Code Like an Egyptian

[Marcelo Maximiano’s] son had a school project. He and a team of students built “The Pyramid’s Secret“–an electronic board game using the Arduino Nano. [Marcelo] helped with the electronics, but the result is impressive and a great example of packaging an Arduino project. You can see a video of the game, below.

In addition to the processor, the game uses a WT5001M02 MP3 player (along with an audio amplifier) to produce music and voices. There’s also a rotary encoder, an LCD, a EEPROM (to hold the quiz questions and answers), and an LED driver. There’s also a bunch of LEDs, switches, and a wire maze that requires the player to navigate without bumping into the wire (think 2D Operation).

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Ask Hackaday: What’s Your Favorite Internet Relic?

[Sadiq Mohamed] posted this great list of light bulb jokes in our post about drones changing light bulbs. This favored relic used to exist on a Compuserve SIG, but fortunately a dedicated user had saved the list.

There have been virtual worlds long before our computers could render anything but potatoes with anime faces. Bulletin boards, mailing lists, and forums dominated and then fell, for the most part, to social media. In a way even the personal home page has gone to the wayside. (remember geocities?)

The internet has gone through many phases of development. We’ve experimented with lots of concepts and when they fail or go out of style, there are ghost towns of information left untouched.

However, we remember. I still think fondly of my old shell server. Some of it is even history worthy enough to be in the books. What’s your favorite piece of internet gone by or just plain internet obscura? An old joke? A book five layers deep in a file structure somewhere. Or maybe just the 1959 definition of the word, “hack,” in the Tech Model Railroad Club’s first edition dictionary.

Do You Miss The Sound Of Your Model M?

There is one aspect of desktop computing in which there has been surprisingly little progress over the years. The keyboard you type on today will not be significantly different to the one in front of your predecessor from the 1970s. It may weigh less, its controller may be less power-hungry, and its interface will be different, but the typing experience is substantially identical. Or at least, in theory it will be identical. In fact it might be worse than the older peripheral, because its switches are likely to be more cheaply made.

The famous buckled springs in operation. Shaddim [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
The famous buckled spring in operation. Shaddim [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
Thus among keyboard aficionados the prized possessions are not necessarily the latest and greatest, but can often be the input devices of yesteryear. And one of the more famous of these old keyboards is the IBM Model M, a 1984 introduction from the computer behemoth that remains in production to this day. Its famous buckled-spring switches have a very positive action and a unique sound that once heard can never be forgotten.
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Beautiful DIY Ambilight Display

A proper battlestation — or more colloquially, computer desk — setup can sometimes use a bit of technical flair to show off your skills. [fightforlife2] has shared their DIY ambilight monitor backlighting that flows through different colours which mimic what is displayed on the screen.

[fightforlife2]’s setup uses fifty RGB LEDs with individual controllers that support the FastLED library, regulated by an Arduino Nano clone — although any will suffice. The power requirement for the display was a bit trickier, ultimately requiring 3 amperes at 5V; an external power brick can do the trick, but [fightforlife2] also suggests the cavalier solution of using your computer power supply’s 5V line — adding the convenience of shutting off the ambilight display when you shut down your PC!

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The Zero Ohm Resistor

What’s your favorite value of resistor? 1K? 10K? They’re all fine, but when you need nearly no resistance at all, nothing beats the good old zero-ohm resistor.

Wait a minute! Resistors are supposed to resist current. What the heck does a zero-ohm resistor do? Well, the short story (tee-hee!) is that it’s like a jumper for single-sided surface-mount boards. In the bad old days, companies used to save money by running single-sided boards, and you could buy wire jumpers to help make the layout that much easier.

Fast forward to the modern era, where there’s not a through-hole component to be seen. What’s the resistance (ideally) of a wire? Zero ohms. And thus the zero-ohm resistor was born. We have a whole spool of them in our closet in 1206, the largest SMD size that we use, in order to be able to sneak two or three tracks underneath, even on a home-etched board. They’re great.

Anyway, what set us off rhapsodizing about the lowest value resistor was this article on the peculiarities of the zero ohm resistor. Of course, nothing has zero resistance, and the article walks you through some of their real-world properties. Enjoy!

Talking Neural Nets

Speech synthesis is nothing new, but it has gotten better lately. It is about to get even better thanks to DeepMind’s WaveNet project. The Alphabet (or is it Google?) project uses neural networks to analyze audio data and it learns to speak by example. Unlike other text-to-speech systems, WaveNet creates sound one sample at a time and affords surprisingly human-sounding results.

Before you rush to comment “Not a hack!” you should know we are seeing projects pop up on GitHub that use the technology. For example, there is a concrete implementation by [ibab]. [Tomlepaine] has an optimized version. In addition to learning English, they successfully trained it for Mandarin and even to generate music. If you don’t want to build a system out yourself, the original paper has audio files (about midway down) comparing traditional parametric and concatenative voices with the WaveNet voices.

Another interesting project is the reverse path — teaching WaveNet to convert speech to text. Before you get too excited, though, you might want to note this quote from the read me file:

“We’ve trained this model on a single Titan X GPU during 30 hours until 20 epochs and the model stopped at 13.4 ctc loss. If you don’t have a Titan X GPU, reduce batch_size in the train.py file from 16 to 4.”

Last time we checked, you could get a Titan X for a little less than $2,000.

There is a multi-part lecture series on reinforced learning (the foundation for DeepMind). If you wanted to tackle a project yourself, that might be a good starting point (the first part appears below).

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Foundry From Scrapped Oven for Cheap, Clean Castings

Home-built foundries are a popular project, and with good reason. Being able to melt and cast metal is a powerful tool, even if it’s “only” aluminum. But the standard fossil-fuel fired foundries that most people build are not without their problems, which is where this quick and clean single-use foundry comes into play.

The typical home foundry for aluminum is basically a refractory container of some kind that can take the heat of a forced-air charcoal or coal fire. But as [Turbo Conquering Mega Eagle] points out, such fuels can lead to carbon contamination of the molten aluminum and imperfections when the metal is cast. With a junked electric range, [Turbo Conquering Mega Eagle] fabricates a foundry that avoids the issue in an incredibly dangerous way. The oven’s heating element is wrapped around an old stainless saucepan, fiberglass bats from the stove insulate the ad hoc crucible, and the range’s power cord is attached directly to the heating element. The video below shows that it does indeed melt aluminum, which is used to sand cast a fairly intricate part.

We can’t see getting more than one use out of this setup, though, so it’s only as sustainable as the number of ranges you can round up. But it’s worth keeping in mind for one-off jobs. For a more permanent installation, check out this portable propane-powered foundry. And to see what you can make with one, check out this engine breather cast from beer cans.

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