Speech to Sign Language

According to the World Federation of the Deaf, there are around 70 million people worldwide whose first language is some kind of sign language. In the US, ASL (American Sign Language) speakers number from five hundred thousand to two million. If you go to Google translate, though, there’s no option for sign language.

[Alex Foley] and friends decided to do something about that. They were attending McHack (a hackathon at McGill University) and decided to convert speech into sign language. They thought they were prepared, but it turns out they had to work a few things out on the fly. (Isn’t that always the case?) But in the end, they prevailed, as you can see in the video below.

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The Best of Both Worlds: Arduino + 555 Should Confuse Commenters

Hardly a week goes by that some Hackaday post doesn’t elicit one of the following comments:

That’s stupid! Why use an Arduino when you could do the same thing with a 555?


That’s stupid! Why use a bunch of parts when you can use an Arduino?

However, we rarely see those two comments on the same post. Until now. [ZHut] managed to bring these two worlds together by presenting how to make an Arduino blink an LED in conjunction with a 555 timer. We know, we know. It is hard to decide how to comment about this. You can consider it while you watch the video, below.

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Wireless Doorbell Hacked Into Hands-on MQTT Tutorial

The project itself is very simple: getting push notifications via MQTT when a wireless doorbell sounds. But as [Robin Reiter] points out, as the “Hello, world!” program is a time-honored tradition for coders new to a language, so too is his project very much the hardware embodiment of the same tradition. And the accompanying video build log below is a whirlwind tour that will get the first-timer off the ground and on the way to MQTT glory.

The hardware [Robin] chose for this primer is pretty basic – a wireless doorbell consisting of a battery-powered button and a plug-in receiver that tootles melodiously when you’ve got a visitor. [Robin] engages in a teardown of the receiver with attempted reverse engineering, but he wisely chose the path of least resistance and settled on monitoring the LEDs that flash when the button is pushed. An RFduino was selected from [Robin]’s ridiculously well-organized parts bin and wired up for the job. The ‘duino-fied doorbell talks Bluetooth to an MQTT broker on a Raspberry Pi, which also handles push notifications to his phone.

The meat of the build log, though, is the details of setting up MQTT. We’ve posted a lot about MQTT, including [Elliot Williams]’ great series on the subject. But this tutorial is very nuts and bolts, the kind of thing you can just follow along with, pause the video once in a while, and have a working system up and running quickly. There’s a lot here for the beginner, and even the old hands will pick up a tip or two.

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Good USB – Protecting Your Ports With Two Microcontrollers

If you’ve ever needed an example of why you should not plug random USB peripherals into your computer, you need only look at BadUSB. The BadUSB attack relies on the fact that the microcontroller inside every USB device is a black box. If you plug a USB thumb drive into your computer, the microcontroller could quickly set up an additional network interface, forward all your traffic to the attacker’s server, and still keep serving up all those files and documents on the drive. Do you want a thumb drive that attaches a virus to every file? Bad USB can do that.

Until now, there is no cure or fix for a device using an implementation of BadUSB. [Robert Fisk] just came up with the first prophylactic USB device, designed to keep BadUSB off your computer. He’s calling it USG, and it’s basically a hardware firewall for USB devices.

The basic design of the system goes something like this: take an ARM microcontroller with a USB host port, take another microcontroller with a USB device port, and have these devices talk to each other over SPI. The command protocol between these two microcontrollers is very simple, and thus decreases the attack surface.

[Robert] is building USG dongles, but in the spirit of Open Hardware and verifiable hardware, he’s also released a design based on two dev boards wired together. This DIY version is basically two STM32F4 dev boards smashed together with bodge wires. The total cost – less solder and a JTAG programmer – is about $50 USD. No, it doesn’t look as pretty as [Robert]’s commercial version of USG, but it does the same job of keeping your computer safe from BadUSB devices.

iPad Tossed Out for RetroPie Arcade Cabinet Redux

The naming and remixing in this project can get a little confusing to those unfamiliar with the different elements involved, but what [John Gerrard] has done is take a stylish mini arcade cabinet intended as a fancy peripheral for an iPad and turned it into an iPad-free retro arcade gaming cabinet. He also designed his own power controller for graceful startup and shutdown.

The project started with a peripheral called the iCade (originally conceived as a fake product for April Fool’s) and [John] observed it had good remix potential for use as a mini retro gaming cabinet. It was a good starting point: inexpensively purchased off eBay with suitable arcade-style joystick and buttons, a nice layout, and plenty of hacking potential. With a small variety of hardware from familiar sources like eBay and Aliexpress, [John] rounded up most of what he needed.

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Review: Antex TCS 50W Digital Temperature Controlled Soldering Iron.

Sometime last summer, I suffered a very sad loss indeed. My soldering iron failed, and it was not just any soldering iron, but the Weller Magnastat temperature-controlled iron that had been my iron of choice since my student days. It was time to buy a replacement, and a whole world of soldering equipment lay before me. In the end I settled on a choice that might seem unexpected, I bought an Antex TCS 50W temperature controlled iron with a digital temperature controller and LCD display in its handle.

No room for a poor iron

When looking at a new iron it’s worth considering for a moment what requirements you might have.  After all, while we’d all love to own a top-of-the range soldering station it’s sometimes necessary to target your purchase carefully for an acceptable blend of affordability, reliability, and performance. It’s possible to find temperature controlled irons for astoundingly low prices these days, thanks to the wonders of globalised manufacturing. But the irons themselves will not be of good quality, their bits will be difficult to replace, and sometimes they are better described as variable temperature rather than temperature controlled. If I was to escape a poor choice I’d have to set my sights a little higher.

Antex are a perennial in the world of British electronics, their signature yellow-handled irons have been around for decades. They aren’t priced at the top end of the market yet they have a pretty good reputation, but could their all-in-one temperature controlled iron be a good alternative to a unknown-name iron that came with a soldering-station-style controller? I parted with my £55 (about $68) before taxes, and waited for the delivery.

All-in-one, win or bin?

The iron I chose is the latest in a long line of their all-in-one temperature controlled irons, and so the blurb tells me, the first with digital control. Previous models had an analogue adjustment which if I recall correctly was achieved by means of a screw, while this one has an LCD display with up and down buttons on its handle.

I haven't bothered with the supplied stand, as you can see.
I haven’t bothered with the supplied stand, as you can see.

In the box are the iron, a rather useless stand made from metal sheet, and an instruction leaflet. Fortunately my requirements included a decent stand, so I’d already ordered the more substantial companion product with a sponge. Out went the sponge and in went a bundle of brass turnings, but the stand itself is fine.

The iron has the usual Antex bit that fits as a sleeve over the cylindrical element. I bought a range of bits of different sizes, it’s never a bad thing to have choice. The handle is bigger than their standard irons as you might expect, but has a flattened and curved profile that’s easy on the hand. It’s noticeably lighter than the Magnastat, which along with its extra-flexible silicone cable makes it easier to use than its predecessor.

In use, the extra length of the handle doesn’t compromise soldering ability. In the time since purchase it has been used to construct multiple projects, and everything from the smaller surface-mount components upwards are taken in its stride. The 50 W element has plenty of power for soldering to PCB planes that suck away the heat, though you probably wouldn’t use it to solder heavy-gauge copper.

The temperature range of 200 to 450 Celcius is ample for my requirements, in fact once I’d set it to my normal 360 degrees I’ve never changed it. Time from power-on to full working temperature is about 45 seconds, which isn’t the fastest on the block, but then again since I turn it on when I sit down it’s not ever been an issue.

A match made in heaven

So, based on quite a few months of regular use, I’m happy with my iron. The question is though, was it the best choice? I think so, given that the competition at the price would almost certainly not come with such readily available support. There’s almost an instinctive distrust of all-in-one temperature-controlled irons that I haven’t found to be justified by the reality. An alternative might have been to build one of the clever designs that adds a temperature controller to a Weller tip, but given that this is an iron I sometimes use to earn a living I’d rather be working for cash than working on my iron. There are certainly cheaper irons and there are probably better irons, but for me this one hits the sweet spot between the two sets of being a good enough iron without being too expensive.

Chicago to Host Hackaday Unconference

We’re excited to announce that Chicago will play host to the Hackaday Unconference on March 18th. We are happy to expand our unconference plans to include this event at Pumping Station One from 1-8pm on 3/18.

Astute readers will notice that this is the second location we have announced this week. On Monday we shared the news that San Francisco would host an unconference. Hackaday’s [Sophi Kravitz] and [Jordan Bunker] are organizing things in SF. [Brian Benchoff], [Bob Baddeley], and [Mike Szczys] will be in Chicago for this event that takes shape based on what you find most interesting.

We’re excited that PS:One is opening their doors for us. We’ll make sure there’s food, beverage, some exciting hardware-based door prizes, and other select swag.

Hackaday Unconference is Based on You

The Hackaday Unconference is all about finding interesting talks from anyone who attends. If you go, and you definitely should, be ready to stand up and deliver eight minutes on something that you find interesting right now. The day will start by going around and asking everyone for a talk title or topic. We’ll all make a collective decision on the schedule for the day and roll with it as talks are bound to spawn extemporaneous discussion and follow up presentations that build on the most exciting of concepts. Unconferences are interactive and not bound by the traditional presenter/audience divide of a conference.

You may speak about anything you like, but it sometimes deciding what to talk about is easier if there are some constraints. Consider the theme of the Hackaday Unconference to be Build Something That Matters. You hear this a lot from us because we think it is important. There is immense talent and incredible experience found in the Hackaday community and we like to take some time in life to direct that for the good of all people. If you have an idea to direct creative energy toward high ideal, it’s likely to make a great presentation.

Soak Up the Excitement to Propel Your Next Project

Pressure is low, excitement is high, and the potential for something spontaneous and awesome to happen is palpable. The ‘here and now’ aspect of an unconference sets it apart from events where speakers, talk subjects, and slide decks are decided upon weeks ahead of time. RSVPs will fill up. Don’t miss out on this chance to jumpstart your excitement for a current project, or to discover the direction of your next adventure.