Scribble and the Failings of Tech Journalism

The Scribble Pen, you may remember, is a project by bay area startup Scribble Technology that puts a color sensor and multiple ink reservoirs in a pen. We’ve talked about it before, right after they cancelled their Kickstarter campaign after netting 366% of their original goal.

Yes, they cancelled their campaign after being successfully funded. To Kickstarter’s credit, the Scribble team was asked to provide a better video of the pen demonstrating its capabilities. The team pulled the plug on the campaign, saying they’ll be back soon.

Here is the new campaign. The attentive reader will notice the new campaign is not a Kickstarter project; instead, it is a Tilt campaign. What is Tilt? It’s a platform that allows for crowdfunding, fundraising, pooling, and other ‘many wallets into one’ Internet-based projects. It’s actually not a bad idea if you’re raising funds for a charity or the Jamaican bobsled team. For crowdfunded product development, caveat emptor doesn’t quite cover it.

With more than $200,000 in the bank, you would think the questions asked in many comments on the old Kickstarter would be answered. They were. Scribble put up a new video showing the pen drawing different colors of ink on a piece of paper. This video was faked. [Ch00f] at Drop Kicker took apart the new video frame by frame and found these – ahem – scribbles were inserted in post production. The video has since been replaced on the Tilt campaign page, but evidence of Scribble deleting comments questioning this exists.

Any idea of the Scribble pen being real has been put to bed. Kickstarter threatened to remove the campaign if a better video could not be produced within 24 hours. The Scribble team cancelled their campaign to regroup and put together a better video. In two weeks, the team was only able to produce a faked video. The Scribble pen does not exist.

Case closed, you might think. Digging into videos frame by frame will tell you a lot, but it won’t give you the full picture. We know what happened with the Scribble pen, but very little about the who, why, and how this huge, glaringly obvious fraud occurred. Before we get to that, hold on to your hats – it only gets shadier from here on out.

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Goliath And The Rough Road To Space

No one said the road to The Hackaday Prize would be easy. Many of us have been following [Peter McCloud] as he vies for the Hackaday Prize with Goliath – A Gas Powered Quadcopter. [Peter] literally hit a snag on Monday: his own belts.

Peter had hoped to be performing tied down hover tests by Monday afternoon. Weather and a set of fouled spark plugs conspired against him though. After fighting with engine issues for the better part of a day, [Peter's] 30 horsepower Briggs & Stratton engine finally roared to life. Then all hell broke loose.

[Peter] only let the engine run a couple of seconds before cutting the ignition. In his own words, “Things were running good until the engine was shutoff. At this point one of the belt started losing tension.”

goliath-1While the tight new engine was quickly losing RPM, the propeller and belt system still had quite a bit of inertia. As the video after the break shows, the belts started flapping and caught on the propeller blades. The front right prop tip caught the double-sided toothed belt, pulling it up and over the propeller. The other end of that same belt lives on the right rear prop. It too caught a propeller blade, snapping the composite blade clean off its hub. The bent steel pulley axles are a testament to the forces at work when things went wrong.

[Peter] isn’t giving up though. He has a plan to add belt guides and a one way bearing to the engine’s crankshaft. The one way bearing will allow the rotor system to overspeed the engine when throttle is reduced. The same bearings are commonly used on R/C helicopters to facilitate autorotation landings.

We want to see all 50 Hackaday Prize semifinalists succeed, so if you have any ideas to help with the rebuild, head over to Goliath’s Hackaday.io page and let [Peter] know!

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30 Years later TED finds his voice: A Commodore Story Part I

MOS SID Chip
MOS SID Chip Sound Interface Device

In the before-time (I’m talking about the 1980’s here), when home computers were considered to be consumer items, there was the Commodore C64. The C64 derived its vast array of superpowers from two Integrated Circuits (IC) named VIC and SID standing for Video Interface Chip and Sound Interface Device. Chip names were part of our culture back them, from VIC up to Fat AGNES in the end.

We spoke about VIC and SID as if they were people or distant relatives, sometimes cantankerous or prone to sudden outburst, but there was always an underlying respect for the chips and the engineers who made them. VIC and SID together made one of the world’s best video and sound experiences; movement and noise, musical notes and aliens.

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Sparkfun Ships 2000 MicroViews Without Bootloaders

microview-fail

Everyone has a bad day right? Monday was a particularly bad day for the folks at Sparkfun. Customer support tickets started piling up, leading to the discovery that they had shipped out as many as 1,934 MicroViews without bootloaders.

MicroView is the tiny OLED enabled, Arduino based, microcontroller system which had a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign earlier this year. [Marcus Schappi], the project creator, partnered up with SparkFun to get the MicroViews manufactured and shipped out to backers. This wasn’t a decision made on a whim, Sparkfun had proven themselves by fulfilling over 11,000 Makey Makey boards to backers of that campaign.

Rather than downplay the issue, Sparkfun CEO [Nathan Seidle] has taken to the company blog to explain what happened, how it happened, and what they’re going to do to make it right for their customers. This positions them as the subject of our Fail of the Week column where we commiserate instead of criticize.

First things first, anyone who receives an affected MicroView is getting a second working unit shipped out by the beginning of November. Furthermore, the bootloaderless units can be brought to life relatively easily. [Nate] provided a hex file with the correct bootloader. Anyone with an Atmel AVR In-System Programming (ISP) programmer and a steady hand can bring their MicroView to life. Several users have already done just that. The bootloader only has to be flashed via ISP once. After that, the MicroView will communicate via USB to a host PC. Sparkfun will publish a full tutorial in a few weeks.

Click past the break to read the rest of the story.

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The Remaining Hours Are More than Enough to Get in the Game

thp-time-leftWhether you’re just finding out now or are a procrastination ninja, it is not too late to give yourself a shot at winning that trip to space. The Hackaday Prize is really just getting started. At 11:50pm Wednesday night ( that’s PDT on 8/20/14, or 06:50 GMT on Aug 21) we close the entry window and the build phases will begin. That’s right, you don’t actually need to have any hardware done, you only need to document your idea and how you’re going to get there.

Close your eyes and assemble your vision of a connected device. Now open them and start typing. You need to share your overall idea and how you’re going to get there. Draw out a basic system design, and film a video of 2 minutes or less that explains it all. Think this sounds like a lot? You’re wrong… I did it in only a few minutes.

When will you have such a great opportunity to win something awesome and secure the adoration of the hacking masses? Enter now and have no regrets!

Build an Efficient Inverter, Win a Million Dollars

Little Box Challenge

Google and the IEEE are giving away a million dollar prize to an individual or team, that can build the most efficient and compact DC to AC inverter. The goal is to design and build a 2kW inverter with a power density greater than 50W per cubic inch. To put that in perspective, conventional solar string inverters have power densities around 0.5-3W per cubic Inch, and microinverters around 5W per cubic Inch. So in other words, an order of magnitude more efficient than what we have now.

For the challenge, the inverter needs to convert 450VDC, with a 10 ohm series resistor simulating a solar array, to 240VAC @ 60Hz. Testing will consist of powering various resistive, inductive and capacitive loads ranging from 0-2kVA. The inverter is expected to regulate voltage within 5%, and frequency within 0.05%, while keeping the enclosure below 60 degrees C, and conforming to FCC Part 15 B (Unintentional radiators).

If you and/or your team can figure out the most efficient topology, switching frequency, novel use of high power wide bandgap (WBG) semiconductors, physically reduce the size of the input and output filters, and keep the whole thing running cool. Then get registered before the September 30, 2014 deadline. Inverters need to be functional and the results of this test procedure (PDF warning) sent in before July 22, 2015, then 18 finalists will be chosen to bring their inverters in person to a testing facility in the United States by October 21, 2015. The grand prize winner will be announced sometime in January, 2016

[Thanks for the tip Dmytro]

This Arduino power inverter would need a serious upgrade to enter. And speaking of entering challenges, it’s still not too late to enter our very own Hackaday Prize!

Parallax Propeller 1 Goes Open Source

OpenPropellerProjectOpenSourceProp1Banner

Parallax has embraced open source hardware by releasing the source code to its Propeller 1 processor (P8X32A). Designed by [Chip Gracey] and released in 2006, the 32-bit octal core Propeller has built up a loyal fan base. Many of those fans have created development tools for the Propeller, from libraries to language ports. [Ken, Chip], and the entire Parallax team have decided to pay it forward by releasing the entire source to the Propeller.

The source code is in Verilog and released under GNU General Public License v3.0. Parallax has done much more than drop 8-year-old files out in the wild.  All the configuration files necessary to implement the design on an Altera Cyclone IV using either of two different target boards have also been included. The DE0-Nano is the low-cost option. The Altera DE2-115 dev board is more expensive, but it also can run the upcoming Propeller 2 design.

The release also includes sources for the mask ROM used for booting, running cogs, and the SPIN interpreter. [Chip] originally released this code in  2008. The files contain references to PNut, the Propeller’s original code name.

We’re excited to see Parallax taking this step, and can’t wait to see what sort of modifications the community comes up with. Not an Altera fan? No problem – just grab the source code, your favorite FPGA tools, and go for it! Starved for memory? Just add some more. 8 cogs not enough? Bump it up to 16.  The only limits are the your imagination and the resources of your target device.

Interested in hacking on a real Propeller? If you’re in Las Vegas, you’re in luck. A Propeller is included on each of the nearly 14,000 badges going to DEFCON 22 attendees. While you’re there, keep an eye out for Mike and The Hackaday Hat!