Corkscrew LASER “Hologram”

If you watch much science fiction, you know that in the future, there’re plenty of 3D holographic displays. From Princess Leah’s distress call to the Star Trek holodeck, there’s no shortage of computers that can make realistic images. It might not be up to holodeck standards, but [freedscript] created a 3D display for an Arduino using a chopstick, a motor, some paper, and a LASER. Of course, it isn’t actually a hologram, but neither is half the stuff you see on TV (Star Trek’s holographic characters were disturbingly solid for standing waves). The display is a type of volumetric display.

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PCB Holder for Limited Depth-of-Field Microscopes

As time marches on, so does the need to have the right tools to deal with the ever increasing popularity of SMD components. Ok. Maybe “popularity” isn’t the best word choice, as there are plenty of people out there that prefer through-hole components for ease of prototyping. But, whether you like it or not, you’ll eventually need to deal with SMDs.

One of the problems with smaller packages is that with such small pins, their solder joints are difficult to inspect with the naked eye. A lighted magnifying lamp will only let you see so much. You can switch to a jeweler’s loupe for a quite a bit more magnification if you like – but nothing beats a microscope on your workbench. Unfortunately, unless you’re willing to spend the price of a used car on a microscope, the limited depth-of-field (DOF) can be a concern. It’s often handy to hold the PCB and move it around at different angles to get a good view of the solder pad fillets. But then you’re fighting the a very small DOF, and the steadiness of your hands.

[Tom Keddie] came up with this super simple hack – it’s nothing more then an angled PCB holder. It allows you to view your PCB at 30 or 60 degrees. Sometimes it’s the simple things in life that make your work that much more enjoyable. You can find the source files on github. And have a gander at our overview article if you’re thinking of getting your feet wet with SMDs.

 

[via Dangerous Prototypes]

Retrotechtacular: A Desktop Computer from 1965

About eight years before the Xerox built the Alto at PARC and over a decade before the Apple ][ premiered, Italian business equipment manufacturer Olivetti produced a bona fide desktop personal computer. When Olivetti debuted this typewriter-sized marvel in 1965 at a business convention in New York City, people were in absolute awe that this tiny, self-contained unit could perform the same types of functions as the hulking room-sized mainframes of the time. Some were sure that it was simply a small input device for a much bigger machine hiding behind the curtain.

But the revolutionary Olivetti Programma 101 was no joke. It performed standard four-banger operations and could handle square root and absolute value calculations. The Olivetti had 16 jump instructions as well as 16 conditional jump instructions, which put it firmly in state machine territory. Programs could be printed on a roll of paper or stored long-term on long magnetic cards.

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More ESP32 Info Dribbles Out

In case you’ve been hiding under a virtual rock over the last two years, you might have missed it when Espressif turned the IoT game on its head by releasing a chip with WiFi and a decent embedded processor for under $1 in bulk, and costing not much more than that in a module.

They’re looking to repeat the success of the ESP8266 with the ESP32, that should be coming out any time now. As we get closer to the release date, details start to dribble out. [Alberto], who makes very nice-looking pinout diagrams for a number of our favorite chips and modules, has already made us an ESP32 module pinout diagram.

And [Rudi] has been digging up nearly every crumb of info on the ESP32 that’s publicly available. For instance, it was through his website that we learned that the new RTOS SDK source is already up on GitHub.

There’s also a source of official information in the ESP32 forum, but there’s not much news there just yet. We expect this to change as more beta units make it out into the wild.

We covered the announcement of the forthcoming ESP32 last month, and we have to say that we’re looking forward to getting a module or two in our hands. Twin cores, BTLE support, and better DMA are tops on our list of neat features.

Open Source… Windows?

There’s a lot to be said for open source software. The ability to change code to suit one’s needs, the fact that security vulnerabilities can be easier to find, and the overall transparency are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the strengths of using open source software. And, while Microsoft is no Apple when it comes to locking down their source code, their operating system is still, unfortunately, closed.

Don’t despair, though! There is a project out there that aims to change this. No, they’re not stealing anything or breaking into any computers to obtain Microsoft’s code. They’re writing their own version of Windows called ReactOS that aims to be binary-compatible with Windows. The software has been in development for over a decade, but they’re ready to release version 0.4 which will bring USB, sound, networking, wireless, SATA, and many more features to the operating system.

While ReactOS isn’t yet complete for everyday use, the developers have made great strides in understanding how Windows itself works. There is a lot of documentation coming from the project regarding many previously unknown or undocumented parts of Windows, and with more developers there could be a drop-in replacement for Windows within a few years. It’s definitely worth a shot if you fondly remember the frontier days of Linux where doing things like reading information on a CD required extensive experience using the terminal. If this is a little too much, though, there are other unique operating systems out there to investigate.

Thanks for the tip, [Matt]!

Creating Art In a Robot that Tastes with Its Feet

[Sarah Petkus] started off her career as a visual artist with traditional mediums. She has a webcomic called Gravity Road, but somewhere along the line she wanted her creations to come alive. These characters are robots – artistically designed robots – and turning this type of art into a real object isn’t something that happens very often.

Robots usually aren’t art. A Roomba is just a vacuum cleaner that’s meant to turn on a dime, thus the circular shape. The welding robots in a car factory aren’t art, they’re only tools to assemble cars. These are just devices built for a single purpose, and art is for any or every purpose. It’s not something you can really design, but you can engineer a few interesting solutions.

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Does the Internet Make You Stupid?

A recent post by [Christian Heilmann] is one of several I’ve read lately talking about how Web sites–Stack Overflow, in particular–are breeding a new kind of developer. The kind of developer that simply copies and pastes example code or schematics with no real understanding of what’s going on. His conclusion is that developers who don’t fully understand what they are doing will become disinterested and burn out. He’s talking about software developers, but I think you could extend the argument to developers of all kinds, including hardware hackers. He concluded that–at least while learning–you stick to the old ways of doing things.

I have trouble disagreeing with [Christian] on the details, but I do disagree with the conclusion. People have copied work from other sources for a very long time. We’ve all seen circuits that were clearly either torn from a datasheet or even glued together from multiple datasheet examples way before there was an Internet.

There’s two things that are slightly different today: First, everyone has easy access to lots of examples. You don’t have to go find a book (possibly at a library), search through it, and find one or two examples. A quick Google will find dozens or hundreds of examples.

The second thing that is different is that there are places exist like Stack Overflow where you don’t even have to go looking. You can simply ask, “How do I do X?” and you will get answers from someone. It might be wrong. You might not understand it. But you’ll probably get some kind of answer.

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