Tritium Tesseract Makes A Nifty Nightlight

As the cube is to three dimensions, the tesseract is to four. Mortals in this universe find it difficult to contemplate four-dimensional geometry, but there are methods of making projections of such heretical shapes in our own limited world. [Sean Hodgins] was interested in the geometry, and decided to build a tesseract featuring everyone’s favourite isotope of hydrogen, tritium.

The build starts with a 3D printed inner and outer frame, sourced in this case from Shapeways in nylon. Both frames have holes which are designed as a friction fit for off-the-shelf tritium vials. These vials use the radioactive decay of tritium with a phosphor coating to create a dim glow which lasts approximately a decade. With the inner frame held inside the outer with the vials acting as structural supports, the inner and outer surfaces are then fitted with semi-transparent mirrored acrylic, creating a nice infinity effect.

It’s a fun trinket that would be perfect as a MacGuffin in any sci-fi film with a weak plot. [Sean] notes that while the tritium glow is disappointingly dim, the device does make a good nightlight. If you’ve built one and get bored with the hypercube, you can always repurpose your tritium vials into a nuclear battery. Video after the break.

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Learn About BGP With The Internet Of EvE

When we first saw [Ben Jojo’s] post about the Internet inside EvE Online, we didn’t think we’d be that interested. We don’t play EvE — a massively multiplayer game. But it turns out, the post is really about understanding BGP (Border Gateway Protocol) and how it helps route traffic in large networks. The best part? He actually simulates a network with 8,000 nodes to test out what he’s talking about.

Obviously, you wouldn’t want to fire up 8,000 Raspberry Pi computers for such an experiment. Using Buildroot, he set up a very small Linux image that had the bare minimum required to run the tests. The qemu provided virtualization, including an obscure feature that allows you to transfer data between virtual machines using UDP. The whole thing ran on some pretty beefy hardware in the cloud. Sure, you could have provisioned 8,000 cloud instances, but that would run into some serious money pretty fast, we imagine. As a wrap-up, he even uses BGP to model his local mass transit system.

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A Network Card For The Trash-80

Around these parts, [Peter] is well-known for abusing the TRS-80 to do things it should never do. You can read Wikipedia on the TRS-80, you can look at Google Images, and you can browse the web. As with any retrocomputer, there are limitations for what you can do. To browse Wikipedia, [Peter] had to set up an AWS instance which translated everything and used serial to IP converters. It can be done, but it’s hard.

Now, after seeing a few interesting projects built around the ESP32, [Peter] built a network card for the TRS-80. It’s called the trsnic, and it’s a working network card for almost all the TRS-80s out there, with the eventual goal of supporting the TRS-80 Model I / II / III / 4 / 12 / 16 / 16B and 6000.

The idea for the trsnic comes from [Arno Puder]’s RetroStoreCard, a device that plugs into the TRS-80 Model III and connects it to a ‘personal cloud’ of sorts that hosts and runs applications without the need for cassettes or floppys. It does this with an ESP32 wired up to the I/O bus in the Model III, and it’s all completely Open Source.

[Peter] took this idea and ran with it. Thanks to the power found in the ESP32, real encrypted Internet communication can happen, and that means HTTPS and TLS.

Right now, documentation for the trsnic is limited, but the project does exist and building it is as easy as stuffing some headers and DIP sockets in a PCB and soldering them on. There’s a bit of work to do on the ESP32 code, but if you’re looking for a network card for your Trash-80, this is the one that works now.

Get Organized With This Raspberry Pi E-Ink Calendar

Like many hackers, we love e-ink. There’s something mesmerizing and decidedly futuristic about the way the images shift around and reconstitute themselves. Like something from Harry Potter, but that you can buy on Alibaba instead of from a shop in Diagon Alley. But as anyone who’s used the technology can tell you, the low refresh rate of an e-ink screen limits its potential applications. It works great for reading books, but beyond that its struggled to find its niche in a world of cheap LCDs.

But [Zonglin Li] has recently wrapped up a project which shows that e-ink has at least one more use case: personal calendars. You can get way with only updating the screen once a day so the refresh rate won’t matter, and the rest of the time it’s going to be static anyway so you might as well enjoy the energy savings of leaving the screen off. With a Raspberry Pi behind the scenes pulling data from the Internet, it can populate the calendar with everything from your personal schedule to when your favorite podcast drops.

In practice, [Zonglin] is actually updating the display every hour as he’s included the current weather conditions on the top left of the screen, but even still, this is a perfect application for the very unique properties of e-ink displays. The display is a 7.5 inch 640×384 model from Waveshare that retails for about $50 USD, so between the display, the Raspberry Pi, and something to put it all in (here, a picture frame) this is a pretty cheap build compared to some of the large format e-ink displays out there.

The software side is written in Python 3, and [Zonglin] has documented how others can easily plug in their own information so it can pull schedule data from Google Calendar and local conditions from Open Weather Map. The MIT licensed source code is also very well organized and commented, so this could serve as an excellent base if you’re looking to create a more comprehensive e-ink home information display.

If this seems a little too pedestrian for your tastes, you could always put together an e-ink movie player, a surprisingly functional Linux terminal, or a very slick ESP8266-based name tag. If you’ve got the better part of $1K USD and don’t know what to do with it, you could even get an e-ink license plate.

Chris Gammell Talks Circuit Toolboxes

Chris Gammell wants to know: What’s in your circuit toolbox?

Personally, mine is somewhat understocked. I do know that in one of my journals, probably from back in the 1980s, I scribbled down a schematic of a voltage multiplier I had just built, with the classic diode and capacitor ladder topology. I probably fed it from a small bell transformer, and I might have gotten a hundred volts or so out of it. I was so proud at the time that I wrote it down for posterity with the note, “I made this today!”

I think the whole point of Chris’ 2018 Hackaday Superconference talk is precisely what I was trying to get at when I made my “discovery” — we all have circuits that just work for us, and the more you have, the better. Most readers will recognize Chris from such venues as The Amp Hour, a weekly podcast he hosts with Dave Jones, and his KiCad tutorial videos. Chris has been in electrical engineering for nearly twenty years now, and he’s picked up a collection of go-to circuits that keep showing up in his designs and making life easier, which he graciously shared with the crowd.

As Chris points out, it’s the little circuits that can make the difference. Slide after slide of his talk had schematics with no more than a handful of components in them, covering applications from dead-simple LED power indicators and switch debouncing to IO expansion using a 74HC595. And as any sensible engineer might, Chris’ toolbox includes a good selection of power protection circuits, everything from polarity reversal protection with a MOSFET and a zener to a neat little high-side driver shutoff using a differential amp and an optoisolator.

My favorite part of the talk was the “Codeless” section — things you can do with discrete components that make microcontroller circuits better. We see the “You could have used a 555!” comments from readers all the time, and Chris agrees, at least to a point. He aptly notes that microcontrollers can wake up with their IO pins in unknown states, and offered several circuits to keep the potential for mischief at bay, such as Schmitt trigger power-on reset or the simple addition of a pull-down resistor to default a MOSFET to a safe state. There’s a lot that code can accomplish, but adding just a few parts can make a circuit much safer and useful.

Chris acknowledges that in any audience, everyone is always at different places with regard to their hardware learning curve, so what’s old hat to someone might be a fresh revelation to another. Still, everything is new to someone at some point, and that’s often the best time to write it down. That’s what I did all those years ago with that voltage multiplier, and it never left me as a result. It’s good advice, and if you haven’t started building your own circuit toolbox, now’s the time.

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Review: IchigoJam Single Board Computer

It won’t replace your beloved Rasbperry Pi, but it’s worth saying hello to this “Strawberry Jam”, straight out of Japan. It’s an equally delicious way to get people interested in the basics of coding.

My hackerspace friend Jim is a lucky bloke, for last year he was able to take an extended holiday through a succession of East Asian countries. We were treated to online pictures of beautiful scenery and beaches, city lights, and of course exciting tech destinations such as hardware markets and hackerspaces. On his return he tossed a package on the table in front of me and said “Jenny, you might like to take a look at that, these are big in Japan!” Inside was an electronic kit and a few pieces of documentation, with Japanese text.

A Different Way To Get Kids Coding

The contents of the IchigoJam kit.
The contents of the IchigoJam kit.

What he’d given me was an IchigoJam (Best translation I’ve been given is “Strawberry Jam”), a small single-board computer aimed at young people. In the style of the 8-bit machines of the 1980s, it runs a comprehensive BASIC interpreter and plugs into a TV set, though it brings itself up-to-date with a USB-A socket for a keyboard. At its heart is an NXP LPC1114F102 ARM Cortex-M0 microcontroller with 32KB of Flash and 4KB of SRAM, and though the board Jim passed to me has a surface-mount example it’s clear that it was also designed for the now-obsolete DIP variant of the chip. If you were to think of this as an odd hybrid of a BASIC Stamp, a Raspberry Pi, and one of the smaller MBED boards, you probably wouldn’t be too far from the mark. What follows is my impression of it based on the information at hand. Sadly the IchigoJam website and forum seems only available to Japanese viewers and returns an error code from my European perspective.

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Open-Source Biology and Biohacking Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday at noon Pacific time for the open-source biology and biohacking Hack Chat!

Justin Atkin‘s name might not ring a bell, but you’ve probably seen his popular YouTube channel The Thought Emporium, devoted to regular doses of open source science. Justin’s interests span a wide range, literally from the heavens above to the microscopic world.

His current interest is to genetically modify yeast to produce spider silk, and to perhaps even use the yeast for brewing beer. He and the Thought Emporium team have been busy building out a complete DIY biology lab to support the effort, and have been conducting a variety of test experiments along the way.

Please join us for this Hack Chat, in which we’ll cover:

  • The how’s and why’s of yeast genetic engineering;
  • What it takes to set up an effective biology lab from scratch;
  • An update on the current status of the spider-silk yeast project; and
  • Where the open-source biology field is, and where it’s going.

You are, of course, encouraged to add your own questions to the discussion. You can do that by leaving a comment on the Open-Source Biology and Biohacking Hack Chat event page and we’ll put that in the queue for the Hack Chat discussion.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events on the Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, February 13, at noon, Pacific time. If time zones have got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.