Learning Through Play Hack Chat With Greg Zumwalt

Join us Wednesday at noon Pacific time for the Learning Through Play Hack Chat!

You may think you’ve never heard of Greg Zumwalt, but if you’ve spent any time on Instructables or Thingiverse, chances are pretty good you’ve seen some of his work. After a long career that ranged from avionics design and programming to video game development, Greg retired and found himself with the time to pursue pet projects that had always been on the back burner, including his intricate 3D-printed automata. His motto is “I fail when I decide to stop learning,” and from the number of projects he turns out and the different methods he incorporates, he has no intention of failing.

Please join us for this Hack Chat, where we’ll discuss:

  • Lifelong learning through play;
  • Toy-building as a means to skillset growth;
  • Sources of inspiration and getting new ideas; and
  • What sorts of projects Greg has in the pipeline.

You are, of course, encouraged to add your own questions to the discussion. You can do that by leaving a comment on the Learning Through Play Hack Chat and we’ll put that in the queue for the Hack Chat discussion.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, March 13, at noon, 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.

The Voice Of Dave, Now In Toy Form

Dave Jones is something of a celebrity in the hacker and maker communities, bringing his considerable knowledge and experience to bear on a wide variety of electronic and engineering topics. His unique voice and candor have endeared him to many, and he’s one of the more quotable YouTubers currently on the scene. With that in mind, [Andrei Aldea] decided to build a Speak ‘n’ Say in his honor.

The build was inspired by an earlier effort by [Ben Heck]. [Andrei] started by disassembling the Speak ‘n’ Say, and determined that there was a simple button matrix that would allow the toy’s position to be read easily. These buttons were wired into an Arduino Nano, which then reads an SD card and plays sound samples using the MP3 Module from DFR Robot.

[Andrei] made sure the toy was replete with custom graphics, which complete the look. Additionally, each Dave quote on the board has a series of soundbites, chosen randomly by the Arduino, giving a little more variety than the original toy.

It’s a fun build, and we’d love to see a version with line-out or some bigger speakers to blast the Gospel of Dave at a truly impressive volume. We’ve seen other speaking Arduinos, too – like this imposing HAL build. Video after the break.

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POV Tops Hobbyist Abilities

Sometimes a beautiful project is worth writing on that merit alone, but when it functions as designed,someone takes the time to create a thorough and beautiful landing page for their project, we get weak in the knees. We feel the need to grab the internet and point our finger for everyone to see. This is one of those projects that checks all our boxes. [Nathan Petersen] made a POV toy top called Razzler, jumping through every prototyping hoop along the way. The documentation he kept is what captured our hearts.

The project is a spinning top with an integrated persistence-of-vision (POV) display. That’s the line of LEDs that you see here. To sync up the patterns, the board includes an IMU, but detecting angular velocity with either gyroscope or accelerometer proved problematic. [Nathan’s] writeup of this is worth the read itself, but you’ll also enjoy the CNC workworking part of the project used to create the body of the spinning top.

This was [Nathan]’s first big solo project, and so many of the steps are explained by someone who just entered the deep-end very quickly. If you have experience, you may grin at the simplified reasonings, but for a novice, it makes for an approachable lesson. The way he selects hardware and firmware is pragmatic and perhaps even overkill, so you know he’s going into engineering. This overshot saved him when there were communication problems which needed a sacrifice of some processing power to run I2C on some GPIO.

We hope you enjoy reading about this combinations of POV, firmware (or is it?), and centrifugal force.

Lessons In Disposable Design From A Cheap Blinky Ball

Planned obsolescence, as annoying as it is when you’re its victim, still has to be admired. You can’t help but stand in awe of the designer who somehow managed to optimize a product to live one day longer than its warranty period. Seriously, why is it always the next day?

The design of products that are never intended to live long enough to go obsolete must be similarly challenging, and [electronupdate] did a teardown of a cheap LED blinky toy to see what’s involved. You’ve no doubt seen these seizure-triggering silicone balls before, mostly at checkout counters and the like where they’re sold at prices many hundreds of times what it took to make them. This particular device, which seems representative of the species, has two bright LEDs, a small controller chip, a trio of button cells for power, and a springy switch to activate it. All this is mounted to a cheap scrap of phenolic resin PCB, with the controller chip and one of the LEDs covered by a blob of clear epoxy.

This teardown one-ups most others, as [electronupdate] disrobes the chip and points a microscope at the die; the video below shows just how few transistors are employed and proposes a likely circuit. Everything about this ball just oozes cheapness, and it’s likely these things cost essentially nothing to build. Which makes sense for something destined for the landfill within a week or so.

Yes, this annoying blinky-thing is low-end garbage, but there are still design lessons to be learned from it. Anything that’s built for a broad market has to be built to a price point, and understanding those constraints is important to understanding how planned obsolescence works.

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Redeem Your Irresponsible 90s Self

If you were a youth in the 90s, odds are good that you were a part of the virtual pet fad and had your very own beeping Tamagotchi to take care of, much to the chagrin of your parents. Without the appropriate amout of attention each day, the pets could become sick or die, and the only way to prevent this was to sneak the toy into class and hope it didn’t make too much noise. A more responsible solution to this problem would have been to build something to take care of your virtual pet for you.

An art installation in Moscow is using an Arduino to take care of five Tamagotchis simultaneously in a virtal farm of sorts. The system is directly wired to all five toys to simulate button presses, and behaves ideally to make sure all the digital animals are properly cared for. Although no source code is provided, it seems to have some sort of machine learning capability in order to best care for all five pets at the same time. The system also prints out the statuses on a thermal printer, so you can check up on the history of all of the animals.

The popularity of these toys leads to a lot of in-depth investigation of what really goes on inside them, and a lot of other modifications to the original units and to the software. You can get a complete ROM dump of one, build a giant one, or even take care of an infinite number of them. Who would have thought a passing fad would have so much hackability?

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You Should Not Try These Taser NERF Darts

For most of us, a good part of our childhood involved running around someone’s backyard (or inside the house) trying to score hits with a toy NERF gun. The fun level was high and the risk of personal injury was low. Now that we’re all mostly adults, it’s probably time to take our NERF game to the next level with some risk of serious personal harm.

In an effort to help his brother get back at him for being somewhat of a bully in their youth, [Allen Pan] gifted him with an upgraded NERF gun. Specifically, one with darts that pack a punch. Each of the “Elite” darts was equipped with a 300 V capacitor packed into the interior of the dart. New tips were 3D printed with special metal tips that allow the capacitor to discharge upon impact.

Besides the danger, there’s a good bit of science involved. Parts were scavenged from a new (and surprisingly expensive) disposable camera, and a customized circuit was constructed around the barrel of the dart gun that allows the darts to charge up when they’re loaded. It’s an impressive build that would be relatively simple to reconstruct for yourself, but it’s probably not the worst thing we’ve seen done with high voltage and a few small capacitors.

Thanks to [Itay] for the tip!

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A Nibble And A Half Of Wooden Bits

If you are familiar with binary, what would you need to teach someone who only knows decimal? If you do not know how to count in binary, let us know if the video below the break helps you understand how the base-2 number system works. If learning or counting binary is not what you are interested in, maybe you can appreciate the mechanics involved with making a counter that cycles through all the ones and zeros (links to the video shown below). The mechanism is simple enough. A lever at the corner of each “1” panel is attached off-center, so it hangs when it is upside-down, then falls to the side when it is upright, so it can swivel the adjacent panel.

Perhaps this is a desktop bauble to show off your adeptness at carpentry, or skills with a laser cutter, or 3D printer. No matter what it is made out of, it will not help you get any work done unless you are a teacher who wants to demonstrate the discrete nature of binary. If wood and bits are up your alley, we have a gorgeous binary driftwood clock to feast your eyes on. Meanwhile if analog methods of working digital numbers suit you, we have binary math performed with paper models.

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