Beer And Hacks In London and Beyond

We’ve been all over the UK this month, our most recent Hackaday gathering just two nights past. With much hardware and hacker show and tell (recounted below) I wanted to make sure nobody missed the chance to join in as we’ll be in Bletchley on Saturday and in Cambridge on Wednesday. Whether you need more convincing to walk out the door and join in the fun, or just want to the see the excellent hardware so far displayed, keep reading to share in the fun from Wednesday night.

London pubs have an unfavourable image among provincial folk, one of being strange neon-lit places populated by vast crowds of very loud people in suits drinking cheap wine at expensive prices. The truth is though that the capital’s pubs are as diverse as those anywhere else in the country, from shabby quiet backstreet boozers with their aged customers nursing pints of Fullers to achingly hipster faux-Victorian gin-palaces in which young men sporting preposterous beards they’ll regret in five years time drink microbrewery ales you won’t have heard of served in glass tankards. On a hot August evening the patrons spill out onto the pavement and provide a handy reference to the would-be drinker as to the nature of the establishment.

This warm-evening exodus served our community well night before last, for when a group of Hackaday readers and Tindie sellers converged upon a pub in Fitzrovia there was enough room to reach the bar and though it was hardly quiet we could at least discuss the things we’d brought along. My colleague [Jasmine] had organised the event and was on hand with a pile of stickers and other swag.

A select group of hackers and makers made the journey. Some of them, such as my friend [David], I had encountered frequently online but never met in person so it was good to put a face to a name, while others I knew only by the reputation they had garnered through the projects they’d put on Hackaday.io or Tindie. I will undoubtedly fail to mention a few names in this quick round-up of a few of the projects, so before I start I would like to thank everyone for coming along and making it such a good evening.

[Jasmine] as seen by [Mike]'s LED screen.
[Jasmine] as seen by [Mike]’s LED screen.

Electric Stuff from Mike’s Workshop

Most visible because of an extensive range of very bright LED projects was [Mike], of [Mike’s Electric Stuff] fame. His PCB density was impressive, though he did admit to having a pick-and-place machine. Especially useful for those large LED matrices. Of note was a pentagonal LED screen with integrated camera, originally part of an LED screen polyhedron. This board offered a rare glimpse of a Raspberry Pi Compute Module in the wild.

Scope Probe Sans Pound Sink

Opposite me for most of the evening was [Leonerd], with his oscilloscope current probe adapter. This board as you might expect contains a very low value shunt resistor and an amplifier, allowing the accurate measurement of low current transients without laying down the GDP of a small country to buy one from a high-end test equipment manufacturer. I was party to a very interesting conversation between him and [Mike] on the subject of instrumentation amplifiers, something of personal interest from my experience with RF test equipment.

The RC2014 in mid-render
The RC2014 in mid-render

A Wild Z80 Appeared

Also present was [Spencer] with his RC2014 Z80-based computer. He’d brought along the fully tricked-out version with keyboard and screen, and had it running a fractal graphic generator written in BASIC. It’s a project that touches a spot in the heart of people of a certain age, if your first computer came from Sir Clive Sinclair then maybe you’ll understand.

The value of the evening was not solely in the kits and projects on display though. Whenever you get a group from our wider community together in a convivial environment the creative discourse flows in unexpected direction, knowledge is shared, and new ideas are formed. Part of the global Hackaday and Tindie community got to know each other yesterday evening, and from that will come fresh projects. They may not necessarily change the world, but everything has to start somewhere.

This event was one of a short series following our successful bring-a-hack at EMF Camp. We were very pleased to see the projects people brought along, they comprehensively eclipsed the little radio board that was my offering. The run of UK events isn’t over, we have ones coming up at Bletchley and Cambridge, and as always keep an eye on the Hackaday.io events page for global events within our community.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Russian Roulette With A Soldering Gun

You’re driving along a lonely, dark highway with the knowledge that suicide rates are highly correlated with fatal single vehicle car accidents. A highway overpass bridge appears ahead. You might be able to make it around the guard rail. Might is the operative word. You’ve failed at everything else so far, and there’s no reason to believe this would be any exception.

The suffering will not end, but you can delay it a bit. That’s what the Internet is all about. Cat pictures. Memes. Rare Pepes. Distraction is your digital analgesic. Like this post if you agree. The problem with using distraction as a candle of hope in your empty, wind-blown existence is simply finding new things to distract yourself with. This Hackaday Prize entry is the solution to that. It’s a randomizer for Hackaday.io. Russian roulette with a soldering gun.

This Hackaday.io project randomizer works on a property unique to the greatest project hosting site. All the links have a number and the project name in the URL. Remove the project name, and the link still works. It’s a handy pseudo-URL shortener if you ever want to put a link to your project on a PCB, but also a great way to look at all the projects on .io – all you need is a bit of Python, Perl, or some other scripting language

Right now, [Greg] has a Perl script running on one of his servers (sure to be down by the time you read this), that chooses a random number, and tries to grab that Hackaday.io project. If 404 is returned, it tries again until it succeeds.

 

Arc Lighter become Plasma Pyrography Pen

Wood burning can be quite a striking art form, but who wants to be stuck using an old-fashioned resistive heating element to char wood? You could go with laser engraving, of course, but that seems to take too much of the human touch out of it. So why not try a mini plasma pen and blow torch powered by a fancy cigarette lighter?

Arc lighters are rechargeable electronic lighters that look like a tiny stun-gun, and [NightHawkInLight] has been coming up with some interesting hacks for them. In this case, he extended the electrode leads out and mounted them to a wooden handle. The spark gap is only about 2mm, but the resulting arc is plenty hot enough to char wood with considerable precision. You’ve got to work fast, though, or the high voltage will start finding interesting paths through the char, producing Lichtenberg figures. And if a micro-scale blow torch is a tool you need, [NightHawkInLight] has got that covered too – a small brass tube with a pinched-off nozzle hooked to an aquarium pump provides the pressure for that.

Might there be other applications for this beyond pyrography? Maybe soldering or desoldering? Of non-ESD sensitive components, naturally.

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Full Color 3D Printer Upgrade Leaves Competition In The Dust

Most hobby 3D printers are based on FDM, extruding a single-color noodle of melted plastic to build up an object. Powder-based inkjet 3D printing allows you to print detailed, full-color models from a plaster-like material. The process uses ink and water droplets, dispensed from an inkjet print head to selectively fuse and color layers of a powdered binder material. When you see an offer for a 3D printed miniature version of yourself (or someone else), they are made with powder. [Aad van der Geest] wants to put this technology on your desktop with ColorPod, a kit that converts your FDM printer into a powder printer.

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Arduino + Software Defined Radio = Millions of Vulnerable Volkswagens

As we’ve mentioned previously, the integrity of your vehicle in an era where even your car can have a data connection could be a dubious bet at best. Speaking to these concerns, a soon-to-be published paper (PDF) out of the University of Birmingham in the UK, states that virtually every Volkswagen sold since 1995 can be hacked and unlocked by cloning the vehicle’s keyfob via an Arduino and software defined radio (SDR).

The research team, led by [Flavio Garcia], have described two main vulnerabilities: the first requires combining a cyrptographic key from the vehicle with the signal from the owner’s fob to grant access, while the second takes advantage of the virtually ancient HiTag2 security system that was implemented in the 1990s. The former affects up to 100 million vehicles across the Volkswagen line, while the latter will work on models from Citroen, Peugeot, Opel, Nissan, Alfa Romero, Fiat, Mitsubishi and Ford.

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Asking the Security Question of Home Automation

“Security” is the proverbial dead horse we all like to beat when it comes to technology. This is of course not unjust — we live in a technological society built with a mindset of “security last”. There’s always one reason or another proffered for this: companies need to fail fast and will handle security once a product proves viable, end users will have a harder time with setup and use if systems are secured or encrypted, and governments/law enforcement don’t want criminals hiding behind strongly secured systems.

This is an argument I don’t want to get bogged down in. For this discussion let’s all agree on this starting point for the conversation: any system that manages something of value needs some type of security and the question becomes how much security makes sense? As the title suggests, the technology du jour is home automation. When you do manage to connect your thermostat to your door locks, lights, window shades, refrigerator, and toilet, what type of security needs to be part of the plan?

Join me after the break for an overview of a few Home Automation security concerns. This article is the third in our series — the first asked What is Home Automation and the second discussed the Software Hangups we face.

These have all been inspired by the Automation challenge round of the Hackaday Prize. Document your own Automation project by Monday morning to enter. Twenty projects will win $1000 each, becoming finalists with a chance at the grand prize of $150,000. We’re also giving away Hackaday T-shirts to people who leave comments that help carry this discussion forward, so let us know what you think below.

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Fractals Among Us

Think not of what you see, but what it took to produce what you see

Benoit Mandelbrot

Randomness is all around you…or so you think. Consider the various shapes of the morning clouds, the jagged points of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, the twists and turns of England’s coastline and the forks of a lightning bolt streaking through a dark, stormy sky. Such irregularity is commonplace throughout our natural world. One can also find similar irregular structures in biology. The branch-like structures in your lungs called Bronchi, for instance, fork out in irregular patterns that eerily mirror the way rivers bifurcate into smaller streams. It turns out that these irregular structures are not as irregular and random as one might think. They’re self-similar, meaning the overall structure remains the same as you zoom in or out.

The mathematics that describes these irregular shapes and patterns would not be fully understood until the 1970s with the advent of the computer. In 1982, a renegade mathematician by the name of Benoit Mandelbrot published a book entitled “The Fractal Geometry of Nature”.  It was a revision of his previous work, “Fractals: Form, Chance and Dimension” which was published a few years before. Today, they are regarded as one of the ten most influential scientific essays of the 20th century.

Mandelbrot coined the term “Fractal,” which is derived from the Latin word fractus, which means irregular or broken. He called himself a “fractalist,” and often referred to his work as “the study of roughness.” In this article, we’re going to describe what fractals are and explore areas where fractals are used in modern technology, while saving the more technical aspects for a later article.

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