Spell Checking Your Programming From The Linux Command Line

For most of us who didn’t do well in high school English class, spell checkers are a real game-changer. Sure, you can still swap a “to” and a “too,” but a spell checker will catch a lot of typos. But what about in your source code? You usually don’t spell check source code and even if you did, the rules are funny. After all, “my_proejct” is a perfectly fine variable name, but you probably meant “my_project.” That’s where a program called typos comes in. It aims to be a spell checker for source code that is fast enough and with a low enough false positive rate that you can run it against changed code and reject spelling problems.

Sure, if “my_proejct” is a one-time typo, the compiler or interpreter will probably catch it. But it won’t catch comments and it also won’t catch something you spell wrong consistently. For that you need something like typos.

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Chainsaw Cuts More Than Timber

We often take electricity for granted, to the point of walking into a room during a power outage and still habitually flipping the light switch. On the other hand, there are plenty of places where electricity isn’t a given, either due to poor infrastructure or an otherwise remote location. To get common electric power tools to work in areas like these requires some ingenuity like that seen in this build which converts a chainsaw to a gas-driven grinder that can be used for cutting steel or concrete. (Video, embedded below.)

All of the parts needed for the conversion were built in the machine shop of [Workshop from scratch]. A non-cutting chain was fitted to it first to drive the cutting wheel rather than cut directly, so a new bar had to be fabricated. After that, the build shows the methods for attaching bearings and securing the entire assembly back to the gas-powered motor. Of course there is also a custom shield for the grinding wheel and also a protective housing for the chain to somewhat limit the danger of operating a device like this.

Even though some consideration was paid to safety in this build, we would like to reiterate that all the required safety gear should be worn. That being said, it’s not the first time we’ve seen a chainsaw modified to be more useful than its default timber-cutting configuration, like this build which turns a chainsaw into a metal cutting chop saw.

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Retrotechtacular: The Drama Of Metal Forming

It may seem overwrought, but The Drama of Metal Forming actually is pretty dramatic.

This film is another classic of mid-century corporate communications that was typically shown in schools, which the sponsor — in this case Shell Oil — seeks to make a point about the inevitable march of progress, and succeeds mainly in showing children and young adults what lay in store for them as they entered a working world that needed strong backs more than anything.

Despite the narrator’s accent, the factories shown appear to be in England, and the work performed therein is a brutal yet beautiful ballet of carefully coordinated moves. The sheer power of the slabbing mills at the start of the film is staggering, especially when we’re told that the ingots the mill is slinging about effortlessly weigh in at 14 tons apiece. Seeing metal from the same ingots shooting through the last section of a roller mill at high speed before being rolled into coils gives one pause, too; the catastrophe that would result if that razor-sharp and red-hot metal somehow escaped the mill doesn’t bear imagining. Similarly, the wire drawing process that’s shown later even sounds dangerous, with the sound increasing in pitch to a malignant whine as the die diameter steps down and the velocity of the wire increases.

There are the usual charming anachronisms, such as the complete lack of safety gear and the wanton disregard for any of a hundred things that could instantly kill you. One thing that impressed us was the lack of hearing protection, which no doubt led to widespread hearing damage. Those were simpler times, though, and the march of progress couldn’t stop for safety gear. Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: The Drama Of Metal Forming”

Reviving Old Recipe For Faraday Wax Keeps Vacuum Experiments Going

Science today seems to be dominated by big budgets and exotics supplies and materials, the likes of which the home gamer has trouble procuring. But back in the day, science was once done very much by the seats of the pants, using whatever was available for the job. And as it turns out, some of the materials the old-timers used are actually still pretty useful.

An example of this is a homemade version of “Faraday Wax”, which [ChristofferB] is using for his high vacuum experiments. As you can imagine, getting a tight seal on fittings is critical to maintaining a vacuum, a job that’s usually left to expensive synthetic epoxy compounds. Realizing that a lot of scientific progress was made well before these compounds were commercially available, [ChristofferB] trolled through old scientific literature to find out how it used to be done.

This led to a recipe for “Faraday Wax”, first described by the great scientist himself in 1827. The ingredients seem a little archaic, but are actually pretty easy to source. Beeswax is easy to come by; the primary ingredient, “colophony”, is really just rosin, pretty much the same kind used as solder flux; and “Venetian red” is a natural pigment made from clay and iron oxide that can be had from art suppliers. Melted and blended together, [ChristofferB] poured it out onto wax paper to make thin strips that are easily melted onto joints in vacuum systems, and reports are that the stuff works well, even down to 10-7 mbar.

We love this one — it’s the perfect example of the hacker credo, which has been driving progress for centuries. It also reminds us of some of the work by [Simplifier], who looks for similar old-time recipes to push his work in DIY semiconductors and backyard inductors forward.

[David Gustafik] dropped us the tip on this one. Thanks!

Robot Moves In Any Direction On Ball Wheels

The ability to move in any direction and turn on the spot is a helpful feature on robots that operate indoors around other objects. [James Bruton] demonstrated one possible solution in the form of a robot chassis that can move in any direction with three ball-shaped wheels.

The video after the break is part two of this series. Part one covered the ball wheels themselves, consisting of a pair of half-spheres that can rotate independently with a small roller in the center of each and a driven shaft through the center of the sphere. Three of these are arranged at 120° intervals around the center of the robot, with the main shafts driven by geared DC motors using belts. To move in a straight line some basic trigonometry is used to calculate the required relative speed of each wheel. An Arduino Mega is used to do the necessary calculation when receiving input from the wireless controller.

The motion is remarkably smooth, and we’d be interested to see how it compares with Mecanum and Omniwheels. It seems like the perfect platform for [James]’ Really Useful Robot. He hinted that he might mount a trash bin on it in the future. We would love to see an automatic trash-catching robot, similar to [StuffMadeHere]’s robotic basketball hoop. Continue reading “Robot Moves In Any Direction On Ball Wheels”

Living Robots: Revisiting BEAM

You’re hit by the global IC shortage, reduced to using stone knives and bearskins, but you still want to make something neat? It’s time to revisit BEAM robots.

Biology, electronics, aesthetics, and mechanics — Mark Tilden came up with the idea of minimalist electronic creatures that, through inter-coupled weak control systems and clever mechanical setups, could mimic living bugs. And that’s not so crazy if you think about how many nerves something like a cockroach or an earthworm have. Yet their collection of sensors, motors, and skeletons makes for some pretty interesting behavior.

My favorite BEAM bots have always been the solar-powered ones. They move slowly or infrequently, but also inexorably, under solar power. In that way, they’re the most “alive”. Part of the design trick is to make sure they stay near their food (the sun) and don’t get stuck. One of my favorite styles is the “photovore” or “photopopper”, because they provide amazing bang for the buck.

Back in the heyday of BEAM, maybe 15 years ago, solar cells were inefficient and expensive, circuits for using their small current were leaky, and small motors were tricky to come by. Nowadays, that’s all changed. Power harvesting circuits leak only nano-amps, and low-voltage MOSFETs can switch almost losslessly. Is it time to revisit the BEAM principles? I’d wager you’d put the old guard to shame, and you won’t even need any of those newfangled microcontroller thingies, which are out of stock anyway.

If you make something, show us!

Solar Plane Is Like One Big Flying Solar Panel

Solar-powered plane concepts typically focus on high-efficiency glider-type designs, so as to make the best possible use of the limited power available from the sun. [rctestflight] wanted to try a different school of thought, instead building a relatively inefficient plane that nonetheless packed a huge amount of solar panels on board.

The plane consisted of a pizza-box style design, with a simple foam rectangular wing that was absolutely covered in solar panels. The plane was controlled with an off-the-shelf autopilot, and fitted with cheap, no-brand MPPT modules to handle charging the batteries. The plane faced difficulties in flight, most often with stability, which led to the autopilot getting the plane lost on one occasion. However, one flight was achieved with a full one hour and thirty minute duration, indicating the solar panels were helping to extend flight times beyond what was capable with batteries alone.

Further research on the ground showed that the cheap MPPT modules were wasting power, and there was more to be had. A better MPPT module was subbed in and showed that the panels could generate up to 5 amps under good conditions, while the plane only needed roughly 4.2 amps to fly. This would allow for indefinite flight in sunny conditions, though probably would not allow enough energy to be banked to fly 24 hours round the clock due to the lack of power at night.

We’ve followed [rctestflight]’s solar plane experiments for a while now, and can’t wait to see the next iteration. Video after the break.

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