Simple Seismic Sensor Makes Earthquake Detection Personal

When an earthquake strikes, it’s usually hard to miss. At least that’s the case with the big ones; the dozens or hundreds of little quakes that go largely unnoticed every day are interesting too, and make sense to track. That’s usually left to the professionals, with racks of sensitive equipment and a far-flung network of seismic sensors. That doesn’t mean you can’t keep track of doings below your feet yourself, with something like this DIY seismograph.

Technically, what [Alex] built is better called a “seismic detector” since it’s not calibrated in any way. It’s just a simple sensor for detecting ground vibrations, whether they be due to passing trucks or The Big One. [Alex] lives in California, wedged between the Hayward, Calaveras, and San Andreas faults in San Jose, so there is plenty of opportunity for testing his device. The business end is a simple pendulum sensor, with a heavy metal bob hanging from a long wire inside a length of plastic pipe. Positioned close to the bob is a copper plate; the bob and the plate form an air-dielectric variable capacitor that controls the frequency of a simple 555 oscillator. The frequency is measured by a PIC microcontroller and sent to a Raspberry Pi, which displays the data on a graph. You can check in on real-time seismic activity in San Jose using the link above, or check out historical quakes, like the 7.1 magnitude Ridgecrest quake in July. [Alex]’s sensor is sensitive enough to pick up recent quakes in Peru, Fiji, and Nevada, and he even has some examples of visualizing the Earth’s core using data from the sensor. How cool is that?

We’ve seen other seismic detectors before, like this piezo-based device, or even one made from toilet parts. We like the simplicity of the capacitive sensor [Alex] used, though.

Chisel Away At FPGA Development

Most of the time if you were to want to develop for an FPGA, you might turn to Verilog or VHDL. Both of these are quite capable, but they are also firmly rooted in languages that are old-fashioned by today’s standards. There have been quite a few attempts to treat those languages as an output to some other tool — either a higher-level language or a graphical tool. One recent effort is a toolchain that starts with Chisel.

The idea behind Chisel is to provide Scala with Verilog-like constructs. If you want, you can use it as a “super Verilog” taking advantage of classes and other features. However, Chisel also allows you to create generators that produce different output Verilog depending on how you call them. True, you can do some of this with Verilog modules, but it is much easier with Chisel. Chisel uses Firrtl to convert what you ask it to do into Verilog for different FPGA and ASIC targets.

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3D Printing New Cases For The TS100 Soldering Iron

About a year back, [BogdanTheGeek] found himself in need of a new case for this TS100 soldering iron. Unfortunately, while the product is often billed as being open source friendly (at least in the firmware sense), he was surprised to discover that he couldn’t find the detailed dimensions required to 3D print his own replacement case. So he took it upon himself to document the case design and try to kick off a community around custom enclosures for the popular portable iron.

The main goals while designing the replacement case was to make it printable without support, and usable without additional hardware. He also wanted it to be stronger than the original version, and feature a somewhat blockier design that he personally finds more comfortable. The case was designed with PLA in mind, and he says he’s had no problems with the lower-temperature plastic. But if you’re still concerned about the heat, PETG would be an ideal material to print yours in.

It took him many attempts to get the design to where it is today, and still, there are improvements he’d like to make. For one, there’s no protective cover over the iron’s OLED screen. He’d also like to make the switch from SolidWorks over to FreeCAD so the project is a bit more accessible, and says he’d appreciate anyone who wants to chip in. We’re excited to see what develops once the hacking world realizes that there are accurate open source CAD files for the TS100 floating around out there.

Our very own [Jenny List] put the TS100 through its paces not so long ago, and found a decidedly solid little tool. While it won’t replace your high-end soldering station, it’s very convenient for quick repairs and simple tasks, especially if you find yourself away from the workbench proper.

Check Your Halloween Candy For Malicious Payloads

There’s long been much handwringing around Halloween around the prospect of pins, needles and razor blades being hidden in candy and passed out to children. On the very rare occasion this does happen, the outcome is normally little more than some superficial cuts. However, for 2019, [MG] has developed an altogether different surreptitious payload to be delivered to trick or treaters.

Consisting of a small USB device named DemonSeed, it’s a HID attack gadget in the genre of the BadUSB devices we’ve seen previously. When plugged in, the unit emulates a USB keyboard and can be programmed to enter whatever keystrokes are necessary to take over the machine or exfiltrate data. Files are available on Github for those looking to replicate the device.

The trick here is in the delivery. [MG] has produced a large quantity of these small devices, packaging them in anti-static wrappers. The wrappers contain a note instructing children to insert them into their parent’s work computers to access “game codes”, and to share them with their friends while hiding them from adults.

The idea of children brazenly plugging hostile USB devices into important computers is enough to make any IT manager’s head spin, though we suspect [MG] doesn’t actually intend to deploy these devices in anger. It serves as a great warning about the potential danger of such an attack, however. Stay sharp, and keep your office door locked this October 31st!

Sixi 2, An Open Source 3D Printable 6 Axis Robot Arm

[Dan Royer] is taking some inspiration from Prusa’s business and is trying to build the same sort of enterprise around open source 3D printable robot arms. His 6 axis robot arm is certainly a strong first step on that road. 

As many people have learned, DIY robot arms are pretty difficult.  [Dan]’s arm has the additional complexity of being 3D printable with the ambitious goal of managing a 2kg payload at 840mm of reach. He’s already made significant progress. There’s a firmware, set of custom electronics, and a Fusion 360 project anyone can download and checkout. You can even control it with an Xbox controller.

The main board is an Arduino shield which outputs step and direction signals to stepper drivers. The gears are cycloidal and it appears there’s even some custom machining going on. When the parts are all laid out it becomes clear just how much effort has been put into this design.

It should be a pretty nice robot and might finally spur some of us to build the Iron Man style robot assistants we’ve always wanted. You can see the robot in action after the break.

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The Young Engineers Guide To Career Planning

It’s often said that engineers aren’t born, they’re made. Or more accurately, taught, tested, and accredited by universities. If you’re in high school, you’re probably starting to think about potential career paths and may be considering an engineering degree. A lot of work goes into a good college application, and it might seem like the hardest part is getting in. However, if your end goal is to get yourself a great engineering job at the end of your studies, it pays to have your head up from day 1!

I Just Need A Degree, Right?

Back in my freshman days, there was a saying that was popular on campus, particularly with those studying STEM topics. “Ps get degrees.” Your college’s grading system might use different letters, but the basic gist was that a pass mark was all that was required to get your piece of paper at the end of your four years. While this is technically true, it’s only really a useful ethos if your aim is to simply get a degree. If your goal is to use that degree to score yourself a plum job in your field, it would be unwise to follow this credo.

This attitude will net you plenty of wonderful memories at the bar, but it will dent your chances of landing a solid job upon graduation. All in moderation!

The reality of the modern job market is that it’s highly competitive. Recruiters can receive hundreds of applications for a single job, meaning the vast majority of applicants don’t even make it to the interview stage. To trim down the pile, various criteria are used to pick out the ideal candidates. An easy way to do this is to sort by grades. Having a low GPA can therefore see your application relegated to the trashcan, before you even get a chance to impress anyone with your carefully honed skills. Continue reading “The Young Engineers Guide To Career Planning”

SatNOGS Update Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, October 30 at noon Pacific for the SatNOGS Update Hack Chat with Pierros Papadeas and the SatNOGS team!

Ever since the early days of the Space Race, people have been fascinated with satellites. And rightly so; the artificial moons we’ve sent into orbit are engineering marvels, built to do a difficult job while withstanding an incredibly harsh environment. But while most people are content to just know that satellites are up there providing weather forecasts and digital television, some of us want a little more.

Enter SatNOGS. Since winning the very first Hackaday Prize in 2014, SatNOGS has grown into exactly what Pierros Papadeas and the rest of the team envisioned: a globe-spanning network of open-source satellite ground stations, feeding continuous observations into an open, accessible database. With extensive documentation and an active community, SatNOGS has helped hundreds of users build ground stations with steerable antennas and get them connected. The network tracks hundreds of Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites each day, including increasingly popular low-cost Cubesats.

Join us as the SatNOGS crew stops by the Hack Chat to give us an update on their efforts over the last few years. We’ll discuss how winning the Hackaday Prize changed SatNOGS, how the constellation of satellites has changed and how SatNOGS is dealing with it, and what it takes to build a global network and the community that makes it work.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, October 30 at 12:00 PM 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.