Pocket Computer Reminds Us Of PDAs

Before smartphones exploded on the scene in the late 00s, there was still a reasonable demand for pocket-sized computers that could do relatively simple computing tasks. Palm Pilots and other PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants) were all the rage in the ’90s and early ’00s, although for cutting-edge tech from that era plenty of these devices had astronomical price tags. This Arduino-based PDA hearkens back to that era, albeit with a much more accessible parts list.

The build is based around an Arudino Nano with an OLED screen and has the five necessary functions for a PDA: calculator, stopwatch, games, phonebook, and a calendar. With all of these components on such a small microcontroller, memory quickly became an issue when using the default libraries. [Danko] uses his own custom libraries in order to make the best use of memory which are all available on the project’s GitHub page. The build also includes a custom PCB to keep the entire pocket computer pocket-sized.

There are some other features packed into this tiny build as well, like the breakout game that can be played with a potentiometer. It’s an impressive build that makes as much use of the microcontroller’s capabilities as is possible, and if you enjoy projects where a microcontroller is used as if it is a PC take a look at this Arduino build with its own command-line interface.

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Great Beginnings: The Antikythera Mechanism Gets A “Day Zero”

When an unknown genius sat down more than 2,000 years ago to design and build an astronomical instrument, chances are good that he or she didn’t think that entire academic institutions devoted to solving its mysteries would one day be established. But such is the enduring nature of the Antikythera mechanism, the gift from antiquity that keeps on giving long after being dredged up from a shipwreck in the Aegean Sea.

And now, new research on the ancient mechanism reveals that like other mechanical calendars, the Antikythera mechanism has a “day zero,” or a minimum possible date that it can display. The analysis by a team led by [Aristeidis Voulgaris] gets deep into the weeds of astronomical cycles, which the mechanism was designed to simulate using up to 37 separate gears, 30 of which have been found. The cycle of concern is the saros, a 223 lunar month cycle of alignments between the Earth, Sun, and Moon. The saros can be used to predict eclipses, astronomical events of immense importance in antiquity, particularly annular eclipses, which occur when the Moon is at apogee and therefore eclipses less of the Sun’s surface.

The researchers looked at historical annular eclipse data and found that saros cycle 58 had a particularly long annular eclipse, on 23 December 178 BCE. The eclipse would have been visible at sunrise in the eastern Mediterranean, and coupled with other astronomical goodies, like the proximity to the winter solstice, the Sun entering Capricorn, and the Moon being new and at apogee, was probably so culturally significant to the builder that it could serve as the initial date for calibrating all the mechanisms pointers and dials.

Others differ with that take, of course, saying that the evidence points even further back, to a start date in the summer of 204 BCE. In any case, if like us you can’t get enough Antikythera, be sure to check out our overview of the mechanism, plus [Clickspring]’s exploration of methods perhaps used to build it.

Keep Track Of Your Google Calendar With This Custom Build

Keeping track of your appointments on Google Calendar is easy enough if you’re holding a phone or sitting at a computer, but sometimes you just want to know what’s going on at a glance. This desktop calendar build from [andrei.erdei] does just that with plenty of helpful LEDs.

The attract mode is very cool, even if it doesn’t display any actual information.

The design is simple, using WS2812 LEDs to backlight numbers to indicate whether they are weekdays, weekends, anniversaries, holidays, or any other dates of importance. The numerical layout is a nifty perpetual design allowing the display to easily accommodate the structure of any month, even those neat and tidy ones that start on Monday.

The design relies on an ESP-01 to communicate with Google Calendar and display the relevant data. It’s all wrapped up in a 3D printed case, with the printed paper template backlit from behind some smoked acrylic giving a surprisingly professional-looking finish.

If you’re tired of picking up your phone for every last thing, this design could be just what you’re after for keeping track of your appointments. Alternatively, you could always go the hard copy route. Video after the break.

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Fabulous Flexure Mechanism Makes For Resetting Cat Calendar

When we met [Amy Makes Stuff] at the 2019 Hackaday Superconference, we were immediately impressed with the array of flexure mechanisms displayed on a board hanging around her neck. That must be where we saw [Amy]’s original version of the cat calendar — a simple way to know for sure whether the shared house’s cat has been fed once, twice, or not at all on a given day.

Left: a simple flexure that gets heavily stressed when actuated. Right: a slightly more complicated flexure that uses less force.

Awesome as it is, the flexure mechanism doesn’t reset the yes/no indicators when the day clicks over — that has to be done manually. So when [Amy] was offered to try a small desktop CNC, she decided it was time to make a new version that resets automatically. Check it out in the video after the break, which also includes an exploration of [Amy]’s choice of flexure design as well as a bonus review of the CNC.

This is just an all-around great video, especially after [Amy] neglected to mill out the check marks and circles, sending her down a rabbit hole of attempting to make branding bits for these that could be chucked into a soldering iron. Unfortunately, the mill stops short of having the necessary mettle for milling metal.

Although [Amy] is likely known for her flexures, she has a ton of skills. Remember when she resurrected that burned and bubbled laser cutter? Or the time she machined a honing jig for hand-sharpening chisels and planes?

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Mechanical Timekeeping Hack Chat With Clickspring

Join us on Wednesday, February 3 at noon Pacific for the Mechanical Timekeeping Hack Chat with Clickspring!

The reckoning of the passage of time has been of vital importance to humans pretty much for all our history, but for most of that time we were stuck looking at the movements of heavenly bodies or noting the changing of the seasons to answer questions of time. The search for mechanical aids to mark the passage of time began surprisingly early, though, pretty much from the time our ancestors first learned to work with metals.

Timekeeping devices were often created to please a potentate or to satisfy a religious imperative, but whatever the reason for their invention, these early clocks and calendars were key to a ton of discoveries. Timekeeping devices were among the first precision mechanisms, and as such formed the basis of much of our mechanical world. A mechanical representation of the passage of time also gave us some of the first precise observations of the physical world, which led to an enormous number of discoveries about the nature of the universe, not to mention practical skills such as navigation, which allowed us to explore the world with greater confidence.

In our era, precision timekeeping has moved beyond the mechanical realm into the subatomic world, and mechanisms built to please a prince are relegated to museums and collectors. That’s not to say there isn’t plenty to learn from the building of mechanical timepieces, as anyone who has watched any of the videos on Clickspring’s YouTube channel can attest. Clickspring not only makes some magnificent modern timepieces, like his famous open-frame clock, but recently he’s also branched out into the timekeeping mechanisms of the ancients. He built a reproduction Byzantine sundial-calendar, and tackled a reproduction of the famous Antikythera mechanism. The latter was undertaken using only the tools and materials that would have been available to the original maker. That led to an unexpected discovery and a detour into the world of scholarly publishing.

Clickspring has been busy lately, but he made some time to stop by the Hack Chat and talk about mechanical timepieces. We’ll talk about his modern builds, his forays into the mechanisms of antiquity, and his serendipitous discovery. On the way we’re likely to talk about what it takes to build precision mechanisms in a small shop, and whatever else that crops up.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, February 3 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you tied up, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

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For Your Holiday Relaxation: The Clickspring Sundial Build Megacut

The fortunate among us may very well have a bit of time off from work coming up, and while most of that time will likely be filled with family obligations and festivities, there’s probably going to be some downtime. And if you should happen to find yourself with a half hour free, you might want to check out the Clickspring Byzantine Calendar-Sundial mega edit. And we’ll gladly accept your gratitude in advance.

Fans of machining videos will no doubt already be familiar with Clickspring, aka [Chris], the amateur horologist who, through a combination of amazing craftsmanship and top-notch production values, managed to make clockmaking a spectator sport. We first caught the Clickspring bug with his open-frame clock build, which ended up as a legitimate work of art. [Chris] then undertook two builds at once: a reproduction of the famous Antikythera mechanism, and the calendar-sundial seen in the video below.

The cut condenses 1,000 hours of machining, turning, casting, heat-treating, and even hand-engraving of brass and steel into an incredibly relaxing video. There’s no narration, no exposition — nothing but the sounds of metal being shaped into dozens of parts that eventually fit perfectly together into an instrument worthy of a prince of Byzantium. This video really whets our appetite for more Antikythera build details, but we understand that [Chris] has been busy lately, so we’ll be patient.

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Hacker’s Discovery Changes Understanding Of The Antikythera Mechanism

With all the trained academics who have pored over the Antikythera mechanism in the 120 years since it was pulled from the Mediterranean Sea, you’d think all of the features of the ancient analog computer would have been discovered by now. But the mechanism still holds secrets, some of which can only be appreciated by someone in tune with the original maker of the device. At least that what appears to have happened with the recent discovery of a hitherto unknown lunar calendar in the Antikythera mechanism. (Video, embedded below.)

The Antikythera mechanism is fascinating in its own right, but the real treat here is that this discovery comes from one of our own community — [Chris] at Clickspring, maker of amazing clocks and other mechanical works of art. When he undertook a reproduction of the Antikythera mechanism using nothing but period-correct materials and tools four years ago, he had no idea that the effort would take the direction it has. The video below — also on Vimeo — sums up the serendipitous discovery, which is based on the unusual number of divisions etched into one of the rings of the mechanisms. Scholars had dismissed this as a mistake, but having walked a mile in the shoes of the mechanism’s creator, [Chris] knew better.

The craftsmanship and ingenuity evidenced in the original led [Chris] and his collaborators to the conclusion that the calendar ring is actually a 354-day calendar that reflects a lunar cycle rather than a solar cycle. The findings are summarized in a scholarly paper in the Horological Journal. Getting a paper accepted in a peer-reviewed journal is no mean feat, so hats off to the authors for not only finding this long-lost feature of the Antikythera mechanism and figuring out its significance, but also for persisting through the writing and publication process while putting other projects on hold. Clickspring fans have extra reason to rejoice, too — more videos are now on the way!

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