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Hackaday Prize Entry: Smart Bed Lighting

Hackaday - 3 hours 53 minก่อน

[Scott] is building motion-activated lights for under the bed for his Hackaday Prize entry. Admittedly, there are fancier projects for the ‘Assistive Technology’ portion of the prize, but this project helps anyone who would otherwise stumble around in the dark. And as [Scott] jokes, that includes a number of underserved demographics including accident prone people, children afraid of the dark, drunks, and, “drunk accident prone children who are afraid of the dark”.

Although the idea of mounting LEDs under a bed is simple, the devil is in the details. [Scott] is using a PIR sensor to turn these hidden lights on and off when getting into or out of bed. An RTC ensures the LED strip will only be on during the desired hours. In [Scott]’s case, this means from 9PM to 7AM. When movement is detected at the foot of the bed, the lights remain on for about two minutes.

This is a fairly simple project compared to some of the entries we’ve seen in the Hackaday Prize, but it does have a purpose. It’s a great way to scare a child into believing there are monsters under a bed, and it every so slightly reduces the chances of a drunk stubbing their toe. [Scott] produced a video for this project, you can check that out below.

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Filed under: The Hackaday Prize

Physics or Phiction?

Hackaday - 6 hours 54 minก่อน

Do you remember Gilligan’s Island? For many people of a certain age, “The Professor” was our first impression of what a scientist was like. Even in those simpler times, though, you probably couldn’t find anyone like the professor; a jack of all trades, he sort of knew everything about everything (except, apparently, how to make a boat).

Real scientists tend to hyper-specialize. Getting grant money, publication pages, and just advancing the state of the art means that you get more and more focused on more obscure things. It is getting to the point that two scientists in the same field may not be able to really understand each other. You see the same thing in engineering to some degree. Not many digital designers can talk about the frequency dependence of Early effect in bipolar transistors, but not many device gurus can talk intelligently about reservation techniques for superscalar CPUs.

There’s now a website that lets you guess if a physics paper title is real or if it made up jibberish. The site, snarXiv, gets the real titles from arXiv, the site that contains many preprint papers. For example, we were asked to guess if “Brane Worlds with Bolts” was a real paper or if it was “Anthropic Approaches to the Flavor Problem.” (For the record, it was the one about branes.) Give it a whirl!

Filed under: news

Retrofitting Smoke Alarms With Bluetooth

Hackaday - 9 hours 54 minก่อน

Everybody should have a few smoke alarms in their house, and everyone should go check the battery in their smoke alarm right now. That said, there are a few downsides to the traditional smoke alarm. They only work where you can hear them, and this problem has been solved over and over again by security companies and Internet of Things things.

Instead of investing in smart smoke alarms, [Johan] decided to build his own IoT smoke alarm. It’s dead simple, costs less than whatever wonder gizmo you can buy at a home improvement store, and reuses your old smoke alarm. In short, it’s everything you need to build an Internet-connected smoke alarm.

Smoke alarms, or at least ionization-based alarms with a tiny amount of radioactive americium, are very simple devices. Inside the alarm, there’s a metal can – an ionization chamber – with two metal plates. When smoke enters this chamber, a few transistors sound the alarm. If you’ve ever taken one apart, you can probably rebuild the circuit from memory.

Because these alarms are so simple, it’s possible to hack in some extra electronics into a design that hasn’t changed in fifty years. For [Johan]’s project, he’s doing just that, tapping into one of the leads on the ionization chamber, measuring the current through the buzzer, and adding a microcontroller with Bluetooth connectivity.

For the microcontroller and wireless solution, [Johan] has settled on TI’s CC2650 LaunchPad. It’s low power, relatively cheap, allows for over the air updates, and has a 12-bit ADC. Once this tiny module is complete, it can be deadbugged into a smoke alarm with relative ease. Any old phone can be used as a bridge between the alarm network and the Internet.

The idea of connecting a smoke alarm to the Internet is nothing new. Security companies have been doing this for years, and there are dozens of these devices available at Lowes or Home Depot. The idea of retrofitting smarts into a smoke alarm is new to us, and makes a lot of sense: smoke detectors are reliable, cheap, and simple. Why not reuse what’s easy and build out from there?

Filed under: home hacks, Microcontrollers

An Open Source 96 MSPS Logic Analyzer For $22

Hackaday - 12 hours 54 minก่อน

If you are in the market for an inexpensive USB logic analyser you have a several choices, but few of them deliver much in the way of performance. There are kits from China for a few dollars using microcontrollers at their heart, but they fail to deliver significant sample rates. If you require more, you will have to pay for it.

It is therefore rather interesting to see [kevinhub88]’s SUMP2 project, an open source logic analyser with a claimed 96 MSPS sample rate using an off-the-shelf Lattice iCEstick FPGA evaluation board that only costs about $20. It talks to a host computer via USB using the established SUMP protocol, so its software front-end comes from the sump.org logic analyser project. Edit: Since this post was published [Kevin] has contacted us to inform us that the project’s capabilities have now moved beyond SUMP’s capabilities and in fact it now uses his own software.

This project has the promise to add a very useful piece of test equipment to the armoury of the engineer on a budget, and to aid the cost-conscious reader he’s provided extensive documentation and installation instructions, as well as the code for the FPGA. Thanks to one of the more awesome hacks of 2015, there is an entirely open toolchain for this Lattice part, and our own [Al Williams] has written up a multi-part getting-started guide if you want to get your feet wet. You probably want one of these anyway, and now it’s a logic analyzer to boot.

We’ve covered quite a few inexpensive home-produced digital instruments here over the years, including this logic analyser with a slightly higher price tag, this inexpensive VNA, and this oscilloscope board. Maybe one day the bench of our dreams will all come on one open-source PCB for $100, who knows!

Filed under: tool hacks

Microsoft launches new line of Surface Keyboard and mouse accessories

Liliputing - 13 hours 24 minก่อน

Ahead of today’s Microsoft Surface Studio announcement, there had been rumors floating around that the company would launch an all-in-one desktop. We didn’t know it’s have a 4500 x 3000 pixel touchscreen display, support for a new accessory called the Surface Dial, or a hinge that lets you adjust the screen for writing or drawing. But we were pretty sure some sort of desktop was coming.

One reason? A new Surface Keyboard showed up at the FCC website earlier this month.

Continue reading Microsoft launches new line of Surface Keyboard and mouse accessories at Liliputing.

Amazon Alexa voice service comes to Fire tablets through a software update

Liliputing - 14 hours 24 minก่อน

Amazon is rolling out a software update for its latest Fire tablets, bringing support for the company’s Alexa voice assistant software.

Alexa is baked into Fire OS 5.4, the latest version of the operating system that runs on the company’s tablets, and the update is rolling out this week to the $50 Amazon Fire tablet, the $90 Fire HD 8, and the $220 Fire HD 10.

Tablet users won’t get the same always-listening Alexa features that are available for the Amazon Echo and Amazon Dot.

Continue reading Amazon Alexa voice service comes to Fire tablets through a software update at Liliputing.

Converting a TP Link Router to Mission Control for Cheap 433MHz Home Automation

Hackaday - 14 hours 24 minก่อน

[Jean-Christophe Rona] found himself with some free time and decided to finish a project he started two years ago, reverse engineering cheap 433MHz home automation equipment. He hopes to control his space heaters remotely, in preparation for a cold and, now, robotic winter.

In a previous life, he had reverse engineered the protocol these cheap wireless plugs, garage doors, and electric window shutters all use. This eventually resulted in a little library called rf-ctrl that can toggle and read GPIO pins in the correct way to control these objects. He has a few of the more popular protocols built into the library and even wrote a guide on how to do the reverse engineering yourself if you have need.

Having successfully interfaced with the plugs to use with his space heaters, [Jean-Christophe] went about converting a cheap TP Link router into a command center for them. Since TP Link never expected anyone to hammer their square peg into a mismatched hole, it takes a careful hand at soldering and some enamel wire to break out the GPIO pins, but it’s well within the average skill set.

The end result is a nicely contained blue box with a little antenna hanging out of it, and we hope, a warm abode for the coming winter.

Filed under: home hacks, wireless hacks

Deals of the Day (10-26-2016)

Liliputing - 15 hours 19 minก่อน

Want a new desktop computer that doesn’t take up lot of room, but don’t have $2,999 (or more) to spend on a shiny new Microsoft Surface Studio?

There aer plenty of cheaper options available. For example, you could buy a tiny desktop PC like the $130 Zotac ZBOX Pico PI331 Plus and connect it to a display of your choice.

Or if you want more power, there’s the HP Pavilion Mini, which usually sells for $320 and up.

Continue reading Deals of the Day (10-26-2016) at Liliputing.

Why You Should Own A Sewing Machine

Hackaday - 15 hours 53 minก่อน

This could probably be any of our grandmothers at work. George Grantham Bain Collection [PD], via Wikimedia Commons.In our hackspace, we’ve opened a textile room in the last month. We have high hopes for it as a focal point for cosplayers and LARPers as well as the makers of wearable electronics and more traditional textile users. Putting it in has involved several months of hard work bringing a semi-derelict and previously flooded room that was once the walk-in safe for our local school authority to a point at which it is a light and welcoming space, but a surprising amount of work has also had to go into winning the hearts and minds of our community for the project.

Putting it quite simply, textiles aren’t seen as very cool, in hackspace terms. You know, Women’s stuff. Your mother does it, or even maybe if you are a little younger, your grandmother. It’s just not up there with laser cutting or 3D printing, and as a result those of us for whom it’s a big part of making stuff have had to fight its corner when it comes to resources within the space.

Yet not so long ago when I brought a pair of worn-out jeans into the space on a social night and hauled out our Lervia sewing machine to fix them, I had a constant stream of fellow members passing by amazed at what I was doing. “You can repair jeans?” they asked, incredulously. For some reason this prospect had not occurred to them, I was opening up a new vista in clothing reincarnation, to the extent that before too long in our new facility I may be giving a workshop on the subject as the beloved former trousers of Oxford Hackspace denizens gain a chance of new life.

The Oxford Hackspace textile room.

One of the odd things about this seeming gulf between makers and textiles is that it works in both directions. Just as my hackspace friends had struggled to see the worth in textile work, so do my textile enthusiast friends often fail to bask in their level of technical achievement. Think about this from a hardware hacker perspective: their every project involves making a three-dimensional object in a flexible material that both fits an individual wearer perfectly and looks good on them, and all this by hand in a 2D medium using only tape measure readings and squared paper assuming they’re making their own pattern. Not a CAD package or rendered preview in sight! That’s 1337 levels of awesome, yet they take it for granted as something the’ve always done, because their mother or grandmother showed them how.

Now perhaps you’ll understand why we have high hopes of our textile space, these are people who can make anything, just the sort of members who’d be an asset to our space if we can attract them.

So you might be asking, that’s a description of textilists and one hackspace’s work in the field, what’s in it for me? Stick around, and we’ll take a look at the sewing machine not as your grandmother’s prized possession but as the original home machine tool, and maybe after you know something of how it works you’ll see why you should make space for one in your workshop.

Know Your Stitches

The most basic method of sewing involves doing it by hand, with a single needle and thread. The stitch you’d be most likely to create in this way is backstitch, in which you go back against the direction of sewing every other stitch to lock the line of stitches and stop it coming apart if a thread breaks. It’s very slow, and requires a considerable amount of skill to achieve a good result. It’s something you occasionally need to do even if you own a sewing machine, but unless you are making super-accurate recreations of historical clothing it’s not something you’ll use for a whole project.

An illustration of a sewing machine producing a lockstitch. NikolayS [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.The sewing machine can’t do a backstitch with a single thread as you might expect, it’s very difficult for a machine to pass the thread though the fabric in its entirety on each stitch. Instead it uses two threads to create a stitch called lockstitch, in which each thread stays on its own side of the fabric and interlocks with the other thread only through the holes made by the needle. The upper thread comes from a spool on the top of the machine while the lower one comes from a bobbin mounted underneath its operating surface. The action of making the lockstitch has been performed by a variety of mechanisms since the invention of the sewing machine, but in the majority of those you’ll encounter it is done through a rotating hook that surrounds the bobbin. This hook picks up a loop of the upper thread pushed through the fabric by the needle, and wraps it round the lower thread from the bobbin before the needle and upper mechanism pulls the upper thread tight back up through the hole. This produces reliable and consistent stitching that can be repeated at very high speed.

You can see that there’s a lot going on here: the machine has to supply the thread at the right speed and tension, hold the fabric in place, move it forwards at the correct speed, and keep the whole lot in synchronisation. Sewing machines are complex beasts.

Know Your Machine

A sewing machine has a needle mechanism over a flat surface, suspended from a horizontal arm to give enough bed width to position the work as necessary on either side of the needle. The overwhelming majority of machines have the horizontal arm coming in from the right, coming from a vertical arm that usually contains the motor and significant parts of the drive mechanism. On the extreme right hand side of the machine is a wheel on the outside that rotates as the mechanism operates, this might historically have had a hand crank or pulley for a treadle or external motor to power the sewing. It serves to allow the operator to manually advance the stitches very slowly, or to back off the mechanism. On older machines it will be a large metal pulley that harks back to the hand-cranked or treadle days, while on newer ones it will usually take the form of a plastic knob.

The various parts of a sewing machine. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.To the left of the pulley are the two arms containing the gears, shafts, or belts transfer motion to the needle and down to below the bed of the machine. The controls to select functions and adjust stitch length, a bobbin winder, and a light are usually mounted on the outside of the arms, and the spool of thread sits on a pin on top of the machine

At the far left of the horizontal arm and the bed, we have the business end of the machine: the needle, and the bobbin assembly. We’ll consider these from the top downwards, as they are all roughly in a line in that axis.

On most machines you can remove the plate or cover on the end of the horizontal arm that conceals the mechanism. If you were to remove it and look at the end of the arm face-on you’d see the end of the drive shaft with a crank that drives the mechanism that raises and lowers the needle. This crank also operates the thread take-up lever which normally protrudes from the front casing, this has the thread looped round it and has the function of pulling the loop of thread back up through the fabric on each individual stitch. There will also be a thread tensioner, similar to a pair of washers clamping the thread with the force of a small spring.

The arm end mechanism of a classic Singer 185K. The tensioner and thread take-up lever are on the right, while the lamp and presser foot lever are on the left.

Vertically the entire height of the machine at the end of the arm will be two bars. Towards the front of the machine will be the needle bar with the needle attached to its bottom, while behind it will be the presser foot bar. The presser foot at the bottom of this bar serves the purpose of holding the fabric down on the bed of the machine, and can be raised or lowered with a lever on the back of the machine.

Below the presser foot is the bed of the machine, and below that is the bobbin and hook mechanism described above. Either side of the needle are a pair of toothed dogs that act on a crank to “walk” the fabric past the needle.

If you have followed the description in the last few paragraphs you will now have a good idea of the working of a simple straight-stitch sewing machine. These were the standard from the middle of the nineteenth century until sometime in the 1960s when domestic machines capable of other stitches such as zig-zags or dual-row stitching appeared. These machines have an extra mechanism that allows the needle to move from side to side as well as up and down, something controlled at first by selectable cams but on more recent machines by a microcontroller.

Once you have a sewing machine, what might you do with it? Of course, like any other versatile tool or machine, the answer is limited only by your imagination or your favourite search engine. And there should be no reason for you to have to use if for making garments if that’s not your thing, there are a huge number of places a maker can find use for a bit of textile work in their projects if only they have the means to work in the medium. I make the occasional garment project and have been used for a few Halloween costumes, but by far the most use they see are in repairing and modifying things I already have. From fixing the frayed edge of my day pack to mending those treasured but past-it jeans and saving a caravan holiday when my friend’s awning was found to have a rip, they are as important tools to me as my multimeter or oscilloscope.

Finding The Machine For You

If you’ve made it this far and fancy looking for a sewing machine to grace your own bench, where should you start? Given that this is a product which has been in production for over 150 years, you have a huge array of machines to choose from.

It’s worth beginning at the end of the market that you might not expect us to tackle first, and look at new machines. A new machine might cost more than a second-hand one, but if you buy wisely you should be able to secure plenty of modern features without breaking the bank. Of course just like any tool it is possible to pay a four or five figure sum at the top end of the market, and if that’s the course you take you’ll get what you pay for in the form of a very high quality machine. But if that describes you then you probably won’t need our advice. We’re more interested in the other end of the market for the purposes of this article.

The Brother L14, a typical budget sewing machine from a quality manufacturer.

If you take a look at any department store website, you’ll find a range of budget sewing machines. At the bottom end of the price range, some of them are astoundingly cheap coming in at $50 or under. These are usually own-brand machines aimed at younger users, a sort of “My first sewing machine” product. It’s probably best to view these machines as having more in common with a toy than your grandmother’s trusty Singer, and avoid them. You can make all sorts of things with one, but do not expect it to be robust, or to last long when used for heavy-duty work.

Happily on the next step up from the toy machines are the base models from quality manufacturers. These share the metal components and reliability of their more expensive brethren, but lack some of the premium features. They will normally have a range of stitches, but their mechanisms will be entirely mechanical rather than computerised. If you have somewhere above $100 to spare they make an excellent choice for someone seeking a workaday sewing machine.

In the second-hand market you have that century or more of machines to choose from, and some machines can command eye-watering prices while others are almost worthless. It’s best to start with the more recent machines and move backwards in time to catch the sweet spots.

Oxhack’s Jones, as it happens another Brother in disguise. Inexpensive and unfashionable, but loads of features and just as good at sewing as it was when it was new.

Most premium machines from the late 1960s through to the 1990s have all the modern features of the day such as the range of stitches, and were depending on the manufacturer built to a very high standard. They are however quite heavy and extremely dated in their appearance, so can often be found in very good condition in the want-ads for not a huge amount of money. A quick scan while writing this piece finds a range of similar machines including ones from very expensive manufacturers advertised for similar prices to the toy machines mentioned earlier. Exchange rates are in a state of flux at the moment so it’s probably unwise to do a conversion, but £25 to £50 seems to get you a lot of features if you don’t mind a machine that’s sewed a few shoulder pads in its time.

Older machines come from an unbroken line stretching from the 1850s to the 1960s. They all perform very well the single task of stitching in a straight line, and by the early twentieth century their design had evolved to the point at which they were all fairly similar mechanically. The earlier models made before about the First World War are probably best considered for our purposes here as museum pieces, it is the later ones from the second quarter of the century onwards that should interest us.

Earlier machines like the one in the black-and-white picture at the top of the page were made to be objects of beauty in their own right. They were richly decorated, and there are collectors who buy them for this decoration. As with any field in which collectors move in their prices can thus climb to the point at which a buyer looking only for a usable sewing machine is priced out of the market for them.

A Singer 185K from the late 1950s. Brown was fashionable then.

The good news for us comes from mid-century fashion. In the 1950s the decorated machines with their curved castings were seen as ugly and outdated, and customers demanded clean lines with modern hues. Thus the manufacturers took the machines they had been making for decades and reclad them in more angular bodies painted with contemporary colours. Fashion is a funny thing, because these dull brown and green sewing machines are now unwanted and unloved, despite being mechanically identical to their curved and decorated predecessors. This is good news because it means their worth is much less, and persistence may well net you one for something close to beer money.

These 1950s and early 1960s machines are built to an extremely high standard, and will sew anything you can throw at them. They’ll probably outlast almost everything else you own. You do need to summon your inner weightlifter to heft one, and they don’t lend themselves to easy shipping. If you can do without any fancy stitches they represent something of a sweet spot, and we’d recommend them as a good place to start if you can get your hands on one.

Have you changed your mind about textile work reading this article, and are you about to scour your parents loft for your grandmother’s forgotten sewing machine? On a hardware hacker’s bench a sewing machine is just another machine tool, and it’s probably one you can’t afford to be without.

Header image: US patent US2430932A.

Filed under: Featured, Interest, slider, tool hacks

Microsoft Surface Dial is up for pre-order for $100

Liliputing - พุธ, 10/26/2016 - 23:39

Microsoft introduced an expensive new laptop and an expensive all-in-one desktop today. But the company also introduced something a little more affordable: a device that gives you a new way to interact with the company’s touchscreen computers.

It’s called the Surface Dial, and it’s an accessory for Surface Pro tablets, the Surface Studio desktop, or Surface Book 2-in-1. And it’s available for pre-order for $100.

The Surface Dial is expected to ship November 10th.

Continue reading Microsoft Surface Dial is up for pre-order for $100 at Liliputing.

Microsoft launches Surface Studio: its first all-in-one desktop PC

Liliputing - พุธ, 10/26/2016 - 22:33

Microsoft is expanding its Surface line of computers. First there were tablets. Then there was a laptop. Now there’s an all-in-one desktop.

It’s called the Surface Studio, and as the name suggests, it’s a high-performance machine designed for “creators,” which makes sense in light of the next version of Windows 10 being called the “Creators Update.”

It’s also a high-priced machine for professionals (or other folks who can justify spending a lot of money on a desktop PC). 

Continue reading Microsoft launches Surface Studio: its first all-in-one desktop PC at Liliputing.

A Modest But Well-Assembled Home Hydropower Setup

Hackaday - พุธ, 10/26/2016 - 22:31

We have all opened an electricity bill and had thoughts of saving a bit of money by generating our own power. Most of us never get any further than just thinking about it, but for anyone willing to give it a try we are very fortunate in that we live in a time at which technology has delivered many new components that make it a much more straightforward prospect than it used to be. Electronic inverters, efficient alternators, and electronic battery management systems are all easy to find via the internet, and are thus only a matter of waiting for the courier to arrive.

Pelton Wheel

[Frédéric Waltzing] is lucky enough to have access to a 135 foot (38 metre) head of water that those of us in flatter environments could only dream of. He’s used it to generate his own power using a modestly sized but very effective turbine, and he documented it in a Youtube video which you can see below the break.

He brings the water to his turbine house through a 1.5 inch plastic pipe, in which he maintains a 55PSI closed pressure that drops to 37PSI when the system is running. His Pelton wheel develops 835RPM, from which a small permanent magnet alternator provides 6.3A for his battery management system. An Enerwatt 2KW inverter provides useful power from the system.

This hydroelectric installation might not be very large, but its key is not in its size but that it can run continuously. A continuous free 6.3A charge can store up a lot of energy for those times when you need it.

It’s good to see such a well-assembled small hydro setup. The last one we featured was a little more basic, being made entirely from trash, but before that we showed you one made from a former washing machine.

Filed under: green hacks

Microsoft unveils Surface Book i7 with longer battery life, better graphics

Liliputing - พุธ, 10/26/2016 - 22:19

Microsoft is launching an updated Surface Book 2-in-1 laptop. It’s called the Surface Book i7 and the company says it offers twice the graphics performance available from the original model… but it also offers 30 percent longer battery life.

In order to pack more power into the 13.5 inch laptop, Microsoft’s Panos Panay says the entire thermal system of the laptop was re-designed to include a second fan under the hood and hyperbaric cooling.

Continue reading Microsoft unveils Surface Book i7 with longer battery life, better graphics at Liliputing.

Windows 10-compatible VR headsets coming for $299 and up

Liliputing - พุธ, 10/26/2016 - 21:47

Microsoft’s Windows 10 Creators Update places a heavy focus on 3D content… by offering new tools to create 3D imagery and new ways to interact with 3D objects.

And you don’t need a $3000 HoloLens headset or $600 Oculus Rift to do it. Microsoft has announced that a bunch of PC makers will be releasing Windows 10-ready virtual reality headsets, with prices starting at $299.

That list includes models from Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, and Lenovo and Microsoft says each model include sensors with six degrees of freedom and that you won’t need to set up a separate room with sensors for that functionality.

Continue reading Windows 10-compatible VR headsets coming for $299 and up at Liliputing.

Windows 10 Creators Update coming in early 2017

Liliputing - พุธ, 10/26/2016 - 21:26

Microsoft has announced that the next major version of Windows is coming in early 2017, and it’ll be called the Windows 10 Creators Update. That’s because some of the most noteworthy new features are aimed at content creation.

Like this year’s Windows 10 Anniversary Update, the new update will be available for free on any computer that’s currently running Windows 10.

While the update will be widely available in 2017, Microsoft is sharing early previews with members of the Windows Insiders program starting this week.

Continue reading Windows 10 Creators Update coming in early 2017 at Liliputing.

Life on Contract: How to Find Clients as an Engineering Contractor

Hackaday - พุธ, 10/26/2016 - 21:01

The following is my personal advice, it probably doesn’t apply to all contractors, but it’s certainly applied to me. When you start contracting, your most pressing question is probably “how do I find clients” so here’s what little I’ve learned so far…

1. Don’t

For some, contracting is seen as a potential escape route from the hum-drum of a dull, often political office environment. But contracting isn’t always the answer. Pay, while often better, is inconsistent. I’ve had clients pay two months late (and think it’s normal), pay the wrong amount (due to misunderstanding currency conversion) and just plain forget to sign off an invoice. Chasing down these invoicing issues will all be your job. Clients will say “we’ll definitely hire you” and then a contract will never happen.

You might think you can just hack on an interesting project and send off your deliverables, avoiding all the other annoyances that come with an office job. It often doesn’t work that way either. Clients often don’t know what they want, and will ask you to help them slowly iterate toward a solution. Many client political issues can crop up in a contracting context too. You might have some distance from these issues, but ultimately they still exist.

I’ll be honest, when I’m at home working on a contract with toddler trying to draw on my face, I often long for the lazy days of getting paid to sit in an air conditioned office playing with KiCad because management can’t quite make up their mind about exactly what they want to do next. That kind of job security doesn’t exist with contracting.

So… if you’re looking for an escape route, consider other options. Can you bootstrap a small business to give you the life style you’re looking for? Would you ultimately be happier with venture funding (that brings its own evils) and starting your own thing?

2. Also Don’t

Seems you’re still reading and I’ve not yet managed to convince you contracting isn’t the answer. So you really want to start searching for clients huh? My suggestion here is also don’t.

I’ve tried contacting people in my industry, firing out 5 to 10 emails a day. I’ve set up accounts on bottom dollar freelancer websites and bid for work. Sometimes this leads to interesting conversations, but never actual work. There are only two ways I’ve got work:

  • Personal Contacts
  • People who cold-contact me via my blog

Personal contacts can come from anywhere. This might be an old colleague, or someone you’ve chatted to about work in the past. In my experience, if you’ve had good conversations and they’re looking for someone there’s a strong possibility they’ll reach out to you. But don’t push yourself on them, these are people in the industry who you are really just having an honest and open conversation with. If they have work, and you make contact semi-regularly it might turn into a contract for you. Do try to get into the habit of providing value to your industry contacts. If you’ve heard something, or seen something that they’ve likely not seen and is genuinely interesting, email them.

An example is a contract I got recently. I helped a friend pitch a company that ultimately didn’t get funded. But because of that I met a bunch of new people, and ultimately secured a small contract.

The other route is the blog, I’ve written a few posts around the niche in which I work. The supplied novel industry analysis wasn’t available elsewhere, but my niche is small and probably only a few thousand people read these posts. However they’re the right people, and helped secure contracts worth about $100k as well as prompting many other interesting conversations.

Now, I’m not saying don’t cold-contact people. Do that too! But focus on just having conversations with people and better understanding the industry regardless of whether there’s work in it.

And if you do happen to write a cool blog post, send the link to us!

3. Have a niche

Being a generic coder, or all-round EE probably isn’t enough to get you noticed. And if you do get clients they probably wont value you correctly. Try and find something that you’re an expert in that’ll make it tough for others to undercut you, something that you can talk about easily with potential clients and are therefore regularly involved in those conversations as “the guy who knows about that stuff”.

So. That’s my advice on getting work. Consider your options, and make sure you talk to people. The work will come as a side-effect of that.

Editor’s Note: This article is written under a nom de plume. We prefer that Hackaday writers stand behind their work by putting their actual name in the byline. This column is specifically about contracting in the engineering world. Although there is nothing particularly risky about the experiences shared here, we respect the author’s wish to safeguard past and future business connections by publishing under a different name.

Filed under: Business, Featured

Hackers unlock bootloader on a Google Pixel from Verizon

Liliputing - พุธ, 10/26/2016 - 20:46

Buy a Google Pixel or Pixel XL smartphone from the Google Store and all you need to do to unlock the bootloader is allow OEM unlocking in the Developer Options settings, connect to a computer with a USB cable, and run a command… or use a toolkit that automates some of the steps.

But if you buy your phone from Verizon? Then you get a model with an unlockable bootloader. And when I say unlockable, I mean that the simplest method for unlocking the bootloader is disabled.

Continue reading Hackers unlock bootloader on a Google Pixel from Verizon at Liliputing.

Botnet Recall of Things

Hackaday - พุธ, 10/26/2016 - 18:00

After a tough summer of botnet attacks by Internet-of-Things things came to a head last week and took down many popular websites for folks in the eastern US, more attention has finally been paid to what to do about this mess. We’ve wracked our brains, and the best we can come up with is that it’s the manufacturers’ responsibility to secure their devices.

Chinese DVR manufacturer Xiongmai, predictably, thinks that the end-user is to blame, but is also consenting to a recall of up to 300 million 4.3 million of their pre-2015 vintage cameras — the ones with hard-coded factory default passwords. (You can cut/paste the text into a translator and have a few laughs, or just take our word for it. The company’s name gets mis-translated frequently throughout as “male” or “masculine”, if that helps.)

Xiongmai’s claim is that their devices were never meant to be exposed to the real Internet, but rather were designed to be used exclusively behind firewalls. That’s apparently the reason for the firmware-coded administrator passwords. (Sigh!) Anyone actually making their Internet of Things thing reachable from the broader network is, according to Xiongmai, being irresponsible. They then go on to accuse a tech website of slander, and produce a friendly ruling from a local court supporting this claim.

Whatever. We understand that Xiongmai has to protect its business, and doesn’t want to admit liability. And in the end, they’re doing the right thing by recalling their devices with hard-coded passwords, so we’ll cut them some slack. Is the threat of massive economic damage from a recall of insecure hardware going to be the driver for manufacturers to be more security conscious? (We kinda hope so.)

Meanwhile, if you can’t get enough botnets, here is a trio of recent articles (one, two, and three) that are all relevant to this device recall.

Via threatpost.

Filed under: news, slider

Etching Your Own Metal

Hackaday - พุธ, 10/26/2016 - 15:01

It’s been said that with enough soap, one could blow up just about anything. A more modern interpretation of this thought is that with enough knowledge of chemistry, anything is possible. To that end, [Peter] has certainly been doing a good job of putting his knowledge to good use. He recently worked out a relatively inexpensive and easy way to etch metals using some chemistry skill and a little bit of electricity.

After preparing a set of stencils and cleaning the metal work surface, [Peter] sets his work piece in a salt solution. A metal bar is inserted in the other end of the bath, and both it and the work piece are connected to electrodes. The flow of electricity removes some metal from the exposed work surfaces, producing whatever patterns [Peter] wants.

One interesting thing that [Peter] found is that the voltage must stay under 6 volts. This is probably part of the reason it’s relatively easy to etch with even a wall wort. Above that, the iron work piece produces a different ion which can clog the work surface and create undesirable effects. Additionally, since his first experiments with this process he has upgraded the salt bath with magnetic stirrers. He also gets the best results in a very cold environment.

There are many other uses for etching metals, too. Creating your own printed circuit boards comes to mind, but there are plenty of other uses as well. What will you do with this technique?

Filed under: chemistry hacks

Hackaday Prize Entry: A Cluster Of Exoskeletons

Hackaday - พุธ, 10/26/2016 - 12:00

The current trend of 3D printed prosthetic hands have one rather large drawback: you can’t use them if you already have two hands. This might seem like a glib objection, but one of last week’s Hackaday Prize posts pointed this out rather well – sometimes a meat machine needs mechanical assistance.

BEOWULF, [Chad Paik]’s entry for the Hackaday Prize, is the answer to this problem. It’s a mechanical exoskeleton for grip enhancement, stroke rehabilitation, and anyone else that doesn’t have the strength they need to get through the day.

This project solves the problem of weak arm strength through – you guessed it – 3D-printed parts, a linear actuator on the forearm, and a few force sensors on the fingertips. Control is obtained through a Thalmic Labs Myo, but the team behind the BEOWULF is currently working on a custom muscle activity sensor that is more compact and isn’t beholden to VC investors. You can check out a video of this exoskeleton below.

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Filed under: The Hackaday Prize
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