NFTs Are The Hope For A New Tomorrow!

Here at Hackaday, we’re always working as hard as we can to bring you the latest and most exciting technologies, and like so many people we’ve become convinced that the possibilities offered by the rise of the Blockchain present unrivaled opportunities for humanity to reinvent itself unfettered by the stifling regulations of a dying system. This is why today we’ve decided to join in with the digital cognoscenti and celebrities embracing Non-Fungible Tokens, or NFTs, as a new promise of non-corporeal digital investment cryptoasset that’s taking the world by storm.

Crypto Non-Fungible Investment Gains!

Imagine for a minute, yourself owning a very expensive car. Skievl, CC BY-SA 4.0.
Imagine for a minute, yourself owning a very expensive car. Skievl, CC BY-SA 4.0.

An NFT is a digital token representing something in the real world, and coupled to a unique ID held in a secure entry in the Blockchain. It’s non-fungible, which means that it’s unique and not interchangeable in the manner of a traditional old-style cryptoasset such as Bitcoin. As it allows a real-world object to be tokenised in digital form it represents a way to own something that provides an irrefutable connection to it as as a digital cryptoasset.

It’s a complex system that’s maybe too difficult to explain fully in a single article, but think of an NFT as a way to invest in a cryptoasset in digital form with its uniqueness guaranteed by Blockchain security, without having the inconvenience of physically owning it. Instead your NFT is safely held on a server on the Internet, and can’t be physically stolen as it would from a bank vault because it has the Blockchain cryptosecurity baked in.

Non Fungible Blockchain Cryptoassets!

You don't own this. Yet.
You don’t own this. Yet.

NFTs have so far found a space in the creative markets, where they have provided a revolutionary opportunity for artists to expand their sales in the digital realm by selling NFTs of their work. A struggling artist can now access buyers all over the world, who can in turn now invest with confidence in creative talent to which they would never otherwise be exposed. It’s a win-win situation in which both cryptoinvestor and artist benefit from The Power of the Blockchain.

Hackaday is excited to offer a once-in-a-lifetime chance to acquire a Blockchain-cryptosecured NFT representing one of our own articles; our first ever NFT is the only officially sanctioned digital copy of a Hackaday article presenting a novel method of handling toilet paper shortages. The original article will continue to exist on Hackaday.com with all rights reserved, but we will not make any other NFTs of it. We may also decide to update the original article to let everyone know you are the lucky owner of the only digital copy of this piece of greatness. That’s right, this NFT will let you prove you own a screenshot!

Having today sold you on the incredible cryptoinvestment opportunity offered by NFTs, we’ll be back on another date with a more sober and in-depth technical examination of the technology behind them. Meanwhile should our brief foray into NFTs garner any interest (and we really hope it does not), we will donate proceeds to the excellent Girls Who Code, a truly solid investment with a tangible bright future.

Thanks [Micah Scott] for some NFT consultancy during the making of this piece.

Hackaday Forced Into Light Mode

Hackaday has always been dark mode. Gray10 is less jarring when you’re burning the midnight oil on a project, so we give you a lot of it. Fifteen years ago, it was called “reverse video” or “trog mode“, and we were the freaks. We were doing it wrong. We had the colors “backwards”. Dark mode used to be edgy, outré, but dare we say it, a bit sexy.

Hackaday … QuickBooks. Just sayin’.
They even ripped our highlight yellow!

Flash forward, and everyone has come over to the dark side. Facebook has a dark mode. Google has dark mode. Across the Microsoft empire, from Windows 10 to GitHub, you can live your life in the dark. Heck, even the White House has a dark mode! (They call it high-contrast mode, but they’re not fooling anyone.)

Dark mode here, dark mode there. It’s mainstream. Dark mode has become corporate cool which is nobody’s idea of cool.

We’re not saying that all of the aforementioned institutions are biting the Hackaday style, but, well, they’re all biting our style. Where were they when we were the only website on the whole darn Internet with a sensible background color? Huh? Dark-mode-come-latelys!

But Hackaday doesn’t rest on its laurels. We have our fingers on the pulse on the modern hacker. Where previously you would be up late at night researching Hackaday for juicy nuggets of communal wisdom to help out with your current hack, you’re probably “telecommuting” these days — a euphemism for working on your private projects even while the fiery ball is still in the sky. (Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.) It’s only natural that you’d want a lighter background color to match your new lifestyle. We hear you!

So we present you, Hackaday Light Mode™. Enjoy!

[Editor’s note: For historical accuracy, we had phosphor green headings in the very beginning, in place of the jarring white. If you want to relive those glory days of yore, or just to go back to Hackaday in dark mode, there’s always CSS scripting.]

Accurate Dispensing Of Toilet Paper Will Get Us Through The Crisis

As we enter our second week of official COVID-19-related lockdown where this is being written, it’s evident that there are some resources we will have to conserve to help get us through all this. Instead of just using all of something because we can nip out to the store and buy more, we have to look at what we’ve got and treat it as though it will have to get us through the next three months. It’s not always certain that on our infrequent trips to the supermarket they’ll have stocks of what we want.

This is the very last of the toilet paper in my local supermarket, on the 8th of March.
This is the very last of the toilet paper in my local supermarket, on the 8th of March.

A particular shortage has been of toilet paper. The news was full of footage showing people fighting for the last twelve-pack, and since early last month there has been none to be had for love nor money. To conserve stocks and save us from the desperate measures of having to cut the Daily Mail into squares and hang them on the wall, a technical solution is required. To this end I’ve created a computerised toilet roll dispenser which carefully controls the quantity of the precious sanitary product, in the hope of curbing its consumption to see us through the crisis.

In the midst of a full lockdown it’s difficult to secure immediate delivery of our usual maker essentials, so rather than send off for the controller boards I might have liked it has been necessary to make do with what I had. In the end I selected an older single board computer I had in a box under my bench. The Sinclair ZX81 has a single-core Z80 processor running at 3.25 MHz, dual-channel memory, a Ferranti GPU, and plenty of expansion possibilities from its black plastic case. I chose it because I could repurpose its thermal printer peripheral as a toilet paper printer, and because it has an easily wiped and hygienic membrane keyboard rather than a conventional one that could harbour germs.

Hardware wise I found I was fairly easily able to adapt a standard roll of Cushelle to the ZX printer, and was soon dispensing sheets with the following BASIC code.

10 REM TOILET PAPER PRINTER
20 FOR T=0 TO 44
30 LPRINT ""
40 NEXT T
50 LPRINT "---------- TEAR HERE -----------"

For now it’s working on the bench, but it will soon be mounted with a small portable TV as a monitor on the wall next to the toilet. Dispensing toilet paper will be as simple as typing RUN and hitting the ZX’s NEW LINE key, before watching as a sheet of toilet paper emerges magically from the printer. It’s the little hacks like this one that will be so useful in getting us through the crisis. After all, this Sinclair always has a square to spare.

Gold Cables Really Do Work The Best

As a writer, I have long harboured a dream that one day an editor will buy me a top-of-the-range audio analyser, and I can set up an audio test lab and write pieces debunking the spurious claims made by audiophiles, HiFi journalists, and the high-end audio industry about the quality of their products. Does that amp really lend an incisive sibilance to the broader soundstage, and can we back that up with some measurable figures rather than purple prose?

An Audio Playground You Didn’t Know You Had

An Audio Precision APx525 audio analyser.
An Audio Precision APx525 audio analyser. Bradp723 (CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Sadly Hackaday is not an audio magazine, and if Mike bought me an Audio Precision he’d have to satisfy all the other writers’ test equipment desires too, and who knows where that would end! So there will be no Hackaday audio lab — for now. But that doesn’t mean I can’t play around with audio analysis.

Last month we carried a write-up of a Supercon talk from Kate Temkin and Michael Ossmann, in which they reminded us that we have a cracking general purpose DSP playground right under our noses; GNU Radio isn’t just for radio. Once I’d seen the talk my audio analysis horizons were opened up considerably. Maybe that audio analyser wouldn’t be mine, but I could do some of the same job with GNU Radio.

It’s important to stress at this point that anything I can do on my bench will not remotely approach the quality of a professional audio analyser. But even if I can’t measure infinitesimal differences between very high-end audio circuitry, I can still measure enough to tell a good audio product from a bad one.

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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!

Direct download (60.1 MB)

Places to follow Hackaday podcasts:

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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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