Fail of the Week: Capturing Data from a Laser Rangefinder

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We’re changing it up this week with a reverse engineering fail which [Itay] pointed out to us. A couple of years ago [Nate] over at Sparkfun agreed to help a friend with a project that required precise distance measurement. He knew that laser rangefinders are a good way to go and mentions their use in golfing and the building trades. He picked up this handheld version billed as a laser tape measure. He put up a valiant effort to reverse engineer the PCB in hopes of finding a hook for the measurement data.

Obviously his endeavor failed or we wouldn’t be talking about it in this column. But there’s a lot to learn about his methods, and a few of the comments associated with his original post help to shed light on a couple of extra things to try.

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Have you failed hard enough to be on Hackaday?

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There’s so much more to be discovered when your projects just don’t want to work. Grinding out the bugs, getting past roadblocks, and discovering gotchas is where real hacking know-how comes from. But most people aren’t motivated to document their failures. We want to change that.

We want to roll out a new weekly feature that showcases failure… well documented failure. But we need YOU to give up the goods. Write about your failed experience on your blog, post it to our project forums with [FAIL] in the title, or you can just write everything in an email and send it to us. Which ever way you choose, you’ll need to tip us off that you’d like to make it to the front page (come on, it’s not bragging since it didn’t even work!). If you already know of well documented project fails send in those links too even if they’re not your projects.

Make sure you include at least one descriptive image — snapshots, diagrams, schematics, screencaps, anything that tells the story is fair game. To show you what we’re after here’s a few of our favorite failed projects:

We’d like to point out that all of these projects are interesting ideas that show off missteps along the way. We will not be trashing on your skills as a hacker, but instead celebrating the lessons learned and hearlding the sharing of ideas from otherwise doomed projects.

Ask Hackaday: Hacking lingo fails

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Ah, CSI. What other television show could present digital forensics with such two-bit dialogue?

It’s time once again to put on your hacker hats – a red fedora, we guess – and tell us the worst hacker dialogue you’ve seen in movies or TV. We’ve seen a ton of shows and movies where writers and directors spend zero time doing any sort of research in whatever technology they’d like to show off in the story they’re trying to convey. Usually this results in lines like, “I’ll create a GUI interface using Visual Basic. See if I can track an IP address.” It’s technobabble at its best, and horribly misinformed at its worst.

We’re wondering what you, the readers of Hackaday, think are the worst examples of hacker lingo fails. Anything from, ‘Enhance!’ to the frightening real-life quote, “the Internet is not a big truck. It’s a series of tubes.”

We’ll compile your suggestions in a later post, but I’m betting something from Star Trek: Voyager will make the #1 technobabble/hacking lingo fails. There’s just too much in that show that isn’t internally consistent and doesn’t pay any heed to the laws of (fictional) physics. Warp 10, I’m looking at you. Of course there was the wonderful Habbo reference in last week’s Doctor Who, but I’m betting that was intentional as [Moffat] seems pretty up to speed on the tropes and memes of the Interwebs.

About a month ago, we asked you for your take on the worst hacking scenes ever shown on TV or film. The results made for good viewing, albeit with a surprising absence of Lawnmower Man. Now we want some dialogue to go with these horrendous hacking scenes. So, what say you, Hackaday? What are the worst hacking lingo fails you’ve seen or heard? Please be specific about what movie/TV show you’re referencing. Last time some good stuff probably slipped by because people just said a few words without context assuming we’d know exactly what they were referring to.

Ask Hackaday: What movies have the best/worst hacking scenes

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It’s time to do your best impression of [Comic Book Guy] as you make your case for trash or triumph in big screen hacking scenes. We watch a lot of movies, and it’s hard not to groan when the filmmakers cut corners by doing zero research into what using a computer actually looks like. But then once in a great while you have a team that does its due diligence and puts up a scene that makes sense to those of us in the know. So we’re wondering, what movies do you think have the best hacking scenes, and which ones are the worst offenders? Leave your opinion on the topic in the comments section.

We realize that you can come up with tons of poorly done ones, what we would really like to hear about is who did it right. We’ll get you started with a couple of examples. The image on the upper left is a scene from Tron: Legacy which we think did a fantastic job of portraying actual computer usage. You can read more about the huge amount of work that went into it in this article (via Reddit).

In the lower right is one of the most shady movies scenes that comes to mind. [Hugh Jackman] is compelled to do some ‘hacking’ by [John Travolta] in the movie Swordfish. The caption at the top of the screen is “COMPILER”, and who the heck knows what the rest of that is supposed to be?

On the hardware hacking side, it gets a little more difficult, we would LOVE some examples of hardware hacks or mods done right.

How NOT to make ground-hugging fog

Poor [Todd Harrison] spent all of Saturday and Sunday trying to make some ground-hugging fog for his Halloween decor. His fog machine hack turned out to be an utter failure. But he admits it and reports that he still had a lot of fun. Don’t feel bad [Todd], this happens to everyone from time to time. And anyone that has doubts about [Todd’s] skills need not look very far to find out that he does know what he’s doing.

The project started off with a theater-style fog machine. The problem is that this fills a room with a thin foggy-haze that doesn’t take shape outdoors. He wanted that ankle-deep graveyard effect and had seen several examples online that use a fog-machine with a bucked of dry ice. He though he’d just use his own bucket full of regular ice and salt water. Inside the bucket seen above there is a 15′ coil of copper tubing through which the fog machine’s output is passed. On the other side of the bucket there’s a plastic tube that goes to a sheet of plastic meant to distribute the cooled fog.

The problem here is that the fog machine puts out a hot mist. When it hits the ice bath the mist condenses into liquid form and that’s the end of the fog. As he attests in the video after the break, the dry-ice fog hack isn’t pumping out fog. It’s just using the heated steam to pump out carbon-dioxide vapor boiling off of the dry ice.

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Robotic Schadenfreude – quadrotor blooper reel

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While quadrotors might just become the killing machines of choice some time in the future, we’re pretty sure it will be awhile before they run amok and wipe humans off the face of the planet, if the following video is any indication.

The team over at UPenn’s GRASP Lab film everything they do when it comes to quadrotors for posterity’s sake. When your awesome job consists of directing quadrotors through all sorts of acrobatic hijinks however, mistakes are going to happen. Thankfully, the team doesn’t keep these a secret, and while we’re typically wowed by what these flying machines can do, it’s also pretty fun to see them fail in such spectacular fashion.

If you have a spare minute, kick back, fire up the video, and enjoy the mechanical mayhem that ensues. We certainly sleep better at night knowing that while these things are awesome, a well-placed hula hoop is all it takes to ensure continued human supremacy.

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And we’re back

Several of you were rather angry with us yesterday for our competition. Those not in the loop, our email competition@hackaday.com was not correctly configured and no body could send in their entries!

But have no fear, we have fixed the problem and now you can send in your guesses. To remedy the situation we have decided to extend the competition until 10AM PST Monday the 1st of February, 2010. We will announce the winner (so long as nothing else fails) Monday afternoon. So what are you doing here still reading? Time is wasting – go win some tickets!