ISASTM Runs Vintage Cards Over USB

The ISA bus is a relic of the distant past, and no longer supported by the PC mainstream. Outside of retro fanatics and likely some long-term industrial users, it’s all but forgotten. That hasn’t stopped [Manawyrm] from hacking away, however, and he’s developed a nifty adapter for the modern era.

Still in its early stages of development, the ISASTM is a ISA-over-USB adapter that allows a modern computer to work with older expansion cards. Running on an STM32H743, and using the microcontroller’s native USB1 interface, the ISASTM card is able to be slotted into a backplane in order to address multiple cards with one adapter. [Manawyrm] demonstrates the hardware by running Monkey Island 1 in the PCem emulator, with sound provided by an AdLib ISA soundcard.

There are some throughput issues, which [Manawyrm] aims to solve by switching to USB2 and making some tweaks and improvements to the code. Regardless, it’s an impressive tool that we imagine could have some use in keeping some legacy hardware alive, too. Incidentally, it’s been a long while since we’ve seen a solid ISA hack around these parts. Video after the break.

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Low-Level Academy Gets Into Details

We often say that you don’t have to know how an engine works to drive a car, but you can bet that every driver at the Indy 500 knows exactly how it works. You could say the same for computers. You don’t need to understand the details, but it really helps, especially if something goes wrong. [Low-Level Academy] has an online class where you can program in Rust inside your browser to learn about low-level TCP and UDP networking details.

Just how low it goes, we aren’t exactly sure, yet. There are three of eight modules ready to go. The first three cover number encoding, exchanging messages with UDP, and fragmentation. Reliability, routing, server programming, TCP, and HTTP are not out yet, but the ultimate project is a web server. In addition, new modules are released to sponsors first, so the fragmentation module for example won’t be available for a few more days. While that seems unorthodox, it is no different than having to wait for an HBO show to show up on basic cable in reruns.

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Saving Floor Space With A Scratch Built Bike Hoist

Vertical storage is often underused in the garage or workshop as it can be tricky to get bulky objects off the floor safely. So we stick a few shelves on the wall, put boxes of screws and components on them, and call it a day. Meanwhile, you end up playing a game of horizontal Tetris with all the big stuff on the ground.

Looking to free up some floor space in his garage, [Chris Chimienti] recently decided to design and build his own hoist to lift his bicycles off the floor. While his design is obviously purpose built for bikes, the core concept could potentially be adapted to lift whatever it is you’ve been kicking across the garage floor as of late; assuming it doesn’t have any strong feelings on suddenly being tipped over on its side, anyway.

A simple modification allows for operation with a drill.

Before he started the actual build, [Chris] knocked together a rough facsimile of his garage in SolidWorks and started experimenting with the layout and mechanism that the hoist would ultimately use. While we’ve all felt the desire to run into a project full-speed, this more methodical approach can definitely save you time and money when working on a complex project. Redesigning a component in CAD to try it a different way will always be faster and easier than having to do it for real.

We’ve become accustomed to seeing projects include sensors, microcontrollers, and 3D printed components as a matter of course, but [Chris] kept this build relatively low-tech. Not that we blame him when heavy overhead loads are involved. Even still, he did have to make a few tweaks in the name of safety: his original ratcheting winch could freewheel under load, so he swapped it out for a worm gear version that he operates with an electric drill.

If you like the idea of having an overhead storage area but don’t necessarily want to look at it, you could always cover it up with a rock climbing wall.

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Gas Powered Blender Packs Real Grunt

Whether you’re into fruit smoothies or icy blended cocktails, a blender comes in handy when preparing these beverages in the kitchen. But, if a small electric motor can do the job well, a noisy combustion engine can certainly do it louder. This is demonstrated ably by this project from [JT Makes It].

The build is a steel-framed contraption, mounting a small gas engine of the type you’d typically find in a weed trimmer or other garden tool. It’s attached to a shaft allowing it to spin a blender blade at up to 41,000 rpm when unloaded. A stout metal container is mounted on top, along with a plexiglass lid to ensure the contents of the bowl don’t escape when the blender is in action.

It’s a fun build, and one that has no trouble turning a bucket of apples into mush in under 60 seconds. More realistically, [JT] is able to whip up several litres of blended cocktail without major effort, which would be great for parties. Though, we do imagine the burning oil and gas fumes does somewhat spoil the taste sensation. We’ve seen similar hacks before, like this nitro-fuelled pencil sharpener. Video after the break.

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Page-Turning Pedal Is Pretty Boss

Buying things to make your life easier certainly has its therapeutic joys, but if you really wanna feel good, you gotta make the thing yourself whenever possible. [Bjørn Brandal] happened to have a two-switch BOSS pedal just lying around, so it made sense to turn it into a wireless page turner for reading sheet music.

As [Bjørn] says, the circuit is simple — just two 1/4″ TRS jacks and an ItsyBitsy nRF52840 Express. The jacks are used to connect to the pedal outputs to the ItsyBitsy, which sends keystrokes over BLE.

The cool thing about this pedal is that it can work with a bunch of programs, like forScore, Abelton Live, Garage Band, and more. The different modes are accessed by holding down both pedals, and there’s confirmation via blinking LED and buzzing buzzer.

Our favorite part has to be the DIY light guide [Bjørn] that bends the ItsyBitsy’s RGB LED 90° and points it out the front of the enclosure. Nicely done!

Don’t play anything but the computer keyboard? Put those feet to work with shortcuts behind giant arcade buttons.

Mutant Corn Could Be The Future Of Agriculture

In America, corn syrup is king, and real sugar hovers somewhere around prince status. We’re addicted to corn, and corn, in turn, is addicted to nitrogen. A long time ago, people figured out that by rotating crops, the soil will stay nutrient-rich, which helps to an extent by retaining nitrogen. Then we figured out how to make nitrogen fertilizer, and through its use we essentially doubled the average crop yield over the last hundred years or so.

The aerial roots of the Sierra Mixe corn stalk help the plant produce its own nitrogen. Image via Wikimedia Commons

Not all plants need extra nitrogen. Legumes like beans and soybeans are able to make their own. But corn definitely needs nitrogen. In the 1980s, the now-chief of agriculture for Mars, Inc. Howard-Yana Shapiro went to Mexico, corn capital of the world, looking for new kinds of corn. He found one in southern Mexico, in the Mixes District of Oaxaca. Not only was this corn taller than American corn by several feet, it somehow grew to these dizzying heights in terrible soil.

Shapiro thought the corn’s success might have something to do with the aerial, finger-like roots protruding from the cornstalk. Decades later, it turns out he was right. Researchers at UC Davis have proven that those aerial roots allow the plant to grab nitrogen out of the air through a symbiotic relationship with bacteria in that clear, syrupy mucus. The process is called nitrogen fixation.

Nitrogen Fixing is a Bit Broken

So if we already have nitrogen fertilizer, why even look for plants that do it themselves? The Haber-Bosch fertilizer-making process, which is an artificial form of nitrogen fixation, does make barren soil less of a factor. But that extra nitrogen in ammonia-based fertilizer tends to run off into nearby streams and lakes, making its use an environmental hazard. And the process of creating ammonia for fertilizer involves fossil fuels, uses a lot of energy, and produces greenhouse gases to boot. All in all, it’s a horrible thing to do to the environment for the sake of agriculture. But with so many people to feed, what else is there to do?

The Haber-Bosch process illustrated. Image via Wikimedia Commons

Over the last decade, the UC Davis researchers use DNA sequencing to determine that the mucus on the Sierra Mixe variety of the plant provides microbes to the corn, which give it both sugars to eat and a layer of protection from oxygen. They believe that the plants get 30-80% of their nitrogen this way. The researchers also proved that the microbes do in fact belong to nitrogen-fixing families and are similar to those found in legumes. Most impressively, they were able to transplant Sierra Mixe corn to both Davis, California and Madison, Wisconsin, and have it grow successfully, proving that the nitrogen-fixing trick isn’t limited to the corn’s home turf. Now they are working to identify the genes that produce the aerial roots.

One Step in a Longer Journey of Progress

We probably won’t be switching over to Sierra Mixe corn anytime soon, however. It takes eight months to mature, which is much too slow for American appetites used to a three-month maturation period. If we can figure out how to make other plants do their own nitrogen fixation, who knows how far we could go? It seems likely that more people would accept a superpower grafted from a corn cousin instead of trying to use CRISPR to grant self-nitrogen fixation, as studies have shown a distrust of genetically modified foods.

The issue of intellectual property rights could be a problem, but the researchers started on the right foot with the Mexican government by putting legal agreements in place that ensure the Sierra Mixe community benefits from research and possible commercialization. We can’t wait to see what they’re able to do. If they’re unable to transplant the power of self-fixation to other plants, then perhaps there’s hope for improving the Haber-Bosch process.

Hackaday Podcast 089: 770 Potato Battery, Printing Resin Resist, And No-Internet Video Chat

Hackaday editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams weigh the hacking gold found across the internet this week. We can’t get over the epic adventure that went into making a battery from 100 pounds of potatoes. It turns out you don’t need Internet for video conferencing as long as you’re within a coupe of kilometers of everyone else. And move over toner transfer method, resin printers want a shot at at-home PCB etching. We’ll take a look at what the Tesla selfie cam is doing under the hood, and lose our marbles over a ball-bearing segment clock that’s defying gravity.

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!

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