Climbing Everest One Hill At A Time – And Keeping Track Of It

The internet is full of self-proclaimed challenges, ranging from some absolutely pointless fads to well-intended tasks with an actual purpose. In times of TikTok, the latter is of course becoming rarer, as a quick, effortless jump on the bandwagon is just easier for raising your internet points. Cyclists on the other hand love a good challenge where they compete with one another online, testing their skills and gamifying their favorite activity along the way. One option for that is Everesting, where you pick a hill of your choice, and within a single session you ride it up and down as many times as it takes until you accumulated the height of Mount Everest on it. Intrigued by the idea, but not so much its competitive aspect, [rabbitcreek] became curious how long it would take him to reach that goal with his own casual bicycle usage, so he built a bicycle computer to measure and keep track of it.

While the total distance and time factors into the actual challenge, [rabbitcreek]’s primary interest was the accumulated height, so the device’s main component is a BMP388 barometric pressure sensor attached to a battery-powered ESP32. An e-paper display shows the total height and completed percentage, along with some random Everest-related pictures. Everything is neatly packed together in a 3D-printed case that can be mounted on the bicycle’s handlebar, and the STL files are available along with the source code in his write-up.

Of course, if you’re actually interested in the challenge itself, you probably have an assortment of sports tracking equipment anyway, but this is a nice addition to keep track as you go, and has a lower risk of ransomware attacks. And in case [rabbitcreek] sounds like a familiar name to you, he’s indeed become a Hackaday regular with his environmental hacks like the tide clock, a handheld particle sniffer, or logging temperatures in the Alaskan wilderness.

Playing The Pixelflut

Every hacker gathering needs as many pixels as its hackers can get their hands on. Get a group together and you’ll be blinded by the amount of light on display. (We propose “a blinkenlights” as the taxonomic name for such a group.) At a large gathering, what better way to show of your elite hacking ability than a “competition” over who can paint an LED canvas the best? Enter Pixelflut, the multiplayer drawing canvas.

Pixelflut has been around since at least 2012, but it came to this author’s attention after editor [Jenny List] noted it in her review of SHA 2017. What was that beguiling display behind the central bar? It turns out it was a display driven by a server running Pixelflut. A Pixelflut server exposes a display which can be drawn on by sending commands over the network in an extremely simple protocol. There are just four ASCII commands supported by every server — essentially get pixel, set pixel, screen size, and help — so implementing either a client or server is a snap, and that’s sort of the point.

While the original implementations appear to be written by [defnull] at the link at the top, in some sense Pixelflut is more of a common protocol than an implementation. In a sense, one “plays” one of a variety of Pixelflut minigames. When there is a display in a shared space the game is who can control the most area by drawing the fastest, either by being clever or by consuming as much bandwidth as possible.

Then there is the game of who can write the fastest more battle-hardened server possible in order to handle all that traffic without collapsing. To give a sense of scale, one installation at 36c3 reported that a truly gargantuan 0.5 petabytes of data were spent at a peak of rate of more than 30 gigabits/second, just painting pixels! That’s bound to bog down all but the most lithe server implementation. (“Flut” is “flood” in German.)

While hacker camps may be on pause for the foreseeable future, writing a performant Pixelflut client or server seems like an excellent way to sharpen one’s skills while we wait for their return. For a video example check out the embed after the break. Have a favorite implementation? Tell us about it in the comments!

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The Sincerest Form Of Flattery

In the art world, it’s often wistfully said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. In the open-source hardware world, this flattery takes the shape of finding your open-source project mass produced in China and sold at outrageously low markups. Looking around on my lab, I’ve been the direct beneficiary of this success.

I see an AVR Transistor Tester that I picked up for a few bucks a long time ago. Lacking anything better, it’s my go-to device for measuring inductance and capacitor ESR. For $7, it is worth much more than I paid for it, due to some clever design work by a community of German hackers and the economics of mass production. They’re so cheap that we’ve seen people re-use them just for the displays and with a little modification, turned them into Tetris consoles. That’s too cool. Continue reading “The Sincerest Form Of Flattery”

US Navy Looking To Retire Futuristic Prototype Ships

From the Age of Sail through to the Second World War, naval combat was done primarily in close quarters and with cannons. Naturally the technology improved quite a bit in those intervening centuries, but the idea was more or less the same: the ship with the most guns and most armor was usually the one that emerged victorious. Over the years warships became larger and heavier, a trend that culminated in the 1940s with the massive Bismarck, Iowa, and Yamato class battleships.

But by the close of WWII, the nature of naval combat had begun to change. Airplanes and submarines, vastly improved over their WWI counterparts, presented threats from above and below. A few years later, the advent of practical long-range guided missiles meant that adversaries no longer had to be within visual range to launch their attack. Going into the Cold War it became clear that to remain relevant, warships of the future would need to be smaller, faster, and smarter.

The aft flight deck of a modular LCS

It was this line of thinking that lead the US Navy to embark on the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program in the early 2000s. These ships would be more nimble than older warships, able to quickly dash through shallow coastal waters where adversaries couldn’t follow. Their primary armament would consist of guided missiles, with fast firing small-caliber guns being relegated to defensive duty. But most importantly, the core goal of the LCS program was to produce a modular warship.

Rather than being built for a single task, the LCS would be able to perform multiple roles thanks to so-called “mission modules” which could be quickly swapped out as needed. Instead of having to return to home port for a lengthy refit, an LCS could be reconfigured for various tasks at a commercial port closer to the combat area in a matter of hours.

A fleet of ships that could be switched between combat roles based on demand promised to make for a more dynamic Navy. If the changing geopolitical climate meant they needed more electronic reconnaissance vessels and fewer minesweepers, the Navy wouldn’t have to wait the better part of a decade to reshuffle their assets; the changeover could happen in a matter of weeks.

Unfortunately, the Littoral Combat Ships have been plagued with technical problems. Citing the expensive refits that would be required to keep them operational, the Navy is now looking at retiring the first four ships in the fleet, the newest of which is just six years old.

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One More Weekend To Sculpt Your Circuits!

Drop what you’re doing and get thee to thy workshop. This is the last weekend of the Hackaday Circuit Sculpture Contest, the perfect chance for you to exercise the creative hacker within by building something artistic using stuff you already have on hand.

The concept is simple: build a sculpture where the electronic circuit is the sculpture. Wire the components up in a way that shows off that wiring, and uses it as the structure of the art piece. Seven top finishers will win prizes, but really we want to see everyone give this a try because the results are so cool! Need proof? Check out all the entries, then ooh and ah over a few we’ve picked out below. You have until this Tuesday at noon Pacific time to get in the game.

These are just three awesome examples of the different styles we’ve seen so far in the contest. Who needs a circuit board for a retro computer? Most people… but apparently not [Matseng] as this Z80 computer is freformed yet still interactive.

Really there can’t be many things more horrifying than the thought of spider robots, but somehow [Sunny] has taken away all of our fears. The 555 spider project takes “dead bug” to a whole new level. We love the angles in the legs, and the four SMD LEDs as spider eyes really finish the look of the tiny beast.

Finally, the 3D design of [Emily Valesco’s] RGB Atari Punk Console is spectacular. It’s a build that sounds great, and looks as though it will hold up to regular use. But visually, this earns a place on your desk long after the punky appeal wears off. We also like it that she added a color-coded photograph to match up the structure to the schematic, very cool!

What are you waiting for, whether it’s a mess of wires or a carefully structured electron ballet, we want to see your Circuit Sculpture!

Problems That Plagued An Edible Marble Machine

Prolific creator [Martin Raynsford] recently created a plus-sized edible version of his laser-cut Marble Machine for a Cake International exhibit and competition; it seemed simple to do at first but had quite a few gotchas waiting, and required some clever problem-solving.

Gears are three layers, stacked and cemented with sugar glue, and coated with a hard edible shine.

The original idea was to assemble laser-cut gingerbread parts to make the machine. Gingerbread can be laser-cut quite well, and at first all seemed to be going perfectly well for [Martin]. However, after a few days the gingerbread was sagging badly. Fiddling with the recipe and the baking was to no avail, and it was clear [Martin] needed to find something other than gingerbread to work with. After experimenting, he settled on a modified sugar paste which kept its shape and dried hard enough to work with. (While appearing to stretch most people’s definition of “cake” past the breaking point, the category [Martin] entered in the competition allows it.) The parts were cut by hand using laser-cut wood parts as a guide, then finished in a food dehydrator overnight.

The next problem was how to create the large spiral which forms the main ramp. The answer was to laser-cut a custom support structure that supported the piece while it dried out, and doubled as a way to transport the piece safely. High stress points got extra layers cemented with sugar glue, and some parts were reinforced internally with strands of uncooked spaghetti. Everything was sealed with an edible shine, which [Martin] says acts as a kind of varnish for cakes. A video demonstration is embedded below. Continue reading “Problems That Plagued An Edible Marble Machine”

Surfboard Industry Wipes Out, Innovation Soon Follows

For decades, Gordon Clark and his company Clark Foam held an almost complete monopoly on the surfboard blank market. “Blanks” are pieces of foam with reinforcing wood strips (called “stringers”) in a rough surfboard shape that board manufacturers use to make a finished product, and Clark sold almost every single one of these board manufacturers their starting templates in the form of these blanks. Due to environmental costs, Clark suddenly shuttered his business in 2005 with virtually no warning. After a brief panic in the board shaping industry, and a temporary skyrocketing in price of the remaining blanks in existence, what followed next was rather surprising: a boom of innovation across the industry.

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