Stallman’s One Mistake

We all owe [Richard Stallman] a large debt for his contributions to computing. With a career that began in MIT’s AI lab, [Stallman] was there for the creation of some of the most cutting edge technology of the time. He was there for some of the earliest Lisp machines, the birth of the Internet, and was a necessary contributor for Emacs, GCC, and was foundational in the creation of GPL, the license that made a toy OS from a Finnish CS student the most popular operating system on the planet. It’s not an exaggeration to say that without [Stallman], open source software wouldn’t exist.

Linux, Apache, PHP, Blender, Wikipedia and MySQL simply wouldn’t exist without open and permissive licenses, and we are all richer for [Stallman]’s insight that software should be free. Hardware, on the other hand, isn’t. Perhaps it was just a function of the time [Stallman] fomented his views, but until very recently open hardware has been a kludge of different licenses for different aspects of the design. Even in the most open devices, firmware uses GPLv3, hardware documentation uses the CERN license, and Creative Commons is sprinkled about various assets.

If [Stallman] made one mistake, it was his inability to anticipate everything would happen in hardware eventually. The first battle on this front was the Tivoization of hardware a decade ago, leading to the creation of GPLv3. Still, this license does not cover hardware, leading to an interesting thought experiment: what would it take to build a completely open source computer? Is it even possible?

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Pump Up the Volume with Lead Shot and LEDs

One of the redeeming qualities of many modern cheap keyboards is the built-in volume control buttons. But this is Hackaday, and many of us (and you) have Model Ms or newfangled mechanical keyboards that only have the essential keys. Those multimedia buttons only adjust the system volume anyway. We would bet that a lot of our readers have sweet sound systems as part of their rig but have to get up to change the volume. So, what’s the solution? Build a color-changing remote USB volume knob like [Markus] did.

Much like the Instructable that inspired him, [Markus] used a Digispark board and a rotary encoder. The color comes from a WS2812 LED ring that fits perfectly inside a milky plastic tub that once held some kind of cream. When the volume is adjusted, the ring flashes white at each increment and then slowly returns to whatever color it’s set to. Pushing the button mutes the volume.

The components are pretty lightweight, and [Markus] didn’t want the thing sliding all over the desk. He took an interesting approach here and filled the base with the lead from a shotgun round and some superglue. The rotating part of the button needed some weight too, so he added a couple of washers for a satisfying feel. Be sure to check out the demonstration after the break.

Digispark board not metal enough for you? Here’s a volume knob built around a bare ATtiny85 (which is the same thing anyway).

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Driving WS2811 LEDs with…VGA?

We thought we’d seen it all. All the ways to drive WS2811/2812 “Neopixel” LEDs, that is. And then [Steve Hardy] comes up with a new one: hacking a computer’s VGA output to drive 500 WS2811s in a string. And it’s quite a hack. You can check out the video (it’s worth enduring the horrible wind noise) below the break.

bits[Steve]’s big realization was that he could send the digital data that the Neopixels needed by carefully selecting a resolution and clock rate for the VGA to match the timings that the WS2811 modules wanted. A resolution of 840×1000 at 28MHz produces 70 pixels per WS2811 bit, or 12 bits per line. This means two VGA lines need to be sent for the RGB triple for each LED, hence the 1000 rows.

There are some further tricks before [Steve] got around to writing a custom OpenGL shader that converts regular graphics to his strange black-and-white bit pattern to drive the LEDs, but you’re going to have to read [Steve’s] blog for all that. If you’re waiting for a full code write-up, [Steve] says that one’s pending.

We’re just stoked to see the computing power that lies within a video card used for other purposes. Once you think of the VGA output as a general-purpose high speed (analog!) output, it opens up a whole bunch of possibilities if you can write the corresponding video software. As [Steve] points out, he’s only using the red channel right now — he could trivially add another 1000 LEDs just by tweaking his video code.

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3D Printed Computer Case Brings Sexy Back

We know what you’re thinking – case modding is so 2004. You can forget all the silly paint jobs, windows, and lighted spinning fans that’s you’ve seen in the past. That all seems like child’s play compared to what [Complx] has created over on the overclock.net forum.

Using a mixture of 3D-printed plastic corners and a laser-cut acrylic top, bottom and sides, [Complx] was able to create a very pleasing design. He didn’t have access to a 3D printer large enough that would make the parts, though, so he decided to outsource that task. His first set of parts were printed on a Makerbot Replicator, but came out too coarse and so he set out to find a better printing method. After getting quotes of $2000 or more, he was about to call it quits when he found someone with Stratasys Fotus 250 who was willing to work with him on the price, but still provide a quality print.

The guts of the machine aren’t too shabby either. We know everyone loves a parts list so here you go:  It’s an ASUS Z97I-Plus and a i7-4790K, running a GTX 970 with a 600 Watt power supply, 8GB RAM and a couple of SSD drives.

We have to commend [Complx] on his documentation, photos and videos.  It really makes this build shine. You can watch an 3d animation of the build after the break.

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Art for Planespotters

We don’t know art, but we know what we like. And this gizmo by [Johan Kanflo] is right up our alley.

First, [Johan] gutted an old Macintosh Classic computer and stuffed a Raspberry Pi inside. Now this is not really a new idea, but [Johan] did a very nice job with the monitor and his attention to detail shows in the rebuilt floppy-drive eject mechanism. He gives it back that characteristic “schlurp” noise.

Then he outfitted the Raspberry Pi with an RTL dongle running dump1090 software to listen to the ADS-B radio signals. The data extracted from the SDR is piped off to an MQTT server with all sorts of data about the airplanes overhead. Another script subscribes to the MQTT topic and figures out which is the closest and runs an image search for the plane type in question, publishing the results back to another MQTT topic. One final script subscribes to this last topic and displays the relevant images on the screen. Pshwew!

The end result is a Macintosh Classic that’s continually updated with whatever planes are closest to being overhead. We’re not at all sure if this is fine art, or part of the useful arts, or maybe even none of the above. But we really like the nice case job and think that using MQTT as a back-end for coordinating multiple concurrent Python scripts (on the same computer) is pretty cool.

Engauge Makes Graph Thieving a Cinch

We’ve seen ’em before: the charts and graphs in poorly photocopied ’80s datasheets, ancient research papers, or even our college prof’s chalkboard chicken scratch. Sadly, this marvelously plotted data is locked away in a poorly rendered png or textbook graphic. Fortunately, a team of programmers have come the rescue to give us the proper thieving tool to lift that data directly from the source itself, and that tool is Engauge.

Engauge is an open source software tool that enables to convert pictures of plots into the numerical representation of their data. While some of us might still be tracing graphs by hand, Engauge enables us to simply define reference points on the graph, and a clever image-processing algorithm extracts the curve for us automatically! Sure, there’s a little fine-tuning to determine what counts as data, but the net result is an all-in-one software tool that eats pictures and produces data–no intermediate steps required!

Engauge has been helping scientists and engineers preserve ancient data logs for years now, but it’s a tool that’s still fresh today when we’re recording from an analog o’scope or lifting those xs and ys off a textbook. In a world that’s increasingly digital, we’ve got the Engague developers to thank for arming us with the right tool for the job. All that said, If graph-thieving isn’t your thing, try spline-thieving to go from camera to CAD.

Engauge is a little lacking in the demo-video department, but we dug up a quickie on YouTube.

Thanks for the tip, [Jason]!

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Remote PC Power Control Thwarts Button Pushers

Pervasive connectivity is a mixed blessing at best, especially when it creates the expectation that we’ll always have access to everything we need. When what you need is on your work or home PC, there are plenty of options for remotely accessing files using your phone. But if your roomie or the cleaning crew powers the machine down, you’ve got a problem – unless you’ve got a way to remotely power the machine back up.

[Ahmad Khattab]’s hack required getting up close and personal with his PC’s motherboard. A Particle Photon steals power from the always-on 3.3 volt line of the vacant Trusted Platform Module connector on his machine. Outputs from the Photon are connected to the motherboard’s power switch connection and a smartphone app drives the outputs and turns the machine on and off. As [Ahmad] admits, there are plenty of ways to attack this problem, including Wake-on-LAN. But there’s something to be said for the hardware approach, especially when a Photon can be had for $20.

Astute readers will note that we recently covered a very similar project using a Particle Core. Be sure to check that one out for a little more detail on using Particle’s cloud, and for some ideas on powering the module if your motherboard lacks a TPM port. In the meantime, enjoy [Ahmad]’s video.

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