many unrelated things

I feel like I should write something, though I haven’t really done much lately so this is going to be boring.

I went back to work this week after a wonderful week off, and I really didn’t want to be there. Its been a frustratingly slow and boring week, but it got better towards the end. Next week should be much better as we’re finally ready to begin installing production servers rather than treading water like we have been for the last few months.

I haven’t written any code in the last week, mostly because work has been so draining. My bus trips have consisted solely of playing Advance Wars, which is still as good as ever although its starting to get harder and I’m really having to think hard, which means I lose a lot on a week like this one.

I still need to fix up the circle routine. I bought a nice pad of graph paper and when I feel like it I’ll sit down and work out the maths again from first principles, as I don’t fully understand Steve Judd’s algorithm. I still see no reason why a convincing tunnel effect shouldn’t be possible. I’m eager to get it out of the way because I really want to a filled 3D polygon spinner; I have a neat idea for a technique that should make the thing fly.

On the day I bought Advance Wars I also bought a C64 DTV. Its very cool, and I’m really excited about the idea of building a full computer out of it - its a C64 but with some nifty new features, mostly new graphics modes and more colours. I noticed the colours were really washed out so some searching revealed a detailed analysis and fix of the problem. I implemented it on Sunday night, in a horribly hackish way with big chunky resistors across SMD resistors, with a pair of pliers and my bulky old soldering iron. My games now look beautiful.

My two goals for my DTV is to build it into a keyboard, and to give it a SD card reader. Its still pretty far off, but it should be a fun project.

That reminded me of just how much I enjoy doing electronics work, and I’ve always wanted to design and build a computer from scratch, so I started looking into that again. Of course I love the 6502 and friends, and I always assumed that that is what I’d use. These parts are just a paint to get hold of though (no local source), so I’ve been looking for something else. I’ve pretty much settled on the Atmel AVR line of microcontrollers - the instruction set looks closer to the 6502 than the main alternative, the Microchip PIC, and seems to have less limitations.

For my first trick, I want to implement a video generator, which would eventually become the video subsystem for my computer. I’ve found a couple of projects where people have done this before (AVR-based or PIC-based), and it doesn’t seem overly complicated. Initially it’ll be a standalone generator with perhaps a simple command setup so that an external processor can drive it, but there’ll be no general-purpose framebuffer (ie, user programs won’t be able to draw directly). I will want the ability to do direct drawing eventually though, which means DMA blitting, memory sharing (eg like the C64 does with its wacky CPU-disabling stuff, or dual-channel RAM. Or maybe something else, I don’t know yet. Its why I’m avoiding it for now :P

I decided that if any of this is ever going to happen, then I’m going to have to do it a little bit at a time - if I wait until I have time and money to do it all at once, it will never happen. To that end I went to Jaycar last night and bought a logic probe, something I’ve been hankering for for over 18 months. The game is afoot!