Spooky USB Baby Types Out Messages From Beyond

You might think it’s a bit early for us to be running Halloween hacks, but don’t worry. While this microcontroller-equipped doll that mimics a USB keyboard to type out messages in the creepiest way possible might seem like a gag gift you’d get after attending somebody’s bone-chilling holiday bash, creator [Jonathan] actually put it together for a friend’s wedding. So not only is it an interesting piece of hacked together hardware, but it’s also a great reminder about the importance of having a wedding registry.

Even if this seems like a rather unusual wedding gift from an outsider’s perspective (for the record, pranks involving this “haunted doll” have been a running gag between them since their school days), we can’t help but be impressed with the way [Jonathan] implemented it. An ATtiny85-powered Digispark is hidden inside the doll, along with a simple USB 2.0 hub that supposedly eases some teething issues the diminutive development board has with newer USB 3.0 ports. Through the use of V-USB, this lets the baby type out messages once plugged into the recipient’s computer.

Soldering the Digispark to a cheap USB hub keeps newer computers happy.

Now he could have just stopped there, but [Jonathan] wanted this to be an interactive experience. Specifically, he wanted the baby to present the newlyweds with a personally test of sorts, and that meant taking user input. He came up with the clever user interface demonstrated in the video below, which responds to changes in the system’s “Caps Lock” state.

This platform-agnostic solution lets the user navigate the doll’s menu system by tapping a single key, although the Chromebook users out there will have to break out the Alt key to play along. It’s a neat trick for getting two-way communication going between a MCU and a computer without any client-side software, and worth filing away mentally for future non-haunted projects. It’s also worth checking out the effort [Jonathan] put into optimizing everything to fit into the chip’s paltry 6012 bytes of flash.

Incidentally, this is a good a time as any to remind readers that our Halloween Hackfest contest is live right now and taking entries until October 11th. If you’ve got any cursed bar mitzvah gifts you’ve been putting the finishing touches on, we’d love to see them.

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Brain electrodes

Brain Interface Uses Tiny Needles

We often look at news out of the research community and think, “we could build that.” But the latest brain-machine interface from an international team including the Georgia Institute of Technology actually scares us. It uses an array of tiny needles that penetrate the skin but remain too small for your nerves to detect. Right. We assume they need to be sterile but either way, we don’t really want to build a pin grid array to attach to your brain.

It seems the soft device is comfortable and since it is very lightweight it doesn’t suffer from noise if the user blinks or otherwise moves. Looking at the picture of the electrodes, they look awfully pointy, but we assume that’s magnified quite a few times, since the post mentions they are not visible to the naked eye.

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A couple of joysticks wired up to a Teensy for prototyping.

Custom Joystick Build Guide Should Point You In The Right Direction

Over the last two years, [benkster] has been perfecting their ideal flight controller. Like many people, they started out with a keyboard and mouse and eventually moved on to a joystick. While a HOTAS (hands on throttle-and-stick — e.g. a yoke controller with inputs right there on the sides) might have been the next logical step, those things cost too much. Naturally, the answer is to build one, ideally for less money. Hey, it could happen.

The design went from just an idea to a cardboard prototype, and then to a wooden enclosure and later, a 3D-printed case. Since [benkster] learned a great deal along the way, they want to give back to the community with a comprehensive joystick design/build guide so that others don’t have to start from zero, overwhelmed with information.

[benkster] wanted three joysticks, a bunch of big buttons, a throttle, a display to show component status (as in, is joystick #3 a joystick right now or a WASD keyboard?), and immersive details everywhere — you know, a million buttons and switches to give it that cockpit feel. [benkster] is using a Teensy 4 to control two 3-axis joysticks and one 2-axis stick. Since this adds up to too many axes for Windows/DirectX to read in, the 2-axis stick is used as a WASD keyboard.

This guide is a great place to start, especially for folks who may be newer to electronics. There are nice introductions to many types of components and tidbits that are relevant outside the world of joysticks.

You want immersive flight simulation away from the PC? Here’s a printable flexure-based ‘stick that snaps right on your Xbox controller and pushes the buttons.

Arduino Powered Heat Pump Controller Helps Warm Your Toes

Heat pump heating technology is starting to pop up more and more lately, as the technology becomes cheaper and public awareness and acceptance improves. Touted as a greener residential heating system, they are rapidly gaining popularity, at least in part due to various government green policies and tax breaks.

[Gonzho] has been busy the last few years working on his own Arduino Powered Open Source heat pump controller, and the project logs show some nice details of what it takes to start experimenting with heat pumps in general, if that’s your game. Or you could use this to give an old system a new lease of life with an Arduino brain transplant.

In essence they are very simple devices; some kind of refrigerant is passed through a source of heat, absorbing some of it, it then flows elsewhere, and is compressed, which increases its temperature, before that increased heat is lost where the increase in temperature is desired.

This heat source could be a river, a mass of pipes buried in the ground, or simply the air around you. The source and quality of the heat source as well as the desired system operating temperature dictate the overall efficiency, and with ground-source systems it’s even possible to dump excess heat directly into the ground and store it for when required later. This could be the result of a residential cooling system, or even directly sourced from a solar heated setup.

This heat pumping process is reversible, so it is possible to swap the hot and cold ends, just by flipping some valves, and turn your space heater into a space cooler. This whole process can trace its roots back to the super talented Scottish professor, William Cullen who in 1748 was the first person on record to demonstrate artificial refrigeration.

The power needed to run the compressor pump and control gear is usually electrically derived, at least in non-vehicular applications, but the total power required is significantly less than the effective heating (or cooling) power that results.

We’ve covered a few heat pump hacks before, like this guy who’s been heating his house geothermally for years, but not so many platforms designed for experimentation from the ground up.

The associated GitHub project provides the gerber files as well as the Arduino code, so you’ve got a great starting point for your own heat pumping builds.

What the Antikythera workshop may have looked like

Clickspring Imagines The Workshop That Built The Antikythera Mechanism

When you look at the mechanisms of antiquity, it’s hard not to wonder, “How did they ever do that?” Just a look around our own shops shows how many things are bought from suppliers that benefit from the latest in automated machinery, computer control, and clean, safe electrical power. And that’s not to mention the high-tech stuff like electronics, which were centuries in the future for the ancient master craftsmen.

And yet, they built. Granted, not every artifact was as complex as the Antikythera mechanism, but still, this ancient astronomical computer exists, and must have come from someone’s workshop. What did that place look like? That’s the question [Chris], aka [Clickspring], sets out to answer in his new video.

Like any good academician would, he relies on evidence locked in the device itself to provide clues as to how it was produced, and to make educated guesses as to the contents of the shop (or shops) that made it. For example, the intricacy of the work would have required ample lighting, so the shop was likely at least partially open-air. There must have been a source of heat for working the brass and bronze materials of the original. There had to be workbenches, storage for stock, and probably places for apprentices to turn their hands to simple tasks under their master’s watchful eye. In short, it probably would have been quite recognizable to our eyes, and probably would have been a model of ergonomic efficiency.

[Chris] kindly gave us a sneak peek at the video and a few hours of exclusivity before it goes live to the general public, and we really appreciate that. We’re really looking forward to more of the Antikythera build, and can’t wait to see the finished product.

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Books You Should Read: Bil Herd’s Back Into The Storm

It’s a morning ritual that we guess most of you share with us; before whatever work a new day will bring to sit down with a coffee and catch up with the tech news of the moment on Hackaday and other sites. Most of us don’t do many exciting things in our everyday lives, so reading about the coolest projects and the most fascinating new developments provides us with interest and motivation. Imagine just for a moment then that by a twist of fate you found yourself taking a job at the epicentre of the tech that is changing the world,  producing the objects of desire and pushing the boundaries, the place you’d give anything to work at.

This is the premise behind our Hackaday colleague Bil Herd’s autobiographical chronicle of time in the mid 1980s during which he worked at Commodore, maker of some of the most iconic home computers of the day. We follow him through the three years from 1983 to 1986 as hardware lead on the “TED” series of computers including the Commodore 16 and Plus/4, and then the Commodore 128, a dual-processor powerhouse which was arguably the last of the big-selling 8-bit home computers.

It’s an intertwined set of narratives peppered with personal anecdotes; of the slightly crazy high-pressure world of consumer videogames and computing, the fine details of designing a range of 8-bit machines, and a fascinating insight into how the culture at Commodore changed in the period following the departure of its founder Jack Tramiel.

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Original Commodore 64 ad

Love Letter To Commodore 64 Ads Takes Us Down Memory Lane

If you shop, you can get a pretty nice laptop for around $595. Maybe not the top of the line, but still pretty nice with multiple cores, a large hard drive, and a big color screen. But in the 1980s, the Commodore 64 bragged that for $595, they’d give you more than anyone else at twice the price. After all, 64K of RAM! Graphics with 16 whole colors! [Lunduke] dug up a bunch of these ads and has some thoughts on them and we really enjoyed the trip down memory lane.

If you look at other contemporary computers, they did cost more although sometimes it wasn’t a fair comparison. The TRS80 III, for example, cost $999 with 16K of RAM but it also had its own monitor — not color, though.

It is amazing to think that we’ve gone from where 16K was a reasonable amount of RAM in a personal computer to where it isn’t even worth having a flash drive with that capacity. We also can’t help but note that while computing power per dollar is through the roof now, computers aren’t actually that much more fun. We enjoyed interfacing a teletype to our 1802 ELF and working out a 300 baud modem for our TRS-80. Sure, we didn’t have Skyrim or HD movies, but we still have fun.

If you want to relive these exciting days, it is easy enough to build your own C64 with varying degrees of fidelity. It is trivial to emulate the thing on any kind of modern hardware, too.