Homebrew 16-Bit Computer Is A Wire-Wrapped Work Of Art

Breadboard 8-bit computer builds seem all the rage these days, and with good reason: building your own CPU from the board up using discrete logic chips is a great way to really learn how microprocessors work. Not to mention that it’s an incredible flex. But once you’ve conquered the eight-bit, what do you do? Easy: build a 16-bit computer from 74HC logic chips.

Attentive readers will likely remember this computer’s builder, [Paulo Constantino], from his previous work on 8-bit breadboard computers. As gloriously entropic as that tangled mass of wires was, it must have been a nightmare for [Paulo] to maintain. And so when the time came to upgrade, he wisely chose a more integrated construction method. The construction method is wire-wrapping, with multiple cards plugged into backplane and connected by ribbon cables. The whole card cage is far neater than the previous build, and seems to lend itself to rapid modifications. The top card in the cage acts as a control panel for now; eventually, [Paulo] planes to put a real front panel on the cage to support all the switches and blinkenlights such builds demand. Stretch goals include supporting audio and video and getting the machine online so anyone can log in.

The video below is an overview of the current state of the machine; earlier videos in the playlist cover the design and build in more detail. We hope to see schematics soon, and we’d love to know where to get some of those wire-wrap PCBs for projects of our own.

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Microwave Modified For Disinfecting

We’re all hopefully a little more concerned about health these days, but with that concern comes a growing demand for products like hand sanitizer, disinfectant, and masks. Some masks are supposed to be single-use only, but with the shortage [Bob] thought it would be good if there were a way to sanitize things like masks without ruining them. He was able to modify a microwave oven to do just that.

His microwave doesn’t have a magnetron anymore, which is the part that actually produces the microwaves for cooking. In its place is an ultraviolet light which has been shown to be effective at neutralizing viruses. The mask is simply placed in the microwave and sterilized with the light. He did have to make some other modifications as well since the magnetron isn’t always powered up when cooking, so instead he wired the light into the circuit for the turntable so that it’s always powered on.

Since UV can be harmful, placing it in the microwave’s enclosure like this certainly limits risks. However, we’d like to point out that the mesh on the microwave door is specifically designed to block microwaves rather than light of any kind, and that you probably shouldn’t put your face up to the door while this thing is operating. Some other similar builds have addressed this issue. Still, it’s a great way to get some extra use out of your PPE.

Laser Cutting Your Way To An RGB LED Table

You’ve got the RGB keyboard, maybe even the RGB mouse. But can you really call yourself master of the technicolor LED if you don’t have an RGB table to game on? We think you already know the answer. Luckily, as [ItKindaWorks] shows in his latest project, it’s easy to build your own. Assuming you’ve got a big enough laser cutter anyway…

The construction of the table is quite straightforward. Using an 80 watt laser cutter, he puts a channel into a sheet of MDF to accept RGB LED strips, a pocket to hold a Qi wireless charger, and a hole to run all the wires out through. This is then backed with a second, solid, sheet of MDF.

Next, a piece of thin wood veneer goes into the laser cutter. In the video after the break you can see its natural tendency to roll up gave [ItKindaWorks] a little bit of trouble, but when strategically weighted down, it eventually lays out flat. He then uses the laser to blast an array of tiny holes in the veneer, through which the light from the LEDs will shine when it’s been glued over the MDF. A few strips of plastic laid over the strips serve both to diffuse the light and support the top surface.

The end result is truly gorgeous and has a very futuristic feel. Assuming you’ve got the equipment, it’s also a relatively simple concept to experiment with. It’s yet another example of the unique construction techniques possible when you add a high-powered laser to your arsenal.

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Hands-On: The Pandemic DEF CON Badge Is An Audio Cassette

My DEF CON Safe Mode badge just arrived in the mail this afternoon. The Vegas-based conference which normally hosts around 30,000 attendees every year has moved online in response to the global pandemic, and the virtual event spins up August 6-9. Known for creative badges, North America’s most well-known infosec con has a tick-tock cycle that alternates electronic and non-electronic badges from year to year. During this off-year, the badge is an obscure deprecated media: the audio cassette.

This choice harkens back to the DEF CON 23 badge which was an vinyl record — I have the same problem I did back in 2015… I lack access to playback this archaic medium. Luckily [Grifter] pointed everyone to a dump of the audio contents over at Internet Archive, although knowing how competitive the badge hacking for DEF CON is, I’m skeptical about the reliability of these files. Your best bet is to pull the dust cover off your ’88 Camry and let your own cassette roll in the tape deck. I also wonder if there are different versions of the tape.

But enough speculation, let’s look at what physically comes with the DEF CON 28 badge.

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RGB Minecraft Sign Isn’t Just For Looks

This laser cut and LED illuminated version of the Minecraft logo created by [Geeksmithing] looks good enough to occupy a place of honor on any gamer’s shelf. But it’s not just decoration: it can also notify you about your Minecraft’s server status and tell you when players are online by way of its addressable LEDs.

In the first half of the video after the break, [Geeksmithing] shows how the logo itself was built by cutting out pieces of white and black acrylic on his laser cutter. When stacked up together, it creates an impressive 3D effect but also isolates each letter. With carefully aligned rows of RGB LEDs behind the stack, each individual letter can be lit in its own color (or not at all) without the light bleeding into either side.

Once he had a way of lighting up each letter individually, it was just a matter of writing some code for the Raspberry Pi that can do something useful with them. Notifying him when the server goes down is easy enough, just blink them all red. But the code [Geeksmithing] came up with also associates each letter with one of the friends he plays with, and lights them up when they go online. So at a glance he can not only tell how many friends are already in the game, but which ones they are. Naturally this means the display can only show the status of nine friends…but hey, that’s more than we have anyway.

We’ve been seeing people connect the real world to Minecraft in weird and wonderful ways for years now, and it doesn’t seem like there’s any sign of things slowing down. While we recognize the game isn’t for everyone, but you’ve got to respect the incredible creativity it’s inspired in young and old players alike.

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Liquid Air Energy Storage: A Power Grid Battery Using Regular Old Ambient Air

When you think of renewable energy, what comes to mind? We’d venture to guess that wind and solar are probably near the top of the list. And yes, wind and solar are great as long as the winds are favorable and the sun is shining. But what about all those short and bleak winter days? Rainy days? Night time?

Render of a Highview LAES plant. The air is cleaned, liquefied in the tower, and stored in the white tanks. The blue tanks hold waste cold which is reused in the liquefaction process. Image via Highview Power

Unfavorable conditions mean that storage is an important part of any viable solution that uses renewable energy. Either the energy itself has to be stored, or else the means to produce the energy on demand must be stored.

One possible answer has been right under our noses all along — air. Regular old ambient air can be cooled and compressed into a liquid, stored in tanks, and then reheated to its gaseous state to do work.

This technology is called Cryogenic Energy Storage (CES) or Liquid Air Energy storage (LAES). It’s a fairly new energy scheme that was first developed a decade ago by UK inventor Peter Dearman as a car engine. More recently, the technology has been re-imagined as power grid storage.

UK utility Highview Power have adopted the technology and are putting it to the test all over the world. They have just begun construction on the world’s largest liquid air battery plant, which will use off-peak energy to charge an ambient air liquifier, and then store the liquid air, re-gasifying it as needed to generate power via a turbine. The turbine will only be used to generate electricity during peak usage. By itself, the LAES process is not terribly efficient, but the system offsets this by capturing waste heat and cold from the process and reusing it. The biggest upside is that the only exhaust is plain, breathable air.

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Hackaday Podcast 077: Secret Life Of SD Cards, Mining Minecraft’s Secret Seed, BadPower Is Bad, And Sailing A Sea Of Neon

Hackaday editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams are deep in the hacks this week. What if making your own display matrix meant a microcontroller board for every pixel? That’s the gist of this incredible neon display. There’s a lot of dark art poured into the slivers of microSD cards and this week saw multiple hacks digging into the hidden test pads of these devices. You’ve heard of Folding@Home, but what about Minecraft@Home, the effort to find world seeds from screenshots. And when USB chargers have exposed and rewritable firmware, what could possibly go wrong?

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (~65 MB)

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