You know the old joke: There are 10 types of people in the world — those who understand binary, and those who don’t. Most of us on Hackaday are firmly in the former camp, which is why projects like this circuit sculpture binary calculator really tickle our fancies.
Inspired by the brass framework and floating component builds of [Mohit Bhoite], [dennis1a4] decided to take the plunge into circuit sculpture in an appropriately nerdy way. He wisely decided on a starter build, which was a simple 555 timer circuit, before diving into the calculator. Based on an ATMega328P in a 28-pin DIP, the calculator is built on an interesting hybrid platform of brass wire and CNC-routed wood. The combination of materials looks great, and we especially love the wooden keycaps on the six switches that make up the keyboard. There’s also some nice work involved in adapting the TLC5928 driver to the display of 16 discrete LEDs; suspended as it is by fine magnet wires, the SSOP chip looks a bit like a bug trapped in a spider web.
Hats off to [dennis1a4] for a great entry into our soon-to-conclude Circuit Sculpture Contest. The entry deadline is (today!) November 10, so it might be a bit too late for this year. But rest assured we’ll be doing this again, so take a look at all this year’s entries and start thinking about your next circuit sculpture build.
There are many ways to update an embedded system in the field. Images can fly through the air one a time, travel by sneaker or hitch a ride on other passing data. OK, maybe that’s a stretch, but there are certainly a plethora of ways to get those sweet update bytes into a target system. How are those bytes assembled, and what are the tools that do the assembly? This is the problem I needed to solve.
Recall, my system wasn’t a particularly novel one (see the block diagram below). Just a few computers asking each other for an update over some serial busses. I had chosen to bundle the payload firmware images into the binary for the intermediate microcontroller which was to carry out the update process. The additional constraint was that the blending of the three firmware images (one carrier and two payload) needed to happen long after compile time, on a different system with a separate toolchain. There were ultimately two options that fit the bill.
Performing over-the-air updates of devices in the field can be a tricky business. Reliability and recovery is of course key, but even getting the right bits to the right storage sectors can be a challenge. Recently I’ve been working on a project which called for the design of a new pathway to update some small microcontrollers which were decidedly inconvenient.
There are many pieces to a project like this; a bootloader to perform the actual updating, a robust communication protocol, recovery pathways, a file transfer mechanism, and more. What made these micros particularly inconvenient was that they weren’t network-connected themselves, but required a hop through another intermediate controller, which itself was also not connected to the network. Predictably, the otherwise simple “file transfer” step quickly ballooned out into a complex onion of tasks to complete before the rest of the project could continue. As they say, it’s micros all the way down.
The tubes are arranged in three banks of six, the upper registering hours, the middle minutes, and seconds on the lowest. Each one only uses two digits, as you might expect from a binary device they are 0 and 1. Behind is a large PCB with the Nixie sockets, and on the back of that in sockets are a pair of Nixie driver boards, a real-time clock module, temperature sensor module, PSU module, and either a Particle Photon or an Arduino Nano IoT. This two-option set-up for the choice of dev board is unusual, and there is code for both of them in the GitHub repository.
The result is eye-catching and unusual, and certainly a departure from the usual Nixie digital clock. Hackaday readers are probably more likely than the average Joe or Jane to be able to read binary at a glance, watching it in action in the video below the break is an interesting exercise in testing one’s binary-aptitude.
[John] sent this one in to us a little bit after Christmas, but we’ll give him a pass because it’s so beautiful. Think of it this way: now you have almost a full year to make a binary advent calendar of your own before December 1st rolls around again.
Normal advent calendars are pretty cool, especially when there is chocolate behind all 24 doors. But is it really a representational ramp-up if you never get more than one chocolate each day? [John] doesn’t think so. The economics of his binary advent calendar are a bit magical, much like the holiday season itself. Most days you’ll get two pieces of chocolate instead of one, and many days you’ll get three. That is, as long as you opened the right doors.
A momentary switch hidden behind the hinge of each door tells the Arduino clone when it’s been opened. The Arduino checks your binary counting abilities, and if you’re right, a servo moves a gate forward and dispenses one chocolate ball per opened door. We love the simplicity of the dispensing mechanism — the doors are designed with a ceiling that keeps non-qualifying chocolates in their channels until their flag comes up.
[John] is working out the kinks before he releases this into the wild. For now, you can get a taste in the demo video featuring a bite-sized explanation. If you don’t like chocolate, maybe this blinky advent calendar will light you up inside.
There are applications you can download for your smartphone that can “roll” an arbitrary number of dice with whatever number of sides you could possibly want. It’s faster and easier than throwing physical dice around, and you don’t have to worry about any of them rolling under the couch. No matter how you look at it, it’s really a task better performed by software than hardware. All that being said, there’s something undeniably appealing about the physical aspect of die rolling when playing a game.
Luckily, [Paul Klinger] thinks he has the solution to the problem. His design combines the flexibility of software number generation with the small form factor of a physical die. The end result is a tiny gadget that can emulate anything from a 2 to 64 sided die with just 6 LEDs while remaining as easy to operate as possible. No need to tap on your smartphone screen with Cheetos-stained hands when you’ve got to make an intelligence check, just squeeze the Universal Electronic Die and off you go. Granted you’ll need to do some binary math in your head, but if you’re the kind of person playing D&D with DIY electronic dice, we think you’ll probably be able to manage.
The 3D printed case that [Paul] came up with for his digital die is very clever, though it did take him awhile to nail it down. As shown in the video after the break, it took seven iterations before he got the various features such as the integrated button “flaps” right. There’s also a printed knob to go on the central potentiometer, to make it easier to select how many sides your virtual die will have.
In terms of the electronics, the design is actually quite simple. All that lives on the custom PCB is a ATtiny1614 microcontroller, the aforementioned LEDs, and a couple of passive components. A CR2032 coin cell powers the whole operation, and it should provide enough juice for plenty of games as it’s only turned on when the user is actively “rolling”.
If you are familiar with binary, what would you need to teach someone who only knows decimal? If you do not know how to count in binary, let us know if the video below the break helps you understand how the base-2 number system works. If learning or counting binary is not what you are interested in, maybe you can appreciate the mechanics involved with making a counter that cycles through all the ones and zeros (links to the video shown below). The mechanism is simple enough. A lever at the corner of each “1” panel is attached off-center, so it hangs when it is upside-down, then falls to the side when it is upright, so it can swivel the adjacent panel.
Perhaps this is a desktop bauble to show off your adeptness at carpentry, or skills with a laser cutter, or 3D printer. No matter what it is made out of, it will not help you get any work done unless you are a teacher who wants to demonstrate the discrete nature of binary. If wood and bits are up your alley, we have a gorgeous binary driftwood clock to feast your eyes on. Meanwhile if analog methods of working digital numbers suit you, we have binary math performed with paper models.