Digital Dining With Charged Chopsticks

You step out of the audience onto a stage, and a hypnotist hands you a potato chip. The chip is salty and crunchy and you are convinced the chip is genuine. Now, replace the ordinary potato chip with a low-sodium version and replace the hypnotist with an Arduino. [Nimesha Ranasinghe] at the University of Maine’s Multisensory Interactive Media Lab wants to trick people into eating food with less salt by telling our tongues that we taste more salt than the recipe calls for with the help of electrical pulses controlled by everyone’s (least) favorite microcontroller.

Eating Cheetos with chopsticks is a famous lifehack but eating unsalted popcorn could join the list if these chopsticks take hold and people want to reduce their blood pressure. Salt is a flavor enhancer, so in a way, this approach can supplement any savory dish.

Smelling is another popular machine hack in the kitchen, and naturally, touch is popular beyond phone screens. You have probably heard some good audio hacks here, and we are always seeing fascination stuff with video.

Internet of Tea: Coaster Watches for Optimum Drinking Temperature

Ah, the age-old question: at what temperature does one’s tea need to be for maximum enjoyment? It’s subjective, of course, but subjective in a way that makes everyone else’s opinion demonstrably wrong. What’s worse, the window of opportunity for optimum tea temperature is extremely narrow. What’s a tea drinker to do?

Throw a little technology at the problem, of course, in the form of this Internet of Tea smart coaster. Through careful experimentation, [Benjojo] determined the temperature of his favorite mug when the tea within was just right for drinking and designed a coaster to alert him to that fact. The coaster is 3D-printed and contains an MLX90616 IR temperature sensor looking up at the bottom of the mug. An ESP8266 lives inside the coaster too and watches for the Optimum Tea Window to open, sending an alert via Discord when the time is right. Yes, he admits that a simple blinking LED on the coaster would keep his tea habit metadata from being slurped up by the international tea intelligence community, but he claims he has nothing to hide. Good luck with that.

What’s next for [Dane]’s tea preparation? Perhaps he can close the loop and automate the whole pre-consumption process.

Carousel of Cereals Mixes and Matches Custom Breakfast Blends

There are those who reckon the humble bowl of breakfast cereal to be the height of culinary achievement. Look askance if you must, but cereal junkies are a thing, and they have a point. The magic comes not from just filling a bowl and adding a splash of milk, but by knowing which cereals to mix together.

Who needs all that fussy mixing, though, when you can automate and customize your cereal dispensing chores? That’s the approach [Kevin Obermann] and [Adrian Bernhart] took with their Cereal Dispensing Machine, even if they went a little further than necessary. Laser-cut plywood forms a four-station carousel for off-the-shelf dry-good dispensers, each of which got a stepper motor to replace the wrist-twisting. The original motors were a bit too wimpy to handle the more rugged morning selections and were eventually upgraded to gear motors. The platform that supports the dispensers also holds all the electronics, including an ESP32 to run everything and host the web app needed to choose your poison. Plus RGB LEDs, because breakfast should look like a rave. Sadly, the team ran out of GPIO pins and were unable to run the peristaltic pump needed to add the milk. There will always be version 2.0, though.

If cereal isn’t your automated breakfast of choice, we understand. Perhaps a more [Wallace] and [Gromit] style breakfast machine would do, or a robotic peanut butter sandwich any time of day is a treat.

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Raspberry Pi Tracks Starter Fermentation For Optimized Sourdough

Those of you who’ve never had a real sourdough have never had real bread. Good food fights back a little when you eat it, and a proper sourdough, with its crispy crust and tangy center, certainly fits the bill. Sourdough aficionados, your humble writer included, all have recipes that we pretend are ancient family secrets while in reality we’re all just guessing. Sourdough is partly science, partly art, but mostly delicious black magic.

In an effort to demystify his sourdough process, [Justin Lam] has gone digital with this image processing sourdough starter monitor. Sourdough breads are leavened not by the addition of brewers yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae), but by the inclusion of a starter,  a vibrant ecosystem of wild yeasts that is carefully nurtured, sometimes for years. Like any other living thing, it needs to be fed, a task that should happen at the point of maximum fermentation. Rather than guess when this might be, [Justin] used a Raspberry Pi Zero and PiCam to capture a time-lapse video of the starter as the beasties within give off their CO₂, thus expanding it up inside its container. A little Python does the work of thresholding and finding the top of the starter as it rises, allowing [Justin] to plot height of the starter over time. He found that peak height, and therefore peak fermentation, occurs about six hours after feeding. He has used his data to better inform his feeding schedule and to learn how best to revive neglected starters.

Surprisingly, this isn’t the first time we’ve discussed sourdough here. It seems that someone uses Git for iterative sourdough recipe development, and we once featured a foundry made from a pyrolyzed loaf of sourdough.

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Espresso Machine From Motorbike Engine Parts

[Rulof Maker] is a master at making things from salvaged parts, and being an Italian lover of espresso coffee, this time he’s made an espresso machine. The parts in question are a piston and cylinder from an old motorbike, believe it or not, and parts from an IKEA lamp.

Why the piston and cylinder? For those not familiar with espresso machines, they work by forcing pressurized, almost boiling water through ground coffee. He therefore puts the water in the piston cylinder, and levers the piston down onto it, forcing the water out the bottom of the cylinder and through the waiting coffee grounds. Parts from the IKEA lamp form a base for the waiting cup to sit on.

Of course, he takes great care to clean out any burnt oil and gas before starting. We also like how he centers a lever arm on a U-shaped bolt using two springs. Clever. But see the master in action for yourself in the video below.

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Algae On Your Plate

For those of us who grow up around natural swimming holes, algae are the reason we have to wash after taking a dip. Swimmer’s itch* or just being covered in green goop is not an attractive way to spend an afternoon. Lumping all algae together is not fair, some of it is nasty but some of it is delicious and humans have been eating it for generations.

If you are thinking that cases of algae cuisine are not widespread and that algae does not sound appealing, you are not alone. It is a tough sell, like convincing someone to try dandelions for the first time. It may not warrant a refrigerator section in the grocery store yet, but algae can produce protein-rich food which doesn’t require a lot of processing.

Currently, there is a lot of work to be done to bring up the efficiency of algae farms, and Qualitas has already started. The leaps they are making signify just how much room we have for improvement. The circulating paddle wheels, which can be seen in the video below the break, use one-third of the energy from their previous version. Their harvester uses one-thirtieth! Right now, their biggest cost comes from tanks of carbon dioxide, which seems off given that places such as power plants pay to get rid of the stuff. That should give some food for thought.

The 2018 Hackaday prize could use some algal submissions and you could take that to the bank. Ready to start growing your own algae, automate the process. It may also keep you from tripping while walking to the grocery store, or you can print with it.

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Illuminated Bread for a Cookie Cutter World

Just in case you thought your eyes were playing tricks on you, we’d like to confirm right from the start that what you are looking at is a loaf of bread with internal LED lighting. Why has this bread been internally lit? We can’t really say. But what we can do is pass on the fascinating process that took an unremarkable piece of stale bread and turned it into an exceptional piece of stale bread.

As demonstrated by [The Maker Monster], working with stale bread is basically like working with wood. Wood that you can dip in soup, granted, but wood nonetheless. The process of electrifying the loaf starts with cutting it down the length on a bandsaw, and then hollowing it out with a rotary tool. This creates a fairly translucent shell that’s basically just crust.

You’re probably wondering how you keep a bread-light from getting moldy, and thankfully [The Maker Monster] does address that issue. The bread shell is completely coated with shellac, which creates a hard protective layer that will not only prevent decay but should give it some added strength. In the video it looks like only one coat is applied, but if we had to guess, a few coats would be necessary to really seal it up. Coating it with epoxy wouldn’t be a terrible idea either.

While the shellac dries on the bread, he gets to work on the lighted base (bet you never imagined you’d read a sentence like that), which is really just a sanded piece of wood with a standard LED strip stuck too it. It’s very understated, but of course the glowing loaf really draws the eye anyway. All that’s left is to glue the bread down to the base, and proudly display your creation at your next dinner party.

We can’t say that an electric ciabatta is in the cards for Hackaday HQ; but we know that baking good bread is a science in itself, and turning the failed attempts into works of art does have a certain appeal to it.

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