Designing Sci-Fi Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, October 9 at noon Pacific for the Designing Sci-Fi Hack Chat with Seth Molson!

We all know the feeling of watching a movie set in a galaxy far, far away and seeing something that makes us say, “That’s not realistic at all!” The irony of watching human actors dressed up as alien creatures prancing across a fantasy landscape and expecting realism is lost on us as we willingly suspend disbelief in order to get into the story; seeing something in that artificial world that looks cheesy or goofy can shock you out of that state and ruin the compact between filmmaker and audience.

Perhaps nowhere do things get riskier for filmmakers than the design of the user interfaces of sci-fi and fantasy sets. Be they the control panels of spacecraft, consoles for futuristic computers, or even simply the screens of phones that are yet to be, sci-fi UI design can make or break a movie. The job of designing a sci-fi set used to be as simple as wiring up strings of blinkenlights; now, the job falls to a dedicated artist called a Playback Designer who can create something that looks fresh and new but still plausible to audiences used to interacting with technology that earlier generations couldn’t have dreamed of.

Seth Molson​ is one such artist, and you’ve probably seen some of his work on shows such as TimelessStargate Universe, and recently Netflix’s reboot of Lost in Space. When tasked to deliver control panels for spacecraft and systems that exist only in a writer’s mind, Seth sits down with graphics and animation software to make it happen.

Join us as we take a look behind the scenes with Seth and find out exactly what it’s like to be a Playback Designer. Find out what Seth’s toolchain looks like, how he interacts with the rest of the production design crew to come up with a consistent and believable look and feel for interfaces, and what it’s like to design futures that only exist — for now — in someone’s imagination.

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, October 9 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.

 

DJI Fights Back Over Sensationalist Drone Reporting

Over the past few years the number of reported near misses between multirotors, or drones as they are popularly referred to, and aircraft has been on the rise. While evidence to back up these reports has been absent time and again.

We’ve looked at incident reports, airport closures, and media reporting. The latest chapter comes in the form of a BBC documentary, “Britain’s Next Air Disaster? Drones” whose angle proved too sensational and one-sided for the drone manufacturing giant DJI. They have penned an acerbic open letter to the broadcaster (PDF link to the letter itself) that says that they will be launching an official complaint over the programme’s content. The letter begins with the following stinging critique:

As the world’s leader in civilian drones and aerial imaging technology, we feel it is our duty on behalf of the millions of responsible drone users around the globe, to express our deep disappointment at the BBC’s negative portrayal of drone technology and one-sided reporting based on hearsay.

It then goes on to attack the tone adopted by the presenter in more detail : “overwhelmingly negative, with the presenter frequently using the words ‘catastrophic’ and ‘terrifying’.“, before attacking the validity of a series of featured impact tests and highlighting the questionable basis for air proximity incident reports. They round the document off with a run through the safety features that they and other manufacturers are incorporating into their products.

DJI have pulled no punches in their condemnation of the standard of reporting on drone incidents in this document, and it is a welcome and rare sight in an arena in which the voices of people who know something of multirotors have been rather lonely and ignored. The BBC in turn have responded by saying “its investigation had shown positive uses of drones and that its programmes were fair“.

Over the past few years we have reported on this issue we have continually made the plea for a higher quality of reporting on drone stories. While Britain has been the center of reporting that skews negatively on the hobby, the topic is relevant wherever in the world there are nervous airspace regulators with an eye to any perceived menace. These incidents have pushed the industry to develop additional safety standards, as DJI mentions in their letter: “the drone industry itself has implemented various features to mitigate the risks described”. Let’s hope this first glimmer of a fight-back from an industry heavyweight (with more clout than the multirotor community) will bear the fruit of increased awareness from media, officials, and the general public.

If you’d like to see the BBC documentary in question it will be available for the next few weeks to people who see the Internet through a British IP address.

Thanks [Stuart] for the tip!

Lime SDR (and Pluto, Too) Sends TV

If you have experienced software defined radio (SDR) using the ubiquitous RTL SDR dongles, you are missing out on half of it. While those SDRs are inexpensive, they only receive. The next step is to transmit. [Corrosive] shows how he uses DATV Express along with a Lime SDR or a Pluto (the evaluation device from Analog Devices) to transmit video. He shows how to set it all up in the context of ham radio. An earlier video shows how to receive the signal using an SDR and some Windows software. The receiver will work with an RTL SDR or a HackRF board, too. You can see both videos, below.

The DATV Express software has plenty of options and since SDR if frequency agile, you ought to be able to use this on any frequency (within the SDR range) that you are allowed to use. At the end, he mentions that to really put these on the air you will want a filter and amplifier since the output is a bit raw and low powered.

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Circuit Bending A TV For Better Input

If you haven’t noticed, CRTs are getting hard to find. You can’t get them in Goodwill, because thrift stores don’t take giant tube TVs anymore. You can’t find them on the curb set out for the trash man, because they won’t pick them up. It’s hard to find them on eBay, because no one wants to ship them. That’s a shame, because the best way to enjoy old retrocomputers and game systems is with a CRT with RGB input. If you don’t already have one, the best you can hope for is an old CRT with a composite input.

But there’s a way. [The 8-Bit Guy] just opened up late 90s CRT TV and modded it to accept RGB input. That’s a monitor for your Apple, your Commodore, and a much better display for your Sega Genesis.

There are a few things to know before cracking open an old CRT and messing with the circuits. Every (color) CRT has three electron guns, one each for red, green, and blue. These require high voltage, and in CRTs with RGB inputs you’re looking at a circuit path that takes those inputs, amplifies them, and sends them to the gun. If the TV only has a composite input, there’s a bit of circuitry that takes that composite signal apart and sends it to the guns. In [8-bit guy]’s TV — and just about every CRT TV you would find from the mid to late 90s — there’s a ‘Jungle IC’ that handles this conversion, and most of the time there’s RGB inputs meant for the on-screen display. By simply tapping into those inputs, you can add RGB inputs with fancy-schmancy RCA jacks on the back.

While the actual process of adding RGB inputs to a late 90’s CRT will be slightly different for each individual make and model, the process is pretty much the same. It’s really just a little bit of soldering and then sitting back and playing with old computers that are finally displaying the right colors on a proper screen.

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Rediffusion Television: Early Cable TV Delivered Like Telephone

Recently I spent an enjoyable weekend in Canterbury, staying in my friend’s flat with a superb view across the rooftops to the city’s mediaeval cathedral. Bleary-eyed and in search of a coffee on the Sunday morning, my attention was immediately drawn to one of her abode’s original built-in features. There on the wall in the corner of the room was a mysterious switch.

Housed on a standard-sized British electrical fascia was a 12-position rotary switch, marked with letters A through L. An unexpected thing to see in the 21st century and one probably unfamiliar to most people under about 40, I’d found something I’d not seen since my university days in the early 1990s: a Rediffusion selector switch.

If you have cable TV, there is probably a co-axial cable coming into your home. It is likely to carry a VHF signal, either a series of traditional analogue channels or a set of digital multiplexes. “Cable ready” analogue TVs had wideband VHF tuners to allow the channels to be viewed, and on encrypted systems there would have been a set-top box with its own analogue tuner and decoder circuitry.

Your digital cable TV set-top box will do a similar thing, giving you the channels you have subscribed to as it decodes the multiplex. At the dawn of television transmission though, none of this would have been possible. Co-axial cable was expensive and not particularly high quality, and transistorised wideband VHF tuners were still a very long way away. Engineers designing the earliest cable TV systems were left with the technology of the day derived from that of the telephone networks, and in Britain at least that manifested itself in the Rediffusion system whose relics I’d found.

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Couch Potato Refined: Self-Rotating TV Uses Plywood Gears

When we first saw [Mikeasaurus’] project to rotate his TV 90 degrees in case he wanted to lay down and channel surf we were ready to be unimpressed. But it grew on us as we read about how he fabricated his own gearing system to make a car seat motor rotate the TV.

The gearing system is made from plywood and the design was from geargenerator.com, a freebie design tool we’ve covered before. You’d think you’d need a laser cutter, but in this case, the gear forms were printed out, glued on the plywood and then cut out manually. Each gear is made of several laminated together.

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The BBC Computer Literacy Project From The 1980s Is Yours To Browse

In the early 1980s there was growing public awareness that the microcomputer revolution would have a significant effect on everybody’s lives, and there was a brief period in which anything remotely connected with a computer attracted an air of glamour and sophistication. Broadcasters wanted to get in on the act, and produced glowing documentaries on the new technology, enthusiastically crystal-ball-gazing as they did so.

In the UK, the public service BBC broadcaster produced a brace of series’ over the decade probing all corners of the subject as part of the same Computer Literacy Project that gave us Acorn’s BBC Micro, and we are lucky enough that they’ve put them all online so that we can watch them (again, in some cases, if a Hackaday scribe can get away with revealing her age).

You can see famous shows such as the moment when the presenters experienced a live on-air hack while demonstrating an early online service, but most of it is a fascinating contemporary look at the computers we now enthuse over as retro devices. Will the MSX sweep all before it, for example? (It didn’t).

They seem very dated now with their 8-bit micros (if not just for the word “micro”), synth music, and cheesy graphics. But what does come across is the air of optimism, this was the future, and it was packaged not as a threat, but as a good place to be. Take a look, but make sure you have plenty of time. You may spend a while in front of the screen.

We’ve mentioned int he past another spin-off from the Computer Literacy Project, the Domesday Project.

Thanks [Darren Grant] for the tip.