A ‘Do Not Disturb’ Digital Assistant

Flow requires a certain amount of focus, and when that concentration is broken by pesky colleagues, work can suffer, on top of time wasted attempting to re-engage with the task at hand. The Technical Lead in [Estera Dezelak]’s office got fed up with being interrupted, and needed his own personal assistant to ward off the ‘just one question’-ers.

Initially, [Grega Pušnik] — the tech lead — emailed the office his schedule and blocked out times when he wasn’t to be disturbed, with other developers following suit. When that route’s effectiveness started to wane, he turned the product he was working on — a display for booking meeting rooms — into his own personal timetable display with the option to book a time-slot to answer questions. In an office that  is largely open-concept — not exactly conducive to a ‘do not disturb’ workstation — it was a godsend.

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An Alien-Themed… Cuckoo Clock?

If you are a follower of the sci-fi horror film genre then it is likely that you will be familiar with the Alien series of movies. Images of Sigourney Weaver bearing a significant amount of firepower, or of John Hurt’s chest being rent asunder by an emerging creature will be brought to mind, it’s one of those franchises which seems to have entered the public consciousness.

With the release of another movie in the series fast approaching, [Keith Elliott] resolved to mark the occasion with his own Alien themed tribute. What, you might ponder, could he choose? Surely there must be plenty of iconic moments in the films that could provide fertile ground for a tribute project!

So  presumably after a significant period of reflection, he’s built an Alien themed cuckoo clock. Something of an off-the-wall choice, you might say, but he persevered with it. The main body of the clock is the torso and head of an unfortunate human crew member, the face of the clock is formed by an alien facehugger on his face, and the cuckoo is not a bird in the manner of the Alpine originals, but a chest-bursting alien that issues forth from the torso.

There is a video, which we’ve posted below. Perhaps the chestburster action needs a little more spontaneity and to be a little less rhythmic, but we’ll leave it to you to decide whether it is inspired or merely kitsch.

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Manual LCD Makes Information Display Tedious, Educational

The HD44780 is one of the first chips we learned about as a kid, and chances are good you’ve used one in your project at some point, and almost certain that you’ve interacted with one in your life. The character LCD is ubiquitous, easy to interface, and very robust. They come in sizes from 8 x 1 to 20 x 4 and even larger, but they almost all have the same pinout, and there are libraries in many embedded environments for interacting with them. [The 8-Bit Guy] decided to interface with one using just switches and a button, (YouTube, embedded) with the intent of illustrating exactly how to use them, and how easy they are.

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A Home Made Air Pump From PVC Pipe

If you need a supply of low pressure air – let’s say enough pressure to ensure a constant supply but not enough to describe as “Compressed air” with a straight face – what do you do? Many people will reach for an aquarium pump, after all that represents a readily available and relatively inexpensive source of bubbles.

But not [truebassB], instead he built his own air pump from first principles (YouTube, embedded below) using PVC pipe. It’s a straightforward design in which the cylinder is a length of pipe with a disc of flat PVC glued to its end, and the piston is fabricated from a short piece of the same tube with a section cut out to reduce its diameter. An adequate seal is achieved using a piece of rubber cut from an inner tube, and the gudgeon pin is cut from a piece of wire. The connecting rod is another longer piece of wire, and the crank is a wooden disc with an offset hole. Power comes from a DC motor taken from a dead power tool. A couple of ball check valves are used for air input and output.

The resulting pump isn’t the prettiest of pumps, and it could probably do with a bit of balancing as it rattles somewhat. But it’s a pump, and it obviously cost next-to-nothing, so that in our eyes makes it a neat build. He’s posted a video of the build which we’ve placed below the break.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: A Double Action Keyboard

Mechanical keyboards are the in thing right now and building your own is at least two extra levels of nerd cred. This project, entered in the Hackaday Prize, is a DIY keyboard unlike you’ve ever seen. It is a fundamental shift in the ideas of how a computer keyboard can work. It’s a double action keyboard. Press a key lightly, and one character will show up on the screen. Press hard, and a different character will show up on the screen. You’ve never seen anything like this before.

[Jaakob] designed this keyboard so that each keycap would have two switches underneath. He did this by taking regular ‘ol Cherry MX switches and modifying them so the ‘plunger’ would stick out of the bottom of the switch when it was fully depressed. These Cherry switches were mounted to a piece of perfboard, and a small tact switch soldered underneath. It’s an idea similar to what’s found in touch-sensitive MIDI controllers or the other type of keyboard. The difference here is that instead of using two switches to sense how hard a key is being pressed, it maps to two different functions.

Once [Jaakob] figured out how to put two switches under one keycap, he wired up a matrix, attached a Teensy, and took a crack at the firmware. The build isn’t quite done yet, but this is one of the most innovative DIY keyboards we’ve seen in recent memory. There’s a lot of potential here, and this method of ganging two switches together still allows for the fantastic clack and great feel of a mechanical switch.

Retrotechtacular: Farming Implements in 1932

Few people would deny that farming is hard work. It always has been, and it probably always will be no matter how fancy the equipment gets. In 1932, farming was especially grueling. There was widespread drought throughout the United States, which gave rise to dust bowl conditions. As if those two things weren’t bad enough, the average income of the American farmer fell to its lowest point during the Depression, thanks to the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act.

Even so, crop farming was still a viable and somewhat popular career path in 1932. After all, knowing how to grow food is always going to get you elected into your local post-apocalyptic council pretty quickly. As such, the John Deere Equipment Company released the 19th edition of their classic book, The Operation, Care, and Repair of Farm Machinery. This book covers all of the various equipment a crop farmer needed to get from plough to bounty. The text gives equal consideration to horse-driven and tractor-driven farming implements, and there’s an entire chapter dedicated to tractor engine maintenance.

According to its preface, this book was used as an agricultural text in schools and work-study programs. It offers a full course in maintaining the all the (John Deere) equipment needed to work the soil, plant crops, cultivate, harvest, and manure in all parts of the country. The Operation, Care, and Repair of Farm Machinery was so well-received that John Deere kept the book in publication for over thirty years. The 28th edition and final edition came out in 1957. We wonder why they would have stopped putting it out after all that time. Maybe it wasn’t profitable enough, or the company decided to phase out the shade tree tractor mechanic.

So why should you delve into a sorely outdated textbook about farm equipment? Well, it’s straightforwardly written and easy to learn from, whether you’re trying or not. You should check it out if you’re even remotely curious about the basics of farming. If for no other reason, you should go for the beautiful hand-drawn illustrations and stay for the interesting tables and charts in the back. Did you know that a gallon of milk weighs 8.6 pounds?

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72 Hours to Design Your Concept

The first challenge of the 2017 Hackaday Prize closes on this coming Monday morning. You have about 72 hours hours to submit your entry.

The challenge, called Design Your Concept, is really about a plan. Seeing a project through depends greatly on your ability to foresee where the pain points are. Will you get half way into your fabrication process and realize the PCB components won’t fit in the available space for your robot’s limbs? To be successful at this first round, show that you have a clear plan on all aspects of your design. It really is that easy. And you can start now and still get an entry together by Monday morning.

IuT ! IoT

The Hackaday Prize is about Building Something that Matters. That concept takes shape as we move into the second challenge round next week: IuT ! IoT.

This stands for “Internet of Useful Things, *not* Internet of Things”. We’ve proven that we can get connected devices into the hands of consumers that are useless, a privacy and security nightmare, and sometimes both. There are far fewer examples of really useful connected items that demonstrate a balance of privacy, security, and utility.

Sounds like fun, right? We think so, and there are several other payoffs to boot. The first is that we’re excited to see projects that address a social good. There is great power in technology, can you wield it in a way that benefits us all? Show us what you got and you may be one of 100 finalists awarded $1000. That pool of finalists — 20 from each of 5 challenge rounds — will go on to compete for the Hackaday Prize of $50,000 and four other top cash prizes of $20,000 to $5,000.