Prolific Videos Show Altair 8800 Recreation

The January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics introduced the Altair 8800 and hit the newsstands in December of 1974, so it is only natural that around the New Year people start thinking about the old computer. [Shadowtron] did more than think about it. He ordered some replica PCBs and is building a new one. Even better, he’s posted an amazing number of videos (up to number 56 as I write this) detailing his progress. You can find part 1, below.

The boards are from Trailing Edge Technology. There’s a backplane board (about $100) as well as a few boards to fit it available for about $30 each — unpopulated, of course.

Continue reading “Prolific Videos Show Altair 8800 Recreation”

LC Oscillators, Animated

We wish that all the beautiful animations that are available today to understand math and electronics had been around when we were in school. Nonetheless, they are there for today’s students and [Learn Engineering] has another gorgeous one covering LC oscillation. Check it out, below.

If you are thoroughly grounded — no pun intended — in LC circuits, you probably won’t learn anything new. However, the animations are worth watching, just to admire them, if nothing else.

Continue reading “LC Oscillators, Animated”

A Wireless Method For Pressing Tofu

Tofu is a fairly common food in East and Southeast Asian cuisines, but it has also been making its way around vegetarian circles as a meat substitute. While it may be a more environmentally friendly source of protein than meat, it does have the unfortunate side effect of being fairly tedious to cook. To reach the right consistency, tofu requires hours of pressing to drain excess water, which tends to be tedious for most amateur cooks.

A team of students at HackMIT developed a contraption that incrementally presses tofu for you, using signals sent over WiFi to initialize the device. Several 3D-printed components extend an existing food container, along with a stepper motor, motor shield, Adafruit Feather HUZZAH, and a screen.

The motor steps at a rate of 30rpm once a signal is sent from a mobile application, causing four connected threaded rods to begin rotating. The tofu tray travels upwards to press against its lid, draining out excess water. A central gear box containers complementary cutouts that allow the tofu platform to travel vertically when shafts are rotated, pushed by nuts below the platform. The students also included a screen indicating time remaining, as well as a notification sent to the user once the tofu is finished being pressed.

It’s certainly a useful solution that will hopefully increase the popularity of tofu-based recipes!

DIY Trommel Sifts Compost In Style

Composting is a great idea that helps you and the planet at the same time. But all that stuff is going to break down at different rates, and depending on what you put in there and how soon you want to use the compost, you’ll probably have to sift out some unwanted stuff first.

[Minnear Knives] had a bunch of apricot stones in his compost pile, and it was the pits. He did some research and decided to build his own rotary trommel to tumble out the trash. As you will see in the video after the break, it works really well. All he has to do is turn on the motor and shovel raw compost or dirt into one end. Bad stuff tumbles out the other end into a wheelbarrow, while the good stuff is sifted down into a pile under the cylinder. Just look at that rich, fluffy compost.

The best part is that he was able to make it mostly from stuff he had lying around, though he did trade some beer for the v-belt pulley. The cylinder is essentially made from mesh that’s zip-tied to bicycle rims. A 1/4 horsepower motor mounted up top uses that v-belt pulley to spin the cylinder’s rims against casters that are mounted to the frame. Thanks to the pair of bike wheels on the back, he can cart it around the ranch unassisted.

Composting doesn’t have to be any more difficult than a pile in the backyard. But if you don’t have a backyard, why not build a rotating bin that you can monitor from your phone?

Continue reading “DIY Trommel Sifts Compost In Style”

Assistive Technolgy Switch Is Actuated Using Your Ear Muscles

Assistive technology is extremely fertile ground for hackers to make a difference, because of the unique requirements of each user and the high costs of commercial solutions. [Nick] has been working on Earswitch, an innovative assistive tech switch that can be actuated using voluntary movement of the middle ear muscle.

Most people don’t know they can contract their middle ear muscle, technically called the tensor tympani, but will recognise it as a rumbling sound or muffling effect of your hearing when yawning or tightly closing eyes. Its function is actually to protect your hearing from loud sounds screaming or chewing. [Nick] ran a survey and found that 75% can consciously contract the tensor tympani and 17% of can do it in isolation from other movements. Using a cheap USB auroscope (an ear camera like the one [Jenny] reviewed in November), he was able to detect the movement using iSpy, an open source software package meant for video surveillance. The output from iSpy is used to control Grid3, a commercial assistive technology software package. [Nick] also envisions the technology being used as a control interface for consumer electronics via earphones.

With the proof of concept done, [Nick] is looking at ways to make the tech more practical to actually use, possibly with a CMOS camera module inside a standard noise canceling headphones. Simpler optical sensors like reflectance or time-of-flight are also options being investigated. If you have suggestions for or possible use case, drop by on the project page.

Assistive tech always makes for interesting hacks. We recently saw a robotic arm that helps people feed themselves, and the 2017 Hackaday Prize has an entire stage that was focused on assistive technology.

Tony Brooker And Autocode – The First High-level Language

The field of computer science has undeniably changed the world for virtually every single person by now. Certainly for you as Hackaday reader, but also for everyone around you, whether they’re working in the field themselves, or are simply enjoying the fruits of convenience it bears. What was once a highly specialized niche field for a few chosen people has since grown into a discipline that not only created one of the biggest industry in modern times, but also revolutionized every other industry, some a few times over.

The fascinating part about all this is the relatively short time span it took to get here, and with that the privilege to live in an era where some of the pioneers and innovators, the proverbial giants whose shoulders every one of us is standing on, are still among us. Sadly, one of them, [Tony Brooker], a pioneer of the early programming language concept known as Autocode, passed away in November. Reaching the remarkable age of 94, the truly sad part however is that this might be the first time you hear his name, and there’s a fair chance you never heard of Autocode either.

But Autocode was probably the first high-level computer language, and as such played a fundamental role in the development of whatever you’re coding in today. So to honor the memory of [Tony Brooker], let’s remember the work he did with Autocode, and the leap in computer science history that it represented.

Continue reading “Tony Brooker And Autocode – The First High-level Language”

Tales (and Advice) From Setting Up A Product Line

Making something that has to get into others’ hands involves solving a lot of different problems, many of which have nothing at all to do with actually building the dang things. [Conor Patrick] encountered them when he ran a successful Kickstarter campaign for an open-source USB security key that was not only shipped to backers, but also made available as an ongoing product for sale. There was a lot of manual and tedious work that could have been avoided, and so [Conor] laid out all the things he wishes he had done when first setting up a product line.

Turning these unprogrammed boards into finished products then shipping them is a big job.

If the whole process is a river, then the more “upstream” an issue is, the bigger its potential impact on everything that comes afterwards. One example is the product itself: the simplest and most easily managed product line is one that has only one product with no variations. That not only minimizes errors but makes supply, production, and shipping more straightforward. Striving for a minimum number of products and variations is also an example of something [Conor] didn’t do. In their crowdfunding campaign they offered the SoloKeys USB device — an implementation of the FIDO2 authentication token — as either USB-A or USB-C. There were also two types of key: NFC-capable (for tapping to a smartphone) and USB only. That is four products so far.

Offering keys in an unlocked state for those who want to tamper makes it eight different products. On top of that, they offered color choices which not only adds complexity to production, but also makes it harder to keep track of what everyone ordered. [Conor] also observed that the Kickstarter platform and back end are really not set up like a store, and it is clunky at best to try to offer (and manage) different products and variations from within it.

Another major point is fulfillment and in [Conor]’s opinion, unless the quantities are small, an order fulfillment company is worth partnering with. He says there are a lot of such companies out there, and it can be very time consuming to find the right one, but it will be nothing compared to the time and effort needed to handle, package, address, and ship several hundreds (or thousands!) of orders personally. His team did their own fulfillment for a total of over 2000 units, and found it a long and tedious process filled with hidden costs and challenges.

There’s good advice and background in [Conor]’s writeup, and this isn’t his first rodeo. He also shared his thoughts on taking electronics from design to production and the more general advice remains the same for it all: be honest and be open. Under-promise and over-deliver, especially when it comes to time estimates.