Life on Contract: Hacking your Taxes

You’re a contractor and people are paying you to work in your pajamas. It’s a life of luxury, but when tax time comes, you are in a world of hurt and you wonder why you even do it. Taxes are tricky, but there are some tools you can use to make it less painful on your pocketbook. With planning and diligence, you can significantly increase the amount of money that stays in your bank account. Continue reading “Life on Contract: Hacking your Taxes”

Learn a Language, One Moment at a Time

There’s a lot of times in an average day when you’ll find yourself waiting. Waiting for your morning brew at the cafe, or for an email to show up — it’s often just a few minutes, many times a day. It’s far too short a time to get any real work done, but it adds up at the end of the week.

Enter WaitSuite, a language learning tool developed by MIT’s CSAIL. It’s a language learning tool, which aims to teach users words in a foreign language in these “micromoments” — the short periods of time spent waiting each day. The trick to WaitSuite here is in its ultralightweight design which integrates into other tasks and software on your computer and smartphone. Rather then having to launch a separate app, which takes time and effort, WaitSuite hovers in the background, ready to go when it detects a short period of wait time. Examples given are hitting refresh in Gmail, or waiting for a connection to a WiFi network.

The team behind the project calls this concept wait-learning; you can read the paper here. If you’d like to try it out, use the Chrome extension called WaitChatter. It quizzes you while you’re waiting on a response in GChat. We’d love to see the rest of the WaitSuite released publicly soon.

It’s a tidy piece of software that’s great for those looking for an alternative to compulsively refreshing social media while loitering. It probably won’t help you learn French overnight, but it could be a useful way to pick up some extra vocab without having to carve more time out of your schedule.

We don’t see a whole lot of language learning hacks here, but you might like to check out Adafruit’s take on the Babel Fish.

Ask Hackaday: Is Owning A 3D Printer Worth It?

3D printers are the single best example of what Open Hardware can be. They’re useful for prototyping, building jigs for other tools, and Lulzbot has proven desktop 3D printers can be used in industrial production. We endorse 3D printing as a viable tool as a matter of course around here, but that doesn’t mean we think every house should have a 3D printer.

Back when Bre was on Colbert and manufacturing was the next thing to be ‘disrupted’, the value proposition of 3D printing was this: everyone would want a 3D printer at home because you could print plastic trinkets. Look, a low-poly Bulbasaur. I made a T-rex skull. The front page of /r/3Dprinting. Needless to say, the average consumer doesn’t need to spend hundreds of dollars to make their own plastic baubles when WalMart and Target exist.

The value proposition of a 3D printer is an open question, but now there is some evidence a 3D printer provides a return on its investment. In a paper published this week, [Joshua Pearce] and an undergraduate at Michigan Tech found a 3D printer pays for itself within six months and can see an almost 1,000% return on investment within five years. Read on as I investigate this dubious claim.

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Finding a Lost Tooth With Science!

Sometimes the hack is a masterwork of circuit design, crafting, 3D printing and programming. Other times, the hack is knowing which tool is right for the job, even when the job isn’t your regular, run-of-the-mill, job. [John]’s son lost his tooth on their gravel driveway, so [John] set out to find it.

socks-fluoresce-under-uv-light-640x480
White socks fluoresce under UV

When [John] set out to help his son and find the tooth, he needed a plan of attack – there was a large area to cover and, when [John] looked over the expanse of gravel the terms “needle” and “haystack” came to mind. Just scanning the ground wasn’t going to work, he needed a way to differentiate the tooth from the background. Luckily, he had a UV flashlight handy and, after testing it on his own teeth, realized that his son’s tooth would fluoresce under UV light and the gravel wouldn’t.

Off [John] went at night to find the tooth with his flashlight. He soon realized that many things fluoresce under UV light – bits of plastic, quartz crystal in the rocks, his socks. [John] eventually found the tooth, and his son is happier now. No soldering was involved, no development on breadboards, no high-voltage, but this is one of those hacks that is more about problem solving than throwing microcontrollers at a situation. In the end, though, everyone’s happy, and that’s what counts.

Program Your Brain, Hack Your Way to Productivity

Most people wish they were more productive. Some buckle down and leverage some rare facet of their personality to force the work out. Some of them talk with friends. Some go on vision quests. There are lots of methods for lots of types of people. Most hackers, I’ve noticed, look for a datasheet. An engineer’s reference. We want to solve the problem like we solve technical problems.

It's got the cover equivalent of click-bait, but the centimeter thick bibliography listing research sources at the back won me over.
It’s got the cover equivalent of click-bait, but the centimeter thick bibliography listing research sources at the back won me over.

There were three books that gave me the first hints at how to look objectively at my brain and start to hack on it a little. These were The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, Flow By Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and Getting Things Done By David Allen.

I sort of wandered into these books in a haphazard path. The first I encountered was The Power of Habit which I found to be a bit of a revelation. It presented the idea of habits as functions in the great computer program that makes up a person. The brain sees that you’re doing a task over and over again and just learns to do it. It keeps optimizing and optimizing this program over time. All a person needs to do is trigger the habit loop and then it will run.

For example: Typing. At first you either take a course or, if your parents left you alone with a computer for hours on end, hunt-and-peck your way to a decent typing speed. It involves a lot of looking down at the keyboard. Eventually you notice that you don’t actually need to look at the keyboard at all. Depending on your stage you may still be “t-h-i-n-k-i-n-g”, mentally placing each letter as you type. However, eventually your brain begins to abstract this away until it has stored, somewhere, a combination of hand movements for every single word or key combination you typically use. It’s only when you have to spell a new word that you fall back on older programs.

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Too Good To Throw Away: Dealing with an Out-Of-Control Junk Hoard

There it was, after twenty minutes of turning the place over, looking through assorted storage boxes. A Thinwire Ethernet network. About the smallest possible Thinwire Ethernet network as it happens, a crimped BNC lead about 100mm long and capped at each end by a T-piece and a 50 ohm terminator. I’d been looking for a BNC T-piece on which to hook up another terminator to a piece of test equipment, and I’d found two of them.

As I hooked up the test I wanted to run I found myself considering the absurdity of the situation. I last worked somewhere with a Thinwire network in the mid 1990s, and fortunately I am likely to never see another one in my life. If you’ve never encountered Thinwire, be thankful. A single piece of co-ax connecting all computers on the network, on which the tiniest fault causes all to fail.

So why had I held on to all the parts to make one, albeit the smallest possible variant? Some kind of memento, to remind me of the Good Old Days of running round an office with a cable tester perhaps? Or was I just returning to my past as a hoarder, like a Tolkienic dragon perched atop a mountain of electronic junk, and not the good kind of junk?

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Custom Keyboard Makes the Case for Concrete

One of the worst things about your average modern keyboards is that they have a tendency to slide around on the desk. And why wouldn’t they? They’re just membrane keyboards encased in cheap, thin plastic. Good for portability, bad for actually typing once you get wherever you’re going.

When [ipee9932cd] last built a keyboard, finding the right case was crucial. And it never happened. [ipee9932cd] did what any of us would do and made a custom case out of the heaviest, most widely available casting material: concrete.

To start, [ipee9932cd] made a form out of melamine and poured 12 pounds of concrete over a foam rectangle that represents the keyboard. The edges of the form were caulked so that the case edges would come out round. Here’s the super clever part: adding a couple of LEGO blocks to make space for the USB cable and reset switch. After the concrete cured, it was sanded up to 20,000 grit and sealed to keep out sweat and Mountain Dew Code Red. We can’t imagine that it’s very comfortable to use, but it does look to be cool on the wrists. Check out the gallery after the break.

Concrete is quite the versatile building material. We’ve seen many applications for it from the turntable to the coffee table to the lathe.

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