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Retrotechtacular: We’re Gonna Have Manual Transmissions the Way My Old Man Told Me!

archimedesSimple machines are wonderful in their own right and serve as the cornerstones of many technological advances. This is certainly true for the humble lever and the role it plays in manual transmissions as evidenced in this week’s Retrotechtacular installment, the Chevrolet Motor Company’s 1936 film, “Spinning Levers”.

This educational gem happens to be a Jam Handy production. For you MST3K fans out there, he’s the guy behind shorts like Hired! from the episodes Bride of the Monster and the inimitable Manos: The Hands of Fate. Hilarity aside, “Spinning Levers” is a remarkably educational nine-ish minutes of slickly produced film that explains, well, how a manual transmission works. More specifically, it explains the 3-speed-plus-reverse transmissions of the early automobile era.

It begins with a nod to Archimedes’ assertion that a lever can move the world, explaining that the longer the lever, the better the magic. In a slightly different configuration, a lever can become a crank or even a double crank. Continuous motion of a lever or series of levers affords the most power for the least work, and this is illustrated with some top-drawer stop motion animation of two meshing paddle wheels.

gearsNext, we are shown how engine power is transferred to the rear wheels: it travels from a gear on the engine shaft to a gear on the drive shaft through gears on the countershaft. At low speeds, we let the smallest gear on the countershaft turn the largest gear on the drive shaft. When the engine is turning 90 RPM, the rear wheel turns at 30 RPM. At high speeds using high gears, the power goes directly from the engine shaft to the drive shaft and the RPM on both is equal. The film goes on to explain how the gearbox handles reverse, and the vast improvements to transmission life made possible through synchromesh gearing.

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Cold War Clock is all Tubes

A clock built from tubes

 

Clocks are great projects to build. They serve a real purpose, and there’s a wide variety of ways to implement a unique timepiece. [Hank]‘s Cold War Clock only uses parts and technologies that were available in 1959. It contains no semiconductors, but has an audible alarm and reasonable time accuracy.

Looking through the hand drafted schematics, you’ll find a number of Dekatron tubes. These vintage components are used as registers to store and count the time. [Hank] found some cheap Soviet Dekatrons, but had to machine his own sockets to connect them. These tubes do the counting, but the actual display consists of nixies.

A cost estimate puts this clock at $2130 in 1959, which equates to $17040 today. Clearly this would be outside the price range of most hobbyists. The actual build cost [Hank] around $1600.

There’s some intricate details in this build. The front panel has an authentic look to it, and the manual has instructions for “demolition of clock to prevent enemy use.” [Hank] calls it a “creative anachronism.” In a sense, it’s a reproduction of a product that never actually existed.

A video of this clock in action, including the Cold War era alarm, is after the break.

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Hey There Little Plant. Let’s Be Friends!

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Perhaps, you’re circle of friends is getting too small. Or maybe, you just want to communicate with the leafy, green beings that have rooted themselves in the soil inside your house. If so, this environmental monitoring system will be perfect for you!

Created by [Dickson], this project monitors soil moisture, air temperature, and air humidity of your indoor plants and will alert you via email and SMS when your plants are thirsty. No longer will your sprouts shrivel up in the sun, but rather, they will be well-hydrated ready to produce their veggie goodness.

The system is battery operated, wireless, Arduino and Raspberry Pi based and comes with an Android app, which in turn allows you to view real-time and historical data, thus giving you the option to check in on your crew of Chlorophyll-embedded friends.

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Let’s look at the sensors which are at work on the project.

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Monster 100W LED Flashlight Produces a Whopping 8500lm!

100W LED Flashlight

[Yannick] got a hold of a 100W LED diode recently, and like any self-respecting hacker, he just had to turn it into a ridiculously over powered flash light.

The tricky thing about these diodes is that they need a high amount of DC voltage, anywhere from 32-48V typically. [Yannick's] using a 12V sealed lead acid battery coupled with a 600W constant current boost converter which ups it to 32V at around 3.2A. He also managed to find a giant aluminum heat-sink to keep the diode from getting too hot. A 120mm fan helps to keep the heat sink nice and cool, which allows the light to be run constantly without fear of burning it out. But just in case he also has an Arduino monitoring the temperatures — oh and it provides PWM control to adjust the brightness of the light!

To focus the flashlight he bought a proper lens and reflector which can be mounted directly to the diode. At full power the LED puts out around 8500lm, which is brighter than almost all consumer projectors available — or even the high beams of a car!

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What Could You Do With 7 Fingers?

7 finger robotic glove

A strange thought yes, but MIT researchers think an extra two digits could really make a difference in many people’s lives. And as it turns out, having an extra robotic grasp allows you to do quite a few things single handed.

The extra two fingers provide three degrees of freedom each, and are mounted off the user’s wrist. A series of position recording sensors attached to the glove provide feedback to the system in order to control the fingers naturally, just by using your hand normally.

They taught the algorithm that controls the fingers by trying to pick up different (large) items using the hand and manually positioning the fingers. What they discovered is almost every grasp could be demonstrated as a combination of only 2-3 grip patterns.  [Read more...]

EFF Launches Open Router Firmware

Open Wireless Movement logo

The Electronic Frontier Foundation have released an alpha of their own Open Wireless Router Firmware as part of the Open Wireless Movement. This project aims to make it easier to share your wireless network with others, while maintaining security and prioritization of traffic.

We’ve seen a lot of hacks based on alternative router firmware, such as this standalone web radio. The EFF have based their router firmware off of CeroWRT, one of the many open source firmware options out there. At this time, the firmware package only targets the Netgear WNDR3800.

Many routers out there have guest modes, but they are quite limited and often have serious vulnerabilities. If you’re interested in sharing your wireless network, this firmware will help out by letting you share a specified amount of bandwidth. It also aims to have a secure web interface, and secure auto-update using Tor.

The EFF has announced this “pre-alpha hacker release” as a call for hackers who want to join in the fun. Development is happening over on Github, where you’ll find all of the source and issues.

HOPE X: Citizens Band Microwave Spectrum And Free Internet For All

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The bulk of HOPE X was the talks, but arguably the far more interesting aspect of thousands of hackers and tinkerers under one roof is talking to everyone about what they’re doing. One guy hanging out at HOPE gave a quick lightning talk to a few people about something very interesting: something the FCC is pushing through that’s open to just about everything: it’s the FCC’s new CB radio service (you’ll want to click the presentation link at the very top of the page), giving anyone, not just people with a radio license, access to a huge swath of microwave spectrum.

The short version of the talk was the fact the FCC is extremely interested in opening up 100 to 200 MHz of spectrum at 3.5 GHz. The idea is to create something like cellular service that can either be implemented by companies, or normal, everyday people. The initial goal of this is to provide -possibly- free Internet to anyone with the right USB dongle. Since it’s just radio, and open to everyone, just about anything can be implemented.

This is something the FCC, Google, Microsoft, and a whole bunch of startups are extremely interested in, and the fact that about half of the spectrum will be open to anyone creates some interesting opportunities. A community-based freenet of wireless Internet links becomes an easy solution, and since the hardware to access 3.5 GHz is similar to other hardware that’s already available means building your own wireless ISP could be relatively easy in 12 to 18 months.

A transcript of the lightning talk is available below.

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