Hack Your Brain: Bionic Reading — Panacea Or Placebo?

In the Star Trek episode Space Seed, [Khan] famously said, “Improve a mechanical device, and you may double productivity. But improve man, you gain a thousandfold.” Most of our hacks center on the mechanical or electromechanical kind, but we do have an interest in safely improving ourselves. The problem is that most of us don’t want to mess with our DNA or have surgery, so it sort of limits our options.

We are always interested in less invasive hacks, so we certainly took note of Bionic Reading. However, a recent paper claims to debunk the claims of benefits. The company promoting the technology claims a Swiss University study showed that while the results were not clear, “the majority had a positive effect.” They also claim, anecdotally, that the technique can help those with dyslexia. What’s the truth? We don’t know, but it is an interesting discussion to follow.

If you haven’t seen it before, Bionic Reading — which, by the way, may not be free to use — is a way of using a dark font to emphasize certain key parts of words. For example, you can read this article using Bionic Reading. [Daniel Doyon] analyzed reading by 2,074 testers and found that participants actually read slower when using the Bionic Reading technique.

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Adding A Battery To Extend Speaker Life

Perhaps the weakest point in modern electronics when it comes to user servicability is the lifecycle of the batteries included from the manufacturer. Without easily replaceable batteries, many consumer goods end up in the landfill when they’re otherwise working perfectly. If you’d like to get more out of your devices than the manufacturer intends, you might have to go to great lengths like [Théo] did with his JBL speaker.

This was a Bluetooth device produced by JBL nearly a decade ago, and while the original device boasted several hours of battery life, after so many years of service, it was lucky to get a half hour before the battery died. To replace it, [Théo] removed the original battery and extended the case to be able to hold a larger cell phone battery. He also decided to use the original battery management circuit from the speaker with the new battery after verifying the voltage and chemistry were close enough to the original.

Since the phone battery is a proprietary Samsung device, [Théo] also decided to build a version that uses standard 18650 cells instead, although he prefers the slimmer design with the phone battery for his use case.  Straightforward as this build may be, it does go a long way to demonstrate the principle that if you can’t fix your devices, you don’t really own them.

Digital “Toy” Camera, Made For Tilt-Shift And Other Analog-Like Experimenting

Like many others, [volzo] loves playing with photography in a playful and experimental way. Oddball lenses, vintage elements, and building from kits is what that world looks like. But that kind of stuff is really the domain of film cameras, or at least it was until [volzo] created his Digital Toy Camera design. The result? A self-built, lomography-friendly digital camera that allows for all kinds of weird and wonderful attachments and photo shenanigans.

3D-printed mounts and magnetic attachment makes swapping parts a breeze.

To make a DIY digital camera that allowed that kind of play, the first problem [volzo] had to solve was deciding on an image sensor. It turns out that sourcing image sensors as an individual is a pretty cumbersome process, and even if successful, one still needs to write a driver and create things from the ground up. So, the guts of [volzo]’s creations use the Raspberry Pi and camera sensor ecosystem and M12 lenses, a decision that allows him to focus on the rest of the camera.

3D printing, a bit of CNC machining, and some clever design yields a “toy” camera: simple, inexpensive, and enabling one to take a playful and experimental approach to photography. The design files are available on GitHub, and there are some neat elements to the design. Magnetic mounts allow for easy swapping of lens assemblies, and a M12 x 0.75 tap cuts perfect threads into 3D-printed pieces for M12 lenses.

Heat-set inserts also provide robust fastening that can hold up to disassembly and re-assembly (and don’t miss that our own [Joshua Vasquez] has shared how best to design for and use heat-set inserts.)

[volzo] has a fantastic video to accompany his project; give it a watch (embedded below, under the page break) and see if you don’t come away with some inspiration of your own.

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Machine Learning Baby Monitor Prevents The Hunger Games

Newborn babies can be tricky to figure out, especially for first-time parents. Despite the abundance of unsolicited advice proffered by anyone who ever had a baby before — and many who haven’t — most new parents quickly get in sync with the baby’s often ambiguous signals. But [Caleb] took his observations of his newborn a step further and built a machine-learning hungry baby early warning system that’s pretty slick.

Normally, babies are pretty unsubtle about being hungry, and loudly announce their needs to the world. But it turns out that crying is a lagging indicator of hunger, and that there are a host of face, head, and hand cues that precede the wailing. [Caleb] based his system on Google’s MediaPipe library, using his baby monitor’s camera to track such behaviors as lip smacking, pacifier rejection, fist mouthing, and rooting, all signs that someone’s tummy needs filling. By putting together a system to recognize these cues and assign a weight to them, [Caleb] now gets a text before the baby gets to the screaming phase, to the benefit of not only the little nipper but to his sleep-deprived servants as well. The video below has some priceless bits in it; don’t miss [Baby Caleb] at 5:11 or the hilarious automatic feeder gag at the end.

We’ve seen some interesting videos from [Caleb] recently, mostly having to do with his dog’s bathroom habits and getting help cleaning up afterward. We can only guess how those projects will be leveraged when this kid gets a little older and starts potty training.

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Purpose-Built Plotter Pitches In To Solve Wordblitz On Your Phone

It seems like most hackers have never played a game without at least wondering how to cheat at it. It’s not that we’re a dishonest lot, at least not as a rule. It’s more that most games hold less challenge for us than does figuring out how to reverse engineer the game’s mechanics. We don’t intend to cheat; it just sort of happens.

Or at least that’s the charitable way to look at such smartphone game cheats as this automated word-search puzzle solver. The game is Wordblitz, which is basically an implementation of classic Boggle along with extra features to release more dopamine and keep you playing. Not one to fall for that trick, [ghettobastler] whipped up a quick X-Y gantry from MDF using a laser cutter, added a stylus in the form of a cotton swab tipped with aluminum foil, and a vision system based on a simple web camera. The bed of the gantry has a capacitive plate so the stylus can operate the phone, along with a frame of ArUco fiducial marker to aid in locating the phone.

A Raspberry Pi handles the machine vision part of the process, which uses OpenCV to estimate the phone’s location and extract the current game tiles. The words in the game field are located by a solver that [ghetto] had previously written; a script then streams G-code to the plotter to peck out the answers at blazing speed, or at least faster than even [Peggy Hill] could manage. See the video below for a sample game being solved.

One word of warning if you choose to build this: [ghettobastler]’s puzzle-solving algorithm is based on a French dictionary, so you’ll have to re-teach it for other languages. But whatever language it’s in, this reminds us a bit of some of the Wordle solvers we’ve seen recently.

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Patents And The Missing Museum

A beautiful chapter of the history of invention in the United States ended with a fire in 1880. Well, the fire took place in 1877, but the wheels of government turn slowly. For the first 90 years that patents were granted in the USA, applications were required to be accompanied by a working model – to prove that the idea works and rule out “the perpetual motion cranks”.

During this time, the US Patent Office put all of these models on display, or at least as many of them as they could. The idea was that, alongside the printed documents, people would learn from seeing the inventions in the flesh. This tremendous resource got the Patent Office nicknamed the “Temple of Invention”, and rightly so. Many of the crucial innovations of the industrial revolution were there, in miniature. From Samuel Morse’s model telegraph, through Eli Whitney’s cotton gin, to more than a thousand inventions of Thomas Edison’s, working models were to be seen in the flesh, if in the small. We can only imagine how awe-inspiring it would have been to walk through those halls.

Two fires put significant dents in this tremendous collection. First in 1836, in a fire that consumed most of the approximately 10,000 patents that had been issued to that date, models and paper copies alike. Ironically, these included the patent for the first cast-iron fire hydrant. This fire was so devastating that it led to a dramatic patent reform in that same year, and to the building of a new fireproof Patent Office.

And the “new” Patent Office building still stands today, and proudly displayed patent models until the fire that broke out inside the building in 1877. (The contents of the building weren’t fireproof.) In this second fire, brave employees saved many of the works by staying and battling the fire from inside, but the second demoralizing beatdown, and the accelerating number of patent applications, it became obvious that there just wasn’t enough space to store a model of each patentable invention, and the requirement was dropped in 1880.

A small portion of the remaining patent models were put on display in one wing of the National Portrait Gallery, housed in the Patent Office building, and I had the wonderful opportunity to see it live in the early 2000s. I have no idea if the exhibit is still there – I’m guessing it’s not. The Smithsonian owns the lion’s share of the existing models, and we imagine they are in a warehouse somewhere, like at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

A shame, because seeing a real 3D model of a thing is different from seeing line drawings. Maybe in the future, 3D CAD drawings will take their place? They’d be a lot easier to save in event of a fire.

Is 3D Printing Up To A Turntable?

Thanks to a feature by Prusament because it uses their filament, we’ve been interested to read about the SongBird turntable from the British outfit Frame Theory (Note: at time of writing, they have an expired certificate). It’s a commercial product with an interesting twist for the Hi-Fi business: buy the completed turntable or buy a kit of parts and print the rest yourself.

We’re always interested to see new things here at Hackaday but we’re not in the business of promoting commercial products without a tech angle. This turntable has us interested then not because it happens to be 3D printed but because it’s instantly raised our curiosity over how suitable 3D printing is as a medium for a high quality audio component. Without descending into audiophile silliness we cannot overstate the effect that rigidity and mass of turntable components has on its audio quality. Take a look at this one we featured in the past for an extreme example.

So looking more closely at the design, we find that the chassis is aluminium, which makes sense given its visibly thin construction. Close examination of the photos on their site also reveals the tonearm to be made of carbon fibre tube, so it’s clear that they’ve put some effort into making a better turntable rather than a novelty one. This does raise the question though: manufacturing practicalities aside could you 3D print the whole thing? We think that a 3D printed chassis could replace the aluminium one at the cost of much more bulk and loss of the svelte looks, but what about the tonearm? Would one of the carbon-fibre-infused filaments deliver enough stiffness? It would be particularly interesting we think, were someone to try.