Sierpinski PCB Christmas Tree

It’s holiday time again! And that means it’s time to break out the soldering iron and the RGB LEDs! If you’re going to make a custom PCB to put those LEDs on, you’ll notice that you get few copies of your PCB in your order, so, might as well design it such that you can combine them all together into a single Sierpinski Christmas Tree, just like [Landon Carter] did.

Each PCB “tree” has three connections which can be used as either inputs or outputs by soldering one of two bridge connections on the PCB. The power and signal goes up and down through the tree, rather than across, so the connections go one on the top of the tree and two on the bottom. This way, each tree in the triangle can easily be connected, and each triangle can be easily connected to another. Each individual tree has three WS2812b-mini addressable RGB LEDs and the tree is controlled by an external Arduino.

The first order of 10 PCBs came in, which makes a 9 member tree – next up is a 27 member tree. After that, you’re going to need some pretty high vaulted ceilings in order to put these on the wall. On the upside, though, once the holidays are over, everything can be easily disconnected and packed away with the rest of the decorations. If you, too, are interested in RGB LED decorations, there are a few on the site for your perusal.

The Protein Folding Break-Through

Researchers at DeepMind have proudly announced a major break-through in predicting static folded protein structures with a new program known as AlphaFold 2. Protein folding has been an ongoing problem for researchers since 1972. Christian Anfinsen speculated in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in that year that the three-dimensional structure of a given protein should be algorithm determined by the one-dimensional DNA sequence that describes it. When you hear protein, you might think of muscles and whey powder, but the proteins mentioned here are chains of amino acids that fold into complex shapes. Cells use these proteins for almost everything. Many of the enzymes, antibodies, and hormones inside your body are folded proteins. We’ve discussed why protein folding is important as well covered recent advancements in cryo-electron microscopy used to experimentally determine the structure of folded proteins.

The shape of proteins largely controls their function, and if we can predict their shape then we get much closer to predicting how they interact. While AlphaFold 2 just predicts the static state, the sheer number of interactions that can change a protein, dynamic protein structures are still out of reach. The technical achievement of DeepMind is not to be understated. For a typical protein, there are an estimated 10^300 different configurations.

Out of the 180 million protein sequences in the Protein database, only 170,000 have had their structures identified. Technologies like the cryo-electron microscope make the process of mapping their structure easier, but it is still complex and tedious to go from sequence to structure. AlphaFold 2 and other folding algorithms are tested against this 170,000 member corpus to determine their accuracy. The previous highest-scoring algorithm of 2016 had a median global distance test (GDT) of 40 (0-100, with 100 being the best) in the most difficult category (free-modeling). In 2018, AlphaFold made waves by pushing that up to the high 50’s. AlphaFold 2 brings that GDT up to 87.

At this point in time, it is hard to determine what sort of effects this will have on the drug industry, healthcare, and society in general. Research has always been done to create the protein, identify what it does, then figure out its structure. AlphaFold 2 represents an avenue towards doing that whole process completely backward. Whether the next goal is to map all the proteins encoded in the human genome or find new, more effective drug treatments, we’re quite excited to see what becomes of this landmark breakthrough.

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FM Radio From Scratch Using An Arduino

Building radio receivers from scratch is still a popular project since it can be done largely with off-the-shelf discrete components and a wire long enough for the bands that the radio will receive. That’s good enough for AM radio, anyway, but you’ll need to try this DIY FM receiver if you want to listen to something more culturally relevant.

Receiving frequency-modulated radio waves is typically more difficult than their amplitude-modulated cousins because the circuitry necessary to demodulate an FM signal needs a frequency-to-voltage conversion that isn’t necessary with AM. For this build, [hesam.moshiri] uses a TEA5767 FM chip because of its ability to communicate over I2C. He also integrated a 3W amplifier into this build, and everything is controlled by an Arduino including a small LCD screen which displays the current tuned frequency. With the addition of a small 5V power supply, it’s a tidy and compact build as well.

While the FM receiver in this project wasn’t built from scratch like some AM receivers we’ve seen, it’s still an interesting build because of the small size, I2C capability, and also because all of the circuit schematics are available for all of the components in the build. For those reasons, it could be a great gateway project into more complex FM builds.

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Transforming Work Light Is More Than Meets The Eye

While it does use the same M12 batteries, this impeccably engineered work light isn’t an official Milwaukee product. It’s the latest creation from [Chris Chimienti], who’s spent enough time in the garage and under the hood to know a thing or two about what makes a good work light. The modular design not only allows you to add or subtract LED panels as needed, but each section is able to rotate independently so it points exactly where you need it.

Magnets embedded in the 3D printed parts mean the light modules not only firmly attach to one another, but can be stuck to whatever you’re working on. Or you could just stack all the lights up vertically and use the rocket-inspired “landing legs” of the base module keep it vertical. Even if the light gets knocked around, the tension provided by rubber bands attached to each fold-out leg means it will resist falling over. In the video after the break [Chris] says the little nosecone on top is just for fun and you don’t have to print it, but we don’t see how you can possibly resist.

The same PCB is used on both ends of the light modules.

Of course, 3D printed parts and magnets don’t self-illuminate. The LED panels and switches are salvaged from cheap lights that [Chris] found locally for a few bucks, and a common voltage regulator board is used to step the 12 volts coming from the Milwaukee battery down to something the LEDs can use. He’s designed a very slick reversible PCB that’s used on either end of each light module to transfer power between them courtesy of semi-circular traces on one side and and matching pogo pins on the other.

As we saw in his recent Dremel 3D20 rebuild, [Chris] isn’t afraid to go all in during the design phase. The amount of CAD work that went into this project is astounding, and serves as fantastic example of the benefits to be had by designing the whole assembly at once rather than doing it piecemeal. It might take longer early on, but the final results really speak for themselves.

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Remoticon Video: How To Use Machine Learning With Microcontrollers

Going from a microcontroller blinking an LED, to one that blinks the LED using voice commands based on a data set that you trained on a neural net work is a “now draw the rest of the owl” problem. Lucky for us, Shawn Hymel walks us through the entire process during his Tiny ML workshop from the 2020 Hackaday Remoticon. The video has just now been published and can be viewed below.

This is truly an end-to-end Hello World for getting machine learning up and running on a microcontroller. Shawn covers the process of collecting and preparing the audio samples, training the data set, and getting it all onto the microcontroller. At the end of two hours, he’s able to show the STM32 recognizing and responding to two different spoken words. Along the way he pauses to discuss the context of what’s happening in every step, which will help you go back and expand in those areas later to suit your own project needs.

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Circuit VR: Squaring With Schmitt Triggers

In the fantasy world of schematic diagrams, wires have no resistance and square waves have infinitely sharp rise times. The real world, of course, is much crueler. There are many things you can use to help tame the wild analog world into the digital realm. Switches need debouncing, signals need limiting, and you might even need a filter. One of the basic elements you might use is a Schmitt trigger. In

In this installment of Circuit VR, I’m looking inside practical circuits by building Schmitt triggers in the Falstad circuit simulator. You can click the links and get to a live simulation of the circuit so you can do your own experiments and virtual measurements.

Why Schmitt Triggers?

You usually use a Schmitt trigger to convert a noisy signal into a clean square digital logic level. Any sort of logic gate has a threshold. For a 5V part, the threshold might be that anything under 2.5V is a zero and at 2.5V or above, the signal counts as a one. Some logic families define other thresholds and may have areas where the signal is undefined, possibly causing unpredictable outputs.

There are myriad problems with the threshold, of course. Two parts might not have exactly the same threshold. The threshold might vary a bit for temperature or other factors. For parts with no forbidden zone, what happens if the voltage is right at the edge of the threshold?

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Hackaday Podcast 096: Diaphragm Engine, DIY Dish Washer, Forgotten Soviet Computers, And A Starlink Teardown

Hackaday editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys discuss the latest and greatest in geeky goodness. This week we saw a Soviet time capsule come to light with the discovery of a computer lab from a building abandoned in the 1990’s. A two-cycle compressed air engine shatters our expectations of what is involved in RC aircraft design. There’s a new toolkit for wireless hacking on the scene in the form of a revitalized HackRF PortaPack firmware fork. And what goes into dishwasher design? Find out in this exciting episode.

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!

Direct download (55 MB)

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