source library designed on top of libusb to deal with HID devices, so the first step is compiling libhid. I’d say this is relatively straight-forward except for the fact that “as-is”, the library fails to build in the Pi. Luckily the problem is a single line of code in one of the examples (yes, and that prevents the whole library from being compiled and installed).

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Building an app/game for Android with PhoneGap

PhoneGap allows you to create apps for a wide range of devices from a single web-based (HTML+CSS+JS) project. Once you code your content in web format (a HTML5 game for instance) PhoneGap creates an app out of it. How is that done? Well, PhoneGap makes a project for your target platform that consists of a native app that launches a webview and loads your web-content there, providing also a JS bridge to some device-specific features (GPS, accelerometers, gallery, etc) creating what’s essentially called a “hybrid” app.

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