Hackaday Links: November 3, 2019

Depending on how you look at it, the Internet turned 50 years old last week. On October 29, 1969, the first message was transmitted between two of the four nodes that made up ARPANET, the Internet’s predecessor network. ARPANET was created after a million dollars earmarked for ballistic missile defense was diverted from the Advanced Research Projects Agency budget to research packet-switched networks. It’s said that ARPANET was designed to survive a nuclear war; there’s plenty of debate about whether that was a specific design goal, but if it was, it certainly didn’t look promising out of the gate, since the system crashed after only two characters of the first message were sent. So happy birthday, Internet, and congratulations: you’re now old enough to start getting junk mail from the AARP.

Good news for space nerds: NASA has persuaded Boeing to livestream an upcoming Starliner test. This won’t be a launch per se, but a test of the pad abort system intended to get astronauts out of harm’s way in the event of a launch emergency. The whole test will only last about 90 seconds and never reach more than 1.5 kilometers above the White Sands Missile Range test site, but it’s probably a wise move for Boeing to be as transparent as possible at this point in their history. The test is scheduled for 9:00 AM Eastern time — don’t forget Daylight Savings Time ends this weekend in most of the US — and will air on NASA Television.

Speaking of space, here’s yet another crowd-sourced effort you might want to consider getting in on if you’re of an astronomical bent. The Habitable Exoplanet Hunting Project is looking for a new home for humanity, and they need more eyes on the skies to do it. An introductory video explains all about it; we have to admit being surprised to learn that the sensitive measurements needed to see exoplanets transiting their stars are possible for amateur astronomers, but it seems doable with relatively modest equipment. Such are the advances in optics, CCD cameras, and image processing software, it seems. The project is looking for exoplanets within 100 light-years of Earth, perhaps on the hope that a generation ship will have somewhere to go to someday.

Space may be hard, but it’s nothing compared to running a hackerspace right here on Earth. Or at least it seems that way at times, especially when those times include your building collapsing, a police raid, and being forced to operate out of a van for months while searching for a new home, all tragedies that have befallen the Cairo Hackerspace over the last few years. They’re finally back on their feet, though, to the point where they’re ready to host Egypt’s first robotics meetup this month. If you’re in the area, stop by and perhaps consider showing off a build or even giving a talk. This group knows a thing or two about persistence, and they’ve undoubtedly got the coolest hackerspace logo in the world.

And finally, no matter how bad your job may be, it’s probably not as bad as restoring truck batteries by hand. Alert reader [rasz_pl] tipped us off to this video, which shows an open-air shop in Pakistan doing the dirty but profitable work of gutting batteries and refurbishing them. The entire process is an environmental and safety nightmare, with used electrolyte tossed into the gutter, molten lead being slung around by the bucketful, and not a pair of safety glasses or steel-toed shoes (or any-toed, for that matter) to be seen. But the hacks are pretty cool, like pouring new lead tabs onto the plates, or using a bank of batteries to heat an electrode for welding the plates together. We’ve talked about the recyclability of lead-acid batteries before and how automated plants can achieve nearly 100% reuse; there’s nothing automated here, though, and the process is so labor-intensive that only three batteries can be refurbished a day. It’s still fascinating to watch.

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High-Tech Alms Collection With The ESP32

In an ideal world, shop space, tools, and components would be free. But until we get to that Star Trek utopia, hackerspaces will have to rely on donations from the community to help stay afloat. While asking for money, at least you can have some fun with it if you design and build an Internet-connected donation box.

Or at least that’s how [Goran Mahovlic] handled it for the Radiona hackerspace in Zagreb, Croatia. Not content with just cutting a slit in the top of a shoe box, he came up with a physical donation system that’s not only more informative for those donating, but more organized for those collecting the funds.

The key is a arcade-style programmable coin acceptor from SparkFun. When connected to a microcontroller, this allows the box to keep a running tally on how much money has been inserted. With the use of a RFM96 LoRa module, it can even report on the current haul while remaining mobile; perfect for when the hackerspace has events outside of their home base.

But counting quarters is hardly a task befitting a powerful microcontroller like the ESP32. So [Goran] gave the chip something to do in its spare time by adding a couple of buttons and an LCD. This allows the user to scroll through a list of various projects that are looking for donations, and decide which one they want to financially support. When the donation box counts how much money has been inserted, it records which project its been earmarked for.

Of course, if you’d rather the free market do its thing, we’ve seen this same coin acceptor used to build a locker-sized vending machine. Or if you’re feeling crafty, you could always try your hand at building one with cardboard.

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Hackaday Links: December 16, 2018

Microsoft is really leaning into vaporwave these days. Microsoft is giving away knit Windows sweaters to social media influencers. Is it for an ugly sweater contest? Maybe, or maybe Microsoft is capitalizing on the mid-90s AESTHETIC. Recently, Apple got back in their 90s logo game with the release of a few ‘rainbow Apple’ t-shirts. The spirit of the 90s lives on in tech culture.

Have a Hackerspace? Frack is organizing the great Inter-hackerspaces Xmas goodies swap! Since your hackerspace is filled with weird ephemera and random crap, why not box it up and send it out to another hackerspace? You’ll probably get another random box of crap in return!

Just an observation looking for commentary, but is Thingiverse slow these days? It seems really, really, really slow these days.

The Blockchain makes it to the Apple II! By far, the most interesting thing in tech right now is the blockchain, with AI, at the edge. This will get your Merkle trees tinglin’ with some AI, and 5G is where it’s at. We’re back with cylinder computing this time, and this is the greatest achievement that will synthesize brand new paradigms. Of course, if it weren’t for millennials, we’d have it already.

There’s a new portable console out there, and it’s at the top of everyone’s Christmas lists. The SouljaGame Handheld is a rebrand of what’s available on AliExpress. What makes this one different? It has Soulja Boy’s name on it. If you couldn’t get your hands on the SouljaGame Handheld, don’t worry: Post Malone Crocs are available on eBay for about $300.

Detoured: Caltech’s Hackerspace

Over the last few months, the folks over at the SupplyFrame Design Lab, home to Hackaday meetups, the Hackaday Superconference, and far, far too many interesting tools, have been spending their time visiting workshops and hackerspaces to see how they tick. Staff Designer of the Design Lab, [Majenta Strongheart], recently took a trip down the road to Caltech to check out their hackerspace. Actually, it’s a rapid prototyping lab, but a rose by any other name…

The prototyping lab at Caltech exists for a few reasons. The first, and most important, are the graduate students. This is a research facility, after all, and with research comes the need to make stuff. Whether that’s parts for biomechanical fixtures, seismology experiments, or parts for a radio telescope, there’s always going to be a need to make mechanical parts. The rapid prototyping lab is also available to undergraduates. Many of the courses at Caltech allow students to build robots. For example, when the DesignLab staff was filming, the students in Mechanical Engineering 72 were taking part in Tank Wars, a robot competition. Here, students built little rovers built to climb over obstacles and traverse terrain.

As far as tech goes, this is a real shop. There are vintage knee mills, manual lathes, but also fancy CNC lathes, Tormach mills, and laser cutters galore. The amount of tooling in this lab has slowly accumulated over decades, and it shows. Right next to the bright white Tormach, you’ll find drill presses that are just that shade of industrial green. It’s a wonderful space, and we’re happy the faculty and students at Caltech allowed us to take a look.

You can check out the video below.

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Detoured: RF And Film

The technology behind capturing aerial video is so unbearably cool. Not only do you have fancy cameras that cost as much as a car, you also have remote control camera mounts on helicopters and amazing microwave links going to the ground. This isn’t your typical FPV setup on a quadcopter; there are jet turbines and S-band transmitters here.

One of the people behind these amazing aerial shots is [Greg Johnson] of RF Film based out of Whiteman airport in sunny southern California. He’s done work for Black Panther, several fo the Fast & Furious films, Marvel movies, and is working on the new Top Gun reboot. As part of the Supplyframe Design Lab’s Detoured series, lead Staff Designer [Majenta Strongheart] visited RF Film to take a look at what goes into getting high-quality images from aerial video platforms.

[Greg] got his start at a helicopter company in Michigan, and eventually moved up to working for ESPN, shooting video of offshore speedboat races. There’s no other way to do this than by the air, but there are problems. You need to get video to the ground somehow, and that means microwave transmitters. [Greg] learned all of this by simply doing it, demonstrating some hacker cred. In fact, some of the first remote control systems he built were built around sprinkler systems.

Now, [Greg]’s work is significantly more advanced than modified sprinkler systems. He’s making custom hardware for 1080 cameras worn in a hat for drag racing. There are gimbals that roll a camera around its axis, and all of this is custom made in [Greg]’s shop.

There’s a lot of work that goes into producing video for aerial photography, and it’s much more complex than sticking a runcam on a quad. There’s antenna design, FCC regs, and custom robots that point the camera where it needs to be. RF Films is one of the best in the business, and we’d like to thank them for giving us a glimpse into their shop and workflow.

You can check out the video tour of the shop below.

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Detoured: Inside MachineHistories

When designers and architects need a fancy centerpiece, a design element, or even some wall sconces, they don’t head over to the machine shop by themselves. They get someone else, who owns some fancy machines, knows how to use those fancy machines, and can create anything out of wood, foam, or metal to do the fabrication for them. Think of these companies as artisan contractors, capable of turning whatever an architect thinks of into a real, tangible object.

One of these such companies is MachineHistories, a joint venture between [Steven Joyner] and [Jason Pilarsky], who work in the medium of computer code and CNC programming. As part of the SupplyFrame Design Lab’s Detoured series, lead Staff Designer [Majenta Strongheart] takes us along for a tour of MachineHistories to figure out how this collaboration actually works.

This collaboration began at the ArtCenter College of Design where [Steven] and [Jason] spent most of their time working in the shop. Eventually, they realized they didn’t actually need the ArtCenter and decided to sign a lease and strike out on their own. The first tools in their new shop were just a 3-axis CNC and a laser cutter, but MachineHistories gradually expanded to enormous five-axis machines and other incredible tools. These machines are put to work creating works of art for architectural and design installations, ranging from futuristic chairs, fine furniture, to sculptures and even new designs for simple home items.

The skill and craftsmanship that goes into these works of art are beyond compare, but this is a great insight into how all those manufactured panels, design elements, and artistic accents are created, and one that shows you can do anything, provided you have the right tools.

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Detoured: Fabbing At The Art Institute Of Chicago

[Majenta Strongheart] is one of the talented folks who works at the SupplyFrame Design Lab, home to dozens of Hackaday meetups, the Hackaday Superconference, and when the shop floor isn’t filled with chairs, is the place where tons of awesome projects are fabricated. [Majenta]’s role at the Design Lab is a Staff Designer, where she’s responsible for working the machines, and holds the distinction of being in the room when the SawStop kicked for the first time. Don’t fret: it was mirrored acrylic.

Among [Majenta]’s other duties at the Design Lab is on the social media front, showing off the capabilities of other design spaces around the country. Her first video in this series is from her alma mater, the Art Institute of Chicago. In this video, [Majenta] takes a look at the incredible fabrication facilities found here.

The tour begins in an exceptionally well-equipped wood shop kitted out with panel saws, spindle sanders, bandsaws, and not enough clamps. From there, the tour moves over to the metal shop and — unique for the city of Chicago — a forge. A long time ago, after Philadelphia and New York were the tech centers of America, and before the Bay Area was the tech center of America, Chicago made everything. The forge at the Art Institute of Chicago is the last remaining place in the city where metal casting takes place. This space was grandfathered in, and still remains a place where students can cast objects out of bronze and aluminum.

The Art Institute of Chicago is a very, very well equipped space full of enough tools to make anything you want. If you’re looking for some inspiration on what your basement, garage, or local hackerspace should look like, you need only look at [Majenta]’s tour. You can check out the entire video below.

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