strut mounted on lathe

Turning Irregular Shapes

In case you’re not closely following Egyptian Machinist YouTube, you may have missed [Hydraulic House]. It’s gotten even harder to find him since he started posting under[بيت الهيدروليك]. Don’t let the Arabic put you off, he delivers it all in pantomime.

A recent drop is “How To Turn Irregular Shapes On The Lathe“.  We’re not sure, but think the part he’s working on is the front suspension of a  3 wheeled auto-rickshaw. The first metal at the center is over 30cm from the bottom. No problem, he just makes a long driven dead center from a bit of scrap material and goes on with his business.

By no means is this the only cool video.  We liked his video on a remote pumped hydraulic jack  and one on making your own hydraulic valves.

If you’re into machinist-y things, don’t miss him. Every video is full of pretty nifty tricks, sometimes made with a zany disregard of some basics like “maybe better to have done the welding before mounting in the lathe”, turning with a cutoff tool (I think), and occasionally letting go of the chuck key. It’s definitely ‘oh, get on with it’ machine shop work.

We love videos from professionals in the developing world making with relatively simple tools. Often hobby hackers are in the same position, milling with a lathe and some patience instead of a giant Okuma. Not long ago we posted this article about making helical parts , with the same ‘imagination and skill beats more machinery any day’ vibe.

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Insect class-order-family-genus-species chart with drawn examples

Neural Network Identifies Insects, Outperforming Humans

There are about one million known species of insects – more than for any other group of living organisms. If you need to determine which species an insect belongs to, things get complicated quick. In fact, for distinguishing between certain kinds of species, you might need a well-trained expert in that species, and experts’ time is often better spent on something else. This is where CNNs (convolutional neural networks) come in nowadays, and this paper describes a CNN doing just as well if not better than human experts.

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Restoring $5 Busted Synthesizer Made Easy, Thanks To Thermal

[D. Scott Williamson] paid $5 for a Roland JV-30 synthesizer at a garage sale. Score! There was only one catch: it didn’t work and didn’t include the power supply. Luckily, restoring it was made easier by breaking out a thermal camera.

As mentioned, the keyboard was missing a 9 VDC power supply (rated 800 mA) with a center-negative barrel connector. Slightly oddball, but nothing an enterprising hacker can’t deal with. After supplying power with a bench supply, not only did the keyboard not come to life, but the power supply clamped the current draw at 1.5 A! Something was definitely not right.

This shorted glass-bodied diode might look normal to the naked eye, but thermal imaging makes it clear something’s amiss.

Inside, there was no visible (or olfactory) sign of damage, but looking closer revealed that a little SMT capacitor by the power connector was cracked in two. Fixing that didn’t bring the keyboard to life, so it was time to break out the thermal imager. Something was soaking up all that current, and it’s a fair bet that something is getting hot in the process.

The culprit? The reverse polarity protection diode was shorted, probably as a result of damage by an inappropriate power supply or a surge of some kind. Replacing it resulted in a working keyboard! Not bad at all for $5, a diode, an SMT cap, and a little workbench time. The finishing touch was replacing a missing slider knob, which took some work in OpenSCAD and a 3D printer. Overall, not bad!

Thermal imaging used to be the stuff of staggering price tags, but it’s downright accessible these days, and makes it easy to spot things that are hot when they shouldn’t be. And if a thermal camera’s lens isn’t what you think it should be? It’s even possible for a sufficiently motivated and knowledgeable hacker to modify those.

the rail bike with its front wheel

Riding The Rails, In A Literal Sense

Hundreds of miles of railroad tracks are scattered across the US and other countries. Despite how they look, many aren’t abandoned. But in the case of a genuinely abandoned track, having a railway bike to explore the rail seems quite intriguing.

[Cam Engineering] lives in central California and wanted to see what life was like on the track. His system consists of a front alignment wheel made from a rubber longboard wheel with locating disks on either side. He also has a boom on the side that can extend as an outrigger. Ultimately this offers a reasonably stable ride, evidenced by it gliding along the track smoothly with no one to balance it. However, the front wheel does have some issues, as when the track goes through the pavement, there often isn’t enough clearance for the wheel. Additionally, because of the bond wires attached to the rail, he already had to make the front wheel a little wider than needed. The whole thing folds up, making for a compact and snazzy ride.

This isn’t the first rail bike we’ve seen, and we hope to see many more. Video after the break.

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A Look Back At The USSR Computer Industry

According to [Asianometry], in 1986 the Soviet Union had about 10,000 computers. At the same time, the United States had 1.3 million! The USSR was hardly a backward country — they’d launched Sputnik and made many advances in science and mathematics. Why didn’t they have more computers? The story is interesting and you can see it in the video below.

Apparently when news of ENIAC reached the USSR, many dismissed it as fanciful propaganda. However, there were some who thought computing would be the future. Sergey Lebedev in Ukraine built a “small” machine around 1951. Small, of course, is relative since the machine had 6,000 tubes in it. It performed 250,000 calculations for artillery tables in about 2 and half hours.

The success of this computer led to two teams being asked to build two different machines. Although one of the machines was less capable, the better machine needed a part they could only get from the other team which they withheld, forcing them to use outdated — even then — mercury delay lines for storage.

The more sophisticated machine, the BESM-1, didn’t perform well thanks to this substitution and so the competitor, STRELA, was selected. However, it broke down frequently and was unable to handle certain computations. Finally, the BESM-1 was completed and was the fastest computer in Europe for several years starting in 1955.

By 1959, the Soviets produced $59 million worth of computer parts compared to the US’s output of around $1 billion.  There are many reasons for the limited supply and limited demand that you’ll hear about in the video. In particular, there was little commercial demand for computers in the Soviet Union. Nearly all the computer usage was in the military and academia.

Eventually, the Russians wound up buying and copying the IBM 360. Not all of the engineers thought this was a good idea, but it did have the advantage of allowing for existing software to run. The US government tried to forbid IBM from exporting key items, so ICL — a UK company — offered up their IBM 360-compatible system.

The Soviets have been known to borrow tech before. Not that the west didn’t do some borrowing, too, at least temporarily.

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Fighting The Good Fight

We here at Hackaday are super-duper proponents of open source. Software, hardware, or firmware, we like to be able to see it, learn from it, modify it, and make it ourselves. Some of this is self-serving because when we can’t see how it was done, we can’t show you how it’s done. But it’s also from a deeper place than that: the belief that the world is made better by sharing and open access.

One of the pieces of open-source firmware that I have running on no fewer than three devices in my house right now is grbl – it’s a super-simple, super-reliable G-code interpreter and stepper motor controller that has stood the test of time. It’s also GPL3 licensed, which means that if you want to use the code in your project, and you modify it to match your particular machine, you have to make the modified version available for those who bought the machine to modify themselves.

So when Norbert Heinz noticed that the Ortur laser engravers were running grbl without making the code available, he wrote them a letter. They responded with “business secrets”, he informed them again of their responsibility, and they still didn’t comply. So he made a video explaining the situation.

Good news incoming! Norbert wrote in the comments that since the post hit Hackaday, they’ve taken notice over at Ortur and have gotten back in touch with him. Assuming that they’re on their way to doing the right thing, this could be a nice win for grbl and for Ortur users alike.

Inside the free software world, we all know that “free” has many meanings, but I’d bet that you don’t have to go far outside our community to find people who don’t know that “free” software can have tight usage restrictions on it. (Or maybe not – it all depends on the license that the software’s author chose.) Reading software licenses is lousy work better left for lawyers than hackers anyway, and I can no longer count how many times I’ve clicked on a EULA without combing through it.

So what Norbert did was a good deed – educating a company that used GPL software of their obligations. My gut says that Ortur had no idea what they needed to do to comply with the license, and Norbert told them, even if it required some public arm-twisting. But now, Ortur has the opportunity to make good, and hackers everywhere can customize the firmware that drives their laser engravers. Woot!

It’s probably too early to declare victory here, but consider following Norbert’s example yourself. While you can’t bring a lawsuit if you’re not the copyright owner, you can still defend your right to free software simply by explaining it politely to companies that might not know that they’re breaking the law. And when they come around, make sure you welcome them into the global open-source hive mind, because we all win. One of us!

Impatience Is A Virtue When Testing This Old Maritime Teleprinter

[Larry Wall], inventor of Perl, once famously said that programmers have three key virtues: sloth, hubris, and impatience. It’s safe to say that these personality quirks are also present in some measure in most hardware hackers, too, with impatience being perhaps the prime driver of great hacks. Life’s too short to wait for someone else to build it, whatever it may be.

Impatience certainly came into play for [Sebastian (AI5GW)] while hacking a NAVTEX receiver. The NAVTEX system allows ships at sea to receive text broadcast alerts for things like changes in the weather or hazards to navigation. The trouble is, each NAVTEX station only transmits once every four hours, making tests of the teleprinter impractical. So [Sebastian]’s solution was to essentially create his own NAVTEX transmitter.

Job one was to understand the NAVTEX protocol, which is a 100-baud, FSK-modulated signal with characters encoded in CCIR 476. Since this encoding is also used in amateur radio teletype operations, [Sebastian] figured there would surely be an Arduino library for encoding and decoding it. Surprisingly, there wasn’t, but there is now, allowing an Arduino to produce the correct sequence of pulses for a CCIR 476-encoded message. Fed into a function generator, the mini-NAVTEX station’s signal was easily received and recorded by the painfully slow teleprinter. There’s that impatience again.

We thought this was a neat hack, and we especially appreciate that [Sebastian]’s efforts resulted in a library that could be useful to hams and other radio enthusiasts in the future. We’ve talked about some more modern amateur radio digital modes, like WSPR and FT8, but maybe it’s time to look at some other modes, too.

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