Vintage Console Becomes The Calculator It Appears To Be

What’s sitting on [Bob Alexander]’s desk in the video below did not start out life as the desktop calculator it appears to be. Turning it into a standalone calculator with features the original designers couldn’t imagine turned out to be an interesting project, and a trip down the retrocomputing rabbit hole.

A little explanation is in order. Sure, with its Nixie display, calculator keypad, and chunky mid-century design, the Wang 360 desktop console looks like a retro calculator. But it’s actually only a dumb terminal for a much, MUCH bigger box, called the Electronic Package, that would fit under a desk. The foot-warming part that was once connected to [Bob]’s console by a thick cable that had been unceremoniously lopped off by a previous owner. [Bob] decided to remedy the situation with modern electronics. The console turned out to have enough room for a custom PCB carrying a PIC32, some level-shifting components, power supply modules that include the high-voltage supply for the Nixies, and a GPS module because Nixies and clocks just go together. The interesting bit is the programming; [Bob] chose to emulate the original Wang methods of doing math, which include multiplication by logarithmic addition. Doing so replicates the original look and feel of the calculator down to the rapid progression of numbers across the Nixies as the logarithms are calculated using the display registers.

We normally frown on vintage gear being given modern guts, but in this case [Bob] hit just the right balance of new and old, And given that the Electronic Packages these consoles were connected to go for $1500 or more on eBay, it was a better choice than letting the console go to scrap. A similarly respectful approach was taken with this TRS80 Model 100 revival.

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NES Gets A Slick Acrylic Casemod

Those alive during the 1990s will remember the clear or “crystal” versions of various home consoles. Made with the usual injection molding processes, they usually came out somewhere closer to a smoky translucency and didn’t reveal much of the insides. [BitHead1000] likes to do things right though, and has busted out an awesome acrylic case mod for his NES.

The build starts with the disassembly of the original console, naturally, and the RF shielding is discarded in order to provide an unobstructed view of the internals. The acrylic case is then built up piece by piece, using the original case as a template. Flame polishing is used to treat the edges, and everything is stuck together using what appears to be acrylic cement. For a nice finishing touch, the cartridge door gets a frosted Nintendo logo, thanks to some careful work in the sandblasting booth.

The final product looks stunning, and the transparent case lends itself excellently to edge-lighting thanks to a few LEDs. We’ve seen [BitHead1000’s] work before, with the stunning flamethrowing N64 build. Video after the break.

Hackaday Links: August 25, 2019

Doesn’t the Z-axis on 3D-printers seem a little – underused? I mean, all it does is creep up a fraction of a millimeter as the printer works through each slice. It would be nice if it could work with the other two axes and actually do something interesting. Which is exactly what’s happening in the nonplanar 3D-printing methods being explored at the University of Hamburg. Printing proceeds normally up until the end, when some modifications to Slic3r allow smooth toolpaths to fill in the stairsteps and produce a smooth(er) finish. It obviously won’t work for all prints or printers, but it’s nice to see the Z-axis finally pulling its weight.

If you want to know how something breaks, best to talk to someone who looks inside broken stuff for a living. [Roger Cicala] from LensRentals.com spends a lot of time doing just that, and he has come to some interesting conclusions about how electronics gear breaks. For his money, the prime culprit in camera and lens breakdowns is side-mounted buttons and jacks. The reason why is obvious once you think about it: components mounted perpendicular to the force needed to operate them are subject to a torque. That’s a problem when the only thing holding the component to the board is a few SMD solder pads. He covers some other interesting failure modes, too, and the whole article is worth a read to learn how not to design a robust product.

In the seemingly neverending quest to build the world’s worst Bitcoin mining rig, behold the 8BitCoin. It uses the 6502 processor in an Apple ][ to perform the necessary hashes, and it took a bit of doing to port the 32-bit SHA256 routines to an 8-bit platform. But therein lies the hack. But what about performance? Something something heat death of the universe…

Contributing Editor [Tom Nardi] dropped a tip about a new online magazine for people like us. Dubbed Paged Out!, the online quarterly ‘zine is a collection of contributed stories from hackers, programmers, retrocomputing buffs, and pretty much anyone with something to say. Each article is one page and is formatted however the author wants to, which leads to some interesting layouts. You can check out the current issue here; they’re still looking for a bunch of articles for the next issue, so maybe consider writing up something for them – after you put it on Hackaday.io, of course.

Tipline stalwart [Qes] let us know about an interesting development in semiconductor manufacturing. Rather than concentrating on making transistors smaller, a team at Tufts University is making transistors from threads. Not threads of silicon, or quantum threads, or threads as a metaphor for something small and high-tech. Actual threads, like for sewing. Of course, there’s plenty more involved, like carbon nanotubes — hey, it was either that or graphene, right? — gold wires, and something called an ionogel that holds the whole thing together in a blob of electrolyte. The idea is to remove all rigid components and make truly flexible circuits. The possibilities for wearable sensors could be endless.

And finally, here’s a neat design for an ergonomic utility knife. It’s from our friend [Eric Strebel], an industrial designer who has been teaching us all a lot about his field through his YouTube channel. This knife is a minimalist affair, designed for those times when you need more than an X-Acto but a full utility knife is prohibitively bulky. [Eric’s] design is a simple 3D-printed clamshell that holds a standard utility knife blade firmly while providing good grip thanks to thoughtfully positioned finger depressions. We always get a kick out of watching [Eric] design little widgets like these; there’s a lot to learn from watching his design process.

Thanks to [JRD] and [mgsouth] for tips.

Glia Is Making Open Medical Devices, And You Can Help

The Glia project aims to create a suite of free and open-source medical equipment that can be assembled cheaply and easily when and where it’s needed. Even essential tools like stethoscopes and tourniquets can be difficult to acquire in certain parts of the world, especially during times of war or civil unrest. But armed with a 3D printer and the team’s open-source designs, an ad-hoc factory can start producing these lifesaving tools anywhere on the planet.

Glia member [Tarek Loubani] has recently written a blog post discussing the team’s latest release: an otoscope that can be built for as little as $5. Even if you don’t recognize the name, you’ve almost certainly seen one of them in use. The otoscope is used to look inside the ear and can be invaluable in diagnosing illnesses, especially in children. Unfortunately, while this iconic piece of equipment is quite simple on a technical level, professional-quality versions can cost hundreds of dollars.

Now to be fair, you’ll need quite a bit more than just the 3D printed parts to assemble the device. The final product requires some electrical components such as a battery holder, rocker switch, and LED. It also requires a custom lens, though the Glia team has thought ahead here and provided the files for printable jigs that will allow you to cut a larger lens down to the size required by their otoscope. In a situation where you might have to improvise with what you have, that’s a very clever design element.

So far the team is very happy with how the otoscope performs, but they’ve run into a bit of a logistical snag. It turns out that early work on the project was done in the web-based TinkerCAD, which isn’t quite in line with the team’s goals of keeping everything free and open. They’d like some assistance in recreating the STLs in FreeCAD or OpenSCAD so they’re easier to modify down the road. So if you’re a FOSS CAD master and want to earn some positive karma, head over to the GitHub page for the project and put those skills to use.

We’ve previously covered Glia’s work with 3D printed tourniquets to treat gunshot wounds, a project that led to [Tarek] himself being shot by a sniper while attempting to field test the design in Gaza. If that’s not commitment to the principles of open-source hardware, we don’t know what is.

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Lead Former Makes LED Cubes A Little Easier To Build

There’s no doubting the allure of a nicely crafted LED cube; likewise, there’s no doubting that they can be a tremendous pain to build. After all, the amount of work scales as the cube of the number of LEDs you want each side to have, and let’s face it – with LED cubes, the bigger, the better. What to do about all that tedious lead forming?

[TylerTimoJ]’s solution is a custom-designed lead-forming tool, and we have to say we’re mighty impressed by it. His LED cubes use discrete RGB LEDs, the kind with four leads, each suspended in space by soldering them to wires. For the neat appearance needed to make such a circuit sculpture work, the leads must be trimmed and bent at just the right angles, a tedious job indeed when done by hand. His tool has servo-controlled jaws that grip the leads, with solenoid-actuated lead formers coming in from below to bend each lead just the right amount. The lead former, along with its companion trimmer, obviously went through a lot of iterations before [TylerTimoJ] got everything right, but we’d say being able to process thousands of LEDs without all the tedium is probably worth the effort.

We’re looking forward to the huge LED cubes this tool will enable. Perhaps this CNC wire bender and an automated wire cutter would come in handy for the supporting wires?

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The Tens Of Millions Of Faces Training Facial Recognition; You’ll Soon Be Able To Search For Yourself

In a stiflingly hot lecture tent at CCCamp on Friday, Adam Harvey took to the stage to discuss the huge data sets being used by groups around the world to train facial recognition software. These faces come from a variety of sources and soon Adam and his research collaborator Jules LaPlace will release a tool that makes these dataset searchable allowing you to figure out if your face is among the horde.

Facial recognition is the new hotness, recently bubbling up to the consciousness of the general public. In fact, when boarding a flight from Detroit to Amsterdam earlier this week I was required to board the plane not by showing a passport or boarding pass, but by pausing in front of a facial recognition camera which subsequently printed out a piece of paper with my name and seat number on it (although it appears I could have opted out, that was not disclosed by Delta Airlines staff the time). Anecdotally this gives passengers the feeling that facial recognition is robust and mature, but Adam mentions that this not the case and that removed from highly controlled environments the accuracy of recognition is closer to an abysmal 2%.

Images are only effective in these datasets when the interocular distance (the distance between the pupils of your eyes) is a minimum of 40 pixels. But over the years this minimum resolution has been moving higher and higher, with the current standard trending toward 300 pixels. The increase is not surprising as it follows a similar curve to the resolution available from digital cameras. The number of faces available in data sets has also increased along a similar curve over the years.

Adam’s talk recounted the availability of face and person recognition datasets and it was a wild ride. Of note are data sets by the names of Brainwash Cafe, Duke MTMC (multi-tracking-multi-camera),¬† Microsoft Celeb, Oxford Town Centre, and the Unconstrained College Students data set. Faces in these databases were harvested without consent and that has led to four of them being removed, but of course, they’re still available as what is once on the Internet may never die.

The Microsoft Celeb set is particularly egregious as it used the Bing search engine to harvest faces (oh my!) and has associated names with them. Lest you think you’re not a celeb and therefore safe, in this case celeb means anyone who has an internet presence. That’s about 10 million faces. Adam used two examples of past CCCamp talk videos that were used as a source for adding the speakers’ faces to the dataset. It’s possible that this is in violation of GDPR so we can expect to see legal action in the not too distant future.

Your face might be in a dataset, so what? In their research, Adam and Jules tracked geographic locations and other data to establish who has downloaded and is likely using these sets to train facial recognition AI. It’s no surprise that the National University of Defense Technology in China is among the downloaders. In the case of US intelligence organizations, it’s easier much easier to know they’re using some of the sets because they funded some of the research through organizations like the IARPA. These sets are being used to train up military-grade face recognition.

What are we to do about this? Unfortunately what’s done is done, but we do have options moving forward. Be careful of how you license images you upload — substantial data was harvested through loopholes in licenses on platforms like Flickr, or by agreeing to use through EULAs on platforms like Facebook. Adam’s advice is to stop populating the internet with faces, which is why I’ve covered his with the Jolly Wrencher above. Alternatively, you can limit image resolution so interocular distance is below the forty-pixel threshold. He also advocates for changes to Creative Commons that let you choose to grant or withhold use of your images in train sets like these.

Adam’s talk,¬†MegaPixels: Face Recognition Training Datasets, will be available to view online by the time this article is published.

Take Pictures Around A Corner

One of the core lessons any physics student will come to realize is that the more you know about physics, the less intuitive it seems. Take the nature of light, for example. Is it a wave? A particle? Both? Neither? Whatever the answer to the question, scientists are at least able to exploit some of its characteristics, like its ability to bend and bounce off of obstacles. This camera, for example, is able to image a room without a direct light-of-sight as a result.

The process works by pointing a camera through an opening in the room and then strobing a laser at the exposed wall. The laser light bounces off of the wall, into the room, off of the objects on the hidden side of the room, and then back to the camera. This concept isn’t new, but the interesting thing that this group has done is lift the curtain on the image processing underpinnings. Before, the process required a research team and often the backing of the university, but this project shows off the technique using just a few lines of code.

This project’s page documents everything extensively, including all of the algorithms used for reconstructing an image of the room. And by the way, it’s not a simple 2D image, but a 3D model that the camera can capture. So there should be some good information for anyone working in the 3D modeling world as well.

Thanks to [Chris] for the tip!