Hackaday Links Column Banner

Hackaday Links: November 21, 2021

As the most spendiest time of the year rapidly approaches, it’s good to know that your hard-earned money doesn’t have to go towards gifts that are probably still sitting in the dank holds of container ships sitting at anchor off the coast of California. At least not if you shop the Tindie Cyber Sale that started yesterday and goes through December 5. There’s a lot of cool stuff on sale, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find something; to sweeten the deal, Jasmine tells us that there will be extra deals going live on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. But wait, there’s more — follow Tindie on Twitter for bonus discount codes.

Blue is the old black, which was the new blue? At least when it comes to “Screens of Death” it is, since Microsoft announced the Windows 11 BSOD will revert back from its recent black makeover to the more familiar blue theme. You’ll have to scroll down a bit, perhaps three-quarters of the way through the list of changes. Again, the change seems completely cosmetic and minor, but we’d still love to know what kind of research went into making a decision like this.

From the “One Man’s Trash” department, we have a request for help from reader Mike Drew who picked up a bunch — like, a thousand — old tablet computers. They originally ran Windows but they can run Linux Mint just fine, and while they lack batteries and the back cover, they’re otherwise complete and in usable condition, at least judging by the pictures he shared. These were destined for the landfill, but Mike is willing to send batches of 10 — no single units, please — to anyone who can cover the cost of packaging and shipping. Mike says he’ll be wiping the tablets and installing Mint, and will throw in a couple of battery cables and a simple instruction sheet to get you started. If you’re interested, Mike can be reached at michael.l.drew@gmail.com. Domestic shipping only, please. Here’s hoping you can help a fellow hacker reclaim a room in his house.

Answering the important questions: it turns out that Thanos couldn’t have snapped half of the universe out of existence after all. That conclusion comes from a scientific paper, appearing in the Journal of the Royal Society. While not setting out to answer if a nigh-invulnerable, giant purple supervillain could snap his fingers, it’s pretty intuitive that wearing any kind of gloves, let alone a jewel-encrusted metal gauntlet, makes it hard to snap one’s fingers. But the mechanics of snapping is actually pretty cool, and has implications beyond biomechanics. According to the paper, snapping is actually an example of latch-mediated spring actuation, with examples throughout the plant and animal kingdoms, including the vicious “one-inch punch” of the tiny mantis shrimp. It turns out that a properly executed human finger snap is pretty darn snappy — it takes about seven milliseconds to complete, compared to 150 milliseconds for an eye blink.

And finally, it seems like someone over at Id Software is a bit confused. The story began when a metal guitarist named Dustin Mitchell stumbled across the term “doomscroll” and decided that it would make a great name for a progressive thrash metal band. After diligently filing a trademark application with the US Patent and Trademark Office, he got an email from an attorney for Id saying they were going to challenge the trademark, apparently because they feel like it will cause confusion with their flagship DOOM franchise. It’s hard to see how anyone who lived through the doomscrolling years of 2020 and 2021 is going to be confused by a thrash metal band and a 30-year-old video game, but we suppose that’s not the point when you’re an attorney. Trademark trolls gonna troll, after all.

Rescuing A Wacom Digitizer From A Broken Lenovo Yoga Book

The Lenovo Yoga Book is a interesting thing, featuring a touch-surface keyboard that also doubles as a Wacom tablet. [TinLethax] sadly broke the glass of this keyboard when trying to replace a battery in their Yoga Book, but realised the Wacom digitizer was still intact. Thus began a project to salvage this part and repurpose it for the future.

The first step was to reverse engineer the hardware; as it turns out, the digitizer pad connects to a special Wacom W9013 chip which holds the company’s secret sauce (secret smoke?). As the GitHub page for [TinLethax]’s WacomRipoff driver explains, however, the chip communicates over I2C. Thus, it was a simple enough job to hook up a microcontroller, in this case an STM32 part, and then spit out USB HID data to a host.

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing, and it’s not 100% feature complete, but [TinLethax] was able to get the digitizer working as a USB HID input device. It appears the buttons and pressure sensitivity are functional, too.

If you’ve got a disused or defunct Yoga Book lying around, you might just consider the same mods yourself. We’ve seen some other great hacks in this space, too. Video after the break.

Continue reading “Rescuing A Wacom Digitizer From A Broken Lenovo Yoga Book”

Take Note: An E-Paper Tablet From Pine64

Over the years we’ve seen a variety of interesting pieces of hardware emerging from the folks at Pine64, so it’s always worth a second look when they announce a new product. This time it’s the PineNote, a tablet that packs the same Rockchip RK3566 as used in the company’s Quartz64 single board computers behind a 10.1″ 1404 x 1872 16-tone greyscale e-paper screen.

Fitted with 4 GB of LPDDR4 RAM and 128 GB eMMC flash storage, it will feature the same Linux support as previous Pine64 products, with the slight snag of the display driver not yet being complete for 5.xx kernels. They are thus at pains to point out that this is not a ready-to-go consumer device and that early adopters will be expected to write code rather than notes on it.

That last sentence sums up Pine64’s offering perfectly, they produce interesting hardware with open-source support, but sometimes the path from hardware release to stable and usable product can be a rocky one. If you’re interested in hardcore hacking of an e-paper tablet, then you may want to be an early adopter. Otherwise, hang back for a while and buy one once some of the bugs have been ironed out. Meanwhile you can see the whole update in the video below; it has a few other things including a nifty keyboard for the PinePhone.

We’ve mentioned Pine64 a few times over the years, it’s worth noting that their products also lie outside the realm of Linux boxen.

Continue reading “Take Note: An E-Paper Tablet From Pine64”

A Raspberry Pi Tablet, With A DSI Screen

Since the Raspberry Pi arrived back in 2012, we’ve seen no end of interesting and creative designs for portable versions of the little computer. They often have problems in interfacing with their screens, either on the very cheap models using the expansion port or on more expensive ones using an HDMI screen with associated controller and cabling. The official Raspberry Pi touchscreen has made life easier with its DSI convector, but as [jrberendt] shows us with this neat little tablet, there are other DSI-based options. This one uses a 5″ DSI touchscreen available through Amazon as well as a Pi UPS board to make a tablet that is both diminutive and self-contained.

Having fooled around ourselves in the world of Pi tablets we like this one for its clean look and a bezel that is little bigger than the screen itself. As is the case with so many Pi tablets though it has to contend with the bulk of a full-sized Model B board on its behind, making it more of a chunky brick than a svelte tablet. The screen has potential though, and we can’t help wondering whether there’s any mileage in pairing it with a much thinner Pi Zero board and a LiPo board for a slimmer alternative.

Probably the nicest Pi tablet we’ve brought you was this one, which managed to remain impressively slim despite its HDMI screen.

Trashed Tablet Lives Again Thanks To New Charger IC

Have you ever pulled a piece of electronics from the trash that looked like nothing was wrong with it, only to take it home and find out it really is dead? Since you’re reading Hackaday, we already know the answer. Trash picking is an honored hacker tradition, and we all know it’s a gamble every time you pull something from the curb. But when the Samsung Galaxy Tab S that [Everett] pulled from the e-waste bin wouldn’t take a charge, he decided to crack it open and see if it was really beyond repair.

The first step was using a USB power meter to see if the tablet was actually pulling any current when plugged in. With just 10 mA on the line, [Everett] knew the device wasn’t even attempting to charge itself. So his next step was to pull the battery and charge it from a bench supply. This got the tablet to wake up, and as far as he could tell, everything else worked as expected. It seemed like the only issue was a blown charging circuit.

Where we’re going, we don’t need ribbon cables.

Now at this point, [Everett] could have just gone online and bought a new motherboard for the tablet and called it a day. But where’s the fun in that? Instead, he wired up a simple charging circuit using a TP4056 IC on a scrap of flexible PCB and mounted it to a square of Kapton tape. He then used 34 AWG magnet wire to connect it between the tablet’s USB port and the battery, bypassing the tablet’s electronics entirely.

The fix worked, but there was a slight problem. Since the TP4056 only goes up to 4.2 V and the battery maxes out at 4.35 V, [Everett] says his hacked charger can only bring the tablet up to 92% capacity according to Android. But considering the alternative, we think its more than a worthy trade-off.

It’s easy to dismiss tablets as largely disposable devices, but this isn’t the first time we’ve seen somebody save one with little more than solder and patience. Of course, what you do with that old tablet once you get it fired back up is another story entirely.

Help, I’m Buried Alive By Tablets!

It’s fair to say that many Hackaday readers will have a propensity for hoarding electronic or tech junk. Who hasn’t hung on to something because “It might be useful someday”? Spare a thought for [Mike Drew], who in his own words is “buried alive by tablets”. In this case the tablets are Intel-based ones that look as though they ran one of those cut-down Windows versions, and they appear to be rejects from a repair shop processing customer returns that he saved from the dumpster. They are missing their backs, and not all of their screens work, but they amount to a tidy pile of Stuff That’s Too Good To Throw Away.

The exact spec is a 1.4 GHz quad-core Atom with 4 GB of RAM and 32 GB of Flash, and appear from the photos to have HDMI and USB 3 interfaces. Happily they run Linux Mint 20 so they have plenty of potential, but there is only so much that one person can do with them before running out of ideas. He tells us he’s made a Folding@Home cluster, but beyond that he’s open to suggestions. Depending on the age of the commenter no doubt he’ll be exhorted to run Beowulf or mine Bitcoin, but we’d suggest more sensible ideas.

So, what would you do with them? They lack the handy GPIO port of a Raspberry Pi, but with suitable USB peripherals could you use them in any lowish-power distributed node project where the popular SBC would be the usual choice? Perhaps something like WeeWX, or OpenEnergyMonitor. Or how about distributed mesh network nodes, after all there’s an x86 port of LibreMesh. It’s obvious that there’s plenty of potential to be found, so help [Mike] with his problematic bounty in the comments.

A Free Software OS For The ReMarkable E-Paper Tablet

If you’re looking to rid your day to day life of dead trees, there’s a good chance you’ve already heard of the reMarkable tablet. The sleek device aims to replace the traditional notebook. To that end, remarkable was designed to mimic the feeling of writing on actual paper as closely as possible. But like so many modern gadgets, it’s unfortunately encumbered by proprietary code with a dash of vendor lock-in. Or at least, it was.

[Davis Remmel] has been hard at work porting Parabola, a completely free and open source GNU/Linux distribution, to the reMarkable. Developers will appreciate the opportunity to audit and modify the OS, but even from an end-user perspective, Parabola greatly opens up what you can do on the device. Before you were limited to a tablet UI and a select number of applications, but with this replacement OS installed, you’ll have a full-blown Linux desktop to play with.

You still won’t be watching videos or gaming on the reMarkable (though technically, you would be able to), but you could certainly use it to read and edit documents the original OS didn’t support. You could even use it for light software development. Since USB serial adapters are supported, microcontroller work isn’t out of the question either. All while reaping the considerable benefits of electronic paper.

The only downside is that the WiFi hardware is not currently supported as it requires proprietary firmware to operate. No word on whether or not [Davis] is willing to make some concession there for users who aren’t quite so strict about their software freedoms.

We’ve been waiting patiently for the electronic paper revolution to do more than replace paperbacks with Kindles, and devices like the reMarkable seem to be finally moving us in the right direction. Thankfully, projects that aim to bring free and open source software to these devices mean we won’t necessarily have to let Big Brother snoop through our files in the process.