Virtual Reality always seemed like a technology just out of reach, much like nuclear fusion, the flying car, or Linux on the desktop. It seems to be gaining steam in the last five years or so, though, with successful video games from a number of companies as well as plenty of other virtual reality adjacent technology that seems to be picking up steam as well like augmented reality. Another sign that this technology might be here to stay is this virtual reality headset made for mice. Continue reading “Mice Play In VR”
Smart Ruler Has Many Features
For those of us who remember old ball mice, they were a lot like modern optical mice except that they needed to be cleaned constantly. Having optical mice as a standard way of interacting with a computer is a major improvement over previous eras in computing. With extinction of the ball mouse, there are an uncountable number of cheap optical mice around now which are easy pickings for modern hacking, and this latest project from [Vipul] shows off some of the ways that optical mice can be repurposed by building a digital ruler.
The build seems straightforward on the surface. As the ruler is passed over a surface the device keeps track of exactly how far it has moved, making it an effective and very accurate ruler. To built it, the optical component of a mouse was scavenged and mated directly to a Raspberry Pi Zero W over USB. Originally he intended to use an ESP32 but could not get the USB interface to work. [Vipul] was then able to write some software which can read the information from the mouse’s PCB directly and translate it into human-readable form where it is displayed on a small screen. The entire device is housed in a custom 3D-printed enclosure to wrap everything up, but the build doesn’t stop there though. [Vipul] also leveraged the Bluetooth functionality of the Pi and wrote a smartphone app which can be used to control the ruler as well.
While the device does have some limitations in that it has to make contact with the object being measured across its entire length, there are some situations where we can imagine something like this being extremely useful especially when measuring things that aren’t a straight line. [Vipul] has also made all of the code for this project publicly available for those of us who might have other uses in mind for something like this. We’ve seen optical mice repurposed for all kinds of things in the past, too, including measuring travel distances in autonomous vehicles.
Mice Develop Inside An Artificial Womb
Well, it looks like those fetus fields from The Matrix (1999) just became a little bit more plausible. Although people-growing is probably a long way off, mice can now mostly develop inside an artificial uterus (try private window if you hit a paywall) thanks to a breakthrough in developmental biology. So far, the mice can only be kept alive halfway through gestation. There’s a point at which the nutrient formula provided to them isn’t enough, and they need a blood supply to continue growing. That’s the next goal. For now, let’s talk about that mechanical womb setup.
Carousel of Care
The mechanical womb was developed to better understand how various factors such as gene mutations, nutrients, and environmental conditions affect murine fetuses in development. Why do miscarriages occur, and why do fertilized eggs fail to implant in the first place? How exactly does an egg explode into 40 trillion cells when things do work out? This see-through uterus ought to reveal a few more of nature’s gestational secrets.
Katrina Nguyen Automates Her Mice
When embarking on a career in the life sciences, it seems like the choice of which model organism to study has more than a little to do with how it fits into the researcher’s life. I once had a professor who studied lobsters, ostensibly because they are a great model for many questions in cell biology; in actuality, he just really liked to eat lobster. Another colleague I worked with studied salt transport in shark rectal glands, not because he particularly liked harvesting said glands — makes the sharks a tad grumpy — but because he really liked spending each summer on the beach.
Not everyone gets to pick a fun or delicious model organism, though, and most biologists have had to deal with the rats and mice at some point. It’s hard to believe how needy these creatures can be in terms of care and feeding, and doubly so when feeding is part of the data you’re trying to collect from them. Graduate student Katrina Nguyen learned this the hard way, but rather than let her life be controlled by a bunch of rodents, she hacked a solution that not only improved her life, but also improved her science. She kindly dropped by the Hackaday Superconference to tell us all about how she automated her research.
A Universal USB To Quadrature Encoder
Computer mice existed long before the Mac, and most of the old 8-bit computers had some software that could use a mouse. These mice had balls and quadrature encoders. While converters to turn these old mice into USB devices exist, going the other way isn’t so common. [Simon] has developed the answer to that problem in the form of SmallyMouse2. It turns a USB mouse into something that can be used with the BBC Micro, Acorn Master, Acorn Archimedes, Amiga, Atari ST and more.
The design of the SmallyMouse2 uses an AT90USB microcontroller that supports USB device and host mode, and allows for a few GPIOs. This microcontroller effectively converts a USB mouse into a BBC Micro user port AMX mouse, generic quadrature mouse, and a 10-pin expansion header. The firmware uses the LUFA USB stack, a common choice for these weird USB to retrocomputer projects.
The project is completely Open Source, and all the files to replicate this project from the KiCad project to the firmware are available on [Simon]’s GitHub. If you have one of these classic retrocomputers sitting in your attic, it might be a good time to check if you still have the mouse. If not, this is the perfect project to delve into to the classic GUIs of yesteryear.
Peripherals Behind The Iron Curtain
The article Home Computers Behind the Iron Curtain sparked a lot of interest, which made me very happy. Therefore, I decided to introduce more computer curiosities from the Iron Curtain period, especially from the former Czechoslovakia (CSSR).
As I mentioned in the previous article, the lack of spare parts, literature and technology in Czechoslovakia forced geeks to solve it themselves: by improvisation and what we would today call “hacking.” Hobbyist projects of one person or a small party was eventually taken over by a state-owned enterprise, which then began to manufacture and deliver to stores with some minor modifications. These projects most often involved a variety of peripherals that could only be found in the Czechoslovakia with great difficulty.
Much like the production of components, the production of peripherals was also distributed throughout the eastern block so that each country was specializing in certain types of peripherals. For example, East Germany produced matrix printers, and Bulgaria made floppy disks drives. This meant industrial enterprises had to wait for vital computer parts, because the production in another country was not sufficient to cover even the local requirements, let alone the home user.
UC Davis Researchers Use Light To Erase Memories In Genetically Altered Mice
Much like using UV light to erase data from an EPROM, researchers from UC Davis have used light to erase specific memories in mice. [Kazumasa Tanaka, Brian Wiltgen and colleagues] used optogenetic techniques to test current ideas about memory retrieval. Optogenetics has been featured on Hackaday before. It is the use of light to control specific neurons (nerve cells) that have been genetically sensitized to light. By doing so, the effects can be seen in real-time.
For their research, [Kazumasa Tanaka, Brian Wiltgen and colleagues] created genetically altered mice whose activated neurons expressed GFP, a protein that fluoresces green. This allowed neurons to be easily located and track which ones responded to learning and memory stimuli. The neurons produced an additional protein that made it possible to “switch them off” in response to light. This enabled the researchers to determine which specific neurons are involved in the learning and memory pathways as well as study the behavior of the mouse when certain neurons were active or not.
Animal lovers may want to refrain from the following paragraph. The mice were subjected to mild electric shocks after being placed in a cage. They were trained so that when they were put in the cage again, they remembered the previous shock and would freeze in fear. However, when specific neurons in the hippocampus (a structure in the brain) were exposed to light transmitted through fiber optics (likely through a hole in each mouse’s skull), the mice happily scampered around the cage, no memory of the earlier shock to terrify them. The neurons that stored the memory of the shock had been “turned off” after the light exposure.
Continue reading “UC Davis Researchers Use Light To Erase Memories In Genetically Altered Mice”