Why You Should Build a Clock for Social Good this Week

We’ve seen a wide range of emotional responses regarding [Ahmed Mohamed]’s arrest this week for bringing a clock he built to school. No matter where you fall on the political scale, we can all agree that mistaking a hobby engineering project for a bomb is a problem for education. People just don’t understand that mere mortals can, and do, build electronics. We can change that, but we need your help.

Our friends at NYC Resistor came up with a great idea. Why don’t we all build a clock? I want you to take it one step further: find a non-hacker to partner with on the project. Grab a friend, relative, or acquaintance and ask them to join you in building a clock from stuff you have on hand in order to promote STEM education.

Clocks have long been one of my favorite projects, and like the one shown above, most of my builds didn’t look anything like traditional clocks. Once you start getting into how clocks are built, you’ll be amazed at how accurate dirt-cheap clocks are and how difficult it can be to replicate that accuracy. Pass this knowledge on to your teammates. Teach them how to solder, or how to draw a schematic, or just how to open the case on some electronics without fear.

Post your project on hackaday.io and we’ll add it to the Clocks for Social Good list (message me with the link). If you decide to document it elsewhere just leave a link in the comments below. We’ll post a roundup of all these builds next week. I plan to repurpose the soldering workshop board I populated last week as the display for my clock. I’ll be helping a friend of mine learn to solder as part of the build!

Happy hacking, and thanks for helping to dispel fear and teach others about awesome engineering.

Need some inspiration to get going? You can always chat with others about it in the Hacker Channel. If you have an Arduino and some LED strips you can do something like this. Here’s a binary clock built with just a few LEDs. Or if you have a laser cutter at your disposal you can make a unique display with just a pair of motors.

BlocksCAD is Browser-Based 3D Modeling that Teaches You CAD

Considering all of the projects the Raspberry Pi is used for now, the fact that it was originally envisioned to be an educational tool is sometimes forgotten. One of the tools commonly available with it is Scratch, a programming language that is easy to learn and can be seen as a gateway into other computer science realms. Building on this principle, MIT has come up with a new block-based educational tool called BlocksCAD.

BlocksCAD is essentially Scratch combined with OpenSCAD and allows the user to use blocks (similar to Scratch) to build a 3D model. The interface is fairly intuitive, and with some practice even complex shapes can be created using the tools available. Also, everything runs in a browser like the 3D modeling tool we featured a few days ago, so there isn’t anything to download or install.

The key to this project (like the key to Scratch) is that the user isn’t bogged down by syntax, which is often one of the largest hurdles for anyone who is just starting to learn to program. Since it’s possible to avoid syntax but still develop 3D models, this new tool should help anyone interested in the field of 3D modeling or CAD get a start without getting scared away too easily. Of course, if you do end up deep in the field of computer science and want to learn more about this project, the developers have opened up the source code as well.

Thanks for the tip, [Matt]!

Kids and Hacking: Blind Robotics

If you are a Hackaday reader, it is a good bet that when you were a kid there was some adult who infected you with the madness you have for science, engineering, tinkering, or whatever it is that brings you here. Maybe it was a parent or a teacher. For many of us, it was a local ham radio operator. But it was probably someone who had the passion for this kind of thing and you caught it.

Paying that debt forward can be very rewarding. Schools and youth organizations are always looking for people to share their passions with kids and at the right age and the right school, you could be that one push that moves a kid off a bad path.

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Learning From Transparent Microchips

Microchips and integrated circuits are usually treated as black boxes; a signal goes in, and a signal goes out, and everything between those two events can be predicted and accurately modeled from a datasheet. Of course, the reality is much more complex, as any picture of a decapped IC will tell you.

[Jim Conner] got his hands on a set of four ‘teaching’ microchips made by Motorola in 1992 that elucidates the complexities of integrated circuitry perfectly: instead of being clad in opaque epoxy, these chips are encased in transparent plastic.

The four transparent chips are beautiful works of engineering art, with the chip carriers, the bond wires, and the tiny square of silicon all visible to the naked eye. The educational set covers everything from resistors, n-channel and p-channel MOSFETS, diodes, and a ring oscillator circuit.

[Jim] has the chips and the datasheets, but doesn’t have the teaching materials and lab books that also came as a kit. In lieu of proper pedagogical technique, [Jim] ended up doing what any of us would: looking at it with a microscope and poking it with a multimeter and oscilloscope.

While the video below only goes over the first chip packed full of resistors, there are some interesting tidbits. One of the last experiments for this chip includes a hall effect sensor, in this case just a large, square resistor with multiple contacts around the perimeter. When a magnetic field is applied, some of the electrons are deflected, and with a careful experimental setup this magnetic field can be detected on an oscilloscope.

[Jim]’s video is a wonderful introduction to the black box of integrated circuits, but the existence of clear ICs leaves us wondering why these aren’t being made now. It’s too much to ask for Motorola to do a new run of these extremely educational chips, but why these chips are relegated to a closet in an engineering lab or the rare eBay auction is anyone’s guess.

Childhood Tech Exposure Is Slowly Killing The Keyboard

I see the disturbing trend of moving away from keyboards as input devices — and I’m talking about a real, physical keyboard. This isn’t a matter of one decision that kills the keyboard, but an aggregate that is slowly changing the landscape. If you blink, you’ll miss it. We will not find ourselves in a world without keyboards, but in one where most of the available keyboards suck.

Rise of the Virtual Keyboard Generation

Is swipe-style keying the future of coding?
Is swipe-style keying the future of coding?

Tablets are great for screwing around, but when you want to get real work done in a reasonable amount of time, you grab a physical keyboard. In this scenario I don’t see the problem being those in the workforce going away from keyboards; it’s how the younger generations are learning to interact with technology that is troubling. The touchscreen is baby’s first computer. Families gather and the kids are handed their parent’s tablets while the grown-ups watch the game. More and more schools are outfitting classrooms with tablets, and for this I’m an advocate. Getting kids involved early in technology is imperative; knowledge evolves much more rapidly than printed textbooks. The tablet is a powerful tool in both of these areas. But most of the screen time kids get is with touchscreens and no physical keyboard.

How much time are K-12 kids spending in front of a physical keyboard? In the United States, if keyboard (typing) classes exist at all in a public school’s curriculum they’re usually only one-semester. Students who spend half of Elementary school using a tablet, and just one semester at a keyboard, are bound to prefer touchscreen-based entry over a physical keyboard.

Keyboard Erosion

We’ve already seen a strong push into touch-screens on laptops as the tablet market has grown. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Think of the computer mouse, it didn’t replace the keyboard, but augmented it and now is seen as a tool that itself is a necessity.

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Hacking Education; Project-Based Learning Trumps the Ivory Tower

Project-based learning, hackathons, and final projects for college courses are fulfilling a demand for hands-on technical learning that had previously fallen by the wayside during the internet/multi-media computer euphoria of the late 90’s. By getting back to building actual hardware yourself, Hackers are influencing the direction of education. In this post we will review some of this progress and seek your input for where we go next.

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Hackerspace Tours: Pasadena City College

Pasadena City College is putting together an amazing combination of tools, education techniques, and innovative projects pinning them on the map as one of the best hackerspaces in the Southern California area. Led by [Deborah Bird], the Director of the Design Technology Pathway at PCC, and Sandy Lee the DTP Faculty Chair, this Fab Lab provides students with cutting-edge workshops and internships that will define future jobs.

We were invited to the space by Joan Horvath, the VP of Business Development over at a local 3D printing store called Deezmaker, after meeting her at an Arduino electronics class taught by a young, talented maker named [Quin]. When we arrived, we were greeted by several students who were working on a 3D printed portable map for the blind which was created for an elementary school nearby. The team behind the design attempted to step out of the visual world and into unfamiliar unsighted territory. One of the members gave us a tour of the space showing us the tools and resources they had made available to PCC students. A variety of 3D printers, ventilators, CNC machines, laser cutters, metal lathes, and even a chainsaw were found inside.

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