NXP & Freescale Merge

Buyouts, acquisitions, and mergers of semiconductor companies are not unfamiliar territory for anyone who deals with chips and components for a living. Remember Mostek? That’s STMicroelectronics now. The switches used to type this post – Cherry blues – were made by ON Semiconductor. Remember Motorola? Freescale.

Today marks another merger, this time between NXP and Freescale. The merger will result in a $40 Billion dollar company, putting it in the top ten largest semiconductor companies.

Hackaday readers should know NXP for being the only company ever to produce an ARM microcontroller in a DIP package along with thousands of other cool components. Freescale is perhaps best known for their i.MX6 series of ARM processors, but of course both companies have a portfolio that stretches back decades and is filled with tens of thousands of parts.

Sodium Pickle Lights

A few weeks ago, the folks at the 23b hackerspace held Sparklecon, an event filled with the usual infosec stuff, locks and lockpicking, and hardware. A con, of course, requires some cool demonstrations. They chose to put a pickle in an arc welder, with impressive results.

This build began several years ago when the father of one of 23B’s members pulled off a neat trick for Halloween. With a cut and stripped extension cord, the two leads were plugged into a pickle and connected to mains power. The sodium in the pickle began to glow with a brilliant orange-yellow light, and everyone was suitably impressed. Fast forward a few years, and 23b found itself with a bunch of useless carbon gouging rods, a 200 Amp welder, a pickle, and a bunch of people wanting to see something cool.

The trick to making a pickle brighter than the sun was to set the arc just right; a quarter of an inch between the electrodes seemed optimal, but even then pickle lighting seems very resilient against failing jigs made from a milk crate, duct tape, and PVC. Video (from the first Sparklecon, at least) below.

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Using Vacuum Tubes As Immersion Heaters

Fellow Hackaday writer [Ethan Zonca] was doing a little bit of woodworking recently and decided to test ammonia fuming on a small piece of oak. Yes, this means discoloring wood with ammonia vapor, and it’s a real technique. [Ethan] wanted to increase the rate of evaporation of his ammonia solution and decided to make an immersion heater. Out of a vacuum tube.

This is a non-optimal solution to the problem of heating a solution of ammonia – already a bad idea unless you have a fume hood – but it gets better. The vacuum tube was slightly cracked, something easily fixed with a bit of silicone sealant. This was then immersed in an ammonia solution, wired up to a driver board and controlled by a homebrew PID controller. If it’s stupid and it works, it’s not stupid.

After getting the ammonia solution up to 30° C, a noxious cloud of ammonia seeped into a piece of oak. This was left overnight, and the result is something that looks like old barn wood, and looks great after some linseed oil is rubbed into it. This is only a test run for fuming an entire desktop this spring, and while that’s a project that will require a real heater (and doing it outside), it’s still a great demonstration of lateral thinking and great woodworking techniques.

An Upgrade To A Raspberry Pi Media Server

For the last few years, [Luke] has been running a music server with a Raspberry Pi. With the new Raspberry Pi 2 and its quad core processor, he thought it was time for an upgrade.

The build consists of a Raspi 2, a HiFiBerry Dac to address the complaints of terrible audio on the Pi, an aluminum enclosure, and some electronics for IO and a real software shutdown for the Pi. The Arduino also handles an IR remote and a rotary encoder on the front of the enclosure.

The software is the Logitech Media Server along with Squeezeslave. The front end is custom, though, with functions for shutdown and receiving IR remote codes. Everything is served up by Flask, with a 32GB microSD card stuffed into the Pi to store MP3s. All in all, a great build.

Hackaday Links: March 1, 2015

The somewhat regular Hardware Developers Didactic Galactic was a few days ago in San Francisco. Here’s the video to prove it. Highlights include [James Whong] from Moooshimeter, the two-input multimeter, [Mark Garrison] from Saleae, and a half-dozen other people giving talks on how to develop hardware.

[Taylor] made a portable NES with a retron, a new-ish NES clone that somehow fits entirely in a glop top IC. The controllers sucked, but [Taylor] made a new one with touch sensors. All that was required was eight transistors. The enclosure is an Altoid tin, and everything works great.

Here’s a YouTube channel you should subscribe to: Ham College. The latest episode covers the history of radio receivers and a crystal radio demonstration. They’re also going through some of the Technical class question pool, providing the answers and justification for those answers.

[Prusa] just relaunched prusaprinters and he’s churning out new content for it. Up now is an interview with [Rick Nidata] and his awesome printed container ship.

The tip line is overflowing with ESP8266 breakout boards. Here’s the simplest one of them all. It’s a breadboard adapter with stickers on the pin headers. Turn that into a right-angle breadboard adapter, and you’ll really have something.

Here’s something that’s a bit old, but still great. [Dillon Markey], one of the stop-motion animators for Robot Chicken modified a Nintendo Power Glove for animation duties. It seems to work great, despite being so bad. Thanks [Nicholas] for the link.

[David] the Swede – a consummate remote control professional we’ve seen a few times before – just flew his tricopter in a mall so dead it has its own Wikipedia page. Awesome tricopter, awesome location, awesome video, although we have to wonder how a few really, really bright LEDs would make this video look.

Here’s an item from the tip line. [Mark] wrote in with an email, “Why do you put names in [square brackets] in the blog entries? Just curious.” The official, [Caleb]-era answer to that question is that sometimes people have bizarre names that just don’t work in text. Imagine the sentence, “[12VDC] connected the wires to the terminal” without brackets. The semi-official answer I give is, “because.”

Retro Edition: VCF East, April 17 – 19

Around this time last year we were planning our trip to the Vintage Computer Festival East in Wall, NJ. This year we’re doing it all over again, and according to the announcements coming out of the planning committee, it’s going to be a very, very cool event.

This year marks fifty years since the release of the PDP-8, regarded as the first commercially successful computer ever. The historic Straight-8 from the infamous RESISTORS has been restored over the past few months, and it’s going to be turned on again for the festival. There will also be a half a dozen other PDP-8s at the event, but these are 8/M, 8/E, and 8/L models and not constructed completely out of discrete diode transistor logic.

Keynote speakers include [Wesley Clark], designer of the LINC computer and [Bob Frankston], co-creator of Visicalc. There will, of course, be a ton of educational and historical sessions on Friday. Our own [Bil Herd] will be there talking about vintage microcomputer architectures along with a dozen other fascinating people talking about really interesting stuff

As far as exhibits go, there’s literally everything you could imagine when it comes to retro computers. There will of course be a fully restored and functional PDP Straight 8, along with PDP-11s, Apple Newtons, Ataris, Network gaming on C64s. Hollerith cards, VisiCalc, mainframes, teletypes, video toasters, an RTTY amateur radio station (KC1CKV), a flea market/consignment thing, and all sorts of retro goodies. Oh, a Fairlight CMI will also be there. I don’t know how they got that one.

More info for VCF East at the official site, Facebook, and Twitter. If you’re in the area and want to exhibit something really, really cool, there’s still room for more. If you want a better feel for what will be going down at VCF East, check out our megapost wrapup from last year.

Of course if New Jersey isn’t your thing and you live a few blocks down from Peachtree Avenue, Lane, or Street, VCF Southeast 3.0 will be held in Roswell, Georgia the first weekend in May.

Reverse Engineering Wireless Temperature Probes

[bhunting] lives right up against the Rockies, and for a while he’s wanted to measure the temperature variations against the inside of his house against the temperature swings outside. The sensible way to do this would be to put a few wireless temperature-logging probes around the house, and log all that data with a computer. A temperature sensor, microcontroller, wireless module, battery, case, and miscellaneous parts meant each node in the sensor grid would cost about $10. The other day, [bhunting] came across the exact same thing in the clearance bin of Walmart – $10 for a wireless temperature sensor, and the only thing he would have to do is reverse engineer the protocol.

These wireless temperature sensors are exactly what you would expect for a cheap piece of Chinese electronics found in the clearance bin at Walmart. There’s a small radio operating at 433MHz, a temperature sensor, and a microcontroller under a blob of epoxy. The microcontroller and transmitter board in the temperature sensor were only attached by a ribbon cable, and each of the lines were labeled. After finding power and ground, [bhunting] took a scope to the wires that provided the data to the radio and took a look at it with a logic analyzer.

After a bit of work, [bhunting] was able to figure out how the temperature sensor sent data back to the base station, and with a bit of surgery to one of these base stations, he had a way to read the temperature data with an Arduino. From there, it’s just a data logging problem that’s easily solved with Excel, and [bhunting] has exactly what he originally wanted, thanks to a find in the Walmart clearance bin.