Hackaday Prize Entry: Controling E-ZPass

You can drive from Boston to Chicago without picking up a single ticket from a toll booth, or handing money to a single toll booth worker. You can do this because of E-ZPass, a small plastic brick mounted in most cars in the Northeast United States. The E-ZPass contains an RFID transponder linked to your checking account. Yes, it’s convenient, and yes, it is a way for the government to track your movements remotely without your knowledge.

For his Hackaday Prize entry, [Jordan] is peering into that suspicious white box on his dashboard and adding notifications to his E-ZPass. He’s upgraded his E-ZPass with a little bit of circuitry to his to notify him when it is being scanned, whether it’s at a turnpike plaza or just driving three blocks through midtown Manhattan.

A notification system for the E-ZPass brick has been around for a few years now thanks to a talk by [Pukingmonkey] at DEF CON. Because of this simple circuit, we know the NYPD is collecting E-ZPass data of people driving around Manhattan. Why? Something something sovereign citizen or thereabouts.

[Jordan] is taking the E-ZPass notification system a bit farther than previous builds and adding a logging functionality with a small GPS module. Of course [Jordan]’s build will still have blinkey LEDs for notifying him when the E-ZPass is read, but by logging this data to an SD card, he’ll be able to play a road trip back on his computer and do a proper expense report. Security research while collecting expense data; it doesn’t get better than that.

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From Rusty Cargo Van to Mobile Studio

Looking for a more unique living experience, [Zach Both] converted a 2003 Chevy Express Van he picked up from Craigslist into a gorgeous mobile home.

The van had 200,000 miles when he bought it. The body and frame were a bit rusty, but he saw the potential. First step was gutting the entire van, and getting rid of any surface rust with an angle grinder. It was a long and tedious process, but once it was done he had a blank slate to work with. Continue reading “From Rusty Cargo Van to Mobile Studio”

Open Source Cloud Chamber

If you are a certain age, there were certain science toys you either had, or more likely wanted. A chemistry set, a microscope, a transparent human body, and (one of several nuclear toys) a cloud chamber. Technically, a Wilson cloud chamber (named after inventor Charles Wilson) isn’t a toy. For decades it was a serious scientific tool responsible for the discovery of the positron and the muon.

The principle is simple. You fill a sealed chamber with a supersaturated water or alcohol vapor. Ionizing radiation will cause trails in the vapor. With a magnetic field, the trails will curve depending on their charge.

If you didn’t have a cloud chamber, you can build your own thanks to the open source plans from [M. Bindhammer]. The chamber uses alcohol, a high voltage supply, and a line laser. It isn’t quite the dry ice chamber you might have seen in the Sears Christmas catalog. A petri dish provides a clear observation port.

We’ve covered cloud chamber builds before, ranging from the simple to ones that use thermoelectric coolers.

Barb Makes Mechanical Pokey Finger With Filament Rivets

We were trolling around Hackaday.io, and we stumbled on [Barb]’s video series called (naturally enough) “Barb Makes Things“. The plot of her videos is simple — Barb points a time-lapse camera at her desk and makes stuff. Neat stuff.

Two particularly neat projects caught our attention: a mechanical pointy-finger thing and the useful 3D-printing-filament rivets that she used to make it. (Both of which are embedded below.) The finger is neat because the scissor-like extension mechanism is straight out of Wile E. Coyote’s lab.


But the real winners are the rivets that hold it together. [Barb] takes a strand of filament, and using something hot like the side of a hot-glue gun, melts and squashes the end into a mushroom rivet-head. Run the filament through your pieces, mushroom the other end, and you’re set. It’s so obvious after seeing the video that we just had to share. (Indeed, a lot of cheap plastic toys are assembled using this technique.) It’s quick, removable, and seems to make a very low-friction pivot, which is something that printed pins-into-holes tends not to. Great idea!

Continue reading “Barb Makes Mechanical Pokey Finger With Filament Rivets”

Hacklet 111 – Advanced Microscopy Projects

Last week on the Hacklet we covered optical microscopy projects. Those are the familiar scopes that many of us have at work or even at home on our benches. These are scopes that you typically can use with your eye, or an unmodified camera. This week we’re taking a look at more extreme ways of making small things look big. Electron streams and the forces of a single atom can be used to create incredibly magnified images. So let’s jump right in and check out the best advanced microscopy projects on Hackaday.io!

blubeamWe start with [andreas.betz] and BluBEAM – a scanning laser microscope. [Andreas] aims to create a scanning confocal microscope. The diffraction limit is the law of the land for standard optical microscopes. While you can’t break the law, you can find ways around it. Confocal microscopy is one technique used quite a bit in medicine and industry. Confocal scopes are generally very expensive, well outside the budget of the average hacker. [Andreas] hopes to break that barrier by creating a scanning confocal microscope using parts from a Playstation 3 BluRay optical drive. Optical drives use voice coils to maintain focus. [Andreas] had to create a custom PCB with a voice coil driver to operate the PS3 optics assembly. He also needed to drive the laser. BluBeam is still very much a work in progress, so keep an eye on it!

stmNext up is [MatthiasR.] with DIY Scanning tunneling microscope. Open atmosphere scanning tunneling microscopes are popular on Hackaday.io. I covered [Dan Berard’s] creation in Hacklet 103. Inspired by Dan, [Matthias] is building his own STM.

Environmental vibration is a huge problem with high magnification microscopes. [Matthias] is combating this by building a vibration isolation platform using extruded aluminum. He’s currently working on the STM preamplifier, which amplifies and converts the nano amp STM values to voltages which can be read by a digital to analog converter. [Matthias] is using the venerable Analog ADA4530 for this task. With an input bias of 20 femtoamps (!) it should be up to the task.

desemNext we have [Jerry Biehler] with Hitachi S-450 Scanning Electron Microscope. Scanning electron microscopes have to be the top of the microscopy food chain. Jerry got his hands on a 1980’s vintage Hitachi SEM which was no longer working. The problem turned out to be a dodgy repair made years earlier with electrical tape. Fast forward a couple of years of use, and [Jerry] has done quite a lot to his old machine. He’s learned how to make his own filaments from tungsten wire. The slow oil diffusion vacuum pump has been replaced with a turbomolecular pump. The SEM now resides in [Jerry’s] living room, which keeps it at a relatively constant temperature.

Bild1Finally, we have [beniroquai] with Holoscope – Superresolution Holographic Microscope. Holoscope is a device which increases the resolution of a standard camera by using the physical properties of light to its advantage. Precise tiny shifts of the object being magnified cause minute changes in a reflected image, which is captured by a Raspberry Pi camera. The Pi can then reconstruct a higher resolution image using the phase data. [Beniroquai] has put a lot of time into this project, even sacrificing an expensive Sony connected camera to the ESD gods. I’m following along with this one. I can’t wait to see [beniroquai’s] first few images.

If you want to see more advanced microscopy projects, check out our new advanced microscope projects list! If I missed your project, don’t be shy, just drop me a message on Hackaday.io. That’s it for this week’s Hacklet. As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Plastic cutter made of 3.5” floppy disk

This is so cool; an unexpected use for an antiquated digital storage medium. [DeepSOIC] built a cutter that shaves off plastics but cannot cut through metal. It’s made out of the media part of a 3.5” floppy disk. For the new kids, here’s what a Floppy Disk is.

The disk is attached to any high speed DC motor connected to a plain ol’ power supply – variable if you want to adjust speed. As you can see from the video after the break, it cuts through plastic quite well, but is unable to damage any metal that it encounters. This property makes it extremely handy for many applications. Want to strip through an old 3.5mm phono jack without damaging the wires? Want to wind a coil over a plastic former and then strip away the plastic? Want to trim some 3D printed parts? All game for this handy tool. According to [DeepSOIC], if you don’t have floppy disks, you can use other kinds of plastic films too – such as overhead transparencies or plastic printer films. If you are in a pinch, he claims even paper works, although it doesn’t last too long. Don’t throw away all of those business cards yet.

This isn’t the only trick up his sleeve. He’s documenting a whole series on his project page at Hacks and Tricks. And if you like these, then also checkout [RoGeorge]’s bag of tricks over at The Devil is in the Details.

Continue reading “Plastic cutter made of 3.5” floppy disk”

Designing A Single Instruction Computer

Today’s computers are unimaginably complex, and so complicated it’s nearly impossible for anyone to comprehend everything a CPU can do in excruciating detail. It wasn’t always like this – the early CPUs of the 70s and 80s were relatively simple and can easily be recreated at the individual gate level. CPUs can be even simpler, as [Jack Eisenmann] demonstrates with a single instruction computer, the DUO Compact 2, made entirely out of 74-series logic chips and a bunch of memory.

[Jack] has a long history of building strange computers out of individual chips, including a TTL logic CPU and a significantly more complicated single instruction computer. The latest, though, is as simple as it gets. It’s just twenty chips, capable of calculating prime numbers, sorting strings, and everything else a computer is able to do.

With every one-instruction computer, there is the obvious question of what instruction this computer uses. For the DUO Compact 2 it’s a single instruction that accepts three arguments, A, B, and C. The instruction copies a byte from A to B, then jumps to the instruction at C. Is it even possible for a computer to add two numbers with this instruction? Yes, if you have massive look up tables stored in 2 Megabytes of Flash and 512 kB of RAM.

In the video below, [Jack] goes over how his tiny computer works and demonstrates prime number generation (it’s slow), string sorting (also slow), and displaying ’99 bottles of beer on the wall’ on the computer’s LCD. All the files to replicate this computer are available on [Jack]’s webpage, along with an emulator in case you don’t want to break out a breadboard for this one.

Continue reading “Designing A Single Instruction Computer”