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IoTP: The Internet of Toilet Paper

อังคาร, 11/28/2017 - 02:30

Our first impression of this IoT toilet paper roll was that somebody was pulling our leg. Watching the infomercial-esque video below is alternately hilarious and horrifying, but it leaves you with the unmistakable feeling that this is all a joke, and a pretty good one at that.  Right up until you get to the big Kimberly-Clark logo at the end, that is, and you realize that the international paper concern must be looking at this seriously.

When you read [zvizvi]’s Instructables post, you find out that this project is indeed a legitimate attempt to meld an Amazon Dash button with your toilet paper dispenser. For his proof-of-concept build, [zvizvi] started with a gag “talking TP” roll off eBay, designed to play back a voice clip when the paper is used. It had all the right guts, and being just the size for a Wemos Mini and an accelerometer for motion detection was a bonus. The smart spindle can tally the amount of paper used, so you’ll never be caught without a square to spare. And of course, critical TP usage parameters are uploaded to a cloud server, so that more toilet paper can be rushed to your door when you’re getting low.

The whole idea, including justification based on monitoring TP use as a proxy for bowel health, seems ridiculous, but we suspect there may be some brilliance here. Joke if you will, but in the end it’s probably better than an Internet of Farts.


Filed under: home hacks

The Flight That Made The Calculator And Changed The World

อังคาร, 11/28/2017 - 01:01

It was the fall of 1965 and Jack Kilby and Patrick Haggerty of Texas Instruments sat on a flight as Haggerty explained his idea for a calculator that could fit in the palm of a hand. This was a huge challenge since at that time calculators were the size of typewriters and plugged into wall sockets for their power. Kilby, who’d co-invented the integrated circuit just seven years earlier while at TI, lived to solve problems.

Fig. 2 from US 3,819,921 Miniature electronic calculator

By the time they landed, Kilby had decided they should come up with a calculator that could fit in your pocket, cost less than $100, and could add, subtract, multiply, divide and maybe do square roots. He chose the code name, Project Cal Tech, for this endeavor, which seemed logical as TI had previously had a Project MIT.

Rather than study how existing calculators worked, they decided to start from scratch. The task was broken into five parts: the keyboard, the memory, the processor, the power supply, and some form of output. The processing portion came down to a four-chip design, one more than was initially hoped for. The output was also tricky for the time. CRTs were out of the question, neon lights required too high a voltage and LEDs were still not bright enough. In the end, they developed a thermal printer that burned images into heat-sensitive paper.

Just over twelve months later, with the parts all spread out on a table, it quietly spat out correct answers. A patent application was filed resulting in US patent 3,819,921, Miniature electronic calculator, which outlined the basic design for all the calculators to follow. This, idea borne of a discussion on an airplane, was a pivotal moment that changed the way we teach every student, and brought the power of solid-state computing technology into everyday life.

TI showed the Cal Tech prototype to a number of companies and Canon took an interest. Canon brought it to market as the Pocketronic, releasing it in Japan in October 1970 and the US in April 1971, selling for around $150 ($910 in 2017 dollars). It had three chips and a heat-sensitive paper tape readout. It was still just handheld though, not really pocket-sized, but sold very well.

By then a number of other handheld calculators were also hitting the market. In November 1970, the first calculator-on-a-chip, the Mostek MK6010, was announced, followed in February 1971 by the first truly pocket-sized calculator, the Busicom LE-120A “Handy” that used the chip. That same year, TI followed with their own calculator-on-a-chip and in 1972 TI started releasing its own calculators.

HP-35, the first scientific calculator, by Seth Morabito CC BY 2.0

In 1972 Hewlett-Packard released the HP-35, the first scientific calculator, one that could replace a slide rule. It used reverse Polish notation (which our own [Jenny List] recently wrote about), included scientific notation and had 35 buttons, hence its name. Despite a $395 price tag ($2,320 in 2017), 100,000 were sold in its first year. The HP-35, along with the release of TI’s equivalent SR-50 in 1974 for $150, spelled the end of the actual slide rule. (The SR stood for Slide Rule.)

Display technology also advanced through vacuum fluorescent displays, LEDs and LCDs. In the mid-1970s, twisted nematic (TN) LCDs gave calculators the now omnipresent dark numerals on a light background while decreasing the power requirements to the point where they could run on button cells.

Prices dropped as new features were added and sales doubled each year. By 1976, a four-function calculator cost only a few dollars. In 1972, 5 million calculators were sold in the US and within ten years there were more calculators in the US than people.

Why had the calculator become so popular? This was a clear case of a consumer product that was conceived for a market that wasn’t known to exist. When Haggerty conceived of the idea in 1965, calculators were heavy and took up significant space on a desktop, so perhaps the convenience of one which you could carry around played a part. They also needed no setup, no programming — simply flip the on/off switch and do some calculations. For the average person, they replaced the need to learn multiplication tables, necessary for working out how much a dozen apples would cost at $0.05 an apple. They also made it easier for the high school student to do the trigonometry in their physics homework. Though, in the early 1970s, given the initial high price, perhaps it was engineers and companies that bought them first.

TI-30, by D. Meyer CC BY-SA 3.0

I can attest to the latter. I was just becoming a teenager back around 1976 when my father bought a TI-30 calculator for $25, or around $107 in 2017 dollars. The mining company at which he worked as an electrician had made them available. Before that, I recall using long division to divide up a long sheet of paper for a mural that was to be a backdrop for a school play. I would likely have gone on to learn to use a slide rule, but never did. After the calculator arrived, I’ve done long division on paper only once when no calculator was available, though I have done it for fun and to see if I remember how.

TI-81 graphing calculator, by Calcvids CC BY-SA 3.0

Through the decades that followed, calculators continued to gain functionality. In 1974, HP came out with their first programmable calculator, the HP-65. It had 100 functions and stored programs with a magnetic card reader. Starting in 1978, a company called Calculated Industries released very niche calculators such as the Loan Arranger for the Real Estate industry with functions for calculating payments and future values. Then later came the Construction Master with programmed functions for pitch, rise, run, feet-inch conversions and more. In the 1990s TI came out with the TI-81, a popular graphing calculator for algebra and precalculus courses and power by a Zilog Z80.

If memory serves, it was a programmable Sharp El-5040 with a single line formula display that I’d left behind in a University auditorium, hopefully having found a good home on an engineer’s desk. Now, my Sharp EL-531W, also with a single line formula that can be retrieved and edited, sits ever-present beside my computer monitor, getting daily use while a Casio fx-3600P that I’d thought I’d lost but later found, sits waiting for its turn in my desk drawer.

This being Hackaday, you no doubt have a calculator that gets frequent use. Or perhaps you have your own fond memories of one that got away or a family one that you grew up with. Or perhaps there’s one you’ve hacked, like this ESP8266-connected scientific calculator? Share your stories with us, we’d love to hear how the calculator has played a part in your life. We also wonder how much longer the calculator as a distinct piece of electronics will survive now that the infinite adaptability of smartphones has made calculator apps the go-to for today’s upcoming engineering candidates?

[Pocketronic photo used in main image via Dentaku-Museum]

Filed under: Hackaday Columns, History, Interest

Jeroen Domburg Miniaturizes a Mac

จันทร์, 11/27/2017 - 23:30

His name may not ring a bell, but his handle will — Sprite_tm, a regular to these pages and to Hackaday events around the world. Hailing from The Netherlands by way of Shanghai, Jeroen Domburg dropped by the Hackaday Superconference 2017 to give a talk on a pet project of his: turning a Macintosh into, well, a pet.

You could say this is Jeroen’s second minification of vintage hardware. At last year’s Hackaday Superconference, he brought out the tiniest Game Boy ever made. This incredible hardware and software hack stuffs a complete Game Boy into something you can lose in your pocket. How do you top a miniature version of the most iconic video game system ever made? By creating a miniature version of the most iconic computer ever made, of course.

The tiny object in front of Jeroen in the title image is, in fact, a working Macintosh Plus that he built. Recreating mid-80’s technology using 2017 parts seems like it would be easy, and while it’s obviously easier than breaking the laws of physics to go the other direction, Jeroen faced some serious challenges along the way, which he goes into some detail about in his talk.

Jeroen, aka Sprite_tm, shows off his “disembiggened” Mac Plus at the Hackaday Superconference 2017.

Chief among these was recreating the look and feel of the revolutionary Mac GUI, which required a diminutive display. Shrinking the original 9″ CRT display with its 512 x 342-pixel resolution down to (literally) thumbnail size was no mean feat, and Jeroen details all the design choices that led him to a 320 x 320-pixel smartwatch display. To put the MIPI interface display to work in his build, Jeroen capitalized on some reverse engineering efforts by Mike Harrison, designer of the Hackaday Superconference 2017 badge.

Given Jeroen’s current employment at Espressif, it’s no wonder that he chose the ESP32 as the chip to run his mini-Mac, although as he mentions, the SoC only barely has enough horsepower to do it. With the Mac emulation running on one core and the display scaling running on the other, and with barely enough GPIO to interface the display and the tiny mouse he also built, this mini-Mac really pushes the envelope. To be honest, it would have been great to hear more about the software side of this build, which Jeroen didn’t go into great detail about. To be fair, though, this was a huge project and he only had 30 minutes to talk, and after all, the Superconference is all about the hardware.

We have to give Jeroen props for having the guts to do a live demo on his tiny Mac. With a webcam to watch the proceedings, the Mac booted into the familiar monochrome Finder screen. The display was surprisingly readable and all the classic Mac UI elements, like window opening animations, are there to behold. The look and feel are remarkably Mac-ish, and the reaction from the crowd when Jeroen opened the iconic MacPaint application for a couple of token scribbles, not to mention the gasps at the squadron of flying toasters, was precious.

That Jeroen was able to evoke a palpable nostalgia from the audience was a testament to how well he nailed the look and feel of the original. That he was able to execute all this on a seemingly impossible scale was a real treat to watch, and we can’t wait to see what Sprite_tm brings to Superconference 2018. If there’s a unifying theme to his hacks, we’d have to say it’s “hacking for the joy of it”, so whatever he brings, it’ll be fun.

Filed under: classic hacks, cons

CNC Milling is More Manual Than You Think

จันทร์, 11/27/2017 - 22:01

I was in Pasadena CA for the Hackaday Superconference, and got to spend some quality time at the Supplyframe Design Lab. Resident Engineer Dan Hienzsch said I could have a few hours, and asked me what I wanted to make. The constraints were that it had to be small enough to fit into checked luggage, but had to be cool enough to warrant taking up Dan’s time, with bonus points for me learning some new skills. I have a decent wood shop at home, and while my 3D printer farm isn’t as pro as the Design Lab’s, I know the ropes. This left one obvious choice: something Jolly Wrencher on the industrial Tormach three-axis CNC metal mill.

A CNC mill is an awesome tool, but it’s not an omniscient metal-eating robot that you can just hand a design file to. If you thought that having a CNC mill would turn you into a no-experience-needed metal-cutting monster, you’d be sorely mistaken.

Of course the machine is able to cut arbitrary shapes with a precision that would be extremely demanding if done by hand, but the craft of the operator is no less a factor than with a manual mill in making sure that things don’t go sideways. Dan’s good judgment, experience, and input was needed every step of the way. Honestly, I was surprised by how similar the whole procedure was to manual milling. So if you want to know what it’s like to sit on the shoulder of a serious CNC mill operator, read on!

Planning: CAD and CAM

I said “Dan, Jolly Wrencher in Aluminum!” and when I came in the next morning, he had already been secretly working behind my back. The SVG file that he had of the Wrencher was actually composed of tiny line segments rather than smooth Bezier curves. Attempting to match all of the resulting infinitesimal sharp corners would drive the CAD software (Fusion 360) batty. So instead, Dan traced over the original image with entirely new, smooth curves and came up with something indistinguishable from the original to my eye, but much easier for the computer to handle.

With the desired outline set, we had to pick our tooling. Here, there is a trade-off between being true to the input file and getting the piece made in a short time. If Dan chose too large a cutting head on the mill, the fine details would be impossible to cut out — in particular the points of the wrenches have interior corners, and the sharpness of these is limited by the bit’s diameter. Doing the whole piece with the finest head would look better, but it would take forever. Thus the usual strategy is to make a rough pass to hog out the bulk of the aluminum, and then make finer passes with the smaller tool. But how big is big, and how small is small? And are two passes enough, or should we go to three?

In the end, this is a judgement call. Switching out the toolheads is very quick on the Tormach, but it doesn’t do it automatically. That meant that we had to be around at just the right time to swap them out. In that sense, fewer tool changes are better than more. Dan picked the first-stage mill to just fit between the Wrencher’s eyes and the edge of the skull, but didn’t sweat the small details in the tips of the wrenches. A second pass with a finer tool would handle them. A final pass with a chamfering bit was added just for show: because I like the look of curving chamfered edges, and could never do this so nicely by hand.

The CAM software also wanted to know an overwhelming number of details about the actual cutting, but most of these had good previous values due to Dan’s experience cutting aluminum with these particular toolheads. Still, he cavalierly set the feed rate about double what it probably should be, and said we’d be “riding the jog wheel” to get it right.

Even before we’d flipped the machine’s big red on switch, Dan had already made a number of judgement calls that depend on his knowledge of the software, the machine, the tools, and the material that we’re cutting. A newbie, like myself, would have already lost the game, CNC be damned.

Man and Machine

We uploaded the CAM files and started up the Tormach’s warm-up and self-lubrication procedures. Dan made sure that it was sending out a fine mist of cutting fluid, and then we started looking for scrap aluminum bar. The skull was planned to be about 4″ (call it 10 cm) square, and the shop had some slightly larger bar stock that just needed cutting. Good lubrication and a clean and sharp metal blade on the chop saw made quick work of a hefty bar of aluminum, but this was essentially just like you’d do it at home with some cutting fluid and a hack saw. Only faster.

Bar stock isn’t necessarily square, and the surfaces don’t look good anyway, so once the mill had warmed up, Dan put in the fly cutter head and we trued up the stock. Though he was using the CNC mill to make the cuts, this was an almost entirely manual procedure. First, he cut a reference edge by going progressively deeper until he took off all the original metal. Then he flipped it around and repeated the procedure. With two parallel edges, and good precision square blocks, he cut the remaining faces to be square. In all cases, it was a process of lowering the fly cutter slowly until it just hit the (guestimated) high point on the face, and working down pass by pass until everything is shiny. How much to take off? How fast to feed? Operator experience. CNC doesn’t help you here.

In the end, our block measured 4.001″ by 3.985″ — not bad, but a slightly wonky first cut with the chop saw resulted in us needing to take off too much on one edge to get it clean. It’s a paperweight anyway, so all that matters is getting the Wrencher centered. Enter operator experience again. Dan had set up the CAM file with the machine’s zero point in the dead center of the Wrencher’s head. This means that as long as we could point the CNC machine to the center of our aluminum stock, we wouldn’t have to worry about that nagging 0.015″ (0.4 mm) that one side is shorter than the other — everything will work out symmetric by design.

The Tormach has a 3D distance probe tip, which is probably the coolest thing I’ve seen. You chuck it in the machine and it measures in the X, Y, and Z axes. This made finding the exact width and height of the piece in all dimensions a piece of cake, and allowed Dan to tell the machine where the top surface of the center of our piece was. Up until this point, everything was 100% manual, but now that the machine is oriented, the CNC can help out.

Riding the Jog Wheel

Swapping in the first cutting tool, did he just press play? Well, kinda. The Tormach has individual speed controls for cutting speed and travel speed. The first order of business was to double-check our zero setting by moving the mill down to the work piece at about 10% travel speed and with the cutting feed speed set to 0%. This let us verify that the mill stopped exactly where it should. If he had made a mistake, it could have run the mill into the metal at a dangerous depth or an insane feed speed, breaking bits or worse. Sanity checks like this are key.

He then raised up the cutting feed speed slowly; remember that he had set the feed speed too high intentionally during the CAM stage. We watched the mill spiral down to the correct cutting depth, and then start off on its pattern. He slowly cranked up the feed until it was moving at a decent pace. How much material should it take off per second? Just like with a manual mill, it’s a matter of experience. He listened to the machine, watched the chips flying off, and checked the quality of the cut throughout. Fully automatic CNC? The opposite.

The roughing pass was done in a jiffy, and we changed out the tool for the detail mill. Again, we repeated the same procedure of slowly edging the tool down to the surface of the aluminum. Did it stop where it was supposed to? Is the toolhead the length that the machine thinks it is? Affirmative to both, but it’s a good double-check. Dan then slowly jogged the machine up to operating speed again.

Watching the mill do its work is mesmerizing, as any of you with a 3D printer know, and I ended up watching aluminum chips fly while I could have been outside drinking coffee. But these fifteen minutes of full automation were over too soon. One more tool change, to the chamfering bit, and another couple of minutes of machine time and the Jolly Paperweight was finished. The swirlies from the center of the mill’s flutes make it look almost like a sugar skull. It was glorious!


Of course, the Aluminum Wrencher was a quick-and-dirty, one-off project. If we were producing these in multiples, we would write down the ideal feed speeds and maybe skip the manual jog-wheeling for the next iterations. But all in all, fairly heavy operator involvement and judgement was involved for 60% of the time. Planning the work, squaring up the stock, and even guiding the machine through the steps that it already “knew” required an operator who is familiar with machining from a manual perspective, and who could think through the next steps while planning the present.

While traditional metalworkers might wake up in the middle of the night sweating bullets about the robots taking work out of their hands, and maybe that’s right in mass production, it’s certainly not the case that someone who’s never had metalworking experience can just walk up to one of these CNC wonders, hand it an image, and press play. After watching Dan and the Tormach cut me a Wrencher, I’d say that learning the ropes on a manual mill isn’t sufficient to become a master of the CNC, but it’s absolutely necessary.

But I’m just a CNC-milling noob. What do you folks say? How much of your bag-of-manual-metalworking tricks transfers over the world of CNC?

Thanks a ton to Dan and everyone at the Design Lab for your hospitality!

Filed under: Hackaday Columns, Tool Hacks

Make A Cheap Muon Detector Using Cosmicwatch

จันทร์, 11/27/2017 - 19:00

A little over a year ago we’d written about a sub $100 muon detector that MIT doctoral candidate [Spencer Axani] and a few others had put together. At the time there was little more than a paper on arxiv.org about it. Now, a few versions later they’ve refined it to the level of a kit with full instructions for making your own under the banner, CosmicWatch including PCB Gerber files for the two surface mount boards you’ll need to assemble.

What’s a muon? The Earth is under constant bombardment from cosmic rays, most of them being nuclei expelled from supernova explosions. As they collide with nuclei in our atmosphere, pions and kaons are produced, and the pions then decay into muons.  These muons are similar to electrons, having a +1 or -1 charge, but with 200 times the mass.

This pion-to-muon decay happens higher than 10 km above the Earth’s surface. But the muons have a lifetime at rest of 2.2 μs. This means that the number of muons peak at around 10 km and decrease as you go down. A jetliner at 30,000 feet will encounter far more muons than will someone at the Earth’s surface where there’s one per cm2 per minute, and the deeper underground you go the fewer still. This makes them useful for inferring altitude and depth.

How does CosmicWatch detect these muons? The working components of the detector consist of a plastic scintillator, a silicon photomultiplier (SiPM), a main circuit board which does signal amplification and peak detection among other things, and an Arduino nano.

As a muon passes through the scintillating material, some of its energy is absorbed and re-emitted as photons. Those photons are detected by the silicon photomultiplier (SiPM) which then outputs an electrical signal that is approximately 0.5 μs wide and 10-100 mV. That’s then amplified by a factor of 6. However, the amplified pulse is too brief for the Arduino nano and so it’s stretched out by the peak detector to roughly 100 μs. The Arduino samples the peak detector’s output and calculates the original pulse’s amplitude.

Their webpage has copious details on where to get the parts, the software and how to make it. However, they do assume you can either find a cheap photomultiplier somewhere or buy it in quantities of over 100 brand new, presumably as part of a school program. That bulk purchase makes the difference between a $50 part and one just over $100. But being skilled hackers we’re sure you can find other ways to save costs, and $150 for a muon detector still isn’t too unreasonable.

Detecting muons seems to have become a thing lately. Not too long ago we reported on a Hackaday prize entry for a detector that uses Russian Geiger–Müller Tubes.

Filed under: Misc Hacks

Introducing The Mobility Unlimited Challenge

จันทร์, 11/27/2017 - 16:00

If you take a walk across the centre of your city, you will find it to be a straightforward experience with few inconveniences. The occasional hold-up at a pedestrian crossing perhaps, or maybe a crowd of people in a busy shopping area. If however you take the same walk in the company of a wheelchair user you are likely to encounter an entirely different experience. The streets become a nightmare of obstacles to avoid and inaccessible areas requiring a detour, and suddenly what had been a pleasurable experience becomes a significant effort. Despite building and planning code updates to improve the situation, and millions of dollars invested in ramps, lifts, and other improvements, there remain so many problems to be addressed. Meanwhile legislators and the general public imagine that something has been done, the accessibility box has been ticked, and they can move on to the next thing that captures their attention.

The paralympian athlete [Tatyana McFadden] is an ambassador for the Toyota Mobility Foundation’s Mobility Unlimited Challenge, a global competition with the aim of improving mobility for people with disabilities. She’s written a piece introducing the challenge from her informed point of view as a wheelchair user, and makes the point that the basic design of a chair has not significantly changed since the 1930s. Her sentence: “There may be more hype around Bitcoin, but innovators could have far more impact if they turned their attention to how they can make the freedom to move available to all.” is one to make those of us with an interest in technology stop and think. To introduce the challenge they’ve released a glossy video, and we’ve placed it below the break.

As part of this year’s Hackaday Prize, we had an Assistive Technologies section that attracted some fantastic entries. That demonstrates that our community has plenty of people with the required skills, experience, and ideas to make a difference, and we hope that some of them might be among the entries for the Mobility Unlimited competition. If it excites your interest, we’d like to urge you to give it a second look.

A word of warning though – take care to avoid the Engineer Saviour Trap.

Filed under: Medical Hacks, News

A TEMPEST in a Dongle

จันทร์, 11/27/2017 - 13:00

If a couple of generations of spy movies have taught us anything, it’s that secret agents get the best toys. And although it may not be as cool as a radar-equipped Aston Martin or a wire-flying rig for impossible vault heists, this DIY TEMPEST system lets you snoop on computers using secondary RF emissions.

If the term TEMPEST sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve covered it before. [Elliot Williams] gave an introduction to the many modalities that fall under the TEMPEST umbrella, the US National Security Agency’s catch-all codename for bridging air gaps by monitoring the unintended RF, light, or even audio emissions of computers. And more recently, [Brian Benchoff] discussed a TEMPEST hack that avoided the need for thousands of dollars of RF gear, reducing the rig down to an SDR dongle and a simple antenna. There’s even an app for that now: TempestSDR, a multiplatform Java app that lets you screen scrape a monitor based on its RF signature. Trouble is, getting the app running on Windows machines has been a challenge, but RTL-SDR.com reader [flatfishfly] solved some of the major problems and kindly shared the magic. The video below shows TempestSDR results; it’s clear that high-contrast images at easiest to snoop on, but it shows that a $20 dongle and some open-source software can bridge an air gap. Makes you wonder what’s possible with deeper pockets.

RF sniffing is only one of many ways to exfiltrate data from an air-gapped system. From power cords to security cameras, there seems to be no end to the ways to breach systems.

Filed under: Radio Hacks, Security Hacks

Mechanical Build Lets You Jump Cacti in Real Life

จันทร์, 11/27/2017 - 10:00

Simple to learn, hard to master, a lifetime to kick the habit. This applies to a lot of computer games, but the T-rex Runner game for Chrome and its various online versions are particularly insidious. So much so that the game drove one couple to build a real-world version of the digital game.

For those not familiar with the game, it’s a simple side-scroller where the goal is to jump and duck a running dinosaur over and under obstacles — think Flappy Birds, but faster paced. When deciding on a weekend hackathon project, [Uri] thought a real-life version of the game would be a natural fit, since he was already a fan of the digital version. With his girlfriend [Ariella] on the team, [Uri] was able to come up with a minimally playable version of the game, with a stepper motor providing the dino jumps and a simple straight conveyor moving the obstacles. People enjoyed it enough that version 2.0 was planned for the Chrome Developer Summit. This version was much more playable, with an oval track for the obstacles and better scorekeeping. [Uri] and [Ariella] had to expand their skills to complete the build — PCB design, E-Paper displays, laser cutting, and even metal casting were all required. The video below shows the final version — but where are the pterosaurs to duck?

Real-world jumping dinos aren’t the first physical manifestation of a digital game. As in the cyber world, Pong was first — either as an arcade version or a supersized outdoor game.

Filed under: Misc Hacks

Hackaday Links: November 26, 2017

จันทร์, 11/27/2017 - 07:00

Hey, it’s sometime between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. We’re blowing out everything in the Hackaday Store. There’s some great deals in there. Tindie, our lovable robot dog is also heading up hundreds of Tindie deals for Cyber Monday. If you want some electronic stuff direct from the people who make it, this is the sale to check out.

Looking for some other Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales? Adafruit has compiled a list of retailers so I don’t have to. Thanks, Phil. There are deals from Lulzbot to Makerbot, LittleBits to Sparkfun.

The engineer responsible for Dieselgate has been sentenced to 40 months in prison. There are two takeaways from this: 1) The Nuremberg Defense doesn’t work. 2) Don’t build a business plan around breaking the law, despite what the libertarian hellscape of Hacker News tells you.

The theme for next year’s DEF CON has been announced. It’s, “1983”. What does that mean? Brutalist architecture, first of all. They’re also going for a ‘year before 1984’ thing, where everyone installs always-on, far-field microphones in their house and connects them to the Internet. In other news, Alexas and Google Homes are on sale this Black Friday. Big props for the official DEF CON style guide with typefaces and colors, though.

Over on Hackaday.io, [Frank] has created a very interesting and very cool game for the Vectrex. It’s called Bloxorz, and you can think of it as a cross between Marble Madness and Q*Bert. It’s a puzzle game, and now it’s a project on Kickstarter. Want to check out what this game looks like? Take a look at the video. It’s big into the tradition of early-90s puzzle games (a genre we wish would come back), and if I had a Vectrex, I’d buy one.

I told you SparkleCon tickets are on sale, right?

Here’s an argument you can settle. What is the grit designation of sandpaper? Sandpaper comes in various grits, from 60 (very coarse) to 1500, 2000, and 6000 (for polishing, basically). Here’s a question: how are these numbers derived? I have a vague memory from my youth where someone who probably didn’t know what they were talking about said grit sizes are the number of abrasive particles per some unit of area. A 60-grit sandpaper would have sixty particles of aluminum oxide per square quarter inch, for example. This sounds too stupid to be correct, doesn’t fit with the mesh sizes of different grades of sandpaper, and a cursory Googling does not tell me how sandpaper grit sizes are derived. What say you, Hackaday peanut gallery? Where do the numbers on the back of a sheet of sandpaper actually come from?

Filed under: Hackaday Columns, Hackaday links

Protect Your TS100 Soldering Iron

จันทร์, 11/27/2017 - 04:00

The TS100 is a compact temperature-controlled soldering iron that’s long on features without too eye-watering a price. One thing it lacks as shipped though is anything to protect it from the thumps and bumps of everyday life in a toolbox, save for its elegant cardboard-and-foam retail box which requires iron and element/bit to be separated.

[Jeremy S. Cook] has a TS100, and decided to do something about it with a bit of work that may be quite simple but should be something that all TS100 owners take a look at. He made a very tough carrying container for it from a length of PVC pipe lined with the foam from the iron’s retail package. His short video which we’ve placed below the break takes us through the build, which bits of the packaging foam to cut, and uses a pair of PVC end caps to terminate the container. It’s not high-tech by any means, but enough of you will have TS100 irons to appreciate it.

You can read our review of the TS100 if you are interested, or you can marvel at the additions people have done to its software. Tetris, for example, or a working digital oscilloscope. Meanwhile [Jeremy] is an old friend of Hackaday, whose many projects include this recent unholy hybrid of fidget spinner and multirotor.

Filed under: Tool Hacks

Start Tracking Satellites with This Low-Cost Azimuth-Elevation Positioner

จันทร์, 11/27/2017 - 01:01

Tracking satellites and the ISS is pretty easy. All you really need is an SDR dongle or a handheld transceiver, a simple homebrew antenna, and a clear view of the sky. Point the antenna at the passing satellite and you’re ready to listen, or if you’re a licensed amateur, talk. But the tedious bit is the pointing. Standing in a field or on top of a tall building waving an antenna around gets tiring, and unless you’re looking for a good arm workout, limits the size of your antenna. Which is where this two-axis antenna positioner could come in handy.

While not quite up to the job it was originally intended for — positioning a 1.2-meter dish antenna — [Manuel] did manage to create a pretty capable azimuth-elevation positioner for lightweight antennas. What’s more, he did it on the cheap — only about €150. His design seemed like it was going in the right direction, with a sturdy aluminum extrusion frame and NEMA23 steppers. But the 3D-printed parts turned out to be the Achille’s heel. At the 1:40 mark in the video below (in German with English subtitles), the hefty dish antenna is putting way too much torque on the bearings, delaminating the bearing mount. But with a slender carbon-fiber Yagi, the positioner shines. The Arduino running the motion control talks GS232, so it can get tracking data directly from the web to control the antenna in real time.

Here’s hoping [Manuel] solves some of the mechanical issues with his build. Maybe he can check out this hefty dish positioner for weather satellite tracking for inspiration.

Filed under: Radio Hacks

Tindie’s Cyber Monday Deals

อาทิตย์, 11/26/2017 - 23:30

The holiday season is upon us, so you know what that means. It’s time to consume! Whether that means large quantities of carbohydrates or consumer electronics, ’tis the season to buy, buy, buy.

Hundreds of Tindie items are on sale right now, and everyone will find something unique, cutting edge, and sold by the people who designed it. Tindie is artisanal electronics with a cute robot dog mascot. It can’t get any better than that.

These discounts are offered by the great DIY hardware creators themselves, the ones who are making cool stuff that you want. What’s that, you say? It’s neither Black Friday nor Cyber Monday right now? It doesn’t matter, this sale started on Black Friday and will last until at least Mail Order Tuesday.

What’s cool on Tindie? Everything! There are button breakouts for old-school brick Game Boys, space chicken stickers from the guy that built the ESP8266 Deauther, a tiny digital audio player, track ocean vessels with the dAISy AIS receiver, or learn to solder with this blinky fire engine kit.

If you’re looking for even more deals, the Hackaday Store is blowing out everything. It’s a literal fire sale after I suggested deep frying the bird this year.

Filed under: Misc Hacks

Finally, A Fidget Spinner We Can Love

อาทิตย์, 11/26/2017 - 22:00

We’ve been frankly mystified at the popularity of fidget spinners. After all, we can flip an ink pen around just fine. However, [MakersBox] just sold us on what he calls the geek spinner. The fact that the spinner is actually a PCB and has parts on it, would probably have been cool enough. However, the spinner also has a persistence of vision LED set up and can display 12 characters of text as it spins. Because the board is simple and uses through hole components, it would be a great project for a budding young hacker. You can see a video below.

The instructions are geared towards someone attempting their first project, too. If you know how to solder and insert a DIP IC, you might find you’ll skim them, but it is pretty straightforward. The 8 LEDs on one side operate from an ATTiny CPU, which you can program with an Arduino. The spinner has a hall effect sensor and a magnet to figure out the index position of the spin — crucial for displaying text.

Although the board attempts to balance the components, the battery side is apparently a little heavy. The suggestion is to add some weight using some hardware or solder to that side. Speaking of solder, the bearing in the center solders to the PCB. That’s going to take a lot of heat, so maybe you can finally use Dad’s soldering gun that has been gathering dust under your bench.

We liked the polar graph provided to help you set up the code for your own messages. The text implies there is a picture of one of these graphs filled out, but we think he forgot to include that picture. However, it is clear enough how to use it, and it would make it very easy to make your own text or any design that the spinner could produce.

This isn’t the first POV spinner, by the way. [MakersBox] has a nice set of acknowledgments for projects he’s seen or borrowed from, but the other one he mentions uses surface mount. Granted, surface mount isn’t a problem for most people these days, but starting out, it might be nice to stick with a through-hole design. If you want a more useful spinner, you can always make some music.


Filed under: ATtiny Hacks, LED Hacks

Making an Arduino Shield PCB with Fritzing

อาทิตย์, 11/26/2017 - 19:00

[Allan Schwartz] decided to document his experience using Fritzing to design, fabricate, and test a custom Arduino shield PCB, and his step-by-step documentation makes the workflow very clear. Anyone who is curious or has been looking for an opportunity to get started will find [Allan]’s process useful to follow. The PCB in question has two shift registers, eight LEDs, eight buttons, and fits onto an Arduino; it’s just complex enough to demonstrate useful design features and methods while remaining accessible.

[Allan] starts with a basic breadboard design, draws a schematic, prototypes the circuit, then designs the PCB and orders it online, followed by assembly and testing. [Allan] had previously taught himself to use Eagle and etched his own PCBs via the toner transfer method, but decided to use Fritzing instead this time around and found it helpful and easy to use.

About a year ago we saw Fritzing put through its paces for PCB design, and at the time found that it didn’t impress much from an engineering perspective. Regardless, as a hobbyist [Allan] found real value in using Fritzing for his project from beginning to end; he documented both the process and his observations in order to help others, and that’s wonderful.

Filed under: Arduino Hacks, how-to

Mission Impossible: Infiltrating Furby

อาทิตย์, 11/26/2017 - 16:00

Long before things “went viral” there was always a few “must have” toys each year that were in high demand. Cabbage Patch Kids, Transformers, or Teddy Ruxpin would cause virtual hysteria in parents trying to score a toy for a holiday gift. In 1998, that toy was a Furby — a sort of talking robot pet. You can still buy Furby, and as you might expect a modern one — a Furby Connect — is Internet-enabled and much smarter than previous versions. While the Furby has always been a target for good hacking, anything Internet-enabled can be a target for malicious hacking, as well. [Context Information Security] decided to see if they could take control of your kid’s robotic pet.

Thet Furby Connect’s path to the Internet is via BLE to a companion phone device. The phone, in turn, talks back to Hasbro’s (the toy’s maker) Amazon Web Service servers. The company sends out new songs, games, and dances. Because BLE is slow, the transfers occur in the background during normal toy operation.

Looking at BLE services, there was a common DFU service for uploading firmware and an interface for sending proprietary DLC files. They found an existing project that could send existing DLC files to the device and even replace audio in those files. However, the format of the DLC files appeared to be unknown outside of Hasbro.

Attacking the DLC files with a hex editor, some of it seemed pretty obvious. However, some of it was quite elusive. The post has a great blow-by-blow detail of the investigation and, as you can see in the video below, they were successful.

Hasbro didn’t seem too concerned about the security ramifications because an attacker would have to have proximity to the toy. It isn’t hard to think of cases where that’s not a great excuse, but we suppose it does cover the most common things you’d worry about.

We talked about the partial exploit of the Furby Connect earlier. If you have an older Furby in the attic, you can always turn it into your next robot.


Filed under: Toy Hacks

Is Your Wireless Charger Working?

อาทิตย์, 11/26/2017 - 13:00

It’s that time of year at which the Christmas lights are coming out of storage, isn’t it. Some modern seasonal rituals: untangling half a mile of fairy lights, and replacing a pile of CR2032 cells in LED candles.

[RobBest] had a solution to the latter, owning a set of nifty rechargeable LED candles that came with their own wireless charger. Sadly the charger wasn’t working quite as intended, as the indicator light to show when it had finished its cycle was always on. How could he indicate that the induction system was in operation?

His answer was to take a non-functioning candle and strip it down to expose its induction pick-up coil. He could have simply hooked it up to an LED for a quick result, but since the device in question was a candle it made sense to give it a candle effect. A PIC microcontroller was therefore pressed into service to drive the LED with its PWM output, giving a pleasing flickering effect.

You don’t have to own a set of electronic candles to have a go at wireless charging. Instead you could try a trip to IKEA.

Filed under: hardware

Continuity Tester uses the ATtiny85’s Comparator

อาทิตย์, 11/26/2017 - 10:00

There’s an inside joke among cyclists – the number of bikes you need is “n+1”, where “n” is your current number of bikes. The same probably also applies to the number of tools and equipment a hacker needs on their workbench. Enough is never enough. Although [David Johnson-Davies] has a couple of multimeters lying around, he still felt the urge to build a stand-alone continuity tester and has posted details for a super-simple ATtiny85 based Continuity Tester on his blog. For a device this simple, he set himself some tall design goals. Using the ATtiny85 and a few SMD discretes, he built a handy tester that met all of his requirements and then some.

The ATtiny85’s Analog Comparator function is perfectly suited for such a tester. One input of the comparator is biased such that there is a 51 ohm resistor between the input and ground. The output of the comparator toggles when the resistance between the other input and ground is either higher or lower than 51 ohms. Enabling internal pullup resistors in the ATtiny85 not only takes care of proper biasing of the comparator pins, but also helps reduce current consumption when the ATtiny85 is put to sleep. The test current is limited to 100 μA, making the tester suitable for use in sensitive electronics. And enabling the sleep function after 60 seconds of inactivity reduces standby current to just about 1 μA, so there is no need for a power switch. [David] reckons the CR927 button cell ought to last pretty long.

For those interested in building this handy tester, [David] has shared the Eagle CAD files as well as the ATtiny85 code on his Github repository or you could just order out some boards from OSHpark.

Filed under: ATtiny Hacks

Stepper Driver Module with Swappable Heatsinks

อาทิตย์, 11/26/2017 - 07:00

At first glance, [Dean Gouramanis]’s stepper driver module for 3D printers looks like just another RAMPS-compatible stepper board. Except, what could that gold-plated copper peg sticking out of the PCB possibly be? That would be [Dean]’s PowerPeg Thermal Management System that he built and entered in the Hackaday Prize competition for 2015, where it rocked its way into the Finals. It’s a thermal connector peg that attaches to a variety of heatsinks so you can swap in whatever sink fits the bill.

In the case of this project, [Dean] created a custom PCB that accommodates the PowerPeg connector, onto which the heat sink screws. Needless to say, he machined his own heatsinks to go with the pegs, though it looks like you could use any sink with enough surface contact that can be secured by the same #0-80 screw.

You shouldn’t be surprised that hackers obsess over heatsinks. This heatsink tester project we published helps determine which sink  to use. Another post gives all the ins and outs of ordering a custom heatsink.

Filed under: hardware

AsciiCam: Make ASCII Art with your Phone

อาทิตย์, 11/26/2017 - 04:00

We admit it, we have a nostalgic soft spot for ASCII Art. Pictures made form characters, printed on an old-fashioned line printer. They’ve been a hacker standby since the 1960’s. Times have moved on though. These days we’re all carrying supercomputers in our pockets.  Why not use them to create more great ASCII art? That’s exactly what [Brian Nenninger] did with AsciiCam. AsciiCam lets you use your Android phone’s camera to create ASCII images.

Using the software is simple. Just launch it and you’re greeted with an ASCII preview of the camera image. Users can select from a 16 color palette and full 24 bit color. Monochrome modes are also available. You can also choose from black text on a white background or white text on black.

The great thing about AsciiCam is the fact that it is open source. You can download the full source code from Github. If you just want to run the software, it’s available through the Google Play Store. This is a labor of love. The first Github commits were six years ago, and [Bran] is still working — the most recent commits were made only a few days back. AsciiCam is also a good example for neophyte Android programmers.

Want to know more about ASCII art? Check out Al’s history of ASCII art, or this talk about both ASCII and ANSI creations.

Filed under: Cellphone Hacks

A Callout: Parts for an Iron Lung

อาทิตย์, 11/26/2017 - 01:00

Polio was a disease that devastated the United States in the 1950s, but with concerted efforts towards vaccination, is now on the verge of eradication. With the disease a distant memory for most, it’s easy to miss the fact that there are still those suffering the effects of the disease decades after its initial strike.

The iron lung was an invention that helped keep thousands of sufferers alive, by breathing for those who had lost the ability through the degenerative effects of the disease. A small handful of people are still relying on those machines today, and there’s a problem – who is around to keep these machines running?

The story is a powerful one, made up of interviews with those who still rely on their machines on a daily basis to stay alive. Particularly poignant is Lillard’s account of the repairman who came to fix her machine, and tried to leave before putting it back together. As someone who needs the machine operational to survive, this obviously wasn’t going to cut it.

Overall, these are people who have relied on help from friends, neighbours, and local tinkerers to help keep their machines running long after the companies responsible have long stopped supporting the hardware. This has led to an unenviable situation for Lillard herself – she’s no longer able to purchase replacement collars that seal her neck to the machine, as the subsidiary of Phillips responsible only has ten left in the country and will no longer sell to her. Naomi Wu and others are organising on Twitter to find a way to remanufacture these parts. If you’re in the know, or otherwise have the expertise, get involved or throw your ideas down in the comments.

It’s not the first time we’ve heard dark stories of medical equipment from years past – the story of the Therac-25 is particularly chilling.

[via Gizmodo]

Filed under: Medical Hacks