Why VR As Monitor Replacement Is Likely To Be Terrible For A While Yet

Putting on a headset and using virtual monitors in VR instead of physical ones is a use case that pops up, but is it really something feasible? [Karl Guttag], who has long experience and a deep understanding of the technical challenges that face such devices, doesn’t seem to think so.

In his writeup [Karl] often focuses on the recently-unveiled high resolution Apple Vision Pro, but the issues he discusses transcend any particular product. His article is worth the read for anyone with an interest in these issues, but we’ll summarize some main points here. Continue reading “Why VR As Monitor Replacement Is Likely To Be Terrible For A While Yet”

A Chess AI In Only 4K Of Memory

The first computer to ever beat a reigning chess world champion didn’t do so until 1996 when a supercomputer built by IBM beat Garry Kasparov. But anyone who wasn’t a chess Grandmaster could have been getting beaten by chess programs as early as 1979 when Atari released one of the first ever commercially-available chess video games for the Atari 2600. The game was called Video Chess and despite some quirky gameplay it is quite impressive that it was able to run on the limited Atari hardware at all as [Oscar] demonstrates.

The first steps of getting under the hood of this program involved looking into the mapping of the pieces and the board positions in memory. After analyzing some more of the gameplay, [Oscar] discovered that the game does not use trees and nodes to make decisions, likely due to the memory limitations, but rather simulates the entire game and then analyzes it to determine the next step. When the game detects that there are not many pieces left on the board it can actually increase the amount of analysis it does in order to corner the opposing king, and has some unique algorithms in place to handle things like castling, finishing the game, and determining valid movements.

Originally it was thought that this engine couldn’t fit in the 4K of ROM or work within the 128 bytes of system memory, and that it was optimized for the system after first developing a game with some expanded capabilities. The game also has a reputation for making illegal moves in the higher difficulty settings although [Oscar] couldn’t reproduce these bugs. He also didn’t get into any of the tricks the game employed just to display all of the pieces on the screen. The AI in the Atari game was a feat for its time, but in the modern world the Stockfish open-source chess engine allows for a much more expanded gameplay experience.

Assessing Nozzle Wear In 3D-Printers

How worn are your nozzles? It’s a legitimate question, so [Stefan] set out to find out just how bad 3D-printer nozzle wear can get. The answer, as always, is “It depends,” but exploring the issue turns out to be an interesting trip.

Reasoning that the best place to start is knowing what nozzle wear looks like, [Stefan] began by printing a series of Benchies with brand-new brass nozzles of increasing diameter, to simulate wear. He found that stringing artifacts, interlayer holes, and softening of overhanging edges and details all worsened with increasing nozzle size. Armed with this information, [Stefan] began a torture test of some cheap nozzles with both carbon-fiber filament and a glow-in-the-dark filament, both of which have been reported as nozzle eaters. [Stefan] found that to be the case for at least the carbon-fiber filament, which wore the nozzle to a nub after extruding only 360 grams of material.

Finally, [Stefan] did some destructive testing by cutting used nozzles in half on the mill and looking at them in cross-section. The wear on the nozzle used for carbon-fiber is dramatic, as is the difference between brand-new cheap nozzles and the high-quality parts. Check out the video below and please sound off in the comments if you know how that peculiar spiral profile was machined into the cheap nozzles.

Hats off to [Stefan] for taking the time to explore nozzle wear and sharing his results. He certainly has an eye for analysis; we’ve covered his technique for breaking down 3D-printing costs in [Donald Papp]’s  “Life on Contract” series.

Continue reading “Assessing Nozzle Wear In 3D-Printers”

Howto: Docker, Databases, And Dashboards To Deal With Your Data

So you just got something like an Arduino or Raspberry Pi kit with a few sensors. Setting up temperature or motion sensors is easy enough. But what are you going to do with all that data? It’s going to need storage, analysis, and summarization before it’s actually useful to anyone. You need a dashboard!

But even before displaying the data, you’re going to need to store it somewhere, and that means a database. You could just send all of your data off into the cloud and hope that the company that provides you the service has a good business model behind it, but frankly the track records of even the companies with the deepest pockets and best intentions don’t look so good. And you won’t learn anything useful by taking the easiest way out anyway.

Instead, let’s take the second-easiest way out. Here’s a short tutorial to get you up and running with a database backend on a Raspberry Pi and a slick dashboard on your laptop or cellphone. We’ll be using scripts and Docker to automate as many things as possible. Even so, along the way you’ll learn a little bit about Python and Docker, but more importantly you’ll have a system of your own for expansion, customization, or simply experimenting with at home. After all, if the “cloud” won’t let you play around with their database, how much fun can it be, really?

Continue reading “Howto: Docker, Databases, And Dashboards To Deal With Your Data”

Listening To Mains Power, Part 2

The electricity on the power grid wherever you live in the world will now universally come to you as AC. That is to say that it will oscillate between positive and negative polarity many times every second. The frequency of 50 or 60Hz just happens to be within the frequency range for human hearing. There’s a lot more than this fundamental frequency in the spectrum on the power lines though, and to hear those additional frequencies better you’ll have to do a little bit of signal processing.

We first featured this build back when it was still in its prototyping phase, but since then it’s been completed and used successfully to find a number of anomalies on the local power grid. It takes inputs from the line, isolates them, and feeds them into MATLAB via a sound card where they can be analyzed for frequency content. It’s been completed, including a case, and there are now waterfall diagrams of “mystery” switching harmonics found with the device, plus plots of waveform variation over time. There’s also a video below that has these harmonics converted to audio so you can hear the electricity.

Since we featured it last, [David] also took some feedback from the comments on the first article and improved isolation distances on his PCB, as well as making further PCB enhancements before making the final version. If you’ve ever been curious as to what you might find on the power lines, be sure to take a look at the updates on the project’s page.

Continue reading “Listening To Mains Power, Part 2”

Worn Train Rails Get Judged By Laser

[Calango] is a railway technician, and for a school final project created the Rail Wear Surveillance Trolley (RWST) which is a delightfully designed device made mainly from PVC conduit with one job: travel down a segment of train track while shining a green laser onto the rail, and capture camera images. The trolley holds both the laser and the camera at just the right angles for the camera to capture a profile of the rail’s curved surface. The images are sent via Bluetooth to a smartphone for later analysis. Rail wear can be judged by checking how well the profile of the rail conforms to the ideal profile of an unworn segment. The trolley is manually pushed by an operator, but [Calango] says that ideally, it would be self-propelled and able to inspect a length of the track then return on its own.

The project was made on a tight budget, which led to some clever solutions like using a rotary encoder attached to a wheel as a makeshift distance sensor. If things get desperate enough, it’s even possible to roll your own rotary encoder with a 3D printer and two microswitches.

Image from official site catan.com

How Provably Loaded Dice Lead To Unprovable Cheating

Here’s a really interesting writeup by [Mike] that has two parts. He shows that not only is it possible to load wooden dice by placing them in a dish of water, but that when using these dice to get an unfair advantage in Settlers of Catan, observation of dice rolls within the game is insufficient to prove that the cheating is taking place.

[Mike] first proves that his pair of loaded dice do indeed result in a higher chance of totals above seven being rolled. He then shows how this knowledge can be exploited by a Settlers of Catan player to gain an average 5-15 additional resource cards in a typical game by taking actions that target the skewed distribution of the loaded dice.

The second part highlights shortcomings and common misunderstandings in current statistical analysis. While it’s possible to prove that the loaded dice do have a skewed distribution by rolling them an arbitrary number of times, as [Mike] and his wife do, it is not possible to detect this cheating in a game. How’s that? There are simply not enough die rolls in a game of Settlers to provide enough significant data to prove that dice distribution is skewed.

Our staff of statistics Ph.D.s would claim that [Mike] overstates his claims about shorcomings in the classical hypothesis testing framework, but the point remains that it’s possible to pass through any given statistical testing process by making the effect just small enough. And we still think it’s neat that he can cheat at Settlers by soaking wooden dice in water overnight.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Settlers of Catan at the center of some creative work. There’s this deluxe, hand-crafted reboot, and don’t forget the electroshock-enabled version.

[via Reddit; images from official Catan site]