Simulating Snakes and Ladders for Fun, Not Profit

A great many of you will remember the game of Snakes and Ladders from your youth. It’s a simple game, which one grows to realise involves absolutely no skill – it’s purely the luck of the dice. [Alex Laratro] noticed that without player decisions to effect the outcome, the game was thus a prime candidate for simulation. 

[Alex] wanted to dive into the question of “Who is winning a game of Snakes and Ladders?” at any given point in the gameplay. A common approach would be to state “whoever is in front”, but the ladders might have something to say about that. [Alex] uses Markov analysis to investigate, coming to some interesting conclusions about how the game works, and how this compares to the design of more complex games like Mario Kart and Power Grid.

Overall, it’s a breakdown of a popular game that’s simple enough to really sink your teeth into, but has some incredibly interesting conclusions that are well worth considering for anyone designing their own board games. We love seeing math applied to novel and fun problems – and it can solve important problems, too.

Posted in board game, board games, boardgame, classic hacks, game theory, games, markov chains, maths, snakes and ladders | Leave a comment

Ok Google. Navigate to the International Space Station

If you’d have asked most people a few decades ago if they wanted a picture of every street address in the world, they would have probably looked at you like you were crazy. But turns out that Google Street View is handy for several reasons. Sure, it is easy to check out the neighborhood around that cheap hotel before you book. But it is also a great way to visit places virtually. Now one of those places is the International Space Station (ISS).

[Thomas Pesquet] in a true hack used bungee cords and existing cameras to take panoramas of all 15 ISS modules. Google did their magic, and you can enjoy the results. You can also see a video on how it was all done, below.

One interesting feature is the addition of pop-up annotations. This is a new feature for Google, but likely to appear in other street view venues, as well.

If space isn’t your thing, there are other interesting tours like locations for Game of Thrones, the oceans, Machu Picchu, the Taj Mahal, and more. Perhaps you’d like to jog through the ISS, assuming you don’t mind pretending there is artificial gravity. Or you can take a break from the large ISS and try something a bit smaller.

Posted in google, google street view, international space station, iss, nasa, news, space, street view | Leave a comment

Hackaday Links: July 23, 2017

Hey, you know what’s happening right now? We’re wrapping up the third round of The Hackaday Prize. This challenge, Wheels, Wings, and Walkers, is dedicated to things that move. If it’s a robot, it qualifies, if it’s a plane, it qualifies, if it passes butter, it qualifies. There’s only a short time for you to get your entry in. Do it now. Superliminal advertising.

Speaking of the Hackaday Prize, this project would be a front-runner if only [Peter] would enter it in the competition. It’s one thing to have a cult; I have a cult and a petition to ‘stop’ me.

We were completely unaware of this project, but a few weeks ago, a cubesat was launched from Baikonur. This cubesat contains a gigantic mylar reflector, and once it’s deployed it will be the second brightest object in the night sky after the moon. I don’t know why we haven’t seen this in the press, but if you have any pictures of sightings, drop those in the comments.

In a mere two years, we’ll be looking at the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing. The mission control center at Johnson Space Center — where these landings were commanded and controlled — is still around, and it’s not in the best shape. There’s a Kickstarter to restore the Apollo Mission Control Center to its former glory. For the consoles, this means restoring them to Apollo 15 operational configuration.

We’ve seen 3D printed remote control airplanes, and at this point, there’s nothing really exceptional about printing a wing. This user on imgur is going a different direction with 3D printed fiberglass molds. Basically, it’s a fuselage for a Mustang that is printed, glued together, with the inside sanded and coated in wax. Two layers (3 oz and 6 oz) fiberglass is laid down with West Systems epoxy. After a few days, the mold is cracked open and a fuselage appears. This looks great, and further refinements of the process can include vapor smoothing of the inside of the mold, a few tabs to make sure the mold halves don’t break when the part is released, and larger parts in general.

The Darknet’s Casefile will take you to the limit of your existing knowledge. Join them, to go on a quest to improve your technical abilities.

This week is Def Con. That means two things. First, we’re on a hardware hunt. If you’ve been dedicating the last few months to #badgelife or other artisanal electronics, we want to hear about it. Second, [Joe Kim] made a graphic of the Tindie dog wearing a Hackaday hoodie and it’s adorable. There are a limited number of stickers of our hacker dog.

Gigabyte launched a single board computer with an Intel Apollo Lake CPU, discrete memory and storage, and a mini PCIe slot. Of course, this is being incorrectly marketed as a ‘Raspberry Pi competitor’, but whatever.

Posted in apollo, cubesat, DC darknet, DEF CON, fiberglass, Gigabyte, Hackaday Columns, Hackaday links, Hackaday Prize, JSC, kickstarter | Leave a comment

Hackaday Prize Entry: Minimalist HTTP

For his Hackaday Prize entry, [Yann] is building something that isn’t hardware, but it’s still fascinating. He’s come up with a minimalist HTTP compliant server written in C. It’s small, it’s portable, and in some cases, it will be a bunch better solution than throwing a full Linux stack into a single sensor.

This micro HTTP server has two core modules, each with a specific purpose. The file server does exactly what it says on the tin, but the HTTaP is a bit more interesting. HTTaP is a protocol first published in 2014 that is designed to be a simpler alternative to WebSockets.

[Yann] has been experimenting with HTTaP, and the benefits are obvious. You don’t need Apache to make use of it, HTTaP can work directly with an HTML/JavaScript page, and using only GET and POST messages, you can control hardware and logic circuits.

As this is a minimalist HTTP server, the security is dubious at best. That’s not the point, though. This is just a tool designed for use in a lab or controlled environments with an air gap. Safety, scheduling, encryption, and authentication are not part of HTTaP or this micro HTTP server.

Posted in 2017 Hackaday Prize, HTTP, IoT, server, The Hackaday Prize, web server | Leave a comment

Automatic Phone Dialer Illuminates Inner Workings

The invention of the transistor ushered in a lot of technologies that we now take for granted, and one of the less-thought-about areas that it improved living conditions worldwide was by making the touch-tone phone possible. No longer would the world have to fuss with dials to make phone calls, they could simply push some buttons. This technology is still in use today, and it is possible to build external phone dialers that use these tones to make phone calls, as [SunFounder] demonstrates with his latest project.

The tones that a phone makes when a button is pressed correlate with specific frequencies for each number. Automatic dialers like this one help when there are multiple carriers (like different long-distance carriers, for example) where different prefixes can be used to make calls cheaper depending on the destination of the call. A preprogrammed dialer can take all of this complication out of making phone calls. [SunFounder] is able to make a simple dialer from scratch, using an Arduino, its “tone” library, and a speaker that is simply held up to the phone that the call will be placed on.

[SunFounder] points out that he built this more because he’s interested in the inner workings of phones, and not because he needed a purpose-built dialer. It’s a good demonstration of how phones continue to use DTMF though, and how easy it is to interface with such a system. It might also suit a beginner as an introduction to the world of phreaking.

Posted in arduino, dialer, dtmf, microcontroller, phone, phone hacks, phreaking, touch tone | Leave a comment

Virtual CPU Stays on Script

Some will see it as a great thing, and others as an example of how JavaScript is being abused daily, but [Francis Stokes] decided to design his own CPU architecture and implemented a virtual version of it using JavaScript. The CPU is a 16-bit affair and has a simplified assembly language. The code is on GitHub, but the real value is [Francis’] exposition of the design in the original post.

While discussing the design, [Francis] reveals his first pass at the instruction set, discussed what he found wrong about it, and then reveals the final set composed of real instructions and some macros to handle other common cases.

[Francis] got the CPU bug from watching [Ben Eater’s] videos. Of course, [Ben’s] CPU is 8-bit and lives on a breadboard. If we had wanted to test out a new instruction set architecture, we would probably use C or C++ or… well, honestly, anything but JavaScript. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned is that everyone’s tastes are different. We have no doubt, though, there will be some spirited comments on both sides.

Developing CPUs for sport has become almost popular these days. Of course, few have the surrounding environment that A2Z does.

Posted in assembler, Computer Hacks, cpu, javascript | Leave a comment

Control The Volume

For anyone who has owned a boombox or an old(er) cassette player, the digital age volume controls feel incredibly awkward. Keep pressing buttons to get the volume just right can get tiresome real quick. The volume knob just makes sense and in a simple project, [Jeremy S Cook] brings us the Custom Computer Volume Control Knob.

The build employs an Adafruit Trinket board coupled with a rotary encoder and a push button as described by the designers themselves. We reached out to [Jeremy S Cook] to enquire about the build and it turns out his version uses an MDF enclosure as well as an MDF knob. A larger PCB has the encoder and button solder on with the Trinket board connecting to them via multi strand wires. An Acrylic sheet cut to the size serves as the top cover and completes the build.

The button serves as a play/pause button and can come in handy. Since the device enumerates as an HMI device, it should work with almost any OS. It could easily be extended to work with Android Tablets or even iPads. Check out the video below for a demonstration and if you like the idea of custom input devices, check out this DIY shortcut Keyboard.

Posted in Arduino Hacks, diy, HMI, keyboard, Trinket | Leave a comment

Hackaday Prize Entry: Open Source Patient Monitor

Vital sign monitors are usually found in developed countries; they just cost too much for less affluent communities to afford. The HealthyPi project aims to change that by developing an inexpensive but accurate monitor using a Raspberry Pi, a custom hat studded with sensors, and a touch screen. The resulting monitor could be used by medical professionals as well as students and private researchers.

[Ashwin K Whitchurch] and his team created HealthyPi, a Raspberry Pi hat that includes an AFE4490 chip serving as the pulse oximeter front end, an analog to digital converter that interprets the ECG and respiration data, and a MAX30205 body temperature sensor. The hat has its own microcontroller, a ATSAMD21 Cortex M0+ that can also be loaded with the Arduino Zero bootloader.

This project is capable of monitoring a patient’s pulse, respiration, body temperature, and all the other vital signs made measure d by other ‘medical-grade’ vital sign monitors at a fraction of the cost. It’s a democratizing technology, and [Ashwin] already has some working hardware available on Crowd Supply.

Learn more about HealthyPi at the project page or download the code from GitHub.

Posted in 2017 Hackaday Prize, ekg, pulse oximeter, The Hackaday Prize | Leave a comment

UK To Register Multirotor fliers

The British government has shown a surprisingly light touch towards drone fliers in the face of the strident media demands for them to be banned following a series of reports of near-misses with other aircraft. That is about to change with reports of the announcement of a registration scheme for craft weighing over 250 g (about 9 oz). Details are still a bit sketchy, but it is reported that there will be a written test and an element of geofencing around sensitive locations.

Our friendly professional multirotor flier’s reaction is that the existing laws are clear enough, and that this is likely to be no deterrent to any people who already use their drones illegally. It seems that the UK government is following the lead set by the USA in this matter, with the 250 g limit on that side of the Atlantic having already spawned an industry of smaller craft. Time will tell on whether the measures will be effective, we suspect that their success will depend on their not being overly stringent.

[Editor’s note: Following a lawsuit, the US FAA registration requirement was struck down for hobbyists because model aircraft are explicitly excluded from the FAA’s purview. The Brits are not likely to be so lucky.]

If there is a positive side to this announcement, it might be that the 250 g class of multirotor will inevitably become the focus of a lot of attention as manufacturers and engineers work to pack the most performance into the small platform. This small silver lining to the drone registration cloud might not be much, but we’ll take it.

We’ve covered the UK drone story as reported in the media in detail in the past.

Palace of Westminster image: Diliff [CC BY-SA 2.5].

Posted in drone, drone hacks, drone registration, multirotor, news, uk | Leave a comment

How To Turn An Animation Into A Soap Bubble Machine

Post an animation on Reddit of a workable machine that looks neat and does something cool and the next day someone will have built it. That’s what happened when [The-Big-Ship] uploaded an animation of a clever bubble making machine — though we had to look twice to convince ourselves that it wasn’t real. The next day [Over_Engineered_2] posted a video of his working one.

We often hear that you need precision CAD software such as Solidworks and AutoCAD to design a functional machine but the animation was done using Cinema 4D, used for films such as Iron Man 3 and Tron: Legacy. This shows that you can at least get a reassurance that the basic mechanics will fit and move together without having to design precision parts.

That’s not to say that reality didn’t interfere with implementing it though. In [Over_Engineered_2]’s video below he points out that the bigger ring of the original animation didn’t work with his small motor and propeller, and had to switch to the smaller ring. Also, note that the ring needed guide rails on the sides to keep it from twisting, something a real world ignoring animation can get away without. Check out the videos below to see the two in action.

Here’s [The-Big-Ship]’s animation…

… and here’s [Over_Engineered_2]’s implementation in the real world.

Or you can get your soap bubble machine design by looking at the Space Shuttle’s robotic arm end effector like [GordonKirkwood] did.

Posted in bubble, bubble machine, bubble maker, misc hacks, soap | Leave a comment