Hackaday Links: May 26, 2024

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Another day, another crop of newly minted minimal astronauts, as Blue Origin’s New Shepard made a successful suborbital flight this week. Everything seemed to go according to plan, at least until right at the end, when an “unexpected foliage contingency” made astronaut egress a little more complicated than usual. The New Shepard capsule had the bad taste to touch down with a bit of West Texas shrubbery directly aligned with the hatch, making it difficult to find good footing for the platform used by the astronauts for the obligatory “smile and wave” upon exiting. The Blue Origin ground crew, clad in their stylish black and blue outfits that must be murderously impractical in the West Texas desert, stamped down the brush to place the stairway, but had a lot of trouble getting it to sit straight. Even with the impromptu landscaping, the terrain made it tough to get good footing without adding random bits of stuff to prop up one leg, an important task considering that one of the new astronauts was a 90-year-old man. It seems pretty short-sighted not to have adjustable legs on the stairway, but there it is.

Over the years, this space has recorded the closure of multiple brick-and-mortar surplus stores in a sort of slow-motion death spiral. While each one is a loss to the hobbyist community, this one hits close to home because it’s the only one we’ve actually visited in person. “You-Do-It Electronics Center” was a fixture of the Boston surplus scene for 75 years, a remnant of a time when dozens of major manufacturers made homes in the suburbs within the I-95/Route 128 loop — all roads in Massachusetts have at least two names. Digital Equipment Corp., Wang, Data General, and Polaroid, not to mention defense contractors like Raytheon and institutions like MIT and Lincoln Laboratories, all contributed to the abundance of electronic surplus, and a lot of it ended up on the shelves at You-Do-It’s enormous store. We remember spending an afternoon there and feeling a little like being at Disneyworld — there was way too much to see in just one day, and you could easily spend a lot of money. The announcement doesn’t state a reason for the closure, but we’ll guess that it’s just not possible for the owners to keep up with the decreasing demand for random bits and pieces of electronics. Farewell, You-Do-It, and thanks for the memories.

If you enjoy working on vehicles as much as we do, you’re sure to have run into a job that would have been a lot easier if you only had access to the original shop manuals for the car. We’ve been in that boat before and been sorely tempted to shell out whatever the manufacturer demands for a paper copy of the manual, price be damned. Or, there’s Operation CHARM, or Collection of High-quality Auto Repair Manuals, which is exactly what it sounds like — an online archive of scanned manuals for virtually every car or truck made between 1982 and 2013. We’ve checked out the Toyota offerings, and while navigation is a bit idiosyncratic, the scan quality is pretty good. What’s really nice is that you can download a zip file with all the good stuff for offline use. At least theoretically; the servers were overloaded every time we tried. It’s hard to say what the rights situation is with this material or how long it will be before a takedown request, so strike while the iron is hot.

Here’s another con to add to your schedule: Teardown 2024. Scheduled for the weekend on June 21 in Portland, Oregon, Teardown looks like it’ll be a pretty good time. The CFP link is still active, so it looks like they’re still accepting proposals.

And finally, it’s the silliest toolchain we’ve ever seen: Compilerfax. First, print a hard copy of your C code, then fax it to a special phone number using a phone shaped like a hamburger. A Raspberry Pi will decode the fax and do OCR on it, submit the code to GCC for compilation, and generate a report with the output, if any. The Pi then calls back the original fax number and prints the report. Sadly but wisely, this service isn’t publically accessible, as it lives only on the private phone system of the York Hackerspace in the UK. But if you’re going to EMFCamp next week, you just might be able to give it a whirl.

5 thoughts on “Hackaday Links: May 26, 2024

    1. I like the sillyness of this approach!

      The modern scanner is a little distracting though. This would need an old school standalone fax machine.

      Writing code on the pc and printing it is a little off. Would that system accept hand written code? Many of us are old enough to have been trained to write code by hand on a piece of paper in exams.. How many tries until this compiles?

      Would a workflow with manually created punch cards into a fax machine work?

  1. I grew up about a mile away from You-Do-It in the 60s with a father who was an electrical engineer who loved to build things from surplus gear (including our first TV). As far as I knew at the time, You-Do-It was more of an oversize Radio Shack store (or to be more period correct, an Allied or Lafayette Electronics), they sold kits, components, and diagnostic gear, not surplus electronics. For my surplus electronic needs during college days, I used to go to the Honeywell Computers Surplus Store in Framingham (about 20 miles away from You-Do-It), they had everything from core memory, populated PC boards, tubes of ICs, hard disks, to complete minicomputers. Digital Equipment Corporation also had a surplus store in Maynard, but I believe it was only open to employees.

  2. Thanks for the Operation Charm link. There were issues using my (old version of) Windows 10 (one is mentioned in the readme) “Some links don’t work on windows” (most don’t, due to some duplication and concatenation of the previous directory with the next directory in the path -as windows sees it anyway, but data is there to find manually. Also windows (this ver) wouldn’t unzip so used another utility. Cursory browse found a couple of specs I haven’t been able to find recently. Much appreciated.

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