Hackaday Links: December 3, 2017

Remember the Psion? Back when PDAs were a thing, the Psion was the best you could get. It was, effectively, a palm-top computer with a real qwerty keyboard. It didn’t have Bluetooth, it couldn’t browse the web, and it didn’t have WiFi, but this was an AA-powered productivity machine that could fit in your pocket. Now there’s a new palmtop from Psion engineers. The Gemini PDA is basically a smartphone with a real keyboard that runs Ubuntu. It’s also has a smaller battery than other devices with this form factor, meaning the TSA thinks it’s a smartphone. This thing is going to be cool.

TechShop, Inc. has reached an agreement to sell the company to TechShop 2.0, LLC. New ownership seeks to re-open, continue running makerspaces. Details coming soon.

Arcade monitors are cool, and vector monitors are even cooler. [Arcade Jason] created a gigantic 36″ vector monitor. It’s thirty-six inches of Gravitar, in all its vector glory.

A few links posts ago, I pointed out someone was selling really awesome, really cheap LED panels on eBay. I got my ten panels, and [Ian Hanschen] bought sixty or some other absurd amount. Now, these panels are going for $300 for a 10-pack instead of $50. Sorry about that. Nevertheless, the reverse engineering adventure is still ongoing, and eventually, someone is going to play Mario on these things.

The ESP32 is finding its way into all sorts of consumer electronics. Check this thing out. It’s an ESP32, four buttons, and a circular display. If you want to make your own Nest thermostat, or anything else that needs an awesome circular display, there you go.

Speaking of circular displays, are there any non-CRT displays that come with a polar coordinate system? Every circular LCD or OLED I’ve ever seen uses a Cartesian system, which doesn’t really make sense when you can’t see 30% of the pixels.

Hold the phone, this is far too clever. [Eduardo] needed to flash an ESP-12 module before soldering it onto a PCB. The usual way of doing this is with an absurd pogo pin jig. You know what’s cheaper than pogo pins? Safety pins. Clever overwhelming.

Christine Sunu Proves the Effect of Being Alive on Hardware Design

Modeling machines off of biological patterns is the dry definition of biomimicry. For most people, this means the structure of robots and how they move, but Christine Sunu makes the argument that we should be thinking a lot more about how biomimicry has the power to make us feel something. Her talk at the 2017 Hackaday Superconference looks at what makes robots more than cold metal automatons. There is great power in designing to complement natural emotional reactions in humans — to make machines that feel alive.

We live in a world that is being filled with robots and increasingly these are breaking out of the confines of industrial automation to take a place side by side with humans. The key to making this work is to make robots that are recognizable as machines, yet intuitively accepted as being lifelike. It’s the buy-in that these robots are more than appliances, and Christine has boiled down the keys to unlocking these emotional reactions.

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Statistics and Hacking: An Introduction to Hypothesis Testing

In the early 20th century, Guinness breweries in Dublin had a policy of hiring the best graduates from Oxford and Cambridge to improve their industrial processes. At the time, it was considered a trade secret that they were using statistical methods to improve their process and product.

One problem they were having was that the z-test (a commonly used test at the time) required large sample sizes, and sufficient data was often unavailable. By studying the properties of small sample sizes, William Sealy Gosset developed a statistical test that required fewer samples to produce a reasonable result. As the story goes though, chemists at Guinness were forbidden from publishing their findings.

So he did what many of us would do: realizing the finding was important to disseminate, he adopted a pseudonym (‘Student’) and published it. Even though we now know who developed the test, it’s still called “Student’s t-test” and it remains widely used across scientific disciplines.

It’s a cute little story of math, anonymity, and beer… but what can we do with it? As it turns out, it’s something we could probably all be using more often, given the number of Internet-connected sensors we’ve been playing with. Today our goal is to cover hypothesis testing and the basic z-test, as these are fundamental to understanding how the t-test works. We’ll return to the t-test soon — with real data. Continue reading “Statistics and Hacking: An Introduction to Hypothesis Testing”

Mathieu Stephan : The Making of a Secure Open Source Hardware Password Keeper

Mathieu Stephan is an open source hardware developer, a Tindie seller who always has inventory, a former Hackaday writer, and an awesome all-around guy. One of his biggest projects for the last few years has been the Mooltipass, an offline password keeper built around smart cards and a USB interface. It’s the solution to Post-It notes stuck to your monitor and using the same password for all your accounts around the Internet.

The Mooltipass is an extremely successful product, and last year Mathieu launched the Mooltipass Mini. No, it doesn’t have the sweet illuminated touch-sensitive buttons, but it is a bit cheaper than its big brother and a bit more resistant to physical attacks — something you want in a device that keeps all your passwords secure.

Mathieu didn’t build the Mooltipass alone, though. This is an Open Source project that has developers and testers from around the globe. It may have started off as a Hackaday Post, but now the Mooltipass has grown into a worldwide development team with contributors across the globe. How did Mathieu manage to pull this off? You can check out his talk at the 2017 Hackaday Superconference below.

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Retrotechtacular: Circuit Boards The Tektronix Way

Printed circuit boards are a fundamental part of both of commercial electronic equipment and of the projects we feature here on Hackaday. Many of us have made our own, whether done so from first principles with a tank of etchant, or sent off as a set of Gerbers to a PCB fab house.

To say that the subject of today’s Retrotechtacular is the manufacture of printed circuit boards might seem odd, because there is nothing archaic about a PCB, they’re very much still with us. But the film below the break is a fascinating look at the process from two angles, both for what it tells us about how they are still manufactured, and how they were manufactured in 1969 when it was made.

Board artwork laid out at four-times actual size

Tektronix were as famous for the manufacturer of particularly high quality oscilloscopes back then as they are now. The Tektronix ‘scopes of the late 1960s featured several printed circuit boards carrying solid-state electronics, and were manufactured to an extremely high standard. The film follows the manufacturing process from initial PCB layout to assembled board, with plenty of detail of all production processes.

In 2017 you would start a PCB design in a CAD package, but in 1969 the was incredibly manual. Everything was transcribed by hand from a paper schematic to transparent film. Paper mock-ups of component footprints four times larger than actual size are placed on a grid, and conductors drawn in pencil on an overlaid piece of tracing paper. Then the pads and pattern of tracks are laid out using black transfers and tape on sheets of film over the tracing paper, one each for top and bottom of the board. A photographic process reduces them to production size onto film, from which they can be exposed and etched in the same way that you would in 2017.

Pantograph drilling machine uses a manually moved styuls on a template to drill six boards at once

Most of the physical process of creating a PCB has not changed significantly since 1969. We are shown the through-plating and gold plating processes in detail, then the etching and silkscreening processes, before seeing component installation and finally wave soldering.

What are anachronistic though are some of the machines, and the parts now robotised that were done in 1969 by hand. The PCB drilling is done by hand with a pantograph drill for small runs, but for large ones a fascinating numerically-controlled drilling rig is used, controlled by punched tape without a computer in sight. Component placement is all by hand, and the commentator remarks that it may one day be done by machine.

The film remains simultaneously an interesting look at PCB production and a fascinating snapshot of 1960s manufacturing. It’s probable that many of the Tek ‘scopes made on that line are still with us, they’re certainly familiar to look at from our experience at radio rallies.

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Friday Hack Chat: Reverse Engineering the Digital Compact Cassette

For this week’s Hack Chat, we’re talking about reverse engineering the Digital Compact Cassette. Why should we care about an obsolete format that was only on the market for four years?  Because if a copy of the Spin Doctor’s Pocket Full of Kryptonite costs $50 USD on the used market, it has to be good.

In the early 1990s, several different digital magnetic tape formats came onto the scene. The MiniDisc was magneto-optical, yes, but back in the day it was amazing for recording bootlegs. DAT also appeared in the early 90s, and it was a godsend for recording studios. There was another format introduced in 1992, the Digital Compact Cassette. It was backward compatible with standard audio cassettes, an important feature, because no one would want to replace their entire cassette-based music collection with a new-fangled digital format. That would be just lunacy.

Our guest for this week’s Hack Chat will be [Jac Goudsmit], prolific creator on Hackaday.io, with projects ranging from the L-Star Software Defined 6502 Computer to a GPS Controlled FischerTechnik Clock. [Jac] grew up on a PET 2001, and in the years since he’s worked on projects ranging from motion control systems for lithography equipment, pick and place machines, and even at a Radio Shack. In this Hack Chat, he’ll be discussing the history of the Digital Compact Cassette, the behind the scenes on how stereo PCM is recorded to tape, and other topics like the difference between CS/EE careers in the Netherlands and the USA.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. Our Hack Chats usually happen on Fridays at Noon, so buckle up because this is going down Friday, December 1, at 12:00 PST. What time is that where you live? Who cares! Here’s a time zone converter!

Click that speech bubble to the left, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io.

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

Mike Ossmann and Dominic Spill: IR, Pirates!

Mike Ossmann and Dominic Spill have been at the forefront of the recent wave of software-defined radio (SDR) hacking. Mike is the hardware guy, and his radio designs helped bring Bluetooth and ISM-band to the masses. Dominic is the software guy who makes sure that all this gear is actually usable. The HackRF SDR is still one of the best cheap choices if you need an SDR that can transmit and receive.

So what are these two doing on stage giving a talk about IR communication? Can you really turn traffic lights green by blinking lights? And can you spoof a TV remote with a cardboard cutout, a bicycle wheel, and a sparkler? What does IR have to do with pirates, and why are these two dressed up as buccaneers? Watch our video interview and find out, or watch the full talk for all of the juicy details.

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