Saturday, August 17, 2013

RPN Scientific Calculator: Tweaks

Recently I was able to get some new components and took the chance to make a few tweaks to the calculator. First of all, I hooked up a new 20x4 character LCD to replace the 16x2 version I was using before. It is gray with black letters and I like how it looks. With this I will be able to make the bottom row of the screen a menu like the kind some of the later HP calculators use. The LCD itself came with male headers so it can be plugged into a breadboard, but there was no convenient place to put it so I decided to run wires from the headers to the breadboard instead. The LCD worked fine at first but quickly became corrupted after I wound the wires into a loop to make them neater. This was causing crosstalk and the problem disappeared when I separated the wires.

I also added a CMOS 555 timer to generate the negative voltage for the LCD. This frees up a microcontroller pin that I am now using to independently drive the input shift register of the RAM. Now I can read the external RAM and the keyboard at the same time without worrying about coordinating interrupts. In order to save energy I decided to use the smallest capacitor and the largest value resistors I could for the timer. Unfortunately, none of the resistor values I had on hand would give me the 30 Hz or so the microcontroller was generating. 48 Hz was the closest I could get using a 0.1 uF capacitor and 100k ohm resistors for R1 and R2. Adding a 470 ohm resistor to the output of the 555 gave a good contrast and should also keep the contrast constant if I try to run everything from a battery later.

The last thing I did was to expand the CORDIC tables to 32 bits wide instead of 16. Using a 16 bit wide table gives around 14 decimal places of accuracy which is sufficient for calculating logarithms. A problem arises, however, when that logarithm is used to calculate things like exponents because those 14 places of accuracy also include the whole part of the answer. A simple calculation like 8^9 only offers 5 decimal places of accuracy after the decimal since the whole part is 9 digits long. The new version takes about 6 seconds to calculate "atan(tan(37))" This is very slow so I will let the user set the precision in settings.

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