Automatic Planet Finder Is Out Of This World

When the world is on your shoulders, it can be relaxing to remember that we’re just hairless monkeys hurtling through space on a big rock alongside a lot of other rocks. If you find yourself wondering where exactly the other major rocks are instead of worrying, we think that’s a good sign.

Wherever [snowbiscuit] lives, there’s a large planet finder in a public square somewhere that stopped locating rocks a long time ago. Hungry to watch such a thing in action, [snowbiscuit] built a great-looking tabletop version that uses the Horizontal Coordinate System to locate planets. Inside is a Raspberry Pi 3, which queries NASA for azimuth and altitude data and combines that data with a predetermined north reading to point out whatever planet was selected by spinning the printed telescope on top. The telescope itself is non-working, and returns to north after a few seconds to wait for input.

This project is wide open for remixing if you want to make your own. As lovely as it is now, designing around a slip ring would eliminate all those long wires and make it more sleek. Take a peek after the break.

Don’t stop your desktop space toy collection there — build an ISS-tracking lamp to go with it.

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New Microscope Directly Images Protein Atoms

There’s an old joke that you can’t trust atoms — they make up everything. But until fairly recently, there was no real way to see individual atoms. You could infer things about them using X-ray crystallography or measure their pull on tiny probes using atomic force microscopes, but not take a direct image. Until now. Two laboratories recently used cryo-electron microscopy to directly image atoms in a protein molecule with a resolution of about 1.2 x 10-7 millimeters or 1.2 ångströms. The previous record was 1.54 ångströms.

Recent improvements in electron beam technology helped, as did a device that ensures electrons that strike the sample travel at nearly the same speeds. The latter technique resulted in images so clear, researchers could identify individual hydrogen atoms in the apoferritin molecule and the water surrounding it.

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Homebrew Coil Winder Makes Toroids A Snap To Wind

Anyone who has ever wound a toroidal coil by hand can tell you that it’s not exactly a fun job. Even with the kinds of coils used in chokes and transformers for ham radio, which generally have relatively few windings, passing all that wire through the toroid time after time is a pain. And woe unto anyone who guesses wrong on how much wire the job will take.

To solve those problems, [Sandeep] came up with this clever and effective toroid winder. The idea is to pass a small spool of magnet wire through the toroid’s core while simultaneously rotating the toroid to spread the windings out as evenly as possible. That obviously requires a winding ring that can be opened up to allow the toroid form to be inserted; [Sandeep] chose to make his winding ring out of plywood with a slit in it. Carrying the wire spool, the winding ring rotates on a C-shaped fixture that brackets the toroid, which itself rotates under stepper motor control on a trio of rollers. An Arduino controls the rotation of both motors, controlling the number of windings and their spread on the form. lacking a ferrite core for testing, [Sandeep] used a plywood ring as a stand-in, but the results are satisfying enough to make any manual coil-winder envious.

We love tools like this that make a boring job a snap. Whether it’s cutting wires for wiring harnesses or winding guitar pickups, tools like these are well worth the time spent to build them. But we suppose when it comes to toroid winding, one could always cheat.

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Lattice Semiconductor Targets Bitstream Reverse Engineering In Latest Propel SDK License

The topic of reverse engineering is highly contentious at best when it comes to software and hardware development. Ever since the configuration protocol (bitstream) for Lattice Semiconductor’s iCE40 FPGAs was published in 2015 through reverse engineering efforts, there has been a silent war between proponents of open bitstream protocols and FPGA manufacturers, with the Lattice ECP5’s bitstream format having been largely reverse-engineered at this point.

Update: About eight hours after this article was published, Lattice Semiconductor issued a statement retracting the EULA language that banned bitstream reverse engineering. Please check out Hackaday’s article about this reversal.

Most recently, it appears that Lattice has fired a fresh shot across the bow of the open source projects. A recently discovered addition to the Propel SDK, which contains tools to program and debug Lattice devices, specifically references bitstream reverse engineering. When logged in with an account on the company’s website the user must agree to the Lattice Propel License Agreement for Lattice Propel 1.0 prior to download. That document includes the following language:

In particular, no right is granted hereunder […] (3) for reverse engineering a bitstream format or other signaling protocol of any Lattice Semiconductor Corporation programmable logic device.

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Join The Movement With This Mini Cyberdeck

The global pandemic has given many people a lot more time at home, which has undoubtedly pushed an untold number of projects over the finish line. Unfortunately, it’s also disrupted global commerce and shipping to the point that getting parts can be a lot harder than we’d like. Which is why [facelesstech] decided to put together this exceptionally mobile cyberdeck out of things he already had laying around.

Now to be fair, his parts bin is perhaps a bit better stocked for this kind of thing than most. He’s built a couple of Raspberry Pi portables already, so the Pi Zero W, display, and battery management board were already kicking around. He just had to come up with a new 3D printed enclosure that holds it all together with a little bit of cyberpunk flair.

To that end, he’s done an excellent job of documenting the build and has released the STL files for the 3D printed components. All things considered, we’d say this is probably the most approachable cyberdeck design currently available; if you’ve been wondering what all the fuss is about with these bespoke little computers, this is an ideal project to get started with.

Keep in mind that the idea of a cyberdeck is to build something custom for yourself, so there’s no need to copy this build exactly. If you’re short on parts, you could forgo the battery powered aspect and just keep it tethered. The superfluous (but very cool) GX12 connectors could certainly be deleted as well, although at serious stylistic cost. You’ll probably need to order the specific keyboard that [facelesstech] designed the lower half of the device around, but it’s common enough that it shouldn’t be hard to track down. No matter which way you take it, this design is a great base to start from.

If you’re looking for something a bit more substantial and have the filament to burn, you might take a look at the VirtuScope to fulfill your offset screen needs.

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Ancient History Of The Phone Jack

While watching a video about old radios from the 1920s, a phone jack popped up. The host mentioned that phone jacks are super old and he wondered what was their origin. I always assumed they had something to do with the telephone system, and that’s right, but I had no idea how old they really are and how they’ve evolved. Turns out the venerable plug goes back to at least 1878.

Keep in mind, I’m talking about the good old fashioned 1/4″ phone jack with two wires. Over time, the jack and plug have spawned different versions with more wires and — particularly — smaller dimensions. The headphone jack that many smartphone makers are dropping is a direct descendant of that old phone jack. But a mono cable like you would see connecting an electric guitar or another mono source would be right at home connected to a 1900s switchboard. Let’s take a look at the origins of a design that’s almost 150 years old and still in use.

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Hackaday Podcast 070: Memory Bump, Strontium Rain, Sentient Solder Smoke, And Botting Browsers

Hackaday editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys bubble sort a sample set of amazing hacks from the past week. Who has even used the smart chip from an old credit card as a functional component in their own circuit? This guy. There’s something scientifically devious about the way solder smoke heat-seeks to your nostrils. There’s more than one way to strip 16-bit audio down to five. And those nuclear tests from the 40s, 50s, and 60s? Those are still affecting how science takes measurements of all sorts of things in the world.

Direct download (~65 MB)

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