Hackaday Links: January 29, 2017

A 3D printer and laser cutter were cited as cause in two deaths. A couple (and two cats) were found dead in their apartment this week. The cause of death was carbon monoxide poisoning. Police and the gas company investigated the residence and found no other source of carbon monoxide besides a 3D printer and a laser cutter. Be sure to check out the people who know more about these deaths than the people who actually investigated these deaths in the comments below. In the mean time, get a CO detector. It’s nasty stuff.

At CES last this month, Lulzbot unleashed the MOARstruder. It’s an extruder with a massive, massive, 1.2mm nozzle. [James] from xrobots dot co dot uk just got his hands on the MOARstruder and the initial results are pretty cool. With a 1.2mm nozzle, you can print big parts fast (helpful for [James]’ massive builds), and the parts are stronger. Check out the video for a great hammer vs. printed part test.

We knew this would happen eventually. Pi Blades. Element14 is now offering ‘breakout boards but not quite’ for the full-size Raspberry Pis and Pi HATs. The idea of this product is to package clusters of Pis into an easy-to-use form factor. The Bitscope Blade Quattro, for example, provides power to four Pis. In other news, I own 20% of the world’s supply of vertical SODIMM sockets.

Arbitrary Code Execution On The Nintendo 64. A bit of background is required before going into this. Pokemon Stadium is a game for the N64. It used a Transfer Pak to read the save game data on Pokemon Game Boy cartridges to battle, trade, and organize Pokemon. Additionally, the Pokemon Tower in Pokemon Stadium allows players to play first-gen Game Boy Pokemon games from within an N64 – sort of like the SNES Super Game Boy. By using two Game Boy Pokemon games and two Transfer Paks, arbitrary code can be executed on the N64. Video demo right here. This is really cool, and the next obvious step is a ‘bootloader’ of sorts to allow arbitrary code downloading from controller button presses.

The Travelling Hacker Box is on the move! The original plan for the Travelling Hacker Box was to visit home base for the 2016 Hackaday SuperConference, then depart to foreign lands beginning with Canada, Greenland, Europe, Africa, Asia, Oceana, and the other America. After the SuperCon, the box was shipped out to its first recipient in Canada. The box came back. Something with customs. Now, the Travelling Hacker Box is on the move again. The plan is still the same, it’s just delayed a month or two. If you want to check out the future travels of the Travelling Hacker Box, here you go.

Hackaday Links: January 22, 2017

What is a 1971 Ford Torino worth? It depends, but even a 2-door in terrible condition should fetch about $7 or $8k. What is a 1971 Ford Torino covered in 3D printed crap worth? $5500. This is the first ‘3D printed car’ on an auction block. It looks terrible and saying ‘Klaatu Varada Nikto’ unlocks the doors.

Old Apple IIs had a DB19 connector for external floppy drives. Some old macs, pre-PowerPC at least, also had a DB19 connector for external floppy drives. These drives are incompatible with each other for reasons. [Dandu] has a few old macs and one old Apple II 3.5″ external floppy drive. This drive can be hacked so it works with a Mac Classic. The hack is simply disconnecting one of the boards in the drive, and it only reads 400 and 800kB disks, but it does work.

The US Army is working on a hoverbike. Actually, it’s not a hoverbike, because it doesn’t have a saddle or a seat, but it could carry 300 pounds at 60 mph. That’s 136,000 grams at 135 meters per second for the rest of the world out there. This ‘hoverbike’ will be used for very quick resupply, and hopefully a futuristic form of jousting.

Over the past few months, we’ve seen a few new microcontrollers built around the RISC-V core. The first is the HiFive1, a RISC-V on an Arduino-shaped board. The Open-V is another RISC-V based microcontroller, and now it too supports the Arduino IDE. That may not seem like much, but trust me: setting up the HiFive1 toolchain takes at least half an hour.

The NAMM show has been going on for the last few days, which means new electronic musical gear, effects pedals, and drum machines. This is cool, but somewhat outside our editorial prerogative. This isn’t. It’s a recording studio using a Rasberry Pi. Tracktion is working on a high-quality digital audio input and output add-on for the Pi 3. This is really cool, and you only need to look back at MPCs and gigantic Akai samplers from 15 years ago to see why.

Hey LA peeps. Sparklecon is next weekend. What’s Sparklecon? The 23B hackerspace pulls out the grill, someone brings a gigantic Tesla coil, we play hammer Jenga, and a bunch of dorks dork around. Go to Sparklecon! Superliminal advertising! Anyone up for a trip to the Northrop ham meetup next Saturday?

Improving Raspberry Pi Disk Performance

Usually, you think of solid state storage as faster than a rotating hard drive. However, in the case of the Raspberry Pi, the solid state “disk drive” is a memory card that uses a serial interface. So while a 7200 RPM SATA drive might get speeds in excess of 100MB/s, the Pi’s performance is significantly less.

[Rusher] uses the Gluster distributed file system and Docker on his Raspberry Pi. He measured write performance to be a sluggish 1MB/s (and the root file system was clocking in at just over 40MB/s).

There are an endless number of settings you could tweak, but [Rusher] heuristically picked a few he thought would have an impact. After some experimentation, he managed 5MB/s on Gluster and increased the normal file system to 46 MB/s.

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Orange Pi Releases Two Boards

A few years ago, someone figured out small, cheap ARM Linux boards are really, really useful, extremely popular, sell very well, blink LEDs, and are able to open the doors of engineering and computer science to everyone. There is one giant manufacturer of these cheap ARM Linux boards whose mere mention guarantees us a few thousand extra clicks on this article. There are other manufacturers of these boards, though, and there is no benevolent monopoly; the smaller manufacturers of these boards should bring new features and better specs to the ARM Linux board ecosystem. A drop of water in a tide that lifts all boats. Something like that.

This week, Orange Pi, not the largest manufacturer of these small ARM Linux boards, has released two new boards. The Orange Pi Zero is an inexpensive, quad-core ARM Cortex A7 Linux board with 256 MB or 512 MB of RAM. The Orange Pi PC 2 is the slightly pricier quad-core ARM Cortex-A53 board with 1 GB of RAM and a layout that can only be described as cattywampus. We all know where the inspiration for these boards came from. The price for these boards, less shipping, is $6.99 USD and $19.98 USD, respectively.

The Orange Pi Zero uses the Allwinner H2 SoC, and courageously does not use the standard 40-pin header of another very popular line of single board computers, although the 26-pin bank of pins is compatible with the first version of the board you’re thinking about. Also on board the Orange Pi Zero is WiFi provided by an XR819 chipset, Ethernet, a Mali400MP2 GPU, USB 2.0, a microSD card slot, and a pin header for headphones, mic, TV out, and two more USB ports.

The significantly more powerful Orange Pi PC 2 sports a quad-core ARM Cortex-A53 SoC coupled to 1 GB of RAM. USB OTG, a trio of USB 2.0 ports, Ethernet, camera interface, and HDMI round out the rest of the board.

Both of Orange Pi’s recent offerings are Allwinner boards. This family of SoCs have famously terrible support in Linux, and the last Allwinner Cortex-A53, that we couldn’t really review, was terrible. Although the Orange Pi Zero and Orange Pi PC 2 are new boards and surely software is still being written, history indicates the patches written for this SoC will not be sent upstream, and these boards will be frozen in time.

If you’re looking for a cheap Linux board with a WiFi chipset that might work, The Orange Pi Zero is very interesting. The Orange Pi PC 2 does have slightly impressive specs for the price. When you buy a single board, though, you’re buying into a community dedicated to improving Linux support on the board. From what I’ve seen, that support probably won’t be coming but I will be happy to be proven wrong.

Impressive Pi System Controls Large Office

A pile of Raspberry Pis isn’t what would spring to mind for most people when building a system to control a large office, but most people aren’t [Kamil Górski]. He decided to use Pis to run the office of his company Monterail when they moved to a larger space. The system they built is one of the largest Pi installations we have seen, controlling the lights, TVs, speakers and door access. It can all be controlled through a web interface, so anyone on the network can turn the lights on or off, check if a room is occupied or send sound and video to the fancy AV system in the conference room. He even hacked a bunch of HDMI switches so that every TV can show the same image if everyone wants to watch the same event. Even the radio station that plays in the lounge is controlled remotely from an employee slack channel.

The system is run on five Pis, one of which acts as a master, while the others are connected to each of the TVs, running Chrome in console mode being remotely controlled through the Chrome Debugging Protocol.  That allows anyone on the network to control the display and send content to it. One interesting thing to note: [Kamil] freely admits that this is a bespoke system that couldn’t be easily sold as a product. Nothing wrong with that, but he decided to build in some backups: if the whole system fails, all of the lights, doors, and other devices can still be controlled through old-school switches, keys, and remote controls. Even a full system crash doesn’t render the office unusable. That’s a wide precaution that many people forget in systems like this.

Counting Eggs With A Webcam

You’ll have to dig out your French dictionary (or Google translate) for this one, but it is worth it. [Nicolas Giraud] has been experimenting with ways to use a webcam to detect the number of eggs chickens have laid in a chicken coop. This page documents these experiments using a number of different algorithms to automatically detect the number of eggs and notify the owner. The system is simple, built around a Pi running Debian Jesse Lite and a cheap USB webcam. An LED running off one of the GPIO pins illuminates the eggs, and the camera then captures the image for analysis.

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Rainy Day Fun by Calculating Pi

If you need a truly random event generator, just wait till your next rainstorm. Whether any given spot on the ground is hit by a drop at a particular time is anyone’s guess, and such randomness is key to this simple rig that estimates the value of pi using raindrop sensors.

You may recall [AlphaPhoenix]’s recent electroshock Settlers of Catan expeditor. The idea with this less shocking build is to estimate the value of pi using the ratio of the area of a square sensor to a circular one. Simple piezo transducers serve as impact sensors that feed an Arduino and count the relative number of raindrops hitting the sensors. In the first video below, we see that as more data accumulates, the Arduino’s estimate of pi eventually converges on the well-known 3.14159 value. The second video has details of the math behind the method, plus a discussion of the real-world problems that cropped up during testing — turns out that waterproofing and grounding were both key to noise-free data from the sensor pads.

In the end, [AlphaPhoenix] isn’t proving anything new, but we like the method here and can see applications for it. What about using such sensors to detect individual popcorn kernels popping to demonstrate the Gaussian distribution? We also can’t help but think of other ways to measure raindrops; how about strain gauges that weigh the rainwater as it accumulates differentially in square and circular containers? Share your ideas in the comments below.

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