Don’t Try This at Home is Cliché for a Reason

Oh, for cryin’ out loud. That’s the last straw. We’ve seen one dangerous YouTube video too many. Are we honestly cursed with a false feedback system that unequitably rewards dangerous behavior in online videos? Obviously the answer is ‘yes’. Now the real question becomes, can we do anything about it?

Professional Driver on a Closed Course

Marketing is all about putting something in front of a consumer and getting their brain to go “awesome!”. The fast, loud, shiny, burny, and sharp things are all on the table for that task. It’s the primal part of your brain that gives you jolt, as if your amygdala forgot how to run from sabertooths (saberteeth?) and learned how to like and subscribe.

Back in the day, people were hurt and even killed when replicating stunts they saw done on television. To protect from litigation, companies started adding disclaimers — Don’t Try this at Home or my favorite: Professional Driver on a Closed Course.

But the thing is, commercials are big business. If someone gets hurt, there’s money to be had by assigning blame in a court of law. When the ability to produce and distribute video content was democratized by the coming of the Internet we lost those warnings and the common sense that went with them.

Going way back to this remote-control-a-real-car hack in 2009 I haven’t been able to shake the lack of consideration for danger in a project like this. I included it in the title, which ends with “(dangerously)”. While I wasn’t taken to task in the comments for that title, I have been chided for advocating for things as controversial as helmets when strapping your body to a moving object. Do a Ctrl-F on “helmet” in this article to see what I mean.

The people pulling off these hacks were doing it because it felt awesome and they wanted to document how that felt. They weren’t stars, they were hackers and the world mostly ignored them except in places like Hackaday. We might debate the lack of safety measures but most assumed anyone with skills to do this would take a beat to consider the risks. This was probably a false assumption.

It’s All About the Subs

Things have gotten worse since then. I can’t blame all of this on YouTube, but I’m going to try. One day, YouTube changed everything. They put together a perfect mix of easy uploading, great discoverability, and (most importantly) advertising revenue sharing. For some people, this became a business and not just a way to connect with the rest of the hacker community.

This is the rise of the subscriber base. It’s a vicious cycle — you need more people to like and subscribe so that their influence will push your channel to more people to like and subscribe. The problem is, the fastest way to this is that tricky amygdala again. For some, this is being funny, but for others this is speed, fireballs, and loud bangs, with no regard for life, limb, or eyeball.

We’re Far From Blameless

I like fireballs and fast cars as much as the next person. And we’ve certainly run a lot of articles on the escalatingly dangerous hacks out there for all to see. For instance, we’ve covered several hacks from [kreosan], like microwaving things outside of a microwave and then building a microwave gun.

Pyro Build
Short sleeves and flamethrowers. What could go wrong?

But even the more mainstream content appears to be getting more and more dangerous. Our beloved [Colin Furze] is guilty of dangerous behavior. Not only did he burn himself testing a jet engine out without any safety gear, but turned the aftermath into another ad-supported video.

Which brings me to the straw that broke the camel’s back. Here’s a hack that’s based on the idea of hurting people. It’s what is (luckily) a crappy robot designed to recognize faces and shine lasers into any eyes it detects. Literally it’s conceived to shoot your eyes out. It’s using a red laser that likely won’t cause eye damage unless you intentionally stare into it without blinking, but that’s not discussed in the video, and someone who doesn’t know better replicating this with a different laser could easily cause irreparable damage to their sight.

Rocket Scientists Use Common Sense and So Should You

I was going to use the heading “This Isn’t Rocket Science”, but you don’t see rocket scientists testing new engine designs by lighting a fuse as they run away giggling in short sleeves and flip-flops. Those brilliantly intelligent people are tucked safely in a bunker at a safe distance with their hands hovering over the emergency kill switch as fire fighting equipment hangs out at arms reach. Rocket scientists know a lot about safety and so should you.

This is simple. We don’t have to invent anything to add safety to our hacks. Use common sense. Dress appropriately for your demo — as the situation dictates use reasonable fire-resistant clothing, helmet, etc. Wear protective glasses, laser spec’d goggles, and ear plugs; each whenever called for. Take fumes and particulates seriously and wear respiratory gear. Keep a fire extinguisher around. And if you’re making a video or posting images about it — which you should definitely do — snap a picture or give us a quick video cut to the safety precautions you’ve chosen.

I still want to see awesome projects on YouTube. But I also want to see the trend towards danger for clicks stopped. Let’s do dangerous stuff safely. And let’s be conspicuous about those safety measures. That combination is truly awesome.

Now get off my lawn, and wear your seat belt while doing so.

Call for Hack Chat Hosts

Every week features an AMA of sorts. This is the Hack Chat, a chatroom where we sit down with the best in the business to talk about manufacturing techniques, engineering, and how to build the best hardware around. Over the last few months, we’ve hosted a few hardware celebrities, from [Sprite_TM] talking about the ESP32, [Lady Ada] and MicroPython, [Roger Thornton] of Raspberry Pi discussing how to build everyone’s favorite Linux computer, [Samy Kamkar] talking about reverse engineering, and heard [bunnie’s] take on making and breaking hardware.

Now we’re looking for new co-hosts to lead a discussion and be the expert in the room. If you have the skills, we want to hear from you.

We’re looking for experts to lead a discussion on what they’re doing. If you have a new hardware product and want to share the story of taking it to production while getting some feedback from the Hackaday community, this is the place to do it. We’re looking for a wide range of people who will allow us to pick their brains. If you’ve ever designed a 16-layer PCB, we want to know how (and why) you did it. If you’re into building robotics, we want to hear from you. If you’re an embedded systems wizard, this is your time to shine.

If you want to get in on this, send us an email. We’re doing one Hack Chat a week, every Friday, sometime around noon, Pacific time. This is a great opportunity for you to share what you know with one of the best hardware communities on the Internet. It’s also great practice if you’re thinking about presenting at the Hackaday SuperConference in November.

This Week: How do Magnets Work Anyway?

Do you know how magnets work? Of course you don’t, nobody does. But one of the people with the deepest knowledge on the topic is Jeremy Chan who is a Prototype Engineer at Nano Magnetics Ltd. This Friday at noon PST Jeremy leads a Hack Chat on magnetism.

What is there to talk about? Jeremy will cover how magnets are manufactured and magnetized. He’ll cover the different grades of magnets, and the different magnetic sensing mechanisms. He’ll also go into some of the most interesting magnetic phenomenon. How often do you get to hang out with a magnet expert? See you this Friday!

Discontinued Nintendo Consoles and Raspberry Pis

Nintendo has discontinued a Classic gaming console. It’s a pity, yes, but with the release of Nintendo’s new gaming console, they probably have bigger fish to fry. That doesn’t mean these discontinued Nintendo consoles will die a slow, miserable death locked away in a closet; at least one of them will live on with the heart of a Raspberry Pi.

This is a project [Liam] has been working on since 2012, just after he got the first edition of the Raspberry Pi. While some people were figuring out how to stuff the Pi inside a Nintendo Entertainment System or a Super Nintendo Entertainment System, [Liam] decided to embed the Pi inside a console of a more recent vintage: the Nintendo GameCube.

The first phase of this project was simply to get the Pi running inside the enclosure of the non-working GameCube he picked up. The power supply in this console was well designed, and after a quick perusal through some online documentation, [Liam] found a stable 5V with enough amps to power the Pi. After ripping out the internals of this console with the help of a quickly hacked together ‘Nintendo screwdriver’, [Liam] had a perfectly functional Pi enclosed in a Nintendo chassis.

Time marches on, and after a while, the Raspberry Pi 2 was released. By this time, retro emulation was hitting the big time, and [Liam] decided it was time for an upgrade. He disassembled this Nintendo console again, routed new wires and inputs to the original controller ports, and used a Dremel to route a few holes for the HDMI and SD card slot.

With the addition of a few SNES-inspired USB controllers, RetroPi, and a few ROMs, [Liam] has a wonderful console full of classic emulation goodness, packaged in an enclosure Nintendo isn’t making any more.

Moving Forth with Mecrisp-Stellaris and Embello

In the last episode, I advocated a little bit for Forth on microcontrollers being a still-viable development platform, not just for industry where it’s usually seen these days, but also for hackers. I maybe even tricked you into buying a couple pieces of cheap hardware. This time around, we’re going to get the Forth system set up on that hardware, and run the compulsory “hello world” and LED blinky. But then we’ll also take a dip into one of the features that make Forth very neat on microcontrollers: easy multitasking.

To work!


Mecrisp-Stellaris Forth runs on a great number of ARM microcontrollers, but I’ll focus here on the STM32F103 chips that are available for incredibly little money in the form of a generic copy of the Maple Mini, often called a “STM32F103 Minimum System Board” or “Blue Pill” because of the form-factor, and the fact that there used to be red ones for sale. The microcontroller on board can run at 72 MHz, has 20 kB of RAM and either 64 or 128 kB of flash. It has plenty of pins, the digital-only ones are 5 V tolerant, and it has all the usual microcontroller peripherals. It’s not the most power-efficient, and it doesn’t have a floating-point unit or a DAC, but it’s a rugged old design that’s available for much less money than it should be.

Programmer Connected, Power over USB

Similar wonders of mass production work for the programmer that you’ll need to initially flash the chip. Any of the clones of the ST-Link v2 will work just fine. (Ironically enough, the hardware inside the programmer is almost identical to the target.) Finally, since Forth runs as in interactive shell, you’re going to need a serial connection to the STM32 board. That probably means a USB/serial adapter.

This whole setup isn’t going to cost much more than a fast food meal, and the programmer and USB/serial adapter are things that you’ll want to have in your kit anyway, if you don’t already.

You can power the board directly through the various 3.3 and GND pins scattered around the board, or through the micro USB port or the 5V pins on the target board. The latter two options pass through a 3.3 V regulator before joining up with the 3.3 pins. All of the pins are interconnected, so it’s best if you only use one power supply at a time.

Continue reading “Moving Forth with Mecrisp-Stellaris and Embello”

Manhattan Marauder’s Map

If you solemnly swear that you are up to no good, and you happen to spend most of your time in Manhattan below the mid-90s, then you will appreciate this Raspberry Pi-based Manhattan Marauder’s Map.

Not that a Harry Potter-themed map was necessarily [GawkyFuse]’s intention when creating this interesting build; it’s just that the old-time print of Manhattan — it shows Welfare Island in the East River, which was renamed Roosevelt Island in 1971 — lends a nice vintage feel to the build. Printed on plain paper, the map overlays a 64×32-LED matrix, which is driven by a matrix HAT riding atop the Pi 3.

[GawkyFuse] uses the OwnTracks app on his and his wife’s iPhone to report their locations back to CloudMQTT. The Pi subscribes to the broker and updates his location in red and her location in blue as they move about the city; a romantic touch is showing a single purple dot when they’re together. There’s no word on what’s displayed when either leaves the map area, but the 2048-pixel display offers a lot of possibilities.

We’ve seen a Weasley clock or two around these parts before, but strangely no Marauder’s Maps like this one. Although this Austrian tram-tracking map comes pretty close to [GawkyFuse]’s nice design.

[via r/raspberry_pi]

Ethanol-Powered Arduinos

Following the time-honored YouTube tradition of ordering cheap stuff online and playing with it while the camera runs, [Monta Elkins] bought a Stirling engine that drives a DC motor used as a generator. How much electrical juice can this thing provide, running on just denatured alcohol? (Will it blend?)

The answer is probably not really a spoiler: it generates enough to run “Blink.ino” on a stock Arduino, at least when powered directly through the 5 V rail. [Monta] recorded an open-circuit voltage of around 5 V, and a short-circuit current of around 100 mA at a measured few hundred millivolts. While he didn’t log enough of the points in-between to make a real power curve, we’re guessing the generator might be a better match for 3.3 V electronics. The real question is whether or not it can handle the peaky demands of an ESP8266. Serious questions, indeed!

The video is a tad long, but it’s more than made up for by the sight of an open flame vibro-botting itself across his desk while [Monta] is trying to cool the cold side down with a melting ice cube. Which got us thinking, naturally. If you just had two of the Stirling enginesContinue reading “Ethanol-Powered Arduinos”

Robot Targets Eyeballs, Fires Lasers. OSHA’s Gonna Love this One

If you even think about hacking with lasers, you’re going to hear about eye safety. “Be careful” they’ll say. “Don’t look into laser with remaining eye” is a joke you’ll not be able to avoid. You’ll hear “Where are your goggles”, and about 1000 other warnings. Don’t get us wrong, laser/eye safety is important. However, the constant warnings can get a bit old — especially when you’re working with a “low power” class 3a laser — you know, the kind with a warning label that says “AVOID DIRECT EYE EXPOSURE” in big black letters on a yellow background.

[Michael Reeves] got fed up, and went a bit nuts. He built a robot specifically to shine a laser into human eyes. No, not a medical robot. This ‘bot lives in a pizza box, is built from servos, duct tape, and [Michael’s] tears. It just shoots lasers at people’s eyes. Needless to say, please, don’t try this at home, or at all.

Designing such a diabolical beast was actually rather simple. The software is written in C#. Frames are captured from an old Logitech webcam, then passed into Emgu CV, which is a .NET wrapper for OpenCV. [Michael] runs a simple face detection algorithm, and uses the results to aim a laser. The laser is mounted on two R/C style servos. An Arduino forms the glue between the servos and the PC.

[Michael] has a great deadpan delivery and it all makes for a great video. Think of him of a younger [Medhi] over at Electroboom.  But we can’t condone this behavior. Properly labeled and characterized red laser pointers have never been shown to cause eye damage. Yet if the laser is out-of-spec or reflects of something that further focuses the beam it is certainly capable of damaging eyesight.

We want [Michael’s] eyesight to remain intact so he can make more videos — he’s entertaining, even if ignoring safety warnings isn’t.

Continue reading “Robot Targets Eyeballs, Fires Lasers. OSHA’s Gonna Love this One”