This Custom Workbench Will Make You Flip

In a recent video, [SomeSkillStudio] created a tidy tool storage system for their slim garage workbench. We have seen the “five knuckle” 270 degree hinges used here before and knew they’d enable some cool hacks. Here you’ll see how he puts this unique type of hardware to work building a densely packed work surface. For anyone who’s set up shop in a garage that’s somehow also supposed to still regularly host vehicles, you’ll know how important it is to have a place to put everything away and make it easy to do so.

The video has several great tips on making sure everything fits together, something key for anyone reproducing this with their own tool collection. If you have even less space, we have some great past workshop builds from portable, to tiny, to elaborate. Even if you’ve already established a place to work, we have tips on organizing your shop, giving each tool a home in a shadow board or across an infinite grid. Clearly, making a work space is one of our favorite kinds of projects.

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DIY Night Vision, Where Four Is Better Than Two

Night vision projects are great, and the hardware available to hobbyists just gets better and better. [Just Call Me Koko] shows off just such a build using four low-light, IR-sensitive cameras, four displays, and four lenses in 3D printed enclosures mounted to a helmet. Why four? Well, mounting two cameras and displays per eye is the easiest way to yield a wider field of view, and for bonus points, it sure looks extra weird.

At its heart, each of the four segments is the same. A Foxeer Night Cat 3 camera is mounted at the front, its output is connected directly to a 2″ diagonal NTSC/PAL display, and at the rear is a DCX (double convex) lens 38 mm in diameter with a 50 mm focal length. Add a printed enclosure, and the result is a monocular night vision display. Do it three more times and arrange them around one’s eyeballs, and one can make a night vision system with a panoramic view that probably takes only a little getting used to.

How well does it work? [Just Call Me Koko] does some walking around and also tries some target practice while wearing them, and concludes that while they don’t have nearly the clarity of the real deal (the 320×240 resolution displays limit the details one can perceive), they do work fairly well for what they are. Also, the cost of parts is a small fraction of the cost of the real thing, making it a pretty enjoyable project in the end.

The kind of hardware available to hobbyists today is what makes this kind of night vision project accessible, but there’s always the good old high-voltage analog method.

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Hackaday Links: June 26, 2022

Head for the hills!! We’re all doomed! At least that’s the impression you might get from the headlines about the monster Earth-facing sunspot this week. While any sunspot that doubles in size within a matter of days as AR3038 has done is worth looking at, chances are pretty low that it will cause problems here on Earth. About the best this class of sunspot can manage is an M-class solar flare, which generally cause radio blackouts only at the poles, and may present a radiation problem for the crew of the ISS. So no, this sunspot is probably not going to kill us all. But then again, this is the 2020s, and pretty much everything bad seems like it’s possible.

Speaking of bad outcomes, pity the poor Sonos customers and their ongoing battle with the company’s odd “glitches.” For whatever reason, customers have been getting shipments of Sonos products they never ordered, with at least one customer getting over $15,000 worth of products shipped. The customer reports ordering five Sonos items, but the company saw fit to fill the order six times, stuffing their apartment with goods. Sonos doesn’t appear to be doing much to make it right; while offering the customer free shipping labels to return the goods, they were expected to schlep the packages to a UPS store. And then there’s the money — Sonos charged the customer for all the unordered goods, and won’t issue a refund till it’s all returned.

If you’ve ever wondered exactly what the signals going up and down your cable line look like, you’ll want to check out this video from Double A Labs. Using an RTL-SDR dongle and some spectrum analyzer software they probed the RF signals on the cable, with some fascinating results. The first 11 minutes or so of the video are devoted to setting up the hardware and software, although there is some interesting stuff about broadband network architecture right up at the start. The scans are interesting — you can clearly see the 6-MHz quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) digital channels. We were surprised to learn that these start at just about the FM broadcast band — about 108 MHz. There were a couple of little surprises hiding in the spectrum, like two unmodulated analog TV carriers in one spot, and the fact that there are over 400 virtual channels jammed into 41 6-MHz QAM channels. Broadband indeed.

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A 3D-printed five-key chorded keyboard

Odd Inputs And Peculiar Peripherals: Chorded Keyset Recreates Engelbart’s Vision

Douglas Engelbart’s 1968 “Mother of all Demos” introduced the world to a whole range of technologies we take for granted today, the most prominent being his great invention, the computer mouse. However, the MOAD also showcased things like cut-and-paste text editing, a point-and-click interface, video conferencing, and even online collaboration à la Google Docs. One of the innovations shown that for some reason didn’t stand the test of time was the chorded keyboard: an input device with five keys that can be pressed simultaneously in different combinations, the same way you would play chords on a piano.

A 3D-printed five-key chorded keyboard
The Engelbart Keyset comes with both USB host and USB client ports

While a handful of attempts have been made over the years to bring new life to the “chorder”, it failed to achieve mainstream appeal and remains a curiosity to this day. That makes it a natural fit for the Odd Inputs and Peculiar Peripherals contest, as we can see in [Russ Nelson]’s submission called the Engelbart Keyset, which aims to create a modern 3D printed chorder that works exactly as Engelbart intended it.

It’s important to note that the chorded keyboard was not meant to be just an additional set of five keys. Instead, Engelbart showed the clever interplay between the chorder and the mouse: the five keys under his left hand and the three mouse buttons under his right could be combined to create a full 8-bit input device. [Russ]’s device therefore includes a USB host interface to connect a USB mouse as well as a USB client interface that presents itself as a combination mouse/keyboard device to the PC.

The brains of the device are formed by a Teensy 4.1, which reads out the codes sent by the mouse as well as the five keys on top. If one or more of those keys are pressed together with a mouse button, then a keyboard code is generated corresponding to Engelbart’s original keycode mapping. We’re wondering how practical this whole setup would be in real life; it looks like something you’d have to try hands-on to find out. Fortunately, all the schematics, code and STL files are available on the project page, so with just a bit of work you can have your own MOAD setup on your desk today.

We’ve featured a couple of chorded keyboards on these pages; the Pico Chord, the Chordie and the BAT spring to mind. If you’re looking for a recap of Engelbart’s stunning presentation, check out our piece on the Mother of all Demos, 50 years on.

VR Prototypes Reveal Facebook’s Surprisingly Critical Research Directions

A short while ago, Tested posted a video all about hands-on time with virtual reality (VR) headset prototypes from Meta (which is to say, Facebook) and there are some genuinely interesting bits in there. The video itself is over an hour long, but if you’re primarily interested in the technical angles and why they matter for VR, read on because we’ll highlight each of the main points of research.

As absurd as it may seem to many of us to have a social network spearheading meaningful VR development, one can’t say they aren’t taking it seriously. It’s also refreshing to see each of the prototypes get showcased by a researcher who is clearly thrilled to talk about their work. The big dream is to figure out what it takes to pass the “visual Turing test”, which means delivering visuals that are on par with that of a physical reality. Some of these critical elements may come as a bit of a surprise, because they go in directions beyond resolution and field-of-view.

Solid-state varifocal lens demo, capable of 32 discrete focal steps.

At 9:35 in on the video, [Douglas Lanman] shows [Norman Chan] how important variable focus is to delivering a good visual experience, followed by a walk-through of all the different prototypes they have used to get that done. Currently, VR headsets display visuals at only one focal plane, but that means that — among other things — bringing a virtual object close to one’s eyes gets blurry. (Incidentally, older people don’t find that part very strange because it is a common side effect of aging.)

The solution is to change focus based on where the user is looking, and [Douglas] shows off all the different ways this has been explored: from motors and actuators that mechanically change the focal length of the display, to a solid-state solution composed of stacked elements that can selectively converge or diverge light based on its polarization. [Doug]’s pride and excitement is palpable, and he really goes into detail on everything.

At the 30:21 mark, [Yang Zhao] explains the importance of higher resolution displays, and talks about lenses and optics as well. Interestingly, the ultra-clear text rendering made possible by a high-resolution display isn’t what ended up capturing [Norman]’s attention the most. When high resolution was combined with variable focus, it was the textures on cushions, the vividness of wall art, and the patterns on walls that [Norman] found he just couldn’t stop exploring.

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Want A Break From Hardware Hacking? Try Bitburner

If you ever mention to a normal person that you’re a hacker, and they might ask you if you can do something nefarious. The media has unfortunately changed the meaning of the word so that most people think hackers are lawless computer geniuses instead of us simple folk who are probably only breaking the laws meant to prevent you from repairing your own electronics. However, if you want a break, you can fully embrace the Hollywood hacker stereotype with Bitburner. Since it is all online, you don’t even have to dig out your hoodie.

The game takes place in 2077 where, apparently, people are still using green monochrome terminals and writing JavaScript code. Who knew? The operating system is suspiciously Linux-like with commands like alias, cat, cp, kill, and the like. We were nonplussed that in 2077 they’re still using vim, but you can use nano. We always thought real hackers would be emacs users. Our machine only starts out with 8 MB of RAM, too. Good think you can virtually buy more.

We won’t quibble that cls is a synonym for clear or that you use help instead of man. It is, after all, a game. This means you don’t have to feel bad using the buy command to purchase a program on the virtual dark web, either. Hey, if you can shoot bad guys in an FPS game, why can’t you do business with fake cyber-criminals. Why should Grand Theft Auto players have all the fun?

You know how in a video game you are a much better shot and can sustain a lot more damage than you probably can in real life? The same principle applies here. Using the scan-analyze command helpfully tells you how many open ports connected computers have and how much hacking skill it will require to break in. That’d be handy in real life, we bet.

We did think it was bad form that the tutorial admonished us for not entering the commands it wanted us to. What kind of hacker wouldn’t try something else? Anyway, it’s probably a better diversion than whatever Facebook or phone game your friends are wasting time with. It probably doesn’t impart any real hacking skills, but not everything has to be useful.

If you want a game that might teach you something, try the Bash crawl adventure. Or, go write and play some BASIC games in your browser.

3D Scanning Trouble? This Guide Has You Covered

When it comes to 3D scanning, a perfect surface looks a lot like the image above: thousands of distinct and random features, high contrast, no blurry areas, and no shiny spots. While most objects don’t look quite that good, it’s possible to get usable results anyway, and that’s what [Thomas] aims to help people do with his tips on how to create a perfect, accurate 3D scan with photogrammetry.

3D scanning in general is pretty far from being as simple as “point box, press button”, but there are tools available to make things easier. Good lighting is critical, polarizers can help, and products like chalk spray can temporarily add matte features to otherwise troublesome, shiny, or featureless objects. [Thomas] provides visuals of each of these, so one can get an idea of exactly what each of those elements brings to the table. There’s even a handy flowchart table to help troubleshoot and improve tricky scan situations.

[Thomas] knows his stuff when it comes to 3D scanning, seeing as he’s behind the OpenScan project. The last time we featured OpenScan was back in 2020, and things have clearly moved forward since then with a new design, the OpenScan Mini. Interesting in an open-sourced scanning solution? Be sure to give it a look.