Eclipse 2017: Report from an Extinct Volcano

Location, location, location — what’s critical to real estate is also critical to eclipse watching, and without sounding too boastful, those of us atop South Menan Butte, an extinct volcano in southeast Idaho, absolutely nailed it. Not only did we have perfect weather, we had an excellent camping experience, great food, a magnificent natural setting, and a perch 800 feet above a vast plain stretching endlessly to the east and west. Everything was set up for a perfect eclipse experience, and we were not disappointed.

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The Last Interesting Chrysler Had a Gas Turbine Engine

The piston engine has been the king of the transportation industry for well over a century now. It has been manufactured so much that it has become a sort of general-purpose machine that can be used to do quite a bit more than merely move people and cargo from one point to another. Running generators, hydraulic systems, pumps, and heavy machinery are but a few examples of that.

Scale production of this technology also had the effect of driving prices for these engines down, and now virtually everyone in the developed world has cheap and easy access to them. In the transportation world, at least, it looks like its reign might finally be coming to a slow, drawn-out conclusion as electric cars capture more and more market share.

Electric motors aren’t the first technology to try to topple the piston engine from its apex position on top of our modern transportation industry, though. In the 1960s another technology, the gas turbine engine, tried to replace it — and failed.

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The Enigma Enigma: How The Enigma Machine Worked

To many, the Enigma machine is an enigma. But it’s really quite simple. The following is a step-by-step explanation of how it works, from the basics to the full machine.

Possibly the greatest dedicated cipher machine in human history the Enigma machine is a typewriter-sized machine, with keyboard included, that the Germans used to encrypt and decrypt messages during World War II. It’s also one of the machines that the Polish Cipher Bureau and those at Britain’s Bletchley Park figured out how to decipher, or break. Most recently the story of how it was broken was the topic of the movie The Imitation Game.

Let’s start with the basics.

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Living Logic: Biological Circuits for the Electrically Minded

Did you know you can build fundamental circuits using biological methods? These aren’t your average circuits, but they work just like common electrical components. We talk alot about normal silicon and copper circuits ‘roud here, but it’s time to get our hands wet and see what we can do with the power of life!

In 1703, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz published his Explication de l’Arithmétique Binaire (translated). Inspired by the I Ching, an ancient Chinese classic, Leibniz established that the principles of arithmetic and logic could be combined and represented by just 1s and 0s. Two hundred years later in 1907, Lee De Forest’s “Audion” is used as an AND gate. Forty years later in 1947, Brattain and H. R. Moore demonstrate their “PNP point-contact germanium transistor” in Bell Labs (often given as the birth date of the transistor). Six years later in 1953, the world’s first transistor computer was created by the University of Manchester. Today, 13,086,801,423,016,741,282,5001 transistors have built a world of progressing connectivity, automation and analysis.

While we will never know how Fu Hsi, Leibniz, Forest or Moore felt as they lay the foundation of the digital world we know today, we’re not completely out of luck: we’re in the midst’s of our own growing revolution, but this one’s centered around biotechnology. In 1961, Jacob and Monod discovered the lac system: a biological analog to the PNP transistor presented in Bell Labs fourteen years earlier. In 2000, Gardner, Cantor, and Collins created a genetic toggle switch controlled by heat and a synthetic fluid bio-analog2. Today, AND, OR, NOR, NAND, and XOR gates (among others) have been successfully demonstrated in academic labs around the world.

But wait a moment. Revolution you say? Electrical transistors went from invention to computers in 6 years, and biological transistors went from invention to toggle button in 40? I’m going to get to the challenges facing biological circuits in time, but suffice it to say that working with living things that want to be fed and (seem to) like to die comes with its own set of challenges that aren’t relevant when working with inanimate and uncaring transistors. But, in the spirit of hacking, let’s dive right in. Continue reading “Living Logic: Biological Circuits for the Electrically Minded”

Monoprice Mini Delta Review

For the last year or so, Monoprice has been teasing their follow-up to the fantastic $200 MP Select Mini. This is the $150 mini delta printer. We got a look at it last January at CES, it was on display at the Bay Area Maker Faire last May. Now there’s one on the Hackaday review desk.

Over the last few years, 3D printing has settled down into what most of us expected way back in 2010. No, not everyone wants, or arguably needs, a 3D printer on their desks. This is a far cry from the hype of a few years ago, leaving us with what we have today. 3D printers are just tools, much like a drill press or a laser cutter.

With that said, there still are some fantastic advances in 3D printing coming down from on high. Prusa will be shipping the 4-color multi-extruder add-on for the i3 Mk 2 shortly, and somehow or another we have infinite build volume printers. Still, there’s space to democratize 3D printing, and an opportunity for someone to release a very cheap, very good printer.

Monoprice was kind enough to send me a review unit of the MP Mini Delta before it officially hit their website. This is one of the first off the production line, alongside the few hundred pre ordered on an Indiegogo campaign earlier this year.  Does this printer live up to expectations? It sure does, and that’s not just because it’s a $150 printer.

This would be an excellent printer at three times the price, and evidence enough that 3D printing is changing from a weird hobbyist thing to a proper tool.

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Lasering Axonometric Fonts

I am something of an Inkscape fan. If you’re not familiar with the application, it’s like an Open Source version of Adobe Illustrator. Back when I was a production artist I’d been an Illustrator master ninja but it’s been four years and my skills are rusty. Plus, Inkscape is just enough different in terms of menus and capabilities that I had a hard time adapting.

So I created some wooden lettering with the help of Inkscape and a laser cutter, and I’m going to show you how I did it. If you’re interested in following along with this project, you can find it on

While playing around with Inkscape, I noticed you can create a variety of grids, including axonometric grids. This term refers to the horizon lines in an orthographic projection. In other words, it helps make things look 3D by providing perspective lines.

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Living on Mars: the Stuff You Never Thought About

In The Martian we saw what kind of hacking was needed to stay alive for a relatively short while on Mars, but what if you were trying to live there permanently? Mars’ hostile environment would affect your house, your transportation, even how you communicate. So here’s a fun thought experiment about how you’d live on Mars as part of a larger community.

Not Your Normal House

Mars One living units under regolith
Mars One living units under regolith, Source video

Radiation on Mars comes from solar particle events (SPE) and galactic cosmic radiation (GCR). Mars One, the organization planning one-way trips to Mars talks about covering their habitats in several meters of regolith, a fancy word for the miscellaneous rocky material covering the bedrock. Five meters provides the same protection as the Earth’s atmosphere — around 1,000 g/cm2 of shielding. A paper from the NASA Langley Research Center says that the largest reduction comes from the top 15 to 20 cm of regolith. And so our Mars house will have an underlying structure but the radiation protection will come from somewhere between 20 cm to a few meters of regolith. Effectively, people will be living underground.

On Earth, producing water and air for your house is not something you think of doing, let alone disposing of exhaled CO2. But Mars houses will need systems for this and more.

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