Talking Telegram with the ESP8266

At this point it’s something of a given that a member of the ESP8266 family is likely your best bet if you want to cobble together a small Internet-connected gadget. Costing as little as $3 USD, this well documented all-in-one solution really can’t be beat. But of course, the hardware is only one half of the equation. Deciding how to handle the software side of your homebrew Internet of Things device is another story entirely.

A simple Telegram ESP8266 switch

It would be fair to say that there’s no clear-cut “right” way to approach the software, and it really depends on the needs or limitations of your particular project. For example [Brian Lough] finds that building Telegram support into his ESP8266 allows him to accomplish his goals with the minimum amount of fuss while at the same time using an environment he’s already comfortable with. He recently wrote in to share one of his Telegram projects with us, and in the video after the break, takes the time to explain some of the things he likes best about controlling his hardware through the encrypted chat platform.

But you don’t have to take his word for it, you can try it yourself. Thanks to the software library that [Brian] has developed to connect his projects to Telegram, the aptly named “Universal Telegram Bot Library”, anyone can easily follow in his footsteps. Adding his Telegram library to your next ESP8266 project is as easy as selecting it in the Arduino IDE. From there the video explains the process for getting a bot ID from Telegram, and ultimately how you use it to receive messages from the service. What you do with those messages is entirely up to you.

According to [Brian], the main downside is that you are beholden to a web service to control your local devices; not ideal if the Internet goes down or you would rather your little hacker projects not talk to the big scary Internet in the first place. If you’d rather keep all your smart things talking within the confines of your own network, perhaps your next project could be setting up a private MQTT server.

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Eurorack Gets a Wireless MIDI Connection

Modular synthesizers have been around since the early 1960s, delivering huge tonal possibilities from their impressive and imposing patchbays. In 1996, the Eurorack standard was launched, and has become the go-to choice for enthusiasts new to the world of modular synthesis. [Rich Heslip] is just one such enthusiast, and has brought Bluetooth MIDI to Eurorack with his Motivation Radio module.

[Rich]’s module is built around the ESP32, which provides plenty of processing power, along with all the necessary radio hardware to communicate over Bluetooth. The unit packs plenty of connectivity into an 8HP wide panel, with four gate inputs and outputs, four CV inputs and outputs, and serial MIDI in and out.

Thanks to its Bluetooth connection, Motivation Radio makes it easy to pass note and gate data into a Eurorack setup, and can be used with the wide variety of tablet and smartphone MIDI software on offer. If you’re eager to build your own, PCB and panel designs are available courtesy of [jakplugg] and [Rich] has shared the software on Github.

Of course, if you prefer MIDI over USB, [little-scale] has the build for you. Video after the break.

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A Modern Solution To Tea Bag Inventory Management

Britain is famously known as a land of manners and hospitality. Few situations could make an Englishman’s stiff upper lip quiver, short of running out of tea bags while entertaining house guests. Thankfully, [The Gentleman Maker] is here and living up to his name – with a helpful tea monitor to ensure you’re never caught out again.

The Intelli-T, as it has been dubbed, monitors tea inventory by weight. An Arduino Uno combined with a HX711 IC monitors a load cell mounted under a canister, with a reed switch on the lid. Upon the canister being open and closed, the Arduino takes a measurement, determining whether tea stocks have dipped below critical levels. If the situation is dire, a Raspberry Pi connected over the serial port will sound an urgent warning to the occupants of the home. If there is adequate tea, the Raspberry Pi will instead provide a helpful tea fact to further educate the users about the hallowed beverage.

It’s a fun project, and one that has scope for further features, given the power of the Raspberry Pi. A little more work could arrange automatic ordering of more tea online, or send alerts through a service like IFTTT. We’ve seen [The Gentleman Maker]’s uniquely British hacks before, such as the umbrella that tells you the weather. Video after the break.

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Don’t Need A Weatherman To Know Which Way The Wind Blows On Mars

NASA’s latest Mars lander has a very precise weather package, and you can check the daily conditions on Elysium Planitia online. The data however has apparently led to a bit of a mystery. According to Ars Technica, every day at 7AM and 7PM local time, there’s an unexplained atmospheric pressure spike.

The TWINS (Temperature and Wind for InSight) package provided by Spain’s Centro de Astrobiología shows the little spikes regularly since the lander hit the ground in November. They seem to correspond to local sunrise and sunset. Keep in mind, the pressure on Mars is very low — about 1% of Earth’s atmosphere — and scientists have already ruled out instrument problems.

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OptoGlitch Is An Optocoupler Built For Distortion

When we are concerned with the accurate reproduction of a signal, distortion and noise are the enemy that engineers spend a great deal of time eliminating wherever possible. However, humans being the imperfect creatures that we are, we sometimes desire a little waviness and grain in our media – typically of the analog variety, as the step changes of digital distortion can be quite painful. Tired of Instagram filters and wanting to take a different approach, [Patrick Pedersen] built the OptoGlitch – a hardware solution for analog distortion.

Changing the number of samples per pixel varies the accuracy of reproduction of the original image, left.

The concept of operation is simple – pixel values of a digital image are sent out by varying the intensity of an LED, and are then picked up by a photoresistor and redigitized. The redigitized image then bears a variety of distortion and noise effects due to the imperfect transmission process.

In the OptoGlitch hardware, the LED and photoresistor are intentionally left open to ambient light to further allow noise and distortion to happen during the transmission process. A variety of calibration methods are used to avoid the results being completely unrecognizable, and there are various timing and sampling parameters that can be used to alter the strength of the final effect.

It’s possible to introduce distortion more intentionally, too – such as this project that hides metadata in malformed glyphs.

DIY X-Ray Machine Becomes CT Scanner

Once you’ve built your own X-ray machine to take 2D images of the insides of stuff, there’s really only one logical next step: building your own computed tomography (CT) scanner to get 3D reconstructions instead. That’s exactly what [Fran Piernas] has done, and documented over on hackaday.io. While the original X-ray machine build dealt with scary hardware stuff such as high voltage and ionizing radiation, this time it’s the turn of scary mathematics like inverse radon transforms.

The original build, which we wrote about in December, uses a commercial dental X-ray tube and a home-made 65 kV power supply to send X-rays through objects. Transmitted X-rays are viewed using an intensifying screen that converts the rays to visible light. The result is a 2D image similar to that we’re all familiar with.

To create a 3D reconstruction of an object, you need a number of X-ray images taken from different angles. If you’ve ever been unlucky enough to need a medical CT scan, you’ll remember staying motionless in the tunnel while the X-ray apparatus rotated around you. In this build, [Fran] rotates the object instead, using a motor that may have once been part of a microwave oven (one of those “mystery motors” we all have laying around). The required sequence of images is simply obtained by recording video of the X-ray screen while the motor rotates the object.

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Retrotechtacular: How Not to Design With Transistors

Consider the plight of a mid-career or even freshly minted electrical engineer in 1960. He or she was perched precariously between two worlds – the proven, practical, and well-supported world of vacuum tube electronics, and the exciting, new but as yet unproven world of the transistor. The solid-state devices had only started making inroads into electronic products relatively recently, and mass production techniques were starting to drive the cost per unit down enough to start including them in your designs. But, your company has a long history with hot glass and no experience with flecks of silicon. What to do?

To answer that question, you might have turned to this helpful guide, “Tubes and Transistors: A Comparative Guide” (PDF link). The fancy booklet, with a great graphic design that our own [Joe Kim] would absolutely love, was the product of the Electron Tube Information Council, an apparently defunct group representing the interests of the vacuum tube manufacturers. Just reading the introduction of this propaganda piece reveals just how worried companies like RCA, General Electric, and Westinghouse must have been as the 1950s turned into the 1960s. The booklet was clearly aimed directly at engineers and sought to persuade them of the vacuum tube’s continued relevance and long-term viability. They helpfully explain that tubes are a reliable, proven technology that had powered decades of designs, and that innovations such as heaterless cathodes and miniaturization were just around the corner. Transistors, we’re told, suffer from “spread of characteristics” that correctly describes the state of materials engineering of silicon and germanium at the time, a thornier problem than dealing with glass and wires but that they had to know would be solved within a few years.

With cherry-picked facts and figures, the booklet makes what was probably in 1960 a persuasive case for sticking with tubes. But the Electron Tube Information Council was fighting a losing battle, and within a decade of swamping engineers with this book, the industry had largely shifted to the transistor. Careers were disrupted, jobs disappeared, and fortunes were lost, but the industry pressed forward as it always does. Still, it’s understandable why they tried so hard to stem the tide with a book like this. The whole PDF is worth a look, and we’d love to have a hard copy just for nostalgia’s sake.

Thanks to [David Gustafik] for the tip.