As I started setting up to use ATTiny85s with Arduino IDE and ArduinoISP as programmer, I quickly came across the “How do I get debug output?” question. While the chip doesn’t have a UART, there is a Tiny Debug Serial package for it, so Serial.print() can bit-bang out PB3. But what do I display it on?
I could use an Arduino to take serial in and send it out to the serial console. But I’m not sure I can do that and keep the ArduinoISP sketch in place – which I’ll need frequently to download new code versions.
I considered getting a serial LCD as a general purpose display, but they’re a little expensive, so I thought about what old stuff I might repurpose for this. My old Palms! I have a Treo and a Centro that got outdated before they got broken. They’re real bored these days, and have serial I/O, so I started digging.
The two devices both use the Palm “MultiConnector” and the same cables. Here’s a doc with pinouts. The serial is 3.3V TTL. Of the various cables I have for the two, only one has physical pins in positions 10,11 where the serial is. I took it apart, and found those pins were not connected. (It only had USB wires Gnd, +5, Data+, and Data-.) But there are enough wires, so I should be able to move some.
Done! The range of small pins (L to R from the back) is 17-5. White and green are now on 11 and 10. The original black – via one of the yellows – goes to 8, so I’ve got ground. After it’s all done it looks a lot like it did before I started. But now white and green ring out to the RX, TX pins .
The Tiny Debug Serial package included with current tiny 45/85 Arduino cores is almost a drop-in for the normal Serial stuff, automagically figuring out if the target chip has no UART and slipping itself in. The package is send-only, but that’s really all I need. Just added a Serial.begin(9600) and some Serial.print()s, just like normal. I added a startup message and print the value read from the ADC once/sec. The analog in pin is currently hooked to a pot for testing.
I found an old Palm Hotsync manager and reminded myself how to install stuff on Palms. Found, downloaded and installed (free) ptelnet-0.61.prc to the Centro. Got it running on the serial port at 9600 and hooked Gnd/RX of the new cable to PB3 (pin 2) on the Tiny. Since the Centro is 3V logic, I used a 3.3K/10K voltage divider from the Tiny pin to protect it from the 5V logic levels.
And it works! I’m just using the built-in 8MHz oscillator divided by 8 for a 1MHz clock. Seems to be accurate and stable enough to run at 9600. Woo hoo!
Now that it actually works, I terminated the cable for convenient use with a breadboard. It’s even labeled for TX and 3 and 5 volt RX. Hmm, seems to need a pullup to work. I don’t understand that, but it works.
Update 8/30/11: I have another Palm, so I’d like another cable. The hot sync cables lying around have the wrong pins populated. They needed USB, not serial, and so populated positions 5-8 and 12. Let’s see if I can move some.
I opened up the connector and found a little PCB to hold the switch – no surprise there. But the pins seem to be soldered to both sides of the board. How’d they do that? And how did they get spring-loaded pins in there in the first place?
After meeting the challenge of unsoldering the board without doing too much damage to the pins (though the plastic suffered a little) I gingerly pulled a couple of pins out. That answered both questions: Clever manufacturing provided the spring. And the pins are reversible, with the solderable finger offset from center by about half a board thickness. The good news is that I can just pull them out and relocate them to the positions I needed. The other good news is that I can take advantage of the pin offset to give myself a little more working room on the two adjacent positions (10,11) I need pins for.
A quick test and it works! Haven’t terminated the other end yet.
Update 1/19/12: The goal of this project was a cheap, simple way to get serial debug info at TTL levels from a micro on a breadboard. I’m now using another approach that mostly works better for me.
While the Palm is cool and portable, it has a couple of drawbacks:
* The connector is flaky. I have to keep pushing it in to make sure it works. I think what I did is OK, it just doesn’t snap very securely into the Palm.
* The terminal emulation I’m using responds to BREAK (line not held high) with an error popup and stops. I have to clear the error and then click the tiny On button to go online. Power cycling the micro produces a BREAK condition – and it’s a hassle. Another terminal emulation would probably work more gracefully, but I never got around to finding one.
* Since it’s battery powered, I feel like I have to turn it off all the time except when I’m actually looking at it.
My PC has several real RS-232 ports, so if I had a TTL to RS-232 converter, I could just run a terminal emulation in its own window and overcome all the problems with the Palm. Not very portable, but I’m in front of the PC most of the time anyway. Yeah, I could make something with 1488s/1489s or a MAX232, but there’s still the issues of power and 3.3 and 5V devices.
It wasn’t even worth making a PCB. Each side provides its own appropriate positive voltage. The RS-232 end (PC) must assert DTR true to get a positive voltage source, and by connecting the TTL side to local power on the breadboard – 5 or 3.3V, it works happily with either. And no external power required!
I’m still happy to have my Palm and cable as a backup, but this is now my main serial TTL tool.