Chess AI, Old School

People have been interested in chess-playing computers before there were any chess-playing computers. In a 1950 paper, [Claude Shannon] defined two major chess-playing strategies. Apparently, practical chess programs still use the techniques he outlined. If you’ve ever wondered how to make a computer play chess [FreeCodeCamp] has an interesting post that walks you through building a chess engine step-by-step.

The code is in JavaScript, but the approach struck us as old school. However, it is interesting to watch the evolution of code as you go from random moves, to slightly smarter strategy, to deeper searching. Because it is in JavaScript, you can follow along in your browser and find out when the program gets smart enough to beat you. The final version is even on GitHub.

Continue reading “Chess AI, Old School”

Stereo Microscope Teardown

Stereo microscopes are very handy tools, especially for a lot of hackers who now regularly assemble, test and debug SMD circuits using parts as small as grains of sand. We have seen a lot of stereo microscope hacks here at Hackaday, so it helps to take a look inside one to understand how they work. Thanks to [noq2]’s teardown of a Wild Heerbrugg model M8 stereo microscope, we get to do exactly that. His M8 is from the mid-1970s, but it is in mint condition and doesn’t look like it’s over 40 years old. Despite being so old, [noq2] still uses it regularly, so the teardown is not super detailed. But there’s enough for us to get a good idea of how they work.

Stereo microscopes use one of two optical designs — the Common Main Objective (CMO) optical system and the Greenough optical system. [MicroscopeWorld] has a nice blog post explaining these two types and their pros and cons. Not surprisingly, stereo microscopes, just like other optical instruments, are highly modular to allow attaching various extensions, adapters and accessories. The Wild M8 uses the CMO design and its main parts are the binocular head, the main body and the objective lens.

The binocular head consists of the two eyepieces and a pair of prisms that create the binocular split. The alignment of these prisms is critical and they must not be disturbed in their mounting cages. The prism cages have a sliding adjustment to help set the interpupillary distance. The main body contains the zoom and magnification optics and the related mechanics. [noq2] is impressed with the lack of plastics used in the construction of these fine instruments. Finally, there’s the huge objective lens, which [noq2] feels is the Achilles heel of the instrument. Its design is not plan-apochromatic and that causes significant chromatic aberrations, especially when trying to capture photographs. Thankfully, there are other objective lenses which can be used, including some DIY adapter solutions. The Wild Heerbrugg brand was taken over by Leica who still produce a range of stereo microscopes under that badge. If you have one of these microscopes, [noq2] suggests you head over the French forum at lenaturaliste.net where you’ll find extensive information about them.

As a bonus, also check out [noq2]’s ghetto lighting solution for his microscope – a pair of high power LED’s attached to salvaged heatsinks, and mounted on the frame of an old 80 mm cooling fan. The fan frame is perfect since it is the right size to slide over the objective lens. If you’re looking for a more capable lighting solution for your microscope, then check out “AZIZ! Light!”, a microscope ring light with a number of different features.

Have You Ever Tried Desoldering Needles?

If you are an electronics enthusiast who has a tendency to hoard junk because it Might Be Useful Someday, you may well have a significant experience when it comes to desoldering. Why order that component, when you’ve got one on this old board?

So we’ve become experts in removing old components from dead PCBs, so when it comes to desoldering techniques you might think we’ve seen it all, there’s nothing new to learn. Then along comes [fede.tft], with a tip of a desoldering tool that’s new to us. The video below the break from [MSylvain59] demonstrates the needles in action, what do you think? Have any of you used a desoldering needle?

This is a set of tools you might use to desolder a through-hole component with a wire-end poking out beneath the board. The idea is that as stainless steel needles the solder won’t adhere to them, so you can select the appropriate size and use it to push out the lead from below.

We remain to be convinced, as it seems to be a slightly more fiddly way to do what we’ve used a small screwdriver for to lever from above the board for years, but it’s always worth talking about a tool that could be a useful new weapon in our armoury.

Continue reading “Have You Ever Tried Desoldering Needles?”

California Looks to Compel IoT Security

There is a bill going through committee in the state of California which, if passed, would require a minium level of security for Internet of Things devices and then some. California SB 327 Information privacy: connected devices in its original form calls for connected device manufacturers to secure their devices, protect the information they collect or store, indicate when they are collecting it, get user approval before doing so, and be proactive in informing users of security updates:

require a manufacturer that sells or offers to sell a connected device, defined as any device, sensor, or other physical object that is capable of connecting to the Internet, directly or indirectly, or to another connected device, to equip the device with reasonable security features appropriate to the nature of the device and the information it may collect, contain, or transmit, that protect it from unauthorized access, destruction, use, modification, or disclosure, and to design the device to indicate when it is collecting information and to obtain consumer consent before it collects or transmits information, as specified. The bill would also require a person who sells or offers to sell a connected device to provide a short, plainly written notice of the connected device’s information collection functions at the point of sale, as specified. The bill would require a manufacturer of a connected device to provide direct notification of security patches and updates to a consumer who purchases the device.

This is just a proposal and will change as it finds its way through committee. Currently there a really no methods of punishment outlined, but recent comments have suggested individual prosecutors may have latitude to interpret these cases as they see fit. Additionally it has been suggested that the devices in question would be required to notify in some way the user when information is being collected. No language exists yet to clarify or set forth rules on this matter.

The security community has been sounding the cry of lackluster (often lack of) security on this growing army of IoT hardware and we’ve all known one day the government would get involved. Often this type of action requires a major event where people were in some way harmed either physically or financially that would push this issue. Denial of service attacks have already occurred and hijacking of webcams and such are commonplace. Perhaps what we saw in September finally pushed this into the limelight.

Any reasonable person can see the necessity of some basic level of security such as eliminating default passwords and ensuring the security of the data. The question raised here is whether or not the government can get this right. Hackaday has previously argued that this is a much deeper problem than is being addressed in this bill.

The size of California’s economy (relative to both the nation and the world) and the high concentration of tech companies make it likely that standards imposed if this law passes will have a large effect on devices in all markets.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Electric Variable Pitch Props

Barring the smallest manned airplanes, most aircraft that are pulled around by a prop have variable pitch propellers. The reason for this is simple efficiency. Internal combustion engines are most efficient at a specific RPM, and instead of giving the engine more gas to speed up, pilots can simply change the pitch of a propeller. With a gas powered engine, the mechanics and design of variable pitch propellers are well understood and haven’t really changed much in decades. Adding variable pitch props to something pulled around by an electric motor is another matter entirely. That’s what [Peter McCloud] is building for his entry to the Hackaday Prize, and it’s going into the coolest project imaginable.

This project is designed for a previous Hackaday Prize entry, and the only 2014 Hackaday Prize entry that hasn’t killed anyone yet. Goliath is a quadcopter powered by a lawnmower engine, and while it will hover in [Peter]’s test rig, he’s not getting the lift he expected and the control system needs work. There are two possible solutions to the problem of controlling the decapatron: an ingenious application of gimballed grid fins, or variable pitch rotors. [Peter] doesn’t know if either solution will work, so he’s working on both solutions in parallel.

[Peter]’s variable pitch rotor system is basically an electronic prop mount that connects directly to the driven shafts on his gas-powered quadcopter. To get power to the electronics, [Peter] is mounting permanent magnets to the quad’s frame, pulling power from coils in the rotor hub, and rectifying it to DC to drive the servos and electronics. Control of the props will be done wirelessly through an ESP32 microcontroller.

Variable pitch props are the standard for everything from puddle jumpers to acrobatic RC helis. In the quadcopter world, variable pitch props are at best a footnote. The MIT ACL lab has done something like this, but perhaps the best comparison to what [Peter] is doing is the incredible Stingray 500 quad. Flite Test did a great overview of this quad (YouTube), and it’s extremely similar to a future version of the Goliath. A big motor (in the Stingray’s case, a brushless motor) powers all the props via a belt, and the pitch of the props is controlled by four servos. The maneuverability of these variable pitch quads is unbelievable, but since the Goliath is so big and has so much mass, it’s doubtful [Peter] will be doing flips and rolls with his quads.

You can check out a video of [Peter]’s build below.

Continue reading “Hackaday Prize Entry: Electric Variable Pitch Props”

LEGO Liquid Handler and Big Biology

A career as a lab biologist can take many forms, but the general public seems to see it as a lone, lab-coated researcher sitting at a bench, setting up a series of in vitro experiments by hand in small tubes or streaking out a little yeast on an agar plate. That’s not inaccurate at all – all of us lab rats have done time with a manual pipettor while trying to keep track of which tube in the ice bucket gets which solution. It’s tedious stuff.

But because biology experiments generally scale well, and because more data often leads to better conclusions, life science processes can quickly grow beyond what can be handled manually. I’ve seen this time and again in my 25 years in science, from my crude grad school attempts to miniaturize my assays and automate data collection to the multi-million dollar robotic systems I built in my career in the pharmaceutical industry. Biology can get pretty big in a hurry. Continue reading “LEGO Liquid Handler and Big Biology”

VCF East: Enigma Machines In The Flesh

At the end of World War II, the Germans ordered all Enigma cipher machines destroyed. Around the same time, Churchill ordered all Enigma cipher machines destroyed. Add a few decades, neglect the efforts of Polish codebreakers, and make a movie about Alan Turing and an offensively historically incorrect love interest, and you have a mystique around these rare, innovative cipher machine.

At the Vintage Computer Festival East, I was privy to what is probably the largest collection of Enigma machines on the planet. The exhibit comes from [Tom] and [Dan Perera] of Enigma Museum. Right now, they’re they only place where you can go out and simply buy a real, wartime Enigma machine. The price? Well, there is a pair of million-dollar Apple I boards at VCF. The Enigmas go for about a fifth of an Apple I.

Continue reading “VCF East: Enigma Machines In The Flesh”