Maintenance, Emissions, and Privacy: The OBD Story

The 90s were a pivotal time in world history, and 1996 was no different. You might have spent the year glued to the TV playing Super Mario 64, or perhaps you were busy campaigning for Bill Clinton or Bob Dole, or maybe you were so depressed that Princess Diana and Prince Charles divorced that you spent the whole year locked in your room, a prisoner of your own existential nihilism. Whatever you did, though, it’s likely that one major event passed you by without a thought: The standardization of on-board vehicle diagnostics (in the US), otherwise known as OBD-II.

In the 1970s, vehicles (in some western countries, at least) were subject to ever-increasing restrictions on emissions. Most companies began switching from carburetors to efficient fuel injection systems, but even that wouldn’t be enough for the new standards. Cars began to carry rudimentary computer systems to manage and control the influx of valves, meters, and sensors that became the new norm. And, as one would guess, every car company had their own standard for managing and monitoring these computer systems. Eventually they would settle on the OBD system that we have today.

Continue reading “Maintenance, Emissions, and Privacy: The OBD Story”

Make Logic Gates out of (Almost) Anything

Logic gates are the bricks and mortar of digital electronics, implementing a logical operation on one or more binary inputs to produce a single output. These operations are what make all computations possible in every device you own, whether it is your cell phone, computer, gaming console etc.  There are myriad ways of implementing logic gates; mechanically, electronically, virtually (think Minecraft), etc. Let’s take a look at what it takes to create some fun, out-of-the-ordinary gate implementations.

Continue reading “Make Logic Gates out of (Almost) Anything”

33C3: Works for Me

The Chaos Communication Congress (CCC) is the largest German hacker convention by a wide margin, and it’s now in its thirty-third year, hence 33C3. The Congress is a techno-utopian-anarchist-rave with a social conscience and a strong underpinning of straight-up hacking. In short, there’s something for everyone, and that’s partly because a CCC is like a hacker Rorschach test: everyone brings what they want to the CCC, figuratively and literally. Somehow the contributions of 12,000 people all hang together, more or less. The first “C” does stand for chaos, after all.

What brings these disparate types to Hamburg are the intersections in the Venn diagrams. Social activists who may actually be subject to state surveillance are just as interested in secure messaging as the paranoid security geek or the hardcore crypto nerd who’s just in it for the algorithms. Technology, and how we use it to communicate and organize society, is a pretty broad topic. Blinking lights also seem to be in the intersection. But on top of that, we are all geeks. There’s a lot of skill, smarts, and know-how here, and geeks like sharing, teaching, and showing off their crazy creations.

Continue reading “33C3: Works for Me”

Reflow Soldering at Another Level

We’re used to reflow soldering of our PCBs at the hacker level, for quite a few years people have been reflowing with toaster ovens, skillets, and similar pieces of domestic equipment and equipping them with temperature controllers and timers. We take one or two boards, screen print a layer of solder paste on the pads by using a stencil, and place our surface-mount components with a pair of tweezers before putting them in the oven. It’s a process that requires  care and attention, but it’s fairly straightforward once mastered and we can create small runs of high quality boards.

But what about the same process at a professional level, what do you do when your board isn’t a matchbox-sized panel from OSH Park with less than 50 or so parts but a densely-packed multilayer board  about the size of a small tablet computer and with many hundreds of parts? In theory the same process of screen print and pick and place applies, but in practice to achieve a succesful result a lot more care and planning has to go into the process.

This is being written the morning after a marathon session encompassing all of the working day and half of the night. I was hand-stuffing a row of large high-density boards with components ranging from 0402 passives to large QFPs and everything else in between. I can’t describe the board in question because it is a commercially sensitive prototype for the industrial customer of the friend I was putting in the day’s work for, but it’s worth going through the minutiae of successfully assembling a small batch of prototypes at this level. Apologies then, any pictures will be rather generic.

Continue reading “Reflow Soldering at Another Level”

2016: As The Hardware World Turns

Soon, the ball will drop in Times Square, someone will realize you can turn ‘2018’ into a pair of novelty sunglasses, and the forgotten mumbled lyrics of Auld Lang Syne will echo through New Year’s Eve parties. It’s time once again to recount the last 366 days, and what a year it’s been.

Arduino got into an argument with Arduino and Arduino won. We got new Raspberry Pis. Video cards are finally getting to the point where VR is practical. The FCC inadvertently killed security in home routers before fixing the problem. All of this is small potatoes and really doesn’t capture the essence of 2016. It’s been a weird year.

Want proof 2016 was different? This year, Microsoft announced they would provide a Linux ‘shim’ with every version of Windows. By definition, 2016 was the year of the Linux desktop. That’s how weird things have been in 2016.

Continue reading “2016: As The Hardware World Turns”

The Story of Kickstarting the OpenMV

Robots are the ‘it’ thing right now, computer vision is a hot topic, and microcontrollers have never been faster. These facts lead inexorably to the OpenMV, an embedded computer vision module that bills itself as the ‘Arduino of Machine Vision.’

The original OpenMV was an entry for the first Hackaday Prize, and since then the project has had a lot of success. There are tons of followers, plenty of users, and the project even had a successful Kickstarter. That last bit of info is fairly contentious — while the Kickstarter did meet the minimum funding level, there were a lot of problems bringing this very cool product to market. Issues with suppliers and community management were the biggest problems, but the team behind OpenMV eventually pulled it off.

At the 2016 Hackaday SuperConference, Kwabena Agyeman, one of the project leads for the OpenMV, told the story about bringing the OpenMV to market:

Continue reading “The Story of Kickstarting the OpenMV”

How To Nail A Technical Presentation

Whether you’re an engineer, a maker, a hacker or a baker, at some point you’ll want to share your work with other people. Perhaps it’s a meeting at work to discuss process improvements, or a talk at a conference discussing some research you’ve done into hacking a new embedded platform. Or maybe you’ve developed a brand new cooking profile for rye breads that cuts energy usage in half. Whatever it is, there are techniques you can use to help you communicate effectively to a room full of people, and have fun doing it. Unlike some, I actually enjoy getting up in front of a crowd to present my work, so I’ve written this article to share with you some tips that can help you make a technical presentation that everyone will love — including you!

Editor’s Note: We planned the art for this article before the passing of Carrie Fisher. Leia certainly knew how to give a compelling technical presentation. We publish this in memory of a great actress.

Continue reading “How To Nail A Technical Presentation”