Magnifying On The Cheap

If there is one thing we’ve learned during several years of running the Hackaday SMD soldering challenge it is this: Most people need magnification to do good soldering at a tiny scale. The problem is, like most tools, you can buy something as cheap as a $5 binocular headset or you can spend $1,000 or more on a serious microscope. What’s in between? [Noel] looks at some affordable options in a recent video that you can see below.

[Noel] started out with a cheap “helping hand” that has a simple little magnifying glass attached to it. The major criterion was to find something that would have no delay so he could solder under magnification. While it is possible to work under a scope with a little lag in the display, it is frustrating and there are better options.

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Portable Ham Antenna Uses SMD Capacitors

[K6ARK] likes to operate portable, so he puts together very lightweight antennas. One of his latest uses tiny toroids and SMD capacitors to form trap elements. You can see  the construction of it in the video below.

You usually think of toroid winding as something you do when building transmitters or receivers, especially small ones like these. We presume the antenna is best for QRP (low power) operation since the tiny core would saturate pretty quickly at higher power. Exactly how much power you should pass through an FT50-43 core depends on the exact application, but we’ve seen numbers around 5 watts.

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Exploring The New Super Mario Game & Watch

Nintendo has revived the classic Game & Watch, this time in glorious full-color and running the same Super Mario Bros that first graced the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) back in 1985. Even though it’s only been on the market for a few days, [stacksmashing] has already made some impressive progress towards unlocking the full potential of this $50 retro handheld.

It will come as no surprise to the average Hackaday reader that what we’re looking at here is a pocket-sized NES emulator, but until [stacksmashing] cracked his open, nobody was quite sure what kind of hardware is was running on. Thankfully there wasn’t an epoxy blob in sight, and all of the chips were easily identifiable. Armed with the knowledge that the Game & Watch is running on a STM32H7B0 microcontroller with a nearby SPI flash chip holding the firmware, it was just a matter of figuring out how the software worked.

Connecting to the SWD header.

It didn’t take long to find that an unpopulated header on the board would give him access to the Serial Wire Debug (SWD) interface of the STM32, though unfortunately he found that the chip’s security mode was enabled and he couldn’t dump the firmware.

But he was able to dump the RAM through SWD, which allowed him to identify where the Super Mario Bros NES ROM lived. By connecting the SPI flash chip to a reader and comparing its contents with what the system had in RAM, [stacksmashing] was able to figure out the XOR encryption scheme and come up with a tool that will allow you to insert a modified ROM into an image that can be successfully flashed to the chip.

So does that mean you can put whatever NES ROM you want on the new Game & Watch? Unfortunately, we’re not quite there yet. The emulator running on the device has a few odd quirks, and it will take some additional coaxing before its ready to run Contra. But we’ve seen enough of these devices get hacked to know that it’s just a matter of time.

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Sorting Thousands Of Drill Bits

[Austin Adee] came into some drill bits. A lot of them actually. But when thousands of assorted sizes are delivered in one disorganized box, are they actually useful? Not unless you’re drilling holes where diameter doesn’t matter.

So two projects were at hand: finding a place to store a few hundred different sizes of bits, and tackling the actual sorting itself. In the end, he used input from a digital caliper alongside a Python script that showed him where to put them.

The start of the tray design process was a bit of a research project, establishing the common sizes and how many would fit into a given space. This data was used to spin up the layout for trays with 244 different pockets to hold the bits. The pockets were CNC milled, but getting labels for each to work with the laser engraver was a bit of a hack. In the end, filling in the letters with white crayon really makes them pop, despite [Austin’s] dissatisfaction with the level of contrast.

But wait, we promised you an epic sorting hack! Unfortunately there’s no hopper, vibration feed, and sorting gantry that did this for him (now if it were perler beads he’d have been all set). Still, the solution was still quite a clever one.

A set of digital calipers with a Bluetooth connection sends the dimension back to a python script every time you press the capture button. That script find the pocket for the nearest size and then highlights it on a map of the drill bit drawer displayed on the computer monitor. In the end the trays fit into a wide tool chest drawer, and are likely to keep things organized through exactly one project before everything is once again in disarray.

[Austin] mentions a lag of up to one second for the Bluetooth calipers to do their thing. For assembly-line style work, that adds up. We remember seeing a really snappy reaction time on these digital calipers hacked for wireless entry.

Kipp Bradford Discusses The Entanglement Of Politics And Technology

Kipp Bradford wrapped up his keynote talk at the Hackaday Remoticon with a small piece of advice: don’t built bridges in the middle of the ocean. The point is that a bridge must connect two pieces of land to be useful and if technology isn’t useful to humanity, does it matter at all?

In reality we build bridges in the middle of the ocean all the time as each of us finds nonsensical reasons to learn new skills and try things out. But when it comes time to sit down and make an organized end goal, Kipp wisely asks us to consider the impact we’d like that work to have on the world. Equally importantly, how will we make sure completed work actually gets used? This is where the idea of politics in technology comes to play, in the sense that politics is a major mechanism for collective decision-making within a society.

Currently the CTO of Treau, and a Lecturer and Researcher at Yale, Kipp delivered this keynote live on November 7th. Kipp was an expert judge for the Hackaday Prize in 2017 and 2018. The video of his talk, and a deeper look at the topics, are found below.

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Bare-Metal STM32: From Power-Up To Hello World

Some may ask why you’d want to program a Cortex-M microcontroller like the STM32 series using nothing but the ARM toolchain and the ST Microelectronics-provided datasheet and reference manual. If your first response to that question wasn’t a panicked dive towards the nearest emergency exit, then it might be that that question has piqued your interest. Why, indeed?

Definitely, one could use any of the existing frameworks to program an STM32 MCU, whether the ST HAL framework, plain CMSIS, or even something more Arduino-flavored. Yet where is the fun in that, when at the end of the day one is still fully dependent on that framework’s documentation and its developers? More succinctly, if the contents of the STM32 reference manuals still look like so much gibberish, does one really understand the platform?

Let’s take a look at how bare-metal STM32 programming works, and make the most basic example run, shall we? Continue reading “Bare-Metal STM32: From Power-Up To Hello World”

Custom Firmware For Cheap Bluetooth Thermometers

The Xiaomi LYWSD03MMC temperature and humidity sensor is ridiculously cheap. If you’re buying a few at a time, you can expect to pay as little as $5 USD a pop for these handy Bluetooth Low Energy environmental sensors. Unfortunately, that low price tag comes with a bit of a catch: you can only read the data with the official Xiaomi smartphone application or by linking it to one of the company’s smart home hubs. Or at least, that used to be the case.

Over the past year, [Aaron Christophel] has been working on a replacement firmware for these Xiomi sensors that unlocks the data so you can use it however you see fit. In addition, it allows the user to tweak various features and settings that were previously unavailable. For example, you can disable the little ASCII-art smiley face that usually shows on the LCD to indicate the relative comfort level of the room.

The new firmware publishes the temperature, humidity, and battery level every minute through a BLE advertisement broadcast. In other words, that means client devices can read data from the sensor without having to be paired. Scraping this data is quite simple, and the GitHub page includes a breakdown of what each byte in the broadcast message means. Avoiding direct connections not only makes it easier to quickly read the values from multiple thermometers, but should keep the device’s CR2032 battery going for longer.

But perhaps the most impressive part of this project is how you get the custom firmware installed. You don’t need to crack the case or solder up a programmer. Just load the flasher page on a computer and browser combo that supports Web Bluetooth (a smartphone is probably the best bet), point it to the MAC address of the thermometer you want to flash, and hit the button. [Aaron] is no stranger to developing user-friendly OTA installers for his firmware projects, but even for him, it’s quite impressive.

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