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Hackaday Links: October 17, 2021

We found a couple of headlines this week that seemed pretty alarming at first, mentioning as they did both “Chinese grannies” and “stun guns.” Digging a little deeper, it appears that widespread elder abuse isn’t what this is about, although there certainly is an unsavory aspect to the story. Apparently, it’s pretty common in Chinese cities for large groups of people to get together for exercise, with “square dancing” being one popular form. This isn’t the “do-si-do and allemande right” square dancing that made high school gym class really awkward for a few days, but rather large groups of mostly older women busting moves to Chinese music in public spaces. It’s the music that’s bothering some people, enough so that they’re buying “stun guns” that can somehow turn off the dancing grannies’ music. None of the articles go into any detail on the device besides describing it as a flashlight-looking thing, and that it appears to do no permanent damage to the sound system. We’d love to know where to get one of these things — you know, for science. And really, it’s kind of sad that people are taking offense at senior citizens just looking for a bit of exercise and social contact.

A couple of weeks back, we mentioned TeachMePCB, a free online PCB design class designed to take you from zero to PCB designer. We’ve been working through the course material and enjoying it, but it strikes us that there’s a lot to keep track when you’re designing a PCB, especially if you’re new to the game. That’s where this very detailed PCB design checklist would come in handy. It takes you right from schematic review and breadboard testing of subassemblies right through to routing traces to avoid crosstalk and stray capacitance problems, and right on to panelization tips and even how to make sure assembly services get your build right. Reading through the list, you get the feeling that each item is something that tripped up the author (grosdode) at one time or another. So it’s a little like having someone with hard-won experience watching over your shoulder as you work, and that can’t really be a bad thing.

Our friend Jeroen Vleggaar over at Huygens Optics on YouTube posted a video the other day about building an entire Schmidt-Cassegrain reflecting telescope out of a single piece of glass. The video is mostly an interview with optical engineer Rik ter Horst, who took up the building of monolithic telescopes as a hobby. It turns out that one of his scopes will be flying to space aboard a cubesat in January. If you’re a fan of precision optics, you’ll want to check this out. Jeroen also teased that he’ll be building his own version of Rik’s monolithic telescope, so watch for an article on that soon.

Heads up — applications are now being accepted for the Open Hardware Summit’s Ada Lovelace Fellowships. This year there are up to ten fellowships offered, each of which includes a $500 travel stipend to attend the Open Hardware Summit in April. The fellowships seek to foster a more diverse community in open-source hardware; applications are being accepted until December 17th, so hurry.

And finally, if you’ve got some spare cycles, you might want to turn your Mark 1 eyeballs to the task of spotting walrus from space. The World Wildlife Federation (WWF) is crowdsourcing its walrus census efforts by training people to spot the well-armed marine mammals in satellite photos. Assessing population numbers and distribution is important to understanding their ecology, and walrus are cute and cuddly (no, they’re not), so getting people to count them makes sense. But this seems like a job for machine vision — there has to be a model trained to recognize walrus, right? Or maybe just something to count dark spots against a white background? Maybe someone can whip something up to make this job a bit easier and less subjective.

Learn To Count In Seximal, A Position Above The Rest

Believe it or not, counting is not special. Quite a few animals have figured it out over the years. Tiny honeybees compare what is less and what is more, and their brains are smaller than a pinky nail. They even understand the concept of zero, which — as anyone who has had to teach a toddler knows — is rather difficult to grasp. No, counting is not special, but how we count is.

I don’t mean to toot our own horn, but humans are remarkable for having created numerous numeral systems, each specialized in their own ways. Ask almost anyone and they will at least have heard of binary. Hackaday readers are deeper into counting systems and most of us have used binary, octal, and hexadecimal, often in conjunction, but those are just the perfectly standard positional systems.

If you want to start getting weird, there’s balanced ternary and negabinary, and we still haven’t even left the positional systems. There’s a whole host of systems out there, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. I happen to think seximal is the best. To see why, we have to explore the different creations that arose throughout the ages. As long as we’ve had sheep, humans have been trying to count them, and the systems that resulted have been quite creative, if inefficient.

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Counting Bees With A Raspberry Pi

Even if keeping bees sounds about as wise to you as keeping velociraptors (we all know how that movie went), we have to acknowledge that they are a worthwhile thing to have around. We don’t personally want them around us of course, but we respect those who are willing to keep a hive on their property for the good of the environment. But as it turns out, there are more challenges to keeping bees than not getting stung: you’ve got to keep track of the things too.

Keeping an accurate record of how many bees are coming and going, and when, is a rather tricky problem. Apparently bees don’t like electromagnetic fields, and will flee if they detect them. So putting electronic measuring devices inside of the hive can be an issue. [Mat Kelcey] decided to try counting his bees with computer vision, and so far the results are very promising.

After some training, a Raspberry Pi with a camera can count how many bees are in a given image to within a few percent of the actual number. Getting an accurate count of his bees allows [Mat] to generate fascinating visualizations about his hive’s activity and health. With real-world threats such as colony collapse disorder, this type of hard data can be crucial.

This is a perfect example of a hack which might not pertain to many of us as-is, but still contains a wealth of information which could be applicable to other projects. [Mat] goes into a fantastic amount of detail about the different approaches he tried, what worked, what didn’t, and where he goes from here. So far the only problem he’s having is with the Raspberry Pi: it’s only able to run at one frame per second due to the computational requirements of identifying the bees. But he’s got some ideas to improve the situation.

As it so happens, we’ve covered a few other methods of counting bees in the past, though this is the first one to be entirely vision based. Interestingly, this method is similar to the project to track squirrels in the garden. Albeit without the automatic gun turret part.

Automated Parts Counter Helps Build A Small Business

We love to see projects undertaken for the pure joy of building something new, but to be honest those builds are a dime a dozen around here. So when we see a great build that also aims to enhance productivity and push an entrepreneurial effort along, like this automated small parts counter, we sit up and take notice.

The necessity that birthed this invention is [Ryan Bates’] business of building DIY arcade game kits. The mini consoles seen in the video below are pretty slick, but kitting the nuts, bolts, spacers, and other bits together to ship out orders was an exercise in tedium. Sure, parts counting scales are a thing, but that’s hardly a walk-away solution. So with the help of some laser-cut gears and a couple of steppers, [Ryan] built a pretty capable little parts counter.

The interchangeable feed gears have holes sized to move specific parts up from a hopper to a chute. A photointerrupter counts the parts as they fall into plastic cups on an 8-position carousel, ready for bagging. [Ryan] also has a manual counter for wire crimp connectors that’s just begging to be automated, and we can see plenty of ways to leverage both solutions as he builds out his kitting system.

While we’ve seen more than a few candy sorting machines lately, it’s great to see someone building hardware to streamline the move from hobby to business like this. We’re looking forward to seeing where [Ryan] takes this from here.

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