Be On Twitter Without Being On Twitter

Social media can connect us to a vibrant worldwide community, but it is also a huge time sink as it preys on both our need for attention and our insatiable curiosity. Kept on a leash by those constant notification sounds, we can easily look up from our phones to find half a day has gone and we’re behind with our work. [Laura Lytle] has a plan to tackle this problem, her OutBox project involves a single button press machine that posts a picture to Twitter of whatever is put in it. It’s not just another gateway to social media addiction though, she tells us it follows Design For Disuse principles in which it must be powered up and adjusted for each picture, and that it provides no feedback to satisfy the social media craving.

Under the hood of the laser-cut housing reminiscent of an older hobby 3D printer is a Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+ and a webcam, with a ring of LEDs for illumination. On top is the only interface, a small “arm” button to set things up and a big red arcade button to do the business. The software is in Python, and provides glue between resizing the photo, uploading it to a cloud service, and triggering ITTT to do the Tweeting. You can see the whole thing in the video below, and the result is a rather eye-catching device.

Of course, there are other ways to keep yourself off social media.

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Power To The Pi 4: Some Chargers May Not Make The Grade

The Raspberry Pi 4 has been in the hands of consumers for a few days now, and while everyone seems happy with their new boards there are some reports of certain USB-C power supplies not powering them. It has been speculated that the cause may lie in the use of pulldown resistors on the configuration channel (CC) lines behind the USB-C socket on the Pi, with speculation that one may be used while two should be required. Supplies named include some Apple MacBook chargers, and there is a suggestion is that the Pi may not be the only device these chargers fail to perform for.

Is this something you should be worried about? Almost certainly not. The Pi folks have tested their product with a wide variety of chargers but it is inevitable that they would be unable to catch every possible one. If your charger is affected, try another one.

What it does illustrate is the difficulties faced by anybody in bringing a new electronic product to market, no matter how large or small they are as an organisation. It’s near-impossible to test for every possible use case, indeed it’s something that has happened to previous Pi models. You may remember that the Raspberry Pi 2 could be reset by a camera flash or if you have a very long memory, that the earliest boards had an unseemly fight between two 1.8 V lines that led to a hot USB chip, and neither of those minor quirks dented their board’s ability to get the job done.

Mistakes happen. Making the change to USB-C from the relative simplicity of micro-USB is a big step for all concerned, and it would be a surprise were it to pass entirely without incident. We’re sure that in time there will be a revised Pi 4, and we’d be interested to note what they do in this corner of it.

Brett Smith Makes Your Life Easier With Hidden Microcontroller Features

There was a time when microprocessors were slow and expensive devices that needed piles of support chips to run, so engineers came up with ingenious tricks using extra hardware preprocessing inputs to avoid having to create more code. It would be common to find a few logic gates, a comparator, or even the ubiquitous 555 timer doing a little bit of work to take some load away from the computer, and engineers learned to use these components as a matter of course.

The nice thing is that many of these great hardware hacks have been built into modern microcontrollers through the years. The problem is you know to know about them. Brett Smith’s newly published Hackaday Superconference talk, “Why Do It The Hard Way?”, aims to demystify the helpful hardware lurking in microcontrollers.

Join us below for a deeper dive and the embedded video of this talk. Supercon is the Ultimate Hardware con — don’t miss your chance to attend this year, November 15-17 in Pasadena, CA.

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The Digital Polaroid SX-70

What do you do if you own an iconic and unusual camera from decades past? Do you love it and cherish it, buy small quantities of its expensive remanufactured film and take arty photographs? Or do you rip it apart and remake it as a modern-day digital camera in a retro enclosure? If you’re [Joshua Gross], you do the latter.

The Polaroid SX-70 is an iconic emblem of 1970s consumer technology chic. A true design classic, it’s a single-lens reflex design using a Polaroid instant film cartridge, and its party trick is that it’s a folding camera which collapses down to roughly the size of a pack of 1970s cigars. It was an expensive luxury camera when it was launched in 1972, and today it commands high prices as a collector’s item.

[Joshua]’s build is therefore likely to cause weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth among vintage camera enthusiasts, but what exactly has he done? In the first instance, he’s performed a teardown of the SX-70 which should be of interest to many readers in itself. He’s removed the mirror and lens, mounted a Raspberry Pi camera behind the lens mount, and a small LCD monitor where the mirror would be.

A new plastic lens in the original lens housing completes the optics, and the electronics come courtesy of a Pi Zero, battery, and USB hub in the space where the Polaroid film cartridge would otherwise be. Some new graphics and a fresh leather cover complete the  build, giving what we’d say is a very tidy electronic Polaroid. On the software side there is a filter to correct for fisheye distortion, and the final photos have a slightly Lomographic quality from the plastic lens.

We like what he’s created with his SX-70 even if we can’t help wincing that he did it to an SX-70 in the first place. Maybe it’s less controversial when someone gives the Pi treatment to a more mundane Polaroid camera.

Accurate Time On Your Pi, The Extreme Way

The Raspberry Pi is an extremely versatile little computer, but even its most ardent fans would acknowledge that there are some areas in which its hardware is slightly lacking. One of these is in the field of timing, the little board has no real-time clock. Users must rely on the on-board crystal oscillator, which is good enough as a microprocessor clock but subject to the vagaries of temperature as it is, not so much as a long-term timepiece.

[Tobias Mädel] has tackled this problem in a rather unusual way, by dispensing entirely with the crystal oscillator on an older Pi model  and instead using a clock derived from a GPS source. The source he’s used is a Leo Bodnar mini precision GPS reference clock, which includes a low-jitter synthesiser that can be set to the Pi’s 19.2 MHz required clock. Unexpectedly he also required a simple LC low-pass filter which he’s made on a sheet of PCB material, because the Pi at first appeared to be picking up a harmonic frequency. The Pi now has a clock that’s sufficiently stable for tasks such as WSPR transmission without constant referral to NTP or other timing sources to keep it on-track.

It’s a short write-up, but it brings with it a further link to a discussion of different time synchronisation techniques on a Pi including using a kernel module to synchronise with the more common GPS-derived 1PPS signal. We’ve not seen anyone else do this particular mod to a Pi before, but conversely we’ve seen a Pi provide an RF time reference to something else.

You’re Sitting On An Engineering Masterpiece: Chairs As A Design Challenge

If you move as a hardware hacker through the sometimes surprisingly similar world of artists, craftspeople, designers, blacksmiths, and even architects, there’s one piece of work that you will see time and time again as an object that exerts a curious fascination. It seems that designing and building a chair is a rite of passage, and not just a simple chair, but in many cases an interesting chair.

An American-made Windsor chair from the turn of the 19th century. Los Angeles County Museum of Art [Public domain]
An American-made Windsor chair from the turn of the 19th century. Los Angeles County Museum of Art [Public domain]
Some of the most iconic seating designs that you will be instantly familiar with through countless mass-produced imitations began their lives as one-off design exercises. Yet we rarely see them in our community of hackers and makers, a search turns up only a couple of examples. This is surprising, not least because there is more than meets the eye to this particular piece of furniture. Your simple seat can be a surprisingly complex challenge.

Moving Charis From Artisan to Mass Market

The new materials and mass production techniques of the 19th and 20th centuries have brought high-end design into the hands of the masses, but while wealthy homes in earlier centuries had high-quality bespoke furniture in the style of the day, the traditional furniture of the masses was hand-made in the same way for centuries often to a particular style dependent on the region in which it was produced.

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Is 4 GB The Limit For The Raspberry Pi 4?

So you’ve rushed off to your favourite dealer in Raspberry Pi goodies and secured your shiny new Raspberry Pi 4. Maybe you’re anxiously waiting for the postie, or perhaps if you’re lucky enough to live near Cambridge you simply strolled into the Pi shop and bought one over the counter. You’ve got the best of the lot, the 4 GB model, and there’s nothing like the feeling of having the newest toy before everyone else does.

A scan of the Pi 4 user guide, with a tantalising 8GB at the bottom.
A scan of the Pi 4 user guide, with a tantalising 8GB at the bottom.

You open the box, pull out the Pi, and get busy. The instruction leaflet flutters to the floor, ignored and forgotten. If you’re our tipster [Eric van Zandvoort] though, you read it, notice something unexpected, and send a scan to your friends at Hackaday. Because there at the top, in the regulatory compliance information that nobody reads, is the following text:

Product name: Raspberry Pi 4 Model B 1 GB, 2 GB, 4 GB + 8 GB variants.

It’s not the lack of an Oxford comma that caught his eye, but the tantalising mention of an 8 GB Raspberry Pi 4. Could we one day see an extra model in the range with twice the memory? It would be nice to think so.

There are a couple of inevitable reactions when a new product comes out. First, everyone who has just bought the previous one will be upset, and second there will always be a group of people who say “Ah, don’t buy this one, wait for the super-duper upgrade model!” We’d like to suggest to anyone tempted into the latter group that this news should be no reason not to buy a Raspberry Pi 4 at the moment, because the prospect of an 8 GB variant should come as a shock to nobody.

It makes absolute sense that the Pi people will have equipped their SoC with as much address space as they can get into it, and equally as much sense that they will have fitted the final products with whatever memory chips keep it within their target price point. If you cast your mind back you’ll know that this isn’t the first time this has happened, early boards were shipped with 256 MB of RAM but later upgraded to 512 MB as the economics made it possible. Those with extreme knowledge of Pi trivia will also know that the original Model A was announced with 128 MB and released with 256 MB for the same reason.

There’s another question, would 8 GB make that much difference? The answer depends upon what you are doing with your Pi 4, but it’s worth remembering that this is no high-end workstation but a single-board computer with a stripped-down Linux distro for experimenters. You may be disappointed if you are pushing the limits of computational endeavour, but the majority of users will not be taxing Raspbian on the 4 GB model even if they install Chromium and open up all their favourite bloated social media sites. Perhaps we’ve become conditioned by the excessive demands of Windows on an x86 platform and forgotten just how powerful our computers really are. After all, as the apocryphal Bill Gates quote has it, “640k should be enough for anyone“, right?

We can look forward to an 8 GB Pi 4 then at some point in the future. We’d put our money on next year, since 2020 is a leap year and 2020-02-29 will be the Pi’s 2nd 8th birthday, it wouldn’t stretch the imagination to speculate around that date. But don’t bet on it, save your money for buying a 4 GB Pi 4 right now.