New Parkinson’s Test Smells Success

Parkinson’s disease affects millions of people all over the world. The degenerative condition causes characteristic tremors, trouble walking, and often comes with complications including dementia, depression, and anxiety.

One of the major challenges around Parkinson’s disease involves diagnosis. There’s no single, commonly-available test that can confirm or rule out the disease. It’s can cause particular frustration as the disease is most treatable in its early stages.

That may soon change, however. One woman identified that she seemingly had the ability to “smell” the disease in those affected, and is now working with scientists to develop a test for the condition.

Follow Your Nose

The human sense of smell, by and large, isn’t particularly impressive. It helps us enjoy the scent of fresh bread baking in an oven, or the aroma of freshly cut grass. However, as a tool for inspecting and learning about the world around us, it really comes up short.

Some of us, though, are more capable in the olfactory department than others. Joy Milne from Perth, Scotland, is one such person. She happened to detected a change in her partner’s characteristic smell, one day, and twelve years later, they were diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

The idea that someone could “smell” a difference with people with Parkinson’s disease is an easy one to test. When Milne eventually put the idea together that the different smell she noticed was perhaps related to her husbands condition, she quickly drew the interest of scientists. With the aid of her partner, a former doctor, she teamed up with researchers Dr. Tilo Kunath and Professor Perdita Barran to investigate further. Continue reading “New Parkinson’s Test Smells Success”

A Handy Tester For A Mountain Of PS/2 Keybords

The hacking life is not without its challenges, and chief among these is the tendency to always be in acquisition mode. When we come across a great deal on bulk equipment, or see a chance to rescue some obscure gear from the e-waste stream, we generally pounce on it, regardless of the advisability.

We imagine this is why [Nathan] ended up with a hoard of PS/2 keyboards. Seriously, there are like thousands of the things. And rather than lug a computer to them for testing, [Nathan] put together this handy Arduino-based portable tester to see which keyboards still have some life left in them. The video below goes into detail on the build, but the basics are pretty simple — an Arduino, a 16×2 LCD display, and a few bits and bobs to run it off a LiPo pack and charge it up. Plus, of course, a PS/2 jack to plug in a keyboard and power it up. Interestingly, the 16×2 display is an old Parallax unit, from the days when RadioShack still existed and sold their stuff. That required a little effort to get it working with the Arduino, but in the end it works like a charm — plug in a keyboard and whatever you type shows up on the screen.

Of course, it’s hard to look at something like this, and that mountain of keyboards in the background, and not scheme up ways to really automate the whole test process. Perhaps an old 3D printer with a stylus mounted where the hot end would go could press each key in turn while the tester output is recorded — something like this Wordle-bot, but on a keyboard scale. That kind of goes against [Nathan]’s portability goal, but it’s still fun to think about.

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Talking To A Texas Instruments Calculator

Texas Instruments is a world-class semiconductors company, but unfortunately what they are best known for among the general public is dated consumer-grade calculators thanks to entrenched standardized testing. These testing standards are so entrenched, in fact, that TI has not had to update the hardware in these calculators since the early 90s. They still run their code on a Z80 microcontroller, but [Ben Heck] found himself in possession of one which has a modern ARM coprocessor in it and thus can run Python.

While he’s not sure exactly what implementation of Python the calculator is running, he did tear it apart to try and figure out as much as he could about what this machine is doing. The immediately noticeable difference is the ARM coprocessor that is not present in other graphing calculators. After some investigation of test points, [Ben] found that the Z80 and ARM chips are communicating with each other over twin serial lines using a very “janky” interface. Jankiness aside, eventually [Ben] was able to wire up a port to the side of the calculator which lets him use his computer to send Python commands to the device when it is in its Python programming mode.

While there are probably limited use cases for 1980s calculators to run Python programs, we can at least commend TI for attempting to modernize within its self-built standardized testing prison. Perhaps this is the starting point for someone else to figure out something more useful to put these machines to work with beyond the classroom too. We’ve already seen some TI-84s that have been modified to connect to the Internet, for example.

Thanks to [Nikša] for the tip!

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Do You Really Need To Dry Filament?

There’s a lot of opinions and theories around the storing and drying of 3D printing materials. Some people are absolutely convinced you must bake filament if it been stored outside an airtight bag, even for a few days. Some others have ‘never had a problem.’ So it’s about time someone in the know has done some testing to try to pin down the answer to the question we’re all asking; How bad is wet filament really?

[Thomas Sanladerer] setup a simple experiment, using samples of three common types of filament, specifically PLA, PET-G and ASA. He stored the samples in three environments, on his desk, outside in the garden, and finally submerged in water for a full week. What followed was a whole lot of printing, but they all did print.

Different filaments will absorb water at different rates, depending upon their chemical composition and the environment, nylon being apparently particularly fond of a good soaking. It would seem that the most obvious print defect that occurs with increased water absorption is that of stringing, and other than being annoying and reducing surface quality somewhat, it’s not all that serious in the grand scheme of things. It was interesting to note that water absorption doesn’t seem to affect the strength of the final part.
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Designing Electronics That Work

[Hunter Scott] who has graced these pages a fair few times, has been working on electronics startups for the past ten years or so, and has picked up a fair bit of experience with designing and building hardware. Those of us in this business seem to learn the same lessons, quite often the hard way; we call it experience. Wouldn’t it be nice to get up that learning curve a little quicker, get our hardware out there working sooner with less pain, due to not falling into the same old traps those before us already know about? The problem with the less experienced engineer is not their lack of talent, how quickly they can learn, nor how much work they can get done in a day, but simply that they don’t know what they don’t know. There’s no shame in that, it’s just a fact of life. [Hunter] presents for us, the Guide to Designing Electronics that Work.

The book starts at the beginning. The beginning of the engineering process that is; requirements capturing, specifications, test planning and schedule prediction. This part is hard to do right, and this is where the real experience shows. The next section moves onto component selection and prototyping advice, with some great practical advice to sidestep some annoying production issues. Next there’s the obvious section on schematic and layout with plenty of handy tips to help you to that all important final layout. Do not underestimate how hard this latter part is, there is plenty of difficulty in getting a good performing, minimal sized layout, especially if RF applications are involved.

The last few sections cover costing, fabrication and testing. These are difficult topics to learn, if up till now all you’ve done is build prototypes and one-offs. These are the areas where many a kickstarter engineer has fallen flat.

Designing Electronics That Work doesn’t profess to be totally complete, nor have the answer to everything, but as the basis for deeper learning and getting the young engineer on their way to a manufacturable product, it is a very good starting point in our opinion.

The book has been around a little while, and the latest version is available for download right now, on a pay what-you-want basis, so give it a read and you might learn a thing or two, we’re pretty confident it won’t be time wasted!

Testing Hardware With ASCII Waveforms

Testing software is — sometimes — easier than testing hardware. After all, you can always create test files and even fake user input before monitoring outputs using common tools. Hardware though, is a bit different. Sometimes it is hard to visualize exactly what’s happening. [Andrew Ray’s] answer? Produce simulated waveforms using ASCII text.

The process uses some custom tools written in OCaml, but the code is available for you on GitHub. The tool, called Hardcaml, allows you to write test benches for hardware — not a new idea for FPGA developers. The output, however, is an ASCII text waveform and common software development tools can check that waveform against the expected output.

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Continuous Integration: What It Is And Why You Need It

If you write software, chances are you’ve come across Continuous Integration, or CI. You might never have heard of it – but you wonder what all the ticks, badges and mysterious status icons are on open-source repositories you find online. You might hear friends waxing lyrical about the merits of CI, or grumbling about how their pipeline has broken again.

Want to know what all the fuss is about? This article will explain the basic concepts of CI, but will focus on an example, since that’s the best way to understand it. Let’s dive in. Continue reading “Continuous Integration: What It Is And Why You Need It”