A Turing-Complete CPU From RAM

Building a general-purpose computer means that you’ll have to take a lot of use cases into consideration, and while the end product might be useful for a lot of situations, it will inherently contain a lot of inefficiencies. On the other hand, if you want your computer to do one thing and do it very well, you can optimize to extremes and still get results. This computer, built from RAM, is just such an example.

The single task in this case was to build a computer that can compute the Fibonacci sequence.  Since it only does one thing, another part of the computer that can be simplified (besides the parts list) is the instruction set. In this case, the computer uses a single instruction: byte-byte-jump. Essentially all this computer does is copy one byte to another, and then perform an unconditional jump. Doing this single task properly is enough to build every other operation from, so this was chosen for simplicity even though the science behind why this works is a little less intuitive.

Of course, a single instruction set requires a lot of clock cycles to work (around 200 for a single operation). The hardware used in this build is also interesting and although it uses a Raspberry Pi to handle some of the minutiae, it’s still mostly done entirely in RAM chips, only cost around $15, and is a fascinating illustration of some of the more interesting fundamentals of computer science. If you’re interested, you can build similar computers out of 74-series chips as well.

Fibonacci Clock Is Hard To Read, Looks Good

Artists have been incorporating the golden ratio in their work for many hundreds of years, and it is thought that when proportions are in line with this ratio, it tends to be more aesthetically pleasing. With that in mind, the clock that [Philippe] created must mathematically be the best looking clock we’ve ever featured, even if it is somewhat difficult to tell time from it.

The clock is made up of squares which represent the first five numbers of the Fibonacci sequence. The squares are backlit with LEDs, which will illuminate red for the hour, green for the minute, and blue representing the overlap of hours and minutes. Simply add up the red and blue squares to get the hour, and add the green and blue squares to get the minutes. The minutes are displayed in 5 minute increments since there aren’t enough blocks though, so you’ll also have to multiply. Confused yet? If not, it turns out that there are several ways to display certain times using this method, any of which can be randomly selected by the clock. [Philippe] reports that there are 16 different ways to represent 6:30, for example.

The clock is driven by an ATmega328P and is housed in a wooden case. There are schematics and code available on [Philippe]’s site if you want to build your own, there are detailed descriptions of how to tell time with this clock. You’ll probably need those. If you like getting confused by clocks, you might also like this one as well.

Continue reading “Fibonacci Clock Is Hard To Read, Looks Good”

Setting It Straight About Science Fair Solar Energy Breakthrough

There’s been a lot of stories about arranging solar panels to mimic leaves on a tree, thereby boosting their efficiency. But before reading that story you might want to check out this blog post correcting some flaws in that breakthrough (page is down, here’s a cached version).

Before we go any further, we’d like to point out that the original work was done by a seventh grader. He looked at leaves on trees and postulated that the Fibonacci sequence can be found in the layout of leaves, and that by laying out solar cells in the same way you can capture more sunlight. Comments can get negative fast around here, so remember that trashing his work may discourage other kids from participating in science fair events.

Anyway, long story short: there were some issues with original assumptions, and about what was actually being measured during testing. The article linked at the top covers the fact that the cells were not measured under load, and that simple calculations can show why the tree-mimicking-cell-placement can be proven sub-optimal to 45 degree, south-facing solar farms.

[Thanks Jeffery and Steve for the original article and Brian for the follow-up article and cached link]