How The Gates (Almost) Stole Christmas

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house
Blue screens were everywhere; no response from the mouse
Windows, it seems, had decided to die
Because it had updated; we didn’t know why
But Santa had a plan while we were all in bed
He reformatted our server and installed Linux instead
In the morning we rushed in and what did we see?
Programs were running, and most of them free!
There was Chrome and Open Office and emacs for me
Not a penny was going to Mr. Gates’ fee
Now we have no more blue screens, ever, of course
Because Santa turned us on to that sweet open source

Blue Pill As A Nerdy Swiss Army Knife

Not everyone can afford an oscilloscope, and some of us can’t find a USB logic analyzer half the time. But we can usually get our hands on a microcontroller kit, which can be turned into a makeshift instrument if given the appropriate code. A perfect example is buck50 developed by [Mark Rubin], an open source firmware to turn a STM32 “Blue Pill” into a multi-purpose test and measurement instrument.

buck50 comes with a plethora of functionality built in which includes an oscilloscope, logic analyzer, and bus monitor. The device is a two way street and also comes with GPIO control as well as PWM output. There’s really a remarkable amount of functionality crammed into the project. [Mark] provides a Python application that exposes a text based UI for configuring and using the device though commands and lots of commands which makes this really nerdy. There are a number of options to visualize the data captured which includes gnuplot, gtk wave and PulseView to name a few.

[Mark] does a fantastic job not only with the firmware but also with the documentation, and we really think this makes the project stand out. Commands are well documented and everything is available on [GitHub] for your hacking pleasure. And if you are about to order a Blue Pill online, you might want to check out the nitty-gritty of the clones that are floating around.

Thanks [JohnU] for the tip!

Vizy “AI Camera” Wants To Make Machine Vision Less Complex

Vizy, a new machine vision camera from Charmed Labs, has blown through their crowdfunding goal on the promise of making machine vision projects both easier and simpler to deploy. The camera, which starts around $250, integrates a Raspberry Pi 4 with built-in power and shutdown management, and comes with a variety of pre-installed applications so one can dive right in.

The Sony IMX477 camera sensor is the same one found in the Raspberry Pi high quality camera, and supports capture rates of up to 300 frames per second (under the right conditions, anyway.) Unlike the usual situation faced by most people when a Raspberry Pi is involved, there’s no need to worry about adding a real-time clock, enclosure, or ensuring shutdowns happen properly; it’s all taken care of.

‘Birdfeeder’ application can automatically identify and upload images of visitors.

Charmed Labs are the same folks behind the Pixy and Pixy 2 cameras, and Vizy goes further in the sense that everything required for a machine vision project has been put onboard and made easy to use and deploy, even the vision processing functions work locally and have no need for a wireless data connection (though one is needed for things like automatic uploading or sharing.) For outdoor or remote applications, there’s a weatherproof enclosure option, and wireless connectivity in areas with no WiFi can be obtained by plugging in a USB cellular modem.

A few of the more hacker-friendly hardware features are things like a high-current I/O header and support for both C/CS and M12 lenses for maximum flexibility. The IR filter can also be enabled or disabled via software, so no more swapping camera modules for ones with the IR filter removed. On the software side, applications are all written in Python and use open software like Tensorflow and OpenCV for processing.

The feature list looks good, but Vizy also seems to have a clear focus. It looks best aimed at enabling projects with the following structure:

Detect Things (people, animals, cars, text, insects, and more) and/or Measure Things (size, speed, duration, color, count, angle, brightness, etc.)

Perform an Action (for example, push a notification or enable a high-current I/O) and/or Record (save images, video, or other data locally or remotely.)

The Motionscope application tracking balls on a pool table. (Click to enlarge)

A good example of this structure is the Birdfeeder application which comes pre-installed. With the camera pointed toward a birdfeeder, animals coming for a snack are detected. If the visitor is a bird, Vizy identifies the species and uploads an image. If the animal is not a bird (for example, a squirrel) then Vizy can detect that as well and, using the I/O header, could briefly turn on a sprinkler to repel the hungry party-crasher. A sample Birdfeeder photo stream is here on Google Photos.

Motionscope is a more unusual but very interesting-looking application, and its purpose is to capture moving objects and measure the position, velocity, and acceleration of each. A picture does a far better job of explaining what Motionscope does, so here is a screenshot of the results of watching some billiard balls and showing what it can do.

Paying It Forward

It’s all those little things. A month ago, I was working on the axes for a foam-cutting machine. (Project stalled, will pick back up soon!) A week ago, somewhere else on the Internet, people were working on sliders that would ride directly on aluminum rails, a problem I was personally experiencing, and recommended using drawer-glide tape — a strip of PTFE or UHMW PE with adhesive backing on one side. Slippery plastic tape solves the metal-on-metal problem. It’s brilliant, it’s cheap, and it’s just a quick trip to the hardware store.

Just a few days ago, we covered another awesome linear-motion mechanical build in the form of a DIY camera rig that uses a very similar linear motion system to the one I had built as well: a printed trolley that slides on skate bearings over two rails of square-profile extruded aluminum. He had a very nice system of anchoring the spacers that hold the two rails apart, one of the sticking points in my build. I thought I’d glue things together, but his internal triangle nut holders are a much better solution because epoxy doesn’t like to stick to anodized aluminum. (And Alexandre, if you’re reading, that UHMW PE tape is just what you need to prevent bearing wear on your aluminum axes.)

Between these events, I got a message thanking me for an article that I wrote four years ago on debugging SPI busses. Apparently, it helped a small company to debug a problem and get their product out the door. Hooray!

So in one week, I got help from two different random strangers on a project that neither of them knew I was working on, and I somehow saved a startup. What kind of crazy marvelous world is this? It’s become so normal to share our ideas and experience, at least in our little corner of the Internet, that I sometimes fail to be amazed. But it’s entirely amazing. I know we’ve said it before, but we are living in the golden era of sharing ideas.

Thanks to all of you out there, and Read More Hackaday!

Ask Hackaday: Is Windows XP Source Code Leak A Bad Thing?

News comes overnight that the Windows XP source code has been leaked. The Verge says they have “verified the material as legitimate” and that the leak also includes Windows Server 2003 and some DOS and CE code as well. The thing is, it has now been more than six years since Microsoft dropped support for XP, does it really matter if the source code is made public?

The Poison Pill

As Erin Pinheiro pointed out in her excellent article on the Nintendo IP leak earlier this year (perhaps the best Joe Kim artwork of the year on that one, by the way), legitimate developers can’t really make use of leaked code since it opens them up to potential litigation. Microsoft has a formidable legal machine that would surely go after misuse of the code from a leak like this. Erin mentions in her article that just looking at the code is the danger zone for competitors.

Even if other software companies did look at the source code and implement their own improvements without crossing the legal line, how much is there still to gain? Surely companies with this kind of motivation would have reverse engineered the secret sauce of the long dead OS by now, right?

Spy vs. Spy

The next thing that comes to mind are the security implications. At the time of writing, statcount pegs Windows XP at a 0.82% market share which is still going to be a very large number of machines. Perhaps a better question to consider is what types of machines are still running it? I didn’t find any hard data to answer this question, however there are dedicated machines like MRIs that don’t have easy upgrade paths and still use the OS and there is an embedded version of XP that runs on point-of-sale, automated teller machines, set-top boxes, and other long-life hardware that are notorious for not being upgraded by their owners.

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Open-Source Robotic Arm For All Purposes

A set of helping hands is a nice tool to have around the shop, especially if soldering or gluing small components is a common task. What we all really want, though, is a robotic arm. Sure, it could help us set up glue or solder but it can do virtually any other task it is assigned as well. A general-purpose tool like this might be out of reach of most of us, unless we have a 3D printer to make this open-source robotic arm at home.

The KAUDA Robotic Arm from [Giovanni Lerda] is a five-axis arm with a gripping tool and has a completely open-source set of schematics so it can be printed on any 3D printer. The robot arm uses three stepper motors and two servo motors, and is based on the Arduino MEGA 2560 for control. The electrical schematics are also open-source, so getting this one up and running is just an issue of printing, wiring, and implementing some software. To that end there are software examples available, and they can easily be modified to fit one’s robotic needs.

A project like this could be helpful for any number of other projects, or also just as a lesson in robotics for yourself or even in a classroom, since many schools now have their own 3D printers. With everything being open-source, this is a much simpler endeavor now than other projects we’ve seen that attempted to get robotic arms running again.

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SkyWater PDK Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, September 16 at noon Pacific for the CNC on the SkyWater PDK Hack Chat with Tim “mithro” Ansell, Mohamed Kassem, and Michael Gielda!

We’ve seen incredible strides made in the last decade or so towards democratizing manufacturing. Things that it once took huge, vertically integrated industries with immense factories at their disposal are now commonly done on desktop CNC machines and 3D printers. Open-source software has harnessed the brainpower of millions of developers into tools that rival what industry uses, and oftentimes exceeds them. Using these tools and combining them with things like on-demand PCB production and contract assembly services, and you can easily turn yourself into a legit manufacturer.

This model of pushing manufacturing closer to the Regular Joe and Josephine only goes so far, though. Your designs have pretty much been restricted to chips made by one or the other big manufacturers, which means pretty much anyone else could come up with the same thing. That’s all changing now thanks to SkyWater PDK, the first manufacturable, open-source process-design kit. With the tools in the PDK, anyone can design a chip for the SkyWater foundry’s 130-nm process.  And the best part? It’s free — as in beer. That’s right, you can get an open-source chip built for nothing during chip manufacturing runs that start as early as this November and go through 2021.

We’re sure this news will stir a bunch of questions, so Tim Ansell, a software engineer at Google who goes by the handle “mithro” will drop by the Hack Chat to discuss the particulars. He’ll be joined by Mohamed Kassem, CTO and co-founder of efabless.com, and Michael Gielda, VP of Business Development at Antmicro. Together they’ll field your questions about this exciting development, and they’ll walk us through just what it takes to turn your vision into silicon.

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, September 16 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones baffle you as much as us, 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.

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