Automation With A New Twist

Turning on a lightbulb has never been easier. You can do it from your mobile. Voice activation through home assistants is robust. Wall switches even play nicely with the above methods. It was only a matter of time before someone decided to make it fun, if you consider a Rubik’s cube enjoyable. [Alastair Aitchison] at Playful Technology demonstrated that it is possible to trigger a relay when you match all the colors. Video also after the break.

The cube does little to obfuscate game data, so in this scope, it sends unencrypted transmissions. An ESP32 with [Alastair]’s Arduino code, can track each movement, and recognize a solved state. In the video, he solves the puzzle, and an actuator releases a balloon. He talks about some other cool things this could do, like home automation or a puzzle room, which is in his wheelhouse judging by the rest of his YouTube channel.

We would love to see different actions perform remote tasks. Twisting the top could set a timer for 1-2-3-4-5 minutes, while the bottom would change the bedroom lights from red-orange-yellow-green-blue-violet. Solving the puzzle should result in a barrage of NERF darts or maybe keep housemates from cranking the A/C on a whim.

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Passing The Time By Reading The Time

Binary clocks are a great way to confuse your non-technical peers when they ask the time from you — not that knowing about the binary system would magically give you quick reading skills of one yourself. In that case, they’re quite a nice little puzzle, and even a good alternative to the quarantine clocks we’ve come across a lot recently, since you can simply choose not to bother trying to figure out the exact time. But with enough training, you’ll eventually get the hang of it, and you might be in need for a new temporal challenge. Well, time to level up then, and the Cryptic Wall Clock built by [tomatoskins] will definitely keep you busy with that.

Example of the clock showing 08:44:47
Diagram of the clock showing 08:44:47

If you happen to be familiar with the Mengenlehreuhr in Berlin, this one here uses the same concept, but is built in a circular shape, giving it more of a natural clock look. And if you’re not familiar with the Mengenlehreuhr (a word so nice, we had to write it twice), the way [tomatoskins]’ clock works is to construct the time in 24-hour format by lighting up several sections in the five LED rings surrounding a center dot.

Starting from the innermost ring, each section of the rings represent intervals of 5h, 1h, 5m, 1m, and 2s, with 4, 4, 11, 4, and 29 sections per ring respectively. The center dot simply adds an additional second. The idea is to multiply each lit up section by the interval it represents, and add the time together that way. So if each ring has exactly one section lit up, the time is 06:06:02 without the dot, and 06:06:03 with the dot — but you will find some more elaborate examples in his detailed write-up.

This straightforward and yet delightfully unintuitive concept will definitely keep you scratching your head a bit, though you can always go weirder with the Roman numerals palm tree clock for example. But don’t worry, [tomatoskins] has also a more classic, nonetheless fascinating approach in his repertoire.

Hackaday Links: October 27, 2019

A year ago, we wrote about the discovery of treasure trove of original documentation from the development of the MOS 6502 by Jennifer Holdt-Winograd, daughter of the late Terry Holdt, the original program manager on the project. Now, Ms. Winograd has created a website to celebrate the 6502 and the team that built it. There’s an excellent introductory video with a few faces you might recognize, nostalgia galore with period photographs that show the improbable styles of the time, and of course the complete collection of lab notes, memos, and even resumes of the team members. If there were a microchip hall of fame – and there is – the 6502 would be a first-round pick, and it’s great to see the history from this time so lovingly preserved.

Speaking of the 6502, did you ever wonder what the pin labeled SO was for? Sure, the data sheets all say pin 38 of the original 40-pin DIP was the “Set Overflow” pin, an active low that set the overflow bit in the Processor Status Register. But Rod Orgill, one of the original design engineers on the 6502, told a different story: that “SO” was the initials of his beloved dog Sam Orgill. The story may be apocryphal, but it’s a Good Doggo story, so we don’t care.

You may recall a story we ran not too long ago about the shortage of plutonium-238 to power the radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) for deep-space missions. The Cold War-era stockpiles of Pu-238 were running out, but Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientists and engineers came up with a way to improve production. Now there’s a video showing off the new automated process from the Periodic Videos series, hosted by the improbably coiffed Sir Martyn Poliakoff. It’s fascinating stuff, especially seeing workers separated from the plutonium by hot-cells with windows that are 4-1/2 feet (1.4 meters) thick.

Dave Murray, better known as YouTube’s “The 8-Bit Guy”, can neither confirm nor deny the degree to which he participated in the golden age of phone phreaking. But this video of his phreaking presentation at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo reveals a lot of suspiciously detailed knowledge about the topic. The talk starts at 4:15 or so and is a nice summary of blue boxes, DTMF hacks, war dialing, and all the ways we curious kids may or may not have kept our idle hands busy before the Interwebz came along.

Do you enjoy a puzzle? We sure do, and one was just laid before us by a tipster who prefers to stay anonymous, but for whom we can vouch as a solid member of the hacker community. So no malfeasance will befall you by checking out the first clue, a somewhat creepy found footage-esque video with freaky sound effects, whirling clocks, and a masked figure reading off strings of numbers in a synthesized voice. Apparently, these clues will let you into a companion website. We worked on it for a bit and have a few ideas about how to crack this code, but we don’t want to give anything away. Or more likely, mislead anyone.

And finally, if there’s a better way to celebrate the Spooky Season than to model predictions on how humanity would fare against a vampire uprising, we can’t think of one. Dominik Czernia developed the Vampire Apocalypse Calculator to help you decide when and if to panic in the face of an uprising of the undead metabolically ambiguous. It supports several models of vampiric transmission, taken from the canons of popular genres from literature, film, and television. The Stoker-King model makes it highly likely that vampires would replace humans in short order, while the Harris-Meyer-Kostova model of sexy, young vampires is humanity’s best bet except for having to live alongside sparkly, lovesick vampires. Sadly, the calculator is silent on the Whedon model, but you can set up your own parameters to model a world with Buffy-type slayers at your leisure. Or even model the universe of The Walking Dead to see if it’s plausible that humans are still alive 3599 days into the zombie outbreak.

Plasma Globe Reveals Your Next Clue

If you like solving puzzles out in the real world, you’ve probably been to an escape room before, or are at least familiar with its concept of getting (voluntarily) locked inside a place and searching for clues that will eventually lead to a key or door lock combination that gets you out again. And while there are plenty of analog options available to implement this, the chances are you will come across more and more electronics-infused puzzles nowadays, especially if it fits the escape room’s theme itself. [Alastair Aitchison] likes to create such puzzles and recently discovered how he can utilize a USB powered plasma globe as a momentary switch in one of his installations.

The concept is pretty straightforward, [Alastair] noticed the plasma globe will draw significantly more current when it’s being touched compared to its idle state, which he measures using an INA219 current shunt connected to an Arduino. As a demo setup in his video, he uses two globes that will trigger a linear actuator when touched at the same time, making it an ideal multiplayer installation. Whether the amount of fingers, their position on the globe, or movement make enough of a reliable difference in the current consumption to implement a more-dimensional switch is unfortunately not clear, but definitely something worth experimenting with.

In case you’re planning to build your own escape room and are going for the Mad Scientist Laboratory theme, you’ll obviously need at least one of those plasma globes sparking in a corner anyway, so this will definitely come in handy — maybe even accompanied by something slightly larger? And for all other themes, you can always resort to an RFID-based solution instead.

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A Compiler In Plain Text Also Plays Music

As a layperson reading about some branches of mathematics, it often seems like mathematicians are just people who really like to create and solve puzzles. And, knowing that computer science shares a lot of its fundamentals with mathematics, we can assume that most computer scientists are also puzzle-solvers as well. This latest project from [tom7] shows off his puzzle creating and solving skills with a readable file which is also a paper, which is also a compiler for C programs, which can also play music.

[tom7] started off with the instruction set for the Intel 8086 processor. Of the instructions available, he wanted to use only instructions which are also readable in a text file. This limits him dramatically in what this file will be able to execute, but also sets up the puzzle. He walks through each of the hurdles he found by only using instructions that also code to text, including limited memory space, no obvious way of exiting the program once it was complete, not being able to jump backward in the program (i.e. looping), and a flurry of other issues that come up once the instruction set is limited in this way.

The result is a sort of C compiler which might not be the most efficient way of executing programs, but it sure is the most effective way of showing off [tom7]’s PhD in computer science. As a bonus, the file can also play an antiquated type of sound file due to one of the available instructions being a call for the processor to interact with I/O. If you want to learn a little bit more about compilers, you can check out a primer we have for investigating some of their features.

Thanks to [Greg] for the tip!

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An Enigma Wrapped In A Riddle Wrapped In A Vintage Radio

Puzzle boxes are great opportunities for hacking. You can start with a box which was originally used for something else. You get to design circuitry and controls which offer a complex puzzle for the players. And you can come up with a spectacular reward for those who solve it. [thomas.meston’s] Dr. Hallard’s Dream Transmission Box, which he created for an original party game, has all those elements.

The box was a broken 1948 National NC-33 Ham Radio purchased on eBay after a number of failed bids. Most of it was removed except for the speaker. The electronics is Arduino based, so most of the smarts are in the form of code. Potentiometers and a switch provide the mechanism for players to enter codes. And when the correct code is entered, a relay triggers an external smoke machine and turns on a laser which illuminates a party ball, rewarding the victors. And of course, there are also sound effects as well as a recorded message.

We weren’t kidding when we said puzzle boxes make great hacks. Here’s one which ignites fireworks, one made only from discrete components, and a valentine based one which makes your significant other work for their gift.

Solving A Rubik’s Cube With Just Two Motors

We’ve all seen videos of Rubik’s cube champions who can solve the puzzle in less than 5 seconds. And there are cube-twisting robots that can solve the cube even faster, often in under a second. This Rubik’s cube solver is not one of those robots, but it’s still pretty cool.

The reason we like Dexter Industries’ “BricKuber” is not for its lightning speed — it takes a minute or two to solve the puzzle. What we like is the simplicity of the approach to manipulating the cube. Built from LEGO parts, including Mindstorms motors and a BrickPi controller, the BricKuber uses only two motors to work the cube. One motor powers a square turntable upon which the cube sits, while the other powers an arm that does double duty — it either clamps the cube so the turntable can rotate a layer, or it rakes the cube to flip it 90° on the turntable. With a Pi Cam overhead, the rig images all six faces, calculates a solution to the cube, and then flips and twists the cube to solve it. It’s simultaneously mind-boggling and strangely relaxing to watch.

All the code is open source, and we strongly suspect a similar and possibly faster robot could be built without the LEGO parts. You might even be able to build one with popsicle sticks and an Arduino.

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