As you will no doubt have noticed, Chris Taylor's recent blog on the increasing use of FPGAs in the DIY realm has sparked a flood of comments.
During this column, Chris mentioned how the term "open-source" used to refer only to software, but may now also apply to hardware. This is especially true in the case of FPGA-based designs, of course. As one example, Chris introduced us to the open-source RetroCade Synthesizer, which was designed and created by Jack Gassett using the Papilio FPGA development platform.
I immediately got in touch with Jack, who: a) joined All Programmable Planet; and b) posted a comment to Chris's article that included an embedded video showing an FPGA-based motion tracking system. What I hadnít realized was that Jack was the guy who is behind the Gadget Factory and who designed the Papilio FPGA development platform in the first place! Wow! Color me impressed!
Chris also mentioned a guy called Mike Field (a.k.a. "Hamster") who has Conway's Game of Life implemented on his Papilio. Isnít it amazing how this is all intertwined? Yes, you guessed it... I lost no time getting in touch with Hamster, who is based in New Zealand (the lucky rascal). You will be delighted to hear that Hamster also: a) joined us here at All Programmable Planet; and b) posted a comment to Chris's article.
I tackle the Mighty Hamster in his lair.
Now, this is where things start to get really interesting, because Jack asked me if I'd seen Hamster's book. "Book," I said, "What Book?" So I tackled the Mighty Hamster in his lair (as it were), and he spake unto me as follows:
I love FPGAs, but few people realize that it is a cheap hobby to get into. For less than the cost of a good meal, you can get a development board, and most tools are zero cost for smaller FPGAs. I wrote my Wiki site on a whim to try and get others enthused about FPGAs. I was hoping to organize an informal course for the local Robotics club (and my young son wanted company during his 2 p.m. naps).
Somehow, my Wiki made it onto Hackaday.com (an act of shameless self-promotion or, as my wife calls it, "ego stroking"). A sub-editor at O'Reilly Media said "Like the Website -- do you want to do a book? Write me a proposal for a book and I'll take it to the editorial team." So I did a proposal and I plugged the Papilio platform, which is, after all, aligned with O'Reilly's open-source ideals. But the full editorial team said "Nice idea, market too small, we do reference volumes not limited introductions. In a word, 'No.' "
At the same time, Gadget Factory shipped me a Papilio Plus board along with a prototype LogicStart mega-wing (for free!) I'm a big fan of Jack's design work, and I'd much rather he sells boards than Digilent sell its dodgy Basys2. I couldn't leave Jack at Gadget Factory with this amazing board and no book!
So this is how I've ended up with a minimalist intro to VHDL, that covers using all the major features of the Spartan 3E FPGA, based on the cheapest FPGA boards that are worth owning -- Papilio + LogicStart (for hobbyist) and Digilent Basys2 (for people who can't solder on a header strip and who can live with a crappy oscillator).
"But how can we get this book?" I hear you cry. Well, fear not, because there is nothing to fear but fear itself, as my dear old dad used to say. Turn that frown upside down, and click here to see Hamster's project base. Click here to download the most current version of the book in PDF form.
All Hail the Mighty Hamster!
So, all I can say is "All Hail the Mighty Hamster!"