Interactive Cake Takes Your Picture

[Abigail] is a confectionery roboticist, and [Hazal] is a developer advocate at a robotics company. The two met recently and decided to collaborate on a smart cake, with amusing results.

The resulting cake not only looks like a camera it also has a camera inside. When the camera detects people in its field of view, a NeoPixel is lit up in green to signal it’s spotted something. If you so desire, you can then hit a button and the cakera (cake-camera, keep up) will take your photo.

The cake itself looks to be a sponge of some sort with fondant used to create the camera housing and a surround for the preview screen. Inside the cake is a standard photo-booth style setup built with a Raspberry Pi. The Pi is responsible for taking photos with a USB cam. It does this when instructed via an arcade button acting as the shutter release. After taking a photo, the Pi prints out a receipt with an Adafruit thermal printer. This provides the user a number they can use to receive their photo afterward.

We’ve seen some neat cakes before, too. If you’ve been hacking on cakes, either edible or theoretical, we might just want to know more. Drop us a line!

Clever E-Ink Driver Does 32 Levels Of Grey, Avoids Update Flicker, And More

There’s a lot to like about E-Ink displays, and you might be about to like them even more with [antirez]’s MicroPython driver for the Badger 2040 (or any display based on the UC8151 / IL0373) because it brings all kinds of useful features to your next project.

E-Ink displays are great. They are high contrast, daylight-readable, and require zero power to maintain a displayed image. But a few things come with the territory: displays have slow refresh rates compared to other display types, expect flickering during screen changes, and the displays are monochrome. [Antirez]’s new driver not only provides a MicroPython interface but goes in some fantastic directions that challenge those usual drawbacks.

Probably the most striking is the ability to display greyscale images without relying on dithering, which means the results avoid the charmingly gritty look of old-school dithering. Dithering has its place, but it’s not always the best choice, so options are great.

Similarly, display flicker may be a small price to pay for some, but if the obvious flicker is too boorish and crude-looking one can use an anti-flicker refresh mode that greatly limits flickering at the cost of update speed. Over time some image ghosting will accumulate which necessitates an occasional whole-screen refresh, but the effect is overall much nicer when updating something like a clock face.

How is this all done? It turns out that the controller chips for these displays are highly configurable, and it’s possible to do much more than simply drive the display in known-good and completely approved modes. It’s also entirely possible to permanently damage one’s display by doing so. Part of what makes [antirez]’s work so appealing is that he has already done the work finding workable configurations.

His driver is designed using computed LUTs (look-up tables) that make using and exploring alternative refresh modes easy and efficient, invaluable for exploring the capabilities of a patented, poorly documented technology like E-Paper displays.

We’ve seen the Badger 2040 E-Ink display in a teapot timer and a custom macropad, and [antirez]’s uc8151_micropython project is a fantastic step forward. And don’t miss another of [antirez]’s clever microcontroller hacks: playing audio without a DAC.

Building A Tribute Version Of Mattel’s VertiBird Toy

Mattel had a ton of hit toys in the 20th century. In the early 1970s, the VertiBird was one of them, letting kids pretend to fly a helicopter in circles on their loungeroom floor. An original VertiBird can be hard to come by these days, but what if you could make your own? Well, [Gord Payne] did just that!

The design of the VertiBird is simple enough that it’s easy to replicate with a 3D printer. It features a helicopter on a rod that spins around a central base. The helicopter itself has a rotor powered by a motor, with variable speed control to vary the lift it produces. The helicopter’s flight can be controlled in a circular path around the base using throttle and pitch controls. [Gord’s] build was inspired by an earlier replica from [Luke J Barker] and borrows some parts from it, too. However, this build uses an ATTiny85 microcontroller to control the helicopter’s tilt and direction with the aid of a servo.

It’s great to see this classic toy recreated from scratch, particularly given the enormous cost of original sets these days. It’s also great fun to watch [Gord] execute an aerial rescue with the toy, too. Video after the break.

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Tiny Signal Generator Revealed

There was a time when test equipment was big and heavy. Those days are gone, and [Kiss Analog] shows us the inside of a Uni-T UTG962E arbitrary waveform generator. The device is truly tiny. You might think this is due to the dense packing of the circuit board. However, one board is packed but the other board seems to have a high degree of integration on one IC. You can check out the video below.

The main processor is some sort of ARM — we think an STM32F-series part. The markings were hard to make out under the microscope.

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New Pens For Old Plotters

Finding consumables is an ever-present problem facing anyone working with old computer hardware. Many of these devices ceased manufacture decades ago and what old stock remains is invariably degraded by time. [Retrohax] has encountered it with the pens for an Atari plotter, a machine that uses an ALPS mechanism that appears in more than one 1980s machine. The original pens had dried out beyond the ability to refill, so he takes us through the process of finding replacements.

Sadly there are no equivalent modern pens ripe for modification, so whatever replacement he used would have to involve a little lateral thinking. He thought salvation was at hand in the form of multicolor ballpoint refills of the type where the ink is in an easily cuttable plastic tube. [Retrohax] and was able to make a 3D-printed holder for a cut-down ballpoint refill. Sadly the pressure required for a good line from a ballpoint was much higher than the original pens, so he was back to square one. Then he happened upon gel pens and tried the same trick with a gel pen refill. This gave instant success and should provide a valid technique for more than just this ALPS mechanism.

If you haven’t got a classic plotter to hand, never fear. You can have a go at making your own.

It’s About Time

I’m pretty good with time zones. After all, I live in Germany, Hackaday’s server is in Los Angeles, and our writers are scattered all over the globe. I’m always translating one time into another, and practice makes (nearly) perfect. But still, it got me.

I was in the states visiting my parents, when Daylight Saving Time struck, but only in the USA. Now all my time conversions were off by an hour, and once I’d worked through the way the sun travels around the globe, I thought I had it made. And then my cell phone started reporting a time that was neither CEST nor EDT, but a third time zone that was an hour off. Apparently some cell towers don’t transmit time zone information, and my phone defaults to UTC. Who knew? For a short while, my phone lied to me, the microwave oven clock in the hotel lied to me, and I felt like I was going nuts.

But this all got me thinking about clocks and human time, and possibly the best advice I’ve ever heard for handling it in your own programs. Always keep time in something sensible like UNIX time – seconds elapsed since an epoch – because you don’t have to worry about anything more than adding one to a counter every second. When and if you need to convert to or from human times, you can write the function to do that simply enough, if you don’t already have a library function to do so.

Want to set an alarm for 2 hours from now? That’s easy, because you only need to add 7,200 seconds, and you don’t need to worry about 59 wrapping around to 0 or 23:59 to 0:00. Time math is easy in seconds. February 29th? That’s just another 86,400 seconds. It’s only us humans who make it complicated.

A Low-Cost ROM Programmer With An AI Twist

There are 0x10 ways to look at ROM programmers: they’re either relatively low-cost tools that let you quickly get about the business of programming vintage ROMs and get back to your retrocomputing activities, or they’re egregiously overpriced on a per-use basis. [Anders Nielsen] seems to land in the latter camp, firmly enough that he not only designed a dedicated ROM programmer for his 65uino ecosystem, but also suffered the indignities of enlisting ChatGPT to “help” him program the thing.

We’ll explain. [Anders]’ 65uino project has been going on for a while, with low-cost ROM programming only the latest effort. To his way of thinking, a $60 or $70 programmer might just be a significant barrier to those trying to break into retrocomputing, and besides, he seems to be more about the journey than the destination. He recently tackled the problem of generating the right programming voltages; here he turns his attention to putting that to work programming vintage ROMs like the W27C512.

Doing so with a 6502-based Arduino-compatible microcontroller requires some silicon calisthenics, including a trio of shift registers to do the addressing using a minimum of GPIO. As for the ChatGPT part, [Anders] thought asking the chatbot to help write some of the code would be a great way to increase his productivity. We thought so too, at least once, and like us, [Anders] concluded that while perhaps helpful in a broad sense, the amount of work you put into checking a chatbot’s work probably exceeds the work saved. But no matter, because in the end the code and the hardware came together to create a prototype ROM programmer for only about $10 worth of parts.

True, the resulting circuit is a bit complex, at least on a breadboard. It should clean up nicely for an eventual PCB version, though, one that plugs right into the 65uino board or even other microcontrollers. Either way, it could make creating custom ROMs for the 65uino a little more accessible.

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