Hack Your Brain: the McCollough Effect

There is a fascinating brain reaction known as the McCollough Effect which is like side-loading malicious code through your eyeballs. Although this looks and smells like an optical illusion, the science would argue otherwise. What Celeste McCollough observed in 1965 can be described as a contingent aftereffect although we refer to this as “The McCollough Effect” due to McCollough being the first to recognize this phenomena. It’s something that can’t be unseen… sometimes affecting your vision for months!

I am not suggesting that you experience the McCollough Effect yourself. We’ll look at the phenomena of the McCollough Effect, and it can be understood without subjecting yourself to it. If you must experience the McCollough Effect you do so at your own risk (here it is presented as a video). But read on to understand what is happening before you take the plunge.

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Your Fingers Will Never Leave Your Hands with This Firecracker Launcher

Who doesn’t like to ring in the New Year with explosives? But speaking from personal experience – I can neither confirm not deny nearly blowing my hand off once with a small dry-ice grenade – a hands-off way to launch your fireworks can be a plus, in which case you might want to check out this automatic firecracker launcher.

[Valentin]’s build has all the earmarks of an inspired afternoon of hasty hacking. Mostly built of wood and hot glue, there’s a feed ramp for fresh ammo and an elastic-powered sled on a ramp. Fireworks are metered onto the sled with one turn of a small gear motor, the fuse is light by a butane torch, and another gear motor pulls the sled back and launches the firecracker. The launch is somewhat anemic – perhaps some stouter rubber bands or latex tubing would provide a little more oomph. But it’s still a fun build with plenty of potential for improvement – perhaps something along the lines of this automated beer catapult?
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This Project Will Be Stolen Again

The Travelling Hacker Box is the physical implementation of the hackaday.io community. While most of what happens on hackaday.io happens online, sometimes the activities leak out to the real world. One such activity is a box, filled with random electronics stuff, shipped around to different members of the hackaday.io community.

hackerboxIt’s a great idea in theory. In practice, people are bastards. The first Travelling Hacker Box was stolen by a member of the hackaday.io community. After travelling 14,167 miles through Philadelphia, San Francisco, Boston, Seattle, New York, Boston again, and the middle of Texas, the first travelling Hacker Box met its fate along the Georgia border, two hours outside of Atlanta. Who is responsible? We’re not going to talk about him. He knows who he is and what he did.

All is not lost, even though hundreds of dollars in electronic doo dads are. There’s a new Travelling Hacker Box already on its way around the US. It’s slowly being filled up with goodies, and has already visited Wyoming and upstate New York, and is currently somewhere around Anchorage, AK. The latest update shows this box is filled with goodies including a mini CRT assembly from an old camcorder, stepper motor drivers, and other weird electronics paraphernalia.

The travels of the current Travelling Hacker Box
The travels of the current Travelling Hacker Box

The current plan for the Travelling Hacker Box is the same as the old box: put 25,000 miles on the odometer while taking advantage of the economics of a USPS flat-rate box. From there, it will go further afield, travelling the circumference of the Earth a second time, hitting stops in Europe, Africa, Asia, India, Australia, and South America. If you’re a subcontractor for Raytheon, part of the NY Air National Guard, or are otherwise able to receive mail in Antarctica, you are encouraged to email me.

Feel like you’re up for adding a few hundred miles to the Travelling Hacker Box? There’s no set process to get on the list; destinations are chosen by distance from the current node, trustworthiness, and distance to the next node, if planned. The best way to get on the list is to click the ‘Request to join this project’ link on the Travelling Hacker Box project. Then, hang out in the Hacker Box chatroom, and you might have a chance at receiving a magical box of random electronics.

EZ-Spin Motor Spins “Forever”

Now this isn’t a perpetual motion machine, but it’s darn close. What [lasersaber] has done instead is to make the EZ Spin, an incredibly efficient motor that does nothing. Well, nothing except look cool, and influence tons of people to re-build their own versions of it and post them on YouTube.

The motor itself is ridiculously simple: it’s essentially a brushless DC motor with a unique winding pattern. A number of coils — anywhere from six to twenty-four — are wired together with alternating polarity. If one coil is a magnetized north, its two neighbors are magnetized south, and vice-versa. The rotor is a ring with permanent magnets, all arranged so that they have the same polarity. A capacitor is used for the power source, and a reed switch serves as a simplistic commutator, if that’s even the right term.

As the motor turns, a permanent magnet passes by the reed switch and it makes the circuit. All of the electromagnets, which are wound in series, fire and kick the rotor forwards. Then the reed switch opens and the rotor coasts on to the next position. When it gets there the reed switch closes and it gets a magnetic kick again.

The catch? Building the device so that it’s carefully balanced and running on really good (sapphire) bearings, entirely unloaded, and powered with high impedance coils, leads to a current consumption in the microamps. As with most motors, when you spin it by hand, it acts as a generator, giving you a simple way to charge up the capacitor that drives it. In his video [lasersaber] blows on the rotor through a straw to charge up the capacitor, and then lets it run back down. It should run for quite a while on just one spin-up.

The EZ Spin motor is absolutely, positively not perpetual motion or “over-unity” or any of that mumbo-jumbo. It is a cool, simple-to-build generator/motor project that’ll definitely impress your friends and challenge you to see how long you can get it running. Check out [lasersaber]’s website, this forum post, and a 3D model on Thingiverse if you want to make your own.

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Shark with Frickin’ LED Tells People not to Bother you

Everybody is busy these days, but sometimes it’s hard to tell. What with teleconferences being conducted over tiny Bluetooth headphones and Skype meetings where we seem to be dozing in front of the monitor, we’ve lost some of the visual cues that used to advertise our availability. So why not help your colleagues to know when to give you space with this shark themed WiFi-enabled meeting light?

Why a shark and not a mutated intemperate sea bass? Only [falldeaf] can answer that. But the particulars of the build are well-documented and pretty straightforward. A Photon runs the show, looking for an Outlook VFB file to parse. An RGB LED is used to change the color of the translucent 3D printed shark based on whether you’re in a meeting, about to step into one, or free. The case is 3D printed as well, although [falldeaf] farmed the prints out to a commercial printing outfit because of the size and intricacy of the parts. He did fabricate a nice looking wood base for the light, though.

There are plenty of ways to tell people to buzz off, but this is a pretty slick solution. For those in open floor plan workspaces, something like this IoT traffic light for you and your cube-mates might be in order.

Portable, DIY Radiography

[Matt] has a background in radiation, electronics, and physics, which means building a device to generate X-rays was only a matter of time. It’s something not everyone should attempt, and [Matt] discourages anyone from attempting anything like this, but if you’re looking for a project with a ‘because it’s there’ flair to it, building your own X-ray machine can be a fun and rewarding project.

Despite being scary and mysterious, X-rays are a rather old technology that date back to some of the first purposeful experiments in electronics. Most X-ray devices today are built around the same parts they were 100 years ago, namely, a Coolidge tube. Apply a high enough voltage to the Coolidge tube and electrons whizz from cathode to anode, and slam into a heavy metal target. This produces Bremsstrahlung radiation – breakingbraking X-rays – that can be directed to film or an X-ray intensifier screen that fluoresces in visible light when being struck by X-rays.

Aside from a cheap Coolidge tube, [Matt] constructed the rest of his X-ray generator with a voltage multiplier made out of sufficiently derated Chinese caps, a flyback transformer, and a transformer driver originally made for induction heating applications. The electronics were installed in a Tupperware container and insulated with mineral oil.

Being able to generate X-rays is one thing, viewing them is another matter entirely. For this, [Matt] is using an old X-ray intensifier screen from the 60s or 70s. This screen fluoresces blue, not the easiest color to photograph in low-light settings, but enough to capture images of the inside of tools sitting around his workbench. Following in the footsteps of [Roentgen], [Matt] also took an X-ray image of his hand. This is something he doesn’t recommend, and something he won’t do again, but it is a very cool example of what you can do with sufficient knowledge and respect for what can kill you.

Magic Mirror on the Wall, “Is Pi or ESP, Fairest of All?”

“What’s the weather like, honey?” “I don’t know. Let me check the mirror.”  The mirror?

Both [Dylan Pierce] and [Dani Eichorn] have mirror projects that display the weather. They took two different approaches which makes for an interesting comparison. [Dylan] uses a Rapsberry Pi with an actual monitor behind the mirror. [Dani] puts an OLED behind the mirror driven by a ESP8266.  It appears there is more than one way to hack a mirror, or anything, which is what makes hacking fun.

[Dani] started with a picture frame, adding tinting film to the glass so it would reflect. A small section of tint was removed to allow the OLED to be seen. The ESP8266 software connects to the Weather Underground to get the latest information.

The Raspberry Pi version by [Dylan] puts a 27″ monitor behind the mirror. That is either terribly impressive or way over the top but seeing Linux boot behind the mirror makes it worth the effort. The Pi generates a web page which makes this adaptable as a general purpose kiosk.

A video of [Dani’s] mirror in operation, after the break.

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