Contribute To Open Source On #OpenCyberMonday

Today is Cyber Monday, the day when everyone in the US goes back to work after Thanksgiving. Cyber Monday is a celebration of consumerism, and the largest online shopping day of the year. Right now, hundreds of thousands of office workers are browsing Amazon for Christmas presents, while the black sheep of the office are on LiveLeak checking out this year’s Black Friday compartment syndrome compilations.

This is the season of consumption, but there’s still time to give back. We would suggest #OpenCyberMonday, an effort to donate to your favorite Open Source foundations and projects.

It’s not necessary to explain how much we all rely on Open Source software, but it goes even further than the software powering the entire Internet. Hackaday is built on WordPress, and the WordPress Foundation is responsible for very important, very widely used Open Source software. The Wikimedia Foundation is a nonprofit dedicated to the compilation of all knowledge. The Internet Archive is a temporal panopticon, preserving our digital heritage for future generations. The Open Source Hardware Association is doing their best to drag physical objects into the realm of Open Source – a much more difficult task than simply having the idea of Copyleft.

While everyone else is busy buying Internet-connected toasters and wearable electronics, take a few minutes and give a gift everyone can enjoy. Make a donation to the Open Source initiative of your choice A list of these foundations can be found on This isn’t a comprehensive list of worthy Open Source initiatives, so if you have any other suggestions, put it out on the Twitters.

Control Anything with a Universal Wireless Remote

If you aren’t already living on the spacecraft Discovery One, you may not have HAL listening to your every voice command. If that’s the case for you, as it is for us, you may have to resort to mashing buttons on little black monoliths like a primitive monkey. [Barnr]’s universal remote project, and some black PLA filament, will get you there in no time.

2001_obeliskThe remote is based on a nRF24 radios with a PIC to read the button presses. A Raspberry Pi and another nRF24 are listening on the other end. The code that runs either side of the connection is so minimal that both sides fit in the project description. It gets the job done, and it’s easily hackable. And with that, [barnr] can control anything that he can connect up to the Pi without getting up from his campfire.

While [barnr] is shy about his 3D design skills, we think that the box is fantastic. It’s got 3D-printed keycaps for the tactile switches that sit inside, and it’s an easily printed case. Maybe it’s a little blocky and, frankly monolithic, but it gets the job done. Aesthetics are for version 2.0.

When you build something yourself, and it’s not a HAL 9000, you pretty much need a way to control it. It’s no wonder we’ve seen so many projects on Hackaday. If your 2.4 GHz spectrum is too crowded to run a nRF24 remote, you might consider infrared: tiny, tiny, infrared. Or if you want to see the craziest remote that we’ve ever seen, check out this DTMF-over-cellphone build. But if you just want something sweet and minimal that gets the job done, [barnr]’s build is for you.

Thanks [Mikejand] for the tip!

Neural Network Keeps it Light

Neural networks ought to be very appealing to hackers. You can easily implement them in hardware or software and relatively simple networks can perform powerful functions. As the jobs we ask of neural networks get more complex, the networks require more artificial neurons. That’s why researchers are pursuing dense integrated neuron chips that could do for neural networks what integrated circuits did for conventional computers.

Researchers at Princeton have announced the first photonic neural network. We recently talked about how artificial neurons work in conventional hardware and software. The artificial neurons look for inputs to reach a threshold which causes them to “fire” and trigger inputs to other neurons.

To map this function to an optical device, the researchers created tiny circular waveguides in a silicon substrate. Light circulates in the waveguide and, when released, modulates the output of a laser. Each waveguide works with a specific wavelength of light. This allows multiple “inputs” (in the form of different wavelengths) to sum together to modulate the laser.

The team used a 49-node network to model a differential equation. The photonic system was nearly 2,000 times faster than other techniques. You can read the actual paper online if you are interested in more details.

There’s been a lot of work done lately on both neural networks and optical computing. Perhaps this fusion will advance both arts.

Heathkit: Getting Closer This Time?

We’ve been following the Heathkit reboot for a while now, and it looks like the storied brand is finally getting a little closer to its glory days. I was thumbing through the new issue of QST magazine while I was listening in on a teleconference for the day job – hey, a guy can multitask, can’t he? – when I spied an ad for the Heathkit GC-1006 digital clock, which they brand the “Most Reliable Clock”. As soon as the meeting was over, I headed over to the Heathkit website to check out this latest offering.

I had cautiously high hopes. After the ridiculous, feature-poor, no-solder AM radio kit (although they sensibly followed up with a solder version of that kit) and an overpriced 2-meter ham antenna, I figured there was nowhere for Heathkit to go but up. And the fact that the new kit was a clock was encouraging. I have fond memories of Heathkit clocks from the 80s when I worked in a public service dispatch center; Heathkit clocks were about the only clocks you could get that would display 24-hour time. Could this actually be a kit worth building?

Alas, the advertisement was another one of those wall-of-text things that the new Heathkit seems so enamored of. And like the previous two kits offered, the ad copy is full of superlatives and cutesy little phrases that really turn me off. Then again, most advertising turns me off, so I’m probably not a good gauge of such things. Nor am I sure I’m in the target demographic for this product – in fact, I’m not even sure to whom this product is being marketed. Is it the younger crowd of the maker movement? Or is it the old-timers who want to relive the glory days of Heathkit builds? Given the $100 price, I’d have to say the nostalgia market is the most likely buyer of this one.

To be fair, $100 might not be that much to spend on a decent clock. I’m a bit of a clock snob, and I’ve gotten to the point where I can almost tell which chip is in a clock just by looking at the controls. The feature set of a modern digital clock has converged to a point where every clock has almost exactly the same deficiencies. The GC-1006 claims to address a few of my hot button issues, like not being able to set the time to the exact second – I hate that! An auto-dimming display is nice, as is a 12- or 24-hour display, a 10-minute timer (nice for hams, who are required to ID their station every 10 minutes), and a battery backup that claims to last for 4 weeks.

Is this worth buying? At this point, I’m on the fence. Looking at an unboxing video, it appears to be a high-quality kit, and it would be fun to build. But spending $100 on a clock might be a tough sell to my loan officer.

Still, I think I might take one for the team here so we have a first-hand report of what the new Heathkit is all about. And it would be nice to build another Heathkit product. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Continue reading “Heathkit: Getting Closer This Time?”

The Raspberry Pi 2 Gets A Processor Upgrade

A rumor that has been swirling around the Raspberry Pi hardware community for a significant time has proven to have a basis in fact. The Raspberry Pi 2 has lost its BCM2836 32-bit processor, and gained the 64-bit BCM2837 processor from its newer sibling, the Raspberry Pi 3. It seems this switch was made weeks ago without any fanfare on the release of the Pi 2 V1.2 board revision, so we are among many news sources that were caught on the hop.

The new board is not quite a Pi 3 masquerading as a Pi 2 though. The more capable processor is clocked at a sedate 900MHz as opposed to the Pi 3’s 1.2GHz and there is no Bluetooth or WiFi on board, but the new revision will of course benefit from the extra onboard cache and the 64-bit cores.

This move almost certainly has its roots in saving the cost of BCM2836 production in the face of falling Pi 2 sales after the launch of the Pi 3. It makes sense for the Foundation to keep the Pi 2 in their range though as the board has found a home in many embedded products for which the Pi 3’s wireless capabilities and extra power consumption are not an asset.

Avid collectors of Pi boards will no doubt be running to add this one to their displays, but given that the Pi 2 sells for the same price as a Pi 3 we suspect that most Hackaday readers will go for the faster board. It is still a development worth knowing about though, should you require a faster Pi that is a little less power-hungry. The full specification for the revised board can be found on the Raspberry Pi web site.

The Pi has come a long way since the morning in 2012 when our community brought down the RS and Farnell websites trying to buy one of the first models. This BCM2837 board joins a BCM2837-powered Compute Module as well as the Pi 3. It’s worth reminding you though that there are other players to consider, earlier this year we brought you a look at the Odroid C2, and of course the infamous Apple Device.

Pi 2 header image: Multicherry [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Editorial Note: We originally covered this in Sunday’s Links article but thought it warranted another, expanded mention.

Enlightened Raspberry Pi Contest Winners

The Enlightened Raspberry Pi Contest wrapped up last week. As soon as the contest closed, Hackaday’s crack team of judges jumped on the case. Every entrant was carefully reviewed.  This was no easy feat! The field of 168 projects included both new concepts and old favorites. All of them were designed, built and documented with care. After all the votes were counted, 8 finalists rose to the top and were sent to [Matt Richadrson], [Ken Shirriff], and [Alvaro Prieto], our VIP judges, for the final ranking.

Each and every project creator deserves recognition for not only building an awesome project, but documenting it on so others can build, modify, and enjoy their own versions. Without further ado, here are the winners of the Enlightened Raspberry Pi Contest!

Continue reading “Enlightened Raspberry Pi Contest Winners”

Grace Hopper, Margaret Hamilton, Richard Garwin Named for Medal of Freedom

Somewhat hidden among athletes, actors, and musicians, three giants of technology have been aptly named as 2016 Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients. Grace Hopper, Margaret Hamilton, and Richard Garwin all made significant contributions to the technology that envelops our lives and embody the quest for knowledge and life-long self learning that we’d like to see in everyone.

Commodore Grace M. Hopper, USN (covered).

Rear Admiral Grace Hopper’s legacy lies with the origins of computer science. She wrote the first compiler. In a time when computers were seen more as calculating machines than easily adaptable frameworks she looked to the future and made it happen. She continued to make huge contributions with lasting effect in developing COBOL, unit testing methods for programmers, and in education. We have long loved her explanation of a nanosecond (and why software engineers shouldn’t waste cycles) and was one of the first to program on the Harvard Mark I which can still be seen in the lobby of the school’s engineering building.

margaret_hamilton_1995As Director of Apollo Flight Computer Programming, Margaret Hamilton is the driving force behind the software of Apollo. When the program started, she was Director of Software Engineering at MIT Instrumentation Laboratory. Originally there wasn’t a plan or budget for software in the space program. Hamilton built the program and led the team who wrote the software and turned it into punch cards to be fed into the computer. We enjoyed reading about some of her adventures during the Apollo project, her drive to develop pristine code is palpable. Over the past year we’ve marveled at the rope memory of the Apollo Guidance Computer and delighted when a hardcopy of AGC software showed up at a party. Her legacy at having written the code for the first portable computer — one that happened to land on the moon and return home safely — is incredible.

richardgarwin1980Physicist Richard Garwin’s name is most associated with the first hydrogen bomb design. But another part of his work is more likely to have directly touched your life: his research into spin-echo magnetic resonance helped lead to the development of Magnetic Resonance Imaging. MRIs have of course become a fundamental tool in medicine. Garwin studied under Fermi during his doctoral work — you may remember Fermi from our look at the Fermiac analog computer last year.

Congratulations to these three recipients, their recognition is incredibly well deserved. We’d love to hear about some of your own technology heroes. Let us know on the tips line so that we may help celebrate their accomplishment and inspire the next generation of giants.

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