Gumball Coaster Is 3D-Printed Candy Fun

Marble runs are fun enough on their own, but what if you could eat the marbles? Gumballs are the satisfying answer to that question. To that end, [Adrian Seeley] whipped up a system for producing gumball runs programmatically for entertainment and candy dispensing purposes.

Track descriptions can be coded via basic instructions outlining a marble run, by typing out the order of straights, turns, and ramps that make up the course. Once created as a JSON file, the track description is processed via Javascript to create a tiled physical representation of the track via OpenSCAD, including all necessary support structures. The pieces can then be 3D printed to create an actual physical gumball run that can be easily assembled.

[Adrian] created a small tabletop “gumcoaster” as a prototype. Even at that size, it took 11 hours to assemble. It served as a trial run ahead of a larger version he hopes to build for a candy store display. We’ve seen some great marble runs before too, including those created via procedural generation. Video after the break.

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Ecological System Dynamics For Computing

Some of you may remember that the ship’s computer on Star Trek: Voyager contained bioneural gel packs. Researchers have taken us one step closer to a biocomputing future with a study on the potential of ecological systems for computing.

Neural networks are a big deal in the world of machine learning, and it turns out that ecological dynamics exhibit many of the same properties. Reservoir Computing (RC) is a special type of Recurrent Neural Network (RNN) that feeds inputs into a fixed-dynamics reservoir black box with training only occurring on the outputs, drastically reducing the computational requirements of the system. With some research now embodying these reservoirs into physical objects like robot arms, the researchers wanted to see if biological systems could be used as computing resources.

Using both simulated and real bacterial populations (Tetrahymena thermophila) to respond to temperature stimuli, the researchers showed that ecological system dynamics has the “necessary conditions for computing (e.g. synchronized dynamics in response to the same input sequences) and can make near-future predictions of empirical time series.” Performance is currently lower than other forms of RC, but the researchers believe this will open up an exciting new area of research.

If you’re interested in some other experiments in biocomputing, checkout these RNA-based logic gates, this DNA-based calculator, or this fourteen-legged state machine.

A small black microphone in a black 3d printed mount. The mount is attached to an adjustable silver neck attached to a desk clamp from an IKEA lamp.

IKEA Hack – Kvart Into Mic Stand

While audiophiles might spend gazillions of hours finely honing a microphone stand that isolates their equipment from the trials and perturbations of the world, most of us who use a microphone don’t need anything so elaborate. Hackaday contributing editor [Jenny List] hacked together some thrift store finds into a snazzy adjustable mic setup as you can see in the video below the break.

Using the flexible neck and clamp of an IKEA Kvart as a base, [Lists]’s mic stand looks like a simple, but exceedingly useful tool. She first removed the lamp, shade, and cord before designing a 3D-printed mount to attach to the lamp’s neck. Since the bolted lamp end of the connection goes straight to an action camera mounting system, we can see this being handy for mounting any number of other things besides microphones. Another 3D-printed mount attaches the Logitech gaming microphone to the action camera connector, and the whole thing can either be bolted together or use a printed pin. All the parts can be found in a GitHub repository.

Looking for more microphone hacks? Check out this DIY ribbon microphone or the Ambi-Alice ambisonic mic.

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A Chess AI In Only 4K Of Memory

The first computer to ever beat a reigning chess world champion didn’t do so until 1996 when a supercomputer built by IBM beat Garry Kasparov. But anyone who wasn’t a chess Grandmaster could have been getting beaten by chess programs as early as 1979 when Atari released one of the first ever commercially-available chess video games for the Atari 2600. The game was called Video Chess and despite some quirky gameplay it is quite impressive that it was able to run on the limited Atari hardware at all as [Oscar] demonstrates.

The first steps of getting under the hood of this program involved looking into the mapping of the pieces and the board positions in memory. After analyzing some more of the gameplay, [Oscar] discovered that the game does not use trees and nodes to make decisions, likely due to the memory limitations, but rather simulates the entire game and then analyzes it to determine the next step. When the game detects that there are not many pieces left on the board it can actually increase the amount of analysis it does in order to corner the opposing king, and has some unique algorithms in place to handle things like castling, finishing the game, and determining valid movements.

Originally it was thought that this engine couldn’t fit in the 4K of ROM or work within the 128 bytes of system memory, and that it was optimized for the system after first developing a game with some expanded capabilities. The game also has a reputation for making illegal moves in the higher difficulty settings although [Oscar] couldn’t reproduce these bugs. He also didn’t get into any of the tricks the game employed just to display all of the pieces on the screen. The AI in the Atari game was a feat for its time, but in the modern world the Stockfish open-source chess engine allows for a much more expanded gameplay experience.

The Voice Of GPS

Tuning into a GPS satellite is nothing new. Your phone and your car probably do that multiple times a day. But [dereksgc] has been listening to GPS voice traffic. The traffic originates from COSPAS-SARSAT, which is a decades-old international cooperative of 45 nations and agencies that operates a worldwide search and rescue program. You can watch a video about it below.

Nominally, a person in trouble activates a 406 MHz beacon, and any of the 66 satellites that host COSPAS-SARSAT receivers can pick it up and relay information to the appropriate authorities. These beacons are often attached to aircraft or ships, but there are an increasing number of personal beacons used by campers, hikers, and others who might be in danger and out of reach of a cell phone. The first rescue from this system was in 1982. By 2021, 3,632 people were rescued thanks to the system.

The satellites that listen to the beacon frequencies don’t process the signals. They use a transponder that re-transmits anything it hears on a much higher downlink frequency. These transponders are always payloads on other satellites like navigation or weather satellites. But because the transponder doesn’t care what it hears, it sometimes rebroadcasts signals from things other than beacons. We were unclear if these were rogue radios or radios with spurious emissions in the translator’s input range.

The video has practical tips on how to tune in several of the satellites that carry these transponders. Might be a fun weekend project with a software-defined radio.

We’ve seen homebrew satellite devices, but none for an emergency beacon — we aren’t sure what the legal aspects of that would be. There are other satellites that unknowingly host pirate radio stations, too.

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Et Tu, Red Hat?

Something odd happened to last week. That’s the repository where Red Hat has traditionally published the source code to everything that’s a part of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) to fulfill the requirements of the GPL license. Last week, those packages just stopped flowing. Updates weren’t being published. And finally, Red Hat has published a clear answer to why:

Red Hat has decided to continue to use the Customer Portal to share source code with our partners and customers, while treating CentOS Stream as the venue for collaboration with the community.

Sounds innocuous, but what’s really going on here? Let’s have a look at the Red Hat family: RHEL, CentOS, and Fedora.

RHEL is the enterprise Linux distribution that is Red Hat’s bread and butter. Fedora is RHEL’s upstream distribution, where changes happen fast and things occasionally break. CentOS started off as a community repackaging of RHEL, as allowed under the GPL and other Open Source licenses, for people who liked the stability but didn’t need the software support that you’re paying for when you buy RHEL.

Red Hat took over the reigns of CentOS back in 2014, and then imposed the transition to CentOS Stream in 2020, to some consternation. This placed CentOS Stream between the upstream Fedora, and the downstream RHEL. Some people missed the stability of the old CentOS, and in response a handful of efforts spun up to fill the gap, like Alma Linux and Rocky Linux. These projects took the source from, and rebuilt them into usable community operating systems, staying closer to RHEL in the process.

Red Hat has published a longer statement elaborating on the growth of CentOS Stream, but it ends with an interesting statement: “Red Hat customers and partners can access RHEL sources via the customer and partner portals, in accordance with their subscription agreement.” What exactly is in that subscription agreement? Well according to Alma Linux, “the way we understand it today, Red Hat’s user interface agreements indicate that re-publishing sources acquired through the customer portal would be a violation of those agreements.” Continue reading “Et Tu, Red Hat?”

Hackaday Podcast 224: Star Wars Holograms, Tricorders, And Other Sensors

Elliot and Al got together to discuss this week’s projects, and you’re invited! You’ll hear news about replaceable batteries in the EU, along with some news about the Hackaday Op Amp Challenge winners and the start of a new contest. This week’s choice hacks ranged from a Star Wars-style volumetric display, navigation using cosmic rays, measuring car speed with microphones, and a crazy 3D printing technique that will blow you away.

There’s plenty more where that came from. Ever tried to land a model rocket vertically? How about building a punched card reader? The can’t miss articles this week cover a thermal camera review and the unintended consequences if AM radio bites the dust.

If you want to read along, the links are below for you to check out. Be sure to leave us your thoughts in the comments.

Click play to get started. Or download a non-AI-generated (we promise) file for your offline listening pleasure.

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