Crypto Features: They’re Not For Girls

If you have worked in an office that contained a typewriter, the chances are you’ve been in the workplace for several decades. Such has been the inexorable advance of workplace computing. It’s a surprise then to discover that one of the desirable toys from many decades ago, the Barbie Typewriter, is still available. Are hipster parents buying toy versions of vintage office machinery for their children to use in an ironic fashion?

Gone though are the plastic versions of mechanical typewriters that would have been the property of a 1970s child. The modern Barbie typist has an electronic typewriter at her fingertips, with a daisy-wheel printer. We’re treated to a teardown of the recent models courtesy of Crypto Museum, who reveal a hidden feature, Barbie’s typewriter can encrypt and decrypt messages.

Now the fact that a child’s toy boasts a set of simple substitution cyphers is hardly the kind of thing that will set the pulses of Hackaday readers racing, after all simple letter frequency analysis is hardly new. But of course, the Crypto Museum angle is only part of this story.

This toy is made in a suitably eye-watering shade of pink, and sold by Mattel with Barbie branding. But it didn’t start life as a Barbie product, instead it’s licensed from the Slovenian manufacturer Mehano. The original toy makes no secret of the crypto functions, but though they persist in the software on the Barbie version they are mysteriously absent from the documentation. The achievements of American women are such that they have given us high-level languages and compilers, or their software has placed men on the Moon, yet it seems when they are young a brush with elementary cryptology is beyond them in the way that it isn’t for their Slovenian sisters. This is no way to nurture a future Grace Hopper or Margaret Hamilton, though sadly if your daughter is a Lisa Simpson this is just one of many dumbed-down products she’ll be offered.

If you see a Barbie electronic typewriter in a yard sale or similar, and you can pick it up for a few dollars, buy it. It’s got a simple daisywheel printer mechanism that looks eminently hackable. Just don’t buy it for your daughter without also printing out the Crypto Museum page for her as the missing manual.

When the Martian lander running her code has touched down safely, you’ll be glad you did.

Via Adafruit.

Power Wheels Rescued, Restored and Enhanced

It seems power wheels are like LEGO — they’re handed down from generation to generation.  [Nicolas] received his brand-new Peg-Perego Montana power wheels in 1997 as a Christmas present. After sitting in a barn for a decade, and even being involved in a flood, it was time to give it to his godchildren, though not without some restoration and added features. His webpages have a very good write-up, just shy of including schematics, but you’ll find an abbreviated version below.

Continue reading “Power Wheels Rescued, Restored and Enhanced”

Alexa Brings Back Singing Fish, This Time It’s A Good Thing

Remember Big Mouth Billy Bass? That’s the singing fish with which you could torture family members by having it endlessly perform a rendition of either “Take Me to the River” or “Don’t Worry Be Happy”.

Now [Brian Kane], a teacher at the Rhode Island School of Design, has connected Amazon’s Alexa to the fish. Speak the “wake word”, “Alexa”, and the fish’s head turns to face you. Then ask it any question you’d normally ask Alexa and Alexa’s voice answers while the fish opens and closes its mouth in time to the words. Want to know the weather? Ask the fish, which you can see [Brian] do in the video below.

[Brian] hasn’t given details on how he’s done it but he’s likely made use of the Alexa Skills Kit, an SDK from Amazon that let’s you use the Alexa voice recognition and speech service with your own hardware (wetware, aquaware?), just as Amazon does with their home assistant, Echo .

Continue reading “Alexa Brings Back Singing Fish, This Time It’s A Good Thing”

Turning Broken Toy Into Laser Target Practice

[Mathieu] wrote in with his laser target practice game. It’s not the most amazing hack in the history of hackery, but it’s an excellent example of the type of simple and fun things you can do with just a little bit of microcontrollering.

Flasergun8irst off, the gun is a broken toy gun that used to shoot something other than red collimated light beams. The Arduino knockoff inside reacts to a trigger pull and fires the laser for around 200 milliseconds. The gun also has a “gas gauge” that fills up with repeated shots and cools down over time. And therein lies the game — a simple race to ten, where each player only has a fixed number of shots over time.

The targets are simply a light sensor, scorekeeping LED display, and a buzzer that builds tension by beeping at you as the countdown timer ticks down. The bodies are made out of 3D-printed corners that connect some of [Mathieu]’s excess wooden goat-cheese lids.

All the code is up on GitHub so you can make your own with stuff that you’ve got lying around the house. The “gun” can be anything that you can embed a laser in that makes it aimable. Good clean fun!

When LEGO Flies

Building your own drone is a common enough pursuit among Hackaday readers. There are quite a few LEGO enthusiasts around, too. A company named Flybrix wants to marry those two pursuits and is offering a kit that allows you to build your drone out of LEGO bricks.

The company isn’t affiliated with LEGO. The kits look like they have some pretty common motors and control hardware. There are a few custom pieces, but the real key appears to be a LEGO compatible mount for the motors. You can see a video about the kit, below.

Continue reading “When LEGO Flies”

Air-Powered Top Only Possible on a 3D Printer

One of the major reasons anyone would turn to a 3D printer, even if they have access to a machine shop, is that there are some shapes that are not possible to make with conventional “subtractive manufacturing” techniques. There are a few more obvious reasons a lot of us use 3D printers over conventional machining such as size and cost, but there’s another major reason that 3D printers are becoming more and more ubiquitous. [Crumbnumber1] at Make Anything’s 3D Printing Channel shows us how powerful 3D printers are at iterative design with his air-powered tops. They incorporate fan blades that allow you to spin the top up to very high speeds by blowing air down onto it.

Iterative design is the ability to rapidly make prototypes that build and improve upon the previous prototype, until you’re left with something that does the job you need. Even with a machine shop at your disposal, it can be expensive to set up all of the tooling for a part, only to find out that the part needs a change and the tooling you have won’t work anymore. This is where 3D printers can step in. Besides all of their other advantages, they’re great for rapid prototyping. [Crumbnumber1] made a box full of tops and was able to test many different designs before settling on one that performed above and beyond everything that came before it.

The video below is definitely worth checking out. The design process is well documented and serves as a great model for anyone looking to up their rapid prototyping game.

Continue reading “Air-Powered Top Only Possible on a 3D Printer”

RC Car Piloting with the Blast Shield Down

Many of us have had a radio controlled car at some time in our youth, though it’s probable that none all of us entirely mastered it. There are memories of spectacular crashes, and if we were really unlucky, further boosts to Mr. Tamiya’s bank balance as fresh parts had to be fitted.

[Paul Yan] was watching his young son with a radio controlled toy, and was struck by how the two-joystick control layout is not necessarily as intuitive as it could be. By contrast when faced with a console game with first-person view and a steering wheel the boy had no problem dropping straight into play. This observation led him to investigate bringing a console steering wheel to an RC car, and the result is a rather impressive FPV immersive driving experience.

Paul's FPV car, explained.
Paul’s FPV car, explained.

His build took a PS2 steering wheel peripheral with pedals and mated it to an Arduino Uno via a PS2 shield. The Uno talks to a Nordic NRF24L01 RF module, which communicates with another NRF24L01 on the car. This in turn talks to a car-mounted Arduino Micro, which controls the car servos and speed controller.

FPV video is provided by a miniature camera and transmitter from the world of multirotor flying which is mounted on the car and transmits its pictures over 5GHz to a set of monitor goggles. Sadly he does not appear to have posted any of the software involved, though we doubt there is anything too challenging should you wish to try it for yourselves.

The video below shows the car in action, complete with an over-enthusiastic acceleration and crash from his young son. He tells us it’s a similar experience to playing a racing kart game in the real world, and having seen the video we wish we could have a go.

Continue reading “RC Car Piloting with the Blast Shield Down”