Hackaday Links: December 13, 2020

Our Sun is getting a bit frisky these days, and has rewarded us with perhaps the best screensaver image ever taken. The incredibly detailed photo of a sunspot was actually taken back in January by the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, a 4-meter instrument with adaptive optics that can image the sun from the near-infrared to visible wavelengths and resolve surface details down to 20 km. The photo, with a distinct “Eye of Sauron” look, shows the massive convection cells surrounding the dark sunspot; an accompanying animation shows the movement of plasmas along the tortured lines of magnetic flux that cause the sunspot to form. It’s fascinating to watch, and even more interesting to mull over the technology that went into capturing it.

With the dustup surrounding the youtube-dl DCMA takedown by GitHub fresh on the open-source community’s minds, GitHub Universe 2020 had an interesting discussion about maintaining open-source software projects that’s worth watching. They focused on the challenges that youtube-dl maintainers face in keeping the tool working, and the impact their effort has on the people and groups that rely on them. To underscore that point, they featured a researcher with Human Rights Watch who depends on youtube-dl in her work, and made it quite clear that keeping up with all the API changes that constantly break open source tools like youtube-dl make the role of the maintainers that much more critical.

Speaking of GitHub, here’s a frightening and fascinating new tool: Depix, the password de-pixelizer. Developer Sipke Mellema noticed that his company often used pixelization to obscure passwords in documentation, and wondered if he could undo the process. He wrote up an article describing the pixelization process using a linear box filter and his method for attacking it, which involves generating a De Bruijn sequence in the same font, text size, and colors as the original document and feeding a screenshot of that and the pixellated password into the tool. We suspect it’ll only work for a subset of obfuscated passwords, but it’s still pretty clever.

‘Tis the season for Advent calendars, and the folks at QEMU have posted theirs. Open each of 24 doors on the calendar and you’re rewarded with a downloadable QEMU disk image that implements something fun. Minesweeper, a ray tracer that fits into a boot loader, and of course Conway’s Game of Life. The GW-BASIC image on Day 3 caught our eye — brings back some memories.

For anyone who has ever watched a Pixar film and wondered how all that animation actually works, here’s a great lesson in making art with math. The video is by Inigo Quilez and goes through the basics of rendering images using raymarching SDFs, or signed distance functions. In the beginning, it seemed like it was going to be a little bit like drawing an owl, but his descriptions of the math involved and how each element of the animation is just another formula is fascinating. What’s more, there’s a real-time rendering tool where you can inspect the code and edit it. Alas, my changes only made things worse, but it was still fun and instructive to play with. Check out the video after the break!

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Binary Advent Calendar Does More With Fewer Doors

[John] sent this one in to us a little bit after Christmas, but we’ll give him a pass because it’s so beautiful. Think of it this way: now you have almost a full year to make a binary advent calendar of your own before December 1st rolls around again.

Normal advent calendars are pretty cool, especially when there is chocolate behind all 24 doors. But is it really a representational ramp-up if you never get more than one chocolate each day? [John] doesn’t think so. The economics of his binary advent calendar are a bit magical, much like the holiday season itself. Most days you’ll get two pieces of chocolate instead of one, and many days you’ll get three. That is, as long as you opened the right doors.

A momentary switch hidden behind the hinge of each door tells the Arduino clone when it’s been opened. The Arduino checks your binary counting abilities, and if you’re right, a servo moves a gate forward and dispenses one chocolate ball per opened door. We love the simplicity of the dispensing mechanism — the doors are designed with a ceiling that keeps non-qualifying chocolates in their channels until their flag comes up.

[John] is working out the kinks before he releases this into the wild. For now, you can get a taste in the demo video featuring a bite-sized explanation. If you don’t like chocolate, maybe this blinky advent calendar will light you up inside.

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2014 Advent Calender Of Circuits

Every day this month and until Christmas, [vk2zay] is (has already been!) posting a simple but useful hack in his 2nd sort-of-annual “Advent Calender of Circuits” that many of you will want to be bookmarking. For those already saturated with the season of holiday hacks, don’t worry – other than being festively generous of him to tutor and demo a new hack every day, the hacks themselves have nothing to do with Christmas. Though he missed the last couple years we here at Hackaday covered his first month of hacks back in 2011 (now in playlist).

The daily hacks posted so far cover a wide variety of useful projects (leaning towards HV) for the electronics hobbyist who might not have all the fancy tools in their shop: DIY high voltage probes, a 1-hour tesla coil from junk, measuring RF power, a stud detector, how to test an  unknown transformer’s saturation, and many others. We cannot predict what will be posted the rest of the calender (the author hints to be making them up as he goes), but by now it is safe to say that they will not disappoint.

We would be stealing his thunder to cover them all, so, we will just pick our favorite for now:

The 1-hour tesla coil is a delightful all-shortcuts-taken hack project. If one were to listen to aficionados, teslacoiling is a highly precise hobby to get into. It appears to require careful planning, much calculation, special-ordered or soviet-surplus parts, custom jigs, fine tuning, etc. [vk2zay] shows otherwise.

Every single component of the assembly is itself a hack.

No fancy tungsten-infused grade 8 copper being water-cooled via heat pump here – the spark gap is just the bent leg of a capacitor hovering near the start of the primary winding. The power supply is a backlight inverter with a chain of Cockcroft-Walton voltage doublers. The high voltage resistor is a bunch of series-chained resistors shoved into a silicone tube. The topload is a couple cheap pie tins masking-taped together to “resemble something like a sphere.” The primary is a loose, unsupported spring of copper wire. The secondary was calculated to be whatever the height of the tube he had handy and coiled only as smoothly as a first attempt would allow. He does not even bother using wires or a switch – the circuit is completed by clipping a couple of test leads.

After all this hodgepodgery the circuit was then carefully tuned to optimize how little time it took to build (additional time used: zero). Since the frequencies do not match (1.7 vs. 2.6 mhz – 35% apart) the only thing this circuit resonates with is a hacker’s appeal for making do. Does not matter, still works. The streamers easily reach 2 inches and the author claims double that in dark lighting.

In the just 6 minute video he also manages to explain roughly what is going on theory-wise and suggest the time-effective things to considering upgrading. Almost a dozen hacks in the bag and over a dozen more to come before Christmas.

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Advent Wreath From Parts You Have On Hand

Here’s an advent wreath made from six parts and a paper clip. Powered by a CR2032 3v button cell, the circuit has been free-formed using a paper clip as the conductor. We love the “dead bug” style of construction used with the ATtiny13 microcontroller because it adds an extra level of intrigue for the uninitiated. This project build on the flickering circuit we saw last year and uses the LEDs as light sensors, only turning on when a certain darkness level has been reached.

We used a tiny13 with our Menorah project last year and still have some lying around that we can use for this. We’re sure you’ve got at least a couple of low-pin-count micros on hand. If you don’t, you should!