Algorithm Turns PCBs Into Art

Many of us have held a circuit board up to a strong light to get a sense for how many layers of circuitry it might contain. [alongruss] did this as well, but, unlike us, he saw art.

We’ve covered some art PCBs before. These, for the most part, were about embellishing the traces in some way. They also resulted in working circuits. [alongruss]’s work focuses more on the way light passes through the FR4: the way the silkscreen adds an interesting dimension to the painting, and how the tin coating reflects light.

To prove out and play with his algorithm he started with GIMP. He ran the Mona Lisa through a set of filters until he had layers of black and white images that could be applied to the layers of the circuit board. He ordered a set of boards from Seeed Studio and waited.

They came back a success! So he codified his method into Processing code. If you want to play with it, take a look at his GitHub.

DIY Optical Sensor Breakout Board makes DIY Optical Mouse

Wanting to experiment with using optical mouse sensors but a bit frustrated with the lack of options, [Tom Wiggins] rolled his own breakout board for the ADNS 3050 optical mouse sensor and in the process of developing it used it to make his own 3D-printed optical mouse. Optical mouse sensors are essentially self-contained cameras that track movement and make it available to a host. To work properly, the sensor needs a lens assembly and appropriate illumination, both of which mate to a specialized bracket along with the sensor. [Tom] found a replacement for the original ADNS LED but still couldn’t find the sensor bracket anywhere, so he designed his own.

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Showing Off the Badge Hacks from SuperCon

Since the Beginning of Time* humans have been irresistibly attracted to the blinking of an LED. At first there was one LED and it was good, but eventually there were many working in unison and the matrix was formed. Badge hacking at the Hackaday SuperConference challenged everyone to do something interesting with the display matrix and other yummy hardware on this year’s badge and we were in awe of what people managed to pull off.

We named three winners, and recognized the first hacker to solve the Crypto Challenge. Check out the presentations in the video below and then join us after the break for a close look at each winning hack. Three winners received $256 and the crypto challenge winner received $512; two of them told Hackaday they plan to donate their prize to charity.

*we of course mark the beginning of time as the Unix Epoch

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Heathkit: Getting Closer This Time?

We’ve been following the Heathkit reboot for a while now, and it looks like the storied brand is finally getting a little closer to its glory days. I was thumbing through the new issue of QST magazine while I was listening in on a teleconference for the day job – hey, a guy can multitask, can’t he? – when I spied an ad for the Heathkit GC-1006 digital clock, which they brand the “Most Reliable Clock”. As soon as the meeting was over, I headed over to the Heathkit website to check out this latest offering.

I had cautiously high hopes. After the ridiculous, feature-poor, no-solder AM radio kit (although they sensibly followed up with a solder version of that kit) and an overpriced 2-meter ham antenna, I figured there was nowhere for Heathkit to go but up. And the fact that the new kit was a clock was encouraging. I have fond memories of Heathkit clocks from the 80s when I worked in a public service dispatch center; Heathkit clocks were about the only clocks you could get that would display 24-hour time. Could this actually be a kit worth building?

Alas, the advertisement was another one of those wall-of-text things that the new Heathkit seems so enamored of. And like the previous two kits offered, the ad copy is full of superlatives and cutesy little phrases that really turn me off. Then again, most advertising turns me off, so I’m probably not a good gauge of such things. Nor am I sure I’m in the target demographic for this product – in fact, I’m not even sure to whom this product is being marketed. Is it the younger crowd of the maker movement? Or is it the old-timers who want to relive the glory days of Heathkit builds? Given the $100 price, I’d have to say the nostalgia market is the most likely buyer of this one.

To be fair, $100 might not be that much to spend on a decent clock. I’m a bit of a clock snob, and I’ve gotten to the point where I can almost tell which chip is in a clock just by looking at the controls. The feature set of a modern digital clock has converged to a point where every clock has almost exactly the same deficiencies. The GC-1006 claims to address a few of my hot button issues, like not being able to set the time to the exact second – I hate that! An auto-dimming display is nice, as is a 12- or 24-hour display, a 10-minute timer (nice for hams, who are required to ID their station every 10 minutes), and a battery backup that claims to last for 4 weeks.

Is this worth buying? At this point, I’m on the fence. Looking at an unboxing video, it appears to be a high-quality kit, and it would be fun to build. But spending $100 on a clock might be a tough sell to my loan officer.

Still, I think I might take one for the team here so we have a first-hand report of what the new Heathkit is all about. And it would be nice to build another Heathkit product. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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Step Up to the 1 kB Challenge

1 kilobyte. Today it sounds like an infinitesimally small number. Computers come with tens of gigabytes of ram, and multiple terabytes of storage space. You can buy a Linux computer with 1 gig of RAM and secondary storage as big as the SD card you throw at it. Even microcontrollers have stepped up their game, with megabytes of flash often available for program storage.

Rapidly growing memory and storage are a great testament to technology marching forward to the beat of Moore’s law. But, we should be careful not to forget the techniques of past hackers who didn’t have so much breathing room. Those were the days when code was written in assembly. Debugging was accomplished with an expensive ICE (an In Circuit Emulator… if you were working for a big company), or a few LEDs if you were hacking away in your basement.

To keep these skills and techniques in play, we’ve created The 1 kB Challenge, a contest where the only limit is what you can do with 1 kB of program memory. Many Hackaday contests are rather loose with constraints — anyone can enter and at least make the judging rounds. This time 1 kB is a hard limit. If your program doesn’t fit, you’re disqualified, and that is a challenge worth stepping up to.

That said, this is Hackaday, we want people to be creative and work around the rules. The important thing to remember is the spirit of the design constraints: this is about doing all you can with 1 kB of program space. Search out the old and wise tricks, like compressing your code and including a decompression program in your 1 kB. Crafty hacks to squeeze more into less is fine. Using the 1 kB as a bootloader to load more code from an SD card is not fine.

Prizes

Any Hackaday contest needs some awesome prizes, and this one is no different.

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Red Dwarf’s Talkie Toaster Tests Tolerance

In the Red Dwarf TV series, Talkie Toaster wants to know if you want toast, and if not toast, then maybe a muffin or waffle, and it will pester you incessantly until you smash it with a 14lb lump hammer and throw it in a waste disposal. Now [slider2732] has actually gone and made one of the infernal machines!

He’s hidden a PIR sensor in the toaster handle to tell an Arduino Pro Mini when someone is unfortunate enough to be passing by. The Arduino then reads sound files from an SD card reader and plays them through a 3 watt amplifier out to a speaker. For that he uses the TMRpcm library available on github.

[slider2732] cleverly mounted the speaker to the side of the toaster along with some appropriately shaped bits and pieces, and some LEDs to make it appear and work much like the circular panel that lights up on the real Talkie Toaster. We dare you to watch the video after the break, unless you really are looking for toast. As a consolation, the video also walks through making it.

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A Rebel Alliance for Internet of Things Standards

Back when the original Internet, the digital one, was being brought together there was a vicious standards war. The fallout from the war fundamentally underpins how we use the Internet today, and what’s surprising is that things didn’t work out how everyone expected. The rebel alliance won, and when it comes to standards, it turns out that’s a lot more common than you might think.

Looking back the history of the Internet could have been very different. In the mid eighties the OSI standards were the obvious choice. In 1988 the Department of Commerce issued a mandate that all computers purchased by government agencies should be OSI compatible starting from the middle of 1990, and yet two years later the battle was already over, and the OSI standards had already lost.

In fact by the early nineties the dominance of TCP/IP was almost complete. In January of 1991 the British academic backbone network, called JANET (which was based around X.25 colored book protocols), established a pilot project to host IP traffic on the network. Within ten months the IP traffic had exceeded the levels of X.25 traffic, and IP support became official in November.

“Twenty five years ago a much smaller crowd was fighting about open versus proprietary, and Internet versus OSI. In the end, ‘rough consensus and running code’ decided the matter: open won and Internet won,”

Marshall Rose, chair of several IETF Working Groups during the period

This of course wasn’t the first standards battle, history is littered with innumerable standards that have won or lost. It also wasn’t the last the Internet was to see. By the mid noughties SOAP and XML were seen as the obvious way to build out the distributed services we all, at that point, already saw coming. Yet by the end of the decade SOAP and XML were in heavy retreat. RESTful services and JSON, far more lightweight and developer friendly than their heavyweight counterparts, had won.

“JSON appeared at a time when developers felt drowned by misguided overcomplicated XML-based web services, and JSON let them just get the job done,”

“Because it came from JavaScript, and pretty much anybody could do it, JSON was free of XML’s fondness for design by committee. It also looked more familiar to programmers.”

Simon St. Laurent, content manager at LinkedIn and O’Reilly author

Yet, depending on which standards body you want to listen to, ECMA or the IETF, JSON only became a standard in 2013, or 2014, respectively and while the IETF RFC talks about semantics and security, the ECMA standard covers only the syntax. Despite that it’s unlikely many people have actually read the standards, and this includes the developers using the standard and even those implementing the libraries those developers depend on.

We have reached the point where standardization bodies no longer create standards, they formalize them, and the way we build the Internet of Things is going to be fundamentally influenced by that new reality.

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