Cybercube Makes A Great Computing Companion

Oh, sure, there have been a few cube-shaped PCs over the years, like the G4 and the NeXT cube. But can they really be called cubes when the display and the inputs were all external? We think not.

[ikeji] doesn’t think so either, and has created a cube PC that puts them all to shame. Every input and output is within the cube, including our favorite part — the 48-key ortholinear keyboard, which covers two sides of the cube and must be typed on vertically. (If you’ve ever had wrist pain from typing, you’ll understand why anyone would want to do that.) You can see a gif of [ikeji] typing on it after the break.

Inside the 3D printed cube is a Raspberry Pi 4 and a 5″ LCD. There’s also an Arduino Pro Micro for the keyboard matrix, which is really two 4×6 matrices — one for each half. There’s a 6cm fan to keep things cool, and one panel is devoted to a grille for heat output. Another panel is devoted to vertically mounting the microcontrollers and extending the USB ports.

Don’t type on me or my son ever again.

When we first looked at this project, we thought the tiny cube was a companion macro pad that could be stored inside the main cube. It’s really a test cube for trying everything out, which we think is a great idea and does not preclude its use as a macro pad one of these days. [ikeji] already has plenty of plans for the future, like cassette support, an internal printer, and a battery, among other things. We can’t wait to see the next iteration.

We love a good cyberdeck around here, and it’s interesting to see all the things people are using them for. Here’s a cyberduck that quacks in Python and CircuitPython.

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The Interactive Storytelling Radio

[8BitsAndAByte] are back and this time they’re using AI to create an interactive storyteller. With the help of a Raspberry Pi, they upcycled an old Cold War era radio they dug up and the results are pretty impressive.

The main controller board of the radio was intact, so it was easy to use all the preexisting hardware to control the speaker and to trigger a few of the Pi’s GPIO using the buttons and switches on the radio’s front panel. To add some artificial intelligence, they used Google’s AIY Voice Kit, allowing them to tap into Google’s seemingly endless artificial intelligence platform. This could be a “tables have turned moment,” but we’re probably being a bit too hopeful.

Anyway, they used a pretty interesting piece of software called Dialogflow that creates a somewhat natural conversational interaction akin to a chatbox. Dialogflow processes speech to text, as you would expect, but can also interpret contextual speech and provide contextual responses. Pretty neat…but maybe also a little creepy. Who knows? The jury is still out.

Anyway, if you’re like us and sometimes in need of a break from humans, then this project just might be for you.

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Hackaday Links: September 13, 2020

Like pretty much every other big conference, the Chaos Communication Conference is going virtual this year. What was supposed to be 37C3 has been rebranded as rC3, the remote Chaos Experience. It’s understandable, as a 17,000 person live event would have not only been illegal but a bit irresponsible in the current environment. The event appears to be a hybrid of small local events hosted in hackerspaces linked with streamed talks and a program of workshops and “online togetherness.” rC3 is slated to run in the week between Christmas and New Year, and it seems like a great way to wrap up 2020.

Speaking of remote conferences, don’t forget about our own Remoticon. While it won’t be quite the same as everyone getting together in sunny — historically, at least — Pasadena for a weekend of actual togetherness, it’s still going to be a great time. The event runs November 6 to 8; we’ve had a sneak peek at the list of proposed workshops and there’s some really cool stuff. Prepare to be dazzled, and make sure you keep up on the Remoticon announcements — you really don’t want to miss this.

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Digging In The Dirt Yields Homebrew Inductors

Let’s say you’re stranded on a desert island and want to get the news from the outside world. You’ll have to build your own crystal radio, of course, but your parts bin is nowhere to be found and Digi-Key isn’t delivering. So you’ll need to MacGuyver some components. Capacitors are easy with a couple of pieces of tinfoil, and a rectifier can be made from a pencil and a razor blade. But what about an inductor? Sure, air-core inductors will work, but just because you’re marooned doesn’t mean you’ve abandoned your engineering principles. Luckily, you’ve read [AC7ZL]’s treatise of making inductors from dirt, and with sand in abundance, you’re able to harvest enough material to put together some passable ferrite-core inductors.

Obviously, making your own inductive elements isn’t practical even in fanciful and contrived situations, but that doesn’t make the doing of it any less cool. The story begins with a walk in the Arizona desert many years ago, where [AC7ZL], aka [H.P. Friedrichs], spied bands of dark sand shooting through the underlying lighter sediments. These bands turned out to be magnetite, one of many iron-bearing minerals found in the area. Using a powerful magnet from an old hard drive and a plastic food container, he was able to harvest magnetite sand in abundance and refine it with multiple washing steps.

After experimentally determining the material’s permeability — about 2.3 H/m — [AC7ZL] proceeded with some practical applications. He was able to make a bar antenna for an AM radio by packing the sand into a PVC pipe and rewinding the coils around it. More permanent cores were made by mixing the sand with polyester resin and casting it into bars. Toroids were machined from fat bars of the composite on a lathe, much to the detriment of the cutting tools used.

The full-length PDF account of [AC7ZL]’s experiments makes for fascinating reading — the inductive elements he was able to create all performed great in everything from a Joule Thief to a Hartley oscillator up to 27 MHz. We love these kinds of stories, which remind us of some of the work being done by [Simplifier] and others.

This LEGO Air Conditioner Is Cooler Than Yours

What’s the coolest thing a person can build with LEGO? Well it’s gotta be an air conditioner, right? Technically, [Manoj Nathwani] built a LEGO-fied swamp cooler, but it’s been too hot in London to argue the difference.

This thoroughly modular design uses an Arduino Uno and a relay module to drive four submersible pumps. The pumps are mounted on a LEGO base and sunk into a tub filled with water and ice packs. In the middle of the water lines are lengths of copper tubing that carry it past four 120mm PC case fans to spread the coolness. It works well, it’s quiet, and it was cheap to build. Doesn’t get much cooler than that.

[Manoj] had to do a bit of clever coupling to keep the tubing transitions from leaking. All it took was a bit of electrical tape to add girth to the copper tubes, and a zip tie used as a little hose clamp.

We think the LEGO part of this build looks great. [Manoj] says they did it by the seat of their pants, and lucked out because the copper and plastic tubing both route perfectly through the space of a 1x1x1 brick.

DIY cooling can take many forms. It really just depends what kind of building blocks you have at your disposal. We’ve even seen an A/C built from a water heater.

USB Bell Rings In Custom Terminal

Old TeleTypes and even typewriters had bells. Real bells. So that ASCII BEL character is supposed to make an honest to goodness ringing sound. While some modern terminals make a beep from the computer speakers, it isn’t the same. [Tenderlove] must agree, because the turned a Microchip USB to I2C bridge chip into a HID-controlled bell.

The only problem we see is that you have to have a patch to your terminal to ring the bell. We’d love to see some filter for TCP or serial that would catch BEL characters, but on the plus side, it is easy to ring the bell from any sort of application since it responds to normal HID commands.

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Soldering Glass And Titanium With Ultrasonic Energy

Ultrasonic soldering is a little-known technology that allows soldering together a variety of metals and ceramics that would not normally be possible. It requires a special ultrasonic soldering iron and solder that is not cheap or easy to get hold of, so [Ben Krasnow] of [Applied Science] made his own.

Ultrasonic soldering irons heat up like standard irons, but also require an ultrasonic transducer to create bonds to certain surfaces. [Ben] built one by silver soldering a piece of stainless steel rod (as a heat break) between the element of a standard iron and a transducer from an ultrasonic cleaner. He made his special active solder by melting all the ingredients in his vacuum induction furnace. It is similar to lead-free solder, but also contains titanium and small amounts of cerium and gallium. In the video below [Ben] goes into the working details of the technology and does some practical experimentation with various materials.

Ultrasonic soldering is used mainly for electrically bonding metals where clamping is not possible or convenient. The results are also not as neat and clean as with standard solder. We covered another DIY ultrasonic soldering iron before, but it doesn’t look like that one ever did any soldering.

Ultrasonic energy has several interesting mechanical applications that we’ve covered in the past, including ultrasonic cutting and ultrasonic welding.

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