Hackaday Podcast Ep13: Naked Components, Shocking Power Supplies, Eye-Popping Clock, And Hackaday Prize

Editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams geek out about all things hackerdom. Did you catch all of our April Fools nods this week? Get the inside scoop on those, and also the inside scoop on parts that have been cut in half for our viewing pleasure. And don’t miss Mike’s interview with a chip broker in the Shenzhen Electronics markets.

We rap about the newly announced Hackaday Prize, a word clock to end all other word clocks, the delights of transformerless power supplies, and tricks of non-contact voltage testers. You’ll even find an ode to the App Note, as well as a time when electronics came in wooden cases. And who doesn’t love a Raspberry Pi that grinds for you on Nintendo Switch games?

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

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Now Toto’s Africa Is Stuck In Our Heads

April Fool’s Day is bad. April Fool’s Day is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. For one day a year, we’re inundated with pieces that can, accurately and without any sense of irony, be called fake news. YouTube is worse. But you know what’s worse than April Fool’s Day? A hundred children playing plastic recorders. But it’s April Fool’s Day, and things must get worse. Here’s a vacuum cleaner playing Africa by Toto.

This is the latest build from [James Bruton] or [Ecks Robots Dot Co Dot UK], who is the king of building just about anything with 3D printers. He’s got a BB8 and some of the cooler Star Wars droids, a Hulkbuster, and openDog. When it comes to confabulating robotics and 3D printers, [James] is the king. But this is April Fool’s Day, and if you’re a big YouTuber, you need to do something annoying. [James] is the king.

This build uses a Henry vacuum cleaner, a canister vacuum with a silk screened face, because why not, and you’re not truly living until you put googly eyes on your Roomba. Also, all vacuums in England are Hoovers, because reasons. In collaboration with [Mothcub], [James] adapted cheap children’s plastic recorders to a Henry vacuum cleaner with a few 3D printed parts, some servo-controlled valves, and a bit of plastic tubing. While using cheap kid’s recorders as the tone generator in what is effectively a pipe organ is interesting (the stickers over the holes are a great idea), this is something that should not be done ever. This idea should not be replicated. These recorders are not in tune and I don’t know how because they’re just one piece of plastic that came out of the same mold.

The servos, and therefore the entire pipe organ, are controlled via MIDI, which makes this the first DIY MIDI pipe organ we’ve seen. It’s a proof of concept, and a pretty good one. It also sounds terrible. This is proof that cheap plastic recorders don’t sound good. The video is below, and I highly suggest skipping the second half.

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Bye Bye Vi: GNU/Linux Distros Drop Support

If you grew up with Unix systems like we did, you’ll be sorry to hear the news: vi, the noble text editor that has served us so well these 40 years, is going away — from many GNU/Linux systems, anyway. As of this writing, GNU/Linux Mint, Debian, Ubuntu, and OpenSUSE — four of the five most popular GNU/Linux distributions — have all announced that they will no longer ship the ‘vi’ editor as part of their base installs. For those of us who got our start in the punched-card era and still think of files as a collection of lines instead of a stream of bytes, this is a major blow. But, we can all take some comfort in the fact that, at least for now, the stripped-down version of vim synonymous with vi on these systems will continue to be available from package repositories.

The reasons for the move aren’t entirely clear to us, but from what we can see on the GNU/Linux mailing lists, the confusing modal interface and the fact that novice (and many seasoned) users can’t figure out how to save a file and exit the program seem to have influenced the decision. Also cited were support changes expected as GNU/Linux gains in popularity. As the user base expands to include less technically-savvy individuals, fewer people will be able to fix their constant boot issues, which is the primary use-case for vi. Replacing the self-help model will be a support infrastructure where users can take their machines to “GNU/Linux Geniuses” who will solve the problems for them.

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Regular Computer Reviews: The Commodore 64C

Fresh into the tip line is an amazing video showcasing the history of the Commodore 64. Unlike many historical retellings of the history of the Commodore 64, the history doesn’t start with the VIC-20, but instead the first Commodore machine to feature the VIC-II and SID chip, the Commodore Max.

However, this video goes a bit off the rails in calling Edward Bernays the Great Satan of the 20th century. Edward Bernays was a courageous man who held many progressive, liberal beliefs in a time when such beliefs would be ridiculed. Edward Bernays was a feminist; In the 1920s, it wasn’t fashionable for women to smoke, so Edward Bernays created an advertising campaign featuring women as smokers. Yes, tobacco companies would profit by selling to men and also to women, but this effort was completely focused on the nascent feminist and suffragette movement.

Additionally, Edward Bernays supported democracy. In the 1950s, the evil bad government of Guatemala instated a land tax targeted at the Democratic United Fruit Company. Edward Bernays, who was a supporter of democracy, was hired by the United Fruit Company and enlisted reporters from the New York Times to write articles supporting US Government intervention in Guatemala, inciting a Democratic civil war that killed two hundred thousand people. Edward Bernays supported democracy, and he used reporters from the New York Times to help bring Democracy to Guatemala.

Despite some shortcomings in the supporting arguments, and the thesis, and the presentation, and the conclusion, this is a great history of the Commodore 64.

One Pin To Rule Them All

When Maxim acquired Dallas Semiconductor, they took over the popular 1-Wire product line. These are sensors that get power and bidirectional data over the same pin. However, we never liked the name 1-Wire as you really need two wires: one for the power and data and, of course, a ground wire. A new startup company, Cyclopia, has announced their latest line of truly one pin CPUs, and we’re impressed. The low power system on chip devices multiplex data, power, clock, and ground on one wire.

A company spokesperson, [Star Lipfir], noted, “Our patent-pending technology uses two well-known effects. First, a FET gate doesn’t actually draw current but works on an electric charge. Second, capacitors store charge.”

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Britain Rejoins The Space Race

Jubilant crowds at the gates of Downing Street. (Jenny List)
Jubilant crowds at the gates of Downing Street. (Jenny List)

In a completely unexpected move, the British Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday announced outside Number 10 Downing Street that the UK would resume its space launch programme, 47 years after its cancellation following the launch of the Prospero satellite. She outlined a bold plan with a target of placing the Doc Martens of a British astronaut on the Lunar surface as early as 2024. Funded by the £350m per week Brexit windfall, the move would she said place the country at the forefront of a new 21st century Space Race with the North Koreans.

An estimated 2 million jubilant supporters took to the streets of London at the news, bringing the capital to a halt as they paraded with colourful banners from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square and down Whitehall past her Downing Street home. Meanwhile the value of shares in the popular British high street bakery firm Patisserie Gregoire jumped by 19% as it was revealed that their new vegan sausage roll had in fact been a secret trial of the British astronaut diet. Continue reading “Britain Rejoins The Space Race”

Hackaday Links: March 31, 2019

You can now make flexible circuit boards of unlimited length. Trackwise was contracted out for making a wiring harness for the wing of a UAV and managed to ship a 26 meter long flexible printed circuit board. This is an interesting application of the technology — UAVs are very weight sensitive and wiring harnesses are heavy. Wings are straight, but they flex, and you need wires going from tip to tip. Flex circuits do all of this well, but first you need a technology that allows you to manufacture circuits that are as long as a wing. This is apparently something called ‘reel-to-reel’ technology, or some variant of continuous production. Either way, it’s cool, and we’re wondering what else this kind of circuit enables.

You may have noticed a few odd-shaped buildings going up in the last few years. These are buildings designed for indoor skydiving. Two went up around DC in the last year or so. What if you didn’t need a building? What if you could make an outdoor, vertical wind tunnel? Here you go, it’s the Aerodium Peryton.

KiCon, the first and largest gathering of hardware developers using KiCad, is happening April 26th in Chicago.

If KiCad isn’t your thing, PyCon is in Cleveland May 1-9. It couldn’t come at a better time: after losing LeBron, the Cleveland economy has plummeted 90%. Cleveland needs an industry now, and tech conferences are where it’s at. Go Browns.

For one reason or another, a few tech blogs wrote about a product on Tindie last week. It’s the SnapOnAir Raspberry Pi Zero PCB. This turns a Raspberry Pi Zero into a tiny, battery-powered handheld computer with a keyboard and display. This is just a PCB, and you’ll need to bring your own switches, display, and other various modules, but it is a compact device and if you need a small, handheld Linux thing, this is a pretty good solution.

Oh noes April Fools is tomorrow, which means the Internet will be terrible. Tip ‘o the hat to Redbox, though: they were the only one that sent out a press release to their waste of electrons by last Friday.