Over-Engineered Single Button Timer

Feature creep is typically something to be avoided, since watching a relatively simple project balloon into a rat’s nest of complexity often leads to ineffective, or even abandoned, projects. On the other hand, if you can maintain a tight focus, it’s not always a bad thing. [cbm80Amiga] shows us how to drill down and add specific features in this single-button timer without losing focus on what the original project was all about.

The timer is based on an Arduino Pro Mini and an HX1230 LCD with a simple piezo speaker for audible alerts. A single button controls operation of the timer, with short presses incrementing each digit and long presses moving on to the next digit. Controlling button presses this finely is a project in its own, but then [cbm80Amiga] moves on to other features such as backlight control, low power modes which allow it to operate for around two years on a single battery charge, preset times for various kitchen uses, and different appearance settings.

Honestly we aren’t sure how you could cram any more features on this timer without fundamentally altering the designed simplicity. It doesn’t fall into the abyss of feature creep while being packed with features, and it’s another example of how keeping things simple is often a recipe for success.

Thanks to [Hari] for the tip!

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Home Automation Covers Everything

When starting out on a project, it’s accepted best practice to try to avoid feature creep. Of course, we can’t all say that we follow this guideline completely every time. In fact, sometimes it can get away from us, and in rare situations it might actually turn out pretty well. That appears to be what happened with [superczar]’s home automation project which now covers basically everything possible in home automation.

The build started in 2013, so we assume that features have been added periodically and that the system wasn’t designed and built all in one furious weekend. Either way, though, it covers a lot: lights, switches, media players in several rooms, includes sensors and logging for temperature, smoke, fire, and power, supports a number of cameras, the doorbell, and the locks. It also includes voice control for most of the systems.

That’s an impressive list, but what really drew our attention to this project is that it used to be based on domoticz, but that community has waned over the years and [superczar] had kept his system patched together with self-built scripts. An accidental upgrade recently broke the entire setup, so rather than rebuild everything a migration was made to home-assistant, an open-source platform that has a more active community. We’ve seen plenty of projects around here that use it as a platform, for ceiling fans, custom remotes, and doorbells.

Thanks to [pradeepmur] for the tip!

GSM Module Does More Than Advertised

For many projects, a WiFi connection is overkill, too complicated, or too far away to work properly. Even though it’s relatively ubiquitous, sometimes the best choice for getting data to or from the real world is a connection to the cellular network, which can be done with the M590 module for about a dollar each. For that price, lots of people have had the opportunity to explore the module itself, and [marcrbarker] shows some of the extra, unadvertised, features it has.

Acting as a GSM module that can send and receive SMS messages is just the tip of the iceberg for this tiny device which we saw once before for a DIY GPS tracker. With a USB TTL serial data module, a lot more is on the table including answering voice calls and responding with DTMF tones, operate as a dial-up modem, connect with TCP, and even has some FTP capabilities. [marcrbarker] also suggests that it could do “call pranking” where it can send signals without being charged for a call.

There are a lot of details on the project site about all of this newfound functionality, and it reminds us of a time when it was discovered that not only was the ESP8266 a cheap WiFi module, but it could also run custom programs on its own. While the M590 probably can’t do all of that, it does seem to have a lot more locked away than most of us had thought before.

Hurdy-Gurdy Gets Modernized With MIDI Upgrades

If you’ve never heard a hurdy-gurdy before, you’re in for a treat. Not many people have, since they’re instruments which are uncommon outside of some eastern European communities. Think of a violin that replaces the bow with a hand-cranked wheel, and adds some extra strings that function similar to drones on a bagpipe. The instrument has been around for hundreds of years, but now it’s been given an upgrade via the magic of MIDI.

All of these new features come from [Barnaby Walters] who builds hurdy-gurdys by hand but has recently been focusing on his MIDI interface. The interface can do pitch-shifting polyphony, which allows the instrument to make its own chords and harmonies. It also has a hybrid poly synthesizer, which plays completely different sounds, and can layer them on top of one another. It can also split the keyboard into two instruments, where the top half plays one sound and the bottom half another. It’s an interesting take on an interesting instrument, and the video is definitely worth a look.

The hurdy-gurdy isn’t a commonly used instrument for hacking compared to something like drums or the violin, of course. In fact we had to go back over ten years to find any other articles featuring the hurdy-gurdy, the Furby Gurdy. It was an appropriately named instrument.

Thanks to [baldpower] for the tip!

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Stop Using Python 2: What You Need To Know About Python 3

Though Python 3 was released in 2008, many projects are still stuck on Python 2.

It’s understandable that porting large existing codebases to a new version is a prospect which sends a shiver down many a developer’s spine. But code inevitably needs to be maintained, and so when all the shiny new features that would fix everything are in a new version, is it really worth staying rooted in the past?

We’ll take you through some of the features that Python 2 programs are missing out on, not only from 3.0 but up to the current release (3.7).

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Unlocking Drones With Go

Looking for a first project in a relatively new language that’ll stretch your abilities? [Ron] was, so he hacked a commercially available drone and opened up a lot of its functionality, while writing the client software in Go.

The drone is a DJI Tello, which has some impressive hardware like a 14-core Intel processor and excellent video processing abilities. There’s also a vibrant community and a lot of support, making it the ideal platform for a project like this. It communicates to a base station via WiFi, and using some tools like the Wireshark [Rob] was able to decipher a lot of the communications and create a whole new driver for the drone. While the drone can be controlled in the traditional way, users can also write programs to control the drone as well.

The project is both an impressive feat in reverse engineering an inexpensive drone, and a fun example of programming in the Go language. Because of the fun and excitement of drones, they have become a popular platform on which to hack, from increasing their range to becoming a platform for developing AI.

Ask Hackaday: Are Unlockable Features Good For The User?

There are numerous examples of hardware which has latent features waiting to be unlocked by software. Most recently, we saw a Casio calculator which has the same features as its bigger sibling hidden within the firmware, only to be exposed by a buffer overflow bug (or the lead from a pencil if you prefer a hardware hack).

More famously, oscilloscopes have been notorious for having crippled features. The Rigol DS1052E was hugely popular on hacker benches because of it’s very approachable price tag. The model shipped with 50 MHz bandwidth but it was discovered that a simple hack turned it into the DS1102E 100 MHz scope. Tektronix has gotten in on this action as well, shipping modules like I2C, CAN, and LIN analyzation on the scope but requiring a hardware key to unlock (these were discovered to have a horribly insecure unlock method). Similar feature barriers are found on Rigol’s new reigning entry-level scope, the DS1054Z, which ships with protocol analyzation modules (among others) that are enabled only for the first 70 hours of scope operation, requiring an additional payment to unlock them. Most scope manufacturers are in on the game, and of course this is not limited to our tools. WiFi routers are another great example of hardware hosting firmware-unlockable features.

So, the question on my mind which I’d like to ask all of the Hackaday community is this: are unlockable¬†features good for us, the people who use these tools? Let’s take a look at some of the background of these practices and then jump into a discussion in the comments.

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