A few years ago, Philip Peter started a little pet project. He wanted to build his own processor. This really isn’t out of the ordinary – every few months you’ll find someone with a new project to build a CPU out of relays, logic chips, or bare transistors. Philip is a software developer, though, and while the techniques and theory of building hardware haven’t changed much in decades, software development has made leaps and bounds in just the past few years. He’s on a quest to build a CPU out of discrete components.
Search the Internet for some tips and tricks for schematic capture programs like KiCad and Eagle, and you’ll find some terrible design choices. If you want more than one copy of a very specific circuit on your board, you have to copy and paste. Circuit simulation is completely separate from schematic capture and PCB design, and unit testing – making sure the circuit you designed does what it’s supposed to do – is a completely foreign concept. Schematic capture and EDA suites are decades behind the curve compared to even the most minimal software IDE. That’s where Philip comes in. By his own admission, he reinvented VHDL badly, but he does have a few ideas that are worth listening to.
Kristina Kapanova is a PhD student at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. Her research is taking her to simulations of quantum effects in semiconductor devices, but this field of study requires a supercomputer for billions of calculations. The college had a proper supercomputer, and was getting a new one, but for a while, Kristina and her fellow ramen-eating colleagues were without a big box of computing. To solve this problem, Kristina built her own supercomputer from off-the-shelf ARM boards.
Chris Gammell is a guy that should need no introduction around these parts. He’s a co-host on The Amp Hour, and the guy behind Contextual Electronics, a fabulous introduction to electronics and one of the best ways to learn KiCad. If you want to talk about the pedagogy of electronics, this is the guy you want.
Chris’ talk at the Hackaday | Belgrade conference was on just that – the pedagogy of electronics. Generally, there are two ways to learn how to blink an LED. The first, the bottom-up model taught in every university, is to first learn Ohm’s law, resistance, current, voltage, solve hundreds of resistor network problems, and eventually get around to the ‘electrons and holes’ description of a semiconductor. The simplest semiconductor is a diode, and sometime in the sophomore or junior year, the student will successfully blink a LED.
The second, top-down method is much simpler. Just wire up a battery, resistor, switch, and LED to a breadboard. This is the top-down model of electronics design; you don’t need to know everything to get it to work. You don’t need to do it with a 555, and you certainly don’t have to derive Maxwell’s equations to make something glow. Chris is a big proponent of the top-down model of learning, and his Belgrade talk is all about the virtues of not knowing everything.
A few months ago, MobilECG wowed us with a formidable electrocardiograph (ECG, also EKG) machine in the format of a business card, complete with an OLED display. We’ve seen business card hacks before, but that was the coolest. But that’s peanuts compared with the serious project that it supports: making an open-source ECG machine that can actually save lives by being affordable enough to be where it’s needed, when it’s needed.
The project, MobilECG, is an open-source, wearable device that supports all of the major ECG modes. In their talk, [Péter Isza] and [Róbert Csordás] taught us a lot about what that exactly entails and how the heart works. We learned a lot, and we’ll share some of that with you after the break.
I recently had the chance to visit Belgrade and take part in the Hackaday | Belgrade conference. Whenever I travel, I like to make some extra field trips to explore the area. This Serbian trip included a tour of electronics manufacturing, some excellent museums, and a startup that is weaving FPGAs into servers and PCIe cards.
Hackaday’s own mythical beast, Sophi Kravitz makes some amazing collaborative tech-art pieces. In this talk, she walks us through four of the art projects that she’s been working on lately, and gives us a glimpse behind the scenes into the technical side of what it takes to see an installation from idea, to prototype, and onto completion.
Watch Sophi’s talk from the Hackaday | Belgrade conference and then join us after the jump for a few more details.
One of my favorite conversation from Saturday’s Hackaday | Belgrade conference was about border crossing. This guy was saying the border station coming into Serbia needed a separate lane with the Skull and Wrenches on the digital sign since it was obvious the two cars in front of them were also packed with people coming to the con (and all the custom hardware that travels with the Hackaday crowd). The thought of caravans full of hardware hackers were on their way to this epic gathering.
We packed the place, selling at least 50 tickets past our limit in the last few weeks to people who just wanted to get in and didn’t mind not being able to get their hands on one of the sweet badges. I recall meeting people who came from Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Slovenia, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, USA, Germany, France, UK, and of course Serbia. If you were there and I missed your country let us know in the comments.
Obviously the main event is the incredible slate of talks that happen at our conferences. We had great presenters at last November’s SuperConference — our first every conference — so we’re delighted to say that our second was just as good. (We anticipate a third this fall.) Hackaday is so thankful for all of the speakers who donated their time and talent to share their knowledge and experience with our worldwide community.
Among my favorites were Seb Lee-Delisle’s talk on his many huge laser and projection mapping installations, Mike Harrison’s drilldown of the absolutely stunning engineering that went into Eidophor projector systems, Dejan Ristanovic’s fascinating talk about the on-again off-again history of Internet in Serbia, Sophi Kravitz’s collaborative work with polarizing materials, and Voja Antonic’s talk on the many trials of designing the conference badge which cleared out the world’s stock of more than one type of Kingbrite LED modules. If you missed the live stream of these talks don’t worry, we recorded all of them. It will take a bit of time to edit and post them so keep your eyes on the front page.