Embedded Tiny Basic: build apps for your projects

Embedded Tiny Basic: build apps for your projects

I, recently, embarked on building a useful if not glitzy digital clock. My first idea involved something retro: using four, seven segment, LED’s to look like something from the late 1970’s.  At the same time, I was also playing around with 8×8 LED Arrays, using the MAX7219 chip.  While playing with that, I connected one of my 1307 RTC’s to the array and loaded up a sketch to show the date and time on the arrays.  Then, it hit me…this is a much cooler clock and I can do more with it.

So, I built a prototype using one of my Half-Byte Console boards, minus the video, audio and Nunchucky connector.  Hardware wise, it was really simple…connect the arrays to pins 10, 11 and 12, the RTC to A4 and A5 and, for extra coolness, a BMP180 temp and humidity sensor to the sca and scl on the RTC.  Viola! modify the code to handle the BMP180 and Presto! A cool clock.


Prototype clock for developing Embedded Tiny Basic

I decided to build a second one to take to work.  I thought it might be useful to be able to throw up a custom message to scroll for when, say, I was in a meeting. The more I thought, the more I was convinced this thing needed some kind of control program that would be easily modified from, say, a smartphone and Bluetooth.

Well, I already had the genesis of that control program: Half Byte Tiny Basic.

So, I looked at the source and made a copy.  I then went in and removed stuff I would not need, like all of the graphics statements and functions. I removed the TVOut library, and  all of the video handling code. And TONE.  I miss TONE.

I did not need the Nunchuck code, so it was gone as well.  What was left was a nice, small shell of my control program.  I added the libraries for the 8×8 LED Array (MAXMATRIX) and added statements to manipulate the arrays: SCROLL to display text, SET to turn on or off individual LEDs, and DIRECTION to tell the arrays  which way to scroll the text.  I already had code to handle the DHT-11 temperature sensor, so I left that in (and decided to use it instead of the BMP180) and added T


Random dots on the clock

EMP and HUMID to scroll those values across the arrays, and added code for the RTC.I was going to add a mechanism that would interrupt the running program if a signal from the serial device was detected, but, there was already one there…the IN(0) function. So I left it. I now had a decent little programming language for the clock.  With HB Tiny Basic’s ability to autorun whatever is in the EEPROM, if it lost power, th


Clock, in action

e clock would just start running on its own. Sweet!


The HC-06 Bluetooth module works very nicely. It connects to the serial pins and communicates as if the device were connected directly to the controlling device-a PC or smartphone.  Everything fits nicely into these cheap pencil boxes I picked up from Wal-Mart for a buck each. They are just big enough for the HB Console board and are wide enough for the LED Arrays.  They don’t look all that impressive, until you power up the clock…the bright LED’s shine through the translucent plastic nicely.

Embedded Tiny Basic is useful for giving some level of intelligence to other wise dumb devices.  While you only have about 1K of RAM to use for Embedded Tiny Basic, I think that will be adequate for most things.  There is, currently, no motor control, but it could be quickly and easily added.  The functionality that is there is probably going to be good for quite a few projects.  If not, it can be modified quickly.  I am already seeing where it can be modified, even for just this particular project.  I have a few others in mind, so stayed tuned for those.

In the mean time, below is a list of the additions and a release date for the language is forthcoming.  I need to clean up the code-a bunch-before releasing it and, as well, making sure I have all you will need in order to compile and use Embedded Tiny Basic.

 New statements and function:
  • SETTIME hours,minutes,seconds,day,month,year
    • sets the time and date for the RTC
  • SET col,row,on or off
    • Turn on or off the LED at column, row
  • X=HOUR(0)
    • Get the current hour
  • X=MINUTE(0)
    • Get the current minute
  • X=MONTH(0)
    • Get the current month
  • X=DAY(0)
    • Get the current day
  • SCROLL var or “text”
    • Scrolls whatever is in the quotes
    • If there are no quoted strings, a variable value or number is displayed
  • DIRECTION 1-4 (1 is left, 2 is right, 3 is up and 4 is down)
    • Specifies the direction of the scrolling text, 1 is the default.
  • TIME (sends the date and time to the LED array)
    • Scrolls the current date and time
  • HUMID (sends humidity to LED array)
    • Scrolls the current humidity
  • Temp (sends the temp to LED array)
    • Scrolls the current temperature
  • X=TEMP(0 or 1)
    • Get the current temperature and put it in variable 'x'
    • A zero means use Celsius, a one means Farenheit
  • X=HUMID(0)
    • Returns the humidity to the variable 'x'

Below is the listing for the current “HELLO” app:

100 PRINT “Welcome to Half-Byte LED Programmable Clock”
111 SCROLL “BYTE Clock…..”
112 IF HOUR(0)<12 SCROLL ” Good Morning! ”
114 IF HOUR(0)>11 IF HOUR(0)<18 SCROLL ” Good Afternoon! ”
116 IF HOUR(0)>17 IF HOUR(0)<=23 SCROLL ”  Good Evening!  ”
120 TIME
125 IF IN(0)<>-1 GOTO 600
130 SCROLL “.   Temp is ”
140 TEMP
145 SCROLL “F  ”
150 SCROLL “Humidity is ”
155 SCROLL “%”
170 SCROLL ”  Hello!  ”
180 IF IN(0)<>-1 GOTO 600
190 IF RND(99)>50 GOTO 110
200 SCROLL ”       ”
205 O=MINUTE(0)
210 W=15
220 H=7
230 X=RND(W)
240 Y=RND(H)
250 P=RND(W)
260 Q=RND(H)
265 IF IN(0)<>-1 GOTO 600
300 SET 16+(X),Y,1
310 SET 16+(X),H-Y,1
320 SET 16+(W-X),Y,1
330 SET 16+(W-X),H-Y,1
340 IF IN(0)<>-1 GOTO 600
350 SET 16+(P),Q,0
360 SET 16+(P),H-Q,0
370 SET 16+(W-P),Q,0
380 SET 16+(W-P),H-Q,0
390 IF IN(0)<>-1 GOTO 600
400 K=MINUTE(0)
410 IF K-O>1 GOTO 110
590 GOTO 230

A note about how the arrays are referenced, using SET.  Embedded Tiny Basic is setup to handle up to four arrays. My clock only uses two, but Basic does not know this, so individual LED addressing has to be offset by 16.  Normally, with four arrays, the upper left LED would be 0,0. In my clock, it would be 16,0 since I am only using the RIGHT MOST TWO arrays, each are 8 across and 8 down.

Some other things to note from the listing above…the line IF IN(0)<>-1 GOTO 600 that is sprinkled through out the program will poll the serial port to see if there is a key press. If there is a keypress, we want to stop execution and goto line 600.  In this case, it just says ‘Done’ and stops. Lines 205, 400 and 410 make up a timer. Lines 200 through 590 just displays a random dot pattern, as a distraction.  We don’t want this all day, so we only let it run for about a minute.  Line 205 records the minute it started and line 400 gets the minute after each pattern is displayed.  Line 410 evaluates the elapsed time by subtracting the start time from the end time. If the result is greater than a one, it goes back to the clock routine.  Otherwise, it displays a new pattern. Lines 112 through 116 determines if it is morning, afternoon or evening.

The Scroll statement is lacking and somewhat buggy. I am working on fixing it, and adding more functionality to it, to make it more versatile, like PRINT currently is. I also want to add a mechanism to the language to allow it to receive messages, via Bluetooth, from, say, a smartphone.  Limited gameplay may also show up in a future release.

Embedded Tiny Basic will be released soon.

Alcatel’s Idol 4s With Windows 10 Mobile

WP_20170103_21_30_52_Pro (2)Ever since I saw the announcement for the Alcatel Idol 4s With Windows 10 Mobile, I’ve wanted that phone.  Well, it is out and I finally bought it.  Why? Well, many reasons, biggest being its ability to support Continuum and its price: $469 from T-Mobile, in the United States.

The current package also includes Alcatel’s VR headset and the phone comes with a smattering of impressive imagery and a couple of VR games, both of which seem more like tech demos than actual games.

The phone is gorgeous, one of the prettiest phones I’ve ever seen, on par with the Apple iPhone 4, which I previously regarded as the best LOOKING piece of hardware.  The Idol 4s looks better.  It’s glass back, metallic rim and a screen that, for now, never WP_20170103_21_31_23_Pro (2)seems to get finger prints. It is just the right weight and the screen is amazing.

The phone sports a Snapdragon 820 CPU, which is a quad core processor running at 2.15ghz.  It has 4gb of RAM and 64gb of storage, expandable with an SD card.  It also features a 21megapixel back camera and an 8 megapixel forward camera.  The camera can be started via a hardware button on the side of the device, a convenient if annoying feature.

The phone ships with a release of Windows 10 Mobile that was a bit behind. It immediately wanted to update to, I think, the ‘anniversary update’ rollup.  Fortunately, it went off without a problem.

The camera, which I had read was a weak point, is actually pretty decent.  In lower light, the colors are a bit washed out, just like the Alcatel Fierce XL I have, but the resolution is excellent and the images still look really nice.  I have not yet tried outdoors at night, but will do so soon.

Perhaps the best thing about the phone…and Windows 10…is the ability to use the device as a deWP_20170103_20_06_00_Prosktop or laptop computer.  That is where this device really shines.  While I had to purchase a USB C to HDMI converter, the converter works great and also sports a spare USB 3.0 connector (for a keyboard or mouse) and a USB C female connector for charging the device while connected.  The HDMI port is 4k capable and is full size, so you don’t need any funky sized connector or adaptor. The particular hub I purchased was from Mokin and sold via Amazon. I paid $23 for the device.

Connecting the phone to the Mokin switched it to Continuum and presented the desktop, as you would expect from a desktop PC.  The phone screen turns into a mouse, though using this instead of an actual mouse can be frustrating as there is no obvious way to ‘click and hold’ to drag things. At least, I have not figured that out yet. A bluetooth keyboard was paired to the deviwp_ss_20170103_0001ce and, bam! There I was, using my phone as a desktop.

Continuum, admittedly, is not perfect. For example, nothing I had on the SD card would work. For whatever the reason, Microsoft is not allowing applications on the SD card to run in Continuum. Also, not every application is Continuum compatible either.  And, protected content will not work in this mode.

Overall, however, Continuum seems, to me, to be the killer feature (until MS introduces x86 emulation to the Snapdragon) for Windows Mobile 10.  I can see carrying just the phone and adapter.  Most places one would need a computer will, very likely, have an HDMI monitor along with keyboard and mouse. Or, you can take the travel size keyboard/mouse.  I can forsee this more than taking my old laptop or even a tablet, though, admittedly, tablets can be just as productive.

61tocr  emL._SL1500_While running Continuum, I was able to run Word, Excel, OneNote, Facebook and take a call…at the same time.  The phone showed no perceptible slowdown at all.

The VR gimmick is just that, a gimmick and really not a reason to buy this phone.  That said, and taking into account the limitation of the screen, it is still rather impressive, at first.  The screen is HD, 1080p.  That’s a problem only because the screen gets split in two to present the left and right images.  This makes things a bit fuzzy and pixelated. However, it is not so bad as to make the experience a poor one.  Quite the contrary, it works well.  Too well, I got a headache and was a bit nauseated by it because my brain knew I was not really experiencing anything, though my eyes said otherwise.

Overall, the Alcatel Idol 4s with Windows 10 Mobile is an excellent, premium phone at a great price…half what most others would cost.  It looks great, works well and is fast.  Windows 10 Mobile needs a little work, but it is, overall, a great operating system and works very well. Don’t let the notion of a poor ‘store’ steer you away. The app system on all of the mobile devices is bad, I don’t care if there aren’t five hundred fart apps.  I don’t even care that there is no Youtube app, the web site works and there are a few third party apps that fill in for what is missing.

I think you’d be satisfied with this phone. I sure am.

Falling like a rock: Pebble is no more

wp_20150708_22_15_12_proA few short years ago, a product came on the market that I got excited about. The product utilized ePaper, could go a week between charges and was programmable. Better yet, it was ‘crowd funded.’  The product took off, initially, and raised a lot of money from Kickstarter.  That product, the Pebble Smartwatch, was a successful kickstarter project, probably the most successful of any from that site.

Last year, I finally got one.  I like it a lot.  The problem, though, was my smartphone. I use a Windows Mobile 10 device and there is no official app from Pebble. Eventually, someone developed a nice Pebble watch app for my favorite smartphone operating system.  For the last few months, I’ve been very happy with this setup: I see my notifications, calls, email, etc. on my watch, I don’t need to pull the phone out.  Great.

The app even works with some of the back end plumbing from Pebble.  Nice. I get weather and some other things. Very cool.

Last week (December of 2016) I see a rumor that Fitbit was purchasing Pebble.  I think, GREAT! My favorite smartwatch will get a much needed boost from an established company, that is also Windows Mobile friendly. Awesome. I may even get the new Pebble 2!  How sweet is that?

Turns out, it is bitter.

Fitbit did, in fact, buy Pebble. BUT…they only bought the services and software, NOT the hardware. So, Pebble is now history.  There is no word on when the services will cease. The watch will still work with phones, but the stuff that made it special, the heart of Pebble, will be pebble-geek-watchfaces_2-300x300going away.

No more new watches.  Fitbit did not want the hardware. Nor did they want about sixty percent of the employees either.

I now have one more piece of hardware that is orphaned.  Man, my ability to choose platforms is horrible.

Zune, Windows Phone/Mobile, Palm OS, webOS for Palm, Vista, Windows 8, CED Video Disc, LaserDisk, HD-DVD, Pontiac…and, now…Pebble.  Wow.  What a record, huh?

So, RIP, Pebble. It was nice while it lasted.

A Programming Language for a Portable Development System

Prototyping with Arduino and compatibles is fairly easy, especially when it comes to the hardware.  A breadboard simplifies things quite a bit.  A few months ago, I realized that I did not have any, so I purchased one, in a kit, on Amazon from a company called Elagoo. The kit, for about sixteen dollars (US) contained a lot of parts and the breadboard. Well, the board is fairly small, so I decided to create a portable workspace and mount the breadboard, an Arduino UNO R3 clone, a 2 x 16 LCD and some cord organizers.  It works great, and I can take my project around. Nice.  Problem, though, is that I still need to be tethered to the computer in order to write code.

WP_20161001_18_38_08_Pro_LI (2)This got me thinking…could I come up with a small but easy to use interface language that could be coded with nothing more than a 12 key keypad?

The answer is yes.  So, I have come up with an initial set of opcodes for programming with nothing more than what is on my workspace. 

This language would more resemble CHIP-8 than, say, the Arduino language.  Commands, statements and functions all use a single byte but can have one or more subsequent values for parameters.

The tables below outline the main features. The keypad I am using (because it was less than a buck) does not have enough keys for full hexadecimal, so I had to improvise. Still working on a scheme to allow alphanumeric entry without connecting a full ASCII keyboard.  For now, the language will be limited to reading sensors, accepting decimal (though integer only) numbers. No video, serial out to the 2×16 LCD or a Bluetooth module.

For the tables, the first column is the opcode, second is what the opcode does, third is any parameter( s ) necessary and the last is a description.




Var (00-0F)

Value (00-FF)




Var (00-0F)

01 is equal, 02 is <, 03 is >, 04 is <>


Jump if true

Addr (00-FF)


Program Flow:



Addr (00-FF)

Transfer control to address



Addr (00-FF)

Call a subroutine







Ends program




Var (00-0F)

Gets input from the keyboard



Var (00-0F)

Outputs a value



Var (00-0F)

Gets a reading from the temperature sensor




Send a value to pin




Get a value from pin


Xfer Pin

Var (00-0F)

Transfers value from read pin to variable

I would envision the interpreter being fairly small, so it may be possible to integrate several libraries for the more popular sensors, like DHT-11 temp sensor and others.

So, what do you think?  Is this something of interest? Please post your thoughts in the comments below.

Type in Game: PONG! (or, something close)

WP_20160911_21_48_56_Pro (3)Today’s type in game for HB Tiny Basic is a PONG! variant.  I cannot take full credit for this one, I found the original on a Japanese educational site devoted to teaching microcontroller programming, using Half-Byte’s Tiny Basic(!) (a variation of it, anyway) and for basic electronics.  The original was written in a variant of HB Tiny Basic and also used a 10k potentiometer for the controller.  I fixed a couple of bugs, got it to work with Nunchuk AND squeezed into a somewhat smaller memory footprint.

The game has a little bit of intelligence, it does a decent job of trying to guess where the ball will go, but, it is not perfect and it is possible to win the game.  There are some nice uses of the language, such as trying to include something like an OR statement when figuring out where the ball is going and takes advantage of an undocumented ‘feature’ of LINE: if you specify ‘2’ as the ‘color’ parameter, it simply inverses the pixels in the line.  This eliminates the need for multiple statements to draw and erase the paddles.  Quite clever.

Gameplay is super simple: the computer ALWAYS serves, the score goes to nine and stops. You are always on the right. You use the thumb stick up and down to control your paddle.

Weird things are likely to happen, it is not perfect and there’s no more room for improvement (challenge?)

Anyway, have fun!

10 CLS:A=0:B=0:W=48:H=32
30 BOX 0,0,W,H,1
40 U=H/2-3:V=U
50 LINE W-5,U,W-5,U+5,2:LINE 4,V,4,V+5,2
60 CURSOR 8,1:? A:IF A=9 STOP
70 CURSOR 3,1:? B:IF B=9 STOP
80 D=1:E=1:IF (U+V)&1 E=-1
90 X=5:Y=V+3:SET X,Y
100 C=50
110 IF C>0 C=C-1:GOTO 240
130 X=X+D
140 IF X=0 A=A+1:GOTO 60
150 IF X=W B=B+1:GOTO 60
160 IF X=W-6 IF Y>=U IF Y<=U+6 D=-D:TONE 440,100
170 IF X=5 IF Y>=V IF Y<=V+6 D=-D:TONE 440,100
180 Y=Y+E
190 IF Y=1 E=-E
200 IF Y=H-1 E=-E
210 IF X=W-6 IF Y=U IF E=1 E=-1
220 IF X=W-6 IF Y=U+5 IF E=-1 E=1
230 SET X,Y
240 LINE W-5,U,W-5,U+5,2
250 U=H-2-PAD(1)/8
260 IF U<0 U=0
270 IF U>H-6 U=H-6
280 LINE W-5,U,W-5,U+5,2:LINE 4,V,4,V+5,2
300 IF D=1 GOTO 370
310 IF X>=28 GOTO 370
320 IF X=27 IF A<=B GOTO 370
330 IF E=1 Q=Y+X-4:IF Q>=H Q=32-H
340 IF E=0 Q=Y-X+4:IF Q<0 Q=-Q
350 IF Q<V+3 IF V>1 V=V-1
360 IF Q>V+3 IF V<25 V=V+1
370 LINE 4,V,4,V+5,2
400 DELAY 20:GOTO 110

HB Tiny Basic Type in Game: Hurkle

For those of you who are old enough to know and remember the TRS-80, Cromemco or Altair will remember the game of Hurkle.

WP_20160908_23_16_10_Pro (2)A Hurkle is a legendary beast that, even today, remains highly elusive creature.  So elusive, in fact, that few have seen a Hurkle and lived to tell about it.  Of course, you, our intrepid adventurer, are different.  For, you, you have HALF-BYTE’S Tiny Basic and an Arduino or compatible microcontroller at your disposal.  An arsenal worthy of such of hunt.

Our Hurkle adventure takes place on a 10 by 10 grid.  You have to find the creature by deducing its where abouts on the 10 by 10 grid. Unfortunately for you, you will have from five to twenty moves in which to find the creature. Each time your adventure begins, your time is recalculated. This makes the level of difficulty even higher. You will, of course, through the use of the microcontroller, be told which direction you must travel.  Your grid follows a North-South, East-West pattern.  The X axis is West to East and Y axis is North to South. 

This simple game is rather difficult to play.  Sure, there is a way to cheat, but I’ll let you figure that out. And, once you do, you should just type NEW and move on to something else.

This game was originally published by the People’s Computer Company in Menlo Park California. I have adapted it from the Big Book of Computer Games, published in the early 1970’s.

NOTE: I had originally posted a version of the game, as part of a sample code page. The listing was broken and the game did not work correctly, as published.  This one does.  Apologies for that.

Below is the HB Tiny Basic listing.

10  CLS: ?”HURKLE”
99  # Converted to TINY BASIC by George Gray
110 N=RND(10)+5
120 G=10
210 ?
220 ? “A hurkle is hiding on a “,G,” by “,G,” grid.”
230 A = RND(G)
240 B = RND(G)
310 FOR K=1 TO N
320 ? “Guess #”,K
330 ?”X=”;: INPUT X
335 ?”Y=”;: INPUT Y
340 IF ABS(X-A)+ABS(Y-B)=0 GOTO 500
350 # ? INFO
360 GOSUB 610
380 NEXT K
420 ? “Sorry, that’s “,N,” guesses.”
430 ? “The hurkle is at “,A,”,”,B
450 ? “Let’s play again. Hurkle is hiding.”
470 GOTO 285
500 ? “You found him in “,K,” guesses!”
530 FOR I=1 TO 10
532 TONE 1000,75
534 NEXT I
540 GOTO 440
610 ? “Go “;
620 IF Y=B GOTO 670
630 IF Y<B GOTO 660
640 ? “South “
650 GOTO 670
660 ? “North “
670 IF X=A GOTO 720
680 IF X<A GOTO 710
690 ? “West “
700 GOTO 720
710 ? “East “
720 ?””

Mario and iPhone 7…Pokemon and Apple Watch

Apple had its September press event to announce Apple Watch, Series 2, iOS 10 and iPhone 7.  But, perhaps the biggest thing announced at the event was a game.

Early on in the event, Tim Cook said that there were over 500,000 games in the app store, but that one had been missing. Rather, one character had been missing…MARIO. And, with that, he introduced Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Mario.

Mr. Miyamoto explained the new game while a demo was being played on the big screen.  This Mario game looks and sounds like a Wii U game, but is controlled via touch on the iPhone or iPad.  You use a single finger to control Mario’s jumps…the longer you hold your finger down, the higher he jumps. 

While the game looked great, the game play is like a neutered Super Mario Brothers 2D side scroller. Neutered in that it appeared that Mario only goes in one direction in single hand play.  The goal is to collect as many coins as you can and raise the end of level flag, before the time runs out. 

More importantly, the game will NOT be a ‘freemium’ game in the traditional sense. You only pay one time, there are no in game purchases.  There’s no having to wait two hours for your lives to replenish.  It is a nice change from the current game mobile game model.

Now, for the other announcements, and I’m not going into detail as it has already been covered else where.

Apple Watch 2 will be out in September and will be faster and more responsive.  Oh, and Pokemon GO! is coming to the Apple Watch.  With some health monitoring additions, this looks pretty decent.

iPhone 7, though, is what I am more excited to talk about. 

Now, before I go on, let me say that I am still not an Apple fan and I LOVE my Windows Mobile 10 phone(s). 

So, what has me excited about the iPhone 7?  Well, even though it isn’t a huge, earth shattering advance in mobile technology, the camera, faster processor and MICROSOFT have me excited for the new iPhone. 

The iPhone 7 will feature a new image sub system, new API’s and better optics. In addition, iPhone 7Plus, the phablet edition, will feature TWO 12 mp cameras in addition to the front camera.  The new image processor enables the phone to record in 4K video as well.

Here are some of the nice new photo related features, from Apple:

  • New Apple-designed Image Signal Processor, which processes over 100 billion operations on a single photo in as little as 25 milliseconds, resulting in incredible photos and videos;
  • New 7-megapixel FaceTime HD camera with wide color capture, advanced pixel technology and auto image stabilization for even better selfies; and
  • New Quad-LED True Tone flash that is 50 percent brighter than iPhone 6s including an innovative sensor that detects the flickering in lights and compensates for it in videos and photos.

Iapple-iphone7plus-zoomn addition to the photo features, Microsoft’s entire suite of apps that are on the iPhone mean that I can continue using my Microsoft services and apps with my Windows 10 desktop just as seamlessly as I can, now, with my Windows Mobile phone.

There are other things, like the subtle changes to iOS and to the phone chassis itself.

There are things I don’t like, such as the removal of the headphone jack, inability to upgrade storage via SD card, no way to project the phone to another screen (at least, I haven’t seen this) and the lack of home screen tiles…a feature I’ve really grown to love on my Windows Mobile phone.  In fact, the lack of live tiles is almost a deal breaker for me. Almost.

For now, I am on the verge of mothballing my Windows Mobile phone and going Apple again.  I’m going to have play with one for a bit.   But, today’s announcements look encouraging.  Of course, if I wait a year, I may like iPhone 8 more…