Katherine Johnson: Computer To The Stars

In 1962, John Glenn sat in his capsule waiting for his rocket engines to light-up and lift him to space. But first, he insisted that Katherine Johnson double-check the electronic computer’s trajectory calculations. While that’s the dramatic version of events given in the recent movie, Hidden Figures, the reality isn’t very far off. Glenn wasn’t sitting on the launchpad at the time, but during the weeks prior to launch, he did insist that Johnson double-check the computer’s calculations.

So who is this woman who played an important but largely unknown part of such a well-known historical event? During her long life, she was a wife, a mother, an African-American, a teacher, and a human computer, a term rarely used these days. Her calculations played a part in much of early spaceflight and in 2015, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama. She also has a building named after her at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

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PC-XT Emulator On ESP8266

Do you remember the simpler times when you had a DOS command line, a handful of commands, and you talked to the hardware through a few BIOS and DOS interrupts? Okay, maybe it was a little limited, but nostalgia doesn’t care. Now [mcuhacker] is working on bringing some of those memories back by getting a PC-XT emulator running on an ESP8266.

For the x86 CPU emulator, he ported Fake86 which is written in C, and created an Arduino IDE environment for it. The MS-DOS 3.3 bootdisk image is stored in flash and is accessed as the A: drive. There’s no keyboard yet but he has 640×200 CGA working with 80×25 characters on a 3.5″ TFT display with the help of a low pass filter circuit. In the video below he shows it booting to the point where it asks for the date.

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Delightful Electromechanical Build Of A Jet Engine Model

[InterlinkKnight]’s jet engine model is a delight to behold and to puzzle out. Many of us have been there before. We know how to build something, we know it’s not the most up-to-date approach, but we just can’t help ourselves and so we go for it anyway. The result is often a fun and ingenious mix of the mechanical and the electrical. His electric jet engine model is just that.

Being a model, this one isn’t required to produce any useful thrust. But he’s made plenty of effort to make it behave as it should, right down to adding a piece of plastic to rub against a flywheel gear in order to produce the perfect high-pitched sound, not to forget the inclusion of the flywheel itself to make the turbine blades gradually slow down once the motor’s been turned off. For the N1 gauge (fan speed gauge) he built up his own generator around the motor shaft, sending the output through rectifying diodes to a voltmeter.

But the most delightful of all has to be the mechanical linkages for the controls. The controls consist of an Engine Start switch, Fuel Control switch and a throttle lever and are all built around a rheostat which controls the motor speed. The linkages are not pretty, but you have to admire his cleverness and just-go-for-it attitude. He must have done a lot of head scratching while getting it to all work together. We especially like how flipping the Fuel Control switch from cutoff to run levers the rheostat with respect to its dial just a little, to give a bit of extra power to the engine. See if you can puzzle it out in his Part 3 video below where he removes the cover and walks through it all.

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Robotic Laser Keeps Cat Entertained While You Hack

Whether it’s our own cat or a neighbor’s, many of us have experienced the friendly feline keeping us company while we work, often contributing on the keyboard, sticking its head where our hands are for a closer look, or sitting on needed parts. So how to keep the crafty kitty busy elsewhere? This roboticized laser on a pan-tilt mechanism from the [circuit.io team] should do the trick.

The laser is a 650 nm laser diode mounted on a 3D printed pan-tilt system which they found on Thingiverse and modified for attaching the diode’s housing. It’s all pretty lightweight so two 9G Micro Servos do the grunt work just fine. The brain is an Arduino UNO running an open-source VarSpeedServo library for smooth movements. Also included are an HC-05 Bluetooth receiver and an Android app for controlling the laser from your phone. Set it to Autoplay or take a break and use the buttons to direct the laser yourself. See the video below for build instructions and of course their cat, [Pepper], looking like a Flamenco dancer chasing the light.

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Learning The 555 From The Inside

One way to understand how the 555 timer works and how to use it is by learning what the pins mean and what to connect to them. A far more enjoyable, and arguably a more useful way to learn is by looking at what’s going on inside during each of its modes of operation. [Dejan Nedelkovski] has put together just such a video where he walks through how the 555 timer IC works from the inside.

We especially like how he immediately removes the fear factor by first showing a schematic with all the individual components but then grouping them into what they make up: two comparators, a voltage divider, a flip-flop, a discharge transistor, and an output stage. Having lifted the internals to a higher level, he then walks through examples, with external components attached, for each of the three operating modes: bistable, monostable and astable. If you’re already familiar with the 555 then you’ll enjoy the trip down memory lane. If you’re not familiar with it, then you soon will be. Check out his video below.

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Turning A Car Into A Computer Mouse

[William Osman] and [Simone Giertz] have graced our pages before, both with weird, wacky and wonderful hacks so it’s no surprise that when they got together they did so to turn Simone’s car into a computer mouse. It’s trickier than you might think.

They started by replacing the lens of an optical mouse with a lens normally used for a security camera. Surprisingly, when mounted to the car’s front bumper it worked! But it wasn’t ideal. The problem lies in that to move a mouse cursor sideways you have to move the mouse sideways. However, cars don’t move sideways, they turn by going in an arc. Move your mouse in an arc right now without giving it any sideways motion and see what happens. The mouse cursor on the screen moves vertically up or down the screen, but not left or right. So how to tell if the car is turning? For that, they added a magnetometer. The mouse then gives the distance the car moved and the magnetometer gives the heading, or angle. With some simple trigonometry, they calculate the car’s coordinates.

The mouse click is done using the car’s horn, but details are vague there.

And yes, using the carmouse is as fun as it sounds, though we still don’t recommend texting while driving using this technique. Watch them in the videos below as they write an email and drive a self-portrait of the car.

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Repairs You Can Print: Nintendo DS Lite With New Battery And Case

The problem with hanging on to old consumer products is that the original batteries no longer hold a charge. To make matters worse, replacement batteries ordered online have likely been sitting on a warehouse shelf for years and are no better. [Larry G] faced this issue with his old Nintendo DS Lite. Luckily he remembered a hack from his youth where a friend’s Dad had duct-taped a massive alkaline D-cell battery pack to the back of a Gameboy to give it a longer life. And so [Larry] gave new life to his Nintendo DS Lite by designing and 3D printing a case for a battery with an even larger capacity than the original.

He first obtained a 2400 mAh 18650 lithium-ion cell, one with over voltage and under voltage protection. With that as a guide, he designed and 3D printed a case for it made up of four printed parts. The case was needed because the 18650 doesn’t fit in the NDS Lite’s battery compartment. Instead, one of the parts, which he calls the fake battery, fits in the compartment and has copper strips glued to it for connecting to the NDS Lite. From there, wires go to another part wherein sits the 18650. The remaining parts secure it all in place.  Charging is done using the NDS Lite’s built-in charger. Even though the new case adds significant bulk, it actually fits well in the hand.

No doubt many of you have your own old NDS Lite sitting around that can benefit from this repair. The project details and STL files can be found on his Hackaday.io page using the above link.

This is also [Larry]’s entry for our Repairs You Can Print contest which puts him in the running for one of two Prusa i3 Mk3s plus the multi-material upgrade.