When Is Apple Beige Not Apple Beige?

If we cast our minds back a few decades, almost all computers were a beige colour. “Beige box” even became a phrase for a generic PC, such was their ubiquity. Long before PCs though there were other beige computers, and probably one of the first to land on the desks of enthusiasts rather than professionals was the Apple ][. But exactly what beige colour was it? It’s a question that interested [Ben Zotto], and his quest led him through a fascinating exploration of a colour most of us consider to be boring.

We’re used to older beige computers becoming yellow with time, as the effect of light and age causes the fire retardants in their plastic to release bromine. But the earlier Apple products haven’t done this, because their beige came not from the plastic but from a paint. [Ben] was lucky enough to find a small pot of touch-up paint from Apple that was made available to dealers, so notwithstanding any slight pigment changes from its age, he set off in pursuit of its origin.

Along the way to identifying a modern Pantone shade (Pantone 14–0105 TPG, for the curious) he treats us to a cross-section of Apple’s early colour history with reference to the memories of early Apple luminaries. He even suggests readily available shades that could suffice, pointing to Gloss Almond Rust-Oleum spray paint.

So should you wish to colour-match to an early Apple, now you can. If you have a Commodore or an Atari though, maybe your task is a little easier.

These Plastic Pavers Are Earth Savers

Plastic waste is everywhere you look, and there’s seemingly no end in sight for both the demand and production of plastic goods. So isn’t it time to try putting all that waste from the plastic industry to good use? [Nzambi Matee], a materials engineer in Kenya, thinks so. She was tired of seeing plastic littering the streets of Nairobi, and saw an opportunity to solve two problems at once — cleaning up the streets and paving them with plastic.

Three years ago, [Nzambi] quit her job as an oil industry data analyst and used all her savings to pursue a solution for the pesky plastic problem. She built a lab in her mother’s backyard and begin experimenting with plastics and sand, melding them together to make blocks.

After about a year of trial and error, she had discovered which plastics worked and which didn’t. Then she developed machinery to churn out the sand-plastic paste and stamp it into sturdy paving bricks. Her company Gjenge Makers gets most of their plastic free from factories that would otherwise have to pay to dispose of it. The bricks are strong, lightweight, and nearly indestructible compared to concrete pavers. In the video after the break, there’s a shot of [Nzambi] spiking one on the ground to demonstrate its toughness.

Now, her company produces about 1,500 of these pavers each day. [Nzambi] and her team are planning to start making building blocks as well. With a melting point somewhere above 350° C, the material seems pretty well-suited for that purpose.

Want to do more than just recycle your plastic, but don’t know how? You could start by turning plastic bottles into rope, and then use the rope to make things like brooms and brushes.

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Hackaday Links: February 7, 2021

What’s that they say about death and taxes? Apparently that maxim doesn’t apply to Flash, at least when it comes to the taxman. As we noted last week, the end of the Adobe Flash era took with it a scheduling and routing app for the railway system in a Chinese city. This time around, it’s the unfortunately acronymed SARS, for South African Revenue Services, having Flash woes. They still have several online tax forms that haven’t been migrated to HTML5, so to keep the revenue flowing they built their own Flash-enabled browser. Taxpayers are free to download and use the browser while SARS works on getting the rest of their forms migrated. It sort of reminds us of those plans the Internal Revenue Service has to ensure tax collection continues after a nuclear apocalypse — death and taxes indeed.

Trouble for Nintendo in the EU? It looks that way, as consumer groups have made the case to EU regulators that Nintendo’s wildly popular Switch consoles are showing unacceptably premature obsolescence with the notorious “Joy-Con drift” issue. The problem, which manifests as players being unable to control a game due to constant movement despite no inputs on the joystick-like controller, requires a repair, one that Nintendo initially only did for free as warranty service for consoles less than a year old. For consoles out of the warranty period, Nintendo was charging €45, which is approximately the same as what a new controller would cost. This didn’t sit well with regulators, and now they’re breathing down Nintendo’s neck. They now offer free repairs for up to two years, but they’re still under the EU microscope. The interesting bit in the linked document is the technical reason for the problem, which is attributed to premature PCB wear — possibly meaning the traces wear away — and inadequate sealing of the Joy-Con mechanism against dust intrusion.

Last year looked as though it was going to be an exciting one with respect to some of our nearest solar and galactic neighbors. For a while there, it looked like the red giant Betelgeuse was going to go supernova, which would have been interesting to watch. And closer to home, there were some signs of life, in the form of phosphine gas, detected in the roiling atmosphere of our sister planet, Venus. Alas, both stories appear not to have panned out. The much-hoped-for (by me) Betelgeuse explosion, which was potentially heralded by a strange off-cycle dimming of the variable star, seems now to be due to its upper atmosphere cooling by several hundred degrees. As for Venus, the phosphine gas that was detected appears actually to have been a false positive triggered by sulfur dioxide. Disappointing results perhaps, but that’s how science is supposed to work.

Amateur radio often gets a bad rap, derided as a hobby for rich old dudes who just like to talk about their medical problems. Some of that is deserved, no doubt, but there’s still a lot of room in the hobby for those interested in advancing the state of the art in radio communications. In this vein, we were pleased to learn about HamSCI, which is short for Ham Radio Science Citizen Investigation. The group takes to heart one of the stated primary missions of amateur radio as the “ontinuation and extension of the amateur’s proven ability to contribute to the advancement of the radio art.” To that end, they’ll be holding HamSCI Workshop 2021, a virtual conference that will be focused on midlatitude ionospheric science. This appears to be a real science conference where both credentialed scientists and amateurs can share ideas. They’ve got a Call for Proposals now, with abstracts due by February 15. The conference itself will be on March 19 and 20, with free admission. The list of invited speakers looks pretty impressive, so if you have any interest in the field, check it out.

And finally, we got a tip this week about a collection of goofy US patents. Everything listed, from the extreme combover to baby bum-print art, is supposedly covered by a patent. We didn’t bother checking Google Patents, but some of these are pretty good for a laugh. We did look at a few, though, and were surprised to learn that the Gerbil Shirt is not a garment for rodents, but a rodent-filled garment for humans.

Holding A Mirror Up In Front Of GNU/Linux

We’re guessing that we have something in common with a substantial number of our readers in that this post is being written on an open-source operating system. A well-known GNU/Linux distribution provides everything you might expect from a PC, but of course it’s not the only open-source game in town. A year-old piece from [Unixsheikh] caught the eye with the title “Why you should migrate everything from Linux to BSD“, and being naturally curious, it was worth a read.  It’s interesting enough to talk about here not because of its BSD advocacy, but because of its examination of some of GNU/Linux’s shortcomings. Using and appreciating an operating system shouldn’t mean slavish fandom, it’s worth every Linux user taking a moment to consider its points. Continue reading “Holding A Mirror Up In Front Of GNU/Linux”

Simple Sensor Makes Filament Measurements A Snap

Just how tight are the manufacturing tolerances of modern FDM printer filament. Inquiring minds want to know, and when such minds are attached to handy fellows like [Thomas Sanladerer], you end up with something like this home-brew filament measurement rig to gather the data you seek.

The heart of this build is not, as one might assume, some exotic laser device to measure the diameter of filament optically. Those exist, but they are expensive bits of kit that are best left to the manufacturers, who use them on their production lines to make sure filament meets their specs. Rather, [Thomas] used a very clever homemade device, which relies on a Hall effect sensor and a magnet on a lever to do the job. The lever is attached to a roller bearing that rides on the filament as it spools through the sensor; variations in diameter are amplified by the lever arm, which wiggles a magnet over the Hall sensor, resulting in a signal proportional to filament diameter.

The full test rig has a motor-driven feed and takeup spools, and three sensors measuring across the filament in three different spots around the radius; the measurements are averaged together to account for any small-scale irregularities. [Thomas] ran several different spools representing different manufacturers and materials through the machine; we won’t spoil the results in the video below, but suffice it to say you probably have little to worry about if you buy from a reputable vendor.

When we see a filament sensor, it’s generally more of the “there/not there” variety to prevent a printer from blindly carrying on once the reel is spent. We’ve seen a few of those before, but this is a neat twist on that concept.

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An ESP Will Read Your Meter For You

As home automation starts to live up to its glossy sci-fi promise there remains a deficiency when it comes to interfacing between the newer computerised components and legacy items from a previous age. A frequent example that appears in projects on Hackaday is the reading of utility meters, and in that arena [jomjol] has a very neat solution involving an ESP32 camera module and a software neural network to identify meter readings directly.

The ESP and camera sit at the top of a 3D-printed housing that fits over the meter. The clever trick comes as each photo’s orientation is determined, and not only is OCR used to read digits but also figures are derived from small dial meters and other indicators on the meter face. It’s a very well-thought-out system, with a web-based configuration tool that allows full customisation of the readable zones and how they should be treated.

This project makes full use of the ESP32’s capabilities, and the attention to detail that has gone into making it usable is particularly impressive. It certainly raises the bar against previous OCR meter reading projects.

[Thanks for the tip Sascha]

Ice40 Runs DOOM

Spec sheets are an important tool in determining the performance of a given part or system, but they’re not the be all and end all when it comes to engineering. However, specs alone don’t prove whether a given system can complete a given task. Sometimes, you need to actually do the work to prove it instead – as [Sylvain] has done, running DOOM on the iCE40 FPGA.

DOOM’s minimum specifications demand a 386 with 4MB RAM minimum, but it’s commonly agreed that a 486 DX2 running at 66MHz with 8MB of RAM is required to play the game smoothly. With an iCEBreaker v1.0b running a RISC V softcore at 25MHz, it may seem like a difficult task, but the RISC V core has the benefit that many instructions run in a single clock cycle that take many on the 486. While the iCEBreaker doesn’t have much RAM onboard, it’s a simple job to piggyback an 8MB SPI device on top of the existing flash storage. Control of the game is via keystrokes sent to the iCEBreaker over serial, while video is handled over a PMOD video interface with an HDMI connector.

[Sylvain] does a great job of explaining all the minute details of the work that was required to get things working, and has provided files on Github for those keen to replicate the feat or expand upon the code. Music is notably absent but MIDI output could likely be achieved without much hassle. “Does it run DOOM?” is still a question asked of many platforms, even the new Nintendo Game & Watch. Video after the break.

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