Hack Your Gmail: A Quick Start for Google App Scripting

For many people, Gmail is synonymous with e-mail. Some people like having cloud access to everything and some people hate having any personal data in the cloud. However you feel about it, one thing that was nice about having desktop software is that you could hack it relatively easily. If you didn’t like how your desktop mail client worked, you had a lot of options: use a different program, write your own, hack the executable of your current program, or in the case of open source just fork it and make any changes you are smart enough to make.

Google provides a lot of features with all of its products, but however you slice it, all the code runs on their servers out of your reach. Sort of. If you know JavaScript, you can use Google Apps Script to add features to many Google products including Gmail. If you’ve used Office scripting, the idea is the same, although obviously the implementation is very different.

With scripting you can make sophisticated filters that would be very hard to do otherwise. For example,  monitor for suspicious messages like those with more than 4 attachments, or that appear to come from a contact between the hours of 2AM and 5AM.

For our example today, I’m going to show you something that is easy but also highly useful.

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Delicious Vector Game Console Runs Pac-Man, Tetris, and Mario

The only question we have about [mitxela]’s DIY vector graphics game console is: Why did he wait five years to tell the world about it?

Judging by the projects we’ve seen before, from his tiny LED earrings to cramming a MIDI synthesizer into both a DIN plug and later a USB plug, [mitxela] likes a challenge. And while those projects were underway, the game console you’ll see in the video below was sitting on the shelf, hidden away from the world. That’s a shame, because this is quite a build.

Using a CRT oscilloscope in X-Y mode as a vector display, the console faithfully reproduces some classic games, most of which, curiously enough, were not originally vector games. There are implementations of the Anaconda, RetroRacer, and AstroLander minigames from Timesplitter 2. There are also versions of Pac-Man, Tetris, and even Super Mario Brothers. Most of the games were prototyped in JavaScript before being translated into assembly and placed onto EEPROM external cartridges, to be read by the ATMega128 inside the console. Sound and music are generated using the ATMega’s hardware timers, with a little help from a reverse-biased transistor for white noise and a few op-amps.

From someone who claims to have known little about electronics at the beginning of the project, this is pretty impressive stuff. Our only quibbles are the delay in telling us about it, and the lack of an Asteroids implementation. The former is forgivable, though, because the documentation is so thorough and the project is so cool. The latter? Well, one can hope.

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Nim Writes C Code — And More — For You

When we first heard Nim, we thought about the game. In this case, though, nim is a programming language. Sure, we need another programming language, right? But Nim is a bit different. It is not only cross-platform, but instead of targeting assembly language or machine code, it targets other languages. So a Nim program can wind up compiled by C or interpreted by JavaScript or even compiled by Objective C. On top of that, it generates very efficient code with — at least potentially — low overhead. Check out [Steve Kellock’s] quick introduction to the language.

The fact that it can target different compiler backends means it can support your PC or your Mac or your Raspberry Pi. Thanks to the JavaScript option, it can even target your browser. If you read [Steve’s] post he shows how a simple Hello World program can wind up at under 50K. Of course, that’s nothing the C compiler can’t do which makes sense because the C compiler is actually generating the finished executable, It is a bit harder though to strip out all the overhead yourself.

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Web Pages Via Forth

Forth. You either love it or you hate it. If you have struggled to work on tiny microcontrollers, you probably are in the first camp. After all, bringing up a minimal Forth system is pretty simple and requires very little resources on the CPU. Once you have such an environment it is then easy to extend Forth in Forth. [Remko] decided he wanted to build a Forth compiler that uses WebAssembly and runs in your browser. Why? We’ve learned not to think about that question too much.

The world has changed a lot since the first introduction of the WorldWideWeb browser in 1990. What started out as a way to show text documents over the network has become — for better or worse — an application platform. JavaScript won the browser scripting language wars and security concerns pretty much killed Java applets and Flash. But JavaScript isn’t always fast. Sure, there are ways to do just in time compiling, such as Google’s V8 engine. But that compile step takes time, too. Enter WebAssembly (or Wasm).

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Tiny Websites have no Server

A big trend in web services right now is the so-called serverless computing, such as Amazon’s Lambda service. The idea is you don’t have a dedicated server waiting for requests for a specific purpose. Instead, you have one server (such as Amazon’s) listening for lots of requests and on demand, you spin up an environment to process that request. Conceptually, it lets you run a bit of Javascript or some other language “in the cloud” with no dedicated server.  https://itty.bitty.site takes this one step farther. The site creates self-contained websites where the content is encoded in the URL itself.

Probably the best example is to simply go to the site and click on “About itty bitty.” That page is itself encoded in its own URL. If you then click on the App link, you’ll see a calculator, showing that this isn’t just for snippets of text. While this does depend on the itty.bitty.site web host to provide the decoding framework, the decoding is done totally in your browser and the code is open source. What that means is you could host it on your own server, if you wanted to.

At first, this seems like a novelty until you start thinking about it. A small computer with an Internet connection could easily formulate these URLs to create web pages. A bigger computer could even host the itty.bitty server. Then there’s the privacy issue. At first, we were thinking that a page like this would be hard to censor since there is no centralized server with the content. But you still need the decoding framework. However, that wouldn’t stop a sophisticated user from “redirecting” to another — maybe private — decoding website and reading the page regardless of anyone’s disapproval of the content.

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Framed Raspberry Pi Keeps Tabs on Spotify

Perhaps you’ve noticed, but we here at Hackaday have a slight obsession with the over-engineered. One could fairly say there’s a linear relationship between how likely we are to feature a project and how needlessly complex it is. That said, it isn’t as if we are unable to appreciate a minimalist approach. Taking the scenic route can be a lot of fun, but sometimes it’s nice to just get where you’re going before you run out of gas.

This very slick Spotify “Now Playing” display created by [Jon Ashcroft] is a perfect example of that principle. The hardware is so straightforward that it’s barely worth mentioning: a Raspberry Pi with a small HDMI display, tucked neatly into a photo frame. Nothing to get too excited about there. The real hook with this particular project is the software.

[Jon] is a web developer by trade, so it’s natural he would approach his personal projects with that same mentality. Rather than one of the “usual suspects” for a Pi project like Python, he wrote his software in ES6; which the Pi is running through Chromium in kiosk mode (full screen web content, no top bar). For those of you who aren’t keeping up on web languages, ES6 is short for EcmaScript 6: a new version of the standard on which JavaScript is based. It’s a bit heavier on resources than is strictly necessary, but it works well enough in the end.

Using Spotify’s excellent API, his software pulls down the current track information and stores it locally. It does this every ~4 seconds, checking to see if the track has changed. [Jon] isn’t thrilled with this brute force method, but it works for now. It displays the current playing song and artist, and uses a library called node-vibrant to extract a dominant color from the album art and use that to create a complementary background color. Very slick.

[Jon] provides all of his source code and made it easy to connect to your own Spotify account, so don’t be surprised if you see this running on a “Magic Mirror” near you soon.

Turning That Old Hoverboard Into A Learning Platform

[Isabelle Simova] is building Hoverbot, a flexible robotics platform using Ikea plastic trays, JavaScript running on a Raspberry Pi and parts scavenged from commonly available hoverboards.

Self-balancing scooters a.k.a. Hoverboards are a great source of parts for such a project. Their high torque, direct drive brushless motors can drive loads of 100 kg or more. In addition, you also get a matching motor controller board, a rechargeable battery and its charging circuit. Most hoverboard controllers use the STM32F103, so flashing them with your own firmware becomes easy using a ST-link V2 programmer.

The next set of parts you need to build your robot is sensors. Some are cheap and easily available, such as microphones, contact switches or LDRs, while others such as ultrasonic distance sensors or LiDAR’s may cost a lot more. One source of cheap sensors are car parking assist transducers. An aftermarket parking sensor kit usually consists of four transducers, a control box, cables and display. Using a logic analyzer, [Isabelle] shows how you can poke around the output port of the control box to reverse engineer the data stream and decipher the sensor data. Once the data structure is decoded, you can then use some SPI bit-banging and voltage translation to interface it with the Raspberry Pi. Using the Pi makes it easy to add a cheap web camera, microphone and speakers to the Hoverbot.

Ikea is a hackers favourite, and offers a wide variety of hacker friendly devices and supplies. Their catalog offers a wide selection of fine, Swedish engineered products which can be used as enclosures for building robots. [Isabelle] zeroed in on a deep, circular plastic tray from a storage table set, stiffened with some plywood reinforcement. The tray offers ample space to mount the two motors, two castor wheels, battery and the rest of the electronics. Most of the original hardware from the hoverboard comes handy while putting it all together.

The software glue that holds all this together is JavaScript. The event-driven architecture of Node.js makes it a very suitable framework to use for Hoverbot. [Isabelle] has built a basic application allowing remote control of the robot. It includes a dashboard which shows live video and audio streams from the robot, buttons for movement control, an input box for converting text to speech, ultrasonic sensor visualization, LED lighting control, message log and status display for the motors. This makes the dashboard a useful debugging tool and a starting point for building more interesting applications. Check the build log for all the juicy details. Which other products from the Ikea catalog can be used to build the Hoverbot? How about a robotic Chair?

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