Sometimes words just have to be spelled for others. I’ve been on phone conversations where the person on the other end is spelling for me and it’s painful. “Was that a ‘b’ or a ‘p’?” Sometimes they’ll try on the fly to use words with the beginning letter trying to convey the letter: “B as in boy”. Then they’ll get stumped mumbling while they think desperately for ‘k’ words… ‘ketchup’. Okay, but is that really ketchup or catsup? Now think how much easier spelling is on a phone than over a poor quality radio channel. What we say, and how we say it is the key to our brain’s ability to error correct human speech. It’s a solved problem that was built into radio etiquette long ago.
The ability to inexpensively but accurately measure distance between an autonomous vehicle or robot and nearby objects is a challenging problem for hackers. Knowing the distance is key to obstacle avoidance. Running into something with a small robot may be a trivial problem but could be deadly with a big one like an autonomous vehicle.
My interest in distance measurement for obstacle avoidance stems from my entry in the 2013 NASA Sample Return Robot (SRR) Competition. I used a web camera for vision processing and attempted various visual techniques for making measurements, without a lot of success. At the competition, two entrants used scanning lidars which piqued my interest in them.
The eternal and everlasting TI-86 graphing calculator is a great calculator: first made back in 1997, and still used by students today. But its battery life kinda sucks. So [Dalius] decided to bring his TI-86 into the 21st century.
If you’re not familiar, the TI-86 runs off of 4 AAA batteries, preferably alkaline. If you use rechargeable NiMH they don’t last very long since they have a lower voltage per cell, which means it ends up draining even faster to a voltage level the TI-86 cannot operate at.
One of our favorite purveyors of electronics knowledge is at it again. This time, [Afroman] explains how frequency modulation works while building up a short-range FM transmitter on a board he has available at OSH Park.
The design is based on a MAX2606 voltage-controlled oscillator (VCO) chip that can do 70-150MHz. [Afroman] sets it up to oscillate at about 100MHz using a 390nH inductor. He also put a potentiometer voltage divider on the 2606’s tuning pin. Voltage changes issued through the pot alter the transmitting frequency in small increments, making it easy to dial in a suitable channel for your broadcast. Add an electret mic and about a meter’s worth of solid-core wire and you have yourself an FM transmitter that is good for around 20 meters.
There are plenty of ways to build a small FM transmitter that allow for some experimentation and don’t involve placing SMD components. We covered a build last summer that uses a couple of 3904s and rides a 9V connector salvaged from a dead battery. The downside is that transistor-based transmitters tend to be less frequency-stable than a VCO chip.
Remember that old buzz wire game? Kinda like Operation, where you have to do a dexterous task without touching the walls… Well here’s a fun twist on it — what if you throw a 4 million volt stun gun into the mix?
That’s right, [Mike] was given a taser flashlight, and he had this brilliant idea to make a game out of it. The game features three metal wire sections which get progressively harder, with higher risk too! Using the handle, you have to guide an eye-bolt along the wire sections. But be careful — the circuit is live, and if you touch the metal, you’re going to get quite the shock!
In terms of implausible stand-up comedy, [Darsha]’s “20 Oscillators in 20 Minutes” is pretty far out there. First of all, she’s sitting down, with googly eyes on her multimeter, and five breadboards and a mess of 9V batteries laid out in front of her. “Has anybody built electronics before? Has anybody built electronics in front of this many people before? Yeah, so you’d better f**king be nice.” And she’s off!
“Square waves are really good for your speakers.” And a few seconds later, a lub-dub beat-frequency oscillator filled the hall. And then there’s the stand-up clichés: “Anyone in the audience from Norway?!” And “Anyone know what chip I’m using here?” (The 555.) A heckler, or participant, shouts up “What are you doing?” She responds “Building this!” and shows a sketch of the basic layout.
She baits the audience — “Do you want to ask me about duty cycles?” — and tells stories: “And then one time the solder fell in my lap and burned through my crappy jeggings. Who knows what jeggings are? Whooo!!” All the while the clicking gets louder and more complicated.
Then there’s the suspense. “11 minutes left? Shit, I dunno if I’m going to make it this time!” She’s visibly panicked. A question: “How do you protect the outputs from overvoltage?” “I don’t. (pause, laughter) I use some filter caps and just, well, hope that you guys have good insurance.”
Nearing the home stretch, there’s this quasi-rhythmic ticking and pulsing slowly building up in the background. She plugs in another capacitor, and the crowd spontaneously applauds. A little bit later, she shouts “Is it loud enough?” over the din and turns it down. At the end, the timing’s getting really tight, and she calls up someone to help from the audience.
We won’t spoil it, naturally. You’ll just have to watch it run to the end. We laughed, we cried. It was better than Schroedinger’s cats.
(We’d use hex inverters.)
I ordered a Raspberry Pi Zero from Adafruit in their Startup Pack right after they were released. There are a few Greater Than Zero Pis (GTZPi) already on my workbench so my purchase was driven by curiosity, not necessity. With no rush on delivery it eventually got here, and I finally got around to looking at it. My experience with the Pi family began with the Pi B+ and, shortly after that, the Pi 2. The speed difference between them was noticeable so I decided to dive in and further test the performance of the Zero.