Arduino Announces Board Based On Raspberry Silicon

The Raspberry Pi Pico burst onto the microcontroller scene last month with much fanfare, and is already popping up in projects left, right and center. Notable for its high clock speed and exciting IO features, it’s a breath of fresh air in a market slowly weaning itself onto ARM architectures and away from 8-bit staples. Not one to miss out on a slice of the action, Arduino have announced their own upcoming board based on the Pico’s RP2040 chip.

The board is named the Arduino Nano RP2040 Connect, a moniker that’s not just a mouthful but likely to be confused with existing Arduino Nano products. It sports several differences to the Raspberry Pi Pico, namely packing WiFi, Bluetooth, and an IMU on board which should make developing motion-sensitive and IoT projects easier, particularly in cases where the Pico’s flexible IO could be useful.

Naturally, Arduino IDE integration will be a major plus point that gets many makers on board, and we can imagine there will be swift development of libraries leveraging the RP2040’s PIO subsystem. If you still haven’t gotten the low down on the Raspberry Pi Pico yet, though, never fear – our own [Elliot Williams] can tell you everything you need to know!

[Thanks to Darrell Flenniken for the tip, via Tom’s Hardware]

Software Challenge’s Solution Shows Reverse Engineering In Action

[0xricksanchez] participated in a software reverse-engineering challenge and recently wrote up the solution, and in so doing also documented the process used to discover it. The challenge was called Devil’s Swapper, and consisted of a small binary blob that output a short message when executed. The goal of the challenge? Discover the secret key and the secret message within. [0xricksanchez]’s writeup, originally intended just as a personal record, ended up doing an excellent job of showing how a lot of reverse engineering tools and processes get applied to software in a practical way.

What’s also great about [0xricksanchez]’s writeup is that it uses standard tools and plenty of screenshots to show what is being done, while also explaining why those actions are being chosen and what is being learned. It’s easy to follow the thought process as things progress from gathering information, to chasing leads, and finally leveraging what’s been learned. It’s a fascinating look into the process of applying the reverse engineering mindset to software, and a good demonstration of the tools. Give it a read, and see how far you can follow along before learning something new. Want more? Make sure you have checked out the Hackaday 2020 Remoticon videos on reverse engineering firmware, and doing the same for PCBs.

Hackaday Links: February 16, 2021

This is it; after a relatively short transit time of eight months, the Mars 2020 mission carrying the Perseverance rover has almost reached the Red Planet. The passage has been pretty calm, but that’s all about to end on Thursday as the Entry Descent and Landing phase begins. The “Seven Minutes of Terror”, which includes a supersonic parachute deployment, machine-vision-assisted landing site navigation, and a “sky-crane” to touch the rover down gently in Jezero crater, will all transpire autonomously 480 million km away. We’ll only learn about how it goes after the eleven-minute propagation delay between Mars and Earth, but we’ll be glued to the NASA YouTube live stream nonetheless. Coverage starts on February 18, 2021 at 11:15 AM Pacific Standard Time (UTC-8). We’ve created a handy time zone converter and countdown so you don’t miss the show.

As amazing as the engineering on display Thursday will be, it looks like the US Navy has plans to unveil technology that will make NASA as relevant as a buggy-whip company was at the turn of the last century. That is, if you believe the “UFO Patents” are for real. The inventor listed on these patents, Dr. Salvatore Pais, apparently really exists; he’s had peer-reviewed papers published in mainstream journals as recently as 2019. Patents listed to Dr. Pais stretch back to 2004, when he invented a laser augmented turbojet propulsion system, which was assigned to defense contractor Northrup Grumman. The rest of the patents are more recent, all seemingly assigned to the US Navy, and cover things like a “high-frequency gravitational wave generator” and a “craft using an inertial mass-reduction device”. There’s also a patent that seems to cover a compact fusion generator. If any of this is remotely true, and we remain highly skeptical, the good news is that maybe we’ll get things like the Epstein Drive. Of course, that didn’t end well for Solomon Epstein. Or for Manéo Jung-Espinoza.

Of course, if you’re going to capitalize on all these alien patents, you’re going to need some funding. If you missed out on the GME short squeeze megabucks, fret not — there’s still plenty of speculative froth to go around. You might want to try your hand at cryptocurrency mining, but with GPUs becoming near-unobtainium, you’ll have to get creative, like throwing together a crypto mining farm with a bunch of laptops. It looks like the Weibo user who posted the photos has laptops propped up on every available surface of their apartment, and there’s also a short video showing a more industrial setup with rack after rack of laptops. These aren’t exactly throw-aways from some grade school, either — they appear to be brand new laptops that retail for like $1,300 a pop. The ironic part is that the miner says this is better than the sweatshop he used to work in. Pretty sure with all that power being dissipated in his house, it’ll still be a sweatshop come summer.

A lot of people have recently learned the hard lesson that when the service is free, you’re the product, and that what Google giveth, Google can taketh away in a heartbeat, and for no discernable reason. Indie game studio Re-Logic and its lead developer Andrew Spinks found that out last week when a vaguely worded terms-of-service violation notice arrived from Google. The developer of the popular game Terraria was at a loss to understand the TOS violation, which resulted in a loss of access to all the company’s Google services. He spent three weeks going down the hell hole of Google’s automated support system, getting nothing but canned messages that were either irrelevant to his case or technically impossible; kinda hard to check your Gmail account when Google has shut it down. The lesson here is that building a business around services that can be taken away on a whim is perhaps not the best business plan.

And finally, we watched with great interest Big Clive’s secrets to getting those crisp, clean macro shots that he uses to reverse-engineer PCBs. We’ve always wondered how he accomplished that, and figured it involved some fancy ring-lights around the camera lens or a specialized lightbox. Either way, we figured Clive had to plow a bunch of that sweet YouTube cash into the setup, but we were surprised to learn that in true hacker fashion, it’s really just a translucent food container ringed with an LED strip, with a hole cut in the top for his cellphone camera. It may be simple, but you can’t argue with the results.

Continue reading “Hackaday Links: February 16, 2021”

Making A Toothbrush From Scratch, Right Down To The Bristles

Most of us probably get by with a toothbrush costing a couple dollars at most, made of injection-moulded plastic for delicate, tender mouths. Maybe if you’re a real cleantooth, you have a fancy buzzy electric one. We’d wager few are machining their own bespoke toothbrushes from scratch, but if you want some inspiration, [W&M Levsha] is doing just that.

Much of the work will be familiar to die hard machining enthusiasts. There’s careful crafting of the wood handle, involving a stackup of multiple stained and varnished woods – in this case, hornbeam being the paler of the two, and amaranth providing that rich red color. The stem is a stylish stainless steel piece, elegantly bent to a tasteful curve. Finally, the assembly of the brush head alone is worth the watch. It’s custom made – with a steel backing plate and fishing wire bristles custom cut with an automated jig using stepper motors.  We’re suspect fishing wire is not rated for dental use, but the nylon strands are at least in the ballpark of what regular toothbrushes use.

While we probably wouldn’t slide this one betwixt our lips without consulting a dental professional first, it’s a great video for learning about what it takes to make beautiful bespoke objects in the workshop. We’ve seen elegant work from [W&M Levsha] before, too – in the form of a delightfully eclectic cap gun lighter. Video after the break.

Continue reading “Making A Toothbrush From Scratch, Right Down To The Bristles”

Using MIDI To Solve A Keyboard Shortcut Problem

[Pete] admits that his MIDI-based slide advance alert system is definitely a niche solution to a niche problem, but it is a wonderful example of using available tools to serve a specific need. The issue was this: [Pete] is involved in numerous presentations streamed over video, and needed a simple and effective way for the Presenter to notify the Producer (the one responsible for the video streaming and camera switching) to discreetly advance slides on cue.

To most of us, this is a simple problem to solve. Provide the presenter with a USB macro keyboard to trigger the keyboard shortcuts for slide advancement, and the job’s done. But that didn’t quite cut it for [Pete]. In their situation, the Producer is managing more than just the slides as they switch between cameras, watch the chat window, and manage the video streaming itself. Triggering slide advancement via keyboard shortcuts only works if the presentation software is in focus when the buttons are pressed, which isn’t guaranteed.

[Pete’s] solution was to make a small two-button device (one button for next slide, one for previous slide) that uses MIDI to communicate with a small custom application on the producer’s machine, and doesn’t care about application focus. Pressing the slide advance button plays a distinct tone into the producer’s headphones, plus the custom application displays “Forward”, “Back”, or “Waiting” in a window, depending on the state of the Presenter’s buttons. The design is available on Instructables for anyone wanting a closer look.

[Pete] reports that it works and it’s far more discreet than saying “next slide, please” twenty or more times per presentation. You may notice from the photo that LEGO bricks play a prominent part in the device, and if you’d like to see more of that sort of thing, make sure to check out these other brick-mountable PCB designs.

Trouble With The Texas Power Grid As Cold Weather Boosts Demand, Knocks Out Generators

It comes as something of a shock that residents of the Lone Star State are suffering from rolling power blackouts in the face of an unusually severe winter. First off, winter in Texas? Second, isn’t it the summer heat waves that cause the rolling blackouts in that region?

Were you to mention Texas to a European, they’d maybe think of cowboys, oil, the hit TV show Dallas, and if they were European Hackaday readers, probably the semiconductor giant Texas Instruments. The only state of the USA with a secession clause also turns out to to have their own power grid independent of neighboring states.

An accurate and contemporary portrait of a typical Texan, as understood by Europeans. Carol M. Highsmith, Public domain.
An accurate and contemporary portrait of a typical Texan, as understood by Europeans. Carol M. Highsmith, Public domain.

Surely America is a place of such resourcefulness that this would be impossible, we cry as we watch from afar the red squares proliferating across the outage map. It turns out that for once the independent streak that we’re told defines Texas may be its undoing. We’re used to our European countries being tied into the rest of the continental grid, but because the Texan grid stands alone it’s unable to sip power from its neighbours in times of need.

Let’s dive into the mechanics of maintaining an electricity grid, with the unfortunate Texans for the moment standing in as the test subject.

 

Continue reading “Trouble With The Texas Power Grid As Cold Weather Boosts Demand, Knocks Out Generators”

New Contest: Earth Day Challenge

The Earth Day Challenge is now under way! Spin up your take on an Earth-Day-themed electronics project and you’ll be in the running for one of the three $200 shopping sprees at Digi-Key, who are sponsoring this contest.

Gutters to Gardens is a great project example; using a rain barrel and solar panel for off-grid automation.

This is all about raising awareness for environmental protection. You might considered something as direct as measuring and plotting air quality data, or as abstract as weighing your home’s recycling bin and garbage bin and making a game out of generating less waste in general, and boosting your recycling-to-landfill ratio. Find an application that can be moved from grid-power to solar power, or build a carbon-savings counter that calculates the impact you have when choosing your bike over a car. The coolest projects are the ones that make us all think in new ways.

In addition to those $200 prizes for the top three projects, there are $50 Tindie gift cards for the twelve most artistically presented projects. Digi-Key is looking for great images to include in a wall calendar for 2022.

Pop over to Hackaday.io to start your entry today. Don’t forget to use the “Submit project to:” drop-down box on the left sidebar of your project page to make sure it’s considered in the contest. You must have your entry in by April 19th!