Hackaday Links: November 1, 2020

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We normally chuckle at high-profile auctions where people compete to pay as much as possible for items they clearly don’t need. It’s easy to laugh when the items on the block are things like paint-spattered canvases, but every once in a while some genuine bit of history that really piques our interest goes on sale. Such is the case with what is claimed to be an original Steve Wozniak-built Blue Box, going on sale November 5. The prospectus has an excellent summary of the history of the “Two Steves” and their early business venture making and selling these devices to Berkeley students eager to make free long distance phone calls. The item on sale is a very early rev, most likely assembled by Woz himself. The current owner claims to have bought it from Woz himself in the summer of 1972 while on a roadtrip from Sunnyvale to Los Angeles. Estimated to go for $4,000 to $6,000, we really hope this ends up in a museum somewhere — while we’ve seen attempts to recreate Woz’s Blue Box on Hackaday.io, letting a museum study an original would be a great glimpse into our shared technological history.

Not in the market for old tech? No problem — Digilent wants to get rid of 3,000 PCBs, and quickly. They posted the unusual offer on reddit a couple of days ago; it seems they have a huge stock of populated boards for a product that didn’t quite take the market by storm. Their intention is likely not to flood the market with scopes cobbled together from these boards, but rather to make them available to someone doing some kind of art installation or for educational purposes. It’s a nice gesture, and a decent attempt to keep these out of the e-waste stream, so check it out if you have a need.

Speaking of PCBs, SparkFun has just launched an interesting new service: SparkFun À La Carte. The idea is to make it really easy to design and build prototype boards. Instead of using traditional EDA software, users select different blocks from a menu. Select your processor, add components like displays and sensors, and figure out how you want to power it, and SparkFun will do the rest, delivering a fully assembled board in a few weeks. It certainly stands to suck the fun out of the design process while also hoovering up your pocketbook: “A $949 design fee will be applied to all initial orders of a design”. You can get your hands on the design files, but that comes with an extra fee: “they can be purchased separately for $150 by filling out this form”. But for someone who just needs to hammer out a quick design and get on with the next job, this could be a valuable tool.

Another day, another IoT ghost: Reciva Radio is shutting down its internet radio service. A large banner at the top of the page warns that the “website will be withdrawn” on January 31, 2021, but functionality on the site already appears limited. Users of the service are also reporting that their Reciva-compatible radios are refusing to stream content, apparently because they can’t download anything from the service’s back end. This probably doesn’t have a huge impact — I’d never heard of Reciva before — but it makes me look at the Squeezebox radio we’ve got in the kitchen and wonder how long for the world that thing is. It’s not all bad news, though — owners of the bricked radios will now have a great opportunity to hack them back into usefulness.

By the time this article is published, Halloween will be history and the hordes of cosplaying candy-grubbers who served as welcome if ironic respite from this non-stop horror show of a year will be gone. Luckily, though, if it should come to pass that the dead rise from their graves — it’s still 2020, after all — we’ll know exactly how to defeat them with this zombie invasion calculator. You may remember that last year Dominik Czernia did something similar, albeit with vampires. Switching things up from the hemophagic to the cerebrophagic this year, his calculator lets you model different parameters, like undead conversion percentage, zombie demographics, and attack speed. You’ve also got tools for modeling the response of the living to the outbreak, to see how best to fight back. Spoiler alert: everyone will need to bring Tallahassee-level badassery if we’re going to get through this.

12 thoughts on “Hackaday Links: November 1, 2020

  1. So is sparkfun’s idea, in effect, that they are simply getting humans on their staff to do PCB design for a fee according to the parameters that a customer sets for chipset, display, power supply…

  2. $6000 for a Blue Box you can’t even use, technology had truly become history. As for the Reciva thing, well I like internet radio but when you can get it all on your phone with just an app it makes sense.

    1. Thanks for the link, it made me laugh ‘If you use their “building” blocks. You cant even move them. I tried to add GPS and it placed it next to ESP32’. Even a seriously below average EE would not be placing a GPS module within the near-field of a WiFi and Bluetooth module.

      1. It’s not meant to replace a competent EE and a proper design. It’s meant to be a bunch of preassembled lego blocks. Give it to your software team instead of a desk full of breakout boards and wires and let them get started in parallel with your actual EE who is doing the proper job.

        1. What i kinda expect is, that someone built premade SCH and PCB designs of these individual blocks, and the intern will have the job to quickly lay out the few interconnects on the PCB, if they have not figured out to just start the autorouter at that point. The layout will just be as poor as most other “arduino” designs. Simply connected in copper, what was connected in the schematics, and call it a product if it “works” on the bench in a controlled lab environment. Why bother thinking about EMC and EMI, that just costs time and money they can’t and don’t need to ask from customers and it lowers profit margins…
          Clearly you get what you pay for with this offering (and i still think they are expensive for what you can expect to get in the end).
          If they want to show how serious and good they are, i’m happy to order some design, let them create all the design files, have them show me the gerbers, and if i like what i see, i’ll grab my wallet and pay them for the design and production.

  3. Honestly, I’m surprised the price is that low. When you consider the technological and cultural impact phone phreaking, which birthed hacker culture, combined with that of Apple, I could easily see this on display in the Smithsonian.

  4. “an original Steve Wozniak-built Blue Box”

    Buyer beware – a little bit of small print right at the end of that Bonhams listing says, “PCB was purchased unpopulated directly from Steve Wozniak by consignor and parts were later added by consignor.”

  5. Thanks for the kick in the pants, I really need to get back on getting mine to work. I had hit a wall with the crystals, eventually got some 1MHZ crystals, and also I decided to shelf it as the schematics I have do not include the darlington pair transistor set that WoZ was so found of. Furthermore the 74LS161 4 bit counters I was using did not appear to do the same job as the 9316 counters he had used. My own schematic is very wrong, and I have attempted to re-do it on several occasions, and I had to re-think many things after seeing the blue box that the Henry Ford museum had procured. The photos of the board in the links given will actually help me get something that is ‘less of WoZ’s prototype’ and more of one of his ‘production’ boxes. The circular object on these boards has so far eluded me though! Many people seem to think it is an op amp, but I’ve emailed WoZ about this and he was not sure as I recall. I was really hoping to get further on this and publish more when I had the circuit working. WoZ said if I got it right that it would ‘sound terrible’.

  6. Reciva is the “portal” that controls internet radios. The radios are not for everybody, but those that have them absolutely love them. They typically cost $300.00 to purchase. I suggest that everyone report the reciva data base shutdown to the FTC. https://reportfraud.ftc.gov How would you like to buy an expensive piece of electronics just for a manufacturer to send out a “kill” signal and terminate your purchase over night. This should be illegal.

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