An Arduino keyboard for the Apple II

November 20th, 2017 7:50 AM
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Filed under Hacks & mods;
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My first computer was an Apple IIe that my father purchased to help manage the family business. Given the wealth of games that were also available for the Apple II, it was inevitable that its use spread to his four sons. All was going well until one of us reached for a box of floppies on the shelf above the computer and dropped it on the keyboard, busting a keycap. My father angrily decreed his expensive business computer was henceforth off-limits to us kids — a restriction that I don't recall lasting more than a week.

With the exception of that mishap, our keyboard always performed admirably, without failures or flaws. I don't recall the Apple IIe showing any other signs of wear, tear, or distress in the five years we owned it.

The same can't be said for Max Breedon, who recently unearthed his Epson AP-200 an Apple IIe clone he acquired from a pawn shop twenty years ago. The keyboard decoder chip, a C35224E, was non-functional — but that didn't stop Breedon. After consulting Mike Willegal's keyboard page and doing some testing of his own, Breedon put an Arduino on a daughterboard that connects the keyboard to the motherboard. His solution is actually better than the original, since it speeds data entry of program listings found on the Internet — something the clone's manufacturers never anticipated:

[T]he Arduino can not only decode the keyboard but also you can upload text directly into the Apple as if you typed it in. This is achieved through serial communication from your PC to the Arduino: the Arduino is listening for serial data and any that it receives it converts into keypresses and pipes it into the Apple. This means that you can cut and paste basic programs directly off the internet and upload them into the apple as if you typed it in on the actual keyboard!

Arduino keyboard

That's a neat trick! I've never used an Arduino, so I wouldn't be able to duplicate this functionality — but it could be the underpinnings for a product I'd purchase for an official Apple II. There's more technical information on Breedon's website, should anyone else wish to investigate or re-create his work.

(Hat tip to John Baichtal)

Raspberry Pi: The next Apple-1?

March 12th, 2012 10:34 AM
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A computer named after a fruit? Hey, it worked for Apple. So why not Raspberry?

The Raspberry Pi is a credit-card-sized computer that, like the original Apple-1, comes without a monitor or keyboard. But unlike any product of the Homebrew Computer Club, this device can compete with computers of today.

Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi is powered by ARM1176JZFS CPU (part of the ARMv6 architecture) and Videocore 4 GPU. It will do everything from run Python to power a Blu-Ray DVD player through its OS of choice, Linux. Raspberry Pi comes in two flavors, both with 256MB of RAM. $25 gets you the Model A, with one USB port; for an extra $10, you get a second USB port plus an Ethernet jack.

"Inspired by computers like the BBC Micro and the Commodore 64 in the 1980s, the group of engineers set out to build a new programmable machine for a new generation," reports CNN. And just like its predecessors, Raspberry Pi looks to revolutionize computing. According to the foundation's Web site:

Developing countries are interested in the Raspberry Pi as productivity devices in areas that simply can’t afford the power and hardware needed to run a traditional desktop PC; hospitals and museums have contacted us to find out about using the Raspberry Pi to drive display devices. Parents of severely disabled kids have talked to us about monitoring and accessibility applications; and there seem to be a million and one people out there with hot soldering irons who want to make a robot.

Could the Raspberry Pi be the next Apple-1 or even Apple II — a machine that's so affordable, so expandable, and so flexible that it can be whatever anyone with some know-how wants it to be? Or is it more notable for selling out on its Leap Year launch date of Feb 29, 2012, with nothing notable to come of it? It wouldn't be the first product whose potential went unrealized — witness the Apple II's own Carte Blanche card. Or will Raspberry Pi do great things yet be remembered for what it didn't do? One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program accomplished great deeds but was faced with significant criticism. Can Raspberry Pi live up to its hype?

Pi is not the computer for me, but I am eager to see if it becomes the next Arduino, making possible infinite amazing projects.

A USB keyboard for the Apple II? Not quite…

June 9th, 2011 11:08 AM
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There have been many attempts over the years to bring the USB interface to the Apple II. Most, such as the iDisk and even Vince Briel's upcoming A2MP3 card, focus on the storage possibilities of the interface. But what about the variety of other peripherals modern computers have access to via USB? Even something as basic as a keyboard has eluded Apple II users.

Ironically, Andrew Filer's approach goes in the completely opposite direction, turning the Apple II into a USB peripheral. His hack turns the Apple II Plus into a keyboard for a MacBook Pro. This hack is made possible by Keyduino, an application of the open-source electronics prototyping platform Arduino.

Apple II Plus as a USB keyboardAn Apple II Plus as a USB keyboard? Sacrilege!

Filer says it was "surprisingly easy", but his brief blog post on the subject addresses few of the technical concerns he must've addressed to accomplish this feat. For example, KansasFest alumnus Rob, who first pointed me to this hack, asks, "How does he handle shift keys? Does he properly implement the game port shift key modifier?"

Regardless, it's neat to see the variety of modern uses that are still to be found in classic hardware — even (or especially) if it's not what we expected.

(Hat tip to Brian Benchoff)