Ideas To Prototypes Hack Chat With Nick Bild

Join us on Wednesday, July 29 at noon Pacific for the Ideas to Prototypes Hack Chat with Nick Bild!

For most of us, ideas are easy to come by. Taking a shower can generate half of dozen of them, the bulk of which will be gone before your hair is dry. But a few ideas will stick, and eventually make it onto paper or its electronic equivalent, to be played with and tweaked until it coalesces into a plan. And a plan, if we’re lucky, is what’s needed to put that original idea into action, to bring it to fruition and see just what it can do.

No matter what you’re building, the ability to turn ideas into prototypes is what moves projects forward, and it’s what most of us live for. Seeing something on the bench or the shop floor that was once just a couple of back-of-the-napkin sketches, and before that only an abstract concept in your head, is immensely satisfying.

The path from idea to prototype, however, is not always a smooth one, as Nick Bild can attest. We’ve been covering Nick’s work for a while now, starting with his “nearly practical” breadboard 6502 computer, the Vectron, up to his recent forays into machine learning with ShAIdes, his home-automation controlling AI sunglasses. On the way we’ve seen his machine-learning pitch predictor, dazzle-proof glasses, and even a wardrobe-malfunction preventer.

All of Nick’s stuff is cool, to be sure, but there’s a method to his productivity, and we’ll talk about that and more in this Hack Chat. Join us as we dive into Nick’s projects and find out what he does to turn his ideas into prototypes.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, July 29 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about. Continue reading “Ideas To Prototypes Hack Chat With Nick Bild”

Mechanical Seven-Segment Display Really Sticks Out From The Pack

We’ve been displaying numbers using segmented displays for almost 120 years now, an invention that predates the LEDs that usually power the ubiquitous devices by a half-dozen decades or so. But LEDs are far from the only way to run a seven-segment display — check out this mechanical seven-segment display for proof of that.

We’ve been seeing a lot of mechanical seven-segment displays lately, and when we first spotted [indoorgeek]’s build, we thought it would be a variation on the common “flip-dot” mechanism. But this one is different; to form each numeral, the necessary segments protrude from the face of the display slightly. Everything is 3D-printed from white filament, yielding a clean look when the retracted but casting a sharp shadow when extended. Each segment carries a small magnet on the back which snuggles up against the steel core of a custom-wound electromagnet, which repels the magnet when energized and extends the segment. We thought for sure it would be loud, but the video below shows that it’s really quiet.

While we like the subtle contrast of the display, it might not be enough for some users, especially where side-lighting is impractical. In that case, they might want to look at this earlier similar display and try contrasting colors on the sides of each segment.

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Hackaday Links: July 26, 2020

An Australian teen is in hot water after he allegedly exposed sensitive medical information concerning COVID-19 patients being treated in a local hospital. While the authorities in Western Australia were quick to paint the unidentified teen as a malicious, balaclava-wearing hacker spending his idle days cracking into secure systems, a narrative local media were all too willing to parrot, reading down past the breathless headlines reveals the truth: the teen set up an SDR to receive unencrypted POCSAG pager data from a hospital, and built a web page to display it all in real-time. We’ve covered the use of unsecured pager networks in the medical profession before; this is a well-known problem that should not exactly take any infosec pros by surprise. Apparently authorities just hoped that nobody would spend $20 on an SDR and an afternoon putting it all together rather than address the real problem, and when found out they shifted the blame onto the kid.

Speaking of RF hacking, even though the 2020 HOPE Conference is going virtual, they’ll still be holding the RF Hacking Village. It’s not clear from the schedule how exactly that will happen; perhaps like this year’s GNU Radio Conference CTF Challenge, they’ll be distributing audio files for participants to decode. If someone attends HOPE, which starts this weekend, we’d love to hear a report on how the RF Village — and the Lockpicking Village and all the other attractions — are organized. Here’s hoping it’s as cool as DEFCON Safe Mode’s cassette tape mystery.

It looks like the Raspberry Pi family is about to get a big performance boost, with Eben Upton’s announcement that the upcoming Pi Compute Module 4 will hopefully support NVMe storage. The non-volatile memory express spec will allow speedy access to storage and make the many hacks Pi users use to increase access speed unnecessary. While the Compute Modules are targeted at embedded system designers, Upton also hinted that NVMe support might make it into the mainstream Pi line with a future Pi 4A.

Campfires on the sun? It sounds strange, but that’s what solar scientists are calling the bright spots revealed on our star’s surface by the newly commissioned ESA/NASA Solar Orbiter satellite. The orbiter recently returned its first images of the sun, which are extreme closeups of the roiling surface. They didn’t expect the first images, which are normally used to calibrate instruments and make sure everything is working, to reveal something new, but the (relatively) tiny bright spots are thought to be smaller versions of the larger solar flares we observe from Earth. There are some fascinating images coming back from the orbiter, and they’re well worth checking out.

And finally, although it’s an old article and has nothing to do with hacking, we stumbled upon Tim Urban’s look at the mathematics of human relations and found it fascinating enough to share. The gist is that everyone on the planet is related, and most of us are a lot more inbred than we would like to think, thanks to the exponential growth of everyone’s tree of ancestors. For example, you have 128 great-great-great-great-great-grandparents, who were probably alive in the early 1800s. That pool doubles in size with every generation you go back, until we eventually — sometime in the 1600s — have a pool of ancestors that exceeds the population of the planet at the time. This means that somewhere along the way, someone in your family tree was hanging out with someone else from a very nearby branch of the same tree. That union, likely between first or second cousins, produced the line that led to you. This is called pedigree collapse and it results in the pool of ancestors being greatly trimmed thanks to sharing grandparents. So the next time someone tells you they’re descended from 16th-century royalty, you can just tell them, “Oh yeah? Me too!” Probably.

Concentric Rings Keep This Calendar Perpetually Up To Date

The variety of ways that people find to show the passage of time never ceases to amaze us. Just when you think you’ve seen them all, someone comes up with something new and unusual, like the concentric rings of this automated perpetual calendar.

What we really like about the design that [tomatoskins] came up with is both its simplicity and its mystery. By hiding the mechanism, which is just a 3D-printed internal ring gear attached to the back of each ring, it invites people in to check it out closely and discover more. Doing so reveals that each ring is hanging from a pinion gear on a small stepper motor, which rotates it to the right point once a day or once a month. Most of the clock is made from wood, with the rings themselves made using the same technique that woodturners use to create blanks for turning bowls — or a Death Star. We love the look the method yields, although it could be even cooler with contrasting colors and grains for each segment. And there’s nothing stopping someone from reproducing this with laser-cut parts, or adding rings to display the time too.

Another nice tip in this write up is the trick [tomatoskins] used to label the rings, by transferring laser-printed characters from paper to wood using nothing but water-based polyurethane wood finish. That’s one to file away for another day.

This Four-Axis Stencil Printer Is The Ultimate In SMD Alignment Tools

Here at Hackaday we love all kinds of builds, and we celebrate anytime anyone puts parts together into something else. And while we love the quick and dirty builds, there’s just something about the fit and finish of this four-axis SMD stencil printer that really pushes our buttons.

This build comes to us from [Phillip], who like many surface-mount users was sick of the various tape-and-PCB methods that are commonly used to align the solder stencil with the PCB traces. His solution is this fully adjustable stencil holder made from aluminum extrusions joined by 3D-printed parts. The flip-up frame of the device has a pair of clamps for securely holding the stainless steel stencil. Springs on the clamp guide rods provide some preload to keep the stencil taut as well as protection from overtensioning.

The stencil can move in the X-, Y-, and Z-axes to line up with a PCB held with 3D-printed standoffs on a bed below the top frame. The bed itself rotates slightly to overcome any skew in alignment of the PCB. [Phillip] was aghast at the price of an off-the-shelf slew-ring bearing for that axis, but luckily was able to print up some parts and just use simple roller bearing to do the same thing for a fraction of the cost. The frame is shown in use below; the moment when the pads line up perfectly through the stencil holds is oddly satisfying.

This puts us in mind of a recent, similar stencil printer we covered. That one was far simpler, but either one of these beats the expedient alignment methods hands down.

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Homebrew 16-Bit Computer Is A Wire-Wrapped Work Of Art

Breadboard 8-bit computer builds seem all the rage these days, and with good reason: building your own CPU from the board up using discrete logic chips is a great way to really learn how microprocessors work. Not to mention that it’s an incredible flex. But once you’ve conquered the eight-bit, what do you do? Easy: build a 16-bit computer from 74HC logic chips.

Attentive readers will likely remember this computer’s builder, [Paulo Constantino], from his previous work on 8-bit breadboard computers. As gloriously entropic as that tangled mass of wires was, it must have been a nightmare for [Paulo] to maintain. And so when the time came to upgrade, he wisely chose a more integrated construction method. The construction method is wire-wrapping, with multiple cards plugged into backplane and connected by ribbon cables. The whole card cage is far neater than the previous build, and seems to lend itself to rapid modifications. The top card in the cage acts as a control panel for now; eventually, [Paulo] planes to put a real front panel on the cage to support all the switches and blinkenlights such builds demand. Stretch goals include supporting audio and video and getting the machine online so anyone can log in.

The video below is an overview of the current state of the machine; earlier videos in the playlist cover the design and build in more detail. We hope to see schematics soon, and we’d love to know where to get some of those wire-wrap PCBs for projects of our own.

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Jan Czochralski And The Silicon Revolution

If you were to travel back in time to the turn of the previous century and try to convince the average person that the grains of sand on just about any beach would be the basis of an industry worth hundreds of billions of dollars within 100 years, they’d probably have thought you were crazy. Aside from being coarse, rough, and irritating, sand is everywhere, and convincing anyone of its value would be a hard sell, unless your interlocutor was a real estate visionary with an appreciation of the future value of seaside property and a lot of patience.

Fast forward to our time, and we all know the value of the material that comes from common quartz sand: silicon, specifically the ultra-purified crystals of silicon that end up as the wafers we depend on to build the circuitry of life. The trip from beach to chip foundry is a long and non-obvious one which would not have been possible without the insights of an undistinguished Polish student and one-time druggist who discovered the process that made the Information Age possible: Jan Czochralski.

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