Hackaday Prize Entry: Hacker Calculus

Mathematics, as it is taught in schools, sometimes falls short in its mission to educate the pupils. This is the view of [Joan Horvath] and [Rich Cameron], particularly with respect to the teaching of calculus, which they feel has become a purely algebraic discipline that leaves many students in the cold when it comes to understanding the concepts behind it.

Their Hacker Calculus project aims to address this, by returning to [Isaac Newton]’s 1687 seminal work on the matter, Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica. They were struck by how much the Principia was a work of geometry rather than algebra, and they are seeking to return to [Newton]’s principles in a bid to make the subject more accessible to students left behind when it comes to derivatives and integrals. They intend to refine the geometric approach to create a series of practical items to explain the concepts, both through 3D printed items and through electronics.

We can see that this is an approach that has considerable merit, given that most Hackaday readers will have at some time or other sat through a maths lesson and come away wondering what on earth the teacher was talking about and having been baffled by further attempts to explain it through impenetrable maths-speak. If you were the kid who “got” calculus when the relationship between speed and acceleration – another thing we have [Newton] to thank for describing – was explained in your physics lessons, then you will probably understand.

The pair have some Hackaday Prize history, you may remember them from such previous entries as their 3D prints for the visually impaired project from last year.

Newton’s Cradle for Those Too Lazy to Procrastinate

Desk toys are perfect for when you don’t want to work. There’s a particularly old desk toy called the Newton’s cradle. If you don’t know the name, you’d still recognize the toy. It is some ball bearings suspended in midair on strings. If you pull back, say, two balls and let them swing to impact the other balls, the same number of balls on the other side will fly out. When they return, the same number will move on the other side and this repeats until friction wears it all down.

We think [JimRD] might be carried away on procrastination. You see, he not only has a Newton’s cradle, he has automated it with an Arduino. According to [Jim], this is his third attempt at doing so. You can see the current incarnation in the video, below.

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Giving WiFi To An Apple Newton

The Apple Newton gets a bad rap, partly because of the bad handwriting recognition of the first version of the firmware, and mostly because Steve Jobs hated it. Those who know of the Newton love the Newton; it has an exceptionally well-designed interface, the handwriting recognition is great with updated firmware.

[Jake] has the king of the Newtons – a MessagePad 2100. There’s a hidden port in this machine for a modem card, but Apple never made one. While other Newton aficionados trudge along with old PCMCIA WiFi cards that only support 802.11a without WPA2, [Jake] thought it would be possible to build a modern WiFi card for the Newton. He succeeded, opening the door to modern networking apps on the finest tablet Apple will ever make.

Oddly, this isn’t [Jake]’s first attempt at expanding the capabilities of his Newton. There’s an internal serial port inside the MessagePad 2×00, and a few years ago [Jake] tried to build an internal Bluetooth card. The RF design didn’t work, but with a few more years of experience, [Jake] figured he had the skills for the job.

The critical piece of hardware for this build isn’t an ESP8266 or other common WiFi module. Instead, a WiReach module from ConnectOne was used for the built-in PPP server. This allows legacy hardware to use standard AT modem commands to access a WiFi network. It’s a very interesting module; there is a lot of hardware out there that speaks PPP natively, and a module like this could be a drop-in replacement for a modem.

That said, thanks to unintelligible and ‘Apple Classified’ documentation, getting this card working wasn’t easy. The APIs to access the internal serial slot were never documented, and it took a bit of time with a disassembler to figure out how to address the port correctly.

[Jake] has pushed all the files for his project up to Github. This includes the design files for the PCB, the Newton software that enables WiFi, and a nifty 3D printed port cover that shows off the new wireless capabilities of Apple’s greatest tablet.

Edison’s Cradle is a bright idea

This interesting take on Newton’s Cradle is called “Asobi” and was created by [Yasutoki Kariya]. However, [Johnny] at Spoon and Tamago dubbed it “Edison’s Cradle”, which we think is a great name.

As you can make out in the video, it isn’t really a Newton’s Cradle. There is a solenoid pushing the bulbs at the end out at the correct time, but that’s fine. The overall result is quite brilliant. Unfortunately, we don’t know much about the setup. Anyone have more information? Anyone want to take a stab at making “Tesla’s cradle”?

[via Make]

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Using an iPhone as a Newton keyboard

[Jesus Alvarez] sent us this funny little project. If you happen to have an iPhone and an old Apple Newton, you can use the iPhone as a keyboard for the Newton. You can download the schematic from his site to build the wire to connect the two. After that, you have to run an app on your iPhone that you can find once you’ve jailbroken your phone. At that point you are ready to go. Aside from the ability to say you could, we’re not sure why you would do this. It made us chuckle though. Maybe we’re not firing on all synapses though due to turkey overload.