Forget Troy. Try HelenOS

Even though it seems like there are a lot of operating system choices, the number narrows if you start counting kernels, instead of distributions. Sure, Windows is clearly an operating system family, and on the Unix-like side, there is Linux and BSD. But many other operating systems–Ubuntu, Fedora, Raspian–they all derive from some stock operating system. There are some outliers, though, and one of those is HelenOS. The open source OS runs on many platforms, including PCs, Raspberry PIs, Beaglebones, and many others.

Although the OS isn’t new, it is gaining more features and is now at version 0.7. You can see a video about some of the new features, below.

According to the project’s web site:

HelenOS is a portable microkernel-based multiserver operating system designed and implemented from scratch. It decomposes key operating system functionality such as file systems, networking, device drivers and graphical user interface into a collection of fine-grained user space components that interact with each other via message passing. A failure or crash of one component does not directly harm others. HelenOS is therefore flexible, modular, extensible, fault tolerant and easy to understand.

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Decoding Enigma Using A Neural Network

[Sam Greydanus] created a neural network that can encode and decode messages just as Enigma did. For those who don’t know, the Enigma machine was most famously used by the Germans during World War II to encrypt and decrypt messages. Give the neural network some encrypted text, called the ciphertext, along with the three-letter key that was used to encrypt the text, and the network predicts what the original text, or plaintext, was with around 96-97% accuracy.

The type of neural network he used was a Long Short Term Memory (LSTM ) network, a type of Recurrent Neural Network (RNN) that we talked about in our article covering many of the different types of neural networks developed over the years. RNNs are Turing-complete, meaning they can approximate any function. [Sam] noticed the irony in this, namely that Alan Turing both came up with the concept of Turing-completeness as well as played a big part in breaking the Enigma used in World War II.

How did [Sam] do it?

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InstantCAD Promises Faster Iterative Design

The design process for any product is necessarily an iterative one. Often, a prototype is modelled or built, and changes are made to overcome problems and improve the design. This can be a tedious process, and it’s one that MIT’s CSAIL has sought to speed up with InstantCAD.

The basic idea is integrating analysis tools as a plugin within already existing CAD software. A design can be created, and then parametrically modified, while the analysis updates on screen in a near-live fashion. Imagine modelling a spanner, and then dragging sliders to change things like length and width while watching the stress concentrations change in real time. The tool appears to primarily be using some sort of finite element analysis, though the paper also shows examples of analyzing fluid flows as well.

The software is impressive, however there are caveats. Like any computer analysis, serious verification work must be undertaken to ensure its validity. We suspect that there may be issues with more complex geometries that lead to inaccurate simulation. It’s not the sort of tool you’d use for anything that puts life and limb at risk, but we can see it having great uses for designing basic objects when you want to quickly gain an idea of what sort of effect certain parameter changes will have.

The other main disappointment is that while this tool looks great, it doesn’t appear to be publicly available in any form. Whether this is due to universities and complicated IP requirements or the potential for future commercialization is anyone’s guess. Regardless, you can read the conference paper here or check out the video below. Or you could read up on the applications of finite element analysis to 3D printer slicers, too.

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Neural Nets in the Browser: Why Not?

We keep seeing more and more Tensor Flow neural network projects. We also keep seeing more and more things running in the browser. You don’t have to be Mr. Spock to see this one coming. TensorFire runs neural networks in the browser and claims that WebGL allows it to run as quickly as it would on the user’s desktop computer. The main page is a demo that stylizes images, but if you want more detail you’ll probably want to visit the project page, instead. You might also enjoy the video from one of the creators, [Kevin Kwok], below.

TensorFire has two parts: a low-level language for writing massively parallel WebGL shaders that operate on 4D tensors and a high-level library for importing models from Keras or TensorFlow. The authors claim it will work on any GPU and–in some cases–will be actually faster than running native TensorFlow.

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Find Instructions Hidden In Your CPU


There was a time when owning a computer meant you probably knew most or all of the instructions it could execute. Your modern PC, though, has a lot of instructions, many of them meant for specialized operating system, encryption, or digital signal processing features.

There are known undocumented instructions in a lot of x86-class CPUs, too. What’s more, these days your x86 CPU might really be a virtual machine running on a different processor, or your CPU could have a defect or a bug. Maybe you want to run sandsifter–a program that searches for erroneous or undocumented instructions. Who knows what is lurking in your CPU?

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Edit Hex in the Browser

If you can’t stand the thought of using an application in your browser, you might as well jump ahead to the comments and start flaming.

Still with us? Imagine this scenario. You are at the office, at a client’s site, at a school, or visiting your mom. Suddenly, for some strange reason, you need to edit a hex file. We don’t know why, but if you are reading Hackaday, it isn’t that big of a stretch to imagine it. What do you do? Download and install a hex editor? Maybe you can’t. Or, if it is mom’s computer, maybe you just don’t want to. Your next option is to navigate to HexEd.it.

The application, by [Jens Duttke], uses HTML5 and JavaScript and is actually a nicely capable editor. It shows the data in hex and ASCII as you’d expect. It also shows the current cursor location in a number of formats like 8-bit integer, 32-bit integer, date and time, and more. It even shows all the representations as big endian and little endian.

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Take Control Of Your Cheap Laser Cutter

The relatively inexpensive K40 laser cutter/engraver machines from China have brought laser cutting to the masses, but they are not without their faults. Sure, they’re only powerful enough for the lightest cutting tasks, but on top of that, their bundled software is inflexible and disappointing. If your workshop or hackspace has one of these machines languishing in the corner, then the release of a new piece of software, K40 Whisperer from [Scorch], is an interesting and welcome development.

He tells us that the reverse engineering process required to understand the K40’s protocol was non-trivial, given that it does not use handy decimal numbers to issue commands. A spreadsheet was used to collate data packets and spot repeating patterns to analyse the inner workings. Feature-wise, the software reads SVG and DXF files, and can split SVGs by colour. It has a halftone algorithm for rendering grey scales, and cuts from the inside of each shape first to avoid pieces of work dropping out of the piece of material. Currently it works with the stock M2 Nano controller board and is available as a Windows download, though it can also be compiled for Linux distributions, or MacOS, and he is asking owners to test it with as many machines as possible to ensure compatibility with other boards.

He has posted a video of K40 Whisperer in action, which you can see below the break.

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