2010 Hacker Gift Guide

You’ve probably been fantasizing about getting amazing gifts this December, like robots with servo-mounted laser pointers and authentic battle damage. It’s time to realize that it’s unlikely that this will happen. Stay calm. You can still get sweet hacky things if you just forward this gift-giving guide to your friends and loved ones.

Join us after the break to see what we want and be sure to let us know what you’ve got your eye on.
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PC monitor sleep mode using iPhone

[Mike Silverman] rigged up a way to make his monitor sleep from an iPhone. Working with a Windows system, he installed QuickPHP and NirCmd to add PHP and command line controls. Some quick PHP code writing and this has the effect of creating a sleep button toggled via a network address. He loads up the IP and port information in the Safari browser of his iPhone, creating a Home Screen short cut seen in the image above. Now he clicks on the button and puts the screen to sleep.

It’s not that we find this functionality useful since most monitors sleep after a few minutes of inactivity. But we like the methodology and you can bet we’re already planning uses for this. Any PHP server (like the copy of Apache running on this machine) will do as long as it’s on the same LAN as the iPhone’s WiFi connection.

Build a Pong gaming console

A lot of thought went into [Patrick Mccabe's] Pong gaming console build. He used components we’re familiar with; an Arduino as a controller, 8×8 LED modules as the display, and potentiometers (with fancy knobs) in project boxes as the controllers. But every step along the way he took care to build this cleanly and robustly. Even the MAX7219CNG drivers for the six LED modules reside on PCBs from a fab house. The finished project is something you’d be proud to pull out and play when you have friends over. Even if they’re not part of the geek elite we think they’d enjoy a game or two. Great job [Patrick]. We hope to see an internalized microcontroller and scoring in your next update!

Want to do this but the cost of the matrix drivers scared you away? Follow our tutorial to build your own display using an AVR for the multiplexing.

Make a point-and-shoot see infrared light

[Daniel Reetz] has caught the Kinect hacking fever. But he needs one important tool for his work; a camera that can see infrared light. This shouldn’t be hard to accomplish, as the sensors in digital cameras are more than capable of this task, but it requires the removal of an infrared filter. In [Daniel's] case he disassembled a Canon Powershot to get at that filter. There’s a lot packed into those point-and-shoot camera bodies and his teardown images tell that tale. He also ended up with extra parts after putting it back together but that didn’t seem to do any harm.

After the break you can see video that shows the Kinect’s speckled IR grid, which is why he needed IR sensing in the first place. But there’s also some interesting photos at the bottom of his post showing the effect achieved in outdoor photography by removing the filter.

The flash never made it back in the camera. That’d be a perfect place for an IR light source. You’d end up with a night-vision camera that way.

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CRT art: Wobbulator

The Wobbulator is a black and white CRT television that has additional hardware to manipulate the electrons as they bombard the phosphor layer of the screen. It was created by [June Paik] and you can find it at The Experimental Television Center. [Blair Neal] took some time to share the background information and some video on this interesting device.

The television has a second ”yoke” of coils around the ray tube. The TV still functions normally with these coils installed, but running a signal through them can further manipulate the picture. Hook, them up to a function generator and you can get some pretty wild effects. In this case, the signals from a sound generator are controlling the coils, resulting in the audio/video artwork which you can view after the break.

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Learn to reverse engineer

The most common email we get is “how do I learn how to hack things?”. It looks looks like [ladyada] gets that question a lot too. She didn’t waste any time writing up a step by step guide to reverse engineering USB devices, specifically the Kinect.

She goes into depth on how USB works, how to record the communication, what to look for, how to deconstruct what you’ve found, and how to put it all to use. This is all done with real world data from the Kinect so you could easily follow along at home.  There is source code available so you can download her example and see how to control the device as well.

We wish every hack could be so well written that it could also be called a tutorial.

Newest Hardware Bounty, The Open Lidar Project

Inspired by the successful Kinect bounty put out by Adafruit, [gallamine] of the RobotBox community has posted his own $200 $400 bounty for the first person who can hack the scanning LIDAR from Neato Robotic’s XV-11 vacuumbot. This sensor would be particularly useful to any robotic makers out there, because even the full retail price of the vacuum is less than the cost of most standalone LIDAR units, which often run upwards of $1000. The bounty seems to be growing every day, starting out at $200, and doubling thanks to a couple of other interested parties.

Luckily, from what we hear, the sensor was never made to be hack-proof (and perhaps even secretly hack friendly?), seeing as one of the prime developers of the sensor is a member of a certain Home Brew Robotics Club. We love it when companies are nice to hackers, and we hope to see more examples of this in the future. Not sure what the XV-11 is? Be sure to check out the video after the break for info about the vacuum and its scanning LIDAR.

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