Recycled Piano Becomes Upcycled Workbench

Pianos are free, in case you’re not hip to the exciting world of musical instrument salvage. Yes, the home piano, once the pinnacle of upper middle class appreciation of the arts, is no longer. The piano your great aunt bought in 1963 is just taking up space, and it’s not like the guy on Craigslist giving away a free piano has a Bösendorfer.

It’s out of this reality of a surplus of cheap used pianos that [luke] built a new desk. He got it a while ago, but after getting it into his house, he realized it was too old to be tuned anymore. Or at least it was uneconomical to do so. This piano became a workbench, but after a while [luke] wanted something with a little more storage.

The process of converting this piano to a desk began with taking a few photos and putting them into Fusion 360. A series of panels and brackets were modeled in box jointed plywood, and the entire thing was cut out of 6mm Baltic birch plywood at the Vancouver Hack Space.

There are a few nice features that make this desk a little better than an Ikea special. There’s a Raspberry Pi mounted to the shelves, because the Pi still makes a great workbench computer. There’s a power supply, and hookups for 12 V, 5 V, and 3.3 V from an ATX power supply. This is controlled with an awesome antique power switch mounted to the side of the piano. Slap a few coats of black paint on that, and [luke] has an awesome, functional workbench that also has out-of-tune sympathetic strings. Not bad.

You can check out the entire build video below. Thanks [Jarrett] for sending this one in.

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Fail Of The Week: Electromigration Nearly Killed This Xerox Alto

The Living Computers museum in Seattle has a Xerox Alto, the machine famous for being the first to sport a mouse-based windowing graphical user interface. They received it in working condition and put it in their exhibit, but were dismayed when a year later it ceased to operate. Some detective work revealed that the power supply was failing to reach parts of the machine, and further investigation revealed an unlikely culprit. Electromigration had degraded the contacts between the supply pins and the backplane traces.

If electromigration is new to you, don’t feel ashamed, it was a new one to us too. It’s “the transport of material caused by the gradual movement of the ions in a conductor due to the momentum transfer between conducting electrons and diffusing metal atoms“, got it? Okay, that’s just a long way to say that passing a sufficiently high current through a conductor for a long time can physically move the metal of that conductor.

This one just doesn’t pop up very often. But in the case of the Alto, an under-specified power distribution system caused a lot of current to flow through too few solder joints. Those joints were left without enough metal to make a decent connection, so they failed.

The fix came with a set of sturdy busbars freshly soldered to the pins, but the interest in this piece comes more from the unusual phenomenon that caused it. That soldered joints can seemingly flow away defies belief. It’s still something most of us will never encounter, but like tales of ball lightning it’s one for the “Fancy that!” collection.

We’ve covered the Alto before, most notably [Ken Shirriff]’s work in restoring the Computer History Museum’s example.

Hackaday Links: February 3, 2019

Once technology that was only available to expensive design teams, and high-end engineering work, 3D printers are now readily available to anyone. Designing a physical prototype with a 3D printer is now something anyone can afford. Did I say anyone? Yes, anyone, even the people trying to build perpetual motion machines. Here’s one on Kickstarter powered by physics. It’s repelling magnets turning wheels.

The study and development of Artificial Intelligence began in the late 1950s and early 1960s. There were conferences, there were talks, colloquium, journals, the works. It was the beginning of a golden age. That came to a screeching halt sometime around 1985. Now, we’re in a new golden age of AI. There’s even a conference. It’s being hosted by [Jeff Bezos], as the alternative, public version of the MARS (for Machine Learning, Automation, Robotics, and Space) conference. Read that link. The phrase, ‘the Bilderberg conference of California’ is in there.

A new Project Binky? Can it be true? Yes, it’s episode 22. The center console is in, the dash is in, and the doors look somewhat finished. What’s the deal this time? A bumpin’ stereo. Wiring! Milliput! It’s English blokes in a shed doing fabrication, your favorite genre of video.

Aaaay, wait a minute. Have you heard about KiCon? Yes, there will be a KiCad user conference. It’s in Chicago, April 26th and 27th, and it’s all about KiCad scripts, settings, tools, techniques, and triumphs. There’s a call for talks, although you shouldn’t try to submit a workshop discussing the difference between ‘Kai-Cad’ and ‘Key-Cad’. That workshop has already been rejected.

Have a 25 meter satellite dish lying around in your backyard? Of course you do. Well, you can hunt for satellites with that thing and a USB TV tuner. The SatNOGS team has been working with a (radio) observatory in the Netherlands, and they’re getting radio signals from overhead satellites. Not bad, and there are, actually, a surprising number of unused large radio dishes out there. Luckily, they’re mostly historic sites.

Unlocking God Mode On X86 Processors

We missed this Blackhat talk back in August, but it’s so good we’re glad to find out about it now. [Christopher Domas] details his obsession with hidden processor instructions, and how he discovered an intentional backdoor in certain x86 processors. These processors have a secondary RISC core, and an undocumented procedure to run code on that core, bypassing the normal user/kernel separation mechanisms.

The result is that these specific processors have an intentional mechanism that allows any unprivileged user to jump directly to root level access. The most fascinating part of the talk is the methodical approach [Domas] took to discover the details of this undocumented feature. Once he had an idea of what he was looking for, he automated the process of checking every possible x86 instruction, looking for the one instruction that allowed running code on that extra core. The whole talk is entertaining and instructional, check it out after the break!

There’s a ton of research poking at the instruction level of complication processors. One of our favorites, also by [Domas], is sandsifter which searches for undocumented instructions.

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Leap Motion’s Project North Star Gets Hardware

It’s been more than a year since we first heard about Leap Motion’s new, Open Source augmented reality headset. The first time around, we were surprised: the headset featured dual 1600×1440 LCDs, 120 Hz refresh rate, 100 degree FOV, and the entire thing would cost under $100 (in volume), with everything, from firmware to mechanical design released under Open licenses. Needless to say, that’s easier said than done. Now it seems Leap Motion is releasing files for various components and a full-scale release might be coming sooner than we think.

Leap Motion first made a name for themselves with the Leap Motion sensor, a sort of mini-Kinect that only worked with hands and arms. Yes, we’re perfectly aware that sounds dumb, but the results were impressive: everything turned into a touchscreen display, you could draw with your fingers, and control robots with your hands. If you mount one of these sensors to your forehead, and reflect a few phone screens onto your retinas, you have the makings of a stereoscopic AR headset that tracks the movement of your hands. This is an over-simplified description, but conceptually, that’s what Project North Star is.

The files released now include STLs of parts that can be 3D printed on any filament printer, files for the electronics that drive the backlight and receive video from a laptop, and even software for doing actual Augmented Reality stuff in Unity. It’s not a complete project ready for prime time, but it’s a far cry from the simple spec sheet full of promises we saw in the middle of last year.

Blacksmith Elevates The Craft With This Fabulous Strongbox

For most of human industrial history, the blacksmith was the indispensable artisan. He could fashion almost anything needed, from a simple hand tool to a mechanism as complex as a rifle. Starting with the most basic materials, a hot forge, and a few tools that he invariably made himself, the blacksmith was a marvel of fabrication.

If you have any doubt how refined the blacksmith’s craft can be, feast your eyes on [Seth Gould]’s masterpiece of metalwork. Simply called “Coffer”, [Seth] spent two years crafting the strongbox from iron, steel, and brass. The beautifully filmed video below shows snippets of the making, but we could easily watch a feature-length film detailing every aspect of the build. The box is modeled after the strongboxes built for the rich between the 17th and 19th centuries, which tended to favor complex locking mechanisms that provided a measure of security by obfuscation. At the end of the video below, [Seth] goes through the steps needed to unlock the chest, each of which is filled with satisfying clicks and clunks as the mechanism progresses toward unlocking. The final reveal is stunning, and shows how much can be accomplished with a forge, some files, and a whole lot of talent.

If you’ve never explored the blacksmith’s art before, now’s the time. You can even get started easily at home; [Bil Herd] will show you how.

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A Very Different ‘Hot Or Not’ Application For Your Phone

Radioactivity stirs up a lot of anxiety, partially because ionizing radiation is undetectable by any of the senses we were born with. Anytime radiation makes the news, there is a surge of people worried about their exposure levels and a lack of quick and accurate answers. Doctors are flooded with calls, detection devices become scarce, and fraudsters swoop in to make a quick buck. Recognizing the need for a better way, researchers are devising methods to measure cumulative exposure experienced by commodity surface mount resistors.

Cumulative exposure is typically tracked by wearing a dosimeter a.k.a. “radiation badge”. It is standard operating procedure for people working with nuclear material to wear them. But in the aftermath of what researchers euphemistically call “a nuclear event” there will be an urgent need to determine exposure for a large number of people who were not wearing dosimeters. Fortunately, many people today do wear personal electronics full of components made with high purity ingredients to tightly controlled tolerances. The resistor is the simplest and most common part, and we can hack a dosimeter with them.

Lab experiments established that SMD resistors will reveal their history of radiation exposure under high heat. Not to the accuracy of established dosimetry techniques, but more than good enough to differentiate people who need immediate medical attention from those who need to be monitored and, hopefully, reassure people in neither of those categories. Today’s technique is a destructive test as it requires removing resistors from the device and heating them well above their maximum temperature, but research is still ongoing in this field of knowledge we hope we’ll never need.

If you prefer to read about SMD resistor hacks with less doomsday, we recently covered their use as a 3D printer’s Z-axis touch sensor. Those who want to stay on the topic can review detection hacks like using a single diode as a Geiger counter and the IoT dosimeter submitted for the 2017 Hackaday Prize. Or we can choose to focus on the bright side of radioactivity with the good things made possible by controlled artificial radioactivity, pioneered by Irène Joliot-Curie.

[via Science News]