Use Ruby to Make Any Window A Blinken Window

[Akhil Stanislavose] wanted to spice up his window decorations for the holidays. Inspired by blinkenlights, he decided to make his front window interactive. The Blinken Window is a grid of 6 x 10 programmable LEDs running on a Raspberry Pi. Since a RasPi doesn’t have enough GPIO pins for 60 LEDs, [Akhil] built an expander board using 8 daisy chained standard CD4094 (74HC595 could also be used) shift registers to accommodate them.

[Akhil] designed a PCB to replace the expander board for future use. It is modular in nature so that many of them can be connected together to provide as many outputs as one needs, allowing any size window to become a Blinken Window. The PCBs are still being fabricated, but the Eagle files are available for download (zip file). Ruby was used to implement the API. You can find the project files on GitHub, which also features a simulator that you can run on your computer to see how an animation or game will end up looking on the window. In the demo video, [Akhil] demonstrates how you can use the Blinken Window to play a version of Pong using your smartphone as the controller. [Akhil] has also provided a few basic animation examples that can be expanded upon. We’d enjoy seeing an implementation of Tetris. There’s so many fun ways to turn regular windows into dynamic displays, we’re starting to look scornfully at our own lazy, air leaking windows.

See the Blinken Window in action after the break.

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HamRadioTweets Gets the Word Out

In times of crisis, or extreme government control, it can be difficult to spread critical information to people who can help. A good example of this was during the Arab Spring in 2011. When your Internet connection is taken away, it can feel as though all is lost. Unless you have a ham radio, that is.

For many people the thought of ham radio conjures up images of old guys twisting knobs listening to static, but it’s actually come a long way in our modern digital age. For example, you can now send tweets via ham radio. This project was actually started in 2011 by [Bruce Sutherland]. The Egyptian government had shut down the country’s Internet access after citizens were posting information about the extreme violence they were facing. [Bruce] wanted a way to help  others get the word out, and he came up with HamRadioTweets. This system allows a user to send tweets via ham radio.

The system actually piggybacks off of a ham radio service called APRS. This service is most often associated with GPS tracking systems, such as those found in nearspace balloons, but it can also be used to send simple text messages over the air. APRS works thanks to the vast network of receiving stations setup all around the world. These stations can receive messages and then re-transmit them, greatly extending the reach of the original transmitter. Some of them are even hooked up to the Internet to get the messages to go distances that would be extremely difficult and unreliable by traditional means.

[Bruce’s] system hooked into the Internet component and watched for messages being sent specifically to “TWITR”. The Python based system would then read these messages and re-transmit them over Twitter. The project died out a while back after Twitter updated their API. Now, it’s been rebuilt on Ruby by [Harold Giddings]. The project website was handed over to [Harold] and he is currently maintaining it. Hopefully you’ll never need to use this software, but if the time comes you will be glad it’s available. You can watch [Harold] bounce an APRS message off of the International Space Station and on to Twitter in the video below. Continue reading “HamRadioTweets Gets the Word Out”

FlowPaw, the Bear Paw of Electronics Education

If the astonishing success of littleBits is any indication, there’s a huge market for ‘intro to electronics’ products that are much more capable than the classic Radio Shack ‘springs and components stuck to cardboard’ kits or even the very successful littleBits. FlowPaw is the latest entry in this space, combining the sensor module paradigm of littleBits with a largish microcontroller, digital and analog pins, and a great programming interface.

The big innovation in the FlowPaw is the FlowStone programming language. It’s a graphical programming language that allows young creators to connect blocks, modules, and functions together with virtual wires, but also allows the editing of different modules with Ruby. Best of both worlds, there.

The FlowPaw kickstarter includes rewards for just the FlowStone software, or the FlowPaw electronics board with a bunch of modules. Already, the team has LED, relay, accelerometer, buzzer, and capacitive touch sensors, along with a Bluetooth and speech recognition module. They’re working on a few more advanced modules for GPS, pressure, DC motor control, and RFID as well.

Get Phone Calls Answered with the Moshi Moshi

Moshi Moshi

Have a significant other that isn’t the best at picking up the phone? [Aaron] was having a hard time reaching his wife, so he hacked up a solution. The Moshi Moshi detects calls from [Aaron], and plays music to get her attention.

A remote server running Asterisk picks up the call and uses a Ruby script to log the call. Every ten seconds, an Arduino Due with an Ethernet shield polls a Sinatra web server to see if a call has arrived. If a new call has come in, a music loop is played. Getting the Due to loop audio was a bit of a challenge, but the end result sounds good.

Quite a bit of tech is brought together to make the Moshi Moshi, and all the code is provided in the write up. This could be helpful to anyone looking to combine hardware with the Asterisk PBX. After the break, [Aaron] shows us how the system works.

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Siri controlled Arduino using Ruby

siri-proxy-ruby-arduino

This snippet of Hello World code lets [Nico Ritschel] turn the Pin 13 LED on his Arduino on and off using Siri, the voice-activated helper built into iPhones. The trick here is using the Ruby programming language to get Siri Proxy talking to Arduino via the USB connection. He calls the project siriproxy-arduino.

On one end of the hack resides SiriProxy, a package not approved by Apple which is capable of intercepting the Siri messages headed for Apple’s own servers. The messages are still relayed, but a copy of each is available for [Nico’s] own uses. On the other side of things he’s building on the work of [Austinbv’s] dino gem; a Ruby package that facilitates control of the Arduino. It includes a sketch that is uploaded to the Arduino board, opening up a Ruby API. The collection of code seen above defines the pin with the LED connected and then listens for a specific Siri commands to actuate it.

Take a look at [Nico’s] explanation of the module in the video after the break.

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Creating a decadent, insane, and depressed robot from Internet ramblings

Have you ever wondered what a Tumblr written by a psychotic robot would look like? Wonder no more, because [Lars] has that all figured out.

A few years ago, [Lars] stumbled across lowbrow.com (now defunct, but mirrored here), an online confessional and bathroom wall meant to host people’s most private thoughts and actions anonymously. [Lars] wrote a script to pull a random lowbrow post down every minute and threw every unique result into a database.

With about 50 pages of the most depraved and depressing posts of questionable veracity, [Lars] trained a Markov chain algorithm to produce paragraphs that imitated the style of lowbrow contributors. This gave [Lars]  pages of computer-generated text describing the most decadent, depressing, insane, inane, but overwhelmingly human experiences possible. A few choice quotes from the output are:

The llama: nature’s random number generator.

Over 7000 watts of Ol’ Barry whining his ass cheeks to soften the blows.

All through school I was being pulled behind the local St. Benedictine  Monastary where I was afraid I don’t know what I thought was the founder pulls back from a discussion about homestarrunner.com

While [Lars]’ script wouldn’t pass a Turing test, we’ve met people who couldn’t do the same. As far as creating a real-life version of Hedonism Bot, HAL, and Marvin from Hitchhiker’s Guide, we’re thinking [Lars] hit the mark.

After the break you can check out a gallery of pics [Lars] put together of from his computer-generated text. You can also grab the full lowbrow corpus and the ruby script to build your robotic [Kerouac].

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Hackday Links: March 10, 2012

We’re throwing money at our monitor and nothing’s happening!

Sometimes we get hacks sent into our tip line that are outrageously awesome, but apart from a YouTube video we’ve got nothing else to write about. So begins the story of the flying Back to the Future DeLorean quadrocopter. Sadly, the story ends with the video as well. (If you’ve got any info, send it in!)

Fine, we’ll throw in another cool car

Mercedes covered a car with LEDs and made the James Bond’s invisible car from Die Another DayThe Mercedes video cost tens of thousands of dollars to produce, so of course there’s camera trickery; we’re just wondering how much credit Adobe After Effects gets for this build.

Microsoft touchscreen demo might be impossible

Yes, Microsoft does care about user experience. Just take a look at this video from their applied sciences group. They did user testing with touchscreens that updated every 1 millisecond, compared to the ~100ms our phones and tablets usually update. Of course the result was a better UX, but now we’re wondering how they built a touch screen that updates every millisecond? That’s a refresh rate of 1 kHz, and we’ve got no clue how they bodged that one together. We’re probably dealing with a Microsoft Surface projector/IR camera thing here, but that doesn’t answer any questions.

Edit: [Philip Rowney] sent in a tip that it could be this TI touch screen controller that can sample above 1 kHz. The only problem is this chip uses a resistive touch screen, instead of a multitouch-enabled capacitive screen. At least that solves one problem.

And now for something that can measure 1 kHz

[Paleotechnologist] posted an excellent guide to the care and feeding of an oscilloscope. Most of our readers probably already know the ins and outs of their awesome Techtronix and HP units, but that doesn’t mean the younglings won’t have to learn sooner or later.

Good idea, except the part about saving it for spring

In a moment of serendipity, [Valentin] figured out how to use touchscreens with wool gloves. The answer: rub thermal grease into the tip of the index finger. It works, and doesn’t look to be too much of a mess. We’ll remember this for next winter.

The last one didn’t have a picture, so here’s this

[Darrell] used a little bit of LaTeX and Ruby to make colored labels for his resistor collection. We’re struck with the idea of using test tubes to organize resistors. It’s cool and makes everything look all sciencey and stuff.