Hackaday Links: August 23, 2020

Apple, the world’s first trillion-dollar company — give or take a trillion — has built a bit of libertarian cachet by famously refusing to build backdoors into their phones, despite the entreaties of the federal government. So it came as a bit of a surprise when we read that the company may have worked with federal agents to build an “enhanced” iPod. David Shayer says that he was one of three people in Apple who knew about the 2005 program, which was at the behest of the US Department of Energy. Shayer says that engineers from defense contractor Bechtel, seemed to want to add sensors to the first-generation iPod; he was never clued in fully but suspects they were adding radiation sensors. It would make sense, given the climate in the early 2000s, walking down the street with a traditional Geiger counter would have been a bit obvious. And mind you, we’re not knocking Apple for allegedly working with the government on this — building a few modified iPods is a whole lot different than turning masses of phones into data gathering terminals. Umm, wait…

A couple of weeks back, we included a story about a gearhead who mounted a GoPro camera inside of a car tire. The result was some interesting footage as he drove around; it’s not a common sight to watch a tire deform and move around from the inside like that. As an encore, the gearhead in question, Warped Perception, did the same trick bit with a more destructive bent: he captured a full burnout from the inside. The footage is pretty sick, with the telltale bubbles appearing on the inside before the inevitable blowout and seeing daylight through the shredded remains of the tire. But for our money, the best part is the slo-mo footage from the outside, with the billowing smoke and shredded steel belts a-flinging. We appreciate the effort, but we’re sure glad this guy isn’t our neighbor.

Speaking of graphic footage, things are not going well for some remote radio sites in California. Some towers that host the repeaters used by public service agencies and ham radio operators alike have managed to record their last few minutes of life as wildfires sweep across the mountains they’re perched upon. The scenes are horrific, like something from Dante’s Inferno, and the burnover shown in the video below is terrifying; watch it and you’ll see a full-grown tree consumed in less than 30 seconds. As bad as the loss of equipment is, it pales in comparison to what the firefighters face as they battle these blazes, but keep in mind that losing these repeaters can place them in terrible jeopardy too.

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New Contest: Circuit Sculpture Challenge

We’re bringing back one of our most popular contests, the Hackaday Circuit Sculpture Challenge! Make your functional circuits go beyond utility by turning them into art!

Solar-powered circuit sculpture by [Mohit Bhoite] which was featured last year.
Wire and circuit boards are a fantastic media for creating beautiful projects, and for this one we want both the copper and the boards (or lack of) to be part of the beauty. Your sculpture could be crisp and angular bends in brass rod, a rat’s nest of enamel wire, PCBs with organic shapes, or something completely wild. Your only constraint is that there needs to be some type of working circuit involved.

Three entries will be chosen as top winners in the Most Functional, Most Beautiful, and Best Video categories and be awarded $200 in components from Digi-Key who are sponsoring this contest and also putting together a calendar with images of the top twelve sculptures.

The Wonderlandscape by [Michael Aichlmayr] takes the “sculpture” part of Circuit Sculpture to new levels.
Tell us the story of your creation, including a deep dive into how you built the sculpture and what trial and error you went through to pull it off. Many circuit sculptures in the past have included jig-building to get the wire bends just right, so we have a fourth prize of $100 in Tindie credit for the Best Jig build.

Get your project started now on Hackaday.io and use that “Submit Project To:” button in the left sidebar of your project page to enter it in the Circuit Sculpture Challenge. You have until November 10th to submit your entry.

Breadboard Breaks The Speed Barrier

It is common wisdom that solderless breadboards are only good for low frequencies. But how fast can they really go? There’s been a contest going on to see who can make the fastest breadboard-mounted oscillator and [Joe Smith] has been trying to keep his leading position. He’s already managed 6 GHz and now he’s shooting for 20 GHz, as you can see in the video below.

One of the biggest challenges at these frequencies is just measuring your output. You may have a scope, but how does it do at 20 GHz? So half of the story is how [Joe] managed to monitor his output.

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Hardware Hacker’s Marie Kondo: How Many LM386s Is Too Many?

We’re running a contest on Making Tech at Home: building projects out of whatever you’ve got around the house. As a hacker who’s never had a lab outside of my apartment, house, or hackerspace, I had to laugh at the premise. Where the heck else would I hack?

The idea is that you’re constrained to whatever parts you’ve got on hand. But at the risk of sounding like Scrooge McDuck sitting on a mountain of toilet paper, I’ve got literally hundreds of potentiometers in my closet, a couple IMUs, more microcontrollers than you can shake a stick at, and 500 ml of etching solution waiting for me in the bathroom. Switches, motors, timing belts, nichrome wire…maybe I should put in an order for another kilogram of 3D printer filament. In short, unless it’s a specialty part or an eBay module, I’m basically set.

But apparently not everyone is so well endowed. I’ve heard rumors of people who purchase all of the parts for a particular project. That ain’t me. The guru of household minimalism asks us to weigh each object in our possession and ask “does it spark joy?”. And the answer, when I pull out the needed 3.3 V low-dropout regulator and get the project built now instead of three days from now, is “yes”.

And I’m not even a hoarder. (I keep telling myself.) The rule that keeps me on this side of sanity: I have a box for each type of part, and they are essentially fixed. When no more motors fit in the motor box, no more motors are ordered, no matter how sexy, until some project uses enough of them to free up space. It’s worked for the last 20 years, long before any of us had even heard of Marie Kondo.

So if you also sit atop a heap of VFD displays like Smaug under the Lonely Mountain, we want to see what you can do. If you do win, Digi-Key is sending you a $500 goodie box to replenish your stash. But even if you don’t win, you’ve freed up space in the “Robot Stuff” box. That’s like winning, and you deserve some new servos. Keep on hacking!

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Announcing The “Take Flight With Feather” Contest

The Adafruit Feather is the latest platform for microcontroller development, and companies like Particle, Sparkfun, Seeed Studios, and of course Adafruit are producing Feather-compatible devices for development and prototyping. Now it’s your turn! The Take Flight With Feather contest challenges you to design a board to fit in the Feather ecosystem, with the grand prize of having your boards manufactured for you and listed for sale on Digi-Key.

To get started, take a look at the current Feather ecosystem and get acquainted with this list of examples. From there, get to work designing a cool, useful, insane, or practical Feather. But keep in mind that we’re looking for manufacturability. Electron savant Lady Ada will be judging each board on the basis of manufacturability.

What’s a good design? We’re looking for submissions in the following categories:

  • The Weirdest Feather — What’s the most ridiculous expansion board you can come up with?
  • You’ll Cut Yourself On That Edge — We’re surrounded with bleeding-edge tech, what’s the coolest use of new technology?
  • Retro Feather — Old tech lives on, but can you design a Feather to interact with it? Is it even possible to build a vampire Ethernet tap or an old acoustically-coupled modem?
  • Assistive Tech — Build a Feather to help others. Use technology to improve lives.
  • Wireless Feather — Add a new wireless technology to the Feather ecosystem

In addition to the grand prize winner, five other entries (one in each of the 5 categories above) will receive $100 Tindie gift certificates. The contest begins now and runs through December 31st. To get started, start a project on Hackaday.io and use the “Submit Project To” dropdown box on the left sidebar of your project page to enter it in the contest.

Hackaday Links: October 27, 2019

A year ago, we wrote about the discovery of treasure trove of original documentation from the development of the MOS 6502 by Jennifer Holdt-Winograd, daughter of the late Terry Holdt, the original program manager on the project. Now, Ms. Winograd has created a website to celebrate the 6502 and the team that built it. There’s an excellent introductory video with a few faces you might recognize, nostalgia galore with period photographs that show the improbable styles of the time, and of course the complete collection of lab notes, memos, and even resumes of the team members. If there were a microchip hall of fame – and there is – the 6502 would be a first-round pick, and it’s great to see the history from this time so lovingly preserved.

Speaking of the 6502, did you ever wonder what the pin labeled SO was for? Sure, the data sheets all say pin 38 of the original 40-pin DIP was the “Set Overflow” pin, an active low that set the overflow bit in the Processor Status Register. But Rod Orgill, one of the original design engineers on the 6502, told a different story: that “SO” was the initials of his beloved dog Sam Orgill. The story may be apocryphal, but it’s a Good Doggo story, so we don’t care.

You may recall a story we ran not too long ago about the shortage of plutonium-238 to power the radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) for deep-space missions. The Cold War-era stockpiles of Pu-238 were running out, but Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientists and engineers came up with a way to improve production. Now there’s a video showing off the new automated process from the Periodic Videos series, hosted by the improbably coiffed Sir Martyn Poliakoff. It’s fascinating stuff, especially seeing workers separated from the plutonium by hot-cells with windows that are 4-1/2 feet (1.4 meters) thick.

Dave Murray, better known as YouTube’s “The 8-Bit Guy”, can neither confirm nor deny the degree to which he participated in the golden age of phone phreaking. But this video of his phreaking presentation at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo reveals a lot of suspiciously detailed knowledge about the topic. The talk starts at 4:15 or so and is a nice summary of blue boxes, DTMF hacks, war dialing, and all the ways we curious kids may or may not have kept our idle hands busy before the Interwebz came along.

Do you enjoy a puzzle? We sure do, and one was just laid before us by a tipster who prefers to stay anonymous, but for whom we can vouch as a solid member of the hacker community. So no malfeasance will befall you by checking out the first clue, a somewhat creepy found footage-esque video with freaky sound effects, whirling clocks, and a masked figure reading off strings of numbers in a synthesized voice. Apparently, these clues will let you into a companion website. We worked on it for a bit and have a few ideas about how to crack this code, but we don’t want to give anything away. Or more likely, mislead anyone.

And finally, if there’s a better way to celebrate the Spooky Season than to model predictions on how humanity would fare against a vampire uprising, we can’t think of one. Dominik Czernia developed the Vampire Apocalypse Calculator to help you decide when and if to panic in the face of an uprising of the undead metabolically ambiguous. It supports several models of vampiric transmission, taken from the canons of popular genres from literature, film, and television. The Stoker-King model makes it highly likely that vampires would replace humans in short order, while the Harris-Meyer-Kostova model of sexy, young vampires is humanity’s best bet except for having to live alongside sparkly, lovesick vampires. Sadly, the calculator is silent on the Whedon model, but you can set up your own parameters to model a world with Buffy-type slayers at your leisure. Or even model the universe of The Walking Dead to see if it’s plausible that humans are still alive 3599 days into the zombie outbreak.

Connected World Contest: Four Top Winners Announced

We love seeing the astonishing array of projects large and small entered into Hackaday contests which push the boundaries of what is possible. Our latest has been the Connected World contest which was announced back in June, and today we’re pleased to bring you its four top winners. As a recap, the brief was to create something that connects wirelessly and shows a blend of creativity and functionality. The final four have a diverse range of applications, and here they are with their respective categories:

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