Scratching Out Business Intelligence

At Hackaday, we love things both from scratch and in Scratch, Scratch being the blocks building helpful language for teaching kids and the like how to program. However, when you have a large amount of data that needs to be processed, queried, and collated to get meaningful insights, it is a pain to rewrite a SQL query every time a new question arises that needs an answer. So perhaps a more elegant approach would be to give the people asking the questions the tools to answer them, but rather than teach them SQL, Mongo, GraphQL, or any other database, give them the tools to scratch out the answers themselves.

That’s enough scratch puns for one article. [Tommy] ran into this situation in 2011 and recently wrote about it. Scratch came out in 2003 and has inspired several projects, such as Google’s Blockly. [Tommy] used Blockly to create a web app where users could drag and drop different blocks to form queries. These layouts were passed to a PHP-backed (though later HVVM for performance reasons) and executed as SQL.

Eventually, big data came around, and the company hired proper data scientists. Though [Tommy] notes that some of those who used his tool went on to learn proper SQL and do it themselves. Applying concepts from programs designed to teach children programming might sound a little odd in a business sense, but we love seeing projects that help someone become curious enough to peer inside the machine.

Need A Linux Kernel Module? Scratch That

If you have been for (or against) Rust in the Linux kernel, get ready for a Linux kernel module written in… Scratch. That’s right. Scratch, the MIT-developed language with blocks popular for teaching kids to code. We didn’t mean “from scratch.” We meant IN Scratch. The bootstrap code and Makefile is out there on GitHub.

Of course, it is a simple module and the reason it is possible is because of the scratchnative system that lets you compile Scratch into C code. If you want to look at the decidedly simple code, you can open it in your browser.

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Building A Stump Grinder From The Ground Up

Felling a tree properly is a skill that takes some practice to master, especially without causing any injuries or property damage. Getting the tree cut down though is sometimes only half of the battle, as the stump and roots need to be addressed as well. Unless you have a few years to wait for them to naturally decompose you might want to employ a stump grinder, and unless you want to spend a chunk of money on a stump grinding service or buy your own, you might want to do what [Workshop from Scratch] did and build your own.

This stump grinder isn’t anything to scoff at, either, and might even fool some into thinking it’s a consumer grade tool from a big box store. Far from it though, as almost everything down to the frame is custom machined specifically for this build. The only thing that isn’t built from scratch, including the cutting wheel, is the beefy 15 horsepower motor. Once it gets going it is able to carve stumps down to the ground in no time thanks especially to some gear reductions in the drive line from the motor to the cutting head.

Before anyone mentions safety, it looks like [Workshop from Scratch] has made some upgrades since his last project which was a gas-powered metal cutting chainsaw. Since then it looks like he has upgraded the sheet metal to something a little thicker, even though a stump grinder has arguably lower risk due to the slower speed of the cutting wheel and also to the fact that the cutting medium is wood and not metal. There are also brakes and an emergency shutoff switch. It sure seems like a fine addition to his collection of completely custom tools.

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VGA From Scratch On A Homebrew 8-bit Computer

[James Sharman] has built an impressive 8-bit homebrew computer. Based on TTL logic chips, it has a pipelined design which makes it capable of Commodore-level computing, but [James] hasn’t quite finished everything yet. While it is currently built on its own custom PCB, it has a limiting LCD display which isn’t up to the standards of the rest of the build. To resolve this issue, he decided to implement VGA from scratch.

This isn’t a bit-bang VGA implementation, either. He plans for full resolution (640×480) which will push the limits of his hardware. He also sets goals of a 24-bit DAC which will allow for millions of colors, the ability to use sprites, and hardware scrolling. Since he’s doing all of this from scratch, the plan is to keep it as simple as possible and make gradual improvements to the build as he goes. To that end, the first iteration uses a single latching chip with some other passive components. After adding some code to the CPU to support the new video style, [James] is able to display an image on his monitor.

While the image of the parrot he’s displaying isn’t exactly perfect yet, it’s a great start for his build and he does plan to make improvements to it in future videos. We’d say he’s well on his way to reproducing a full 8-bit retrocomputer. Although VGA is long outdated for modern computers, the standard is straightforward to implement and limited versions can even be done with very small microcontrollers.

Thanks to [BaldPower] for the tip!

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IRobot Makes Learning Robot More Affordable

When you think of iRobot, you probably think of floor cleaning or military robots. But they also have a set of robots aimed at education. The Root robot — an acquisition the company made in 2019 — originally targeted classrooms and cost about $200 each. A new version costs about $130 and is a better fit for home users.

The original version  — Root rt1 — is still available, but the rt0 version has several missing features to hit the desired price. What’s missing? Apparently, the rt1 can stick to a whiteboard using magnets, but that feature is missing on the rt0. There are also no “cliff” sensors or color scanner.

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Making PCBs The Easy Way

Building a PCB at home can be fraught. If you’re etching, there are chemicals and the nuances of toner transfer. If you’re milling, getting the surface height just right, and not breaking those pointy little v-cutters is always a challenge. [Robin] has tips for both of these cases, and solves a lot of the common hassles by using a milling machine.

Whether he’s scraping away etch resist or entire copper isolation lines, [Robin] uses a non-spinning scratching tool instead of a v-bit: they’re more robust and cut every bit as well. He’s got tips for using FlatCam and KiCAD to make scratched-out traces. His registration system allows him to get double-sided boards with a minimum of hassle. And as a bonus, he’s doing some experimentation with embedding SMT parts inside the boards as well. Be sure that you check out his whole guide, or just watch the video embedded below.

We’re pretty sure you’ll pick up a trick or two, and maybe you’ll be convinced to bite the bullet and invest in a nice mill. If you’d like a more traditional take on PCB milling, try out our own [Adil Malik]’s guide.

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TRS-80 Clone Uses Modern Parts

Before RadioShack decided the best business model for an electronics store was to harass its customers into buying overpriced batteries and cellphones, it was a great one-stop shop for most discrete components, knobs, resistors, radio equipment, and even a popular computer. That computer, the TRS-80, is a popular one in the retrocomputing world and if you can’t get original parts to restore one, you can always build your own clone.

This build comes to us from [Glen] aka [glenk] who is known for retrocomputing builds like this classic PET we featured a little over a year ago, and this TRS-80 is his latest project. He really gets into the weeds on the hardware, too. This isn’t an FPGA or Raspberry Pi running a TRS-80 on lookalike hardware. [Glen] has completely redesigned the computer from the ground up using modern CMOS components in order to make a modern, perfectly functional replica of the RadioShack classic.

Because of the level of detail [Glen] goes into, this one is a must-read for anyone interested in computing hardware (as opposed to the software, which you could learn about through a more simple emulator) and retrocomputing in general, and also brings most of us back to a more nostalgic, simpler time where a trip to RadioShack was fun and interesting.

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