Art With Technology Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, June 16 at noon Pacific for the Art with Technology Hack Chat with Cory Collins!

As hackers, we naturally see the beauty of technology. We often talk in terms of the aesthetics of a particular hack, or the elegance of one solution over another, and we can marvel at the craftsmanship involved in everything from a well-designed PCB to a particularly clever reverse-engineering effort. Actually using technology to create art is something that’s often harder for us to appreciate, though, and looking at technological art from the artist’s side can be pretty instructive.

Cory Collins is an animator and artist with a long history of not only putting tech to work to create art, but also using it as the subject of his pieces. Cory’s work has brought life to video games, movies, and TV shows for years; more recently, he has turned his animation skills to developing interactive educational material for medical training. He has worked in just about every physical and digital medium imaginable, and the characters and scenes he has created are sometimes whimsical, sometimes terrifying, but always engaging.

Cory will stop by the Hack Chat to talk about what he has learned about technology from the artist’s perspective. Join us as we dive into the creative process, look at how art influences technology and vice versa, and learn how artistic considerations can help us address the technical problems every project eventually faces.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, June 16 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you tied up, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

DOS Gaming PC Gets Necessary Updates

PC-104 is a standard computer form factor that most people outside of industrial settings probably haven’t seen before. It’s essentially an Intel 486 processor with lots of support for standards that have long since disappeared from most computers, but this makes it great for two things: controlling old industrial equipment and running classic DOS games on native hardware. For the latter, we turn once again to [The Rasteri] who is improving on his previous build with an even smaller DOS gaming rig, this time based on a platform even more diminutive than PC-104.

The key of a build like this is that it needs native support for the long-obsolete ISA bus to be able to interface with a SoundBlaster card, a gold standard for video games of the era. This smaller computer still has this functionality in a smaller package, but with some major improvements. First, it has a floating point unit so it can run games like Quake. It’s also much faster than the PC-104 system and uses less power. Finally, it fits in an even smaller case.

The build goes well beyond simply running software on a SoM computer. [The Rasteri] also custom built an interface board for this project, complete with all of the necessary ports and an ISA sound chip, all while keeping size down to a minimum. The new build also lets him give the build a better name than the old one (although he phrases this upgrade slightly differently), and will also let him expand some features in the future as well. Be sure to check out that first build if you’re new to this saga, too.

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Hackaday Links: January 3, 2021

Last week we featured a story on the new rules regarding drone identification going into effect in the US. If you missed the article, the short story is that almost all unmanned aircraft will soon need to transmit their position, altitude, speed, and serial number, as well as the position of its operator, likely via WiFi or Bluetooth. The FAA’s rule change isn’t sitting well with Wing, the drone-based delivery subsidiary of megacorporation Alphabet. In their view, local broadcast of flight particulars would be an invasion of privacy, since observers snooping in on Remote ID traffic could, say, infer that a drone going between a pharmacy and a neighbor’s home might mean that someone is sick. They have a point, but how a Google company managed to cut through the thick clouds of irony to complain about privacy concerns and the rise of the surveillance state is mind boggling.

Speaking of regulatory burdens, it appears that getting an amateur radio license is no longer quite the deal that it once was. The Federal Communications Commission has adopted a $35 fee for new amateur radio licenses, license renewals, and changes to existing licenses, like vanity call signs. While $35 isn’t cheap, it’s not the end of the world, and it’s better than the $50 fee that the FCC was originally proposing. Still, it seems a bit steep for something that’s largely automated. In any case, it looks like we’re still good to go with our “$50 Ham” series.

Staying on the topic of amateur radio for a minute, it looks like there will be a new digital mode to explore soon. The change will come when version 2.4.0 of WSJT-X, the program that forms the heart of digital modes like WSPR and FT8, is released. The newcomer is called Q65, and it’s basically a follow-on to the current QRA64 weak-signal mode. Q65 is optimized for weak, rapidly fading signals in the VHF bands and higher, so it’s likely to prove popular with Earth-Moon-Earth fans and those who like to do things like bounce their signals off of meteor trails. We’d think Q65 should enable airliner-bounce too. We’ll be keen to give it a try whenever it comes out.

Look, we know it’s hard to get used to writing the correct year once a new one rolls around, and that time has taken on a relative feeling in these pandemic times. But we’re pretty sure it isn’t April yet, which is the most reasonable explanation for an ad purporting the unholy coupling of a gaming PC and mass-market fried foods. We strongly suspect this is just a marketing stunt between Cooler Master and Yum! Brands, but taken at face value, the KFConsole — it’s not a gaming console, it’s at best a pre-built gaming PC — is supposed to use excess heat to keep your DoorDashed order of KFC warm while you play. In a year full of incredibly stupid things, this one is clearly in the top five.

And finally, it looks like we can all breathe a sigh of relief that our airline pilots, or at least a subset of them, aren’t seeing things. There has been a steady stream of reports from pilots flying in and out of Los Angeles lately of a person in a jetpack buzzing around. Well, someone finally captured video of the daredevil, and even though it’s shaky and unclear — as are seemingly all videos of cryptids — it sure seems to be a human-sized biped flying around in a standing position. The video description says this was shot by a flight instructor at 3,000 feet (914 meters) near Palos Verdes with Catalina Island in the background. That’s about 20 miles (32 km) from the mainland, so whatever this person is flying has amazing range. And, the pilot has incredible faith in the equipment — that’s a long way to fall in something with the same glide ratio as a brick.

Retrocomputing With Modern Hardware, No Emulation Required

The x86 processor family is for the time being, the most ubiquitous type of processor in the PC world, and has been since the 1980s when the IBM PC came on the scene. Emulating these older devices is easy enough if you want to play an old LucasArts game or experience Windows 3.1 again, but the true experience is found on original hardware. And, thanks to industrial equipment compatibility needs, you can build a brand new 486 machine with new hardware that will run this retro software as though it was new itself.

[The Rasteri] masterminded this build which is reminiscent of the NES classic and other nostalgic console re-releases. It’s based on the PC/104 standard which was introduced in the early 90s, mostly for industrial controls applications. The platform is remarkably small, and the board chosen for this build hosts a 486 processor running at 300 MHz. It has on-board VGA-compatible graphics but no Sound Blaster card, so he designed and built his own ISA-compatible sound card that fits in the PC/104’s available expansion port.

After adding some more tiny peripherals to the build and installing it in a custom case, [The Rasteri] has a working DOS machine on new, bare-metal 486 hardware which can play DOOM as it was originally intended. It can also run early versions of  Windows to play games from the Microsoft Entertainment Pack if you feel like being eaten by a snow monster while skiing. [The Rasteri] is no stranger to intense retro computing like this either, as he was the one who got DOOM to run on original NES hardware.

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900-Degree Racing Wheel Helps You Nail The Apex

There are many racing wheels on the market for the budding sim enthusiast. Unfortunately, lower end models tend to have a limited range of motion and ship with cheap plastic wheels that don’t feel good in the hand. As always, if what’s on the shelf doesn’t meet your needs, you can always build your own. [ilge]’s DIY racing wheel build is a great example of how to go about it. 

It’s a no-frills build, with an Arduino Leonardo doing the USB Human Interface Device duties in this case. It reads a standard 10K potentiometer via an analog input to determine wheel position. To enable a realistic 900 degrees of motion, unlike the standard 270 degree rotation of the potentiometer, [ilge] uses 3D printed gears of 15 and 54 degrees respectively. This also has the benefit of allowing the wheel to be mounted to a stout bearing for smooth motion. The steering wheel itself is a high quality drift wheel from MOMO, and the benefit of building your own setup is that you can choose whatever wheel you like to taste.

It’s a simple build both mechanically and electronically speaking, but one that serves as a great entry into building a DIY sim for the beginner. We’d love to see further upgrades towards force feedback, or even shift paddles added on the back. Those looking to go all out can even consider building a motion platform. Video after the break.

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Console Controller Mod Gets Amputee Back In The Game

No matter how it happens, losing one or more fingers is going to change one’s life in thousands of ways. We’re a manipulative species, very much accustomed to interacting with the world through the amazing appendages at the ends of our arms. Finding ways around the problems that result from amputations is serious business, of course, even when it’s just modifying a game console controller for use with a prosthetic hand.

We’ve gotten to know [Ian Davis] quite well around these parts, at least from his videos and Instagram posts. [Ian]’s hard to miss — he’s in the “Missing Parts Club” as he puts it, consisting of those who’ve lost all or part of a limb, which he has addressed through his completely mechanical partial-hand prosthetic. As amazing as the mechanical linkages of that prosthetic are, he hasn’t regained full function, at least not to the degree required to fully use a modern game console controller, so he put a couple of servos and a Trinket to work to help.

An array of three buttons lies within easy reach of [Ian]’s OEM thumb. Button presses there are translated into servo movements that depress the original bumper buttons, which are especially unfriendly to his after-market anatomy. Everything rides in an SLA-printed case that’s glued atop the Playstation controller. [Ian] went through several design iterations and even played with the idea of supporting rapid fire at one point before settling on the final design shown in the video below.

It may not make him competitive again, but the system does let him get back in the game. And he’s quite open about his goal of getting his designs seen by people in a position to make them widely available to other amputees. Here’s hoping this helps.

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Among Us Emergency Meeting Button Becomes Reality

Among Us has been an indie gaming success story. A game built by a small team has, after several years on the market, become a worldwide sensation. Gameplay consists of players attempting to find the imposter amongst their ranks and an “Emergency Meeting” can be called if players need to speak to each other. [john lemme] wanted to be able to do the same with his roommates, and set about building the real thing.

The build relies on an ESP32, which reads the state of a big red emergency button. When pressed, the ESP32 uses its WiFi connection to trigger a Discord conference call containing all the roommates. Naturally, it also plays the buzzer sound from the actual game, too – via a small amplifier and a speaker yanked from some headphones.

It’s a fun build, though [john] notes it has its limits. The call takes 10 seconds to initiate after the button press, and the audio hardware doesn’t do a great job of recreating the buzzer noise from the game. However, it’s a good starting point, and we think the concept could actually prove useful with some refinement. Video after the break.

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