Sunday, December 27, 2015

Makevention 2015

Makevention went really well! I was able to show everything I have been working on, although I didn't have time to finish everything. I made a poster board explaining some concepts related to calculators like RPN, BCD, and CORDIC on the left side with information about my RPN Scientific Calculator on the right. I also had a print out of how my external RAM preprocessor works. A few of the people who came by my table were programmers and understood the solution.

On the table itself I had different calculators and projects laid out in roughly chronological order. The first was an MK-61 RPN calculator I added to my collection over 10 years ago. Of course I didn't make it but I wanted to show an example of an RPN calculator and what inspired me to first make calculators. When I first got the calculator out to test it, it didn't show anything on the screen and I was afraid it was broken. I took it completely apart and looked for burst capacitors. I also brushed off the battery contacts since they didn't look very clean. When I turned it on, it still didn't show anything but when I pressed a number it showed up! It seems the calculator just doesn't display anything when first turned on, instead of the zero I was expecting. Somehow I had forgotten that in the 10 years its been since I last used it.

The Casio Algebra FX 2.0 was included to show the RPN stack program I wrote for it in 2002 or so. That program was designed to make the calculator function more like the HP-48GX I had at the time which I admired so much. First, I had to buy a calculator to replace the Algebra FX 2.0+ I sold in college. Loading the program onto the calculator took quite a while to figure out! In 2002 I used a serial cable, which I think was an SB-87, to load programs without any trouble. Nowadays I don't have a serial port, so I bought an FA-124 USB cable. It turns out that this cable doesn't work on Windows 7. I also couldn't get it to work correctly under Windows XP running in an emulator. Next I tried a lot of different third-party software and finally got the program to load using FlashCOM 1.4v and an FTDI cable. For the link port I bought a 2.5mm plug that I could easily wire to the FTDI cable. After that, the program I loaded kept crashing and I thought the transfer was corrupt. After more fiddling I got Turbo C up and running in an emulator and compiled the program source myself, which produced a fairly stable program that was good enough for exhibiting, although it did crash a couple times during Makevention. Someday I would like to fix the program up and make it more stable.

The next thing I showed was a launchpad hooked up to a breadboard with a button and blinking LED to show how easy it is to get started with electronics. The next step was my binary LED calculator. I soldered a coin battery holder on to the board. After that I showed the RPN Scientific Calculator and explained that it was not too difficult to move to this stage after I managed to finish the binary LED calculator. The Programmable RPN Scientific Calculator was next. I printed temporary a colored keypad on poster paper which I taped to it, but it did not work very well. Unexpectedly, the calculator showed random keypresses when I put my hand near it. All the keys were in the same column on the keyboard, which makes me thing there is a bad connection in that row of the key matrix.

Next I showed the Improved 6502 Virtual Trainer up and running on my laptop, along with the first 6502 Virtual Trainer. I also showed what I had accomplished with the 6502 graphing calculator. So far, I have most of the hardware for it installed but I am having problems keeping the buffer chips for driving the LCD at the appropriate voltage level. Maybe the pins joining the sections of the calculator together aren't making a good connection. In any case, I showed the calculator taken apart into its sections. I also showed the Logic Tool I have been using to debug the graphing calculator and the EEPROM programmer I built. The last thing I showed was the TI-86 I bought to hook up to an ESP8266. My plan was to relay text from the calculator over WiFi to a computer running Matlab or similar software to allow the calculator to solve more complex equations. I still haven't gotten the ESP8266 voltage levels to work right, but I want to finish this project when I have time.

All in all it was a great day and I really enjoyed showing the public all the things I have been working

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