Hackaday Links: February 16, 2021

This is it; after a relatively short transit time of eight months, the Mars 2020 mission carrying the Perseverance rover has almost reached the Red Planet. The passage has been pretty calm, but that’s all about to end on Thursday as the Entry Descent and Landing phase begins. The “Seven Minutes of Terror”, which includes a supersonic parachute deployment, machine-vision-assisted landing site navigation, and a “sky-crane” to touch the rover down gently in Jezero crater, will all transpire autonomously 480 million km away. We’ll only learn about how it goes after the eleven-minute propagation delay between Mars and Earth, but we’ll be glued to the NASA YouTube live stream nonetheless. Coverage starts on February 18, 2021 at 11:15 AM Pacific Standard Time (UTC-8). We’ve created a handy time zone converter and countdown so you don’t miss the show.

As amazing as the engineering on display Thursday will be, it looks like the US Navy has plans to unveil technology that will make NASA as relevant as a buggy-whip company was at the turn of the last century. That is, if you believe the “UFO Patents” are for real. The inventor listed on these patents, Dr. Salvatore Pais, apparently really exists; he’s had peer-reviewed papers published in mainstream journals as recently as 2019. Patents listed to Dr. Pais stretch back to 2004, when he invented a laser augmented turbojet propulsion system, which was assigned to defense contractor Northrup Grumman. The rest of the patents are more recent, all seemingly assigned to the US Navy, and cover things like a “high-frequency gravitational wave generator” and a “craft using an inertial mass-reduction device”. There’s also a patent that seems to cover a compact fusion generator. If any of this is remotely true, and we remain highly skeptical, the good news is that maybe we’ll get things like the Epstein Drive. Of course, that didn’t end well for Solomon Epstein. Or for Manéo Jung-Espinoza.

Of course, if you’re going to capitalize on all these alien patents, you’re going to need some funding. If you missed out on the GME short squeeze megabucks, fret not — there’s still plenty of speculative froth to go around. You might want to try your hand at cryptocurrency mining, but with GPUs becoming near-unobtainium, you’ll have to get creative, like throwing together a crypto mining farm with a bunch of laptops. It looks like the Weibo user who posted the photos has laptops propped up on every available surface of their apartment, and there’s also a short video showing a more industrial setup with rack after rack of laptops. These aren’t exactly throw-aways from some grade school, either — they appear to be brand new laptops that retail for like $1,300 a pop. The ironic part is that the miner says this is better than the sweatshop he used to work in. Pretty sure with all that power being dissipated in his house, it’ll still be a sweatshop come summer.

A lot of people have recently learned the hard lesson that when the service is free, you’re the product, and that what Google giveth, Google can taketh away in a heartbeat, and for no discernable reason. Indie game studio Re-Logic and its lead developer Andrew Spinks found that out last week when a vaguely worded terms-of-service violation notice arrived from Google. The developer of the popular game Terraria was at a loss to understand the TOS violation, which resulted in a loss of access to all the company’s Google services. He spent three weeks going down the hell hole of Google’s automated support system, getting nothing but canned messages that were either irrelevant to his case or technically impossible; kinda hard to check your Gmail account when Google has shut it down. The lesson here is that building a business around services that can be taken away on a whim is perhaps not the best business plan.

And finally, we watched with great interest Big Clive’s secrets to getting those crisp, clean macro shots that he uses to reverse-engineer PCBs. We’ve always wondered how he accomplished that, and figured it involved some fancy ring-lights around the camera lens or a specialized lightbox. Either way, we figured Clive had to plow a bunch of that sweet YouTube cash into the setup, but we were surprised to learn that in true hacker fashion, it’s really just a translucent food container ringed with an LED strip, with a hole cut in the top for his cellphone camera. It may be simple, but you can’t argue with the results.

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Smart Phone Camera Turns Laser Cutter Into Hi-Res Scanner

Getting decent macro photos always seems to be a chore. Some important detail always seems to be just outside of the depth of field, or you have to be zoomed in so close that you get great detail in one spot but miss the big picture. [Nate B] had such a problem while trying to document some PC boards, and he came up with a nifty hack that uses a laser cutter and a smart phone camera to do the job.

Pv150a-front
Click for detail.

Having first tried scanning the boards with a flat-bed scanner but finding the depth of field unsatisfactory, [Nate B] then went on to his Samsung phone’s camera. Set to panorama mode, he manually scanned across the boards and let the camera stitch the images together. The results were better, but the wobblies got the better of him and the images showed it. He then decided to use a laser cutter — with the laser disabled, of course — as an impromptu X-Y stage to raster his camera above the boards. In a slightly cringe-worthy move, he gingerly clamped the phone to the cutter gantry, started the panorama, and let the cutter move over the board. This results in a rock-solid pictures of his boards with a lot of detail – perfect for his documentation. As a bonus, the honeycomb laser cutter bed makes for an interesting background texture.

Obviously anything could be used to raster a camera and achieve similar results, but full points here for maximizing available resources and not over-complicating a simple job. Yet another reason you can use to justify that laser-cutter purchase.

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Macro Photography With An IPhone


The camera lens on the iPhone is much like any other cameraphone lens in the fact that the lens has a fixed minimum and maximum focus length. If you want to get a little closer to your subject, you just might want to give [eastrain’s] macro camera mod a try.

According to [eastrain] both first and second generation iPhone cameras have a screw type focus ring that has been glued to infinity from the factory. This was probably set so that 99% of your photos were roughly in focus.

Gaining access to the camera lens requires the disassembly of your phone and will undoubtedly void any type of warranty you may have had. Once the lens is in view you will need to break the 2 glue points that hold the lens at its current position.

Using needle nose pliers you can then rotate the lens counter clockwise to increase the zoom or clockwise to decrease it. Enabling the built in camera app allows you to see in real time your changes. When you’re satisfied, just put everything back together. Of course the next step should be an externally mounted ring to allow manual zooming on the fly.

Flip Camera Microscope And Macro Lenses


Flip cameras are fun and easy to use, but not particularly versatile. If you’ve had poor results at macrophotography with a Flip, you might be interested in these DIY lenses. One is macroscopic lens for taking photos and video of small things, and the other is a microscope for even smaller things.

To construct the macro lens, you’ll need a pair of binoculars, some rubber bands and paper clips. Simply remove the lenses from the front of the binoculars, complete with the plastic casings that hold them. Thread a rubber band folded in half to the plastic casing and hold it in place with small segments from the paper clip. Now place the lens in front of the Flip’s lens and secure the rubber band around the flip.

The microscope’s eyepiece uses no such attachment method, simply hold it in front of the Flip. The same process can’t be used here because getting the proper focus requires it to be held at varying distances from the camera, not flush against it like the macro lens. In any case, it’s any easy mod that should have you taking pictures of bugs and other tiny things in no time. Look after the break for video of the lenses in action.

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