Hackaday Links: August 25, 2019

Doesn’t the Z-axis on 3D-printers seem a little – underused? I mean, all it does is creep up a fraction of a millimeter as the printer works through each slice. It would be nice if it could work with the other two axes and actually do something interesting. Which is exactly what’s happening in the nonplanar 3D-printing methods being explored at the University of Hamburg. Printing proceeds normally up until the end, when some modifications to Slic3r allow smooth toolpaths to fill in the stairsteps and produce a smooth(er) finish. It obviously won’t work for all prints or printers, but it’s nice to see the Z-axis finally pulling its weight.

If you want to know how something breaks, best to talk to someone who looks inside broken stuff for a living. [Roger Cicala] from LensRentals.com spends a lot of time doing just that, and he has come to some interesting conclusions about how electronics gear breaks. For his money, the prime culprit in camera and lens breakdowns is side-mounted buttons and jacks. The reason why is obvious once you think about it: components mounted perpendicular to the force needed to operate them are subject to a torque. That’s a problem when the only thing holding the component to the board is a few SMD solder pads. He covers some other interesting failure modes, too, and the whole article is worth a read to learn how not to design a robust product.

In the seemingly neverending quest to build the world’s worst Bitcoin mining rig, behold the 8BitCoin. It uses the 6502 processor in an Apple ][ to perform the necessary hashes, and it took a bit of doing to port the 32-bit SHA256 routines to an 8-bit platform. But therein lies the hack. But what about performance? Something something heat death of the universe…

Contributing Editor [Tom Nardi] dropped a tip about a new online magazine for people like us. Dubbed Paged Out!, the online quarterly ‘zine is a collection of contributed stories from hackers, programmers, retrocomputing buffs, and pretty much anyone with something to say. Each article is one page and is formatted however the author wants to, which leads to some interesting layouts. You can check out the current issue here; they’re still looking for a bunch of articles for the next issue, so maybe consider writing up something for them – after you put it on Hackaday.io, of course.

Tipline stalwart [Qes] let us know about an interesting development in semiconductor manufacturing. Rather than concentrating on making transistors smaller, a team at Tufts University is making transistors from threads. Not threads of silicon, or quantum threads, or threads as a metaphor for something small and high-tech. Actual threads, like for sewing. Of course, there’s plenty more involved, like carbon nanotubes — hey, it was either that or graphene, right? — gold wires, and something called an ionogel that holds the whole thing together in a blob of electrolyte. The idea is to remove all rigid components and make truly flexible circuits. The possibilities for wearable sensors could be endless.

And finally, here’s a neat design for an ergonomic utility knife. It’s from our friend [Eric Strebel], an industrial designer who has been teaching us all a lot about his field through his YouTube channel. This knife is a minimalist affair, designed for those times when you need more than an X-Acto but a full utility knife is prohibitively bulky. [Eric’s] design is a simple 3D-printed clamshell that holds a standard utility knife blade firmly while providing good grip thanks to thoughtfully positioned finger depressions. We always get a kick out of watching [Eric] design little widgets like these; there’s a lot to learn from watching his design process.

Thanks to [JRD] and [mgsouth] for tips.

Apple Lightning Video Adaptors Run IOS, Dynamically Loaded

Apple has for a very long time been a company that ploughs its own furrow when it comes to peripherals, with expensive proprietary hardware being the order of the day over successive generations of its products. One of its current line of proprietary interfaces is the Lightning connector, best thought of as an Apple-only take on the same ideas that the rest of the world knows as USB-C. There are a whole host of white dangly peripherals that can be hung from your iDevice’s Lightning port, including a pair of display adaptors that allow them to drive an HDMI or VGA monitor.  [Lisa Braun] has subjected one that had failed to a teardown, and her analysis gives some insight into the way Apple creates its peripherals.

Where you might expect these to contain mostly the equivalent of a graphics card, in fact they have a fully-fledged SoC of their own that runs its own OS with the same Darwin kernel as its host. Unexpectedly this is not held upon the adapter itself, instead it is shipped with iOS and loaded dynamically. Thus the file containing it can be retrieved from iOS and unpacked, leading to some interesting analysis. In a fascinating twist for those of us unused to Lightning’s internals, it’s revealed that the device can be driven from a USB port with the appropriate cobbled-together adapter, allowing a full-size MacOS device to interrogate it. This many not be news to readers with a long memory though, we’ve told you in the past about reverse engineering the Lightning connector.

Hackaday Links: July 28, 2019

It looks like Apple is interested in buying Intel’s modem chip business. Seriously interested; a deal worth $1 billion could be announced as early as this week. That might look like a small potato purchase to the world’s biggest company – at least by market capitalization – but since the technology it will be buying includes smartphone modems, it provides a look into Apple’s thinking about the near future with regard to 5G.

It turns out that Make Magazine isn’t quite dead yet. [Dale Dougherty], former CEO of Maker Media, which went under in June, has just announced that he and others have acquired the company’s assets and reformed under the name “Maker Community LLC.” Make: Magazine is set to resume publication, going back to its roots as a quarterly publication in the smaller journal format; sadly there’s no specific word about the fate of Maker Faire yet.

The hoopla over the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 may be over, but we’d be remiss not to call out one truly epic hack related to the celebration: the full restoration of an actual Apollo Guidance Computer. The AGC was from a test model of the Lunar Module, and it ended up in the hands of a private collector. Since November of 2018 the AGC has been undergoing restoration and tests by [Ken Shirriff], [Mike Stewart], and [Carl Claunch]. The whole effort is documented in a playlist by [Marc “CuriousMarc” Verdiell] that’s worth watching to see what was needed to restore the AGC to working condition.

With the summer sun beating down on the northern hemisphere, and air conditioners at working extra hard to keep things comfortable. [How To Lou] has a quick tip to improve AC efficiency. Turns out that just spraying a fine mist of water on the condenser coils works wonders; [Lou] measured a 12% improvement in cooling. It may not be the best use of water, and it may not work as well in very humid climates, but it’s a good tip to keep in mind.

Be careful with this one; between the bent spoon, the syringe full of amber liquid, and the little candle to heat things up, this field-expedient reflow soldering setup might just get you in trouble with the local narcotics enforcement authorities. Even so, knowing that you can assemble a small SMD board without a reflow oven might prove useful someday, under admittedly bizarre circumstances.

From the “Considerably more than 8-bits music” file, check out the Hull Philharmonic Orchestra’s “8-Bit Symphony.” If your personal PC gaming history included a Commodore 64, chances are you’ll recognize songs from titles like “Monty on the Run”, “Firelord”, “Green Beret”, and “Forbidden Forest.” Sure, composers like [Ben Daglish] and [Paul Norman] worked wonders with the three-channel SID chip, but hearing those tunes rendered by a full orchestra is something else entirely. We found it to be particularly good background music to write by.

Homekit Compatible Sonoff Firmware Without A Bridge

Generally speaking, home automation isn’t as cheap or as easy as most people would like. There are too many incompatible protocols, and more often than not, getting everything talking requires you to begrudgingly sign up for some “cloud” service that you didn’t ask for. If you’re an Apple aficionado, there can be even more hoops to jump through; getting your unsupported smart home devices working with that Cupertino designed ecosystem often involves running your own HomeKit bridge.

To try and simplify things, [Michele Gruppioni] has developed a firmware for the ubiquitous Sonoff WIFI Smart Switch that allows it to speak native HomeKit. No more using a Raspberry Pi to act as a mediator between your fancy Apple hardware and that stack of $4 Sonoff’s from AliExpress, they can now talk to each other directly. In the video after the break you can see that the iPad identifies the switch as unofficial device, but since it’s compliant with the HomeKit API, that doesn’t prevent them from talking to each other.

Not only will this MIT licensed firmware get your Sonoff Basic, Sonoff Slampher, or Sonoff S26 talking with your Apple gadgets, but it also provides a web interface and REST API so it retains compatibility with whatever else you might be running in your home automation setup. So while the more pedestrian users of your system might be turning the porch light on with their iPhones, you can still fire it up with a Bash script as nature intended.

Of course, if you don’t mind adding a Raspberry Pi bridge to the growing collection of devices on your network, we’ve got plenty of other HomeKit-enabled projects for you to take a look at.

Continue reading “Homekit Compatible Sonoff Firmware Without A Bridge”

Does The Cheese Grater Do A Great Grate Of Cheese?

Apple’s newest Mac Pro with its distinctive machined grille continues to excite interest, but until now there has been one question on the lips of nobody. It’s acquired the moniker “Cheese grater”, but can it grate cheese? [Winston Moy] set out to test its effectiveness in the kitchen with a piece of Pecorino Romano, a great cheese.

Of course, the video is not really about cheese grating, but about the machining process to create that distinctive pattern of intersecting spherical holes. He doesn’t have a real Mac Pro because nobody does as yet, so like others his approach was to reverse engineer the manufacturing process. He takes us through the entire thing and the rationale behind his decisions as he makes a 13-hole piece of Mac Pro-like grill from a billet of aluminium. It’s first roughly cut with a pair of decreasing-size end mills, then finished with a ball mill. He’s added an extra cut to round off the sharp edge of the hole that isn’t there on the Mac.

An unexpected problem came when he machined the bottom and the holes began to intersect, it was clear that they were doing so wrongly. Turning the piece over must be done in the correct orientation, one to note for any other would-be cheese-grater manufacturers. Finally the piece is blasted for a satin finish, and then anodised for scratch-resistance.

So, the important question must be answered: does it grate? The answer’s no, the best it can manage is something close to a crumble. He doesn’t seem bothered though, we get the impression he likes eating cheese whatever its form. The whole process is in the video below the break.

For more Apple grille examination, take a look at this mathematical analysis.

Continue reading “Does The Cheese Grater Do A Great Grate Of Cheese?”

The Process Behind Manufacturing That Mac Pro Grille

Apple released a monitor stand not so long ago with an eye-watering price tag, and in the resulting fuss you might almost be forgiven for missing the news that they also released a new computer. The distinctive grille on the new Mac Pro caused some interest among Hackaday editors, with speculation rife as to how it had been machined. It seems we’re not alone in this, because [J. Peterson] sent us a link to his own detailed analysis.

The key to the pattern lies in hemispherical holes milled part-way-through a piece of metal on a triangular tessellation, and intersecting with an identical set of holes milled at an offset from the other side. The analysis was done purely from online information as he doesn’t have a real Mac Pro, but using some clever trigonometry he is able to calculate the required offset as well as the hole depth. There are some STL files on Thingiverse, for the curious.

Should you wish to make your own copy of a Mac Pro grille you should therefore be able to use this information in programming a CNC mill to carve it from a piece of alloy plate. The interesting side of it from a manufacturing perspective though is that this is a complex shape that would be difficult to produce in numbers without either CNC or a very specialist one-off machine tool for this single purpose, and neither is a normal expenditure for a mere grille. Perhaps you might come close by rolling alloy plate between rollers whose profile matched the hole pattern, but in that event you would not equal the finish that they have achieved. Apple’s choice to use a relatively time-intensive CNC process in mass-production of a cosmetic part is probably in a large part a quality statement for their particular brand of consumer, but also sets a high bar to any would-be imitators. We applaud it for its engineering, even if we won’t be shelling out for that monitor stand.

Apple Just Killed The VESA Mount And We Couldn’t Be Happier

After the immense failure of the 2013-era Apple Pro trash can Mac, Apple has been hard at work at the next generation of workstation desktops. This week, the new Mac Pro has been announced, and the specs are amazing: We finally can buy a professional, desktop Mac with half the storage of an iPhone. The big story isn’t the next generation of cheese-grater Macs, though: the new display, the Pro Display XDR, has killed the venerable VESA mount and we couldn’t be happier.

The VESA mount, or more correctly, the VESA Mounting Interface Standard, was created in 1997 as a mounting standard for flat panel monitors and televisions. Look on the back of your monitor, and you’ll probably find a pattern of M4 threaded inserts laid out on a 75mm or 100mm square. Larger sizes, with respectively larger thread sizes, are used for gigantic wall-mounted televisions. For the last two decades, this has been the standard for mounting monitors to stands. Now this standard faces a challenger thanks to the brave designers at Apple. Continue reading “Apple Just Killed The VESA Mount And We Couldn’t Be Happier”