Custom PC, Issue 133

Custom PC Issue 133This month’s Hobby Tech is an absolute giant: seven pages long, owing to a bonus two-page review of the Nvidia Jetson TK1 development board – and many thanks to the guys at Zotac for granting me exclusive access to the UK’s only press sample ahead of its retail launch! The usual five pages are filled with a tutorial on using relays with the Raspberry Pi, an in-depth look at the Phenoptix MeArm, and a tour of the excellent DOSBox software.

The Jetson TK1 is a good place to start. It’s no Raspberry Pi: launching at £199.99 via Maplin – despite a far lower $192 US RRP – the board is designed for developers with big pockets. Despite this, it may actually be worth the cash: it’s by far the fastest single-board computer I’ve ever had on my test bench, with four 2.3GHz Cortex-A15 CPU cores, a fifth ‘Shadow Core’ for background tasks, and 192 Kepler-class graphics processing cores on its sadly actively-cooled chip. There are, however, issues that will trouble hobbyists looking to use the system. Most surprising of these is a lack of OpenCL support, despite the Tegra K1 on which the Jetson TK1 is based supporting it just fine.

From the high-end to the pocket-friendly with the next review: the Phenoptix MeArm. Supplied by Ben Gray, its designer, the MeArm is a kit of laser-cut acrylic parts and a selection of hobby servos for building a desktop robotic arm. Compatible with anything that can drive servos – or even things, like the Raspberry Pi, that can’t, if you add an I2C controller board – the MeArm is a fascinating entry point to hobbyist robotics, and doubly so thanks to its open nature and extremely low cost.

The tutorial this month is an extension to the Twitter-connected doorbell which appeared in Issue 130. Although the original design worked fine, it lacked an audible alert. The solution: using a relay to trigger the original doorbell’s sounder unit, turning my design into a drop-in upgrade for any wired doorbell while also teaching the basics of how relays can extend the capabilities of a microcontroller or microcomputer platform.

Finally, DOSBox. While I’m a big believer in using real-metal hardware for my vintage computing, even I have to admit that sometimes emulators can be extremely handy – and DOSBox is one of the handiest around. More properly termed a simulator, DOSBox allows you to run old MS-DOS software on modern systems – complete with filters that improve the graphics and full network support. Designed primarily for gaming, its compatibility with images created using the KryoFlux – reviewed in Issue 131 – mean it’s perfect for retrieving data from ageing floppy disks, as well as playing Doom the way it should be played!

All this, plus a bunch of other interesting things written by people who aren’t me, can be yours with a trip to your nearest newsagent or supermarket. If you’d prefer not to leave the house, try a digital copy via Zinio or similar services.

Raspberry Pi: 21 Brilliant Projects

Raspberry Pi: 21 Brilliant ProjectsA few months ago I was approached by PC Pro’s Priti Patel with a project proposal: a MagBook featuring a number of interesting projects for the low-cost Raspberry Pi microcomputer. I, naturally, jumped at the chance, and the fruit – pun entirely intended, I’m afraid – of my labour is now available.

Entitled Raspberry Pi: 21 Brilliant Projects, the MagBook features 141 full-colour pages of projects designed for beginner to intermediate users. The introductory projects are, as you might expect, gentle indeed: unboxing and connecting the Pi, installing an operating system via the New Out-Of-Box Software (NOOBS), and the like. From there, the MagBook then covers four project categories: Productivity, Entertainment, Plug-In Hardware and DIY & Advanced.

In the Productivity chapter, I walk the reader through safely overclocking the Pi to boost its performance, sharing a keyboard and mouse with a desktop without the need to move any cables, using the Pi as a thin client for a desktop or laptop running Windows, OS X or Linux, setting up a TOR proxy, and installing and running the popular WordPress blogging platform.

In Entertainment, readers see how to convert any TV with HDMI, DVI, SCART or composite video inputs into a smart TV, work with Minecraft Pi Edition, emulate vintage gaming platforms, and build a headless Internet radio receiver.

For the Plug-In Hardware chapter, I wrote up how to build a digital photo frame, the use of USB-connected application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) to mine Bitcoins, a Twitter-powered motion-sensing security system, how to configure the Pi for fully wireless use, and how to combine the power of the Pi with that of the Arduino microcontroller.

Finally, in the DIY & Advanced section, the reader learns how to use the Pi’s general-purpose input-output (GPIO) capabilities to build a traffic light system, create a doorbell that sends Twitter messages when activated, drive motors for a robotics system, build a custom arcade controller, create an Internet of Things printer, and how to cluster multiple Raspberry Pi units together to boost performance.

The MagBook is available in supermarkets and newsagents now, and will soon start shipping from Amazon UK for £9.99.

Custom PC, Issue 130

Custom PC Issue 130This month’s Hobby Tech column for Custom PC magazine is something of a Pi-extravaganza, featuring a tutorial on how I built a Python-powered doorbell so I wouldn’t miss deliveries when I’m in the upstairs office and a review of the Wolfson Audio Board add-on. If you’re not a Pi-fan, fear not: there’s also my write-up of the first RetroCollect Video Games Market event in Leeds.

That’s a good place to start, in fact. The brainchild of RetroCollect founder Adam Buchanan, the RCVGM brought sellers and buyers from across the UK under the roof of Leeds Town Hall to see what happened. The turn-out was far higher than expected, with a queue snaking through the building and half-way around the outside, but those who stuck with it and got inside were in for a treat.

Exhibitors at the event included people selling 8-bit inspired Hama-bead art, hand-made game-themed jewellery and clothing, and hardware and software from the early 8-bit era right the way through to modern day. Personal highlights included a tour of BetaGamma’s Bas Gialopsos’ latest creations, including hot-rodded Spectrums and a composite video adapter for the Atari 2600, and a chance to chat with Philip Murphy about his North-East Retro Gaming events where over a hundred arcade cabinets, classic consoles and pinball tables are set to free play for the weekend.

For the Pi fan, the tutorial this month demonstrates how a relatively simple hardware hack – a switch connected to the GPIO port – can be used to bring some intelligence to every-day objects. Although I work from home, I often miss deliveries because I’m listening to music and can’t hear the doorbell. While I could have purchased a wireless door-chime with two receivers, I had Pis and switches a-plenty and decided to go for a homebrew solution with Twitter integration – with great success.

Finally for this month, the review of the Wolfson Audio Board. Kindly provided by CPC, the board connects to the GPIO header on the Model A and Model B Revision 2 – but not Revision 1 – Raspberry Pi boards and provides a considerable upgrade to its audio capabilities. To get a full idea of what it can do, you’ll have to buy the magazine – but its highlights include SPDIF digital audio inputs and outputs, high-definition playback, on-board amplification and even a pair of MEMS microphones for stereo recording.

All this, plus a bunch of fascinating stuff that I didn’t write, can be yours at your local newsagent, supermarket, or digitally via services like Zinio.