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.

Hacklet 36 – Oscilloscope Projects

Oscilloscopes are one of the most often used tools of the engineer, hacker, or maker. Voltmeters can do a lot, but when you really need to get a good look at a signal, a good scope is invaluable. This week’s hacklet is triggered by the rising slope of some of the best Oscilloscope projects on Hackaday.io!

rigol500We start with [DainBramage’s] recent project Stretching the Limits of a Rigol DS-1102E Scope. The new Rigol ds1054z may be getting all the press lately, but the older DS-1102E (100 MHz) model is still a very capable scope. [DainBramage] broke out his vintage Singer CSM-1 service monitor to generate frequencies all the way up to 500 MHz. The Rigol did admirably well, detecting a sine wave all the way up to 500 MHz. This is in part due to the scope’s 1 gigasample-per-second sampling rate. Once things got beyond the specified limit of 100 MHz though, the signal began to attenuate.  Not bad for pushing a low-end scope way beyond its limits!


cornel-scopeNext up is [Bruce Land] with his PIC32 oscilloscope. Microcontroller scope projects are nothing new, but one that runs at nearly 1 MHz sampling rate while generating NTSC composite video is nothing to sneeze at. [Bruce] pulled this off by using Direct Memory Access (DMA) to move the data from the ADC to memory, and to get the video data from memory to the I/O pins used to generate video. The video itself is created by a resistor tree DAC. All you need to make black and white video is three resistors and two I/O pins. [Bruce] says the entire scope cost about $4.00 us in parts!

scope-hand[Jacob Christ] mixed art and science with his chipKIT Oscilloscope Plotter. [Jacob] used a Microchip PIC32 based Fubarino to draw patterns on his scope. To do this the scope must be set to X-Y mode. [Jacob] paired his Fubarino with a MCP4902 Digital to Analog Converter (DAC). Using a dedicated DAC is a great way to do this. [Jacob’s] images are a testament to that, as they’re some of the cleanest “scope art” drawings we’ve seen. Much like [Bruce Land], [Jacob] used his project as the basis for a college class. In fact, the image to the left was created by one of his students!

Want more scope goodness? Check out our new Oscilloscope Projects List!

Hackaday.io Update!

Hackaday.io is getting new features every day. Our dev team has just rolled out a new gallery view. Just click on a project’s featured image, or the “View Gallery” button, and you will be taken to a gallery view of every image used in the project – including log images. YouTube videos will render in the gallery as well. It’s a great way to view a timeline of progress for some of the projects on hackaday.io. For a great example of this, check out OpenMV’s gallery.

In other Hackaday.io news, check out the Caption CERN Contest! Every week we put up a new image from CERN’s archives. The Hackaday.io user who comes up with the funniest caption wins a T-Shirt from The Hackaday Store!

Looks like we’ve hit the end of the trace for this Hacklet. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Retrotechtacular: Step Up and Get Your Transformer Training

Whether you’re just getting into electronics or could use a refresher on some component or phenomenon, it’s hard to beat the training films made by the U.S. military. This 1965 overview of transformers and their operations is another great example of clear and concise instruction, this time by the Air Force.

It opens to a sweeping orchestral piece reminiscent of the I Love Lucy theme. A lone instructor introduces the idea of transformers, their principles, and their applications in what seems to be a single take. We learn that transformers can increase or reduce voltage, stepping it up or down through electromagnetic induction. He moves on to describe transformer action, whereby voltages are increased or decreased depending on the ratio of turns in the primary winding to that of the secondary winding.

He explains that transformer action does not change the energy involved. Whether the turns ratio is 1:2 or 1:10, power remains the same from the primary to the secondary winding. After touching briefly on the coefficient of coupling, he discusses four types of transformers: power, audio, RF, and autotransformers.

Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: Step Up and Get Your Transformer Training”

Fail of the Week: WinCE is a Noun and a Verb

A few years ago, [localroger] found some incredible hardware on sale: a very tiny laptop with a seven-inch screen, full keyboard, trackpad, Ethernet, WiFi, USB (with support for a lot of HID devices), and a battery that would last hours. They were on sale for $30 USD, and [localroger] bought four of them. A great deal, you say? These machines ran Windows CE. No, owning a WinCE device is not the Fail of the Week.

Figuring he should do something with these machines, [roger] thought, ‘a clock will do’, and began to figure out how to program or write an app for these things. These tiny netbooks did come with a programming language, JavaScript, in the form of the built-in IE6 web browser. This was actually a really, really good solution – WinCE apps formatted for portrait displays just didn’t work with the ‘widescreen’ laptop, and a hand-coded HTML table is probably the best solution anyone could have hoped for.

These machines – [roger] used three of them over the years as alarm clocks – did their job well, even if NTP had been left out of the OS image. The real fail here comes from buying a $30 WinCE netbook, and using it for something as mission critical as an alarm clock. The displays burned in, the batteries began puffing up, one unit somehow wouldn’t allow IE to run (probably a bad Flash chip), and the trackpad in another one sent the cursor on a random walk. You get what you pay for.

These WinCE netbooks have finally been put out to pasture, hopefully the same one laser printers go to. It’s all for the best, though; [roger] made a much better alarm clock with Nixies.

2013-09-05-Hackaday-Fail-tips-tileFail of the Week is a Hackaday column which runs every now and again. Help keep the fun rolling by writing about your past failures and sending us a link to the story — or sending in links to fail write ups you find in your Internet travels.

Hackaday Links: February 22, 2015

We met up with Freescale guy [Witek] at our party in Munich last year, and he wrote in to tell us about the Freescale booth at Embedded World this week in Nuremberg. They’re going to have a bunch of Freedom boards to play around with and an extremely powerful RIoTboard with a 1GHz iMX6 Solo processor, 1GB of RAM, and 4GB of EMMC Flash. It’s not a Raspi or BeagleBone killer, but if you need a small Linux board with a lot of horsepower, there ‘ya go.

SmarterEveryDay is finally getting around to doing a series of videos about space. This guy knows his stuff, and with the access he can get, it should make for interesting viewing.

Here’s something for your Sunday listening: [Vint Cerf] at Carnegie Mellon talking about the Olive Project and the Interplanetary Internet. The Olive project is an archive for executables, and solves the problem of having to preserve hardware along with software. Cool stuff.

10 GHz pulse magnetron destroys electronics. That’s the only information you’re going to get with this one. There’s a fine line between ‘don’t try this at home’ and ‘this project needs replication’.

Most of the northern half of the United States is covered in a billion tons of snow. [Jamie]’s electric snowmobile/Power Wheels is the perfect vehicle for this occasion. It’s 36V with two 500W motors. Figure out how to replace the wheels with small treads, and there’s really something interesting here.

Hacklet 35 – BeagleBone Projects

The Raspberry Pi 2 is just barely a month old, and now that vintage console emulation on this new hardware has been nailed down, it’s just about time for everyone to do real work. You know, recompiling stuff to take advantage of the new CPU, figuring out how to get Android working on the Pi, and all that good stuff that makes the Pi useful.

It will come as no surprise to our regular readers that there’s another board out there that’s just as good in most cases, and in some ways better than the Pi 2. It’s the BeagleBone Black, and for this edition of the Hacklet, we’re focusing on all the cool BeagleBone projects on Hackaday.io.

lcdSo you have a credit card sized Linux computer and a small, old LCD panel. If it doesn’t have HDMI, VGA or composite input, there’s probably no way of getting this display working, right? Nope. Not when you can make an LCD cape for $10.

[Dennis] had an old digital picture frame from a while back, and decided his BeagleBone needed a display. A few bits of wire and some FPC connectors, and [Dennis] has a custom display for his ‘Bone. It’s better than waiting for that DSI display…

bed[THX1082] is making a bed for his son. This isn’t your usual race car bed, or even a very cool locomotive bed. No, this is a spaceship bed. Is your bed a space ship? No, I didn’t think so.

Most of the work with plywood, MDF, paint, and glue is done, which means the best feature of this bed – a BeagleBone Black with an LCD, buttons, a TV, and some 3D printed parts – is what [THX] is working on right now. He’s even forking a multiplayer networked starship simulator to run in the bed. Is your bed a starship simulator?


Beer. [Deric] has been working on a multi-step fermentation controller using the BeagleBone Black. For good beer you need to control temperatures and time, lest you end up with some terrible swill that I’d probably still drink.

This project controls every aspect of fermentation, from encouraging yeast growth, metabolization of sugars, and flocculation. The plan is to use two circuits – one for heating and one for cooling – and a pair of temperature sensors to ensure the beer is fermenting correctly.

If you’re looking for more BeagleBone Projects, there’s an entire list of them over on Hackaday.io with GLaDOs Glasses, Flight Computers, and Computer Vision.