Lego House: Right Next To Denmark’s Legoland, But Way Cooler

If there is one thing that most Hackaday readers will know about Denmark, it is that it’s the home of the Lego brick. The toy first appeared at the end of the 1940s from the factory of Ole Kirk Christiansen‘s Lego company in Billund, central Denmark, and has remained inseparable from both the town and the country ever since.

When spending a week in Denmark for the BornHack hacker camp it made absolute sense to take a day out to drive up to Billund and visit the famous Legoland theme park. All those childhood dreams of seeing the fabled attraction would be satisfied, making the visit a day to remember.

Your first view of the Lego House, in the centre of Billund.
Your first view of the Lego House, in the centre of Billund.

The Danes at Bornhack however had other ideas. By all means go to Legoland they said, but also take in Lego House. As a Brit I’d never heard of it, so was quickly educated. It seems that while Legoland is a kid’s theme park, Lego House is a far more Lego-brick-focused experience, and in the view of the Danish hackers, much better.

Continue reading “Lego House: Right Next To Denmark’s Legoland, But Way Cooler”

Ask Hackaday: At What Point Is Hand Pick And Place Too Much Work?

Just a section from a render of the board in question. It's a daunting task for anyone facing it with a set of tweezers or a vacuum pencil.
Just a section from a render of the board in question. It’s a daunting task for anyone facing it with a set of tweezers or a vacuum pencil.

A friend of ours here at Hackaday has an audacious design in the works that we hope will one day become a prototype that we can feature here. That day may be a little while coming though, because it has somewhere close to a thousand of the smaller SMD components in multiple repeated blocks on a modestly sized board, and his quote from a Chinese board house for assembly is eye-watering. He lacks a pick-and-place machine of his own, and unsurprisingly the idea of doing the job by hand is a little daunting.

We can certainly feel his pain, for in the past we’ve been there. The job described in the linked article had a similar number of components with much more variety and on a much larger board, but still took two experienced engineers all day and into the night to populate. The solder paste had started to spread by the end, morphing from clearly defined blocks to an indistinct mush often covering more than one pad. Our eyes meanwhile were somewhat fatigued by the experience, and it’s not something any sane person would wish to repeat.

Mulling over our friend’s board and comparing it with the experience related above, are we on the edge of what is possible with hand pick-and-place, or should we be working at the next level? Board assembly is a finely judged matter of economics at a commercial level, but when at a one-off personal construction level the option of paying for assembly just isn’t there, is there a practical limit to the scale of the task? Where do you, our readers, draw the line? We’d love to hear your views.

Meanwhile our friend’s audacious project is still shrouded in a bit of secrecy, but we’ll continue to encourage him to show it to the world. It’s not often that you look at a circuit diagram and think “I wish I’d thought of that!”, but from what we’ve seen this fits the category. If he pulls it off then we’ll bring you the result.

PCB image, Andrew Magill (CC BY 2.0).

Anatomy Of A Power Outage: Explaining The August Outage Affecting 5% Of Britain

Without warning on an early August evening a significant proportion of the electricity grid in the UK went dark. It was still daylight so the disruption caused was not as large as it might have been, but it does highlight how we take a stable power grid for granted.

The story is a fascinating one of a 76-second chain of unexpected shutdown events in which individual systems reacted according to their programming, resulted in a partial grid load shedding — what we might refer to as a shutdown. [Mitch O’Neill] has provided an analysis of the official report which translates the timeline into easily accessible text.

It started with a lightning strike on a segment of the high-voltage National Grid, which triggered a transient surge and a consequent disconnect of about 500MW of small-scale generation such as solar farms. This in turn led to a large offshore wind farm deloading itself, and then a steam turbine at Little Barford power station. The grid responded by bringing emergency capacity online, presumably including the Dinorwig pumped-storage plant we visited back in 2017.

Perhaps the most interesting part followed is that the steam turbine was part of a combined cycle plant, processing the heat from a pair of gas turbine generators. As it came offline it caused the two gas turbines feeding it to experience high steam pressure, meaning that they too had to come offline. The grid had no further spare capacity at this point, and as its frequency dropped below a trigger point of 48.8 Hz an automatic deloading began, in effect a controlled shutdown of part of the grid to reduce load.

This is a hidden world that few outside the high-power generation and transmission industries will ever see, so it’s very much worth a read. It’s something we’ve touched on before with the South American grid shutdown back in June, and for entirely different reasons in 2018 when an international disagreement caused the entire European grid to slow down.

Header image: Little Barford combined-cycle power station against the sunset. Tony Foster, (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Complex Impedances Without The Pain

Any grizzled electronic engineer will tell you that RF work is hard. Maintaining impedance matching may be a case of cutting wires to length at lower frequencies, but into the low centimetre and millimetre wavelengths it becomes a Dark Art aided by mysterious and hugely expensive test equipment beyond the reach of mere mortals. A vector network analyser or VNA may be beyond the reach of many, but [Tomasz Wątorowski] is here to tell us about how with some resistors, mathematics, and a bit of lateral thinking its functions may be replicated with a more modestly equipped bench.

It’s not a method for the faint-hearted as the mathematics are of the variety that you probably learned as an undergraduate but let slip from your memory with thanks after the course ended. The method involves measuring the return loss both with and without a resistor of known value in series with the antenna, these figures allow the real and imaginary components of the antenna’s impedance to be calculated. There is a further piece of work though, this method doesn’t determine whether the antenna is capacitive or inductive. Repeating the measurement with either a capacitive or inductive matching network allows this to be determined, and the value of the appropriate matching component to be calculated.

If you are interested in this kind of work, start with a primer on RF design.

Complex impedance matching using scalar measurements, math and resistors

BornHack 2019, A Laid-Back Hacker Camp In A Danish Forest

This is a fantastic summer for hacker camps and I was very happy to make it to BornHack this year. This week-long camp attracts hackers from all over Europe and the mix of a few hundred friends and soon-to-be friends who gathered on the Danish island of Fyn delivered a unique experience for the curious traveller.

The camp takes place at the Hylkedam Danish scout camp, located in a forest amid the rolling Danish famland not too far from the small town of Gelsted. It’s a few kilometres from a motorway junction, but easy enough to find after the long haul up from the UK via the Channel Tunnel. As an aside, every bored cop between France and the Danish border wanted to stop my 20-year-old right-hand-drive Volkswagen on UK plates, but soon lost interest after walking up to the passenger side and finding no driver. It seems Brits are considered harmless, which is good to hear. Continue reading “BornHack 2019, A Laid-Back Hacker Camp In A Danish Forest”

An Arduino Pro Micro With USB-C

USB-C versus USB Micro connectors are turning into one of the holy wars of our time. Rather than be left on the wrong side of the divide [Stefan S] has come up with his own USB-C version of of an Arduino Pro Micro to avoid having to always find a different cable.

Home made Arduinos come in all shapes and sizes from the conventional to the adventurous, and from the pictures it seems that this one is firmly in the former camp. The USB-C is present in connector form alone as the device is only capable of talking at the much slower speed of the ATMEGA32U4 processor, but having the newer connector should at least make cabling more accessible.

This is one of the most practical Arduino clones we’ve ever seen, but one of our other favourites is also a bit impractical.

Aussies Find The True Meaning Of Drone Flight

Ah, stereotypes. Once they’ve solidified it’s surprisingly hard to shake them. When non-Australians think of a generic Aussie then, the chances are that a Crocodile Dundee type of character will spring to mind — a ‘Strine-speaking outdoorsman with a beer in hand. This group of Aussies aren’t helping the case, with a video posted by Australian drone retailer UAVme and featured by ABC News where a large multirotor lifts a guy in a lawn chair, beer in hand, over a lake to do some fishing.

Antics aside, having enough capacity to lift a person is pretty impressive. The drone in question appears to be a large hexacopter frame with rotors both below and above the boom, achieving an unusual dodecacopter configuration.

Of course we’re entertained by the sight, who wouldn’t envy them a spin under a drone in the relative safety of an environment where an unscheduled landing merely means getting wet? It seems Austrailia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority isn’t quite so happy though, as ABC reports the usual chorus of condemnation. Entertainingly though it’s unclear whether or not our plucky adventurer — named as [Sam Foreman] — has in fact broken any laws given that he’s not flown in restricted airspace, over people or habitation, or above the legal altitude.

This isn’t the first such story we’ve brought you from Down Under, back in 2016 an Aussie landed in hot water for picking up a Bunnings sausage in a bun with his drone.

Continue reading “Aussies Find The True Meaning Of Drone Flight”