Flash Is Dead, But Its Culture Should Live On

Flash is all but gone already, but as we approach the official Adobe end-of-life date on December 31st, it’s picking up traction one last time as people reminisce about the days of Internet past. Back in July, [Jonas Richner] created an impressive website that catalogs not only almost 20 years of Flash games, but also testimonials for the software from dozens of developers who began their careers with it.

Flash started in 1996 with the intention of being a standard for animations and vector graphics on the early Web. With the release of Flash Player 5 in August of 2000, Macromedia (later acquired by Adobe) presented the first version of ActionScript, an object-oriented scripting language meant to bring interactivity to animated Flash movies. Since then, thousands of games made with the platform were released online through websites like Newgrounds and shared all over the world, with the most popular games easily reaching tens of millions of plays.

These games became popular in part thanks to how quickly they could be created with the Flash authoring tools, but also because it was so easy for players to run them. With a single plugin for your web browser of choice, the barrier of entry was extremely low. Most home computers from the mid-2000s were able to run Flash software without needing dedicated graphics hardware. This prompted a “creative chaos” as [Richner] puts it, spawning millions of games and animations which started genres and careers lasting to this day.

Unfortunately, browsers have been dropping support for the plugin due to vulnerabilities in the most recent iterations of its scripting engine and Google no longer indexes Flash files. It would seem this particularly creative era of the Internet is coming to an end. However, you can still relive old games and animations made with plugins such as Flash and Shockwave with [BlueMaxima]’s Flashpoint, and like [Richner], we also hope that the people building today’s platforms and technologies keep the lessons from Flash in mind.

Radio Remote Control Via HTML5

It’s a common scene: a dedicated radio amateur wakes up early in the morning, ambles over to their shack, and sits in the glow of vacuum tubes as they call CQ DX, trying to contact hams in time zones across the world. It’s also a common scene for the same ham to sit in the comfort of their living room, sipping hot chocolate and remote-controlling their rig from a laptop. As you can imagine, this essentially involves a server running on a computer hooked up to the radio, which is connected via the internet to a client running on the laptop. [Olivier/ F4HTB] saw a way to improve the process by eliminating the client software and controlling the rig from a web browser.

[Oliver]’s software, aptly named Universal HamRadio Remote, runs a web server that hosts an HTML5 dashboard for controlling the radio. It also pipes audio back and forth (radio control wouldn’t be very useful if you couldn’t talk!), and can be run on a Raspberry Pi. Not only does this make setup easier, as there is no need to configure the client machine, but it also makes the radio accessible from nearly any modern device.

We’ve seen a similar (albeit expensive and closed-source) solution, the MFJ-1234, before, but it’s always refreshing to see the open-source community tackle a problem and make it their own. We can’t wait to see where the project goes next!

A Transistor-less Sound Synthesizer

A synthesizer without transistors could almost be the basis of a trick question, surely without transistors it must be using a vacuum tube or similar. Not [Dr. Cockroach]’s synth though, instead of transistors it uses coupled pairs of LEDs and light-dependent resistors as its active components. Its oscillator circuit comes courtesy of [Patrick Flett], and uses a pair of LED/LDR combinations to alternately charge and discharge a capacitor. This feeds another LDR/LED pair that appears to act as a buffer to drive a bridge rectifier, with a final amplifier following it.

The result oscillates, though at frequencies in the low audio range with a cluster of harmonics thrown in. Its sound is best described as something akin to a small single-cylinder motorcycle engine at the lower frequencies, and is something we see could have all sorts of interesting possibilities.

This approach of using LDR-based active devices may be something of a dead end that could have had its day back in the 1930s, but it’s nevertheless an entertaining field to explore. It’s not the first time we’ve followed [Dr. Cockroach] at it, in the past we’ve seen the same technique applied to logic gates.

Have a listen to the synth in the video below the break. Continue reading “A Transistor-less Sound Synthesizer”

Let The Solar Free

Anyone tackling solar power for the first time will quickly find there’s a truly dizzying amount of information to understand and digest. You might think you just need to buy some solar panels, wire them together, and just sort of plug them in. But there are a hundred and one different questions about how they’ll be connected, the voltage of the panels, and the hardware for driving a load. [Michel], [case06], and [Martin J├Ąger] have set out to create a simpler and easier to understand charge controller named LibreSolar.

a diagram showing how the libre solar is wired up

A charge controller is fundamentally a simple idea. The goal is to charge a battery with solar panels, which means it’s essentially just a heavy-duty DC/DC buck converter. What makes this project different is that it is an open platform built for extensibility.

There are UEXT connectors included for adding extra peripherals, and with some tweaks to the STM32 firmware, it would be easy to handle small wind turbines (with some rectification to convert to DC, of course). LibreSolar seems to be designed with an eye towards creating a nano-scale localized networked grid. For example, they’ve developed a Raspberry Pi Zero module that uses WiFi to create a CAN bus allowing the boxes to communicate their maximum voltage to each other. This makes the system as plug-and-play as possible, as the bus doesn’t require a master controller to communicate.

With features such as MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracking), 20 amp peak charging, a USB interface for updating, and several built-in protection mechanisms, it’s clearly a well thought through project. We look forward to seeing it deployed in the real world!

Optical Centrepunch Is An Easy Build If You Need One

Tired of getting his centerpunches thereabouts but not quite there, [Uri] decided something had to be done. A common tool to solve this problem is the optical centerpunch, but models on sale were just a little too pricy for something so basic. Instead, [Uri] elected to build his own.

An optical centerpunch is a simple tool that helps machinists hit a centerpunch dead on target, time after time. A guide is used that holds a clear plastic rod with a dot in the center. This dot is lined up over the spot to be centerpunched. The plastic rod is then removed and replaced with the actual punch that does the work. Not content to build something utilitarian, [Uri] instead sculpted the tool into a likeness of Sgt Pepper (of Yellow Submarine fame). Seeing the hunk of bare brass quickly become a recognisable figure on camera is a testament to [Uri’s] skill as a sculptor.

It’s a tool that can be readily built by anyone with a lathe, or, at the very least, a decent drill press. We imagine it would be particularly useful for those without perfect vision, making it easier to get punches on the mark on a regular basis. [Uri] has graced these pages before, too — he previously built an ornate tool to make all the other hammers jealous. Video after the break.

Continue reading “Optical Centrepunch Is An Easy Build If You Need One”

Get Over Your Fears

Some projects are just too complex, that’s for sure. But I’d be willing to bet that some things you think are too difficult actually aren’t, and it may be that all you need to get over your personal hurdle is a good demonstration. Here come three cases in point.

I was looking at the new Raspberry Pi Compute Module last weekend. They have a whole bunch of high-speed traces: things like Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI, and those crazy-fast SDI serial camera interfaces. I have no experience in high-speed design and layout at all, and frankly it gives me the willies. But the Raspberries also shipped me an IO demo board, and concomitant KiCAD design files, with the review board. Looking at it, they were just wires — maybe pairwise length-matched and impedance controlled — but also just wires. Opening up the KiCAD board file and clicking on the traces just like I do with my own designs, I’m a lot less scared. That was a revelation for me.

In a great writeup of his experience building ten different Linux single-board-computers from scratch, Jay Carlson had a similar effect on me. I would never have considered breaking out the hotplate for some CPU-and-DRAM action, and I’ve never had to lay out a PCB with a high density BGA chip before either. I’m not quite into Dunning-Kruger territory yet; I still have a healthy respect for the layout intricacies in fanning out a tight BGA CPU into a DRAM. But Jay’s frank assessments of what is easy and what is hard make it all seem within the realm of the doable.

As Mike and I were talking on the podcast about Jay’s work, Mike came clean about his fear of BGAs. I’ve done enough reflow-plate soldering, with parts that have a lead pitch that’s a factor of two finer than the 0.8 mm pitch BGAs in question, so it doesn’t seem implausible to me. And I’m 100% sure Mike could pull it off too, but he is in need of a BGA guru. Any good hobbyist videos out there?

Being a nerdy type, I’m much more focused on the knowledge and the inspiration, but maybe the courage is equally important — at least I think I undervalue it. I don’t need to lay out HDMI lines, or build a from-scratch Linux box, but I am no longer afraid that I couldn’t, and that’s because I’ve seen detailed examples of fellow hackers who’ve done the same. I might not get it right on the first shot, but I’m not afraid to try, and I wouldn’t have said the same before looking over other folks’ shoulders. Forza e corragio!

Super-Simple VGA Adapter Sports Low-Res Output With Only Four TTL Chips

Here at Hackaday we cast a wary eye at tips that come in with superlative claims. Generally, if we post something that claims to be the fastest or the smallest of all time, we immediately get slapped down in the comments by someone who has done it faster or smaller. So we present the simplest TTL video card ever knowing the same thing will happen, but eager to see how anyone might scale things down.

To be fair, [George Foot] does qualify his claim to the simplest usable VGA adapter, and he does note that it descends from [Ben Eater]’s “world’s worst video card”, which he uses for his 6502 breadboard computer. But where [Ben]’s VGA adapter uses about 20 TTL chips and an EEPROM, [George] has managed to decrease the BOM to just four TTL chips along with the memory and a crystal oscillator. This required a fair number of compromises, of course; the color depth is fairly low, as is the resolution. Each pixel appears as a thin horizontal bar rather than a small square, leading the images to be smeared out across the screen. They’re still surprisingly viewable, though, which probably says more about the quality of the pattern-recognition wetware between our ears than anything about the quality of the adapter. [George] gives a tour of the circuit in the brief video below.

It looks like [George] has posted a few improvements to the project since we first spotted it, so we’re looking forward to seeing how much the parts count went up. We’re also keen to see if anyone can outdo the simplicity of this effort — be sure to let us know if you give it a shot.

Continue reading “Super-Simple VGA Adapter Sports Low-Res Output With Only Four TTL Chips”