Talking Washer is a Clean Solution for the Visually Impaired

Have you shopped for an appliance lately? They’re all LEDs, LEDs everywhere. You might say that manufacturers are out of touch with the utility of tactile controls. [Wingletang]’s fancy new washing machine is cut from this modern cloth. While it does have a nice big knob for selecting cycles, the only indication of your selection is an LED. This isn’t an issue for [Wingletang], but it’s a showstopper for his visually impaired wife.

They tried to make tactile signposts for her most-used cycles with those adhesive rubber feet you use to keep cabinet doors quiet. But between the machine’s 14(!) different wash cycles and the endlessly-rotating selector knob, the tactile map idea was a wash. It was time to make the machine talk.

For his very first microcontroller project, [Wingletang] designed a completely non-invasive and totally awesome solution to this problem. He’s using LDRs arranged in a ring to detect which LED is lit. Recycled mouse pad foam and black styrene keep ambient light from creating false positives, and double as enclosure for the sensor and support boards. As [Mrs. Wingletang] cycles through with the knob, an Arduino clone mounted in a nearby project box determines which program is selected, and a Velleman KA02 audio shield plays a recorded clip of [Wingletang] announcing the cycle number and description.

The system, dubbed SOAP (Speech Output Announcing Programmes), has been a great help to [Mrs. Wingletang] for about the last year. Watch her take it for a spin after the break, and stick around for SOAP’s origin story and walk-through videos.

It’s baffling that so few washers and dryers let you know when they’re finished. Don’t waste your time checking over and over again—Laundry Spy waits for the vibrations to end and sends you a text.

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Colour-Code Your Way To Timber Satisfaction

As Hackaday writers we see the insides of as many hackerspaces as we can, and some of us make it our business to be members of more than one within reach of our homes. Thus it was that a simple but extremely elegant hackerspace lifehack came our way, courtesy of our friends at Milton Keynes Makerspace.

MK Makerspace have found a home within another group, the local MK Men In Sheds is a charitable organisation providing workshop and social space for hackers of an older generation. Together the two combine to offer both a huge range of experience and a comprehensive array of tools and machinery.

Order imposed upon the chaos of the MK Men In Sheds woodstore.
Order imposed upon the chaos of the MK Men In Sheds woodstore.

Woodwork is a strong component in the life of any Shed, and at Milton Keynes the Shed has been particularly successful in attracting donations of surplus timber. The stock of freely available mixed pieces of wood has almost everything you could wish for when working on casual projects, but despite continual sorting efforts had become an unmanageable pile among which it was often difficult to find the piece required.

Step forward MK Men In Sheds member [Ricky] whose solution was nothing short of inspired in its combination of simplicity and effectiveness. A large rack has compartments, each one of which has a coloured label. Along the front of the rack is a simple ruler calibrated in coloured blocks, and it is the work of a moment to offer a new piece of timber up to the ruler and place it in the compartment with the appropriate colour. Now any member with a need for a piece of wood  can easily select an appropriate one, and return any usable offcut for easy selection by the next.

This may be a simple piece of work, but its value as a lifehack in a communal workshop is immense. It brings to mind a piece we published a couple of years ago, about how a vibrant hackerspace follows a good wood shop. Never a truer word was spoken for people of all ages.

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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The Life-Changing Magic Of Buying Stuff To Hack

At the dawn of every new year, many people make resolutions of some sort. Some resolve to live a less materialistic life and trim their possessions, and in our year 2019 this school of thought has been turbocharged by Marie Kondo. Author of book The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up and star of related Netflix show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, her trend has been credited with a sharp rise in thrift store donations. To the point that some thrift stores are swamped with incoming inventory and struggling to keep up.

Hackers, this is our call to action. We can be the heroes these thrift stores need! New and exciting projects are on the shelves of our local thrift stores waiting for us. We can give a second life to something that no longer sparks joy in others. A child has abandoned their scooter? Give it some serious power. Someone’s heirloom jewel box? Nah, that’s a hard drive enclosure. Simple music instruments? Obviously it needs an Arduino twist. Innocent children’s toy? Fresh nightmare fuel. And that’s before we even get to the electronics section, featuring computers that have been gathering dust for decades and perfect for scratching a retrocomputing itch.

Of course, we recognize that some would choose to go in the other direction, to tidy up their collection of half-finished hacks. Say goodbye those that, if we were honest with ourselves, we are never going to finish. This is great, too, because the goal is to have everything in the hands of people who will appreciate them. If that should spark the next wave of joyous hacks, so much the better.

Make the Time to Fix Your Time Debt

You’re too busy to read more than this intro paragraph. We all are. Your interest might get piqued enough to skim, but you can’t read the full thing. Our lives all resemble the White Rabbit, constantly late for our next thing, never enjoying the current thing. You feel simultaneously super productive and yet never productive enough to be satisfied. You yearn for a Jarvis that can automate the mundane aspects of your projects, and yet the prospect of building a Jarvis causes anxiety about not having enough time for yet another project. You see another YouTuber showing off not only a great build but also impressive video production and editing skills. You are suffering from Time Debt, and the solution requires as much discipline and tenacity as escaping from financial debt.

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Sudo Find Me a Parking Space; Machine Learning Ends Circling the Block

If you live in a bustling city and have anyone over who drives, it can be difficult for them to find parking. Maybe you have an assigned space, but they’re resigned to circling the block with an eagle eye. With those friends in  mind, [Adam Geitgey] wrote a Python script that takes the video feed from a web cam and analyzes it frame by frame to figure out when a street parking space opens up. When the glorious moment arrives, he gets a text message via Twilio with a picture of the void.

It sounds complicated, but much of the work has already been done. Cars are a popular target for machine learning, so large data sets with cars already exist. [Adam] didn’t have to train a neural network, either–he found a pre-trained Mask R-CNN model with data for 80 common objects like people, animals, and cars.

The model gives a lot of useful info, including a bounding box for each car with pixel coordinates. Since the boxes overlap, there needs be a way to determine whether there’s really a car in the space, or just the bumpers of other cars. [Adam] used intersection over union to do this, which is conveniently available as a function of the Mask R-CNN model’s library. The function returns a score, so it was just a matter of ignoring low-scoring bounding boxes.

[Adam] purposely made the script adaptable. A few changes here and there, and you could be picking up tennis balls with a robotic collector or analyzing human migration patterns on your block in no time. Or change it up and detect all the cars that run the stop sign by your house.

Thanks for the tip, [foamyguy].

Hack Your File Hierarchy with Johnny Decimal System (Dewey’s Older Brother)

Most of us have our fair share of digital debris. After all, with drives measured in one-million-million byte increments it’s tempting to never delete anything. The downside is you may never be able to find anything either. [Johnny Noble] must have gotten pretty fed up with clutter when he decided to formalize and publish his own numeric system for organizing everything he comes in contact with. It’s called Johnny Decimal and it’s actually pretty simple!

This is of course a play on words for the Dewey Decimal system. Dewey is one of a variety of information organization systems used by libraries to sort the books on their shelves. It’s based on moving books into sets of fixed, predefined categories which are uniform across all users of the Dewey. To locate a volume the user composes categories of increasing specificity to build a number which specifies the approximate space a particular book should live in. Each individual volume has a slightly more verbose assigned number which includes the author’s name to reduce confusion in cases where there are multiple works. Wikipedia has an instructive example which you can see here.

Johnny Decimal

Johnny Decimal works similarly but [Johnny] has a specific method he’s devised for the user to create their own categories with somewhat less specificity than Dewey. This makes it less onerous for the user to adapt to their needs, and if it’s easier to use it’s more likely to be used. I won’t spoil the process here, go read his site for instructions.

Ok so why bother? [Johnny] hints at it, but part of the point is to force the user to think about organization in the first place. With no system and an endless torrent of incoming files it’s easy to end up with the giant “~/Downloads” of doom and never improve from there. But with a clearly defined system (which is easy to execute!) the bar to improve things gets much lower. Certainly the thought of a well-organized file system gives us the shivers!

If you’re interested in implementing it in your own systems, the Johnny Decimal site has many pages devoted to explaining how to put together areas and categories, how to handle running out of buckets, the process for developing your own system, and more. If you try it and have luck, send us a note! We’d love to hear about anything you discover. If you’ll excuse us, we’re off to go fix up our parts bins with a marker and some sticky notes.

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