Nyan Fax brings the celebrity kitty to your office

Internet blocked at your office and feel like you’re just not getting your fix of Nyan Cat? Don’t worry, you can now use the fax machine to get your fix. [Tom Scott] put together the project to our delight, which will work best if you can find one of those fax machines that uses the continuous roll of paper. But as you can see above, individual sheets will work too. The best part is that Nyan Fax is live for callers from the UK and internationally!

The hack is using something called ‘fax polling’. It allows the sender to set up an on-demand server where any caller will be sent a queue of documents. In this case [Tom] crafted a Nyan Cat document that never ends… you’ll need to disconnect the phone line or pull the pug to stop the printing. See for yourself in the clip after the break. If you’re interested in setting up your own it can be done with the mgetty and sendfax packages on a Linux box.

Just in case you’re keeping score, [Tom Scott] is one of the guys behind the Webcycle.

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Solar oven built to last

The problem with most solar ovens is that they’re flimsy builds that will stand up to only a handful of uses. But this one stands apart from that stereotype. It’s big, sturdy, and used a lot of math to efficiently gather the sun’s energy when cooking food.

This is the third version of the build and each has included many improvements. The obvious change here is a move from aluminum reflectors to actual mirror reflectors. These attach at a carefully calculated angle to get the most power from the rays they are redirecting. The orange mounting brackets for the mirrors also serve as a storage area for transport. The rectangular reflectors fit perfectly between them (stacked on top of the tempered glass that makes up the transparent side of the cooking chamber).

The body of the oven doesn’t track the sun and one of the future improvements mentions adding tilt functionality to the base. We’d suggest taking a look at some of the solar tracking setups used for PV arrays.

[Thanks John]

Thinking outside the IDE to make a fast-counting Arduino

[Udo Klein] took on the challenge of counting as fast as possible using an Arduino board. The quest involves a search for short-cuts that will let him drive a 20-bit counter as quickly as possible using the stock hardware. But the catch is that the Arduino environment has some overhead running in the background which will slow things down. He looks into each of these road bumps, then shows one way to get around them.

The code uses a command we don’t normally see in modern C embedded programming; the goto statement. He’s using this to bypass the extra cycles used by the Arduino’s in-built loop() function. The only command that is run within his hacked loop is a deeply nested set of macros. They’re toggling output pins using the hardware XOR built into the AVR chip. This is directly addressing the registers and thereby dumps the slowdown added by the digitalWrite() function.

The result is a software counter that toggles the output lights (see the clip after the break) at about 98.9% of the hardware clock speed. Pretty impressive, but [Udo] figures he can make it just a bit faster yet.

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EMIC2 text to speech module

This is the EMIC2 text-to-speech module. You can see from the logo on the bottom left it’s the latest gadget coming out of [Joe Grand's] Grand Idea Studios. [Dino] tipped us off about his first experience with a prototype of the board. He’s driving it with an Arduino and the video after the break shows that the sound rendering is high quality and the words are very easy to understand. One of the things that we think is interesting is that the serial communications used to drive the board are not uni-directional. In fact, there’s a serial terminal that provides documentation on how to use the chip. Obviously this is most suited to the Arduino, which always has a PC-side terminal window available to it.

[Joe] himself shows some of the potential for the board. He gave new life to a broken toy by replacing its internals with a PIC-based circuit to drive the EMIC2. That video is also found after the break. He’s just using the demo clips, but from that you will get a good idea of the vocal modulations this device is capable of. The board rings up at $60 and is available from Parallax.

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We made it into the RedBull creation finals!

We are quite happy to announce that we’ve made it into the next round of the Red Bull Creation contest.  Our entry was fairly simple, but just amusing enough to get us by. I’m assembling my team here in springfield missouri at Squidfoo as well as setting up some full time Skype sessions with writers elsewhere.

We currently have no idea what the topic will be, but we do know that we will have 72 hours to complete it, starting the 19th. Red Bull will be filming the entire process so you can watch as we build. We are not a well trained team and we are all very strongly opinionated. We’ll be lucky if we complete anything in that time!

I’d like to address a couple common thoughts:

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Two-stage rocket climbs to 15 km, promptly gets lost

Last month, the Cambridge University Spaceflight society launched two stages of their Martlet 1 three-stage rocket. After seeing our call for rocket builds, they sent in a launch report. We’re glad they did; it’s an amazing piece of work that screams into the atmosphere faster than the speed of sound.

The society is designed the three-stage Martlet 1 with the goal of reaching 15km (50,000 feet) over a launch range at Ben Armine in Scotland. This launch was a test of stage separation, intended to work out any bugs in the system before going to the full-sized rocket.

When Martlet 1 takes off, it’s 1st stage engine fires for 5 seconds and coasts for another 9 seconds. In the video after the break, the guys expected to hear the pop of the second stage igniting after 14 seconds. The team forgot to account for the fact the rocket would be 3km in the air at that time, and thanks to the slowness of sound the second stage was heard though the clouds at 25 seconds after launch.

With rockets, hardly anything goes exactly as planned, so unfortunately the team only recovered the bottom half of their rocket. After searching over 60 square km for the second stage, the guys realized it might be lost to the moors of Scotland. Hopefully the second stage will turn up soon so the full 3 stage stack can be realized.

Check out the launch videos after the break.

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Turning the InnoTab into a Linux Tablet

A few weeks ago we caught wind of [Mick] breaking out his screwdrivers and soldering iron to get a serial console on his son’s VTech InnoTab. [Mick] was able to get the touchscreen working and successfully ported SCUMMVM to the device, but there was still a long road ahead to get  the source for this pint-sized tablet.

[David Anders] from elinux.org wrote in to tell us VTech is now giving away their source for the InnoTab, something they’ve been holding back so far. [Dave] is now verifying the VTech release is 100% complete, so if you’d like to give him a hand, drop him a line.

If you’re thinking this is your ticket to an inexpensive and powerful Linux tablet, prepare to be disappointed. The InnoTab is an ARM 11 running at 180 MHz with a paltry 64 MB of RAM. That’s not exactly top-of-the-line hardware, but at the very least you’ll be able to play Doom on it.

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