London Tries Smart Cities

What’s a smart city? According to Wikipedia, a smart city uses ICT (information and communication technologies) to enhance quality, performance, and interactivity of urban services while reducing costs and resource consumption. Hackers have been using technology to enhance all sorts of things for years.

London is joining forces with cities across Europe to demonstrate smart city technology, mostly in the Royal Borough of Greenwich. The project is in conjunction with the EU Horizon 2020 project, which is still soliciting proposals for funding. It seems like some Hackaday readers–especially in the EU–ought to have some ideas worth funding.

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Crosswords Help You Learn Regular Expressions

Regular expressions might seem arcane, but if you do any kind of software, they are a powerful hacker tool. Obviously, if you are writing software or using tools like grep, awk, sed, Perl, or just about any programming language, regular expressions can simplify many tasks. Even if you don’t need them directly, regular expression searches can help you analyze source code, search through net lists, or even analyze data captured from sensors.

If you’ve been using regular expressions for a long time, they aren’t very hard. But learning them for the first time can be tedious. Unless you try your hand at regular expression crosswords. The clues are regular expressions and the rows and columns all have to match the corresponding regular expressions.

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Hackaday Links: January 31, 2016

[Damien] has been working on MicroPython for a while now. We did an interview with him a while ago about porting Python to tiny microcontrollers, and soon the BBC micro:bit will be getting Python into the hands of millions of British schoolchildren. Now [Damien] has a Kickstarter to get MicroPython to the bare metal of an ESP8266. That would be extremely interesting; there’s a lot you can do with an easily scriptable Internet Thing running Python.

A little over a month ago, [Renier] won the Hackaday Prize Best Product competition with the Vinduino, a device that cuts water usage of vinyards (and orchards, I guess) by 25%. Now he’s won the IoT awards for Best DIY Project.

We have lost a great inventor. [Artur Fischer], inventor of the plastic drywall plug, fischertechnik, the plastic wall plug, photo flash light, and holder of over 1100 patents (more than the great Edison), passed away this week.

Who remembers Glider? That old Macintosh game where you fly a paper airplane around a house is now available on GitHub. The creator of Glider, [John Calhoun] put all the code up a few days ago. If you have Metrowerks Code Warrior sitting around on an old box, feel free to dig around.

 In the ‘this guy totally won’t get sued’ column is MagSafe for iPhones. The MagSafe power adapter is Apple’s largest contribution to humanity, but they are a little protective about it.

We have two calls for the community: [jimie] had a go at programming the latest, coolest, open source radio. Programming it is hard. Has anyone found an improved guide? Second, I now have a Tadpole Computer that was former property of Quallcom. I can’t find any info on getting *nix or *BSD on it. Anyone have any experience?

Tribed 3D Printer Configuration Doesn’t Ever Need To Be Leveled

[Jeremie Francois] has been thinking about ways to improve tool height adjustment and bed leveling in his 3D printer for a long time. His dream was to never ever think about Z height again. A dream that’s shared by many. These days, a lot of 3D printers have a mechanism for auto leveling in the software of the 3D printer. This works pretty well, but for various mechanical reasons, it’s better to have the bed itself be level.

[Jeremie]’s approach is pretty clever. Since you can define any plane mathematically with three points, he has three Z-axis lead screws. This lets him tilt the bed at any angle he likes. Once he had the mechanics in place, he added some force sensitive resistors, an Arduino, and wrote an extension for the popular Marlin firmware. That’s when the problems started.

It turns out that solidly mounting the bed to the resistors transmitted way too many vibrations. The solution was a layer of neoprene rubber. The neoprene also acts as a cushion, so the nozzle won’t break the glass bed during the leveling procedure.

The video after the break is a bit wavy, due to YouTube’s terrible auto-stabilizing software, but if you watch closely, you can see the system at work.

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ESP8266 Transmits Television on Channel 3

We’ve seen a lot of ESP8266 projects in the past, but this one most definitely qualifies as a hack. [Cnlohr] noticed that the ESP8266, when overclocked, could operate the I2S port at around 80MHz and still not lose DMA data. He worked out how to create bit patterns that generate RF around 60MHz. Why is that interesting? Analog TVs can receive signals around that frequency on channel 3.

As you can see in the video below, the output is monochrome only and is a little snowy. It also will lose frames on some WiFi events, but this is all forgivable when you consider this very inexpensive module isn’t meant to do video output at all.

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Hacking the Internet of Things: Decoding LoRa

Getting software-defined radio (SDR) tools into the hands of the community has been great for the development and decoding of previously-cryptic, if not encrypted, radio signals the world over. As soon as there’s a new protocol or modulation method, it’s in everyone’s sights. A lot of people have been working on LoRa, and [bertrik] at RevSpace in The Hague has done some work of his own, and put together an amazing summary of the state of the art.

LoRa is a new(ish) modulation scheme for low-power radios. It’s patented, so there’s some information about it available. But it’s also proprietary, meaning that you need a license to produce a radio that uses the encoding. In keeping with today’s buzzwords, LoRa is marketed as a wide area network for the internet of things. HopeRF makes a LoRa module that’s fairly affordable, and naturally [bertrik] has already written an Arduino library for using it.

So with a LoRa radio in hand, and a $15 RTL-SDR dongle connected to a laptop, [bertrik] got some captures, converted the FM-modulated chirps down to audio, and did a bunch of hand analysis. He confirmed that an existing plugins for sdrangelove did (mostly) what they should, and he wrote it all up, complete with a fantastic set of links.

There’s more work to be done, so if you’re interested in hacking on LoRa, or just having a look under the hood of this new modulation scheme, you’ve now got a great starting place.

The Infinite Monkey Cage and General Relativity

If you are British, you probably already know where this is going. For the rest of you, it might help to know that The Infinite Monkey Cage is an odd little show on BBC  Radio 4 (and they’ve been on tour, too). It is the show that asks a question you probably never asked: “What would happen if a physicist and a comedian had a radio show?”

The answer, it turns out, is some science information that is anything but dry. If you are prone to listening to radio programs or podcasts, you might find some interesting tidbits in the Cage. A two-part episode on general relativity was especially interesting although it isn’t exactly like their regular program.

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