Understanding Math Rather Than Merely Learning It

There’s a line from the original Star Trek where Khan says, “Improve a mechanical device and you may double productivity, but improve man and you gain a thousandfold.” Joan Horvath and Rich Cameron have the same idea about improving education, particularly autodidacticism or self-learning. They share what they’ve learned about acquiring an intuitive understanding of difficult math at the Hackaday Superconference and you can watch the newly published video below.

The start of this was the pair’s collaboration on a book about 3D printing science projects. Joan has a traditional education from MIT and Rich is a self-taught guy. This gave them a unique perspective from both sides of the street. They started looking at calculus — a subject that scares a lot of people but is really integral (no pun intended) to a lot of serious science and engineering.

You probably know that Newton and Leibniz struck on the fundamentals of calculus about the same time. The original papers, however, were decidedly different. Newton’s approach was more physical and less mathematical. Leibniz used formal logic and algebra. Although both share credit, the Leibniz notation won out and is what we use today.

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Inventors Chasing Their Dreams; What It’s Like to Quit Your Job and Hack

The phrase “Hindsight is 20/20” is one of those things that we all say from time to time, but rarely have a chance to truly appreciate to the fullest. Taken in the most literal context, it means that once you know the end result of a particular scenario, you can look back and clearly see the progression towards that now inescapable endgame. For example, if you’re stuck on the couch with a bad case of food poisoning, you might employ the phrase “Hindsight is 20/20” to describe the decision a few days prior to eat that food truck sushi.

Then again, it’s usually not that hard to identify a questionable decision, with or without the benefit of foreknowledge. But what about the good ones? How can one tell if a seemingly unimportant choice can end up putting you on track for a lifetime of success and opportunity? If there’s one thing Michael Rigsby hopes you’ll take away from the fascinating retrospective of his life that he presented at the 2018 Hackaday Superconference, it’s that you should grab hold of every opportunity and run with it. Some of your ideas and projects will be little more than dim memory when you look back on them 50 years later, but others might just end up changing your life.

Michael Rigsby’s electric car in 1971

Of course, it also helps if you’re the sort of person who was able to build an electric car at the age of nineteen, using technology which to modern eyes seems not very far ahead of stone knives and bear skins. The life story Michael tells the audience, complete with newspaper cuttings and images from local news broadcasts, is one that we could all be so lucky to look back on in the Autumn of our years. It’s a story of a person who, through either incredible good luck or extraordinary intuition, was able to be on the forefront of some of the technology we take for granted today before most people even knew what to call it.

From controlling his TRS-80 with his voice to building a robotic vacuum cleaner years before the Roomba was a twinkle in the eye of even the most forward thinking technofetishist, Michael was there. But he doesn’t hold a grudge towards the companies who ended up building billion dollar industries around these ideas. That was never what it was about for him. He simply loves technology, and wanted to show his experiments to others. Decades before “open source” was even a term, he was sharing his designs and ideas with anyone who’d care to take a look.

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No Moving Parts: Phased Array Antennas Move While Standing Still

If you watch old science fiction or military movies — or if you were alive back in the 1960s — you probably know the cliche for a radar antenna is a spinning dish. Although the very first radar antennas were made from wire, as radar sets moved higher in frequency, antennas got smaller and rotating them meant you could “look” in different directions. When most people got their TV with an antenna, rotating those were pretty common, too. But these days you don’t see many moving antennas. Why? Because antennas these days move electrically rather than physically using multiple antennas in a phased array. These electronically scanned phased array antennas are the subject of Hunter Scott’s talk at 2018’s Supercon. Didn’t make it? No problem,  you can watch the video below.

While this seems like new technology, it actually dates back to 1905. Karl Braun fed the output of a transmitter to three monopoles set up as a triangle. One antenna had a 90 degree phase shift. The two in-phase antennas caused a stronger signal in one direction, while the out-of-phase antenna canceled most of the signal and the resulting aggregate was a unidirectional beam. By changing the antenna fed with the delay, the beam could rotate in three 120 degree steps.

Today phased arrays are in all sorts of radio equipment from broadcast radio transmitters to WiFi routers and 5G phones. The technique even has uses in optics and acoustics.

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Adventures in Automating a Candle Factory

Have you ever considered the manufacture of candles? Not necessarily manufacturing them yourself, but how they are manufactured in a small-scale industrial setting? It’s something that has been of great concern to Michael Schuldt as he grappled with the task of automating a simple manual candle production process.

It’s not just an interesting subject, but the topic of manufacturing automation is something we can all learn from. This was the subject of his Adventures in Manufacturing Automation talk at the recent Hackaday Superconference which you’ll find below the break. Let’s dive in and see what this is all about!

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Oh the Lessons You’ll Learn by Building a Robot Familiar

A familiar spirit, or just a familiar, is a creature rumored to help people in the practice of magic. The moniker is perfect for Archimedes, the robot owl built by Alex Glow, which wields the Amazon Google AIY kit to react when it detects faces. A series of very interesting design choices a what really gives the creature life. Not all of those choices were on purpose, which is the core of her talk at the 2018 Hackaday Superconference.

You can watch the video of her talk, along with an interview with Alex after the break.

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Radio Gets Ridiculous

There were plenty of great talks at this year’s Supercon, but we really liked the title of Dominic Spill’s talk: Ridiculous Radios. Let’s face it, it is one thing to make a radio or a computer or a drone the way you are supposed to. It is another thing altogether to make one out of things you shouldn’t be using. That’s [Dominic’s] approach. In a quick 30 minutes, he shows you two receivers and two transmitters. What makes them ridiculous? Consider one of the receivers. It is a software defined radio (SDR). How many bits should an SDR have? How about one bit? Ridiculous? Then you are getting the idea.

Dominic is pretty adept at taking a normal microcontroller and bending it to do strange RF things and the results are really entertaining. The breadboard SDR, for example, is a microcontroller with three components: an antenna, a diode, and a resistor. That’s it. If you missed the talk at Supercon, you can see the newly published video below, along with more highlights from Dominic’s talk.

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Apple 1 Emulator Is A Perfect Fit For Supercon Badge

Supercon badge hackers had to be ready to present their show-and-tell by 6 pm Sunday evening. This ruthless unmoving deadline meant every badge hack on stage represents an accomplishment in time management, and some luck, in addition to their own technical merits. But that deadline also meant a few fantastic projects lost their race against the clock. We were rooting for [Jac Goudsmit] to build an Apple I emulator as his badge expansion, but he wasn’t quite done when our badge hack ceremony began. After Supercon he went home, finished the project, and documented everything in a detailed writeup.

Our 2018 Supercon badge is built on a retro-computing theme, and the default firmware came with a BASIC interpreter as well as a Z80 emulator running CP/M. So an Apple 1 emulator should feel right home with its contemporaries. Mechanically speaking, all the parts were a tight fit on the badge expansion board given out to every attendee at Supercon. So tightly that [Jac] had to file down the two main chips in order to fit them side by side. The breadboard-like pattern of connected holes on the expansion board, intended to help ease in beginners for their badge hack soldering, proved to be an inconvenience in tightly packed arrangements such as this.

With all the work [Jac] had invested, it was heartbreaking to know he was only five minutes of soldering and 30 minutes of coding away when time ran out. Time pressure was part of the challenge faced by every Supercon badge hacker, and while we’re sad [Jac] missed the deadline for stage time we’re happy to see him finish and write it all up. We hope every badge hacker would write up their stories of frantic weekend projects. Those who do so on hackaday.io are encouraged to tag their project with “Supercon” and get them added to our list of badge hacks for everyone to admire.