Make It Compatible

I’m probably as guilty as anyone of reinventing the wheel for a subpart of a project. Heck, sometimes I just feel like working on a wheel design. But if that’s the path you choose, you have to think about whether or not it’s important that others can replicate your project. The nice thing about a bog-standard wheel is that everyone has got one.

The case study I have in mind is a wall-plotter project that appeared on Hackaday this week. It’s a really sweet design, and in many ways would be an ideal starter project. I actually need a wall plotter (for reasons) and like a number of the choices made. For instance, having nearly everything, including the lightweight geared steppers on the gondola makes it easy to install and uninstall — you just pin up the timing belt from which it hangs and you’re done. Extra weight on the gondola helps with stability anyway. It’s open source and based on the Arduino libraries, so it should be easy enough to port to whatever microcontroller I have on hand.

But the image-generation toolchain is awkward, involving cutting and pasting into a spreadsheet, which generates a text file in a custom plotting micro-language. Presumably the designer doesn’t know about Gcode, which is essentially the lingua franca of moving machines, or just didn’t feel like implementing it. Where in Gcode, movement commands are like “G1 X100 Y50”, this device expects “draw_line(0,0,100,50)”. They’re essentially equivalent, but incompatible.

I totally understand that the author must have had a good time thinking up the movement commands and writing the spreadsheet that translates SVG files into them. I’ve been there and done that! But if the wall plotter spoke Gcode instead of its own dialect, it would slot instantly into any number of graphics processing workflows, which would make me, the potential user, happier.

When you are looking at reinventing the wheel, think about your audience. If you’re the only person likely to see the project, go ahead and scratch whatever itch you’ve got. You’ll learn more that way. But if you want to share the project with as many people as possible, adhering to the most widely used standards is a good choice for your users, even if it is less fun than dreaming up your own movement language.

The Label Says HDMI 2.1 But That Doesn’t Mean You’ll Get It

Technology moves quickly these days as consumers continue to demand more data and more pixels. We see regular updates to standards for USB and RAM continually coming down the pipeline as the quest for greater performance goes on.

HDMI 2.1 is the latest version of the popular audio-visual interface, and promises a raft of new features and greater performance than preceding versions of the standard. As it turns out, though, buying a new monitor or TV with an HDMI 2.1 logo on the box doesn’t mean you’ll get any of those new features, as discovered by TFT Central.

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The Mouth-Watering World Of NIST Standard Foods

The National Institute Of Standards and Technology was founded on March 3, 1901 as the National Bureau of Standards, taking on its current moniker in 1988. The organisation is charged by the government with ensuring the uniformity of weights and measures across the United States, and generally helping out industry, academia and other users wherever some kind of overarching standard is required.

One of the primary jobs of NIST is the production and sale of Standard Reference Materials, or SRMs. These cover a huge variety of applications, from steel samples to concrete and geological materials like clay. However, there are also edible SRMS, too. Yes, you can purchase yourself a jar of NIST Standard Peanut Butter, though you might find the price uncompetitive with the varieties at your local supermarket. Let’s dive into why these “standard” foods exist, and see what’s available from the shelves of our favourite national standards institute. Continue reading “The Mouth-Watering World Of NIST Standard Foods”

PC Cases Are Still Stuck In The Dark Ages, But We Can Fix This

In the dawning of the IBM PC era, the computer case was a heavy, stout thing. These were industrial machines, built with beefy paddle power switches, and weighing as much as a ton of bricks. Painted in only the ugliest beige, they set the tone for PC design for the next couple of decades.

At the turn of the millennium, the winds of change swept through. The Apple iMac redefined the computer as a hip, cool device, and other manufacturers began to reconsider their product aesthetics. Around the same time, the casemodding scene took off in earnest, with adherents building ever wilder battle stations for internet clout and glory.

With all the development that has gone in the last 40 years of the PC platform, we’ve seen great change and improvement in almost every area. But in building a new rig this past month, this writer discovered there’s one element of the modern PC that’s still trapped in the past.

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Hackaday Links: June 14, 2020

You say you want to go to Mars, but the vanishingly thin atmosphere, the toxic and corrosive soil, the bitter cold, the deadly radiation that sleets down constantly, and the long, perilous journey that you probably won’t return from has turned you off a little. Fear not, because there’s still a way for you to get at least part of you to Mars: your intelligence. Curiosity, the Mars rover that’s on the eighth year of its 90-day mission, is completely remote-controlled, and NASA would like to add some self-driving capabilities to it. Which is why they’re asking for human help in classifying thousands of images of the Martian surface. By annotating images and pointing out what looks like soil and what looks like rock, you’ll be training an algorithm that one day might be sent up to the rover. If you’ve got the time, give it a shot — it seems a better use of time than training our eventual AI overlords.

We got a tip this week that ASTM, the international standards organization, has made its collection of standards for testing PPE available to the public. With titles like “Standard Test Method for Resistance of Medical Face Masks to Penetration by Synthetic Blood (Horizontal Projection of Fixed Volume at a Known Velocity)”, it seems like the standards body wants to make sure that that homebrew PPE gets tested properly before being put into service. The timing of this release is fortuitous since this week’s Hack Chat features Hiram Gay and Lex Kravitz, colleagues from the Washington University School of Medicine who will talk about what they did to test a respirator made from a full-face snorkel mask.

There’s little doubt that Lego played a huge part in the development of many engineers, and many of us never really put them away for good. We still pull them out occasionally, for fun or even for work, especially the Technic parts, which make a great prototyping system. But what if you need a Technic piece that you don’t have, or one that never existed in the first place? Easy — design and print your own custom Technic pieces. Lego Part Designer is a web app that breaks Technic parts down into five possible blocks, and lets you combine them as you see fit. We doubt that most FDM printers can deal with the fine tolerances needed for that satisfying Lego fit, but good enough might be all you need to get a design working.

Chances are pretty good that you’ve participated in more than a few video conferencing sessions lately, and if you’re anything like us you’ve found the experience somewhat lacking. The standard UI, with everyone in the conference organized in orderly rows and columns, reminds us of either a police line-up or the opening of The Brady Bunch, neither of which is particularly appealing. The paradigm could use a little rethinking, which is what Laptops in Space aims to do. By putting each participant’s video feed in a virtual laptop and letting them float in space, you’re supposed to have a more organic meeting experience. There’s a tweet with a short clip, or you can try it yourself. We’re not sure how we feel about it yet, but we’re glad someone is at least trying something new in this space.

And finally, if you’re in need of a primer on charlieplexing, or perhaps just need to brush up on the topic, [pileofstuff] has just released a video that might be just what you need. He explains the tri-state logic LED multiplexing method in detail, and even goes into some alternate uses, like using optocouplers to drive higher loads. We like his style — informal, but with a good level of detail that serves as a jumping-off point for further exploration.

Open Source Kitchen Helps You Watch What You Eat

Every appliance business wants to be the one that invents the patented, license-able, and profitable standard that all the other companies have to use. Open Source Kitchen wants to beat them to it. 

Every beginning standard needs a test case, and OSK’s is a simple one. A bowl that tracks what you eat. While a simple concept, the way in which the data is shared, tracked, logged, and communicated is the real goal.

The current demo uses a Nvidia Jetson Nano as its processing center. This $100 US board packs a bit of a punch in its weight class. It processes the video from a camera held above the bowl of fruit, suspended by a scale in a squirrel shaped hangar, determining the calories in and calories out.

It’s an interesting idea. One wonders how the IoT boom might have played out if there had been a widespread standard ready to go before people started walling their gardens.

Introducing The Shitty Add-On V1.69bis Standard

The last few years have seen a rise of artistic PCBs. Whether these are one-off projects with a little graphic on the silkscreen or the art of manufacturing and supply chains, these fancy PCBs are here to stay. Nowhere is this more apparent than the loose confederation of Badgelife enthusiasts, a hardware collective dedicated to making expressive and impressive electronic baubles for various hacker conferences. Here, hundreds of different hardware badges are created every year. It’s electronic art, supported by a community.

Some of these badges aren’t technically badges, but rather small, blinky add-ons meant to connect to a main badge, and these add-ons are all backed by a community-derived standard. The Shitty Add-On Standard is how you put smaller PCBs onto bigger PCBs. It is supported by tens of thousands of badges, and all of the people who are spending their free time designing electronic conference badges are using this standard.

It’s been more than a year since the Shitty Add-On standard was created, and in that time the people behind the work have seen the shortcomings of the first edition of the standard. Mechanically, it’s not really that strong, and it would be neat if there were a few more pins to drive RGB LEDs. This has led to the creation of the latest revision of the Shitty Add-On Standard, V.1.69bis. Now, for the first time, this standard is ready for the world to see.

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