Prison TV Gets Simple Speaker Mod

American prisons are strict about television use. Typically they’re only to be used with headphones, and their enclosures need to be transparent so they can’t be used to smuggle goods. ClearTech makes TVs that meet these specifications, and when [Steve Pietras] got his hands on just such a unit, he set about modding it for use in the free world.

Getting into the TV isn’t easy; ClearTech built the units using special security fasteners unlike any we’ve seen before. [Steve] found a way to deal with these, though declines to share his technique in his video. Once inside though, his task is relatively straightforward. He steps through where to install speakers in the TV’s housing, and how to hook them up to the right spots on the main circuit board. With the case closed back up, [Steve] is able to use the TV without headphones, and without the threat of getting shanked by a fellow inmate who really doesn’t want to hear Jeopardy while they’re trying to read.

It’s not every day we get to look at a piece of obscure hardware like this. We’d never seen a prison TV before, and now we feel like experts on the topic. Of course, we’re no strangers to esoterica at Hackaday.

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Electric Volkswagen Adds Rooftop Solar

Volkswagen has continually teased the release of a new Microbus in the same way that Duke Nukem Forever strung us all along in the 00s, but unlike the fated video game it seems as though Volkswagen is finally building a hip new van rather than continually teasing its release year after year. With the clunky name of I.D. Buzz, European drivers can expect to see them later this year while those in the North American market will have to wait until 2024. That release will have a camper-equipped option though, but you may also want to equip yours with some solar panels as well.

The German tuning shop ABT is behind this design, which adds 600 watts of solar fixed to the top of the van. The solar roof will generate electricity largely to power the van’s auxiliary systems and is being aimed at those who are looking to outfit this van as a camper and need something to power things like refrigerators, interior lighting, and various electronics while on extended stays. There is also some mention of a 1000 watt option but with the limited space available on the roof may involve a side panel of some sort.

ABT is also noting that this system can be used to extend the driving range and, while technically true, don’t expect to be driving an I.D. Buzz on entirely solar power unless you’re willing to let it sit to charge the battery for days at a time. Like other solar installations on vehicles we’ve seen from various ingenious builders, the lack of real estate available on passenger vehicles limits their use largely to auxiliary electrical loads, but it can be possible to drive a vehicle on solar energy alone with the right design.

Automated Shusher Keeps Conference Loudmouths In Line

Few things are more annoying than being at a conference and having an inconsiderate group conducting a vociferous sidebar that drowns out the speaker. More annoying still is the inevitable shushing; nobody likes being either the shusher or the shushed. So why not take the humans out of the loop and automate the chore of keeping the peace?

Such was the challenge presented to [BotBerg] before a recent conference, who came up with this automated shusher (translation) on short notice. The build is based on the Arduino Nano 33 BLE Sense Deck, a sensor-rich dev board that’s perhaps a little overkill for the job, but hey — you roll with what you’ve got. The board’s MEMS microphone is the sensor used here, which measures the ambient sound pressure level multiple times per second. When the background noise exceeds a potentiometer-set threshold, an MP3 player is triggered to play a sound clip entreating the offenders to pipe down. The whole thing is housed in a playful 3D-printed enclosure shaped like a mouth, which should be sufficient reminder alone to keep yours shut.

This was a quick-and-dirty prototype, of course, and probably could use some refinement. Given the behavior we’ve witnessed at some conferences, we’d say hooking it up to a Nerf turret gun would be a justifiable escalation.

Hackathon Wire EDM Build Really Works

If you’ve ever short-circuited a car battery, you’ve seen the pitting and damage a few sparks can cause. Smart minds realised that controlled sparks could erode metal very accurately, in a process now known as electrical discharge machining. [Tanner Beard] decided to build just such a machine for a hackathon, and it works a treat.

[Tanner]’s video explains the benefits of EDM well. Spark-based machining doesn’t care about the hardness of the given material, making it ideal for working with very tough steels, for example. It’s also non-contact, so the motion platform doesn’t have to be built to resist huge forces.

The build was done with a low budget of just $300, and uses some smart shortcuts. Instead of an expensive mains-powered DC power supply to generate the discharge, [Tanner] just uses a powerful lithium-polymer battery with his own MOSFET board to deliver the high current needed. A nifty combination of a stepper motor and O-drive motor setup feed the discharge wire at a constant rate during the machining.

Overall, it’s a neat build that shows wire EDM doesn’t have to break the bank. We’ve seen other similar builds before, too. Video after the break.

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Vintage Computer Festival East Returns This Weekend

Spring has sprung at the Jersey Shore, and for retrocomputer aficionados that can only mean one thing — the Vintage Computer Festival East is imminent. The East Coast’s premier event for classic computers and associated electronics kicks off tomorrow at the InfoAge Science and History Museum in Wall, NJ, and continues until Sunday. If you’re in the Northeast United States, and frankly, even if you aren’t, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better opportunity to experience the unique charms of early computer technology.

VCF East is three days of talks, workshops, and exhibits focusing on computers of a bygone area. For the uninitiated, that might seem like an odd thing to fixate on. But those who’ve visited a VCF event in the past know just how fascinating the technology of this era can be. You’ll see first-hand not only the unique machines that never quite caught on with the mainstream but the pioneering software and hardware engineering that laid the groundwork for our modern way of life. Plus, a little bit of everything in between. Just take a look at this year’s schedule; even the most experienced of graybeards would have a hard time walking away from VCF East without knowing a bit more than when they came in.

Part of what makes the Vintage Computer Festival so great is right in the name — it’s very literally a festival. This isn’t some sterile museum environment where you’re forced to look at a dusty piece of hardware through a half-inch of bulletproof glass. It’s a celebration, and everyone’s invited. Many of the exhibits will give you an opportunity to go hands-on with rare pieces of original hardware, and every presenter you talk to will be more than happy to explain what they’ve come to show off and answer any questions you might have.

In addition to the more educational aspects of VCF, there are also the vendor and consignment areas, which offer a myriad of opportunities to convert your money into devices that whir and blink. From classic gaming systems to unusual components that perhaps only a handful of people in the world could still identify at a glance, the only things you won’t find are the jacked-up prices and shipping costs you’d get from eBay.

Of course, the organizers realize that not everyone can get to the tropical paradise that is New Jersey in April. As such, VCF East will offer an online component that includes an official Discord server and three different live streams for the talks held on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. That said, there won’t be any streaming video from the show floor itself, so unfortunately, you won’t be able to see any of the exhibits or workshops. That said, you can always count on there being several VCF wrap-up videos posted to YouTube by the usual retrocomputing suspects, to say nothing of the coverage you’ll be seeing on these pages.

Whether you’re there in person or experiencing it vicariously through the videos and articles posted by others, the Vintage Computer Festival East is a can’t-miss event for anyone who has a passion for computers and would like to learn more about how they became what they are today. Hackaday will be there — join us, won’t you?

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Congratulations Low-Power Winners

Congratulations to the winners of the 2023 Low Power Contest! We challenged you to show us how much you could do with how little, and you did not disappoint. Our judges have put their heads together, and thanks to Digi-Key, our contest sponsor, the top three entries will be taking home a $150 gift certificate for yet more hacking supplies.

We saw a great diversity of ideas here, all on the low-power theme. So without further ado…

The Prize Winners

[Christoph]’s Ultra Low Power RF-Sensor arose out of necessity. Having just repaired a shower drain, he couldn’t be sure that it wouldn’t start leaking again at some point in the future, but couldn’t go ripping up the floor under the shower tray every week to check. He needed a remote moisture sensor that would do the job for a long time with no intervention.

This superb solution combines an Atmel ATmega328P, an HDC1080 humidity sensor, a 433 MHz radio transmitter, and an RTC to keep power consumption super-low when everything else is shut down. Idling at 600 nA total most of the time, taking a reading every 15 minutes, this device should last for 12 years, and it’s been installed and running for five so far, so we’d say that it’s already proven itself very worthy of taking home the prize here.

[BleakyTex]’s Compact, low-power Geiger counter is absolutely the lowest power Geiger counter we’ve ever seen and maybe also the cutest. With the ambitious goal of running up to two years on two tiny LR44 batteries and a proven runtime of about six months by now, this is the radiation detector you can take with you every day, should you need to. The key is a custom HV section that’s designed for efficiency and the screen – even today, it’s still hard to beat the low power consumption of the humble LCD screen. All this, and it still makes those satisfying clicks when it’s enabled. [BleakyTex] says he might make a kit from this, and we absolutely hope he does!

[mircemk]’s Microwatt Pulse Motor took one of our suggestions in the announcement of the contest and ran with it. This eight-pole handmade electric motor doesn’t actually do anything other than spin, but it does that when hooked up to a literal potato. Pulling around 40 mA at 600 mV, it can easily run on solar power with enough power left over to charge up a battery for when the sun doesn’t shine. All of this is made with extremely simple circuitry and parts scavenged from old relays with a sewing needle held up by a magnet for the bearing. This is pure ingenuity and a sweet low-power demo.

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Square-Wheeled Bike Is Actually An Amazing Tracked Build

The invention of the wheel is considered one of the crowning achievements of early humanity. Squares don’t roll, after all. [The Q] decided to build a square-wheeled bike anyway, with a neat tracked setup that makes for an awesome visual gag.

The wheels are made out of C-angle steel, making them both stout and incredibly heavy. While they don’t really need the additional structure for strength, they feature spokes which mount a central hub for attaching the “wheels” to a bicycle axle. The squares aren’t designed to roll, though. Instead, they are fitted with gears and rollers, upon which a track made of bicycle chain and tires is fitted. When the rider pedals, this turns the track, propelling the bike along. Cleverly, the track mechanism is neatly hidden by some framing, confusing passers-by.

The riding experience is noisy, thanks to the tracks. There’s also plenty of rolling resistance. It’s unlikely bikes like these will become mainstream transport anytime soon, nor will you see them at the velodrome. Regardless, it’s certainly a great way to turn heads at the park.

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