When Tail Lights Lose Touch With Reality

To study the history of the automobile is to also be a student of technological progress — as with each decade’s models come new innovations to make them better handling, more corrosion-resistant, faster, more efficient, or whatever the needs of the moment dictate. But sometimes that technological advancement goes awry and works against the motorist, making for a vehicle that’s substantially worse than what went before. [FordTechMakuloco] has a video with an example in a Ford pickup, which we believe deserves to be shared.

The problem with the vehicle was simple enough, indeed it’s one we’ve had in the past ourselves. Water got into a tail light, and corroded some connectors. The difference with this Ford though was that such a simple fault took out the whole car, and that the fix for a simple tail light cost $5600. The first was due to a vehicle-wide CAN bus going down due to the electrical short, and the second was due to the assembly containing an assortment of wiring and modules which couldn’t be replaced separately. These included some form of side-facing parking radar, a component unnecessary for operation of the light itself. Some relatively straightforward design and component supply decisions such as separating subsystems across multiple CAN busses, ensuring individual modules are separately available, and even designing connectors to face downwards and self-drain, could have fixed it, but the automaker chose instead to build in some planned obsolescence. Would you buy a Ford truck after seeing the video below the break?

We’ve written here before about how automotive design has taken this wrong path, and even advanced a manifesto as to how they might escape it. This Ford tail light seems to us an egregious example of electronics-as-the-new-rust rendering what should be a good vehicle into a badly designed piece of junk, and honestly it saddens us to see it. Oddly, there was once a time when a Ford truck was about as good as you could get.

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The WebStick Is A Small, Cheap NAS

The ESP8266 was one of the first chips that provided wireless functionality at a cost low enough to be widely popular for small microcontroller projects. This project uses one to provide rapid, small, and inexpensive network-attached storage (NAS) capabilities wherever you happen to go.

With an ESP12F board at the heart to provide network connectivity, the small device also hosts a micro SD card slot and a USB-A port to provide power and programming capabilities for the device. It’s Arduino-compatible, and creator [tobychui] has provided the firmware source code necessary to bring it up on your network and start serving up files. Originally intended for people to host web services without experience setting up all of the tools needed for it, there’s services for storing and streaming music and video over the network as well.

While it includes a lot more functionality than is typically included on a NAS, [tobychui] notes that with a library, something like WebDAV could be added to provide more traditional NAS capabilities. As it stands, though, having networked storage with web hosting capabilities on a PCB with a total cost of around $5 is not something to shy away from. If you’re looking for something a little more powerful for your home network, take a look at this ARM-based NAS instead.

Tape Is Very, Very Quiet

If someone stops by and asks you to help them make some noisy thing less noisy, you probably wouldn’t reach for a roll of tape. But [The Action Lab] shows some 3M tape made for exactly that purpose. For the right kind of noise, it can dampen noise caused by a surface vibrating. You can see how (and why) it works in the video below.

The tape works using a technique known as “constrained layer damping.” Obviously, the tape only works in certain applications. The video explains that it bonds a stiff surface to the vibrating surface using an elastic-like layer. The tape reduces vibrations from things like cymbals and a cookie tin. The noise reduction is both in amplitude and in the duration of the sound, making things noticeably quieter.

You sometimes see a similar material in cars to reduce vibration noise, but we aren’t sure if it uses the same technique. We’ve also seen different kinds of tape used to lower drums’ volume. Reduces the neighbor’s complaints about your practice jam sessions.

This tape reduces noise but can also reduce fatigue wear on metal and composite structures. The downside is it seems extraordinarily expensive. It also doesn’t help that most places want you to buy an entire case, which drives the price even higher. Depending on the size, you can expect to pay about $200 for each 36-yard roll of this tape. But it seems like the principle involved is simple enough that you could make your own, sort of like the video does with the aluminum plate.

Usually, when we talk about noise reduction around here, we mean the electronic kind. Or, sometimes, fungal.

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Clean Water, From A Plant-Based Filter

If you’re an outdoors person, one of the earliest things you learned was probably that in-field water sources can’t always be trusted as drinkable. A clear mountain stream could have a dead sheep in it just upstream, for example. Maybe you learned to boil it, or perhaps add chemical tablets. Up-to-date campers have a range of filters at their disposal thanks to nanotechnology, but such devices aren’t the only options to avoid sickness. [BeraAjan] has built one using plant xylem.

The inspiration for this filter came from an MIT paper, and the plant xylem in question isn’t the thin layer we were expecting but a far thicker one found in young conifer branches. In fact, the whole twig without its bark is placed in a tube, and the water filters through it.

It’s fair to say that this isn’t the fastest of filters though, as you can see in the video below the break. He’s combined a few individual filters, but maybe it’s not for the easily bored.

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Rare Arcade Game Teardown And Mods

[Video Game Esoterica] loves a 1990s video game called Operation Tiger. Apparently, there are only a few of these known to exist in 2023, and he managed to find one of them. Well, it is really just a module so he has to figure out how to give it enough input and output to be actually playable. You can see several videos of his work with the Taito game below.

The board has a lot of ICs and a Power PC to handle the 3D graphics. The graphics seem clunky today, but they were impressive for the time. According to the video, the CPU board was only used for this game. The ROM that holds the software is separate with a mix of mask-programmed memory and EPROMs.

The machine is meant to live in an arcade box. So wiring things like coin selectors, video, speakers, and controllers is a non-trivial exercise. The wiring paid off, though, as the board started up but with no buttons, it wasn’t able to start in the first video. The controls go through a 60-pin connector and he tackles that project in part two.

The next step is to actually update the game software, which is hard but possible. Of course, you can run many of these old games with MAME or, if you prefer, use it to score that primo engineering workstation you used to covet.

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Agreeing By Disagreeing

While we were working on the podcast this week, Al Williams and I got into a debate about the utility of logic analyzers. (It’s Hackaday, after all.) He said they’re almost useless these days, and I maintained that they’re more useful than ever. When we got down to it, however, we were actually completely in agreement – it turns out that when we said “logic analyzer” we each had different machines, and use cases, in mind.

Al has a serious engineering background and a long career in his pocket. When he says “logic analyzer”, he’s thinking of a beast with a million probes that you could hook up to each and every data and address line in what would now be called a “retrocomputer”, giving you this god-like perspective on the entire system state. (Sounds yummy!) But now that modern CPUs have 64-bits, everything’s high-speed serial, and they’re all deeply integrated on the same chip anyway, such a monster machine is nearly useless.

Meanwhile, I’m a self-taught hacker type. When I say “logic analyzer”, I’m thinking maybe 8 or 16 signals, and I’m thinking of debugging the communications between a microcontroller, an IMU, or maybe a QSPI flash chip. Heck, sometimes I’ll even break out a couple pins on the micro for state. And with the proliferation of easy and cheap modules, plus the need to debug and reverse commodity electronics, these logic analyzers have never been more useful.

So in the end, it was a simple misunderstanding – a result of our different backgrounds. His logic analyzers were extinct or out of my price range, and totally off my radar. And he thinks of my logic analyzer as a “simple serial analyzer”. (Ouch! But since when are 8 signals “serial”?)

And in the end, we both absolutely agreed on the fact that great open-source software has made the modern logic analyzers as useful as they are, and the lack thereof is also partially responsible for the demise of the old beasts. Well, that and he needs a lab cart then to carry around what I can slip in my pocket today. Take that!

A ceiling-mounted model of the Solar System

Ceiling-Mounted Orrery Is An Excercise In Simplicity

Ever since humans figured out that planets move along predetermined paths in the heavens, they have tried to make models that can accurately predict their motion. Watchmakers and astronomers worked together to create orreries: mechanical contraptions that illustrate the positions of all planets and the way they move over time through complex gear systems. [Illusionmanager] continues the orrery tradition but uses a different approach: he built a beautiful ceiling-mounted model of our Solar System without a gearing system.

The mechanism that makes his Solar System tick is deceptively simple. All planets can move freely along their orbit’s axis except Mercury, which is moved along its orbit by a motor hidden inside the Sun. Once Mercury has completed a full revolution, a pin attached to its arm will begin pushing Venus along with it. After Venus has completed a full circle, its own pin will pick up Earth, and so on all the way to Neptune. Neptune is then advanced to its correct location as reported by NASA, after which Mercury’s motion is reversed and the whole procedure is repeated in the opposite direction to position Uranus.

Cycling through the entire Solar System in this way takes a long time, which is why the planets’ positions are only updated once a day at midnight. An ESP32, also hidden inside the Sun, connects to the internet to retrieve the correct positions for the day and drives the motor. The planet models, sourced from a museum shop, are hanging from thin aluminium tubes attached to wooden mounts made with a desktop CNC machine.

[Illusionmanager] made a detailed Instructables page showing the process of making a miniature version of the mechanism using just laser-cut wooden parts, as an update to a version we featured earlier. We really like the simplicity of this design, which stands in stark contrast to the huge gear trains used in more traditional orreries.

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