One Anti-Static Ring To Delight Them All

What’s the worst thing about winter? If you’re as indoorsy as we are, then static electricity is probably pretty high on the list. It can ruin your chips, true, but you always wear a wrist ground strap when you handle those, right? But away from the bench, every doorknob and light switch is lying in wait, ready to shock you. If you had an anti-static ring like [LaPuge], you could be watching a tiny neon bulb light up instead of the air between your poor finger and the discharge point.

The ring itself is printed in TPU 95A filament for comfort and flexibility. There isn’t a whole lot to the circuit, just a neon bulb, a 1MΩ resistor, and some copper tape, but this piece of functional jewelry has the potential to spark up plenty of charged conversations. Zap your way past the break to see it light up against a door handle.

If you want to light up neon bulbs all year long, build a field of them and wave them near your Tesla coil!

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MessagePack Is A More Efficient JSON

It is an age-old problem, that of having some data you want to store somewhere, and later bring it back. How do you format the data? Custom file formats are not that hard, but if you use an existing format you can probably steal code from a library to help you. Common choices include XML or the simpler JSON. However, neither of these are very concise. That’s where MessagePack comes in.

For example, consider this simple JSON stanza:

{"compact":true, "schema":0}

This is easy to understand and weighs in at 27 bytes. Using MessagePack, you’d signal some special binary fields by using bytes >80 hex. Here’s the same thing using the MessagePack format:

 
0x82 0xA7 c o m p a c t 0xC3 0xA6 s c h e m a 0x00

Of course, the spaces are there for readability; they would not be in the actual data stream which is now 18 bytes. The 0x82 indicates a two-byte map. The 0xA7 introduces a 7-byte string. The “true” part of the map is the 0xC3. Then there’s a six-byte string (0xA6). Finally, there’s a zero byte indicating a zero.

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Build Your Own Mouse For High Performance

For the dedicated gamer or hardcore computer user, there’s plenty of options for high-end input peripherals. We’ve seen plenty of makers build their own bespoke keyboards, too. Less commonly seen are custom mice, but [gipetto] has crafted just such a device to suit their tastes.

The mouse is based on the PMW3360 sensor, prized for its 250 inch per second speed and 50g acceleration capability. Buttons are read by an ATMEGA32U4 which handles hardware debouncing for improved control. Anyone that’s accidentally double-clicked all their villagers in AOE II can appreciate this feature. There’s also specialised code to read the wheel encoder from [Ben Buxton] which helps avoids backscrolling.

The PCB was ordered from JLCPCB using their assembly service, which comes in handy for makers who want to build advanced designs without messing around with reflow. It’s designed to fit inside Microsoft mouse shells popular in years past – like the Wheel Mouse Optical and the Intellimouse 1.3.

Building your own mouse from the ground up is a great way to get yourself an input device that perfectly serves your needs. We’ve seen others work in the field, with custom trackballs and breakout boards for sensors. If you’ve got your own cutting edge build, be sure to let us know!

Welcome To The Open Hardware (Virtual) Summit

Readers are no doubt aware of the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact it’s having on many public gatherings. Some events have been curtailed, while others have been cancelled outright. Among the events impacted is the Open Hardware Summit, which was set to kick off this Friday in New York. But all is not lost, as the decision has been made to turn it into a virtual event with with speakers delivering their talks to a live online audience.

Full refunds are available should anyone want them, but ticket holders will still receive their swag bags. The schedule for the one day event is expected to remain pretty close to the one that was already announced, and there will also be a Discord chat and #ohs2020Virtual Twitter hashtag for viewers to discuss the presentations. When it goes live, a link to watch the stream will be added to the front page of the event’s website.

With the usual schedule of hacker events stretching out across the year, it’s likely that this won’t be the only major one impacted by COVID-19. Judging by what we have heard from those event organizers among our friends, the planning required for the outbreak is causing a lot of stress on top of the usual worries inherent to the job. We’d like to ask everyone to extend their understanding to the teams behind any events that are cancelled or postponed during these exceptional times. Stay safe everyone, and enjoy the (virtual) Open Hardware Summit.

Vocal Effects On The Arduino Uno

When one thinks of audio processing, the mind doesn’t usually leap to an 8-bit micro. Despite this, if you’re looking for some glitchy fun, it’s more than possible, as [Amanda Ghassaei] demonstrates with the Arduino Uno in this 2012 throwback project.

The build is designed for vocal effects, based on the idea of granular synthesis. This is where audio samples are chopped up into small chunks, called “grains”, and manipulated in various ways to make fun sounds. Controls on the box allow the nature of the sound created to be modified by the user.

[Amanda]’s project serves as a great example of what it takes to run audio processing on the Arduino Uno. There’s a guide to using the on-board ADC as a microphone input, as well as the construction of a resistor ladder DAC for output. As a neccessity, this also requires discussion of how to write directly to the ATMEGA’s IO ports, rather than using the slower digitalWrite() function typically used in Arduino projects. There’s plenty of value here for anyone learning to do audio on a microcontroller platform.

Overall, it’s a fun project that serves as a good primer for those keen to dive into digital sound processing. Of course, those looking to kick things up a gear would do well to check out the Teensy Audio Library, too. Video after the break.

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The Hacker Hotel 2020 Badge

The art of the electronic conference badge has evolved over the last decade or more, such that for an individual example to be of note it now has to include some exceptional features. Perhaps a function that might previously have been considered impossible in a badge, or maybe an unusually beautiful design, an entertaining and compelling functionality, or it simply pushes the capabilities of an otherwise limited device in an unusually ingenious way. The badge from the recent Hacker Hotel 2020 comes from the same badge team that created the software platform derived from the SHA 2017 badge, and it ticks many of these boxes by combining a genuine work of art with a set of delightfully intricate puzzles at enough levels to interest all participants in the event.

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Augmented Reality Aids In The Fight Against COVID-19

“Know your enemy” is the essence of one of the most famous quotes from [Sun Tzu]’s Art of War, and it’s as true now as it was 2,500 years ago. It also applies far beyond the martial arts, and as the world squares off for battle against COVID-19, it’s especially important to know the enemy: the novel coronavirus now dubbed SARS-CoV-2. And now, augmented reality technology is giving a boost to search for fatal flaws in the virus that can be exploited to defeat it.

The video below is a fascinating mix of 3D models of viral structures, like the external spike glycoproteins that give coronaviruses their characteristic crown appearance, layered onto live video of [Tom Goddard], a programmer/analysts at the University of California San Francisco. The tool he’s using is called ChimeraX, a molecular visualization program developed by him and his colleagues. He actually refers to this setup as “mixed reality” rather than “augmented reality”, to stress the fact that AR tends to be an experience that only the user can fully appreciate, whereas this system allows him to act as a guide on a virtual tour of the smallest of structures.

Using a depth-sensing camera and a VR headset, [Tom] is able to manipulate 3D models of the SARS virus — we don’t yet have full 3D structure data for the novel coronavirus proteins — to show us exactly how SARS binds to its receptor, angiotensin-converting enzyme-2 (ACE-2), a protein expressed on the cell surfaces of many different tissue types. It’s fascinating to see how the biding domain of the spike reaches out to latch onto ACE-2 to begin the process of invading a cell; it’s also heartening to watch [Tom]’s simulation of how the immune system responds to and blocks that binding.

It looks like ChimeraX and similar AR systems are going to prove to be powerful tools in the fight against not just COVID-19, but in all kinds of infectious diseases. Hats off to [Tom] and his team for making them available to researchers free of charge.

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