A Raspberry Pi Video Intercom System

When it comes to hacks, we’re always amazed by the aesthetic of the design as much as we are by the intricacies of the circuit or the cleverness of the software. We think it’s always fun to assemble projects that were just sort of rigged up in our shop really quickly and made to just work, without worrying about much else. But, when you really invest time in the aesthetics and marry form with function, the results are always one to marvel at.

That’s what the engineers over at [Hacker Shack] did with their Raspberry Pi-based video intercom system over on Hackster. Now we’ve seen RPi doorbell projects here on Hackaday before, but it’s the implementation of a full-duplex video intercom system that makes [Hacker Shack’s] project really stand out. (Unless you want to be a bit more secretive). They used a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B with an off-brand Pi camera, but the R Pi branded camera will also work just fine. Couple the camera with a very crisp LCD display, microphone, and speaker and you’re good to go! Continue reading “A Raspberry Pi Video Intercom System”

Instruction Set Hack For Protected Memory Access

The nRF51 Series SoCs is a family of low power Bluetooth chips from Nordic Semiconductor that is based on ARM Cortex cores. The nRF51822 has the Cortex M0 core and is used in a lot of products. [Loren] has written a blog post in which he claims to be able to circumvent read back protection on the chip, thus giving access to the ROM, RAM and registers as well as allow for interactive debugging sessions.

The hack stems from the fact that theĀ  Serial Wire Debug or SWD interface cannot be completely disabled on these chips even if the Memory Protection Unit prevents access to any memory regions directly. The second key piece is the fact that CPU can fetch stuff from the code memory. Combined with the SWD super powers to make changes to the registers themselves, this can be a powerful tool.

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NEO430 Puts A Custom MSP430 Core In Your FPGA

We are certainly spoiled by all the microcontroller options nowadays — which is a great problem to have. But between the good old 8-bit controllers and an increasing number of 32-bit varieties, it almost seems as if the 16-bit ones are slowly falling into oblivion. [stnolting] particularly saw an issue with the lack of 16-bit open source soft cores, and as a result created the NEO430, an MSP430 compatible soft processor written in VHDL that adds a custom microcontroller to your next FPGA project.

With high customization as main principle in mind, [stnolting] included a wide selection of peripherals and system features that can be synthesized as needed. Not limiting himself to the ones you would find in an off-the-shelf MSP430 controller, he demonstrates the true strength of open source soft cores. Do you need a random number generator, CRC calculation, and an SPI master with six dedicated chip select lines? No problem! He even includes a Custom Functions Unit that lets you add your own peripheral feature or processor extension.

However, what impresses most is all the work and care [stnolting] put into everything beyond the core implementation. From the C library and the collection of examples for each of the controller’s features, so you can get started out of the box with GCC’s MSP430 port, to writing a full-blown data sheet, and even setting up continuous integration for the entire repository. Each topic on its own is worth looking at, and the NEO430 offers a great introduction or reference for it.

Of course, there are some shortcomings as well, and the biggest downer is probably the lack of analog components, but that’s understandable considering your average FPGA’s building blocks. And well, it’s hard to compete with the MSP430’s ultra low-power design using an FPGA, so if you’re thinking of replicating this watch, you might be better off with a regular MSP430 from a battery lifetime point of view.

Watch The Day Inch Along With A Tape Measure Clock

If we asked you to rattle off all the tools at your own personal disposal, you’d probably leave your timepieces off the list. But we say clocks are definitely tools — cool tools that come in countless forms and give meaning to endless days.

A clock form we hadn’t considered was that of an actual tool. So we were immeasurably delighted to see [scealux]’s clock made from a measuring tape. At least, the time-telling part of the clock is made from a measuring tape. The case isn’t really from a tape measure — it’s entirely printed, Bondo’d, sanded, and painted so well that it’s quite easy to mistake it for the real thing.

Tightly packed inside this piece of functional art is an Arduino Nano and a DS3231 precision RTC module, which we think is fitting for a tool-based clock. The Nano fetches the time and drives a stepper motor that just barely fits inside. There’s just enough tape wound around the printed hub to measure out the time in increments of one hour per inch. Take 1/16″ or so and watch the demo and brief walk-through video after the break.

Not all tools are sharp, and not all clocks are meant to be precise. Here’s a clock for the times that gives you the gist.

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Grace Under Pressure: Shelley Green Celebrates Crimped Connections

We think it’s pretty safe to assume that most of the electrical connections our readers are making out there involve solder or solder paste. But we’ve all made a crimp connection or two in our lifetimes. Maybe you’ve squeezed a butt connector here and there, or made an Ethernet cable. Beyond getting the wiring order right in the Ethernet cable, how much did you wonder about what was happening inside the connector?

It may seem like solder is the superior option for making a low-resistance electrical connection. After all, you’re welding metals together with another metal. And this is usually all fine and good for circuit boards with sedentary indoor lives. But if a joint needs to be mechanically stable and survive in potentially harsh environments, you don’t want an alloy holding things together. You want metal to metal contact, and crimping is where it’s at.

A well-made crimp should last for several decades, but as Shelley Green explained in her talk at the 2019 Hackaday Superconference, good quality crimps don’t happen by accident. Good crimps are meticulously designed, and carefully executed from start to finish.

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Teardown: VTech Whiz Kid Luggable Computer

Back in the early 1980s, hotshot business types on the go would have used what were referred to at the time as portable computers from companies like Osborne or Kaypro. Due to the technical limitations of the era these so-called “luggables” were only slightly smaller and lighter than contemporary desktop computers, but they had integrated displays and keyboards so they were a bit easier to move around. A few years later the first generation of laptops would hit the market, and the portables predictably fell out of favor. Today they’re relatively rare collectors items; a largely forgotten first step in the steady march towards true mobile computing.

Which makes the 1984 edition of VTech’s “Whiz Kid” educational computer an especially unique specimen. The company’s later entries into the series of popular electronic toys would adopt (with some variations) the standard laptop form factor, but this version has the distinction of being what might be the most authentic luggable computer ever made for children. When this toy was being designed it would have been a reflection of the cutting edge in computer technology, but today, it’s a fascinating reminder that the latest-and-greatest doesn’t always stick around for very long.

The classic luggable hallmarks are all here. The flip down keyboard, the small and strangely offset display, there’s even lugs on the side to attach an included strap so the youngster can sling it over their shoulder. On the other hand, the fact that it’s just a toy allowed for some advantages over the real thing: it can actually run on battery power, and is quite lightweight relative to its size.

When we last took a peek inside one of VTech’s offerings, we found a surprisingly powerful Z80 machine that was more than deserving of its PreComputer moniker. But that BASIC-compatible design hailed from the late 80s, and was specifically marketed as a trainer for the next generation of computer owners. Will the 1984 Whiz Kid prove to have a similar relationship to its adult counterparts, or does the resemblance only go skin deep? Let’s find out.

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Citizen Science Hack Chat With Ben Krasnow

Join us on Wednesday, April 29 at noon Pacific for the Citizen Science Hack Chat with Ben Krasnow!

For most of human history, there was no such thing as a professional scientist. Those who dabbled in “natural philosophy” were mainly men — and occasionally women — of privilege and means, given to spend their time looking into the workings of the world. Most went where their interest lay, exploring this facet of geology or that aspect of astronomy, often combining disciplines or switching to new ones as they felt like it. They had the freedom to explore the universe without the pressure to “publish or perish,” and yet they still often managed to pull back the curtain of ignorance and superstition that veiled the world for eons, at least somewhat.

In their footsteps follow today’s citizen scientists, a relatively small cohort compared to the great numbers of professional scientists that universities churn out year after year. But where these credentialed practitioners are often hyper-focused on a particular sub-field in a highly specialized discipline, the citizen scientist enjoys more freedom to explore the universe, as his or her natural philosopher forebears did. These citizen scientists — many of whom are also traditionally credentialed — are doing important work, and some are even publishing their findings in mainstream journals.
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