Hackaday Prize Entry: You Know, For Kids

Like the fictitious invention of the Hula Hoop in Hudsucker Proxy, [David Spinden]’s big idea is small and obvious once you’ve seen it. And we’re not saying that’s a bad thing at all. What he’s done is to make a new kind of prototyping connector; one that hooks into a through-plated hole like a pogo pin, but in the horizontal direction.

9092981463539177581This means that your test-points can do double duty as header connectors, when you need to make something more permanent, or vice-versa. That’s a lot of flexibility for a little wire, and it takes one more (mildly annoying) step out of prototyping — populating headers.

[David] makes them out of readily available header pins that already have the desired spring-like profile, and simply cuts them out and connects them to a standard Dupont-style hookup wire. Great stuff.

When we opened up the “Anything Goes” category for the Hackaday Prize, we meant it. We’re excited to see people entering large and small ideas that improve the world, even if it’s just the world of hackers.

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Retrotechtacular: Fog Over Portland

In the early days of broadcast television, national spectrum regulators struggled to reconcile the relatively huge bandwidth required by the new medium with the limited radio spectrum that could be allocated for it. In the USA during the years immediately following World War Two there was only a 12-channel VHF allocation, which due to the constraints of avoiding interference between adjacent stations led to an insufficient number of possible transmitter sites to cover the entire country. This led the FCC in 1949 to impose a freeze on issuing licences for new transmitters, and left a significant number of American cities unable to catch their I Love Lucy or The Roy Rogers Show episodes.

The solution sought by the FCC was found by releasing a large block of UHF frequencies between 470 and 890 MHz from their wartime military allocation, and thus creating the new channels 14 to 83. An experimental UHF pilot station was set up in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1949, and by 1952 the FCC was ready to release the freeze on new licence applications. The first American UHF station to go on air was thus KPTV in Portland, Oregon, on September 18th of that year.

UHF TV was a very new technology in 1952, and was close to the edge of what could be achieved through early 1950s consumer electronics. Though the 525-line TV standard and thus the main part of the sets were the same as their VHF counterparts, the tuner designs of the time could not deliver the performance you might expect from more recent sets. Their noise levels, sensitivity, and image rejection characteristics meant that UHF TV reception  did not live up to some of its promise, and thus a fierce battle erupted between manufacturers all keen to demonstrate the inferiority of their competitors’ products over the new medium.

The video below the break delivers a fascinating insight into this world of claim and counter-claim in 1950s consumer electronics, as Zenith, one of the major players, fires salvos into the fray to demonstrate the superiority of their products over competing models or UHF converters for VHF sets. It’s very much from the view of one manufacturer and don’t blame us if it engenders in the viewer a curious desire to run out and buy a 1950s Zenith TV set, but it’s nonetheless worth watching.

A key plank of the Zenith argument concerns their turret tuner. The turret tuner was a channel selection device that switched the set’s RF front end between banks of coils and other components each preset to a particular TV channel. Zenith’s design had a unique selling point that it could be fitted with banks of components for UHF as well as VHF channels thus removing the need for a separate UHF tuner, and furthermore this system was compatible with older Zenith sets so existing owners had no need to upgrade. Particularly of its time in the video in light of today’s electronics is the section demonstrating the clear advantages of Zenith’s germanium mixer diode over its silicon equivalent. Undeniably true in that narrow application using the components of the day, but not something you hear often.

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Mechaduino- Closed Loop Stepper Servos For Everyone

Is it something in the water, or have there been a lot of really cool servo projects lately? Mechaduino is a board that sits on a regular stepper motor and turns it into a servo with a closed loop control of 0.1degree.

Whenever we post something about using cheap brushless motors for precision control, someone comments that a stepper is just a brushless motor with a lot of poles, why not just control it like one. That’s exactly what the Mechaduino does. They also hint at doing something very clever with a magnetic encoder on the board which allows them, after a calibration routine, to get the accuracy they’ve promised.

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Mind Control Cerebro Helmet Controls People

For the recent release of X-Men Apocalypse, YouTuber [Allen Pan] from “Sufficiently Advanced” decided to make a rather ambitious project — a working Cerebro Helmet. Wait what?

When worn, it allows you to steer the person wearing it to the left or right using a series of impulses to the brain. It’s actually a well-researched technique called Galvanic Vestibular Stimulation — basically if you zap a nerve in your ear it messes with your balance. If you’re trying to walk in a straight line and the electrodes trigger, it causes a sudden imbalance and you tend to lean in that direction — thus changing the direction you are walking. Kind of like remote control cockroaches — but… with people…

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How Did Pocket NC Survive and Thrive?

We had a chance to talk to Matthew Hertel of PocketNC at the Bay Area Maker Faire this year. During the conversation, he answered some questions I’d had about the project since I saw it on Kickstarter, and told a cool story while he was at it.

When the Pocket NC 5-axis Tabletop CNC Mill KickStarter came out, I immediately chocked it up as a failure out of the gate. I figured that there would never be a single delivered unit. It just seemed too impossible. The price was too low for a machine with that many large machined aluminum pieces. It had real linear guides. It had a real spindle and housed a beagle bone black running linuxCNC. It just couldn’t be that cheap. Ends up, I’m quite happy to be wrong. Pocket NC is doing well, delivering their first units, and taking new orders.

The CNC equivalent of a brag track on a hip-hop record.
The CNC equivalent of a brag track on a hip-hop record.

It’s easy to get jaded with the Kickstarter and IndieGoGo scams that are out there. Or even the disappointing behavior of projects that could be legitimate. People often do failure analysis of companies, but it is also worth investigating what people did right when they are successful.

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Long-Term Review: Weller Magnastat Soldering Iron

One of the things you find yourself doing as a young engineer is equipping yourself with the tools of your trade. These will be the foundations upon which your career is built in a way that a diploma or degree certificate will never be, for the best degree in the world is less useful if the quality of your tools renders you unable to capitalise upon it. You may be lucky enough to make some of them yourself, but others you’ll lust after as unaffordable, then eventually put the boat out a little to buy at the limit of your meager income.

Your bench may have a few of these lifetime tools. They could be something as simple as screwdrivers or you may have one of those indestructible multimeters, but in my case my lifetime tool is my soldering iron. At some time in 1992 I spent about £60($173 back then), a lot of money for a student, on a mains-powered Weller Magnastat. The World Wide Web was still fairly fresh from Tim Berners-Lee’s NeXT in those days, so this meant a trip to my university’s RS trade counter and a moment poring over a telephone-book-sized catalogue before filling in an order slip.

The Magnastat is a simple but very effective fixed-temperature-controlled iron. The tip has a magnet on its rear end which holds closed a power switch for the heating element. When the tip has heated to the Curie temperature of the magnet, it loses its magnetism and the switch opens. The temperature falls to below the Curie temperature and the magnetism returns, the switch closes, the tip warms up again, and the cycle repeats itself. The temperature of the tip is thus dictated by the magnet’s Curie temperature, and Weller provides a range of tips fitted with magnets for different temperatures.

The result is an iron with enough power to solder heat-sucking jobs that would leave lesser irons gasping for juice, while also having the delicacy to solder tiny surface-mount components without destroying them or lifting tracks. It’s not a particularly small or lightweight iron if you are used to the featherlight pencil irons from today’s soldering stations, but neither is it too large or heavy to be unwieldy. In the nearly quarter century I have owned my Magnastat it has had a hand in almost everything I have made, from hi-fi and tube amplifiers through radio transmitters, stripline filters, kits, and too many repairs to mention. It has even been pressed into service plastic-welding a damaged motorcycle fairing. It has truly been a lifetime tool.

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The Most Powerful Diesel Engine

Ever. Literally.

A gearhead friend of ours sent along a link to a YouTube video (also embedded below) promising the world’s most powerful engine. Now, we’ll be the first to warn you that it’s just an advertisement, and for something that you’re probably not going to rush out and buy: the Wärtsilä 14RT marine engine.

A tiny bit of math: 96 cm cylinder diameter times 250 cm piston stroke = 1,809,557 CC. And it generates around 107,000 HP. That’s a fair bit, but it runs at a techno-music pace: 120 BPM RPM. With twelve cylinders, we’d love to hear this thing run. Two-strokes make such a wonderful racket! Wonder if they’ve tried to red-line it? It’s a good thing we don’t work at Wärtsilä.

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