Retro Useless Clock Eventually Shows You The Time

It’s true; hackers like clocks. And hackers like useless machines. But would they like an intersection of the two? We’re thinking yes, probably, though we would argue that this QR clock was at no point fully useless. Yes, a QR clock as in, whip out your phone and, ignoring the conveniently-available phone time, open the bar code reader so you can check the time on this thing. So, it’s semi-useless. But at least it doesn’t detect cameras and then hide the QR code. That would be evil.

This project started life as a display piece for the hex wall down at [megardi]’s hackerspace, but, state of the world being what it is, [megardi] hasn’t made it down there yet. And meanwhile this little guy was looking cuter and cuter, so [megardi] decided to make him more useful and freestanding. The ESP32 inside gets the official time from NIST and displays it on the 1.5″ OLED screen. It also has a single alarm now, along with some other non-QR code clock faces that display the time in various ways.

We really like the look of this clock. Honestly, with those uniform tics around the edge, it sort of reminds us of the doomsday clock — you know, the ‘minutes to midnight’ quarter clock face that shows the current perceived threat level of how close we are to destroying the world with the technologies we’ve created. That clock is kind of cute, too, which is a little bit weird considering what it represents.

Speaking of our delicate planet, here’s a gorgeous little Earth clock that casts a shadow on whatever slice of the planet is currently shrouded in darkness.

Hackaday Links: May 9, 2021

Well, that de-escalated quickly. It seems like no sooner than a paper was announced that purported to find photographic evidence of fungi growing on Mars, that the planetary science and exobiology community came down on it like a ton of bricks. As well they should — extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and while the photos that were taken by Curiosity and Opportunity sure seem to show something that looks a lot like a terrestrial puffball fungus, there are a lot of other, more mundane ways to explain these formations. Add to the fact that the lead author of the Martian mushroom paper is a known crackpot who once sued NASA for running over fungi instead of investigating them; the putative shrooms later turned out to be rocks, of course. Luckily, we have a geobiology lab wandering around on Mars right now, so if there is or was life on Mars, we’ll probably find out about it. You know, with evidence.

If you’re a fan of dystopic visions of a future where bloodthirsty robots relentlessly hunt down the last few surviving humans, the news that the New York Police Department decided to stop using their “DigiDog” robot will be a bit of a downer. The move stems from outrage generated by politicians and citizens alike, who dreamt up all sorts of reasons why the NYPD shouldn’t be using this tool. And use it they apparently did —  the original Boston Dynamics yellow showing through the many scuffs and dings in the NYPD blue paint job means this little critter has seen some stuff since it hit the streets in late 2020. And to think — that robot dog was only a few weeks away from filing its retirement papers.

Attention, Commodore fans based in Europe: the Commodore Users Europe event is coming soon. June 12, to be precise. As has become traditional, the event is virtual, but it’s free and they’re looking for presenters.

In a bid to continue the grand Big Tech tradition of knowing what’s best for everyone, Microsoft just announced that Calibri would no longer be the default font in Office products. And here’s the fun part: we all get to decide what the new default font will be, at least ostensibly. The font wonks at Microsoft have created five new fonts, and you can vote for your favorite on social media. The font designers all wax eloquent on their candidates, and there are somewhat stylized examples of each new font, but what’s lacking is a simple way to judge what each font would actually look like on a page of English text. Whatever happened to “The quick brown fox” or even a little bit of “Lorem ipsum”?

And finally, why are German ambulances — and apparently, German medics — covered in QR codes? Apparently, it’s a way to fight back against digital rubberneckers. The video below is in German, but the gist is clear: people love to stop and take pictures of accident scenes, and smartphones have made this worse, to the point that emergency personnel have trouble getting through to give aid. And that’s not to mention the invasion of privacy; very few accident victims are really at their best at that moment, and taking pictures of them is beyond rude. Oh, and it’s illegal, punishable by up to two years in jail. The idea with the QR codes is to pop up a website with a warning to the rubbernecker. Our German is a bit rusty, but we’re pretty sure that translates to, “Hey idiot, get back in your frigging car!” Feel free to correct us on that.

[Editor’s note: “Stop. Rubbernecking kills”.]

Quality Control, Done Anywhere

Modern society has brought us all kinds of wonders, including rapid intercontinental travel, easy information access, and decreased costs for most consumer goods thanks to numerous supply chains. When those supply chains break down as a result of a natural disaster or other emergency, however, the disaster’s effects can be compounded without access to necessary supplies. That’s the focus of Field Ready, a nonprofit that sets up small-scale manufacturing in places without access to supply chains, or whose access has been recently disrupted.

As part of this year’s Hackaday Prize, a each of our four nonprofit partners outline specific needs that became the targets of a design and build challenge. Field Ready was one of those nonprofits, and for the challenge they focused on quality control for their distributed manufacturing system. We took a look at Field Ready back in June to explore some of the unique challenges associated with their work, which included customers potentially not knowing that a product they procured came from Field Ready in the first place, leading to very little feedback on the performance of the products and nowhere to turn when replacements are needed.

The challenge was met by a dream team whose members each received a $6,000 microgrant to work full time on the project. The’ve just made their report on an easier way of tracking all of the products produced, and identifying them even for those not in the organization. As a result, Field Ready has a much improved manufacturing and supply process which allows them to gather more data and get better feedback from users of their equipment. Join us after the break for a closer look at the system and to watch the team’s presentation video.

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Clock Is Not Readable By Humans

Not every build needs to be immediately useful or revolutionary. Plenty of builds are just for fun, for education, or even purposefully useless but still challenging. This clock, for example, might fit into all three categories. It’s a clock that displays time through a QR code, making it completely inscrutable unless you have a device which likely has its own readable clock on it already.

The QR Code clock comes to us from [Aaron] and is based on the now-ubiquitous ESP32 WiFi chip. The ESP32 is connected to a 64×64 LED matrix which is updated every second with a code for the current time. With single-second resolution that means that even with a method for reading a QR code by hand, like you sometimes can with barcodes, there’s no way to read it without a smartphone since it changes so rapidly.

Of course [Aaron] recognizes the flaw in his design in his video in which he notes tongue-in-cheek that with this clock you would never have to look at a smartphone again, since the clock is right there on the wall. We appreciate the humor and also that [Aaron] has made all of his source code available in case you would like to use this as an example project for using QR codes for more useful purposes. For now, though, we’ll just forward you along to some other useless machines.

Thanks to [willmore] for the tip!

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Fitting Snake Into A QR Code

QR codes are usually associated with ASCII text like URLs or serial numbers, but did you know you can also encode binary data into them? To demonstrate this concept, [MattKC] embarked on a journey to create a QR code that holds an executable version of Snake. Video after the break.

As you might expect, the version 40 QR code he ended up using is much larger than the ones you normally see. Consisting of a 171 by 171 grid, it’s the largest version that can still be read by most software. This gave [MattKC] a whopping 2,953 bytes to work with. Not a lot of space, but still bigger than some classic video games of the past.

To start, he first wrote Snake to run in a web browser using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, which was able to fit in the available space. Modern browsers do a lot of the lifting with built-in features, and [MattKC] wanted more of a challenge, so he decided to instead create a Windows executable file. His first attempts with compiled C code were too large, which led down the rabbit trail of x86 Assembly. Here he found that his knowledge of Assembly was too limited to create a small enough program without investing months into the project. He went back to C and managed to compress his executable using Crinkler, a compressing linker commonly used in the demoscene. This shrunk the file down to 1,478 bytes.

Zbar, a command-line barcode reader for Windows was used to test the final Snake QR code. [MattKC] discovered a bug in Zbarcam that prevented it from reading binary data via a webcam input, so through the power of open source, he submitted a bug fix which is now integrated into the official release.

All the files are available for anyone to play with on [MattKC]’s website. The video below goes into a lot of detail on the entire journey. Since this project proves software can be embedded in QR codes, it means that malware could also be hidden in a QR code, if there is an exploitable bug somewhere in a smartphone QR reader app.

QR codes are an interesting tool with a variety of uses. Take a deep dive into how they work, generate a 3D printable version, or build a QR jukebox, if you want to learn more.

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Hands On With A Batteryless E-Paper Display

E-paper displays are unusual in that power is only needed during a screen update. Once the display’s contents have been set, no power whatsoever is required to maintain the image. That’s pretty nifty. By making the display driver board communicate wirelessly over near-field communication (NFC) — which also provides a small amount of power — it is possible for this device to be both wireless and without any power source of its own. In a way, the technology required to do this has existed for some time, but the company Waveshare Electronics has recently made easy to use options available for sale. I ordered one of their 2.9 inch battery-less NFC displays to see how it acts.

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Warm Up To Cooking With A Recipe-Randomizing Toaster

Did you get a thermal printer when they were hot stuff, but then your interest cooled when you couldn’t decide what to do with it? Something similar happened to [Sunyecz22], and the poor printer sat unused until that magical day when the perfect use for it popped up — a random recipe receiver in the form of a toaster.

[Sunyecz22] was tired of searching for recipes every week before going to the grocery store. Between the millions of recipe options on the internet and the 1000-word essays that precede them all, the process was like a part-time job. Now all they have to do is push the little lever down and wait for a recipe to get toasted into some thermal paper. It doesn’t print the full recipe, only the essentials, and we love that. You get the name, the prep time, a rating, and a QR code that links to the recipe page.

This toaster runs on a Raspberry Pi Zero W that fetches recipes using the Spoonacular API and sends the deets to the printer. The lever makes use of some old pen springs to activate a limit switch and start the recipe-getting process. We think it would be extra cool if it stayed down until the recipe popped up. Butter your way past the break to see a short demo video.

We must say, this toaster is way more helpful than the talkie toaster from Red Dwarf.

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