Control An IRL Home From Minecraft

Minecraft seems to be a game in which anything is possible, both in the virtual world and in the real one. As a sandbox-style game, we’ve seen all kinds of things implemented in it including arithmetic logic units and microcontroller emulators. On the other end of reality we’ve also seen a lot of projects in which real-world interfaces impact the virtual world in some way. As a game, the lines between these two worlds often seem to blur, and that’s no different for this project that allows for control of a smart home from within the game itself.

The project is called HomeAssistantMC and is built with Forge. The mod interfaces directly with a Minecraft game. From within the game, players can create a model of their home complete with light switches and other control interfaces. A WebSocket API listens to the game for changes to these devices, and interfaces with real-world controllers which control the home in real life. The game uses special state blocks to handle the control, and the entire control system can be configured in-game once all of the appropriate software has been installed.

For anyone willing to experiment with this software, all of the code for this project is available on its GitHub page. One of the other interesting things about this project is the ability to use other creations within Minecraft for home automation. For example, building logic gates allows for nuanced control of the home automation setup with creations we’ve already seen in Minecraft before. And, if you really want to go deep into the weeds, you could even build a complete 6502 processor from within the game as well.

Put APIs To Work Wth This ArduinoJson Walkthrough

One of the things this community is famous for is the degree to which people will pitch in to fill an obvious need. Look at the vast array of libraries available for Arduino as an example of how people are willing to devote their time to making difficult tasks easier, often for little more than a virtual pat on the back.

One level up from the library writers are those who go through the trouble of explaining how all these libraries work in real-world applications. [Brian Lough] recently rose to that challenge with a thorough explanation of the use of the ArduinoJSON library, a very useful but often confusing library that makes IoT projects easier.

The need for an ArduinoJSON explainer no knock on its author, [Benoît Blanchon], who has done excellent work documenting the library; it’s more of a realization that the nature of JSON itself means a library that works with it is going to be complex. [Brian]’s contribution here is sharing his insights into getting ArduinoJSON up and running in a real-world ESP32 example, and dealing with the potential pitfalls of parsing a human-readable text file that can be used to represent almost any data object using the limited resources of a microcontroller. Along with the basics, we found the warning about how pointers refer back to the dynamic JSON document object particularly helpful; the bit about using filters to winnow down a large data set was useful too.

Thanks to [Brian] for taking the time to put this valuable information out there. Here’s hoping this encourages others to share the wealth of hard-earned knowledge in a similarly clear and concise manner.

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Hack The Cloud!

The obvious rants against software or services “in the cloud” are that you don’t own it, your data isn’t on your own hard drive, or that, when the interwebs are down, you just can’t get your work done. But the one that really grinds my gears is that, at least for many cloud services, you just can’t play around with them. Why does that matter? Well, as a hacker type, of course, I like to fool around, but more deeply, I feel that this invitation to play around is what’s going to grow up the next generation of hackers. Openness matters not just for now, but also for the future.

Of course, it’s unfair to pin all of this on the cloud. There are plenty of services with nice open APIs that let you play around with their systems as much as you want — witness the abundance of amusing things you can do with Twitter or Twitch. Still, every day seems to bring another formerly-open API that gets bought up by some wealthy company and shut down. I built a nice “is it going to rain today” display out of a meter-long WS2812 strip and an ESP8266, but Dark Sky API got bought up by Apple and is going dark soon (tee-hee!) leaving me thinking of how I’m going to get easy weather data in the next few months.

Whisper your tip in our earOr take my e-mail annunciator. I wrote a little script that, when I have new mail that’s work related or from my wife (read: important), it displays the subject line on a VFD that I have perched on my monitor. This works with Gmail, which I have to use for work, because they support IMAP so at least I can do cool things with the mail once it reaches my server. But can I do anything with Google Groups, which we use for the Hackaday Tip Line? Fat chance!

So there’s good “cloud” and there’s bad “cloud”. Good cloud is open cloud. Good cloud invites you to play, to innovate, and to come up with the right solutions for yourself. Good cloud gives you access to your data. Good cloud is hackable cloud. Let’s see more of that.

Supersized Weather Station Uses Antique Analog Meters

For most of us, getting weather information is as trivial as unlocking a smartphone or turning on a computer and pointing an app or browser at one’s weather site of choice. This is all well and good, but it lacks a certain panache that old weather stations had with their analog dials and stained wood cases. The weather station that [BuildComics] created marries both this antique aesthetic with modern weather data availability, and then dials it up a notch for this enormous analog weather station build.

The weather station uses 16 discrete dials, each modified with a different label for the specific type of data displayed. Some of them needed new glass, and others also needed coils to be modified to be driven with a lower current than they were designed as well, since each would be driven by one of two Arduinos in this project. Each are tied to a microcontroller output via a potentiometer which controls the needle’s position for the wildly different designs of meter. The microcontrollers themselves get weather information from a combination of real-world sensors outside the home of [BuildComics] and from the internet, which allows for about as up-to-date information about the weather as one could gather first-hand.

The amount of customization of these old meters is impressive, and what’s even more impressive is the project’s final weight. [BuildComics] reports that it took two people just to lift it onto the wall mount, which is not surprising given the amount of iron in some of these old analog meters. And, although not as common in the real world anymore, these old antique meters have plenty of repurposed uses beyond weather stations as well.

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What’s The Deal With Chromium On Linux? Google At Odds With Package Maintainers

Linux users are more likely than most to be familiar with Chromium, Google’s the free and open source web project that serves as the basis for their wildly popular Chrome. Since the project’s inception over a decade ago, users have been able to compile the BSD licensed code into a browser that’s almost the same as the closed-source Chrome. As such, most distributions offer their own package for the browser and some even include it in the base install. Unfortunately, that may be changing soon.

A post made earlier this month to the official Chromium Blog explained that an audit had determined “third-party Chromium based browsers” were using APIs that were intended only for Google’s internal use. In response, any browser attempting to access features such as Chrome Sync with an unofficial API key would be prevented from doing so after March 15th.

To the average Chromium user, this doesn’t sound like much of a problem. In fact, you might even assume it doesn’t apply to you. The language used in the post makes it sound like Google is referring to browsers which are spun off of the Chromium codebase, and at least in part, they are. But the search giant is also using this opportunity to codify their belief that the only official Chromium builds are the ones that they provide themselves. With that simple change, anyone using a distribution-specific build of Chromium just became persona non grata.

Unhappy with the idea of giving users a semi-functional browser, the Chromium maintainers for several distributions such as Arch Linux and Fedora have said they’re considering pulling the package from their respective repositories altogether. With a Google representative confirming the change is coming regardless of community feedback, it seems likely more distributions will follow suit.

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Dynamic Map Of Italy On A PCB

While most PCBs stick to tried-and-true methods of passing electrons through their layers of carefully-etched copper, modern construction methods allow for a large degree of customization of most aspects of these boards. From solder mask to number of layers, and even the shape of the board itself, everything is open for artistic license and experimentation now. [Luca] shows off some of these features with his PCB which acts as a live map of Italy.

The PCB is cut out in the shape of the famous boot, with an LED strategically placed in each of 20 regions in the country. This turns the PCB into a map with the RGB LEDs having the ability to be programmed to show any data that one might want. It’s powered by a Wemos D1 Mini (based on an ESP8266) which makes programming it straightforward. [Luca] has some sample programs which fetch live data from various sources, with it currently gathering daily COVID infection rates reported for each of the 20 regions.

The ability to turn a seemingly boring way to easily attach electronic parts together into a work of art without needing too much specialized equipment is a fantastic development in PCBs. We’ve seen them turned into full-color art installations with all the mask colors available, too, so the possibilities for interesting-looking (as well as interesting-behaving) circuits are really opening up.

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You Don’t Need A Weatherman To Know Which Way The Drone Blows

“How’s the weather?” is a common enough question down here on the ground, but it’s even more important to pilots. Even if they might not physically be in the cockpit of the craft they are flying. [Justin Parsons] explains how weather affects drone flights and how having API access to micro weather data can help ensure safe operations.

As drone capability and flight time increase, the missions they will fly are getting more and more complex. [Justin] uses a service called ClimaCell which has real-time, forecast, and historical weather data available across the globe. The service isn’t totally free, but if you make fewer than 1,000 calls a day you might be able to use a developer account which doesn’t cost anything.

According to [Justin], weather data can help with pre-flight planning, in-flight operations, and post-flight analysis. The value of accurate forecasting is indisputable. However, a drone or its ground controller could certainly understand real-time weather in a variety of ways and record it for later use, so the other two use cases maybe a little less valuable.

While on the subject, it seems to us that accurate forecasting could be important for other kinds of projects. Will you have enough sun to catch a charge on your robot lawnmower tomorrow? If your beach kiosk is expecting rain, it could deploy an umbrella or close some doors and shutdown for a bit.

If you insist on using a free service, the ClimaCell blog actually lists their top 8 APIs. Naturally, their service is number one, but they do have an assessment of others that seems fair enough. Nearly all of these will have some cost if you use it enough, but many of them are pretty reasonable unless you’re making a huge number of calls.

How would you use accurate micro weather data? Let us know in the comments. Then again, sometimes you want to know the weather right from your couch. Or maybe you’d like your umbrella to tell you how long the storm is going to last.