Field Expedient Quenches Your Thirst for a Soldering Station

In the category of first world problems, it seems that these days no one is happy with just a plain old soldering iron. Today, everyone wants a station with bells, whistles, and features. If all you have is the iron, take heart. Grab a soda, drink it, and then duplicate [Kalvin178’s] makeshift solder station.

The idea is simple: cut or tear a soda can and press in the sides to make a V-shaped holder for the iron. A smaller part of the can might hold a wet paper towel, a sponge, or some copper scrubbing pads to clean your tip.

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Need a Night-Light?

[Scott] created an LED candle in preparation for the big mac daddy storm (storms?) coming through.  Like millions of other people in Florida, he was stuck at home with his roommates when an oncoming hurricane headed their way.  Worrying about blundering about in the dark when the power inevitably went out, they set off to gather up all of the candles they had lying around.  Realizing the monstrous pile of candles and matches looked more and more like a death wish, the decision was made to create a makeshift light out of what components they had on hand.  Now, not having access to any outside sources for parts means that you are going to have a bare bones model.

That being said, this straightforward light only takes a couple of seconds to put together.  Jury rig a couple of AA or AAA batteries up, then slap on a resistor, LED, and jumper to get that sucker running.  Wrap electrical tape around the whole thing, or even try duct tape, whatever gets the job done.  A little paper hat on top of it will diffuse the light and bada bing, bada boom, you’re all done.  Generally though, soldering directly onto a battery is not a wise idea.  So, if you want to get fancy, perhaps a better alternative is to have a battery casing as shown below.

This LED candle is a clear option if your home isn’t a micro warehouse for electronic components (apparently it is frowned upon to clog up your garage for projects), and you have limited time.  However, if you have a number of extra minutes lying around before your windows blow in, see if you can top the brightest flashlight ever made (thus far).  Continue reading “Need a Night-Light?”

Wind Chimes and Dry Ice Make an Unusual Musical Instrument

When it comes to making music, there are really only a few ways to create the tones needed — pluck something, blow into something, or hit something. But where does that leave this dry-ice powered organ that recreates tunes with wind chimes and blocks of solid CO2?

It turns out this is firmly in the “hit something” camp, as [Leah Edwards] explains of her project. When the metal wind chime tubes come in contact with dry ice, the temperature difference sublimates the solid CO2. The puff of gas lifts the tube slightly, letting it fall back against the brick of dry ice and making a tone. The process is repeated rapidly, providing a vibrato effect while the tube is down. [Leah] used solenoids to lift the tubes and, having recently completed a stint at National Instruments, a bunch of NI gear to control them. The videos below show a few popular tunes and a little bit about the organ build. But what — no songs from Frozen?

We can easily imagine this same build using an Arduino or some other microcontroller. In fact, it puts us in mind of a recent reed organ MIDI project that has a few ideas to offer, like ways to quiet those solenoids.  Continue reading “Wind Chimes and Dry Ice Make an Unusual Musical Instrument”

OptionsBleed – Apache bleeds in uncommon configuration

[Hanno Böck] recently uncovered a vulnerability in Apache webserver, affecting Apache HTTP Server 2.2.x through 2.2.34 and 2.4.x through 2.4.27. This bug only affects Apache servers with a certain configuration in .htaccess file. Dubbed Optionsbleed, this vulnerability is a use after free error in Apache HTTP that causes a corrupted Allow header to be replied by the webserver in response to HTTP OPTIONS requests. This can leak pieces of arbitrary memory from the server process that may contain sensitive information. The memory pieces change after multiple requests, so for a vulnerable host an arbitrary number of memory chunks can be leaked.

Unlike the famous Heartbleed bug in the past, Optionsbleed leaks only small chunks of memory and more importantly only affects a small number of hosts by default. Nevertheless, shared hosting environments that allow for .htaccess file changes can be quite sensitive to it, as a rogue .htaccess file from one user can potentially bleed info for the whole server. Scanning the Alexa Top 1 Million revealed 466 hosts with corrupted Allow headers, so it seems the impact is not huge so far.

The bug appears if a webmaster tries to use the “Limit” directive with an invalid HTTP method. We decided to test this behaviour with a simple .htaccess file like this:

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Hackaday Prize Entry: The $50 Raspberry Pi Smartphone

The Hackaday Prize is a challenge to create hardware, and the ZeroPhone is quite possibly the most popular project entered in the Hackaday Prize. What is it? It’s a mobile phone built around the Raspberry Pi Zero that can be assembled for about $50 in parts. Already, it’s a finalist in the Hackaday Prize best product competition, a finalist for the grand prize of $50,000, and one of the most popular projects on of all time.

We took a look at the ZeroPhone early this year, and while there have been significant advances in this project, the philosophy is still pretty much the same. This is a mobile phone with a numeric keypad and a 128 x 64 pixel OLED display — basically the same user interface as a Nokia brick. The brain of the phone is a Raspberry Pi Zero wrapped in a PCB sandwich, with options for WiFi, Bluetooth, HDMI and audio outputs, a USB port, battery charging, and a ton of GPIOs that include ISM band radios, infrared receivers and transmitters, more flash storage, and anything else you can imagine. Basically, we’re looking at one of those modular, reconfigurable smartphone ideas, using a Raspberry Pi as the brains. Tech journos should be creaming themselves over this. We’re looking forward to [Arsenijs]’ cover story in Wired.

As with any Open Source / DIY cell phone, the big question surrounding the ZeroPhone is the cellular radio. 2G radios are cheap and plentiful, but the infrastructure is either coming down shortly, or already is down. A 3G radio is a must for a minimum viable product, and [Arsenijs] says there are provisions for replacing the 2G radio with a 3G module. Of course, 3G modules aren’t as capital-‘O’-Open as their technological predecessors, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Already the ZeroPhone is a huge success. There’s an actual team working on this project, the ZeroPhone subreddit is bigger than the Hackaday subreddit, there are newsletters, a wiki, and there will be a crowdfunding campaign ‘shortly’. This is one to look out for, and a very worthy project in the running for the 2017 Hackaday Prize.

There Is No Such Thing As An Invalid Unit

The Mars Climate Orbiter was a spacecraft launched in the closing years of the 1990s, whose job was to have been to study the Martian atmosphere and serve as a communications relay point for a series of other surface missions. It is famous not for its mission achieving these goals, but for the manner of its premature destruction as its orbital insertion brought it too close to the planet’s atmosphere and destroyed it.

The ill-fated Mars Climate Orbiter craft. NASA [Public domain].
The ill-fated Mars Climate Orbiter craft. NASA [Public domain].
The cause of the spacecraft entering the atmosphere rather than orbiting the planet was found in a subsequent investigation to be a very simple one. Simplifying matters to an extent, a private contractor supplied a subsystem which delivered a reading whose units were in the imperial system, to another subsystem expecting units in the SI, or metric system. The resulting huge discrepancy caused the craft to steer towards the surface of the planet rather than the intended orbit, and caused the mission to come to a premature end. Billions of dollars lost, substantially red faces among the engineers responsible.

This unit cock-up gave metric-using engineers the world over a brief chance to feel smug, as well as if they were being honest a chance to reflect on their good fortune at it not having happened on their watch. We will all at some time or another have made an error with respect to our unit calculations, even though in most cases it’s more likely to have involved a simple loss of a factor of ten, and not with respect to a billion dollar piece of space hardware.

But it also touches on one of those fundamental divides in the world between the metric and imperial systems. It’s a divide that brings together threads of age politics, geography, nationalism, and personal choice, and though it may be somewhere angels fear to tread (we’ve seen it get quite heated before to the tune of 885+ comments), it provides a fascinating subject for anyone with an interest in engineering culture.

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Hybrid Technique Breaks Backscatter Distance Barrier

Low cost, long range, or low power — when it comes to wireless connectivity, historically you’ve only been able to pick two. But a group at the University of Washington appears to have made a breakthrough in backscatter communications that allows reliable data transfer over 2.8 kilometers using only microwatts, and for pennies apiece.

For those unfamiliar with backscatter, it’s a very cool technology that modulates data onto RF energy incident from some local source, like an FM broadcast station or nearby WiFi router. Since the backscatter device doesn’t need to power local oscillators or other hungry components, it has negligible power requirements. Traditionally, though, that has given backscatter devices a range of a few hundred meters at most. The UW team, led by [Shyamnath Gollokota], describe a new backscatter technique (PDF link) that blows away previous records. By combining the spread-spectrum modulation of LoRa with the switched attenuation of incident RF energy that forms the basis for backscatter, the UW team was able to cover 2800 meters for under 10 microwatts. What’s more, with printable batteries or cheap button cells, the backscatter tags can be made for as little as 10 cents a piece. The possibilities for cheap agricultural sensors, ultracompact and low power wearable sensors, or even just deploy-and-forget IoT devices are endless.

We’ve covered backscatter before, both for agricultural uses and for pirate broadcasting stations. Backscatter also has also seen more cloak and dagger duty.

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