Is That A Vintage Computer In Your Pocket?

There’s a lot of debate over which of several contenders was the first modern computer. One of those first operating computers was the University of Cambridge’s EDSAC — the brainchild of Dr. Maurice Wilkes. The EDSAC scored a lot of firsts and used a serial data path along with mercury delay line memories. Over on, [David Boucher] wanted to simulate the EDSAC in a much smaller form factor than the original room full of racks.

As you can see in the video below, he succeeded in that task, using a Teensy and a small LCD display. We’re reminded EDSAC was among the first machines so some of the terms we would employ were not in use yet. An order is an instruction, for example. Initial orders are akin to a bootloader. Continue reading “Is That A Vintage Computer In Your Pocket?”

Talking With Bubbles

Despite the title, this isn’t a tale of conversing with Michael Jackson’s chimp. Rather, it is about [KyungYun]’s machine that transforms speech into whimsical bubbles. While the speech control is novel, we were more fascinated with how the mechanism uses a system of strings to blow bubbles, along with the workmanship to make the device portable.

The rate of fire isn’t that great, so the bubbles appear to simply get larger the longer you talk. Essentially, the device increases the size of the iris — the part that blows the bubble — until you pause speaking. Then it burps out a bubble.

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Electrifying a Honda NC50 Express

[Quasse] bought a 1978 Honda NC50 Express moped with the intention of fixing it up and riding it, only to find that the engine was beyond repair. So, they did what any self-respecting hacker would do: tear out the motor and replace it with an electric one. It’s still a work in progress, but they have got it up and running by replacing the engine with a Turnigy SK3 6374 motor, a 192KV motor that [Quasse] calculated should be able to drive the moped at just over 30 miles per hour. Given that this was the top speed that the NC50 could manage on gas power, that’s plenty fast.

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An Arduino Carbon Fiber Wrapping Machine

Many of the projects we feature on Hackaday are motivated by pure greed. Not on the part of the hacker, mind you; but rather the company that’s charging such an outrageous price for a mass produced item that somebody decides they can do the same thing cheaper as a one-off project. Which is precisely how [Bryan Kevan] ended up building his own carbon fiber tube wrapping machine. Not only do the finished tubes look fantastic, but they cost him a fraction of what even the “cheap” commercial ones cost.

The principle behind producing the tubes is really pretty simple: carbon fiber ribbon (or “tow”, in the official parlance) gets wrapped around a rotating mandrel, ideally in interesting patterns, and epoxy is added to bind it all together. When it’s hardened up, you slide the new carbon fiber tube off the mandrel and away you go building a bike frame or whatever it is you needed light and strong tubes for. You could even do it by hand, if you had enough patience.

[Bryan] had done it by hand before, but was looking for a way to not only automate the process but make the final product a bit more uniform-looking. His idea was to rotate a horizontal PVC pipe as his mandrel, and move a “car” carrying the carbon fiber ribbon back and forth along its length. The PVC pipe just needs to rotate along its axis so he figured that would be easy enough; and using a GT2 belt and some pulleys, getting the carbon-laying car moving back and forth didn’t seem like much of a challenge either.

The frame of the winder is built from the hacker’s favorite: 20/20 aluminum extrusion. Add to that an Arduino Uno, two stepper motors with their appropriate drivers, and the usual assortment of 3D printed odds and ends. [Bryan] says getting the math figured out for generating interesting wrap patterns was a bit tricky and took a fair amount of trial and error, but wasn’t a showstopper. Though we’d suggest following his example and using party ribbon during testing rather than the carbon stuff, as producing a few bird nests at the onset seems almost a guarantee.

One of the trickiest parts of the project ended up being removing the carbon fiber tubes from the PVC mandrel once they were done. [Bryan] eventually settled on a process which involved spraying the PVC with WD-40, wrapping it in parchment paper, and then using a strip of 3M blue painter’s tape to keep the parchment paper from moving. If you can toss the whole mandrel in the freezer after wrapping to shrink it down a bit, even better.

So was all this work worth it in the end? [Bryan] says he was originally looking at spending up to $70 USD per foot for the carbon fiber tubes he needed for his bike frame, but by buying the raw materials and winding them himself, he ended up producing his tubes for closer to $3 per foot. Some might question the strength and consistency of these DIY tubes, but for a ~95% price reduction, we’d be willing to give it a shot.

Years ago we covered a Kickstarter campaign for a very similar carbon winder. Probably due to the relatively limited uses of such a gadget, the winder didn’t hit the funding goal. But just like the current wave of very impressive homebrew laser cutters, the best results might come from just building the thing yourself.

Arduino Tachometer Clock Fires on All Cylinders

We’re certainly no strangers to unique timepieces around these parts. For whatever reason, hackers are obsessed with finding new and interesting ways of displaying the time. Not that we’re complaining, of course. We’re just as excited to see the things as they are to build them. With the assumption that you’re just as enamored with these oddball chronometers as we are, we present to you this fantastic digital tachometer clock created by [mrbigbusiness].

The multi-function digital gauge itself is an aftermarket unit which [mrbigbusiness] says you can get online for as little as $20 from some sites. All he needed to do was figure out how to get his Arduino to talk to it, and come up with some interesting way to hold it at an appropriate viewing angle. The mass of wires coming out of the back of the gauge might look intimidating, but thanks to his well documented code it shouldn’t be too hard to follow in his footsteps if you were so inclined.

Hours are represented by the analog portion of the gauge, and the minutes shown digitally were the speed would normally be displayed. This allows for a very cool blending of the classic look of an analog clock with the accuracy of digital. He’s even got it set up so the fuel indicator will fill up as the current minute progresses. The code also explains how to use things like the gear and high beam indicators, so there’s a lot of room for customization and interesting data visualizations. For instance, it would be easy to scrap the whole clock idea and use this gauge as a system monitor with some modifications to the code [mrbigbusiness] has provided.

The gauge is mounted to a small project box with some 3D printed brackets and bits of metal rod, complete with a small section of flexible loom to cover up all the wires. Overall it looks very slick and futuristic without abandoning its obvious automotive roots. Inside the base [mrbigbusiness] has an Arduino Nano, a DS1307 RTC connected via I2C, a voltage regulator, and a push button to set the time. It’s a perfectly reasonable layout, though we wonder if it couldn’t be simplified by using an ESP8266 and pulling the time down with NTP.

We’ve seen gauges turned into a timepiece before, but we have to admit that this is probably the most practical realization we’ve seen of the idea yet. Of course if you want to outfit the garage with something a bit more authentic, you can always repurpose a Porsche brake rotor.

Inventors Chasing Their Dreams; What It’s Like to Quit Your Job and Hack

The phrase “Hindsight is 20/20” is one of those things that we all say from time to time, but rarely have a chance to truly appreciate to the fullest. Taken in the most literal context, it means that once you know the end result of a particular scenario, you can look back and clearly see the progression towards that now inescapable endgame. For example, if you’re stuck on the couch with a bad case of food poisoning, you might employ the phrase “Hindsight is 20/20” to describe the decision a few days prior to eat that food truck sushi.

Then again, it’s usually not that hard to identify a questionable decision, with or without the benefit of foreknowledge. But what about the good ones? How can one tell if a seemingly unimportant choice can end up putting you on track for a lifetime of success and opportunity? If there’s one thing Michael Rigsby hopes you’ll take away from the fascinating retrospective of his life that he presented at the 2018 Hackaday Superconference, it’s that you should grab hold of every opportunity and run with it. Some of your ideas and projects will be little more than dim memory when you look back on them 50 years later, but others might just end up changing your life.

Michael Rigsby’s electric car in 1971

Of course, it also helps if you’re the sort of person who was able to build an electric car at the age of nineteen, using technology which to modern eyes seems not very far ahead of stone knives and bear skins. The life story Michael tells the audience, complete with newspaper cuttings and images from local news broadcasts, is one that we could all be so lucky to look back on in the Autumn of our years. It’s a story of a person who, through either incredible good luck or extraordinary intuition, was able to be on the forefront of some of the technology we take for granted today before most people even knew what to call it.

From controlling his TRS-80 with his voice to building a robotic vacuum cleaner years before the Roomba was a twinkle in the eye of even the most forward thinking technofetishist, Michael was there. But he doesn’t hold a grudge towards the companies who ended up building billion dollar industries around these ideas. That was never what it was about for him. He simply loves technology, and wanted to show his experiments to others. Decades before “open source” was even a term, he was sharing his designs and ideas with anyone who’d care to take a look.

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Hackaday Podcast Ep2 – Curious Gadgets And The FPGA Brain Trust

UPDATE: Episode 4 just released. (Apologies for the February newsletter sending you here by mistake).


In this week’s podcast, editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys look back on favorite hacks and articles from the week. Highlights include a deep dive in barn-door telescope trackers, listening in on mains power, the backstory of a supercomputer inventor, and crazy test practices with new jet engine designs. We discuss some of our favorite circuit sculptures, and look at a new textile-based computer and an old server-based one.

This week, a round table of who’s-who in the Open Source FPGA movement discusses what’s next in 2019. David Shah, Clifford Wolf, Piotr Esden-Tempski, and Tim Ansell spoke with Elliot at 35C3.

Direct Download (56.2 MB MP3)

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