Developing physical controllers for the uninitiated

[Dave] hosted a one day seminar at the Illinois Institute of Technology which focused on rapid electronics prototyping for those with little prior experience blinking those LEDs. As the defacto standard for novice prototypers it’s no surprise that he gave an Arduino to each team to use as the controller-computer interface. He started the day by getting the Firmata package up and running. Firmata is a set of libraries that make communications between software and a microcontrollers simple. In this case, each team developed a Flash game that used data from the Arduino as a control.

Several rudimentary games resulted from the day. We’ve embedded video of two of them after the break for your enjoyment. Lion Vs. Pig uses potentiometers, a distance sensor, and an arcade button to play a game of cat-and-mouse (well, Lion-and-Pig really). The other is Kick the Cat, a game that uses a flex sensor and force sensor combination as input. This is something of a virtual mini-basketball game that uses a springy material to launch a virtual feline at a target.

These teams already had a background in code, but the hardware was a new endeavor for them. Arduino helps to break down this cross-over barrier and we think this will result in more people to contribute to open source projects, and falling hardware prices due to a larger volume of demand.

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iPod peripheral: iSee360i hacking

[James] has done some work reverse engineering the protocols for the iSee360i peripheral. This iPod addon is a media player housing that features a 3.6″ screen. It can be used to play video on iPods that don’t otherwise have the capability because it just uses them as a hard drive. He picked up the device at a discount chain for $15 and wanted to load his own videos directly from Linux without using the Windows-based software that comes with it. There’s the gotcha; even if you encode a video exactly the same as the device’s example video, it will be deleted the next time you fire up the iSee.

After some trial and error [James] reverse engineered all of the quirky requirements to load video manually. There are strict, case sensitive file naming conventions, every file must have a perfectly formatted thumbnail image, and an index file entry must be made for the video. He’s done the hard work of hammering out the details, now it should be easy to write a Python script to automatically format and copy your pre-encoded videos for use.

Russian billboard includes a “happy ending”

It seems someone hacked into one of LED billboards and added porn video clips to the rotation of advertisements. We caught a glimpse before YouTube yanked it. We’ve pixelated the shot above which already had some blackbox censorship from the OP but we assure you, it was hardcore porn.

The 9-by-6 meter billboard is in downtown Moscow. The AP is reporting that this caused something of a traffic jam and shocked passersby. We’ve seen porn before, but have to admit that even knowing what to expect in the video it was a bit shocking for us to see cars driving by a giant sex scene. This is certainly much more of a distraction than leaving clever messages on the side of the road.

Does anyone know what technology is used to update these billboards? We’re curious as to whether physical access to the unit is necessary for this kind of attack. Leave your insights in the comments.

[Thanks Sean]

Wine glass time keeper

We’ve seen a glut of time-keeping projects lately. We guess time was the original motivator for technology so we’re okay with it (but we’re not calling ourselves Clockaday quite yet). This clock, or more appropriately this timer, is a homemade hourglass that [Andrei] put together. The finished look is simple but he put some real time into its production.

The glass portion is a combination of two wine glasses. He removed the stems, ground the bottoms flat, then drilled holes to allow the sand to pass. He used plumbers putty around the top of the upturned reservoir to create a temporary bowl of water which cooled the glass during drilling. This prevented cracking by keeping the friction generated heat at bay. Working with the glass took a total of around five hours.

To assemble, he epoxied the two wine glasses together, routed out a ring in the wood bases for the lips, and used dowels to connect the two ends. [Andrei] concluded that the gentle slope at the bottom of the wine glasses is not the ideal shape as some sand can get stuck in them. Perhaps champagne flutes for his next build? At any rate, we think it’s a unique, non-automated hourglass build.

Volt meter clock

The Volt meter clock continues our recent slew of interesting clock projects. Though considerably easier to read than the resistor clock, it is in the same frame of mind. Set up to look like the face of an analog volt meter, it almost looks like something official or scientific. Since [Jon] couldn’t simply drop a clock mechanism in, he used a PIC microcontroller. The circuit is pretty simple, but he deserves some credit just for the unique layout.