Homebrew Gel Fuel Keeps The Steam Coming, Legally

All it takes is one knucklehead to go and do something stupid to screw things up for everyone. We’re not exactly sure who the knucklehead is behind the recent ban on hexamine fuel tablets, but given that it’s now proscribed in the UK under the “Control of Poisons and Explosives Precursors Regulations 2023,” we expect that that story is a doozy.

So what’s hexamine, and why should we care if it’s banned? As [Markus Bindhammer] explains, hexamine is a solid fuel commonly used to power model steam engines, among myriad other uses. Its ban leaves a bit of a hole in the model steam community, which [Markus] seeks to fill with this quick and easy gel fuel chemistry project.

The “California Snowball” is a homebrew version of what’s in those solid fuel cans you see heating chafing pans at catered events, with one common brand being Sterno. [Markus] used a saturated solution of calcium acetate (6 g in 50 ml of water) and added that to 150 ml of ethanol; commercial formulations usually use methanol to prevent anyone from drinking the stuff, with varying degrees of success. The calcium acetate forms a gel that looks like whipped cream and traps the ethanol inside. The gel can be easily scooped up and spread around, and burns with a clean, smokeless flame.

It may not exactly be a “plug and play” replacement for hexamine tablets, but one does what one can. And if there’s one thing we can celebrate about model steam engineers, it’s their persistence. We got a bunch of them together last year for a Hack Chat with [Quinn Dunki], and their passion for making things move with steam was pretty impressive.

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Multi-View Wire Art Meets Generative AI

DreamWire is a system for generating multi-view wire art using machine learning techniques to help generate the patterns required.

The 3-dimensional wire pattern in the center creates images of Einstein, Turing, and Newton depending on viewing angle.

What’s wire art? It’s a three-dimensional twisted mass of lines which, when viewed from a certain perspective, yields an image. Multi-view wire art produces different images from the same mass depending on the viewing angle, and as one can imagine, such things get very complex, very quickly.

A recently-released paper explains how the system works, explaining the role generative AI plays in being uniquely suited to create meaningful intersections between multiple inputs. There’s also a video (embedded just under the page break) that showcases many of the results researchers obtained.

The GitHub repository for the project doesn’t have much in it yet, but it’s a good place to keep an eye on if you’re interested in what comes next.

We’ve seen generative AI applied in a similarly novel way to help create visual anagrams, or 2D patterns that can be interpreted differently based on a variety of orientations and permutations. These sorts of systems still need to be guided by a human, but having machine learning do the heavy lifting allows just about anybody to explore their creativity.

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FLOSS Weekly Episode 762: Spilling The Tea

Editor’s Note: We’re excited to announce that Hackaday is the new home of FLOSS Weekly, a long-running podcast about free, libre, and open-source software! The TWiT network hosted the podcast for an incredible seventeen years, but due to some changes on their end, they recently had to wind things down. They were gracious enough to let us pick up the torch, with Jonathan Bennett now taking over hosting duties.

Tune in every Wednesday for a new episode, featuring interviews with developers and project leaders, coverage of the free/libre software you use everyday (maybe without even knowing it), and the latest Open Source news.

This week Jonathan Bennett and Simon Phipps talk with Neal Gompa of Fedora, CentOS, openSUSE and more. The conversation starts off with asking Neal how he went from working on a minor project 11 years ago, to being the lead of KDE on Fedora. How does a company properly sponsor Open Source development? Neal speaks from his experience at Red Hat and other places, to give some really interesting answers.

The crew move on to what happened at Red Hat with CentOS, and why just maybe it was a good thing. Is the age of a company a good indicator of how they will treat Open Source? Is CentOS Stream the best thing to happen to Red Hat Enterprise Linux? What was it like to be at Red Hat during that time? How does a company manage the tension between sales and engineering? We cover this and more!

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Slab Casting – A New Way To Combine 3D Printing And Ceramics

Slip casting can be messy both in processing and in making the original plaster mold. What if there was a better way, thanks to 3D printing?

[Allie Katz] has developed a new technique using 3D printed slab molds to make ceramics. By combining the ability of 3D printing to make intricate designs and the formability of clay, they have found a way to make reproducible clay objects without all that tedious mucking about with liquid clay.

[Katz] takes us through a quick “Mould Making 101” before showing how the slab casting press molds were made. Starting with a positive CAD design, the molds were designed to eliminate undercuts and allow for air infiltration since a plastic mold can’t suck the water out of the clay like a plaster one would. Some cookie clay cutters were also designed to help with the trickier bits of geometry. Once everything was printed, the molds were coated with cornstarch and clay was pressed in. After removal, any final details like handles can be added and the pieces are then fired as normal.

If you’d like to see some more 3D printing mixed up with ceramics, check out 3D printing glass with a laser, reliable ceramic slurry printing, or this TPU-based approach.

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Animated gif of large 1950s computer spitting out a sheet of paper.

Retrotechtacular: 1960s Doc Calls Computers The Universal Machine

It’s weird to think that an abacus would have still been used sixty years ago, or so posits the documentary series The Computer and the Mind of Man. This six part series originally aired on San Francisco local television station KQED in 1962, a time where few people outside of academia had even stood next to such a device.

Episode 3 titled “The Universal Machine” was dedicated to teaching the public how a computer can enhance every type of business provided humans can sufficiently describe it in coded logic. Though mainly filtered through IBM’s perspective as the company was responsible for funding the set of films; learning how experts of the time contextualized the computer’s potential was illuminating.

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Illustrated Kristina with an IBM Model M keyboard floating between her hands.

Keebin’ With Kristina: The One With All The LEGO

It seems like mechanical keyboard enthusiasts are more spoiled for choice with each passing day. But as broad as the open source pool has become, there’s still no perfect keyboard for everyone. So, as people innovate toward their own personal endgame peripherals and make them open source, the pool just grows and grows.

Image by [Bo Yao] via Hackaday.IO
This beautiful addition to the glittering pool — [Bo Yao]’s Carpenter Tau keyboard — is meant to provide an elegant option at a particular intersection where no keyboards currently exist — the holy trinity of open source, programmable, and tri-mode connectivity: wired, Bluetooth, and 2.4 GHz.

Come for the lovely wooden everything, and stay for the in-depth logs as [Bo Yao] introduces the project and its roots, reviews various options for the controller, discusses the manufacture of the wooden parts, and creates the schematic for the 61-key version. Don’t want to build one yourself? It’ll be on Crowd Supply soon enough.

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A Transistor, But For Heat Instead Of Electrons

Researchers at UCLA recently developed what they are calling a thermal transistor: a solid-state device able to control the flow of heat with an electric field. This opens the door to controlling the transfer of heat in some of the same ways we are used to controlling electronics.

Heat management can be a crucial task, especially where electronics are involved. The usual way to manage heat is to draw it out with things like heat sinks. If heat isn’t radiating away fast enough, a fan can be turned on (or sped up) to meet targets. Compared to the precision and control with which modern semiconductors shuttle electrons about, the ability to actively manage heat seems lacking.

This new device can rapidly adjust thermal conductivity of a channel based on an electrical field input, which is very similar to what a transistor does for electrical conductivity. Applying an electrical field modifies the strength of molecular bonds in a cage-like array of molecules, which in turn adjusts their thermal conductivity.

It’s still early, but this research may open the door to better control of heat within semiconductor systems. This is especially interesting considering that 3D chips have been picking up speed for years (stacking components is already a thing, it’s called Package-on-Package assembly) and the denser and deeper semiconductors get, the harder it is to passively pull heat out.

Thanks to [Jacob] for the tip!