Bring A Hack Is Back This Thursday!

As the pandemic edges further into its second year, the tedium of life under lockdown is taking its toll. We may be fighting the spread of infection by staying home and having our meetings over video conferencing software, but it’s hellishly boring! What we wouldn’t do for our hackerspaces to be open, and for the chance to hang out and chew the fat about our lockdown projects!

Here at Hackaday we can bring some needed relief in the form of the Hackaday Remote: Bring-A-Hack held via Zoom on Thursday, April 8th, at 1pm Pacific time. We know you’ve been working hard over the last year, and since you’ve been denied the chance to share those projects in person, we know you just can’t wait to sign up. Last year’s Remoticon showed us the value of community get-togethers online, with both the team soldering challenge rounds and the bring-a-hack being particular event highlights, so it’s time for a fresh dose to keep up our spirits.

It doesn’t matter how large or small your project is, if it interests you other readers will also want to see it. Be prepared to tell the world how you made it, what problems you solved, and a bit about yourself, and then step back, take a bow, and be showered with virtual roses from the adoring masses. There’s a sign-up link if you have a project to show off Looks like we’re full up for planned presenations, but still come and bring your hacks for showing in conversation groups. Don’t hold back if you’re worried it’s not impressive enough, a certain Hackaday scribe has submitted an OpenSCAD library she’s working on.

Spacing Out: StarShip Explodes (Again), Passenger Space Flight, Space Bugs, Astronaut Bone, And Martian Water

This time I promise I only have a couple of stories from Elon Musk’s company. SpaceX’s latest Starship test launch ended in another explosion, proving that space hardware remains hard to get right. We’ll keep watching as they keep launching, and it can’t be long until they’ve ironed out all the problems. Meanwhile there’s brighter news from the company’s Crew Dragon, a modified version of the capsule with the forward docking ring replaced by a transparent dome is planned for launch in September with the company’s first flight carrying civilian passengers. It’s doubtless unwelcome news for Virgin Galactic, whose suborbital passenger flights are edging closer to reality with the unveiling of their first SpaceShip III craft. Finally, a Falcon 9 upper stage broke up on re-entry over the northwestern USA, giving observers on the ground a spactacular show.

Spectacular view of the Falcon 9 debris. Via Lu Jerz

Meanwhile up there in orbit there have been found on the ISS some strains of bacteria previously unknown to scientists on Earth, but it’s not yet time to panic about Mutant Bugs From Space. It seems these bacteria are of a type that is essential in the growing of plants, so it’s likely they originally hitched a ride up with one of the several plant-growing experiments that have taken place over the station’s lifetime. Staying on the ISS, astronauts visiting the station have been at the centre of a recently published study looking at loss of bone density over long periods in space. The bone experts found that bone density could still be lost despite the astronauts’ in-flight exercise programs, and concluded that exercise regimes pre-flight should be taken into account for future in-orbit exercise planning.

Further away from Earth, the ESA Mars Express satellite has been used for a multi-year study of water loss to space from the Martian atmosphere. The ESA scientists identified the seasonal mechanism that leads to the planet’s upper atmosphere having an excess of water and in particular the effect of the periodic planet-wide dust storms on accelerating water loss, but failed to account for the water that they estimate Mars must have lost over its history. From a study of water-created surface features they can estimate how much liquid the planet once had, yet the atmospheric losses fail to account for it all. Has it disappeared underground? More studies are required before we’ll have an answer.

The exciting news over the coming days will no doubt be the Ingenuity Martian helicopter, which we have seen slowly unfolding itself prior to unloading from the belly of the Perseverence rover. If all goes according to plan the little craft will be set down before the rover trundles off to a safe distance, and the historic flight will take place on April 8th. We’ll be on the edges of our seats, and no doubt you will be, too.

A Magnetic Field Strength Meter Using An Arduino

We’re used to Hall effect devices as proximity sensors in mechanical systems, used to provide detection of something that has a magnet attached to it. However it’s easy to forget that the devices that provide a magnet-or-not digital output are only part of the story, and linear Hall effect devices provide a handy way to measure a static magnetic field. It’s something [mircemk] demonstrates, with an Arduino-powered magnetic field strength meter that uses a UGN 3503U Hall effect device.

The circuit is extremely simple, comprising the sensor, an Arduino Nano, and an OLED display. This device is handy because its voltage output has a known relationship to the gauss level the sensor is experiencing, so while the accuracy of its calibration isn’t verified it can at least give a believable reading derived from the Arduino’s ADC.

The whole is wrapped up in an attractive case that looks as though it has been made from PCB material, with the sensor protruding on what seems to be the shell of a plastic ballpoint pen. It makes a handy instrument that provides a useful function for not a lot of money, so what’s not to like! Take a look at the video below the break for the full story.

Surprisingly such projects are few and far between here at Hackaday, however it’s not the first magnetic field measurement we’ve seen.

Continue reading “A Magnetic Field Strength Meter Using An Arduino”

Hiding Behind The Silkscreen: The Carolinacon 2021 Badge Has A Secret

The pandemic may have taken away many of our real-world events, but as they’ve gone online their badge teams have often carried on regardless. One of these comes from Carolinacon, and it’s decided to eschew the bleeding edge of electronic wizardry and instead push slightly at the boundaries of PCB art. It contains a hidden message in a copper layer behind a band of white silkscreen, which is revealed by a set of LEDs on the reverse of the board shining through the translucent FR4.

Electronics-wise it’s a pretty simple design, sporting only an ATtiny microcontroller and a photoresistor alongside the LEDs, and with the secret message being triggered when the badge is placed in the dark. The conference’s pig logo is eye-catching, but it has no pretences towards being a dev board or similar. The technique of LEDs behind copper and silkscreen is an interesting one though, and something that we think could bear more investigation in future designs. It’s pleasing to see that there are still new avenues to be taken in the world of PCB-based art.

This isn’t the first time this event has had an eye-catching badge, we’ve covered one of their previous offerings.

Reverse Engineering Silicon, One Transistor At A Time

Many of will have marveled at the feats of reverse engineering achieved by decapping integrated circuits and decoding their secrets by examining the raw silicon die. Few of us will have a go for ourselves, but that doesn’t stop the process being a fascinating one. Fortunately [Ryan Cornateanu] is on hand with a step-by-step description of his journey into the art of decapping, as he takes on what might seem an unlikely subject in the form of the CH340 USB to serial chip you’ll find on an Arduino Nano board.

Starting with hot sulphuric acid is probably not everyone’s idea of a day at the bench, but having used it to strip the epoxy from the CH340, he’s able to take a look under the microscope. This is no ordinary microscope but a metallurgists instrument designed to light the top of the sample from one side with polarised light. This allows him to identify an area of mask ROM and zoom in on the transistors that make each individual bit.

At this point the chemistry moves into the downright scary as he reaches for the hydrofluoric acid and has to use a PTFE container because HF is notorious for its voracious reactivity. This allows him to take away the interconnects and look at the transistor layer. He can then with a bit of computer vision processing help extract a bit layer map, which with some experimentation and guesswork can be manipulated into a firmware dump. Even then it’s not done, because he takes us into the world of disassembly of what is an unknown architecture. Definitely worth a read for the armchair chip enthusiast.

If you’re thirsty for more, of course we have to direct you towards the work of [Ken Shirriff].

Playing Snake On A PCB!

When conversation turns to the older Nokia mobile phones, it’s unlikely to be the long battery life or ability to conjure a signal out of thin air that tickles people’s memory, instead it’s the Snake game built into the stock firmware. Snake was an addictive yet extremely simple game in which a line of pixels — the snake in question — was navigated around the screen to eat the fruit without crashing into walls or itself. As the game progressed the snake grew in length, making it a surprisingly difficult challenge. If you hanker for Snake, as [VK5HSE ] writes, you can now play it in a PCB layout.

The software in question is PCB-RND, a cross-platform open-source PCB CAD tool, and the game is achieved through the magic of user scripting. Simply download the script, run it in your favourite circuit board, and away you go!

We can’t imagine a productive use for this piece of software, but it wouldn’t surprise us to see a snake slithering into a few boards we feature. It does provide a handy reminder though of the power in your PCB CAD tool’s scripting features, something it’s likely not many of us use to their full potential.

We’ve featured [VK5HSE]’s work with PCB-RND before, in a very useful Eagle import tool.

NFTs Are The Hope For A New Tomorrow!

Here at Hackaday, we’re always working as hard as we can to bring you the latest and most exciting technologies, and like so many people we’ve become convinced that the possibilities offered by the rise of the Blockchain present unrivaled opportunities for humanity to reinvent itself unfettered by the stifling regulations of a dying system. This is why today we’ve decided to join in with the digital cognoscenti and celebrities embracing Non-Fungible Tokens, or NFTs, as a new promise of non-corporeal digital investment cryptoasset that’s taking the world by storm.

Crypto Non-Fungible Investment Gains!

Imagine for a minute, yourself owning a very expensive car. Skievl, CC BY-SA 4.0.
Imagine for a minute, yourself owning a very expensive car. Skievl, CC BY-SA 4.0.

An NFT is a digital token representing something in the real world, and coupled to a unique ID held in a secure entry in the Blockchain. It’s non-fungible, which means that it’s unique and not interchangeable in the manner of a traditional old-style cryptoasset such as Bitcoin. As it allows a real-world object to be tokenised in digital form it represents a way to own something that provides an irrefutable connection to it as as a digital cryptoasset.

It’s a complex system that’s maybe too difficult to explain fully in a single article, but think of an NFT as a way to invest in a cryptoasset in digital form with its uniqueness guaranteed by Blockchain security, without having the inconvenience of physically owning it. Instead your NFT is safely held on a server on the Internet, and can’t be physically stolen as it would from a bank vault because it has the Blockchain cryptosecurity baked in.

Non Fungible Blockchain Cryptoassets!

You don't own this. Yet.
You don’t own this. Yet.

NFTs have so far found a space in the creative markets, where they have provided a revolutionary opportunity for artists to expand their sales in the digital realm by selling NFTs of their work. A struggling artist can now access buyers all over the world, who can in turn now invest with confidence in creative talent to which they would never otherwise be exposed. It’s a win-win situation in which both cryptoinvestor and artist benefit from The Power of the Blockchain.

Hackaday is excited to offer a once-in-a-lifetime chance to acquire a Blockchain-cryptosecured NFT representing one of our own articles; our first ever NFT is the only officially sanctioned digital copy of a Hackaday article presenting a novel method of handling toilet paper shortages. The original article will continue to exist on Hackaday.com with all rights reserved, but we will not make any other NFTs of it. We may also decide to update the original article to let everyone know you are the lucky owner of the only digital copy of this piece of greatness. That’s right, this NFT will let you prove you own a screenshot!

Having today sold you on the incredible cryptoinvestment opportunity offered by NFTs, we’ll be back on another date with a more sober and in-depth technical examination of the technology behind them. Meanwhile should our brief foray into NFTs garner any interest (and we really hope it does not), we will donate proceeds to the excellent Girls Who Code, a truly solid investment with a tangible bright future.

Thanks [Micah Scott] for some NFT consultancy during the making of this piece.