Animated Pixel Lamp Is A Must For Any Chiptuner’s Bedroom

Lamps are quite often simple things, designed to light an area and perhaps add a touch of style to a room. Of course, it’s 2019 now, and we don’t need to settle for just that. We can have wildly colored animated lamps if we want to! (French Youtube link, embedded below.)

The lamp in question is the work of [Heliox], who knows her way around an LED or two (hundred). In this build, a string of WS2812 addressable RGB LEDs are hooked up to an Arduino Mega brain. The LEDs are fitted into a round lamp body, with a rectangular diffuser for each one. This creates an attractive pixellated effect and gives the animations a charming 8-bit quality. A thin outer shell is 3D printed in white plastic to further diffuse the light. The top of the lamp rotates an internal potentiometer to control mode selection. There’s also a brightness knob on the bottom if things get a touch too intense.

It’s a tidy build that uses 3D printing and addressable LEDs to quickly and easily create a lamp with a fun retro aesthetic. We could imagine this making a great piece for a hip sitcom apartment. We fully expect to see similar lamps on sale in the next couple of years. Video after the break.

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The Multi Pass Def Con Indie Badge Has A European Flavour

It has been fascinating to watch the rise of the #BadgeLife community in North America, and a little sad when viewed from a European perspective that their creative vibrancy has not quite fully made it across the Atlantic. It’s pleasing therefore to report on something traveling in the opposite direction. We’ve found a #BadgeLife creation that’s as American as they come, but which hides a bit of European flavor under its shell.

The DC27 Multi Pass is a Def Con indie badge themed as a prop from the film The Fifth Element. That is not its only trick though, because under the hood it runs the ESP32-based, the badge software platform created by the team from the Netherlands who brought us the SHA 2017 and Hacker Hotel 2019 badges. Like those two it sports an e-ink screen and a set of touch buttons, which they’ve very neatly incorporated into the Multi Pass design. The ecosystem brings with it a fully-functional and stable hackable badge platform with MicroPython apps and an app library (We won’t call it a store, it’s all free!) referred to as the hatchery. There is even a Hackaday logo nickname, should you have one of these badges and wish to identify yourself as a reader.

The launch of a new #BadgeLife badge is always cool, but with the best will in the world it is not in itself news. Where this one does, however, get interesting is that it proves that is a viable route to getting full event badge functionality into an indie badge without the heartache of creating a software platform. It also serves as a fascinating perspective on why the USA has spawned its artistic badge scene while Europe has less diversity. The whole Def Con experience is extremely expensive, while European hacker camps are relatively not so. There is no need for a European hacker to finance their trip to EMF Camp by selling badges, so for many people, the impetus to create finds its outlet in other directions. It would be nice to think that European badge scene will in time evolve as far as the US one, but meanwhile, it’s good to see the Netherlands community supplying their platform to what we think will be a very interesting Def Con indie badge.

Hackaday Links: June 2, 2019

The works of Shakespeare, Goethe, and Cervantes combined do not equal the genius of Rick And Morty. Actually, the word ‘genius’ is thrown around a bit too much these days. Rick and Morty has surpassed genius. This cartoon is sublime. It is beyond any art that could be created. Now, you might not have a high enough IQ to follow this, but Rick and Morty is, objectively, the best art that can be produced. It just draws upon so much; Rick’s drunken stammering is a cleverly hidden allusion to Dostoevsky’s Netochka Nezvanova, absolutely brilliantly providing the back-story to Rick’s character while never actually revealing anything. Now, you’re probably not smart enough to understand this, but Teenage Engineering is releasing a Rick and Morty Pocket Operator. Only the top percentages of IQs are going to understand this, but this is game-changing. Nothing like this has ever been done before.

The Microsoft IntelliMouse Explorer 3.0 is the high water mark of computer peripheral design. Originally released in 2003, the IntelliMouse Explorer 3.0 was an instant classic. The design is nearly two decades old, but it hasn’t aged a day. That said, mouse sensors have gotten better in the years since, and I believe the original tooling has long worn out. Production of the original IntelliMouse Explorer 3.0 stopped a long time ago. Microsoft tried to revive the IntelliMouse a few years ago using a ‘BlueTrack’ sensor that was ridiculed by the gaming community. Now Microsoft is reviving the IntelliMouse with a good sensor. The Pro IntelliMouse is on sale now for $60 USD.

It has come to my attention that wooden RFID cards exist. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone because wood veneer exists, thin coils of wire exist, and glue exists. That said, if you’re looking for an RFID card you can throw in the laser cutter for engraving, or you just want that special, home-made touch, you can get a wooden RFID card.

Lego has just released an Apollo Lunar Lander set, number 10266. It’s 1087 pieces and costs $99. This is a full-scale (or minifig-scale, whatever) Apollo LEM, with an ascent module detachable from the descent module. Two minifigs fit comfortably inside. Previously, the only full-scale (or, again, minifig-scale) Apollo LEM set was 10029, a Lego Discovery kit from 2003 (original retail price $39.99). Set 10029 saw a limited release and has since become a collectible: the current value for a new kit is $336. The annualized ROI of Lego set 10029-1 is 13.69%, making this new Apollo LEM set a very attractive investment vehicle. I’m going to say this one more time: Lego sets, and especially minifigs, are one of the best long-term investments you can make.

A Weinermobile is for sale on Craigslist. Actually, it’s not, because this was just a prank posted by someone’s friends. Oh, I wish I had an Oscar Mayer Weinermobile.

Rumors are swirling that Apple will release a new Mac Pro at WWDC this week. Say what you will about Apple, but people who do audio and video really, really like Apple, and they need machines with fast processors and good graphics cards. Apple, unfortunately, doesn’t build that anymore. The last good expandable mac was the cheese grater tower, retired in 2013 for the trash can pro. Will Apple manage to build a machine that can hold a video card?  We’ll find out this week.

New Circuits With Old Technology

Before the invention of transistors, vacuum tubes ruled the world. The only way to get amplification or switching (or any electrical control of current) back then was to use tubes. But some tube design limitations were obvious even then. For one, they produce an incredible amount of heat during normal operation, which leads to reliability issues. Tubes were difficult to miniaturize. Thankfully transistors solved all of these issues making vacuum tubes obsolete, but if you want to investigate the past a little bit there are still a few tubes on the market.

[kodera2t] was able to get his hands on a few of these, and they seem to be relatively new. This isn’t too surprising; there are some niche applications where tubes are still used. These have some improvements over their ancestors too, operating at only 30V compared to hundreds of volts for some older equipment. [kodera2t] takes us through a few circuits built with these tubes, from a simple subminiature vacuum tube radio to a more complex reflex radio.

Taking a walk through this history is an interesting exercise, and it’s worth seeing the ways that transistor-based circuits differ from tube-based circuits. If you’re interested enough to move on beyond simple radio circuits, though, you can also start building your own audio equipment with vacuum tubes.

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So, You Want To Buy A Mainframe

The computers we are used to working with are more likely to be at the smaller end of the computational spectrum. Sometimes they are very small indeed, such as tiny microcontrollers with only a few GPIOs. Others are single board machines such as a Raspberry Pi or an Arduino, and often a desktop or laptop PC. Of course, while these can be very capable machines, they don’t cut the mustard in the upper echelons of corporate computing. There the mainframe still rules, sitting in air-conditioned machine rooms and providing some of the glue that cements our economy together.

Most of us will never own a mainframe, even if sometimes we marvel at people who rescue ancient ones for museums. But it’s not impossible to run one yourself even if it isn’t cheap, and  [Christian Svensson] has written a guide for the potential purchaser of a more recent IBM model.

This is a fascinating piece as an uninformed spectator because it reveals something about the marketing of these machines. A fridge-sized rack may contain much more hardware than expected because all machines ship with high specifications installed but not enabled by licensing software. In some IBM machines this software comes on an attached laptop which goes missing when the mainframe is decommissioned, we’re told without this essential component the machine is junk. The practicalities are also considered, such things as whether the appropriate interface modules are present, or how to assess how much RAM has been installed. Powering the beast is less of a problem than you might expect as they ship with PSUs able to take a wide variety of DC or AC sources.

Once upon a time the chance to own one of the earlier DEC VAX minicomputers came the way of your scribe, the passing up on which has ever since been the source of alternate regret and thankfulness at a lucky escape. The ownership of second-hand Big Iron is not for everyone, but it’s nevertheless interesting to learn about it from those who have taken the plunge. There’s a tale unfolding about the ownership of a much older IBM room-sized computer at the moment.

IBM mainframes header image: Agiorgio [CC BY-SA 4.0]

Casting A Cannon Is A Lot Harder Than You Think

We’ve seen backyard casting, and for the most part, we know what’s going on. You make a frame out of plywood or two by fours, get some sand, pack it down, and very carefully make a mold around a pattern. This is something else entirely. [FarmCraft101] is casting a bronze cannon. Sure, it’s scaled down a bit, but this is the very limit of what sanity would dictate a single person can cast out of molten metal.

This attempt at casting a cannon is more or less what you would expect from a backyard bronze casting experiment. There’s a wooden flask and a greensand mold, everything is tamped down well and there’s a liberal coating of talcum powder inside. This is a large casting, though, and this presented a problem: during the pour, the halves of the flask were only held together with a few c-clamps. This ended poorly, with molten bronze pushing against the mold and eventually flowing onto the garage floor. Doing this alone was perhaps a bad idea.

The failure of the mold meant some math was necessary, and after some quick calculations it was found that more than 300 pounds pushing the sides of the mold apart. A second pour, with the sides of the flask bound together with nylon straps, was much more successful with a good looking bronze cannon ready for some abuse with a wire wheel.

This is only the first video in the series, with the next videos covering the machining and boring out of the barrel. That’s some serious craft right there.

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Getting To Know Every Bit Of An ATtiny13

We recently heard it said of a hacker who pulled off a particularly nice VGA hack on an 8-bit microcontroller: “He knows all the bits, personally.” High praise, indeed. If you want to get on a first-name basis with a ton of transistors, then have a look at [Heinz D]’s Vacation Course in ATtiny13 Assembler (original in German, translated into English by robots here).

But be warned, this isn’t the easy way to learn AVRs. Not content with simply stripping away every layer of abstraction, this month-long “course” in AVR assembly starts off programming the chip initially with just two pushbuttons in its native machine language of high and low voltages. But still, especially if you can get a few assignments done in one sitting, you’re writing in the relative splendor of assembly language and uploading code with a proper programmer before long, because there’s a real limit to how much code one can toggle in before going mad.

There’s a beautiful minimalism to this entirely ground-up approach, and maybe it’s an appropriate starting point for learning how the machine works at its lowest level. At any rate, you’ll be able to lord it over the Arduino crew that you were able to get blink.ino up and running with just a pair of mechanical contacts and a battery. Real programmers

And once you’ve mastered AVR assembly language, you can recycle those two buttons to learn I2C or SPI. What other protocols are there that don’t have prohibitive timeouts? What’s the craziest code that you’ve ever entered bit by bit?