MIT Scratch 3.0 Opens New Doors For Users And Builders Alike

We typically feature projects from people sharing what they’ve learned while building something for themselves. But our community has a healthy contingent who deploy their skills for the benefit of future generations, developing a child’s natural curiosity for play into interest in understanding the technical world they will grow up in. This field is where MIT’s release of Scratch 3.0 can open up interesting possibilities.

Scratch is a block-based programming language designed for elementary school children, letting them learn fundamental concepts while experimenting in an environment filled with visual and audible feedback. In an effort to make Scratch more widely available, version 2.0 in 2013 moved to the web. But it was built using interactive web technology of the time: Adobe Flash. As Flash has fallen out of favor and scheduled to be phased out in 2020, Scratch 3.0 used React to make the shift to HTML5.

The most immediate benefit is that Scratch can now be used on tablets, which all have modern browsers but very few of which have Flash. Another common educational hardware platform is the Raspberry Pi, which supported Scratch 2 via a convoluted software stack that was far from ideal. Now any hardware with a modern browser can run Scratch, no Flash binaries or custom wrappers are required. The Raspberry Pi foundation certainly seemed excited about this change.

But a more exciting and longer term benefit is Scratch extensions, a mechanism for Scratch programs to communicate with external hardware and online resources. This has evolved in parallel with Scratch 2.0 under the experimental ScratchX umbrella and version 3.0 brings it into core. The launch featured a few official extensions (for connecting to micro:bit, LEGO Mindstroms EV3, etc.) with the promise that custom third-party extensions will soon be possible. This will significantly streamline building a Scratch interface for kid-friendly programmable hardware. Something we’ve seen done for a drone, for exploring SDR, and even for a dollhouse. We’ll be keeping an eye out for the official release of Scratch 3.0 custom extension API, but anyone not afraid of working with fluid pre-release code are certainly welcome to dive in right now.

A Web-Based Modem

If you are beyond a certain age, you will recall when getting on the Internet was preceded by strange buzzing and squawking noises. Modems used tones to transmit and receive data across ordinary telephone lines. There were lots of tricks used to keep edging the speed of modem up until — at the end — you could download (but not upload) at a blazing 56,000 bits per second. [Martin Kirkholt Melhus] decided to recreate a modem. In a Web browser. No kidding.

We started to say something about a modem in the cloud, but that wouldn’t really be accurate. The modem uses the HTML 5 audio API, so it really runs in the browser. We would have been really surprised if [Martin] had cooked up a modem able to interact with a real modem, but as you might expect, the browser modem only communicates with other instances of itself. If you want a brief introduction to HTML 5 audio, you might enjoy the video below.

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Arduino Makerbeam Live Plotter Controlled By HTML5 Canvas and Java Website

We’ve never seen someone build a plotter out of buzzwords, but [roxen] did a really good job of it. The idea is simple, place the plotter over a sheet of paper, open a website, draw, and watch the plotter go. Check out the video below the break.

The user draws in an HTML5 Canvas object which is read by a Java Web Server. From there it gets converted to serial commands for an Arduino which controls the steppers with two EasyDrivers.

The build itself is really nice. It perfectly meets the mechanical requirements of a pen plotter without a lot of fluff. The overall frame is T-shaped, for the x- and y-axis. The movements are produced by two steppers and acetal rack and pinion sets. The pen is lifted up and down by a hobby servo.

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A Breadboard In A Browser

[Flownez] sent in a tip that a port of the venerable Falstad circuit simulator is now available that doesn’t require Java (it uses HTML 5). This is a welcome port since some modern browsers (particularly Chrome) make it difficult to run Java applets and prevented the Falstad simulator’s execution.

spice2Like the original simulator, this one is great to show a classroom circuits and encourage building or studying circuits in the browser. There’s no extra software to install, which is handy for an impromptu demo. Another cool feature is the visualization of current flow as animated dots. The dots move in the direction of the current flow and the speed of motion is proportional to the amount of current. Watching a capacitor charge with the moving dots is very illustrative. You can also view data in a scope format or hover the mouse over things to read their values.

You can open a blank circuit and add quite a few components (use the right click button on your mouse or the menu to add components and wires). However, you can also pick from a number of predefined circuits ranging from the simple (a voltage divider, for example) to the illustrative (a PLL frequency doubler comes to mind). There’s even an AM radio (see below) that you can tune to find several “stations” by varying the tuning capacitor’s value. Circuit elements include many types of analog and digital components.

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Online Altair 8800 Clone Lets You Play Zork

[Citponys] wanted to share their Altair 8800 clone with the world, and what better way to do so than by hooking it up to the Internet? This hack was pulled off by using a Linux computer which receives a Telnet connection and redirects it to a serial port. This serial port is connected to the Altair clone. In order to connect the serial port to the Internet using TCP, the ser2sock program was used. People can interact with the Altair on the webpage, where there is also a live camera feed showing the Altair’s Blinkenlights.

This is an ongoing project for [Citponys]. Zork 1-3 and Ladder are now available for play. You can interact with other people in the current session; play nice, or it’ll end up a Mad Libs version of ‘Twitch Plays Pokemon’.  Most recently, [Citponys] updated the webpage with a HTML5-embedded terminal emulator. If you want to quit the current session displayed, enter “quit” and you will be redirected to the main menu where you can choose another game. [Citponys] has links to game walkthroughs on the top of the page. We have a soft spot for classic computers and games, especially the Altair. Take a trip down memory lane and play some Zork at the fork where the past meets the present!

[via Reddit]

Network Controlled Decorative LED Matrix Frame

LED-Pixel-FrameThere is nothing better than a project that you can put on display for all to see. [Tristan’s] most recent project, a Decorative LED Matrix Frame, containing 12×10 big square pixels that can display any color, is really cool.

Having been built around a cheap IKEA photo frame this project is very doable, at least for those of you with a 3D printer. The 3D printer is needed to create the pixel grid, which ends up looking very clean in the final frame. From an electronics perspective, the main components are a set of Adafruit Neopixel LED strips, and an Arduino Uno with an Ethernet shield. The main controller even contains a battery backup for the real time clock (RTC) when the frame is unplugged; a nice touch. Given that the frame is connected to the local network, [Tristan] designed the frame to be controlled by a simple HTML5 interface (code available on GitHub). This allows any locally connected device to control the frame.

Be sure to check out the build details, they are very well done. If you are still not convinced how cool this project is, be sure to check out a video of it in action after the break! It makes us wish that you could play Tetris on this frame. Very nice job [Tristan]!

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Web-based TI graphing calculator emulator

You can leave the TI graphing calculator at home thanks to this web-based TI-83 and TI-84 emulator. As with pretty much all emulators, this depends on a ROM image from the actual hardware to work. But if you have one of the supported calculators (TI-83+, TI-83+ SE, TI-84+, or TI-84+SE) you can dump the image yourself and this should work like a charm.

[Christopher Mitchell] calls the project jsTIfied because he wrote it in JavaScript and HTML5 (that’s where the js comes from) and it’s based on the Texas Instruments line of hardware (hence the capital TI). After agreeing that you’re not getting any ROMs from his site you can choose the file to load on your browser. The image of the calculator has working buttons and will show the boot screen just like the real thing. You can use it like normal but you can load load up programs for the environment. See this demonstrated after the break.

We’ve seen some arguments online about the price of the TI line over the years. Prices haven’t dropped much over the decades even though they’re making pretty much the same hardware. It’s cool to see someone figure out how to emulate the hardware — and on a web interface to boot! But we’re left wondering why TI isn’t selling an equivalent app for iOS and Android or at least leveraging what must be millions in each production run for a lower retail price?

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