Summary for RetroChallenge 2009

Wow, what a fun challenge this has been! While I certainly ran into a number of difficulties, for my first RetroChallenge, I’m pleased to say that I consider my project a relative success. After all, I was able to get my //e talking to my wife’s Sanyo Katana without issue. And I even managed to get it to talk to my Treo, I just couldn’t get the Treo to talk back. ;) I have created a separate project page for this project, complete with more pictures, that I will use to continue the project beyond the challenge. I’ll continue to post updates there, as well. Check out that page for a more detailed summary of the project.

So I ended up proving that the //e could use the bluetooth module to talk to phones supporting the DUN profile without issue, and I received confirmation that it works with other Treos. (just not mine, for some reason) I never managed to determine the exact cause of my Treo’s failures. I do not know if it is a problem that affects all Sprint Treos, or ones with a certain firmware, but it certainly doesn’t affect all Treo’s.

As far as my goal to have a full design prepared for the interface card, I just didn’t get there. Wrestling with the Treo really slowed me down there. Not to mention the fact that my most important prototyping parts that I ordered from ReactiveMicro.com still have not arrived. I suppose it was just bad timing, with KFest going on and all. I have the design mostly done and I posted a pic to the project page.

I definitely had a great time with this project and learned a tremendous amount. While I didn’t get to complete as much of the project this month as I had hoped, my success to this point encourages me to continue the project to its eventual completion in the weeks to come. I also have some additional ideas for features I’d like to add to the design and should have the time now to see about those. So please, stay tuned for more updates. Read More ›

Down to the Wire(less)

Hey everybody… I haven’t posted more recently because I have had some pretty major roadblocks. Most of the things I expected to be easy have been anything but. Also, I have been awaiting several prototyping components for the actual Apple II card for weeks now and alas, after having just checked the mail, I know that I won’t even have a few minutes to put the parts together for a quick test today.

Unfortunately, the real problem appears to be my Treo itself. It seems to have some serious objections to communicating with either Bluetooth module I picked up. (Though I have received confirmation that other Treos work fine.) I am awaiting some last minute support from Bluegiga regarding this issue and am hopeful for good news.

The circuit design and board layout are still in early stages, as these other problems have been such a challenge.

I will also be doing a complete writeup/summary of the project later today, and while I am disappointed that some things have been such a challenge, I am also very encouraged that none of these things have proved impossible to overcome. I have confidence that I’ll be able to resolve them soon. As for the competition, I think there are some accomplishments/revelations worthy of note, and will detail those in my later summary. Read More ›

They don't call it a challenge for nothing

Well, the reason I haven’t posted of late is that I’ve run into a couple of snags. I had really hoped that next post would be one announcing my success in establishing a direct connection from my //e to my Treo. You see, I was very close. As I mentioned in my last post, I was nearly able to transfer disk images over to my //e using ADTPro. Well, I got that working with minimal effort and created myself a MODEM.MGR boot disk which would talk to my bluetooth module connected to the SSC. So all of that works just fine. The //e talks to the bluetooth module no problem.

So the issue I’m having is between the Treo and the module. It seems there’s something about the Treo that the module doesn’t like, or vice versa, perhaps. I can establish a SPP/DUN connection to my wife’s phone, a Sanyo Katana, no problem. Of course, I can establish a similar connection with the Treo, but I cannot issue any commands at all. The module says it is connected but I’m clearly getting nothing through. I’ve never been terribly impressed with the Bluetooth stack on the Palm OS, so I imagine it’s just a little idiosyncratic and I haven’t found a way to make this module talk to the Treo yet. Bluegiga is a Finnish company and their tech support has been friendly and responsive, but not particularly helpful.

At this point, I feel as if I’m out of options with the WT-32 module, so I’ve ordered a BlueSMIRF module. I’m determined to get this connection working under the deadline. Now, I’m not as enthusiastic about the feature set on the BlueSMIRF, which is why I had picked the BlueGiga module in the first place. But as it turns out, the BlueGiga module does not support the HID profile in host mode, which would have allowed me to interface my Apple Bluetooth Keyboard with the //e. The WT-32 still has some neat audio features that the BlueSMIRF lacks, but I wasn’t quite as interested in those. Anyway, I’m hoping that the BlueSMIRF and Treo get along a little better.

In the meantime, I have been trying to work on the other thing I wanted to accomplish, the board layout/design for a custom card for this application. This was always the part I wasn’t entirely certain I would have time to put together in a month. As August approaches, I’m feeling less and less confident. However, I do continue to make progress on this, but it is requiring learning a lot of new tools. I’m currently trying to implement the discrete logic of the SSC as VHDL code in an Altera CPLD. Given that the schematic for the SSC is available, the challenge here is simply getting up to speed with these new tools.

I’m also still awaiting the delivery of some essential prototyping components that have been delayed. But all things considered, I’m still confident I can have my //e and Treo talking soon and I should also be able to have a board layout/VHDL design for the card mostly complete by the time the clock runs out on this friendly competition. Read More ›

Getting down to business

Ok, so I arrived home to discover that about half of the things I had ordered for the project had arrived. It was enough to start putting things together, so I started today with the WT-32 Bluetooth module. I ordered this from Sparkfun with their breakout board, so it was easy to interface this with an RS232 level adapter board I had on hand. I powered this with 3 AAA batteries and fired up ZTerm on my MBP. I was able to begin interacting with the module straight away over the UART. I then initiated a Bluetooth connection with it and was able to create a serial connection over the Bluetooth. This took about 5 minutes. So far, I’m very impressed with the module.

With the Bluetooth module working as it should, I set my attention on the //e. Since I intend to recreate the SSC in my card, I figured it was best to begin with a real SSC and simply connect my RS232 adapter board to the SSC directly. This proved more tricky than setting up the Bluetooth module, as it took me a while to get the settings for ADTPro just right. I ended up getting ADTPro working using the serial port so I am now able to send disk images over from my MBP. Tomorrow I should be able to get MODEM.MGR up and running on it and we should have the Bluetooth module up and running with it!

After that, I’ll need to figure out how to implement the SSC logic in my CPLD and continue laying out my board. I did also receive my Altera CPLD dev kit. I’m still waiting on a few parts, but in the meantime, here are a few pics:


Altera MAX7000 CPLD dev kit


WT-32 Bluetooth module on breakout board from Sparkfun


Assembled test circuit for WT32 module
Read More ›

Everything is on it's way to my house except me!

Ok, I know I haven’t posted very regular updates, but there is a good reason for that… I’ve been out of town for the past 3 weeks or so and I won’t return until this weekend. So I’ve basically had to make all of this time strictly my “planning” stage. Of course, for this project, the long planning phase has been beneficial as I’m working with some things that I am very new to – programmable logic devices, the Apple II, and these specific parts. So while I’m definitely anxious to get hands-on with the circuit, I’ve certainly made the most of my planning time. I’ve had to make the most of it, as the testing/implementation stages of my project are going to be crammed into the last two weeks of the challenge. I can only hope things go relatively smoothly at that point.

I am happy to report that I’ve now ordered all of the parts that I will need to begin prototyping my circuit as soon as I return home. I’ll post pics of all the parts when I get them unpacked. I ended up settling on the WT-32 BlueGiga module from SparkFun. This module has some great features that set it apart from the BlueSMIRF modules. I hope to have to explore some of these additional features an sneak them into my entry as “bonus” features. I definitely think there are more applications for this module than simply interfacing with my Treo. ;)

Also, I’ve got a rudimentary board layout put together. This is mostly to determine how much board space I’ll need. It’s going to be tight, but it looks like I’ve got the space. I’ll wait until I actually prototype the circuit further before fleshing out the layout much more.

Anyway, thanks for staying tuned. I’ll post more as soon as possible. Read More ›