All About CRTs

For old-timers, CRTs — cathode ray tubes — were fixtures as kids sat in front of TVs watching everything from Howdy Doody to Star Trek. But there’s at least one generation that thinks TVs and computer monitors are flat. If that describes you, you might enjoy [The 8-Bit Guy’s] coverage of how CRTs work in the video below.

CRTs were heavy, took high voltage, and had a dangerous vacuum inside, so we really don’t miss them. The phosphor on the screen had a tendency to “burn in” if you showed the same image over and over. We don’t miss that either.

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Paul Allen’s Living Computers Museum And Labs To Be Auctioned

After the Living Computers museum in Seattle closed like so many museums and businesses in 2020 with the pandemic, there were many who feared that it might not open again. Four years later this fear has become reality, as the Living Computers: Museum + Labs (LCM+L, for short) entire inventory is being auctioned off. This occurs only 12 years after the museum and associated educational facilities were opened to the public. Along with Allen’s collection at the LCM+L, other items that he had been collecting until his death in 2018 will also be auctioned at Christie’s, for a grand total of 150 items in the Gen One: Innovations from the Paul G. Allen Collection.

In 2022 Allen’s art collection had seen the auction block, but this time it would seem that the hammer has come for this museum. Unique about LCM+L was that it featured vintage computing systems that visitors could interact with and use much like they would have been used back in the day, rather than being merely static display pieces, hence the ‘living computers’ part. Although other vintage computing museums in the US and elsewhere now also allow for such interactive displays, it’s sad to see the only major vintage computing museum in Washington State vanish.

Hopefully the items being auctioned will find loving homes, ideally at other museums and with collectors who aren’t afraid to keep the educational spirit of LCM+L alive.

Thanks to [adistuder] for the tip.

Top image: A roughly 180° panorama of the “conditioned” room of the Living Computer Museum, Seattle, Washington, USA. Taken in 2014. (Credit: Joe Mabel)

3D Scanning, Phone Edition

It seems to make sense. If you have a 3D printer, you might wish you could just scan some kind of part and print it — sort of like a 3D photocopier. Every time we think about this, though, we watch a few videos and are instantly disappointed by the results, especially with cheap scanners. If you go the hardware route, even cheap is relative. However, you can — in theory — put an app on your phone to do the scanning. Some of the apps are free, and some have varying costs, but, again, it seems like a lot of work for an often poor result. So we were very interested in the video from [My 3D Print Lab] where he uses his phone and quite a few different apps and objectively compares them.

Unsurprisingly, one of the most expensive packages that required a monthly or annual subscription created an excellent scan. He didn’t print from it, though, because it would not let you download any models without a fee. The subject part was an ornate chess piece, and the program seems to have captured it nicely. He removed the background and turntable he was using with no problems.

Other apps didn’t fare as well, either missing some of the parts or failing to omit background elements. You may have to do some post-processing. Some of the other expensive options have free trials or other limits, but you can at least try them for free. One of the free trials let you do three free scans, but each scan took about 8 hours to process.

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Showing a Raspberry Pi 4 board connected to an ESP32 devboard using jumper wires for the purposes of this project

ESP-Hosted Turns ESP32 Into Linux WiFi/BT Adapter

While we are used to USB WiFi adapters, embedded devices typically use SDIO WiFi cards, and for good reasons – they’re way more low-power, don’t take up a USB port, don’t require a power-sipping USB hub, and the SDIO interface is widely available. However, SDIO cards and modules tend to be obscure and proprietary beyond reason. Enter ESP-Hosted – Espressif’s firmware and driver combination for ESP32 (press release)(GitHub), making your ESP32 into a WiFi module for either your Linux computer (ESP-Hosted-NG) or MCU (ESP-Hosted-FG). In particular, ESP-Hosted-NG his turns your SPI- or SDIO-connected ESP32 (including -S2/S3/C2/C3/C6 into a WiFi card, quite speedy and natively supported by the Linux network stack, as opposed to something like an AT command mode.

We’ve seen this done with ESP8266 before – repurposing an ESP8089 driver from sources found online, making an ESP8266 into a $2 WiFi adapter for something like a Pi. The ESP-Hosted project is Espressif-supported, and it works on the entire ESP32 lineup, through an SDIO or even SPI interface! It supports 802.11b/g/n and even Bluetooth, up to BLE5, either over an extra UART channel or the same SDIO/SPI channel; you can even get BT audio over I2S. If you have an SPI/SDIO port free and an ESP32 module handy, this might just be the perfect WiFi card for your Linux project!

There are some limitations – for instance, you can’t do AP mode in the NG (Linux-compatible) version. Also, part of the firmware has blobs in it, but a lot of the firmware and all of the driver are modifiable in case you need your ESP32 to do even more than Espressif has coded in – this is not fully open-source firmware, but it’s definitely way more than the Broadcom’s proprietary onboard Raspberry Pi WiFi chip. There’s plenty of documentation, and even some fun features like raw transport layer access. Also, of note is that this project supports ESP32-C6, which means you can equip your project with a RISC-V-based WiFi adapter.

Title image from [zhichunlee].

Injection Molding Using A 3D Printer

Recently [Stefan] of CNC Kitchen took a gander at using his gaggle of 3D printers to try injection molding (IM). Although the IM process generally requires metal molds and specialized machinery, 3D printers can be used for low-volume IM runs which is enough for limited production runs and prototyping before committing to producing expensive IM molds. In the case of [Stefan], he followed Form Labs’ guidance to produce molds from glass-infused Rigid 10K resin (heat deflection temperature of 218 °C). These molds are very rigid, as the ceramic-like noise when [Stefan] taps two together attests to.

Injection molded bolt, with imperfections on the head. (Credit: Stefan, CNC Kitchen)

The actual injection process is where things get more hairy for [Stefan], as he attempts to push the clamped-shut mold against the nozzle of the FDM printer to inject the molten plastic, rather than using an IM press. With PLA at standard extrusion temperature the plastic barely gets into the mold before solidifying, however. Following this, higher temperatures, different materials (PETG, TPU) and high flow-rate extruders are attempted, with varying results.

Many of the struggles would seem to be due to poor mold design, rather than fundamental issues with using an FDM. The Form Labs document details some of the basics, such as opening up the injection gate (to decrease pressure inside the mold), adding air vents to improve flow and so on. Commentators to the video with professional experience point out many of these issues as well, along with the benefits of preheating the mold.

With the caveat that most of the challenge is in making a good mold, we’ve even injection molding done with nothing more exotic than a hot glue gun. If you’ve got a friend, or a long enough lever, you can even inject the plastic by hand.

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The Amstrad E-m@iler, The Right Product With The Wrong Business Model

One of the joys of the UK’s Electromagnetic Field hacker camp lies in the junk table, where trash turns to treasure in the blink of an eye. This year I returned relatively unscathed from my few days rifling through the tables,but I did snag a few pieces. One of them is a wired telephone, which would be a fairly unremarkable find were it not for its flip-up LCD screen and QWERTY keyboard.

My prize is a 2002 Amstrad E-m@iler Plus, one of a series of internet-equipped telephones from the British budget electronics company. The device itself and the story behind it make for a fascinating tale of a dotcom-era Internet flop, and a piece of hardware that could almost tempt today’s hackers.

You’ve Heard Of The Dotcom Boom, But Have You Heard Of The Hardware?

In the late 1990s, everything was about the Internet, but seemingly few outside the kind of people who read Hackaday really understood what it was really about. I’ve written before on these page about how hype blinded the CD-ROM industry to the shortcomings of its technology, but while that had in reality only gripped the publishing business, the Internet hype which followed had everyone in its thrall. You’re probably familiar with the story of the dotcom boom and crash as startup companies raised millions on shaky foundations before folding when they couldn’t deliver, but in parallel with that there was also a parallel world for hardware. The future was going to be connected, but on what and whose hardware would that connection happen? Continue reading “The Amstrad E-m@iler, The Right Product With The Wrong Business Model”

Torment Poor Milton With Your Best Pixel Art

One of the great things about new tech tools is just having fun with them, like embracing your inner trickster god to mess with ‘Milton’, an AI trapped in an empty room.

Milton is trapped in a room is a pixel-art game with a simple premise: use a basic paint interface to add objects to the room, then watch and listen to Milton respond to them. That’s it? That’s it. The code is available on the GitHub repository, but there’s also a link to play it live without any kind of signup or anything. Give it a try if you have a few spare minutes.

Under the hood, the basic loop is to let the user add something to the room, send the picture of the room (with its new contents) off for image recognition, then get Milton’s reaction to it. Milton is equal parts annoyed and jumpy, and his speech and reactions reflect this.

The game is a bit of a concept demo for Open Souls whose “thing” is providing AIs with far more personality and relatable behaviors than one typically expects from large language models. Maybe this is just what’s needed for AI opponents in things like the putting game of Connect Fore! to level up their trash talking.