Hacklet 39: The Kerbal Way Of Doing Things

Kerbal Space Program is a space flight simulator based on an extremely stupid race of green space frogs that have decided to dedicate all their resources towards the exploration of space. It is a great game, a better space simulator than just about anything except for Orbiter, and the game is extremely moddable. For this edition of the Hacklet, we’re going to be taking a look at some of the mods for KSP you can find over on hackaday.io.

1271491420181365398Like most hardware builds for Kerbal Space Program, [lawnmowerlatte] is using a few user-made plugins for KAPCOM, a hardware controller and display for KSP. The Telemachus plugin is used to pull data from the game and display that data on a few screens [lawnmower] had sitting around.

There are a few very cool features planned for this build including seven-segment displays, a throttle handle, and neat enclosure.

IMG_20140419_013717[Gabriel] is working on a similar build for KSP. Like the KAPCOM, this one uses the Telemachus plugin, but this one adds three eight-digit, SPI-controlled, seven-segment displays, relegendable buttons, and a Kerbal-insipired frame made out of Meccano.

[Lukas]’ KSP Control Panel is another complicated control system that breaks immersion slightly less than a keyboard. He’s using a Raspberry Pi to talk to the Telemachus server to control every aspect of the craft. From staging to opening up the solar panels, it’s all right there in [Lukas]’ control panel.

You may have noticed a theme with these builds; all of them use the Telemachus plugin for KSP. Even though it’s fairly simple to create plugins for Unity, there really aren’t that many KSP plugins build for these immersive control panels and space flight simulators. Or rather, Telemachus is ‘good enough’. We’d like to see a fully controllable KSP command pod model, just like those guys with 737 flight simulators in their garage. If you have any idea how that could happen, leave a note in the comments.

We Have a Problem: Shower Feedback Loop

Hackaday, we have a problem. Clean water is precious and we want to come up with some ideas to help conserve it. Today’s topic is water wasted while showering. Let’s kick around some ideas and prompt some new builds for The Hackaday Prize.

We’ve all done it; your mind wanders and before you know it you’ve been standing in the shower for far too long. How much water have you wasted? Who know’s, there’s no feedback loop in the shower. But we think adding a little bit of feedback is a fantastic avenue to help combat wasteful habits.

Color Changing Showerheads


What if the showerhead changed colors based on how much water had flowed through it? We’ve already seen consumer showerheads that have the LEDs inside of them, and flow meters are readily available. Start your shower off in the green, as you lather up the suds it moves through blue, purple, orange, red, and finally to flashing red. It doesn’t have to be annoying, but just enough to help quantify how much is pouring down the drain.

Shower Beats

We were big fans of the game SSX Tricky back in the day. The better you were at tricks, the better the music was. If you crashed hard, you’d be listening to nothing more than hi-hat and subdued bass. Apply this to shower time. What if that flow meter you installed on your shower head was connected to a shower radio? Start it off with the best music in the world and progress to the lamest as you run the reservoir dry (ymmv on these selections of course).

Now You Try

If you shave off 5 seconds from your shower it will have a tiny impact in your household. But imagine the aggregate of every household in the world doing so.

This is part of what the 2015 Hackaday Prize is all about. Get the idea machine rolling. Tell us your riff on the shower feedback loop in the comments below. Put up a new project on Hackaday.io, write down an idea, and tag it “2015HackadayPrize”. We’re on the lookout for the best seed ideas and will be giving away shirts and stickers to the ones that show real promise. We’ll be featuring some of these in future installments of “Hackaday, We Have Problem” and if we choose yours it’ll land you with some swag of your own.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Retrotechtacular: On the Wings of Goodyear

At the opposite end of the spectrum from the various blimp and rigid-hull airships Goodyear has created over the years stands the Goodyear Inflatoplane, the company’s foray into experimental inflatable aircraft. Goodyear had recently created a rubberized nylon material they called Airmat, the faces of which were connected internally by nylon threads. This material was originally developed during research into the viability of emergency airplane wings.

The United States military became interested in the Inflatoplane after Goodyear had performed successful testing of demonstration model GA-33. They believed that the Inflatoplane could be dropped from the air in a rigid container to facilitate an emergency rescue, or trucked around with the rest of the cargo as a last resort for just exactly the right situation. It seems like a good idea on paper. The Inflatoplane could stay packed into a fairly small container until it was needed. The GA-468 one-seater model could go almost 400 miles on 20 gallons of fuel, and required less pressure to inflate than the average car tire.

This episode of the Discovery Channel series WINGS includes a real-time demonstration of taking an Inflatoplane from crate to air set to late ’80s montage music. It takes the pilot a full five minutes to unfurl and  the plane, and he does it on a nice and level grassy spot by a lake that looks more like a cozy picnic spot than threatening enemy territory. While it’s better than not having an inflatable emergency aircraft, it just isn’t that practical.

Goodyear had all kinds of plans for future improvements, such as a vertical takeoff model and a rocket-powered version. But the Inflatoplane military initiative was grounded around the time that someone speaking for the Army deadpanned that they “could not find a valid military use for an aircraft that could be taken down by a well-aimed bow and arrow.”

Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: On the Wings of Goodyear”

Hackaday Links: March 15, 2015

[Fran] and [Bil] are back again for the first Dinosaur Den of 2015. Highlights of this edition include a surprisingly young tri-power supply and Nixie display cards from 1965.

The game of Go has been turned into a sequencer. That’s a project from [Kristian Gohlke] and [Michael Hlatky]. It’s an industrial camera placed above a Go board, and some computer vision algorithms to detect stones on the board. There’s a 16×16 section to create drum patterns (black stones) or synth notes (white stones). Below that there’s a 16×3 grid for the bass notes, two 3×8 grids to control filters and effects, and a 3×3 grid to play percussive loops.

HOW TO REMOVE A GPS ANKLE MONITOR. We had to get the SEO right on this one. Here’s how you can ditch your probation officer for a weekend. Great news: his parents used their house for bail, now an entire family is homeless. Lesson learned: use a burner phone and call forwarding until you’re out of the country.

The Computer History Museum is doing a great series of interviews, and this one is with [Bob Dobkin], former director at National Semiconductor, and co-founder of Linear. Analog design isn’t wizardry, you just need a decade of experience.

[Simon] over at the Hack42 hackerspace finally found the time to repair their old Holborn 9120 terminal – the most space-age terminal ever built. The keyboard is an old Keytronic unit, and the foam underneath the keys had turned to dust. This was replaced with an Ikea mousepad, foam tape, and the foil from a discarded bag of chips. It worked, and they got their terminal to load our retro edition:


If you have some old hardware, try to point it at our retro site, take a picture (or post a writeup) and send it on in.

3D Printering: Induction Heating

Every filament-based 3D printer you’ll find today heats plastic with resistive heaters – either heater cartridges or big ‘ol power resistors. It’s efficient, but that will only get you so far. Given these heaters can suck down only so many Watts, they can only heat up so fast. That’s a problem, and if you’re trying to make a fast printer, it’s also a limitation.

Instead of dumping 12 or 24 VDC into a resistive heater, induction heaters passes high-frequency AC through a wire that’s inductively coupled to a core. It’s also very efficient, but it’s also very fast. No high-temperature insulation is required, and if it’s designed right, there’s less thermal mass. All great properties for fast heating of plastic.

A few years ago, [SB] over on the RepRap blog designed an induction heater for a Master’s project. The hot end was a normal brass nozzle attached to a mild steel sleeve. A laminated core was attached to the hot end, and an induction coil wrapped around the core. It worked, but there wasn’t any real progress for turning this into a proper nozzle and hot end. It was, after all, just a project.

Finally, after several years, people are squirting plastic out of an induction heated nozzle. [Z], or [Bulent Unalmis], posted a project to the RepRap forums where he is extruding plastic that has been heated with an induction heater. It’s a direct drive system, and mechanically, it’s a simpler system than the fancy hot ends we’re using now.

Electronically, it’s much more complex. While the electronics for a resistive heater are just a beefy power supply and a MOSFET, [Z] is using 160 kHz AC at 30 V. That’s a much more difficult circuit to stuff on a printer controller board.

This could be viewed as just a way of getting around the common 24V limitation of common controller boards; shove more power into a resistor, and it’s going to heat faster. This may not be the answer to hot ends that heat up quicker, but at the very least it’s a very neat project, and something we’d like to see more of.

You can see [Z]’s video demo of his inductive hot end below. Thanks [Matt] for the tip.

Continue reading “3D Printering: Induction Heating”

Hacklet 38 – 6502 Projects

The 6502 CPU is probably the most famous of all the 8-bit processors out there, whether in the form of bare chips for homebrew computers, or as slightly modified derivative chips found in everything from the C64, the NES, and the BBC Micro. For this edition of the Hacklet, we’re taking a look at all the 6502-based builds on hackaday.io.

6917521396192751941There aren’t many transistors on a 6502, making it perfect for implementing on an FPGA. [Michael A. Morris] has an Arduino FPGA shield, and his soft-6502 project is called Cameleon. There’s a bunch of SPI Flash and FRAM on board, and the 128kB of (parallel) SRAM on the board is more than enough to handle any computational task you can throw at it.

Since the Cameleon is built on programmable logic, [Michael] thought it would be a good idea to put some of those unused opcodes to use. There are instructions for coprocessor support, and a bunch of instructions specifically designed to make the Forth implementation easier.

4244551421640813832Maybe programmable logic isn’t your thing, and you’d just like a simple computer like the Ohio Scientific or the Apple I. The L-Star is for you. That’s [Jac Goudsmit]’s build featuring a 6502, a Parallax Propeller, and little else.

The Parallax Propeller is a powerful (multi-core!) chip that’s easily capable of handling video out, keyboard in, and serving up the ROM and RAM of a computer. [Jac]’s build does it all beautifully, and if you’re looking for the easiest way to run code on a 6502, this is how you do it.

6502s were found in just about everything, and while poking around at the local e-waste recycler, he stumbled upon something rather interesting. The case badges screamed, “BS medical device”, but after poking around a bit, he figured out this was an MTU-130 system, a machine that was apparently the top of the line in its day.

There’s some weird stuff going on in this machine – 18-bit addressing and 80kB of RAM. So far [Eric] has managed to dump the ROM, and he’s taking a look at the floppy controller board to see if he can figure out how it’s mapped. It’s one thing to figure out what’s broken on an Apple II or C64; those are well documented machines. It’s another thing entirely to figure out a machine very few people have heard of, and we tip our hat to [Eric] and his efforts.

4000511410347834190Here’s a build that both does and doesn’t have a 6502 in it. [BladeRunner]’s SheMachine is a single board computer that has a 65c816 in it. The ‘816 is an interesting beast that operates as a standard 6502 until a bit is flipped in one of its registers. After that, it has a 24-bit address space for addressing 16 Megabytes of memory, 16-bit registers, but is still completely backwards compatible with the 6502. Yes, it does have weird interleaved address pins, but we can only imagine what the world would be like if this chip came out a few years earlier…

[BladeRunner] is designing the SheMachine with 1MB of SRAM – more than enough, really – and is mapping all the memory through a CPLD. That’s how you should do it, anyway.

Hackaday Retro Edition: A New Commodore 64 Case

Some time in the 80s, the plastic injection molds for the Commodore 64C, the Commodore 128, and the Plus/4 were shipped from somewhere in Asia to the great Commodore Mother Brain in West Chester, Pennsylvania. These molds had already produced a million or two cases, but there were some issues with production – too much waste, or something like that. A mechanical engineer took a look at the molds, sent out some recommendations, and moved the 2500 pound molds to a corner of the building.

For some time after a gray day in April, 1994 these molds sat in a West Chester, Pennsylvania warehouse until they were sold off. They made their way to a plastics manufacturer around Dallas, Texas where they sat for twenty years. All things must pass, sometimes several times, and this plastics manufacturer closed down, contacted an auctioneer, and began to sell off some of their equipment.

The hero of our story, [Dallas Moore], owns a small business, buying and selling everything from Barbie dolls to antiques. He found an ad for an auction at a plastics manufacturing plant in the newspaper, and figuring he could find something interesting, headed out to the auction preview.

The auctioneer at this liquidation sale asked [Dallas] what he did, and mentioned there was something pretty cool tucked away in a warehouse full of hardened steel molds. Something about molds for old computers. These were the molds for the Commodore 64C, Commodore 128, and the Commodore Plus/4. A literal crucible of computing history, stacked on a pallet and up for sale.

The auctioneer said one of his friends was interested in the molds, and thought they would make a neat coffee table. Something about this struck [Dallas] the wrong way and for the entire drive home he thought about someone taking history and turning it in to a piece of furniture. He decided to buy these molds and lugged the three 2500 pound pieces of hardened steel to his shop. Not wanting to let a good piece of history go to waste, he contacted another plastics manufacturer, planned a run of a thousand or so Commodore 64C cases in red, white, and blue. [Dallas] is funding the whole production run through Kickstarter.

To me, this is one of the greatest retrocomputing successes in recent memory. There will always be someone putting SD cards in old computers, getting them on the Internet (and especially pointed towards our retro edition), and cloning complete systems in FPGAs. This, though, is a clear example of someone recognizing the historical importance of several thousand pounds of steel, realizing there’s a market out there, and doing the leg work to remanufacture these pieces of history.

I put in my $45 for a red one, and I tipped off [Bil Herd], designer of the C128 and Plus/4, to this Kickstarter. He’s been talking with [Dallas], there I’m sure he’ll chime in on the comments with some retellings of Commodore battle stories.

If it arrives in time, I’ll be bringing my limited-edition red 64C case to the Vintage Computer Festival in Wall, NJ April 17-19. That’s a plug for the event. If you’re in the area, you should come.

EDIT: [Dallas] has a different story of where the molds came from.