PPE Testing Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, June 17 at noon Pacific for the PPE Testing Hack Chat with Hiram Gay and Lex Kravitz!

When the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded in early 2020, the hacker community responded in the most natural way possible: by making stuff. Isolation and idleness lead to a creative surge as hackers got to work on not only long-deferred fun projects but also potential solutions to problems raised by an overloaded medical system and choked supply chains. And so workshops and hackerspaces the world over churned out everything from novel ventilators to social-distancing aids.

But perhaps the greatest amount of creative energy was set loose on the problem of personal protective equipment, or PPE. This was due in no small part to predictions of a severe shortage of the masks, gowns, and gloves that front-line medical workers would need to keep them safe while caring for pandemic victims, but perhaps also because, at least compared to the complexity of something like a ventilator, building a mask seems easy. And indeed it is as long as you leave unanswered the crucial question: does the thing work?

Answering that question is not as easy as it seems, though. It’s not enough to assume that putting some filtration between the user and the world will work; you’ve got to actually make measurements. Hiram Gay and Lex Kravitz, colleagues at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, actually crunched the numbers on the full-face snorkel mask they modified for use as a face shield for medical PPE, and they have a lot of insights to share about proper testing of such devices. They’ll join the Hack Chat this week to discuss their findings, offer advice to builders, and reveal how they came up with their idea for a different way to build and test PPE.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, June 17 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.
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Samsung’s Leap Month Bug Teaches Not To Skimp On Testing

Date and time handling is hard, that’s an ugly truth about software development we’ll all learn the hard way one day. Sure, it might seem like some trivial everyday thing that you can easily implement yourself without relying on a third-party library. I mean, it’s basically just adding seconds on top of one another, roll them over to minutes, and from there keep rolling to hours, days, months, up until you hit the years. Throw in the occasional extra day every fourth February, and you’re good to go, right?

Well, obviously not. Assuming you thought about leap years in the first place — which sadly isn’t a given — there are a few exceptions that for instance cause the years 1900 and 2100 to be regular years, while the year 2000 was still a leap year. And then there’s leap seconds, which occur irregularly. But there are still more gotchas lying in wait. Case in point: back in May, a faulty lunar leap month handling in the Chinese calendar turned Samsung phones all over China into bricks. And while you may not plan to ever add support for non-Gregorian calendars to your own project, it’s just one more example of unanticipated peculiarities gone wild. Except, Samsung did everything right here.

So what happened?

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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.

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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Test Unknown Fuses Without Destroying Them

There’s a problem with fuses. On the face of it, testing would seem to be a one-shot deal — exceed the rated current and see if it blows. But once you know the answer, the device is useless. If only there were a way to test fuses without damaging them.

As it turns out there is, and [Kerry Wong] weaves quite a tale about his attempts to non-destructively test fuses. The fuses in question are nothing fancy — just the standard glass tube type, from a cheap assortment kit off Amazon. Therein lies the problem: can such cheap devices be trusted? Finding out requires diving much deeper into the technology of fuses than many people will have done, including understanding how the thermal and electrical characteristics of the fuse element behave.

[Kerry]’s test setup is simple, consisting of a constant current power supply and a voltmeter across the fuse to measure the voltage drop caused by the resistance of the fuse element. As he ramps up the current, the voltage drop increases linearly due to the increase in resistance of the alloy with increasing temperature. That only lasts up to a point, where the fuse resistance starts increasing exponentially. Pushing much past the point where the resistance has doubled would blow the fuse, so that’s the endpoint of his tests. Perhaps unsurprisingly, his no-name fuses all went significantly beyond their rated current, proving that you get what you pay for. See the video below for the tests and an analysis of the results.

It’s handy to know there’s a way to check fuses without popping them, and we’ll file this one away for future reference. Don’t forget that you should always check the fuse when troubleshooting, because you never know what the last person did to it.

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PCB Bring-Up Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, April 15 at noon Pacific for the PCB Bring-Up Hack Chat with Mihir Shah and Liam Cadigan!

The printed circuit design process is pretty unique among manufacturing processes. Chances are pretty good that except for possibly a breadboard prototype, the circuit that sits before you after coming back from assembly has only ever existed in EDA software or perhaps a circuit simulator. Sure, it’s supposed to work, but will it?

You can — and should — do some power-off testing of new boards, but at some point you’re going to have to flip the switch and see what happens. The PCB bring-up process needs to be approached carefully, lest debugging any problems that crop up become more difficult than need be. Mihir and Liam from inspectAR will discuss the bring-up process in depth, offering tips and tricks to make things go as smoothly as possible, as well as demonstrating how the inspectAR platform can fit into that process, especially with teams that are distributed across remote sites. If your board releases the Magic Smoke, you’ll want to know if it’s your design or an assembly issue, and an organized bring-up plan can be a big help.

Note: Liam will be doing a simulcast web demo of inspectAR via Zoom. ​

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, April 15 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

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AMSAT CubeSat Simulator Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, December 4th at noon Pacific for the AMSAT CubeSat Simulator Hack Chat with Alan Johnston!

For all the lip service the world’s governments pay to “space belonging to the people”, they did a pretty good job keeping access to it to themselves for the first 50 years of the Space Age. Oh sure, private-sector corporations could spend their investors’ money on lengthy approval processes and pay for a ride into space, but with a few exceptions, if you wanted your own satellite, you needed to have the resources of a nation-state.

All that began to change about 20 years ago when the CubeSat concept was born. Conceived as a way to get engineering students involved in the satellite industry, the 10 cm cube form factor that evolved has become the standard around which students, amateur radio operators, non-governmental organizations, and even private citizens have designed and flown satellites to do everything from relaying ham radio messages to monitoring the status of the environment.

But before any of that can happen, CubeSat builders need to know that their little chunk of hardware is going to do its job. That’s where Alan Johnston, a teaching professor in electrical and computer engineering at Villanova University, comes in. As a member of AMSAT, the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation, he has built a CubeSat simulator. Built for about $300 using mostly off-the-shelf and 3D-printed parts, the simulator lets satellite builders work the bugs out of their designs before committing them to the Final Frontier.

Dr. Johnston will stop by the Hack Chat to discuss his CubeSat simulator and all things nanosatellite. Come along to learn what it takes to make sure a satellite is up to snuff, find out his motivations for getting involved in AMSAT and CubeSat testing, and what alternative uses people are finding the platform. Hint: think high-altitude ballooning.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, December 4 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.