Hackaday Links: June 2, 2019

The works of Shakespeare, Goethe, and Cervantes combined do not equal the genius of Rick And Morty. Actually, the word ‘genius’ is thrown around a bit too much these days. Rick and Morty has surpassed genius. This cartoon is sublime. It is beyond any art that could be created. Now, you might not have a high enough IQ to follow this, but Rick and Morty is, objectively, the best art that can be produced. It just draws upon so much; Rick’s drunken stammering is a cleverly hidden allusion to Dostoevsky’s Netochka Nezvanova, absolutely brilliantly providing the back-story to Rick’s character while never actually revealing anything. Now, you’re probably not smart enough to understand this, but Teenage Engineering is releasing a Rick and Morty Pocket Operator. Only the top percentages of IQs are going to understand this, but this is game-changing. Nothing like this has ever been done before.

The Microsoft IntelliMouse Explorer 3.0 is the high water mark of computer peripheral design. Originally released in 2003, the IntelliMouse Explorer 3.0 was an instant classic. The design is nearly two decades old, but it hasn’t aged a day. That said, mouse sensors have gotten better in the years since, and I believe the original tooling has long worn out. Production of the original IntelliMouse Explorer 3.0 stopped a long time ago. Microsoft tried to revive the IntelliMouse a few years ago using a ‘BlueTrack’ sensor that was ridiculed by the gaming community. Now Microsoft is reviving the IntelliMouse with a good sensor. The Pro IntelliMouse is on sale now for $60 USD.

It has come to my attention that wooden RFID cards exist. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone because wood veneer exists, thin coils of wire exist, and glue exists. That said, if you’re looking for an RFID card you can throw in the laser cutter for engraving, or you just want that special, home-made touch, you can get a wooden RFID card.

Lego has just released an Apollo Lunar Lander set, number 10266. It’s 1087 pieces and costs $99. This is a full-scale (or minifig-scale, whatever) Apollo LEM, with an ascent module detachable from the descent module. Two minifigs fit comfortably inside. Previously, the only full-scale (or, again, minifig-scale) Apollo LEM set was 10029, a Lego Discovery kit from 2003 (original retail price $39.99). Set 10029 saw a limited release and has since become a collectible: the current value for a new kit is $336. The annualized ROI of Lego set 10029-1 is 13.69%, making this new Apollo LEM set a very attractive investment vehicle. I’m going to say this one more time: Lego sets, and especially minifigs, are one of the best long-term investments you can make.

A Weinermobile is for sale on Craigslist. Actually, it’s not, because this was just a prank posted by someone’s friends. Oh, I wish I had an Oscar Mayer Weinermobile.

Rumors are swirling that Apple will release a new Mac Pro at WWDC this week. Say what you will about Apple, but people who do audio and video really, really like Apple, and they need machines with fast processors and good graphics cards. Apple, unfortunately, doesn’t build that anymore. The last good expandable mac was the cheese grater tower, retired in 2013 for the trash can pro. Will Apple manage to build a machine that can hold a video card?  We’ll find out this week.

Hackaday Links: May 26, 2019

Thinkpads are great, especially the old ones. You find a T420, and you can have a battery hanging off the back, a battery in the optical drive bay, and for some old Thinkpads, there’s a gigantic ‘slice’ battery that doubles the thickness of your laptop. Here’s the most batteries in a Thinkpad ever, with the requisite reddit post. It’s 27 cells, with an all-up capacity of 212 Watt-hours. There are two interesting takeaways from the discussion here. First, this may, technically, be allowed on a commercial flight. The FAA limit is 100 Watt-hours per battery, and the Ultrabay is a second battery. You’re allowed two additional, removable batteries on a carry on, and this is removable and reconfigurable into some form that the TSA should allow it on a plane. Of course no TSA agent is going to allow this on a plane so that really doesn’t matter. Secondly, the creator of this Frankenpad had an argument if Hatsune Miku is anime or not. Because, yeah, of course the guy with a Thinkpad covered in Monster energy drink stickers and two dozen batteries glued on is going to have an opinion of Miku being anime or not. That’s just the way the world works.

Prices for vintage computers are now absurd. The best example I can call upon is expansion cards for the Macintosh SE/30, and for this computer you have a few choice cards that have historically commanded a few hundred dollars on eBay. The Micron XCEED Color 30 Video Card, particularly, is a special bit of computer paraphernalia that allows for grayscale on the internal monitor. One of these just sold for two grand. That’s not all, either: a CPU accelerator just sold for $1200. These prices are double what they were just a few years ago. We’re getting to the point where a project to reverse engineer and produce clones of these special cards may make financial sense.

The biggest news in consumer electronics this week is the Playdate. It’s a pocket game console that has a crank. Does the crank do anything? No, except that it has a rotary encoder, so this can nominally be used for games. It will cost $150, and there are zero details on the hardware other than the industrial design was done by Teenage Engineering. There’s WiFi, and games will be delivered wireless on a weekly basis. A hundred thousand people are on the wait list to buy this.

If you want a pick and place in your garage workshop, there aren’t many options. There’s a Neoden for about ten grand, but nothing cheaper or smaller. The Boarditto is a two thousand dollar pick and place machine that fits comfortably on your desk. It has automatic tape feeders, a vision system, and for the most part it looks like what you’d expect a small, desktop pick and place machine to be. That’s all the information for now, with the pre-order units shipping in December 2019.

Hackaday Links: February 17, 2019

There is a population of retrocomputing enthusiasts out there, whose basements, garages, and attics have been taken over by machines of years past. Most of the time, these people concentrate on one make; you’re an Apple guy, or you’re a Commodore guy, or you’re a Ford guy, or you’re a Chevy guy. The weirdos drive around with an MSX in the trunk of an RX7. This is the auction for nobody. NASA’s JPL Lab is getting rid of several tons of computer equipment, all from various manufacturers, and not very ‘vintage’ at all. Check out the list. There are CRT monitors from 2003, which means they’re great monitors that weigh as much as a person. There’s a lot of Sun equipment. If you’ve ever felt like cleaning up a whole bunch of trash for JPL, this is your chance. Grab me one of those sweet CRTs, though.

Last week, we published something on the ‘impossible’ tech behind SpaceX’s new engine. It was reasonably popular — actually significantly popular — and got picked up on Hacker News and one of the Elon-worshiping subreddits. Open that link in one tab. Now, open this link in another. Read along as a computer voice reads Hackaday words, all while soaking up YouTube ad revenue. What is our recourse? Does this constitute copyright infringement? I dunno; we don’t monetize videos on YouTube. Thanks to [MSeifert] for finding this.

Wanna see something funny? Check out the people in the comments below who are angry at a random YouTuber stealing Hackaday content, while they have an ad blocker on.

Teenage Engineering’s OP-1 is back in production. What is it and why does it matter? The OP-1 is a new class of synthesizer and sampler that kinda, sorta looks like an 80s Casio keyboard, but packed to the gills with audio capability. At one point, you could pick one of these up for $800. Now, prices are at about $1300, simply because production stopped for a while (for retooling, we’re guessing) and the rumor mill started spinning. The OP-1 is now back in production with a price tag of $1300. Wait. What? Yes, it’s another case study in marketing: the best way to find where the supply and demand curves cross is to stop production for a while, wait for the used resellers to do their thing, and then start production again with a new price tag that people are willing to pay. This is Galaxy Brain-level business management, people.

What made nerds angry this week? Before we get to that, we’re gonna have to back track a bit. In 2016, Motherboard published a piece that said PC Gaming Is Still Way Too Hard, because you have to build a PC. Those of us in the know realize that building a PC is as simple as buying parts and snapping them together like an expensive Lego set. It’s no big deal. A tech blog, named Motherboard, said building a PC was too hard. It isn’t even a crack at the author of the piece at this point: this is editorial decay.

And here we are today. This week, the Internet reacted to a video from The Verge on how to build a PC. The original video has been taken down, but the reaction videos are still up: here’s a good one, and here’s another. Now, there’s a lot wrong with the Verge video. They suggest using a Swiss army knife for the assembly, hopefully one with a Philips head screwdriver. Philips head screwdrivers still exist, by the way. Dual channel RAM was completely ignored, and way too much thermal compound was applied to the CPU. The cable management was a complete joke. Basically, a dozen people at The Verge don’t know how to build a PC. Are the criticisms of incompetence fair? Is this like saying [Doug DeMuro]’s car reviews are invalid because he can’t build a transmission or engine, from scratch, starting from a block of steel? Ehhh… we’re pretty sure [Doug] can change his own oil, at least. And he knows to use a screwdriver, instead of a Swiss army knife with a Philips head. In any event, here’s how you build a PC.

Hackaday writers to be replaced with AI. Thank you [Tegwyn] for the headline. OpenAI, a Musk and Theil-backed startup, is pitching a machine learning application that is aimed at replacing journalists. There’s a lot to unpack here, but first off: this already exists. There are companies that sell articles to outlets, and these articles are produced by ‘AI’. These articles are mostly in the sports pages. Sports recaps are a great application for ML and natural language processing; the raw data (the sports scores) are already classified, and you’re not looking for Pulitzer material in the sports pages anyway. China has AI news anchors, but Japan has Miku and artificial pop stars. Is this the beginning of the end of journalism as a profession, with all the work being taken over by machine learning algorithms? By vocation, I’m obligated to say no, but I have a different take on it. Humans can write better than AI, and the good ones are nearly as fast. Whether or not the readers care if a story is accurate or well-written is another story entirely. It will be market forces that determine if AI journalists take over, and if you haven’t been paying attention, no one cares if a news story is accurate or well written, only if it caters to their preexisting biases and tickles their confirmation bias.

Of course, you, dear reader, are too smart to be duped by such a simplistic view of media engagement. You’re better than that. You’re better than most people, in fact. You’re smart enough to see that most media is just placating your own ego and capitalizing on confirmation bias. That’s why you, dear reader, are the best audience. Please like, share, and subscribe for more of the best journalism on the planet.

Teenage Engineering The Raspberry Pi

The Teenage Engineering OP-1 is a tiny, portable synthesizer loaded up with 4-track recording, a sampler, sequencers, and a quite good synthesis engine. It also fits in your pocket and looks like a calculator built in West Germany. As you would expect with a synth/sampler/sequencer, you can save sounds, tracks, and other creations to a computer. [Doug] thought if you can connect it to a laptop, you can also connect it to a Raspberry Pi. He created an all-in-one storage solution for the OP-1 using only a Pi and a small character LCD.

The process of connecting the Pi to the OP-1 is pretty simple. First, plug a USB cable into the OP-1 and the Pi. Then, place the OP-1 into Disk Mode, the synth’s method of transferring files between itself and a computer. The Pi then synchronizes, changes the color of its character display from red to green, and becomes a web server available over WiFi where all the files can be accessed.

This is the bare minimum tech required to get files into and off of the OP-1. All you need is a bit of power and a USB connection, and all the files on the OP-1 can be backed up, transferred, or replaced without any other futzing around. It’s perfect for the minimalist OP-1, and a great example of how handy a WiFi enabled Pi can be.

Thanks [Pator] for sending this one in.

Sync Your Pocket Synth With Ableton

The Teenage Engineering Pocket Operators are highly popular devices — pocket-sized synthesizers packed full of exciting sounds and rhythmic options. They’re also remarkably affordable. However, this comes at a cost — they don’t feature MIDI connectivity, so it can be difficult to integrate them into a bigger digital music setup. Never fear, little-scale’s got your back. This Max patch allows you to synchronize an Ableton Link network to your Pocket Operators.

little-scale’s trademark is creating useful software and hardware devices using cheap, off-the-shelf hardware wherever possible. The trick here is a simple Max patch combined with a $2 USB soundcard or Bluetooth audio adapter. It’s all very simple: the Pocket Operators have a variety of sync modes that sync on audio pulses, essentially a click track. They use stereo 3.5mm jacks on board, generally using one channel for the synth’s audio and one channel for receiving sync pulses. It’s a simple job to synthesize suitable sync pulses in Ableton, and then pump them out to the Pocket Operators through the Bluetooth or USB audio output.

The Pocket Operators sync at a rate of 2 PPQN — that’s pulses per quarter note. little-scale says that KORG volcas & monotrons should also work with this patch, as they run at the same rate, but it’s currently untested. If you happen to try this for yourself, let us know if it works for you. Video below the break.

We’ve seen pocket synths on Hackaday before, with this attractive mixer designed for use with KORG Volcas.

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