Usborne Release More 1980s Computer Books

Children of the 1980s who had an interest in technology were lucky indeed. As well as the first generations of home computers at their disposal they had the expectation to program them, something which the generation that followed had lost.

Traditional children’s publishers enthusiastically embraced the home computer boom, and probably for the only time in history there were books aimed at children covering subjects like machine code, or interfacing to microprocessors.

Kid's books were better when we were young! Usborne(Fair use)
Kid’s books were better when we were young! Usborne(Fair use)

If you are British, the most memorable of these books came from Usborne Publishing. Their format of colourful cartoons and easy to digest layout have made them something of a cult object among the now-grown-up generation who first received them, and Usborne themselves have cleverly exploited their heritage to promote their current offerings by releasing some of them as PDFs. And now, to promote their latest title, “Coding For Beginners Using Python”, they’ve released five more (scroll down to see). Titles are “Practice Your BASIC”, “Better BASIC”, “Computer Controlled Robots”, “Experiments With Your Computer”, and “Keyboards & Computer Music”, which join the fifteen they’ve already released.

Obviously they are heavily based around the microcomputers of the 1980s, but of course for most Hackaday readers that will be their chief attraction. Either way they’re an interesting read, and should you happen to have a few old micros lying around then maybe you could have a go at some of the projects.

If the BASIC listings are a little foreign to you, might we suggest some places to find BASIC information.

Endurance Test Machine Is Not Quite Useless

It seems [Pete Prodoehl] was working on a project that involved counting baseballs as they fell out of a chute, with the counting part being sensed by a long lever microswitch. Now we all know there are a number of different ways in which one can do this using all kinds of fancy sensors. But for [Pete], we guess the microswitch was what floated his boat — likely because it was cheap, easily available and replaceable, and reliable. Well, the reliable part he wasn’t very sure about, so he built a (not quite) Useless Machine that would conduct an endurance test on the specific switch brand and type he was using. But mostly, it seemed like an excuse to do some CAD design, 3D printing, wood work and other hacker stuff.

The switches he’s testing appear to be cheap knock-off’s of a well known brand. Running them through the torture test on his Useless Machine, he found that the lever got deformed after a while, and would stop missing the actuator arms of his endurance tester completely. In some other samples, he found that the switches would die, electrically, after just a few thousand operations. The test results appear to have justified building the Useless Machine. In any case, even when using original switches, quite often it does help to perform tests to verify their suitability to your specific application.

Ideally, these microswitches ought to have been compliant to the IEC 61058 series of standards. When switches encounter real world loads running off utility supply, their electrical endurance is de-rated depending on many factors. The standard defines many different kinds electro-mechanical test parameters such as the speed of actuation, the number of operations per minute and on-off timing. Actual operating conditions are simulated using various types of electrical loads such as purely resistive, filament lamp loads (non-linear resistance), capacitive loads or inductive loads. There’s also a test involving a locked rotor condition. Under some of the most severe kinds of electrical loads, a switch may be expected to last just a few hundred operations. But if the switch is used for low power applications (contact current below 20 mA), then it is expected to last up to its mechanical endurance limit. For most microswitches, this is usually in the range to 100,000 to 300,000 operations.

Coming back to his project, his first version was cobbled together as a quick hack. A 3D-printed lever was attached to a motor fixed on a 3D-printed mount. The switch was wired to an Arduino input, and a four-digit display showed the number of counts. On his next attempt, he replaced the single lever with a set of three, and in yet another version, he changed the lever design by adding small ball bearings at the end of the actuator arms so they rolled smoothly over the microswitch lever. The final version isn’t anywhere close to a machine that would be used to test these kind of switches in a Compliance Test Laboratory, but for his purpose, we guess it meets the bar.

For those interested, here is a great resource on everything you need to know about Switch Basics. And check out the Useless Machine in action in the video below.

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Light-Painting Robot Turns any Floor into Art

Is [SpongeBob SquarePants] art? Opinions will differ, but there’s little doubt about how cool it is to render a pixel-mapped time-lapse portrait of Bikini Bottom’s most famous native son with a roving light painting robot.

Inspired by the recent trend of long exposure pictures of light-adorned Roombas in darkened rooms, [Hacker House] decided to go one step beyond and make a lighted robot with less random navigational tendencies. A 3D-printed frame and wheels carries a pair of steppers and a Raspberry Pi. An 8×8 Neopixel matrix on top provides the light. The software is capable of rendering both simple vector images and rastering across a large surface to produce full-color images. You’ll notice the careful coordination between movement and light in the video below, as well as the impressive turn-on-a-dime performance of the rover, both of which make the images produced so precise.

We’ve covered a lot of light-painting videos before, including jiggering a 3D-printer and using a hanging plotter to paint. But we haven’t seen a light-painter with an essentially unlimited canvas before. We’d also love to see what two or more of these little fellows could accomplish working together.

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Teensy Laser Harp Has Big Sound

[Johan] has slipped down the rabbit hole of making musical instruments. His poison? Laser harp MIDI controllers. Having never made one before, he thought he would start small and then iterate using what he learned. Fortunately for us, [Johan] documented the process over on .io, essentially creating a step-by-step guide for building a simple but powerful 16-note laser harp.

Laser Harp I is built around a Teensy 3.2 and, of course, lasers pointed at LDRs. [Johan] used fairly low-power laser modules, which are slightly less blinding if you accidentally look at them for a second, but should still be taken seriously. He added four potentiometers to control the sensitivity, scale, octave, and the transposition. The sensitivity pot essentially accounts for the ambient light in the room. Although it only has 16 notes, Laser Harp I is ready to rock with over 30 different scales to choose from. Check out the brief demo that [Johan] put up on his Instagram.

If you try to build your own laser harp and get lost trying to follow [Johan]’s instructions, don’t worry. His well-commented code and lovely schematic will undoubtedly save you. Then you can move on to open-beam designs.

Zelda and the Ocarina of Things

Voice recognition is this year’s model for home automation, but aside from feeling like you’re onboard the Aries 1b arguing with HAL 9000, it just doesn’t do it for our geeky selves. So what’s even geekier? How about carrying around an ocarina in your pocket so that you can get a Raspberry Pi to unlock the door for you? (YouTube video, embedded below.) Yeah, that’ll do.

[Sufficiently Advanced]’s video gets us 90% of the way toward replicating this build. There’s a tube with a microphone and a Raspberry Pi inside. There are a bunch of ESP8266-powered gadgets scattered around the house that take care of such things as turning on and off the heater, watering plants, and even pressing a (spare) car remote with a servo.

We’d love to know what pitch- or song-recognition software the Raspberry Pi is running. We’ve wanted to implement a whistling-based home automation interface since seeing the whistled. We can hold a tune just fine, but we don’t always start out on the same exact pitch, which is a degree of freedom that [Sufficiently Advanced]’s system doesn’t have to worry about, assuming it only responds to one ocarina.

If you’re questioning the security of locking and unlocking your actual apartment by playing “Zelda’s Lullaby” from outside your window, you either overestimate the common thief or you just don’t get the joke. The use case of calling (and hopefully finding) a cell phone is reason enough for us to carry a bulky ocarina around everywhere we go!

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How Many Inventors Does It Take To Invent A Light Bulb

Many credit the invention of the incandescent light bulb with Edison or Swan but its development actually took place over two centuries and by the time Edison and Swan got involved, the tech was down to the details. Those details, however, meant the difference between a laboratory curiosity that lasted minutes before burning out, and something that could be sold to consumers and last for months. Here then is the story of how the incandescent light bulb was invented.

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Hanging 3D Printer Uses Entire Room As Print Bed

There are many things people do with spare rooms. Some make guest rooms, others make baby rooms, while a few even make craft rooms. What do hackers do with spare rooms? Turn them into giant 3D printers of course. [Torbjørn Ludvigsen] is a physics major out of Umea University in Sweden, and built the Hangprinter for only $250 in parts. It follows the RepRap tradition of being completely open source and made mostly from parts that it can print.

The printer is fully functional, proven by printing a five-foot tall model of the Tower of Babel. [Torbjorn] hopes to improve the printer to allow it to print pieces of furniture and other larger household items.

[Torbjorn] hopes that 3D printing will not go down the same road that 2D printing went, where the printers are designed to break after so many prints. Open source is the key to stopping such machines from getting out there.

Thanks to [Jeremy Southard] for the tip!

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