8-bit Computer for On-The-Go Programming

If there was one downside to 8-bit computers like the Commodore 64, it’s that they weren’t exactly portable. Even ignoring their physical size, the power requirements would likely have required a prohibitively large power bank of some sort to lug around as well. The problem of portability has been solved since the late ’70s, but if you still want that 8-bit goodness in a more modern package you’ll have to look at something like retrocomputing madman [Jack Eisenmann]’s DUO Travel computer.

The computer is based around the ubiquitous ATmega328 which should make the ease at which it is programmable apparent. Even so, its 14-button keypad makes it programmable even without another computer. While it has slightly less memory than a standard C-64, it’s still enough for most tasks. And, since its powered by a 9-volt battery it doesn’t require any external power sources either.

The most impressive part of the build, however, is the custom programming language specifically tailored for this platform. After all, a 14-button keypad wouldn’t be a great choice if you had to program in Perl or C all the time. There is some example code on the project page for anyone interested in this specific implementation. While it’s not the most minimal computer [Jack] has ever built, it’s certain to be much more practical.

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Learn a Language, One Moment at a Time

There’s a lot of times in an average day when you’ll find yourself waiting. Waiting for your morning brew at the cafe, or for an email to show up — it’s often just a few minutes, many times a day. It’s far too short a time to get any real work done, but it adds up at the end of the week.

Enter WaitSuite, a language learning tool developed by MIT’s CSAIL. It’s a language learning tool, which aims to teach users words in a foreign language in these “micromoments” — the short periods of time spent waiting each day. The trick to WaitSuite here is in its ultralightweight design which integrates into other tasks and software on your computer and smartphone. Rather then having to launch a separate app, which takes time and effort, WaitSuite hovers in the background, ready to go when it detects a short period of wait time. Examples given are hitting refresh in Gmail, or waiting for a connection to a WiFi network.

The team behind the project calls this concept wait-learning; you can read the paper here. If you’d like to try it out, use the Chrome extension called WaitChatter. It quizzes you while you’re waiting on a response in GChat. We’d love to see the rest of the WaitSuite released publicly soon.

It’s a tidy piece of software that’s great for those looking for an alternative to compulsively refreshing social media while loitering. It probably won’t help you learn French overnight, but it could be a useful way to pick up some extra vocab without having to carve more time out of your schedule.

We don’t see a whole lot of language learning hacks here, but you might like to check out Adafruit’s take on the Babel Fish.

New Fonts for gEDA PCB Tool

In the open-source world, there are two main choices for PCB design: KiCad and gEDA. But if you’re tired of the boring Hershey fonts telling you which resistor is which, or if you need to comply with ISO 3098, there’s one clear choice: PCB-RND, the improved fork of gEDA’s PCB tool. Why?

Because PCB-RND now supports osifont, which supports a ridiculous number of languages. In addition to the usual suspects, like Azerbaijani through Vietnamese, support has also been added for legacy users, including those of Middle Earth, who build PCBs that can only be read when the thrush knocks by the setting sun of the last light on Durin’s Day.

And they haven’t stopped there. Looking forward to the Treaty of Organia in 2267, you can now create PCBs that are fully plqaD-HaSta compliant.

We’re glad to see these important steps made toward reaching out to underserved PCB-constructing communities. However, we’re appalled at the continuing lack of support for Rihannsu. This will have to be rectified by anyone who wants to push their projects in the Beta Quadrant.

The Comic Book World Of Capacitor Marketing

The Economist is an interesting publication, a British weekly newspaper that looks for all the world like a magazine, and contains pithy insights into world politics and economic movements. It’s one of those rare print news publications that manages to deliver fresh insights even to hardened web news junkies despite its weekly publication date.

It was typical then of their wide-ranging coverage of world industries to publish a piece recently on the world of supercapacitors, with particular focus on Estonia’s Skeleton Technologies. This is an exciting field in which the products are inching their way towards energy density parity with conventional batteries, and news of new manufacturing facilities coming online should be of interest to many Hackaday readers.

Exciting though it may be it was not the news of a new capacitor plant in Germany that provided the impetus for this piece. Instead it was the language used by the Economist writer delicately skirting the distinction between the words “Supercapacitor” and “Ultracapacitor”. Images of flying crimefighters in brightly coloured capes spring instantly to mind, as Captain Ultra and Superman battle an arch-villain who is no doubt idly bouncing a piece of burning Kryptonite against the wall in readiness for the final denouement.

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Estimate Your English Vocabulary Using Python

We take our mother tongue for granted, a language we learn as young children without realizing the effort involved. It is only when as adults we try to pick up another language that we fully understand how much hard work surrounds each acquired word.

Depending on who you listen to, estimates vary as to the size of a typical native English speaker’s vocabulary. The ballpark figures seem to put most adults under 20 thousand words, while graduates achieve somewhere around 23 thousand words. It’s a subject [Alex Eames] became interested in after reading a BBC article on it, and he decided to write his own software to produce a personal estimate.

His Python script takes the Scrabble word list, and presents the user with a list of words, for each one of which they have to indicate their comprehension. After a hundred words have been presented it calculates an estimate of the size of the user’s vocabulary. [Alex] wrote it on and for the Raspberry Pi, but it should work quite happily on any platform with Python 3. It certainly had no problem with our Ubuntu-based PC.

There is plenty of opportunity for bragging over the size of one’s vocabulary with a script like this one, but it’s something of a statistical leveler in that if you are truthful in your responses it will almost certainly put you exactly where you might expect for your age or level of education. If you want to know the result this script returned for a Hackaday scribe, for example, the answer is 23554.

This subject is a slight departure into software from our usual hardware subject matter, but it’s one of those tests that becomes rather a consuming interest when performed competitively among a group of friends. How well will you fare?

Via [Recantha]

Teach An ATTiny 85 To Swear

Let’s be honest here: one of the first things we all did when we came across speech synthesizers like the Speak-n-spell was to try swear words. [Alec Smecher] has taken this to heart, building a simple buzzer mechanism driven by an ATTiny 85 that swears repeatedly when you connect it. It is a rather simple project (or, as [Alec] himself says, it is “a satisfyingly minimalist build”), but it is quite nicely done.

The 8kHz speech sample (taken from Google Translate) is stored in the code, and written out to one of the PWM outputs of the ATTiny85 from a timing loop to directly drive the small speaker. So, all that is needed is the buzzer case, a small speaker, the ATTiny85, a power source and a few bits of wire. It’s a great example of a minimalist design: the ATTiny85 can just about drive the speaker directly, and can be run directly from batteries without requiring a power controller. Sometimes it pays to keep things simple, especially when it comes to swearing. 

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Foul-mouthed game will get you in trouble

[Fridgehead] modified his Simon Says game to include a dirty word for each lighted button. This is a real good way to teach kids to swear and to get child protective services to pay you a visit all at the same time. The hardware has been modified to use an Arduino in tandem with an ISD audio chip. These chips can record and playback sound. Although [Fridgehead] could have made it say anything he, choose four words you won’t say in front of your mother. We should warn you not to play the video after the break if you’re at work or it’ll be your boss that comes after you, not your disappointed mom.

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