Tim Hunkin Rides Again With The Secret Life Of Components

Long-time readers may remember one of the occasional Engineering Heroes series that focused on the British engineer, inventor and sometime TV presenter Tim Hunkin, known for his intricate creations, unusual arcade machines, and Secret Life Of Machines TV series’ from the years around 1990. It seems we’re now in for a fresh treat as he’s returning to our screens via YouTube with a new series. The Secret Life Of Components will be his attempt to pass on the accumulated knowledge of a long career that most of us would have given our eyeteeth for.

There will be eight videos in the series which launches on the 4th of March, and judging by the snippets in the preview video below the break he’ll be covering a wide range including springs, adhesives, chains, belts, switches, and much more. His entertaining style and beautifully built working models are guaranteed to make for some very good content while giving a unique view into the workshop of a true master of the craft.

As an appetiser it’s worth reading our profile of Tim Hunkin. It features a visit to his Novelty Automation arcade in London’s Holborn, which should be an essential stop for any travelling Hackaday reader finding themselves in that city.

Continue reading “Tim Hunkin Rides Again With The Secret Life Of Components”

Reliable Frequency Reference From GPS

GPS technology is a marvel of the modern world. Not only can we reliably locate positions on the planet with remarkable accuracy and relatively inexpensive hardware, but plenty of non-location-based features of the technology are available for other uses as well. GPS can be used for things like time servers, since the satellites require precise timing in order to triangulate a position, and as a result they can also be used for things like this incredibly accurate frequency reference.

This project is what’s known as a GPSDO, or GPS-disciplined oscillator. Typically they use a normal oscillator, like a crystal, and improve its accuracy by pairing it with the timing signal from a GPS satellite. This one is a standalone model built by [Szabolcs Szigeti] who based the build around an STM32 board. The goal of the project was purely educational, as GPSDOs of various types are widely available, but [Szabolcs] was able to build exactly what he wanted into this one including a custom power supply, simple standalone UI, and no distribution amplifier.

The build goes into a good bit of detail on the design and operation of the device, and all of the PCB schematics and source code are available on the projects GitHub page if you want to build your own. There are plenty of other projects out there that make use of GPS-based time for its high accuracy, too, like this one which ties a GPS time standard directly to a Raspberry Pi.

Hackaday Links: February 28, 2021

In an announcement that came as a surprise to few, NASA now says that landing humans on the Moon by 2024 is no longer likely. Acting administrator Steve Jurczyk lays the blame at the feet of Congress, for failing to provide the funds needed for Human Landing Systems development, a critical step needed to meet the aggressive overall timeline. The announcement doesn’t mark the end of the Artemis program; in fact, NASA is continuing to work on a realistic timeline for getting boots back on the lunar surface, and a decision on which of the three submitted proposals for a lunar lander will be further developed should be coming in the next few months. As far as we can see, this is simply an adjustment to the original timeline for a landing, but given the stunning recent success of Perseverance showing just what robots can do, we’d expect pushback from some quarters on the need for human exploration.

The entry-level 3D design market was thrown into considerable turmoil last year when Autodesk changed the licensing terms for its flagship Fusion 360 package. Hobbyists who had been enjoying relatively unfettered access to the powerful suite chafed at the new restrictions, leaving many to threaten to jump ship, apparently without much thought given to the dearth of alternative products. That may be changing now that Dassault Systèmes has announced two new versions of SolidWorks aimed at the maker and student segments. The Makers offer is intended for hobbyists who want to design for benchtop manufacturing methods like 3D-printing. The Students offer is aimed at engineering and design students looking to gain experience with the tools they’ll be expected to have mastered by the time they enter the job market. It looks like the Makers offer will be at least partly contingent on the interest expressed by the community, so you might want to make your feeling know on the subject. If the Makers edition comes to pass in the second half of this year, it will likely target a $99/year price point.

We stumbled upon an interesting YouTube series the other day that stirred the creative juices. We all probably remember the first time we learned about the Mandelbrot set, the fractal number set that looks something like a lumpy kidney bean and continues to do so no matter how far you zoom into it. The image may be complex but the math behind it is simple enough to implement in software that it’s often done as an exercise for CS students and other unfortunates. But implementing a Mandelbrot set generator in logic is possible too, which WildEngineering did in this video series. Rather than implement this as discrete logic gates, he used a neat logic simulator called Digital, which looks like a handy tool to learn all by itself. The Mandelbrot generator concepts are really instructive too, and it sure seems like the next logical step would be to gather the needed 74xx-series chips and start breadboarding. We’d love to give it a whirl ourselves, but won’t be heartbroken if someone beats us to it.

If it sometimes appears that we at Hackaday get a little frustrated with the comments section of the articles we write, rest assured that we know that we have the best readers on the planet, hands down. Where the toxicity of other corners of the Internet is often unbearable, our readers truly do make this a fabulously collaborative environment, on the whole.

In fact, some commenters even go so far as to basically write their own articles in response to one of ours, and when that happens we like to point it out. The article that spawned the effort was Kristina Panos’ excellent “What If I Never Make Version Two?”, a recent piece that dips a toe into the psychology of hacking. Peter Walsh picks up on the theme with his Hackaday.io page entitled “The Psychology of Version Two”, which we really enjoyed. After a brief look at the neurochemistry of happiness, Peter dives into some “brain hacks” to assess the need for a version 2. There are some great tips, and we really enjoyed both the original article and Peter’s response.

BGA Soldering And Inspection

If you want to build cool things these days, you’ve probably had to master surface mount electronics. However, for many people, ball grid array (BGA) is still intimidating. Have a look at [VoltLog’s] video about his techniques for soldering BGA and inspecting that you managed to do it right.

He’s got quite a few tips about things like surface finish and flux selection. It looks easy when he does it. Of course, having a good PCB with good registration markings will help too.

Continue reading “BGA Soldering And Inspection”

Hidden TV-Out On The Nintendo DS Lite

The DS Lite was one of Nintendo’s most popular handheld gaming consoles, but unbeknownst to all, it has a hidden feature that could have made it even more popular. Digging through the hardware and firmware, the [Lost Nintendo History] team discovered the System-on-Chip (SoC) in the DS Lite can output a composite video signal.

The SoC can output a 10-bit digital output running at 16.7 MHz, but it is disabled by the stock firmware early in the boot process, so custom firmware was required. It still needs to be converted to an analog signal, so a small adaptor board with a DAC (digital-analog converter) and op-amp is attached to the flex cable of the upper screen. A set of buttons on the board allow you to select which screen is displayed on the TV. The adaptor board is open source, and the Gerbers and schematics are available on GitHub.

The current version of the adaptor board disables the upper screen, but the [Lost Nintendo History] team is considering designing a pass-through board to eliminate this disadvantage. The TV-out mod can also be combined with the popular Macro mod, in which the upper screen is removed to turn it into a Game Boy Advance. The Nintendo DS is a popular hacking subject, and we’ve been covering them for well over a decade.

Fail Of The Week: How Not To Build A Filament Extruder

It would be great if you could create your own filament. On the face of it, it seems easy to do, but as [Thomas Sanladerer] found out when he was a student, there are a lot of details that can bedevil your design. His extruder sort of works, but he wouldn’t suggest duplicating his effort. In fact, he hopes you can learn what not to do if you try to do it yourself.

In all fairness, [Thomas] was a low-budget student and was trying to economize. For example, he tried using a drill to drive the auger. Why not? It looks like a drill bit. But he found out that wasn’t satisfactory and moved to a pair of wiper motors with their built-in gear train.

Continue reading “Fail Of The Week: How Not To Build A Filament Extruder”

Nissan’s Office Pod Concept Is A Productivity Paradise On Wheels

All this working from home is pretty great, but we have to admit that we miss packing up the Hackaday office and heading for the local coffeehouse once in a while to spend a few hours writing against the buzzing background. One thing we don’t miss about the experience is that you’re never guaranteed a place to sit and spread out. And unless you trust a friendly stranger to keep an eye on your stuff while you’re in the bathroom, you have to take it with you at the risk of losing your table.

If only we could afford one of Nissan’s mobile office pod concept vehicles. We’ve always wanted to pretend we’re doing surveillance and would probably have the thing wrapped with graphics for a fake flower shop or something. That would certainly make it easier to park somewhere and borrow someone’s open Wi-Fi network  — maybe even from the coffeehouse parking lot after we hit the drive-thru.

As you’ll see in the extended tour video below, Nissan seem to have thought of everything except restroom facilities. The cab-over-engine design and all-terrain tires would make it easier to drive out into nature and really get away from it all. Once you’ve found the perfect spot, you can open the lift gate for some fresh air, or get some sun while you work by pulling out the motorized unibody-constructed cubicle which includes a built-in Herman Miller Cosm chair. (Evidently the Aeron is old and busted now; we disagree). For some reason, the cubicle is edge-lit, and not in a way that would help you work at the desk. According to the video, it’s based on the Caravan NV350, which looks far more comfortable but not as cool when outfitted as an alternate mobility concept.

The office pod has some nice amenities like a DC-AC converter so you can run your Keurig or Nespresso, and there’s even a UV-disinfecting lamp in the glove box. The larger windows behind the cab can be electronically shaded so you don’t bake in the sun. Here’s where things get a bit ridiculous: the floor is made of clear polycarbonate in case you want to park lengthwise over a small stream and watch the surviving fish go by underneath your feet. And if you really want to take a break, climb up to the roof deck and stretch out in the chaise lounge beneath the deck umbrella.

If we lived anywhere but America, we might forego the flower shop graphics wrap and dress it up to look like a TV detector van instead.

Continue reading “Nissan’s Office Pod Concept Is A Productivity Paradise On Wheels”