DIY expansion board from Mike Cook

If you’re of a similar vintage to me, you might remember Micro User, a magazine from the 1980s which was all about the BBC Micro: reviews, programming tips, listings, Q&A pages and all that good stuff. (I’ve been trying to find a complete set of the magazines for years; please leave a comment if you have one to sell! There are scanned PDFs available online if you fancy a bit of computing nostalgia.)

Micro User. And a boastful statistic: lifetime sales of the BBC Master (admittedly, not the core of the BBC's lineup and, at the time, an expensive option) from 1986-1994 were around 200,000. The Raspberry Pi has been on sale for just over 4 months, and we've already had orders for over 500,000 units.

Mike Cook, who you may remember from the glockenspiel project I posted a couple of weeks ago, had a page in the magazine which I used to read longingly every month. (Shamefully, when posting about the robot glockenspiel, I failed miserably to put two and two together; Mike was a bit of a childhood hero of mine, but it simply didn’t occur to me that this Mike Cook, thirty years on, might be the same guy who wrote for the magazine. Turns out he is. Colour me ashamed.)

Body Building with Mike Cook was a series of little hardware projects which used the BBC Micro’s GPIO ports. There was a new one to make every month; you could buy the sets in kit form through the magazine, or get your own parts from your local electronics shop. I couldn’t afford them on 20p a week’s pocket money, but it was lovely to imagine soldering up my own infra-red remote, hacking together a home-made Geiger counter, and making light wands.

A few hundred miles away in darkest Yorkshire, Eben was busy reading the same articles. He’s spent much of the period since the glockenspiel post shaking his head, beaming, and saying: “Mike Cook. Can’t believe it. Mike Cook.”

Click to visit Mike's site for instructions

To my and Eben’s enormous joy, Mike’s taken the Raspberry Pi and has run with it; we’re hoping to see more projects from him soon. Right now, he’s got instructions on his website which will show you how to make your own breakout board (a simple version and a couple of versions which protect the Pi’s GPIO lines) to give you easy access to the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO pins and allow you to get to work on hardware projects. Although soldering is easy, Mike’s aware that it can be intimidating for beginners, so this project uses no solder, just those pokey through-hole connectors. Here’s some video of Mike putting the board together. Let us know how you get on if you make one at home!



winkleink avatar

There appears to be a lot of soldering at about 14 minutes.

liz avatar

Read his page – there’s a non-soldering option for the surface mount work he does there, complete with through-hole schematics.

Ken Thompson avatar

Looks to me like the through hole version is ‘No SMD soldering’ rather than no soldering.

AndrewS avatar

When using veroboard, through-hole components still need to be soldered. It’s only when using breadboard (which Mike isn’t doing here) that you can avoid soldering.
The “solder-less screw terminal access break out board” Mike refers to at the beginning is only *after* it’s been soldered together, by the virtue of it using screw-terminals rather than header-pins.

Greg_E avatar

That’s not true, there is still a thing called WireWrap which is completely solderless and is just fine to low speed connections. Newark/Element14 should carry most all of the parts needed to deal with making something similar with wirewrap, you will need to order through hole (leaded) components to make it all work.

Jules Winfield avatar

I rather like the fact that the socket in the middle looks like one from the underside of a BBC Micro.

I think I might have a go at building one, once I get my head around the schematics. Looks like it might be fun (like all Mike Cook projects).

Darren avatar

Those are called a Latched Plug because they lock the connector in place.

Peet McKimmie avatar

I’m almost certain I have a few copies of “BBC Micro User” in the shed… No idea what the condition is, but let me know if you’re interested and I’ll have a go at digging them out. There should also be “Acorn User” etc. from around the same period.

I’m not really looking for money, but if you could stir up some interest for my “YouView on the Pi” idea over at the forums, I would really appreciate it. (In the “Media Centres” topic…)

John Day avatar

I have one surviving copy of “The Micro User” vol 1 issue ten10, if you email me you can have it


Richard Urwin avatar

It is not absolutely necessary to do that much soldering and cutting.
You can get screw terminals in 0.1 inch versions, and some types of vero board have cuts suitable for mounting the socket already in place. (In the one above I was too stingy to have 13 terminals on each side, which requires different sizes of terminals and they come in bags of 5, so there are some links.)

However you wont have any level shifting or protection of course, and you will have to file down a screwdriver; those screws are tiny.

Adam Armstrong avatar

Oh my word. I very much remember reading Body Building and being disappointed that being 6, I couldn’t really do any of the projects.

It’s nice that the R Pi community feels so much like the BBC/Acorn community did!

Alien/ST-CNX avatar

That’s wonderful. I was also a Micro User & Beebug fan! Wrote my first 3D renderer based on a MU article back then.

Alex Buell avatar

i’m more interested in the part ‘How to cheat at Elite – free pull out guide’ :-)

liz avatar

I was wondering how long it’d take someone to mention that!

Lee avatar

LOL… My one claim to fame… I wrote that guide :)
After many many many happy hours playing Elite…
Hi Clive! Long time no see!

David Kindred avatar

Liz, you have such an engaging writing style. I love your news posts! –David

paddy gaunt avatar

I blame Blake for the put-downs of our northern counties. You’ll be calling us satanic next! We hardly even have any mills left.

Of course if Eben mainly read the magazine at night that would explain why it was darkest.

liz avatar

Feh. A land of wind and ghosts, Yorkshire. ;)

Andy avatar

Lancashire, now, that’s a whole different place …

Leslie Schramm avatar

I’ve all the BBC Micro-Users from around No 4 or 5 to about the point where 5 1/4 inch disks started arriving on the cover probably early 1990?. I’d be happy to come to an arrangement, but I’m in Soggy Scotland and they must weigh a tonne

Saif avatar

I see a “how to cheat at Elite” on the cover of the mag… a nod to Braben clearly…

Andrew Wiate avatar

The Adafruit Prototyping Pi Plate Kit for Raspberry Pi is now in stock…

Richard Gosling avatar

Mike Cook! THE Mike Cook! Awesome!

Because of this guy I was able to save a theater production back in 1986 when the keyboard player in the orchestra (which consisted of him, me on bass and a guitarist) suddenly announced ten minutes before curtain up that his BBC Micro powered keyboard module was failing to boot and he didn’t have a monitor linked up to see what was going on.

I remember Mike mentioning somewhere about the pinouts of the keyboard circuit board on the beeb (front right hand corner) which allowed you to trigger certain screen modes at boot and also to directly boot from the floppy drive on power up. I was able to use a paper clip to short the pinouts in sequence until I found the ones that triggered the boot from floppy option, at which point the machine fired up and all was well with the world, just as the director was about to go on stage and announce that the musical production would proceed without music!

THE Mike cook. Can’t believe it :-)

Alan avatar

I was surprised that the first 20 pins of the Raspberry Pi GPIO header were not laid out to match the BBC User port…

meltwater avatar

What an excellent project, some overdue protection for the GPIO.
I would suggest that Mike includes a few more detailed photos of the finished item on his site (will give people a reference to compare to).
For those wondering, he also includes a Parts list which has links to Rapid and Farnell (for the through hole versions).
Some additional detail on the parts he is using would be helpful for those who wish to source their own parts.
He gives plenty of useful tips for soldering which are well worth taking note of.

meltwater avatar

Just to note, I’ve updated the wiki with some links to this and Gert’s cable, since the whole section was a little light on details and guides.

grumble53 avatar

The parts list that Mike includes is unformatted and as a consequence is virtually unreadable which for a novice like me is a bit of a problem.

meltwater avatar

It is linux formatted, try dragging onto a browser like internet explorer, it should display better with correct line spaces.

Mike Cook avatar

Very surprised how formatting turns a useless list into a useful one. Never the less here it is in page format:-

The Laddie avatar

you could cheat at elite???? where was this mag when I was a boy!!!

Tasty_Pi avatar

Ha Ha I thought the exact same thought and hate to think how many hours I clocked up on that game.

John Fisher avatar

I too was a great Mike Cook fan. Made or adapted from many of his projects, since I was a Physics teacher and the analogue inputs and digital I/O were so versatile. Plus the clever tricks you could do with the 6522 VIA chip. My first experiments with stepper motors, etc.
I’ve just resurrected a disco-light controller I used to interface via Liberty Basic. The photo-triac isolator interface runs great off Pi.
Looking forward to running serial-command boards like bitwhacker & eibot from Pi, since a simple serial command will then allow for example timed microstepping of motors.

Wombat avatar


dont let health and saftey see that wiring!

but i too can remember doing disco lights with simular wring run from my pet 2001 in the early 80’s

Ralph Corderoy avatar

I was more a fan of Joe Telford’s _Telford Towers_ column in _Acorn User_; pure software.

Niall avatar

I’m more intrigued by the caption under the magazine picture…… 500,000 units sold – is that really sold to end users or interest registered with the 2 distributors? Either way it’s still a stunning achievement in such a realativly short space of time! :)

Bantammenace avatar

It’s great to see the 80’s theme being continued. I particularly enjoyed seeing how Mike has used his anaglypta wall paper. So 80’s. The quality is pristine and I am jealous. Mike’s liberal use of it is tantamount to swanking. My last roll was lost in a house move in the early 90’s and I have been trying to get hold of a first edition ever since. The new stuff just isn’t the same.
How do.

Clayton avatar

How about a downloadable PDF? I have tried to save a copy and even print
to PDF without sucess.


Mickey avatar

Anyone have a recommendation for a vendor for buying these types of components?

Greg_E avatar

Element14 would be one natural choice.

Mickey avatar

Thanks for the recommendation. Why do you suggest it as a “natural choice”?

darkcity avatar

I would guess it depends which country your living in.

reiuyi on the forum recommended Tayda

Mickey avatar

Thanks. I’m in the US; I didn’t see on Tayda’s website where their head-quartered.

Bartosz Debski avatar

I sourced all from ebay. Plenty of stock there.

Neil avatar

I’ve just finished building the through-hole component version of the board and on testing I found 2 errors in the circuit diagram (I don’t think it was my mistake!). There are 2 diodes that should be connected to ground, but instead are connected to other strips on the board – one is just shorted by one of the wire links and the other is connected to one of the inputs. If anyone is intending to build this version of the board I can give more details on what should be changed.

Neil avatar

Typical – just after posting this I found on the forum that the error has already been identified and rectified so ignore the above – unless, like me, you were very keen and downloaded the circuit diagrams before they were updated!

Charudatt avatar

Can I directly trigger the ULN2803 with the RPi IO lines ? Got this board ready, though.

7F20 avatar

This Is awesome! I wish there was more in-depth about the glockenspiel. :( Really can’t wait to try some of this musical projectry once my Raspi arrives!
Also, I really hope that Mike Cook continues to be part of this community and continues to share his experience and cleverness!

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