ATX2AT Makes Retrocomputing Safer, Heads To Kickstarter

It’s easy to take power supplies for granted in modern computing, but powering vintage hardware is not always so simple or worry-free. The power supplies for old electronics are themselves vintage, and the hardware being powered can be quite precious. A power problem can easily cause fried components and burned traces on a board. As [Doc TB] observes, by the time you hear crackling, it’s already far too late.

To address this, [Doc TB] designed the ATX2AT Smart Converter as an open source project and recently decided to make it available through a Kickstarter campaign. ATX2AT is a way to safely and securely replace some vintage power supplies with a standard PC ATX power supply, and adds a large number of protection features such as current monitoring and programmable reaction time for overcurrent protection. All of this can help prevent a retrocomputer enthusiast’s precious vintage hardware from being damaged in the event of a problem. It’s not just for powering known-good hardware; it can be invaluable when testing or repairing hardware that might be in an unknown state.

When we first came across [Doc TB]’s ATX2AT project we recognized it as a well-made device to address a specific niche, and to do it well. Assessing risk takes into account not only the probability of a problem occurring, but also just how bad things would be if it did happen. If your old hardware is precious enough to warrant the extra protection, or you are into repairing or assessing old hardware, then an ATX2AT might be just what you need. You can see it in action in the video embedded below.

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Trill: Easy Positional Touch Sensors For Your Projects

Creating capacitive touch-sensitive buttons is easy these days; many microcontrollers have cap-sense hardware built-in. This will work for simple on/off control, but what if you want a linear, position-sensitive input, like you’d find on a computer touchpad or your smartphone screen? Not so easy — at least until now. Trill is a family of capacitive touch sensors you can add to your projects as a linear slider, a square touchpad, or by creating your own touch surface.

Trill was created by the same team that designed Bela, an embedded platform for low-latency interactive applications, especially with audio. The new trio of Trill sensors rely on capacitive sensing to track finger movement, and communicate over I2C with your microcontroller or development board of choice. The Trill I2C library targets Arduino and Bela, but should be easy to port to any I2C host.

The hardware and software are both open-source — or will be as the Kickstarter that launched this morning has already met its goal. The firmware for the Cypress CY8C20636A (PDF) controller that powers these sensors will be released CC-BY-NC-SA. But, starting with the controller itself sounds like a lot of work that Trill has already done for you, so let’s have a look at what we know so far, along with a healthy dose of speculation.

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Hackaday Links: September 15, 2019

It’s probably one of the first lessons learned by new drivers: if you see a big, red fire truck parked by the side of the road, don’t run into it. Such a lesson appears not to have been in the Tesla Autopilot’s driver education curriculum, though – a Tesla Model S managed to ram into the rear of a fire truck parked at the scene of an accident on a southern California freeway. Crash analysis reveals that the Tesla was on Autopilot and following another vehicle; the driver of the lead vehicle noticed the obstruction and changed lanes. Apparently the Tesla reacted to that by speeding up, but failed to notice the stationary fire truck. One would think that the person driving the car would have stepped in to control the vehicle, but alas. Aside from beating up on Tesla, whose AutoPilot feature seems intent on keeping the market for batteries from junked vehicles fully stocked, this just points out how far engineers have to go before self-driving vehicles are as safe as even the worst human drivers.

The tech press is abuzz today with stories about potential union-busting at Kickstarter. Back in March, Kickstarter employees announced their intent to organize under the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU). On Thursday, two of the union organizers were fired. Clarissa Redwine, who recently hosted a Hack Chat, was one of those released; both she and Taylor Moore are protesting their terminations as an illegal attempt to intimidate Kickstarter employees and keep them from voting for the union. For their part, Kickstarter management says that both employees and two more were released as a result of documented performance issues during the normal review cycle, and that fourteen employees who are in favor of the union were given raises during this cycle, with three of them having been promoted. There will no doubt be plenty more news about this to come.

Would you pay $900 for a Nixie clock? We wouldn’t, but if you choose to buy into Millclock’s high-end timepiece, it may help soften the blow if you think about it being an investment in the future of Nixie tubes. You see, Millclock isn’t just putting together an overpriced clock that uses surplus Russian Nixies – they’re actually making brand new tubes. Techmoan recently reviewed the new clock and learned that the ZIN18 tubes are not coming from Czech Republic-based Dalibor Farný, but rather are being manufactured in-house. That’s exciting news for Nixie builders everywhere; while Dalibor’s tubes are high-quality products, it can’t hurt to have a little competition in the market. Nixies as a growth industry in 2019 – who’da thunk it?

We ran across an interesting project on Hackaday.io the other day, one that qualifies as a true hack. How much house can you afford? A simple question, but the answer can be very difficult to arrive at with the certainty needed to sign papers that put you on the hook for the next 30 years. Mike Ferarra and his son decided to answer this question – in a circuit simulator? As it turns out, circuit simulators are great at solving the kinds of non-linear simultaneous equations needed to factor in principle, interest, insurance, taxes, wages, and a host of other inflows and outflows. Current sources represent money in, current sinks money paid out. Whatever is left is what you can afford. Is this how Kirchoff bought his house?

And finally, is your parts inventory a bit of a mystery? Nikhil Dabas decided that rather than trying to remember what he had and risk duplicating orders, he’d build an application to do it for him. Called WhatDidIBuy, it does exactly what you’d think; it scrapes the order history pages of sites like Adafruit, Digi-Key, and Mouser and compiles a list of your orders as CSV files. It’s only semi-automated, leaving the login process to the user, but something like this could save a ton of time. And it’s modular, so adding support for new suppliers is a simple as writing a new scraper. Forgot what you ordered from McMaster, eBay, or even Amazon? Now there’s an app for that.

Smoothieboard Gets An Ambitious Update For V2

If you’ve been reading Hackaday for awhile, there’s an excellent chance you’ve seen a project or two powered by the Smoothieboard. The open source controller took Kickstarter by storm in 2013, promising to be the last word in CNC thanks to its powerful 32-bit ARM processor. Since then we’ve seen it put to use in not only the obvious applications like 3D printers and laser cutters, but also for robotic arms and pick-and-place machines. If it moves, there’s a good chance you can control it with the Smoothieboard.

But after six years on the market, the team behind this motion control powerhouse has decided it’s time to freshen things up. The Kickstarter for the Smoothieboard v2 has recently gone live and, perhaps unsurprisingly, already blown past its funding goal. Rather than simply delivering an upgraded Smoothieboard, the team has also put together a couple “spin-offs” targeting different use cases. If Smoothie v1 was King of CNC boards, then v2 is aiming to be the Royal Family.

Smoothieboard v2-Prime with breakouts

The direct successor to the original board is called v2-Prime, and it’s everything you’d expect in an update like this. Faster processor, more RAM, more flash, and improved stepper drivers. There’s also available GPIO expansion ports to connect various breakout boards, and even a header for you to plug in a Raspberry Pi. If you’re looking to upgrade your existing Smoothieboard machines to the latest and greatest, the Prime is probably what you’re after.

Then there’s the v2-Mini, designed to be as inexpensive as possible while still delivering on the Smoothieboard experience. The Mini has the same basic hardware specs as the Prime, but uses lower-end stepper drivers and deletes some of the protection features found on the more expensive model. For a basic 3D printer or laser cutter, the Mini and its projected $80 price point will be a very compelling option.

In the other extreme we have the v2-Pro, which is intended to be an experimenter’s dream come true. It features more stepper drivers, expansion ports, and even an integrated FPGA. Realistically, this board probably won’t be nearly as popular as the other two versions, but the fact that they’ve even produced it shows how committed the team is to pushing the envelope of open source motion control.

Our coverage of the original Smoothieboard campaign back in 2013 saw some very strong community response, with comments ranging from excited to dismissive. Six years later, we think the team behind the Smoothieboard has earned a position of respect among hackers, and we’re very excited to see where this next generation of hardware leads.

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Kickstarter Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, August 7th at noon Pacific for the Kickstarter Hack Chat with Beau Ambur and Clarissa Redwine!

For many of us, magic things happen on our benches. We mix a little of this, one of those, and a couple of the other things, and suddenly the world has the Next Big Thing. Or does it? Will it ever see the light of day? Will you ever build a community around your project so that the magic can escape the shop and survive the harsh light of the marketplace? And perhaps most importantly, will you be able to afford to bring your project to market?

Crowdfunding is often the answer to these questions and more, and Kickstarter is one of the places where hackers can turn their project into a product. Beau and Clarissa, both outreach leads for the crowdfunding company, will stop by the Hack Chat to answer all your questions about getting your project off the bench and into the marketplace. Join us as we discuss everything from building a community that’s passionate enough about your idea to fund it, to the right way to share your design story.

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, August 7 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have got you down, 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.

Hackaday Prize Mentor Session: Beau Ambur

Beau Ambur can often be found hosting hardware events and offering help all around the Bay Area. Now he’s turned it into a career and travels the west coast helping hackers and creators effectively leverage Kickstarter’s platform. Beau’s mentor session covers everything from, “is this project a good fit for venture capital?” to, “is open source a good fit for my project?”.

For this year’s Hackaday Prize we’ve found experts in a wide range of fields so you can take your entries to the next level regardless of the stage the project is in. The sessions are on a first come basis so sign up now for a chance to get some valuable feedback on your entry.

Your Robot Language Coach

The first project is a Personal English Trainer by the lonely programmer. As a student he noticed a need for a more interactive and portable language learning aid. Solutions do exist on the market but they are along the lines of a pocket dictionary, instructional phone app, or a full on translator. These break the flow of thought and conversation. The lonely programmer envisioned something that you can conversationally ask for help as you’re using a new language.

As many have discovered, the best way to see if there’s a need for something is to build a minimum viable product (MVP). The snips.ai platform offered the perfect foundation to quickly test out the idea. It’s working on a few words and he wants to get it ready for more people to play with the idea. The majority of the lonely programmer’s questions centered around making the project interesting for other hackers so that it could one day turn into a product.

Bolt-On Bike Assist

Rob and Shushanik are developing a project called BikeOn. It bolts to any bicycle and converts it to an electric assist bike without tools or replacing any components. BikeOn has already won some accolades such as Editors Choice at the last 2019 Makerfaire Bay Area. Rob had a few questions on how to transition a project from the proof of concept stage to the product stage. The discussion went over using open source as a tool for product promotion as well as getting funding for taking a hardware product to market.

He also wanted to know if there was anything the team could do to have a better shot at winning the prize. There were a few good tips such as directly focusing on the five categories the judges would be looking at: Concept, Design, Production, Benchmark, and Communication. It is also important to cover the development journey. Why did you make the choices you made when designing the project?

No-Spill Trash Can Concept

Rounding out this mentor session, Jeannie and her team of highschool students demonstrate SEAL. In the area around the Granada Hills Charter High School there are winds mighty enough to blow over full trashcans. This trash travels to the ocean and disrupts local ecosystems. The team is working on a device which can detect a tipping trashcan and keep the lid from opening.

Prototyping started with Arduinos, but they’ve already escalated to designing their own PCBs. Their hope is to produce a run of fifty devices and try them out with a local commercial partner. Beau recommended they look into the Micropython ecosystem. Not only would the students get the advantage of using the STM32 chips in their board layouts (reducing the number of support components they would need), micropython would make it easier for students to jump in and help rather than having to learn the nuances of C first.

The Hackaday Prize mentoring sessions continue through the summer so don’t forget to sign up and check out the list of mentors who are here to share their knowledge and experience.

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Hackaday Links: June 30, 2019

In our continuing series of, ‘point and laugh at this guy’, I present a Kickstarter for the, “World’s First Patented Unhackable Computer Ever”.  It’s also a real web site and there’s even a patent (US 10,061,923, not showing up on Google Patents for some reason), and a real product: you can get an unhackable laptop, and you can get it in either space gray or gold finish. This gets fun when you actually dig into the patent; it appears this guy invented protected memory, with one section of memory dedicated to the OS, and another dedicated to the browser. This is a valid, live patent, by the way.

The 2019 New York Maker Faire is off. Yeah, it says it’s still going to happen on the website, but trust me, it’s off, and you can call the New York Hall of Science to confirm that for yourself. Maker Media died recently, and there will be no more ‘Flagship’ Maker Faires. That doesn’t mean the ‘mini’ and ‘featured’ Maker Faires are dead, though: the ‘Maker Faire’ trademark is simply licensed out to those organizers. In the next few weeks, there is going to be a (mini) Maker Faire in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, Gilroy, California, Edmonton, Alberta, Kingsport Tennessee, and a big ‘ol one in Detroit. This raises an interesting question: where is the money for the licensing going? I’m sure some Mini Maker Faire organizers are reading this; have your checks been cashed? What is the communication with Maker Media like?

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. It’s valuable words of wisdom like that and can apply to many things. Commenting on blog posts, for example. Yes, you can throw sticks at a wasp’s nest, that doesn’t mean you should. Yes, you can 3D print Heely adapters for your shoes, but it doesn’t mean you should. It does look dope, though and you’re automatically a thousand times cooler than everyone else.

The C64 Mini is a pocket-sized Linux device with an HDMI port meant to play C64 games.   There were high hopes when the C64 Mini was announced, but it turned out the keyboard isn’t actually a mini keyboard. Now someone had the good sense to combine one of these ‘smartphone chips running an emulator in a retro case’ products with a full-sized keyboard. The C64 will be around by Christmas, and yeah, it has a full working keyboard.