Open Source Telescope Control


Telescope mounts connected to computers and stepper motors have been available to the amateur astronomer for a long time, and for good reason, too. With just the press of a button, any telescope can pan over to the outer planets, nebula, or comets. Even if a goto command isn’t your thing, a simple clock drive is a wonderful thing to have. As with any piece of professional equipment, hackers will want to make their own version, and thus the openDrive project was born. It’s a project to make an open source telescope controller.

Right now, the project is modular, with power supply boards, a display board, motor driver, an IO board (for dew heaters and the like), and a hand-held controller. There’s an openDrive forum that’s fairly active covering both hardware and software. If you’re looking for a project to help you peer into the heavens, this is the one for you. If telescope upgrades aren’t enough to quench your astronomical thirst you could go full out with a backyard observatory build.

Danke [Håken] for the tip.

Manufacturer-Crippled Flir E4 Thermal Camera Hacked to Perform as High-End Model

Last month, [Mike] took a look at the Flir E4 thermal imaging camera. It’s a great tool for those occasions when you need the vision of a Predator, but what he found inside was substantially cooler: it seems the engineers behind the Flir E4 made their lives easier by making the circuits inside the $1000 E4 the same as the $6000 Flir E8.

This only means one thing, and [Mike] has delivered. He’s upgraded the firmware in the Flir E4 to the E8, giving it a vastly increased resolution – 80×40 for the E4 to 320×240 for the E8.

The hack itself is as easy as putting the serial number of the E4 in a config file, zipping a few files up, and installing it with the Flir tools. An amazingly simple mod (with an awesome teardown video) that turns a $1000 thermal imaging camera into the high-end $6000 model.

From [Mike]’s

Hacking and Philosophy: The Mentor’s Manifesto


Welcome back to Hacking & Philosophy! I’ve done my best to keep up with the comments from last week’s article, and your responses and suggestions have been invaluable. Most readers expressed concern over how this column would define “hacker” or “hacking,” and whether the texts focused more on hacking-as-illegal or the hacker/maker culture. Rest assured that all interpretations are welcome, but I have no intention of dwelling on the sensationalized, criminal hacker stereotype, either. Others asked whether we’d be holding our conversation somewhere a bit more user-friendly: a solution is in the works. For now, we will stick to the comments.

Last week, I asked you to read an early document in hacking history: The Mentor’s “A Hacker Manifesto,” also called “The Conscience of a Hacker.” What follows is my analysis of the essay. I invite you to join me in a discussion in the comments: post your responses to the piece, your questions, your objections, anything! Now, lets take a trip back to the 80’s…

Continue reading “Hacking and Philosophy: The Mentor’s Manifesto”

HHH: CNC Winners


Congratulations to the winners of the first Hackaday Hackerspace Henchmen series. We asked hackerspace members to send us stories about CNC hacks. Here’s a roundup of the three winners:

[Rich] from the Connecticut Hackerspace gets the top spot having sent in the story of their desktop CNC mill hacks. He gets a $50 gift card to the parts vendor of his choosing.

[Barnaby] is also a winner for sharing the story of how they hacked a script to translate G-Code into the proprietary format accepted by the desktop CNC mill at rlab.

And [Tim’s] submission showed how a movable storage base was built for the CNC carving machine at The Rabbit Hole.

We had hoped for more entries and planned to send out stickers to all and shirts to the top five. We’ll be sending both shirts and stickers to the three winners. We’re undecided as to whether we should continue the HHH program with a new theme. We’d love to hear what you think about it in the comments section.

ASAP 3 – The Almost Simple As Possible Computer

ASAP-3 12 - LED Display

[Pong] has joined an elite club of people who have designed and built their own computer – including a CPU created from discrete 7400 series logic. His computer is the  Almost Simple As Possible Computer 3 (ASAP-3). ASAP-3 is not a completely new design. The architecture is based upon the SAP series of computers from Albert Malvino’s book, Digital Computer Electronics. [Pong] looked at quite a few of the “modern retro” computers such as Magic-1Big Mess o’ Wires 1, and the Duo. These computers were beyond his skill levels back then, so he began to build his own system. His primary design goal was to be able to run a 4 function calculator program.

One thing that can’t be stressed enough is the fact that [Pong] made his design work much easier by using lots of simulation. His tool of choice was Proteus Design Suite. While simulation can’t solve every problem, it can often help in verifying that a given design is sound. The ASAP-3’s instruction set is microcode, based upon the 8085 series instruction set. The microcode itself is stored on Flash ROMS. Using microcode makes ASAP-3 very flexible. Don’t have a machine instruction you need? No problem – just write one up. When all was said and done, [Pong] had over 100 instructions spread over 3 Flash ROM chips.

The hardware was only half the battle – [Pong] found writing the software just as challenging. He wrote all the software by hand in his own machine code. This is where the simulation mentioned above really saved him some time. Even with simulation he still ran into some problems. The ASAP-1 is limited to a clock speed of around 500kHz. Above that, glitches from the ROM chips start triggering the asynchronous inputs in some of the registers. [Pong] doesn’t have a logic analyzer on hand, so he wasn’t able to track this one down further. He also found a (update simulation only) issue with the carry bit on the 74LS181 bit slice ALU. In certain circumstances the carry bit would not propagate correctly. [Pong] corrected this by using a ROM as a look up table replacement for certain ‘181 functions. Even with these limitations, this is still a great hack!

Continue reading “ASAP 3 – The Almost Simple As Possible Computer”

Hacking a flip dot display

While casually lurking on a famous auction website, [TeddyDesTodes] found the gem shown in the above picture and reverse engineered it. This is a flip dot display, the Brose Vollmatrix compact to be precise. It consists of a grid of small metal discs that are black on one side and yellow on the other, set into a black background. With power applied, the disc flips to show the other side. The disc is attached to an axle which also carries a small permanent magnet. Positioned close to the magnet is a solenoid. By pulsing the solenoid coil with the appropriate electrical polarity, the magnet will align itself with the magnetic field, also turning the disc.

After carrying the 25kg display from his post office to home, [TeddyDesTodes] opened it and discovered that the main control board was using two RS422 transceivers. So he fired up his bus pirate, started to sniff the traffic and noticed that several commands were repeatedly sent. [TeddyDesTodes] stopped the transmission, sent these particular commands and had the good surprise to see some dots flipped. From there, displaying something was a piece of cake.

If this is familiar to you it may be because it was shared in one of the Trinket Contest Updates. But the background details were just so much fun we think this deserves a full feature of it’s own. Do you agree?