Cheap ARM netbooks have Linux forced upon them

[Doragasu] got his hands on one of these WM8650 Netbooks for around 50 euros (~$63.50) delivered. They come with a version of Android preinstalled, but he wanted to use them more like a computer and less like an Android device. So he set out to load Arch Linux on the ARM-based Netbook.

This is possible because the hardware inside is actually pretty good. The 800 MHz SoC is accompanied by 256 megs of RAM. There’s 2 gigs of internal storage, a 7″ display, USB, Ethernet, WiFi, and an audio system. This is comparable to what you’d get with a Raspberry Pi (without video acceleration) but also includes all of those peripherals, a case, a touchpad and keyboard… you get the point. There are several patches that need to be applied to the kernel to get it working with the hardware. [Doragasu] covers each of them in the post linked above. You can also hear his presentation in the video after the break.

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Revolight clone

[Fabian.E] wanted to light up the rims on his bike, but didn’t want to shell out a bunch of clams to get it done. He came up with this system which uses magnets and reed switches to light up one arc or each bicycle wheel.

He calls it the lightrider and it’s based on the revolights concept. That design uses a microcontroller which is capable of animating patterns when the wheels aren’t spinning. [Fabian's] version can’t do that, but the effect while moving is basically the same. The ring of LEDs around the rim is connected to a battery via a set of reed switches. When these switches move past a magnet on the fork it completes the circuit and switches on that segment of LEDs. The clip after the break gives a demonstration of the finished product, and includes a fast-motion video of the fabrication process.

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More DIY solder flux

[GuShH] wrote a guide for making your own rosin-based solder flux. According to [Stephen] — who sent in the tip and tried this method himself — is works well, it’s cheap, but you will need to clean up a bit after using it on a PCB.

Only two ingredients are necessary to make your own liquid or paste flux: rosin and a solvent. The rosin being weighed in the image above, can be found from several sources. We looked in on the same method quite recently where flux was sourced from a music store. But [GuShH] suggests that if you can find some from a hardware store it is better because the music store variety tends to be ‘molten’ and doesn’t work quite as well.

Proportions are listed on his guide for light, medium, and heavy concoctions. He recommends isopropyl alcohol as the solvent, and has stored the flux in a clear dropper bottle. We’re fans of needle bottles and asked about sourcing them in a previous post (linked in the paragraph above) so check that comments section if you don’t know where to get one.

Communicating from inside your dreams

Over the last few years, [Michael] has been working on the Lucid Scribe project, an online sleep research database to document lucid dreams. This project uses a combination of hardware and software to record rapid eye movements while sleeping. Not only is [Michael] able to get his computer to play music when he starts dreaming (thus allowing him to recognize he’s in a dream), he can also communicate from within a dream by blinking his eyes in Morse code.

According to the Lucid Scribe blog, [Michael] and other researchers in the Lucid Scribe project have developed motion-sensing hardware capable of detecting heartbeats. This equipment is also sensitive enough to detect the Rapid Eye Movements associated with dreaming. This hardware feeds data into the Lucid Scribe app and detects when [Michael] is dreaming. Apparently, [Michael] has been practicing his lucid dreaming; he’s actually been able to move his eyes while dreaming to blink our Morse code. The first message from the dreamworld was, of course, “first post”. [Michael] used ‘first post’ to debug his system, but he has managed to blink ‘S’ from a dream. That should improve after he works on his Morse and lucid dreaming skills.

You may now begin referencing Inception in the comments.

Machining cartridge connectors from PCI sockets

[Ed] needed a bunch of edge connectors for video game cartridges. He was unable to source parts for Neo Geo Pocket games and ended up building his own from PCI sockets. But it sounds like this technique would work with other console cartridges as well.

From the picture you can see that this is a bit more involved than just slapping a cartridge into a socket. Because there are multiple steps, and many connectors were needed, [Ed's] dad lent a hand and built a few jigs to help with the cutting. The first step was to cut off the key and the narrow end of the socket. These NGP cartridges are one-sided, so the socket was cut in half using a board with a dado cut in it as a jig. From there the plastic bits can be cleaned up before pulling out two center pins and cutting a groove to receive the cartridge key. There are also two shoulder cuts that need to be made after trimming the piece to length. The video after the break will walk you through this whole process.

These PCI sockets are versatile. One of our other favorite hacks used them to make SOIC programming clips.

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Parallax shows love for open source: GCC + Propeller

Parallax has done something that is unthinkable for most microcontroller manufacturing companies. They’ve decided to throw their support behind an open source toolchain based on GCC. That’s right, instead of fighting to get your code compiling on a platform whose example code uses crippleware, you can actually download, compile, and start using this toolchain without code size restrictions or other unfavorable limitations.

Why does this matter? One example that comes to mind is ChibiOS and the STM32F0-Discovery board. We’ve been playing around with that board recently and found out that the Atollic 8k code-size limitation prevents you from debugging ChibiOS. So you either pony up the registration fee, or go though at least a little pain (a lot depending on your skill level) to move to an open source solution. Here that’s not going to happen because you start with a GCC option from the word ‘Go’.

So join us in a round of applause for good decisions. Bravo Parallax! This Beta test targets the P8X32A Propeller chip but we hope it’s so popular that the rest of the line gets its own support.

[Thanks Devlin via Adafruit]

AVC from the vehicle’s perspective

Team 0x27 was the winner of this year’s AVC, the Autonomous Vehicle Contest put on by SparkFun Electronics. You’ll find video of the two runs from this entry (the third run did not finish). We love it that there’s an on-board camera recording both video and sound of the race from the vehicle’s point of view. They haven’t updated their team page yet but we’re sure they will once their done celebrating.

On the first run the team opted not to use obstacle avoidance, and here you can see it annihilating one of the barrels from the course (this is the second one it took out with hulk-like rage). These collisions didn’t keep it from finishing the circuit. On the second run it didn’t slam into anything. Because of the hoop-deduction (a bonus for threading the needle during the run) the official time came in at 2.08 seconds. Still, the unadjusted time of 32.08 seconds is a course record and beat the fastest finisher from the airborne group of compeititors. Nice.

Seriously, this video just cracks us up!

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