Over the years we’ve seen a number of hackers generate VGA with 74xx logic chips, but they’ve generally not been the most practical of builds. Often put together as part of a competition or purely for the challenge, these circuits are usually implemented in a mass of jumper wires and often take up multiple breadboards. Not exactly something you can toss in a drawer when you’re done with it.
But the Vectron VGA Plus, created by prolific hacker [Nick Bild], manages to improve on things considerably. Designed specifically to be smaller and simpler than its predecessors, the custom PCB contains far fewer chips than we’re used to seeing for this kind of thing. At the same time it provides a handy header row along the bottom that allows the user to connect whatever they’re working on, from microcontrollers to retro computers.
It looks like the PCB could still be shrunk down considerably if you’re really looking to maximize desk space, but we imagine for his purposes, [Nick] felt this was more than compact enough. Especially when you look at what the same circuit looked like during the breadboard phase. Yikes.
So, what did it take to simplify this 640 x 480 VGA interface? The short answer is adding more RAM. Wherever possible, dedicated hardware was replaced with software operations that could be performed by the externally connected device. [Nick] has provided some sample code for the Arduino that lets the microcontroller push data into the board’s memory and take control.
Programming can be a frustrating endeavor. Certainly we’ve all had moments, such as forgetting punctuation in C or messing up whitespace in Python. Even worse, an altogether familiar experience is making a single change to a program that should have resulted in a small improvement but instead breaks the program. Now, though, there’s a programming language that can put these frustrations directly into the code itself into a cathartic, frustration-relieving syntax. The language is called AHHH and it’s quite a scream.
While it may not look like it on the surface, the language is Turing complete and can be used just like any other programming language. The only difference is that there are only 16 commands in this language which are all variants of strings of four capital- or lower-case-H characters. The character “A” in the command “AHHH” starts the program, and from there virtually anything can be coded as a long, seemingly unending scream. The programming language is loosely related to COW which uses various “moos” to create programs instead of screams, and of course is also distantly related to brainfuck which was an esoteric programming language created in order to have the smallest possible compiler.
We all make mistakes, and there’s no shame in having to bodge a printed circuit board to fix a mistake. Most of us are content with cutting a trace or two with an Xacto or adding a bit of jumper wire to make the circuit work. Very few of us, however, will decide to literally do our bodges inside the PCB itself.
The story is that [Andrew Zonenberg] was asked to pitch in debugging some incredibly small PCBs for a prototype dev board that plugs directly into a USB jack. The six-layer boards are very dense, with a forest of blind vias. The Twitter thread details the debugging process, which ended up finding a blind via on layer two shorted to a power rail, and another via shorted to ground. It also has some beautiful shots of [Andrew]’s “mechanical tomography” method of visualizing layers by slowly grinding down the surface of the board.
[Andrew] has only tackled one of the bodges at the time of writing, but it has to be seen to be believed. It started with milling away the PCB to get access to the blind via using a ridiculously small end mill. The cavity [Andrew] milled ended up being only about 480 μm by 600 μm and only went partially through a 0.8-mm thick board, but it was enough to resolve the internal short and add an internal bodge to fix a trace that was damaged during milling. The cavity was then filled up with epoxy resin to stabilize the repair.
This kind of debugging and repair skill just boggles the mind. It reminds us a bit of these internal chip-soldering repairs, but taken to another level entirely. We can’t wait to see what the second repair looks like, and whether the prototype for this dev board can be salvaged.
When we met [Amy Makes Stuff] at the 2019 Hackaday Superconference, we were immediately impressed with the array of flexure mechanisms displayed on a board hanging around her neck. That must be where we saw [Amy]’s original version of the cat calendar — a simple way to know for sure whether the shared house’s cat has been fed once, twice, or not at all on a given day.
Awesome as it is, the flexure mechanism doesn’t reset the yes/no indicators when the day clicks over — that has to be done manually. So when [Amy] was offered to try a small desktop CNC, she decided it was time to make a new version that resets automatically. Check it out in the video after the break, which also includes an exploration of [Amy]’s choice of flexure design as well as a bonus review of the CNC.
This is just an all-around great video, especially after [Amy] neglected to mill out the check marks and circles, sending her down a rabbit hole of attempting to make branding bits for these that could be chucked into a soldering iron. Unfortunately, the mill stops short of having the necessary mettle for milling metal.
We’ve all seen our share of consumer electronic devices that need repair. It’s inevitable that, however well-cared-for it will be, there’s always the unforseen that brings its life to an end. Many of us will be using devices we’ve repaired ourselves, because often other people’s useless broken electronics can be our free stuff when we know how to fix them and they don’t. This is the arena the Restart Project operate in, as through their Restart Parties they provide repair services to save unnecessary landfill. Over nearly a decade in operation they’ve fixed a huge number of faulty items, and now they’re releasing some data and have analysed common fault modes and barriers to repair for some categories.
We’re restricted to tablets, printers, and batteries, and while many of the problems are the wear-and-tear such as tablet screens, power supplies, charging connectors, and paper feeds that most of us would expect, it’s the barriers to repair which the Restart Project are keen to draw attention to. Products that are near-impossible to open without damage, parts such as batteries which are difficult to remove, and unavailability of spares. It’s to become part of their campaigning for legal repairability standards across Europe.
Hanging around in earth orbit is like walking into the middle of a Wild West gunfight — bullets are flying around everywhere, and even though none are purposefully aimed at you, one might have your name on it. Many of these bullets are artificial satellites that are actively controlled and monitored, but we also find dead satellites, remnants of satellites, discarded rocket stages, tools lost during spacewalks, and even flecks of paint and rust, much of it zipping around at multiple kilometers per second without any guidance.
While removing this space debris directly would be ideal, the reality is that any spacecraft and any spacesuit that has to spend time in orbit needs to be capable of sustaining at least some hits by space debris impacting it.
That it’s easy to create new debris should come as no surprise to anyone. What may take a bit more imagination is just how long it can take for this debris to make its way towards earth’s atmosphere, where it will uneventfully burn up. Everything in orbit is falling toward the earth, but its tangential velocity keeps it from hitting — like a marble spinning around the hole in a funnel. Drag from the planet’s atmosphere is the friction that eventually slows the object down, and where it orbits in the planet’s atmosphere determines how long this descent will take. Continue reading “Orbital Safety: The Challenges Of Surviving Space Junk”→
Students’ dorm rooms are not generally known to be the most orderly of places. Whether it’s mountains of dishes in the sink, piles of clothes waiting to be washed, or random bits and bobs strewn across the hallway, cleaning up is pretty low on the agenda for many dorm dwellers.
[Luis Marx] seems to have invented a useful solution to his (or his roommates’) sloppiness: a robotic turret that opens fire on anyone who leaves items unattended (video, in German, embedded below). This system uses a set of “clutter sensors” that can be placed in strategic locations around the house and will detect stray objects using ultrasonic sensors. If any are found, the main system is alerted through WiFi. The turret will then search for any persons in its vicinity and start shooting them with little plastic balls.
The turret in question is a beautifully-designed piece of kit made from 3D printed parts and controlled by an ESP32. It can swivel around its axis and tilt up and down using two servos, while its firing mechanism is driven by a DC motor. It tracks its target thanks to a camera-based object sensor that can recognize humans. The whole thing gives us a bit of a RoboCop vibe; we’d half expect it to shout Pick up those clothes. You have twenty seconds to comply.