Heathkit’s Triumphant Return?

Heathkit, the storied purveyor of high-quality DIY electronics kits that inspired a generation of enthusiasts and launched the careers of many engineers, has returned from the dead. We think. At least it seems that way from this build log by [Spritle], an early adopter of the rebooted company’s first offering. But if [Spritle]’s experience is any indication, Heathkit has a long way to go to recreating its glory days. Continue reading “Heathkit’s Triumphant Return?”

Alfred P. Morgan: A Generation’s Radio Hacker

I was surfing the web looking for interesting projects the other day when I ran into [SkyKing’s] exquisite transistor demodulator radio builds. He mentioned that they were “Alfred P. Morgan-style” and that brought back a flood of memories about a man who introduced a whole generation to electronics and radio.

[Morgan] was born in 1889 and in the early part of the twentieth century, he was excited to build and fly an airplane. Apparently, there wasn’t a successful flight. However, he eventually succeeded and wrote his first book: “How to Build a 20-foot Bi-Plane Glider.” In 1910, he and a partner formed the Adams Morgan company to distribute radio construction kits. We probably wouldn’t remember [Morgan] for his airplanes, but we do recognize him for his work with radio.

By 1913, he published a book “The Boy Electrician” which covered the fundamentals of electricity and magnetism (at a time when these subjects were far more mysterious than they are today). [Morgan] predicted the hacker in the preface to the 1947 edition. After describing how a boy was frustrated that his model train automated to the point that he had nothing actually to do, [Morgan] observed:

The prime instinct of almost any boy at play is to make and to create. He will make things of such materials as he has at hand, and use the whole force of dream and fancy to create something out of nothing.

Of course, we know this applies to girls too, but [Morgan] wrote this in 1913, so you have to fill in the blanks. I think we can all identify with that sentiment, though.

Continue reading “Alfred P. Morgan: A Generation’s Radio Hacker”

Does the Internet Make You Stupid?

A recent post by [Christian Heilmann] is one of several I’ve read lately talking about how Web sites–Stack Overflow, in particular–are breeding a new kind of developer. The kind of developer that simply copies and pastes example code or schematics with no real understanding of what’s going on. His conclusion is that developers who don’t fully understand what they are doing will become disinterested and burn out. He’s talking about software developers, but I think you could extend the argument to developers of all kinds, including hardware hackers. He concluded that–at least while learning–you stick to the old ways of doing things.

I have trouble disagreeing with [Christian] on the details, but I do disagree with the conclusion. People have copied work from other sources for a very long time. We’ve all seen circuits that were clearly either torn from a datasheet or even glued together from multiple datasheet examples way before there was an Internet.

There’s two things that are slightly different today: First, everyone has easy access to lots of examples. You don’t have to go find a book (possibly at a library), search through it, and find one or two examples. A quick Google will find dozens or hundreds of examples.

The second thing that is different is that there are places exist like Stack Overflow where you don’t even have to go looking. You can simply ask, “How do I do X?” and you will get answers from someone. It might be wrong. You might not understand it. But you’ll probably get some kind of answer.

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Raspberry Pi Zero, or Minus One?

The Wall Street Journal reported that [Eric Schmidt] of Google and now Alphabet Inc, promoted the idea of an inexpensive version of the Raspberry Pi to the Raspberry Pi foundation’s [Eben Upton]. Apparently [Upton] accepted this recommendation despite existing plans to make a more expensive, more powerful version of the Pi. The outcome is the Raspberry Pi Zero that sells, in some places, for $5.00 and was given away for free on the cover of the MagPi magazine.

From the WSJ article:

“He [Schmidt] said it was very hard to compete with cheap. He made a very compelling case. It was a life-changing conversation,” Mr. Upton said, adding that he went back to the lab and scrapped all the engineering plans for more expensive versions of future Pi computers. “The idea was to make a more powerful thing at the same price, and then make a cheaper thing with the same power.”

Plans were scrapped. The more powerful Pi 2 was released at the price point of existing Pis, and now we have the Zero.

Pi’s Purpose

Foundation Mission

The Raspberry Pi Foundation is a registered educational charity in the UK. The purpose of this Foundation according to their About Us page is to, ‘advance the education of adults and children, particularly in the field of computers, computer science, and related subjects.’

Why is the Raspberry Pi Foundation so concerned about computer education? From the 1990s onward, fewer and fewer A Level students in the UK applying to study Computer Science had previous experience as hobbyist programmers. An applicant in the 2000s usually might have only done a little web design.

Why then does the Raspberry Pi Zero exist? [Upton] also told Cnet, “We really hope this is going to get those last few people in the door and involved in computer programming.”

Very good, but how well does the Zero support this goal or address their concerns?

Continue reading “Raspberry Pi Zero, or Minus One?”

Gmail One Step Closer to Human Enslavement

Apply some lessons learned in Sci-Fi literature and you’ll come to the same realization I have: Google is going to unknowingly enslave humanity to an artificial intelligence.

I read a lot of science fiction. Generally, the future of technology can be found in great novels if you read between the lines. One of my favorites in this regard is, of course, [Neal Stephenson] who writes cripplingly long books that are totally worth the read due to his brand of fact-backed forward thinking. Look back on my posts here at Hackaday and you’ll see that I frequently apply concepts from his book The Diamond Age to what we see in emerging technology.

Last year my friend [Nils] suggested I give [William Hertling] a try, specifically his Singularity Series which starts with the novel Avogadro Corp. The fictional company is the world leader in free email and data storage. Sound like someone we know? One of the research projects within the company is an email plugin called ELOPe that will parse all past communications and choose topics and phrases that have the highest probability of eliciting a positive response from the recipient. When funding for the project is threatened, the system is turned on. I’d like to avoid spoilers, but let’s just say this puts the system on a path toward enslaving society.

Google is now boasting “Machine Intelligence for You”. It’s a research project based around Gmail which is called Inbox. Inbox has been around for a while but the newly announced feature is an algorithm that reads the email for you and suggests a set of responses. Compared to Avogadro Corp this is only missing two things: the ability to respond automatically, and the directive to protect itself at all costs.

One of the things I liked best about [William Hertling’s] take on an Artificial Intelligence was the low-key nature of the entity. It wasn’t a super-high-level thinker that interacts just like a human would. It was a poor choice by one programmer that led to horrible and far-reaching unintended consequences. No, I don’t really think Google’s Inbox will enslave us. But I appreciate the irony of life imitating art.

[via PopSci]

Why Should You Get a Ham Radio License?

Several of the authors you read on Hackaday are ham radio operators and we’ve often kicked around having a Hacker Chat about “Why be a ham today?” After all, you can talk to anyone in the world over the Internet or via phone, right? What’s the draw?

The Radio Society of Great Britain had the same thought, apparently, and produced a great video to answer the question. They mention the usual things: learning about technology, learning about people in other parts of the world, disaster communications, and radiosport (which seems to be more popular outside the United States; people compete to find hidden transmitters).

In addition, they talked a lot about how hams get involved with space communications, ranging from talking via satellites, to talking to people on the space station, to actually building small satellites. As the narrator says, there are “hundreds of ways to have techie fun” with ham radio.

One thing we noticed they showed but didn’t say a lot about, though, is the educational opportunities. You can learn a lot, and working with kids to help them learn is often very rewarding (and you usually learn something, too). Just to forestall the comments that this post isn’t hack related, we’ll note two things: there is a Raspberry Pi shown and just past the two-minute mark, there is a very clever hacked together Morse code key.

We talk a lot about ham radio, ranging from Arduino-based digital modes to putting together portable stations (you can see a similar one in the video, too). One other thing we noticed they don’t mention: it is generally much easier to get a license today than ever before. Most countries (including the United States) have abolished the Morse code requirements, so while some hams still enjoy CW (hamspeak for operating Morse code), it isn’t a requirement.

Video below.

Continue reading “Why Should You Get a Ham Radio License?”

Ultrasonic Power Transfer: uBeam’s Curious Engineering

The future is wireless power, or so say a thousand press releases in my spam folder, and with very few exceptions every single system of wireless power delivery has fallen flat on its face. Except for a few niche cases – RFID tags, Wacom tablets and the S Pen, and the Qi inductive power mats for cell phones – the future of wireless power hardly looks bright, and in some cases seems downright dangerous. No one seems to grasp that wireless power transfer is much more inefficient than using a wire, and the inverse square law only makes everything worse.

Now there’s a new wireless power technology that’s a strange mix of running in stealth mode and sending press releases to every tech outlet on the planet. It’s called uBeam. This company says it will deliver wireless power to the world, but it’s not doing it with giant Tesla-inspired towers of power, radios beamed directly at devices, induction, magnetic resonance, or even light. uBeam transmits power via sound, specifically high intensity ultrasound. uBeam has never demonstrated a prototype, has never released any technical specs, and even some high-profile investors that include [Mark Cuban] have not seen the uBeam working. Despite running in a ‘stealth mode’, it has garnered a lot of press, and has been featured on TechCrunch dozens of times. This may just be a consequence of CrunchFunds’s investment in uBeam, but there’s still more Google News results for a technology that hasn’t even been demonstrated than a reasonable person would expect.

In what is perhaps the greatest breakdown ever posted on the EEVForums, [georgesmith] goes over what uBeam is, how the technology doesn’t make sense, and how far you can take a business before engineers start to say, ‘put up or shut up.’ [georgesmith]’s research goes over just some of what makes uBeam impractical, but digging even further reveals how insane uBeam actually is.

Continue reading “Ultrasonic Power Transfer: uBeam’s Curious Engineering”