A Supercapacitor From Mushrooms

The supercapacitor is an extremely promising energy storage technology, and though they have yet to reach parity with the best batteries in terms of energy density, offers considerable promise for a future of safe and affordable energy storage. Perhaps best of all from our point of view, they are surprisingly simple to make. A practical supercapacitor can be made on the bench by almost anyone, as the ever-resourceful [Robert Murray-Smith] demonstrates using mushrooms as his feedstock.

The idea of a supercapacitor is to replace the flat plate on the simple capacitor from your physics textbook with one that has as large a surface area as possible for charge to accumulate on. In this case the surface is formed from organic charcoal, a substance which retains something of the microscopic structure of whatever it was made from. Mushrooms are a good feedstock, because their mycelium structure has a naturally huge surface area. He takes us in the video below the break through the process of carbonizing them, much easier when you have a handy kiln than trying the charcoal-burner method, and then grinds them to a powder before applying them as a paste with a binder to a piece of graphite foil. With two of these electrodes and a piece of paper towel as a dielectric, he demonstrates a simple benchtop supercapacitor running a small electric motor for a surprisingly longer time than we expected.

We’d like to see further work on home made supercapacitors, as we believe they have immense potential as well as storing the stuff. Meanwhile, this is by no means the most unexpected supercapacitor material we’ve seen.

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Why Is My 470uF Electrolytic Cap More Like 20uF?

The simple capacitor equivalent circuit taught in school

Inductors are more like a resistor in series with an ideal inductor, resistors can be inductors as well, and well, capacitors aren’t just simply a capacitance in a package. Little with electronics is as plain and simple in reality as basic theory would have you believe. [Tahmid Mahbub] was measuring an electrolytic capacitor with an LCR and noticed it measuring 19 uF despite the device being rated at 470 uF. This was because such parts are usually specified at low frequencies, and at a mere 100 kHz, it was measuring way out of the specification they were expecting. [Tahmid] goes into a fair bit of detail regarding how to model the equivalent circuit of a typical electrolytic capacitor and how to determine with a bit more accuracy what to expect.

An aluminium electrolytic capacitor is more like this

The basic equivalent circuit for a capacitor has a series resistance and inductance, which covers the connecting leads and any internal tabs on the plates. A large-valued parallel resistor models the leakage through the dielectric in series with the ideal capacitance, which is responsible for the capacitor’s self-discharge property. However, this model is still too simple for some use cases. A more interesting model, shown to the left, comprises a ladder of distributed capacitances and associated resistances that result in a progressively longer time-constant component as you move from C1 to C5. This resembles more closely the linear structure of the capacitor, with its rolled-up construction. This model is hard to use in any practical sense due to the need to determine values for the components from a physical part. Still, it is useful to understand why such capacitors perform far worse than you would expect from just a simple equivalent model that looks at the connecting leads and little else.

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Fire Up The 3D Printer And Build Yourself A Spiderbot

Robots are cool, so check out [Atlin Anderson]’s Spiderbot (video, embedded below) which can be made with 3D printed parts, hobby servos, and ESP32-CAM module for control and a first-person view. Looking for a new project? All of the design details are shared online if you’d like to make a hexapod of your own.

We like the effort [Atlin] put into minimizing hardware fasteners in the design of the 3D-printed parts, and aiming for a modular concept that leaves things open for expansion or modification. There’s plenty of room in the chassis for more hardware, with a convenient peg system for snap-fitting assemblies.

Control is done wirelessly via a mobile phone with an app created using the MIT App Inventor, a fantastic tool that is still going strong as a capable and accessible way to make an Android app.

As for the ESP32-CAM module that drives it all, it is a great piece of hardware with capabilities that are leveraged very nicely here. We’ve seen other projects make good use of it as well, from this 1/64 scale micro RC car to an oddball tripod camera robot.

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The laptop in question, with the LCD-bearing top half printed in pink, and the bottom half showing off the Thinkpad keyboard.

Pinkpad, A DIY Laptop You Must Print In Pink

Looking to build a laptop all on your own? Check out the Pinkpad, a DIY laptop project that as if appeared out of nowhere, gives you a based on an off-the-shelf Dell motherboard. This build projects an aura of unabashed competence – the website brings you to a different universe, the documentation is as curt as it is extensive, and the build evidently works.

With a Thinkpad x61 keyboard, a reasonably modern (Dell Vostro 5481, Ryzen possible) motherboard embeddable inside, and a 10″ 1024×768 screen, this ~11″ laptop packs a certain kind of punch for what’s a build-it-yourself project. Most of the value of this design is in the 3D files – which were done in Google SketchUp, and the laptop is small enough that you could print its shell reasonably quickly. Not that you should follow the parts list religiously – the screen in particular might just warrant reconsideration in your eyes. On the other hand, we wish you all the luck on your SketchUp journey if you want to modify the shell. It also isn’t lost on us that the parts list doesn’t list a battery in it.

This is an impressive project to see open-sourced, and we hope it can inspire some hackers in the custom laptop building cohort. One prominent flaw of consumer-facing technology is that you can’t always get your devices in pink, and printing your laptop’s chassis yourself is a surefire way to combat this. If this laptop’s form-factor is too commonplace for you, we’ve seen no shortage of custom laptops grace our pages, from miniature ones to CRT luggable beasts, and click on the tags below if you’d like to see more!

We thank [Max_UA] for sharing this with us!

SatCat5: UART, SPI And I2C Via Ethernet With FPGA-Based Design

Arty A7-based prototype of SatCat5 with custom switch I/O board. (Credit: The Aerospace Corporation)
Arty A7-based prototype of SatCat5 with custom switch I/O board. (Credit: The Aerospace Corporation)

To the average microcontroller, Ethernet networks are quite a step up from the basic I2C, SPI and UART interfaces, requiring either a built-in Ethernet MAC or SPI-based MAC, with tedious translation between Ethernet and those other interfaces. Yet what if this translation could be done automatically and transparently?  This is what the SatCat5 FPGA-based project by [The Aerospace Corporation] aims to provide: a gateway akin to an unmanaged Ethernet switch that also supports those non-Ethernet links. Recently they answered a range of questions about the project on Hacker News.

The project name comes from the primary target audience: smallsat and cubesat developers, which is an area where being able to route more traffic over a common Ethernet-based bus is a major boon. The provided Xilinx Artix-7-based reference design (pictured) gives a good idea of how it can be used: it combines an Arty A7 development board with a custom PCB containing an Ethernet switch IC (SJA1105), TJA1100 transceiver, two RJ45 jacks and four PMOD connectors, here connected to two UARTs for bidirectional communication between them. Ethernet frame encapsulation is provided using the standard Serial Line Internet Protocol (SLIP), with more details covered in the FAQ. At a minimum an FPGA like a Lattice iCE40 is required, with an MCU capable of using the provided C++ libraries, or a custom implementation.

Thanks to [STR-Alorman] for the tip.

How Star Trek Breached The Defences Of A Major Broadcaster

Back in 2020 in the brief lull between COVID lockdowns in the UK, I found myself abruptly on the move, with a very short time indeed to move my possessions into storage. As I was going through the accumulated electronic detritus of over four decades, I happened upon a grey box with some wires hanging out of it, and more than a few memories. This was a Sky VideoCrypt decoder, and the wires were part of the so-called “Season” interface to attach it to the serial port of a PC. It had this modification in the hope of catching some unauthorised free satellite TV, and in its day this particular hack caused some headaches for the broadcaster.

When More Than 4 Channels Was A Novelty

Patrick Stewart, as Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Composite image, via Wikimedia commons.
Break encryption? This man can make it so. Stefan Kühn, CC BY-SA 3.0.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, there was very little in the way of digital broadcasting on either satellites or terrestrial networks, almost everything on TV was sent out as standard definition analogue video. The four terrestrial channels where I grew up were all free-to-air, and if you had a satellite dish you could point it at any one of a variety of satellites and receive more free-to-air channels if you didn’t mind most of them being in German. Premium satellite programming was encrypted though, either through a range of proprietary analogue schemes, or for the British broadcaster Sky’s offering, through their VideoCrypt system. This used a 64 kB buffer to store each line of video, and rotate it round any one of 256 points along its length, resulting in an unintelligible picture.

Sky was the UK’s big gorilla of premium broadcasters, a role they kept for many years, and which was only eroded by the advent of streaming services. As such they snapped up exclusive first access to much of the most desirable content of the day, restricting it to only their British pay-to-subscribe customers. A viewer in the UK who grumbled about Star Trek Next Generation not being on the BBC could at least cough up for Sky, but if they didn’t have a British address they were out of luck. It was in this commercial decision, whether it was based upon business or on licensing, that Sky unwittingly sowed the seeds of Videocrypt’s demise.


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6502 Hacking Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, April 3rd at noon Pacific for the 6502 Hacking Hack Chat with Anders Nielsen!

Back in the early days of the personal computing revolution, you could have any chip you wanted…as long as it was 8-bits. We’ve come a long way since then, and while nobody seriously hopes for a wholesale return to the time when a Commodore 64 or Apple II was the home computing power play, there’s still a lot to be said for the seat-of-the-pants feeling of the day. Our engineering forebears had their work cut out for them, and building the home PC revolution from the ground up with microprocessors that by today’s standards were laughably limited is something worth celebrating.

join-hack-chatEvery retrocomputing enthusiast has their own favorite chip, and for Anders, it’s obviously the 6502 — enough to give birth to his 65uino project, which put the storied microprocessor at the heart of an Arduino pin-compatible microcontroller. It’s a neat project that seems to have caught a lot of people’s imaginations and opened up a world of hardware and software hacks that modern hardware just doesn’t need.

Getting closer to the silicon is the goal of retrocomputing, and Anders is making it easy to get involved. And we’re lucky enough to have him stop by the Hack Chat to talk all about teaching the 6502 some 21st-century tricks. Stop by and join in the discussion, and maybe you’ll catch the 8-bit bug too.

Our Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, April 3 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you tied up, we have a handy time zone converter.