Build Your Own Tools For More Power

Building something on your own usually carries with it certain benefits, such as being in full control over what it is you are building and what it will accomplish, as well as a sense of pride when you create something that finally works just the way you want it. If you continue down that path, you may eventually start making your own tools to help build your other creations, and if you also have some CAD software you can make some very high quality tools like this belt grinder.

This build comes to us from [Emiel] aka [The Practical Engineer] who is known for his high quality solenoid engines. His metal work is above and beyond, and one thing he needed was a belt grinder. He decided to make a 3D model of one in CAD and then build it from scratch. The build video goes through his design process in Fusion 360 and then the actual build of this beast of a machine. The motor is 3.5 horsepower which, when paired with a variable frequency drive, can provide all of his belt grinding needs.

[Emiel]’s videos are always high quality, and his design process is easy to follow as well. We’re always envious of his shop as well, and it reminds us a lot of [Eric Strebel] and his famous designs.

Posted in belt grinder, cad, design, Fusion 360, metal working, tool hacks, tools | Leave a comment

A Mini Vending Machine To Ramp Up Your Sales

A common sight in the world of hackerspaces is an old vending machine repurposed from hawking soda cans into a one-stop shop for Arduinos or other useful components. [Gabriel D’Espindula]’s mini vending machine may have been originally designed as an exercise for his students and may not be full sized, but we can see it or machines like it taking away some of the demand for those surplus models.

Its construction mimics that of some older 3D printers in using laser-cut ply to form the components of a box. Behind a clear lockable door are the shelves containing the products, at the back of which are continuous rotation servos that will drive the spiral Archimedes screws that eject the products. To the side is a membrane keypad and display, and the whole is drawn together with an STM32 board and an Arduino. It supports both RFID card login and keyboard login, and though it’s not finished we can see it forming the basis of a very useful system.

He’s posted the most recent progress in the form of a video that we’ve placed below the break. All the various files are available for download, so should you fancy one yourself then you have a good chance of success.

Posted in 2019 Hackaday Prize, stm32, The Hackaday Prize, vending machine | Leave a comment

Jonas Salk, Virologist and Vaccination Vanguard

In the early 1950s, the only thing scarier than the threat of nuclear war was the annual return of polio — an easily-spread, incurable disease that causes nerve damage, paralysis, and sometimes death. At the first sign of an outbreak, public hot spots like theaters and swimming pools would close up immediately.

One of the worst polio epidemics in the United States struck in 1952, a few years into the postwar baby boom. Polio is more likely to infect children than adults, so the race to create a vaccine reached a fever pitch.

Most researchers were looking into live-virus vaccines, which had worked nicely for smallpox and rabies and become the standard approach. But Jonas Salk, a medical researcher and budding virologist, was keen on the idea of safer, killed-virus vaccines. He believed the same principle would work for polio, and he was right. Within a few years of developing his vaccine, the number of polio cases in the United States dropped from ~29,000 in 1955 to less than 6,000 in 1957. By 1979, polio had been eradicated in the US.

Jonas Salk is one of science’s folk heroes. The polio vaccine was actually his sophomore effort — he and Thomas Francis developed the first influenza vaccine in the 1940s. And he didn’t stop with polio, either. Toward the end of his life, Salk was working on an AIDS vaccine.

The Salk family L-R: Jonas, Dora, Lee, Daniel, and Herman. Image via San Diego Union-Tribune

A Doctor in the House

Jonas Salk was born in 1914 and raised in New York City. He was the oldest son of Russian-Jewish immigrants who didn’t have much money or education, but wanted the best for their children.

Salk has said in interviews that he was not interested in science as a child — he was “merely interested in things human”. The NYC polio epidemic of 1916 would have likely given Jonas an eyeful of humanity in the form of afflicted classmates with crutches and leg braces.

Jonas was a curious kid who read everything he could get his hands on. He had dreams of becoming a lawyer, but his mother wanted a doctor in the house. When Jonas was 13, he entered Townsend Harris High School, a public school for gifted students. Two years later at age 15, Jonas entered City College of New York (CCNY), where he would earn a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry. A fifteen-year-old college freshman at this competitive college was not particularly noteworthy, because many of the students there had skipped more than one grade.

After CCNY, Salk went to study medicine at NYU. It was here that he decided that although he liked medicine, he didn’t want to practice it. Salk was more interested in research. He believed he was meant to help humankind rather than treat the individual.

Thomas Francis, left, and Jonas Salk in 1955. Image via the University of Michigan

The Flu Fighters

For thousands of years, people believed influenza, or the flu, was caused by bacteria. The influenza virus was first discovered in the early 1930s, around the time Salk entered med school. In his senior year, he had a chance to spend time in a lab that was researching influenza, and he jumped on it. Salk believed that the virus strains could be effectively destroyed and still immunize, and he was eager to test this theory. As it turns out, he was right.

Salk did postgraduate work in virology, and spent some elective time in the laboratory of his mentor, Thomas Francis. It was here that he and Francis developed the first influenza vaccine by incubating a strain of the virus in a chicken embryo, then rendering it inactive.

Polio microbes on the loose. Image via JPMS

Paralyzing Polio

Salk started his residency in Francis’ lab at Mount Sinai Hospital. Within a few years, he was eager to study infectious diseases in his own lab. He wouldn’t have to wait long. A man named Harry Weaver contacted him about researching polio. Weaver was director of research at the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, and was in a position to offer Salk his own lab and researchers. Soon, Salk started to get grants, which he used to build up his virology laboratory.

In 1947, Salk began working on a polio vaccine. First he had to sort out all 125 known strains of the virus. As he did, he noticed they all fell into one of three basic types. A successful vaccine would have to cover all three groups to give full protection from polio. Having figured this out, his next problem was making enough vaccine to experiment with. Luckily, in 1948, a group of scientists discovered that the polio virus would multiply just fine on scraps of non-nerve tissue from human embryos, meaning that a full-blown organism like a chicken embryo was not necessary. Thanks to this discovery, Salk could iterate much more quickly.

At the same time, another researcher named Albert Sabin was working on a live-virus vaccine to be taken orally. Sabin believed that only a live, weakened virus could make the human body produce antibodies, and believed that Salk was wasting his time trying to make an effective vaccine with dead strains.

Dr. Salk injects a child with his polio vaccine. Image via The New Atlantis

The Polio Pioneers

In July 1952, Salk was ready to try out his killed-virus vaccine. His first patients were children who had already contracted polio and recovered. After vaccination, they all showed an increase in antibodies.

Then he tried the vaccine on himself, his wife, and his own children. When everyone in his family showed increased antibodies and no signs of illness, Salk knew it was time to share it with the world.

In 1953, Salk reported his results to the American Medical Association, and a massive trial was conducted the following year. One million children, known as the polio pioneers, were injected with Salk’s vaccine, and the results were incredible, with 60-70% prevention. The US wasted no time rolling out mass inoculations for children.

Unfortunately, there was an incident at one of the labs producing the vaccine. Some of the lots contained a live virus, and this mistake generated 40,000 new polio cases from the 120,000 poorly-controlled vaccines. The labs adopted higher standards and resumed production, but the incident would have a lasting impact on the pharmaceutical world. The news must have been bittersweet for Albert Sabin, who was still working on his live-virus version. Sabin completed human trials of his oral vaccine in 1957, and it was approved in 1962.

Jonas holds up bottles of the culture he used to grow the polio virus. Image via Forbes

Could You Patent the Sun?

Once his vaccine was proven effective, Salk instantly shot to rock star status, much to his dismay. All the attention took time and energy away from his research, and he regretted losing his privacy and anonymity, especially where his research was concerned. Salk received a load of honors for his vaccine, including four honorary degrees and Presidential Medal of Freedom.

In an interview with Edward R. Murrow, he was asked who owned the patent on the vaccine. Salk famously replied, “Well, the people, I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”

Though it’s easy to believe that Salk had completely altruistic intentions and never thought to patent it himself, it has since been discovered that the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis’ lawyers had inquired about it at some point, and were told that the vaccine wasn’t novel enough to warrant a patent. Some would argue that the public had paid for it already through programs like the March of Dimes.

The Salk Institute in La Jolla, CA. Image via Salk Institute

Giving Back: The Salk Institute

Salk was never in it for the money, and he never forgot where he came from. In 1963, he established the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, CA to provide a research space for scientists working toward the elimination of diseases like multiple sclerosis and cancer. The Salk Institute was the kind of place he could only dream of as a student.

Salk died of heart failure in 1995. Toward the end of his life, he had been working on vaccines for cancer, multiple sclerosis, and AIDS.

Jonas Salk had a huge impact on virology, on the United States, and on the longevity of thousands of baby boomers. The world could certainly use more scientists who follow his philosophy of helping humankind as a whole.

Posted in Biography, history, influenza, Original Art, polio, polio vaccine, science, Thomas Francis, vaccine, virology | Leave a comment

Testing Carbon Fibre Reinforced Filament By Building An Over-Engineered Skateboard

Advances in filaments for FDM 3D printers have come in leaps and bounds over the past few years, and carbon fibre (CF) reinforced filament is becoming a common sight. Robotics extraordinaire [James Bruton] got his hands on some CF reinforced PLA, and ended up building a completely over-engineered 3D printed skateboard. (Video, embedded below.)

[James] started by printing some test pieces with a 0.5 mm and a big 1.2 mm nozzle with and without the CF, which he subjected to cantilever deflection tests. The piece with CF was 20% stiffer than without.

[James] then built an extremely strong and cool looking skateboard deck with alternating section of the CF PLA and toughened PLA, totalling 2.7 kg of filament. It was extremely strong, so after bolting on a set of trucks and wheels, he did some mild riding at a local skate park, where it survived without any problems. He admits it was completely over-engineered, but points out in that the internal cavities in the deck is the perfect place for batteries on an electric long board.

Designing something from the ground up with the strength and weaknesses 3D printing in mind, leads to some very interesting and innovative designs, of which this is a perfect example, and we hope to see many more like it. We’ve featured a number of [James]’ project, including the remote controlled bowling ball he built for [Mark Rober] and his impressive OpenDog and Start Wars robots.

Posted in 3D printed longboard, 3d printer filament, 3d Printer hacks, 3d printing, exotic 3D printing filaments, skateboard, transportation hacks | Leave a comment

Electric Dreams Help Cows Survive The Desert Of The Real

Pictures of a cow wearing a pair of comically oversized virtual reality goggles recently spread like wildfire over social media, and even the major news outlets eventually picked it up. Why not? Nobody wants to read about geopolitical turmoil over the holidays, and this story was precisely the sort of lighthearted “news” people would, if you can forgive the pun, gobble up.

But since you’re reading Hackaday, these images probably left you with more questions than answers. Who made the hardware, what software is it running, and of course, why does a cow need VR? Unfortunately, the answers to the more technical questions aren’t exactly forthcoming. Even tracking the story back to the official press release from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food of the Moscow Region doesn’t tell us much more than we can gather from the image itself.

But it does at least explain why somebody went through the trouble of making a custom bovine VR rig: calm cows produce more milk. These VR goggles, should they pass their testing and actually be adopted by the Russian dairy industry, will be the newest addition to a list of cow-calming hardware devices that farmers have been using for decades to get the most out of their herds.

Presented in Cattle-Vision

The press release claims that the VR goggles were modified from commercially available hardware to take into account the shape and size of a cow’s head, but there’s no word of which product served as the basis for the experiment. Given the massive size of the goggles in relation to the cow’s human handler though, it’s safe to assume that whatever headset was used is being completely obscured by the obviously custom enclosure.

That said, because we can see no obvious cables coming from the headset, it’s possible researchers using some variant of the phone-based VR goggles that were all the rage after the release of Google Cardboard. We’ve noticed that excitement over these simple gadgets has waned significantly in the last year or so, but here the idea makes perfect sense. If you’re looking to outfit whole herds of animals with this technology, a basic plastic enclosure that holds a cheap Android device makes perfect sense.

One also has to wonder what sort of optics are required to fool a cow into thinking they’re looking at a real pasture. Like many prey animals, a cow’s binocular vision is minimal when compared to human vision. In other words, they have limited depth perception when looking directly ahead. In fact, it’s said that cows have trouble discerning shadows from actual holes in the ground, and will avoid walking over them. On the other hand, they have excellent panoramic vision which allows them to see nearly 360 degrees without having to move their heads.

Accordingly, it seems there would be little need for the sort of stereoscopic optics used in even low-cost VR headsets. A more likely arrangement would perhaps be a large-format phone (or small tablet) behind a Fresnel lens that would expand the image to fill the cow’s field of view. Since the goggles don’t appear to wrap around the cow’s head it seems unlikely it could provide much more than a 180 degree view for the animal, but that may still be enough to achieve the desired effect.

Adding a New Dimension

It might seem like this technology is a stretch, but one could argue that it’s simply the logical evolution of what dairy farmers have already been doing for decades. For nearly as long as humans have been keeping cows domestically, it’s been known that they seem to enjoy listening to music. In the early days farmers would actually play instruments for their herds, but as technology improved, they installed loudspeakers and piped in recorded audio.

In an oft-referenced 2001 study, psychologists from the University of Leicester observed a 3% increase in milk production in cows that were exposed to slow, relaxing music during the day. That might not seem like a lot on a small scale, but when multiplied by thousands of cows, it’s certainly worth the cost of a few speakers. The science behind this is still not fully understood, and the psychologists explained the experiment was designed primarily to fact-check the anecdotal claims of farmers who were already serenading their animals.

A band performs live music for dairy cows, circa 1930. Image credit: Wisconsin Historical Society

The general consensus is that nervous and agitated cows produce less milk, so anything that can calm them down should result in a noticeable increase in yield. Some even claim the taste of the milk is improved when the animal is more relaxed, but there’s even less science to back up that idea.

Given this, the idea that providing the cows with visual stimulation to go along with the music that many farmers are already playing for them doesn’t seem completely unreasonable. The press release claims that researchers have already found wearing the VR headset seems to improve the cow’s general mood. In the future, a more comprehensive study will be performed to see how much it actually increases milk production over existing techniques.

Life Imitates Art

Even so, it’s hard to look at this experiment and not see it as needlessly complex. After all, humans have been managing to coax milk out of cows for all of recorded history without any video game trickery. But of course, the demands of modern farming are quite a bit different than the idyllic mental images most of us have. If you’re picturing something that looks like what they put on the carton: a handful of cows meandering around a wide-open pasture, complete with grain silos and a windmill in the background; the reality of a high-yield dairy farm might come as something of a shock.

Dairymaster Rotary Milking Parlour

It could be that providing the cows with a vision of a somewhat less dystopian environment might make life in captivity easier for them. If this sounds a bit like the plot of The Matrix, that’s because it literally is. As depressing a realization as it may be, putting cows into a virtual environment where they can forget they’re being mechanically drained of their bodily fluids in service of a technologically superior species might be the nicest thing we can do for them.

From a purely practical standpoint it seems like lining their pens with high-definition displays showing scenes from a spring meadow would make more sense than equipping each cow with an individual video system, but perhaps the simulation wouldn’t be accurate enough. Like Morpheus said, “No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.”

Posted in agriculture, Current Events, farming, Featured, lifehacks, music, russia, the matrix, Virtual Reality | Leave a comment

Cooking A Turkey With 880 AA Batteries

Cooking a turkey right is serious business this time of year. With major holidays on the line, there’s no room for error – any mistake can leave guests disgruntled and starving. [Stephen Farnsworth] took a risk, though, and attempted to cook a turkey using AA batteries.

The allure of the AA for such a task is precisely because it’s such a poor choice. Designed for portability rather than high power output, it was never designed to be the energy source for a major cooking job. To get things over the line, [Steve] busted out the math to figure out how many batteries would be required. This involved computing cooking efficiencies, battery thermal performance, and the specific heat of the bird itself. With the numbers coming together a 300W slow cooker was put on duty, in order to avoid over-draining the batteries.

With 880 AAs loaded into a custom carrier, [Steve] hooked up the power meter and the cooker and kept a close eye on the temperatures. After a couple of hours, the battery pack started to heat up, so additional cooling was brought in to avoid fire. At just before the six hour mark, the turkey was cooked through and ready to eat. Estimates are that the batteries still had plenty of capacity to keep going for a few hours yet, too.

It’s not a fast or effective way to cook a turkey, but it’s certainly achievable. We fully expect [Steve] to submit the coin-cell turkey cook-off next year, too. Remember, a little engineering always helps, especially in the kitchen. Video after the break.

Posted in AA cell, cooking, cooking hacks, Holiday Hacks, slow cooker, turkey | Leave a comment

John McMaster Explains Crypto Ignition Phone Keys and How to Reproduce Them

When you’re a nation state, secure communications are key to protecting your sovereignty and keeping your best laid plans under wraps. For the USA, this requirement led to the development of a series of secure telephony networks over the years. John McMaster found himself interested in investigating the workings of the STU-III secure telephone, and set out to replicate the secure keys used with this system.

An encryption key in a very physical, real sense, the Crypto Igntion Key was used with the STU-III to secure phone calls across many US government operations. The key contains a 64KB EEPROM that holds the cryptographic data.

[John] had a particular affinity for the STU-III for its method of encrypting phone calls. A physical device known as a Crypto Ignition Key had to be inserted into the telephone, and turned with a satisfying clunk to enable encryption. This physical key contains digital encryption keys that, in combination with those in the telephone, are used to encrypt the call. The tactile interface gives very clear feedback to the user about securing the communication channel. Wishing to learn more, John began to research the system further and attempted to source some hardware to tinker with.

As John explains in his Hackaday Superconference talk embeded below, he was able to source a civilian-model STU-III handset but the keys proved difficult to find. As carriers of encryption keys, it’s likely that most were destroyed as per security protocol when reaching their expiry date. However, after laying his hands on a broken key, he was able to create a CAD model and produce a mechanically compatible prototype that would fit in the slot and turn correctly.

Due to the rarity of keys, destructive reverse engineering wasn’t practical, so other methods were used. Thanks to the use of the STU-III in military contexts, the keys have a National Stock Number that pointed towards parallel EEPROMs from AMD. Armed with the datasheet and X-rays of encryption keys from the Crypto Museum, it was possible to figure out a rough pinout for the key. With this information in hand, a circuit board was produced and combined with an EEPROM and a 3D print to produce a key that could replicate the functionality of the original.

With the key inserted into the handset and turned, calls could be secured at the touch of the button across standard analog phone lines.

Like most projects, it didn’t work first time. The printed key had issues with the quality of the teeth and flushing of the support material, which was solved by simply removing them entirely and relying on the circuit board to index to the relevant pins. Testing was performed using a PKS-703 key reader, which itself was an incredibly rare piece of hardware. In combination with a logic analyzer, it revealed that a couple of the write pins were lined up backwards. Once this was fixed, the key worked and could be programmed with a set of encryption keys. Once inserted into the STU-III and turned, the telephone sprung to life!

Despite this success, there’s still a long way to go before John can start making secured phone calls with the STU-III. Only having one phone, he’s limited to how much he can do — ideally, a pair is needed in order to experiment further. He is also trying to make it easier for others to tinker with this hardware which involves the development of a circuit board to allow keys to be read and reprogrammed with a standard EEPROM writer. He’s also begun reverse engineering of the STU-III’s internals. As a bit of fun, John went as far as to reproduce some promotional swag from the project that spawned the STU-III, showing off his Future Secure Voice System mug and T-shirt.

Reverse engineering national security devices certainly comes with its own unique set of challenges, but John has proven he’s more than up to the task. We look forward to seeing the crypto community hack deeper into this hardware, and can’t wait to see hackers making calls over the venerable STU-III!

Posted in 2019 Hackaday Superconference, CIK, cons, crypto, cryptography, security hacks, stu-iii, Supercon | Leave a comment

How To Get Into Cars – Choosing Your First Project Car

The automobile is a wonderous invention, perhaps one of the most transformative of the 20th century. They’re machines that often inspire an all-consuming passion, capturing the heart with sights, sounds, and smells. However, for those who grew up isolated from car culture, it can be difficult to know how to approach cars as a hobby. If this sounds like you, fear not – this article is a crash course into getting your feet wet in the world of horsepower.

So You Like Cars, Eh?

Project cars let you do things that you’d never dare attempt in a daily.

The first step to becoming a true gearhead is identifying your specific passion. Car culture is a broad church, and what excites one enthusiast can be boring or even repulsive to another. Oftentimes, the interest can be spawned by a fond memory of a family member’s special ride, or a trip to a motor race during childhood.

Knowing what kind of cars you like is key to your journey. You might fall in love with classic American muscle and drag racing, or always fancied yourself in the seat of a tweaked-out tuner car a la The Fast And The Furious. Movies, posters, magazines, and your local car shows are a great way to figure out what excites you about cars. Once you’ve got an idea of what you like, it’s time to start thinking about picking out your first project car.

To Craigslist And Back Again

Choosing the right project car is a process that requires careful research, realistic ambition, and emotion. Your own circumstances, taking into account your living situation, finances, and the country you live in, all feed into this decision. Weighing these factors is key to sourcing a sweet ride that you’ll actually be able to enjoy.

Once you’ve got a good idea of the type of cars you’re into, this will help you narrow down what you’re looking for. If you want to go cruising out on the sand dunes, a drop-top 4WD or even a beach buggy might be for you. If you want to soak up the sun on a twisty mountain road, you might be looking at roadsters. Or, if you want to lay down the ultimate lap times, a high-powered coupe with serious track credentials could be just the ticket. Identifying what you want to do with your car will help you choose the right model. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other enthusiasts to ask for tips! Jalopnik have long run a great series helping people choose the right vehicle, and communities like OppositeLock are always open to questions. Alternatively, head out to your local Cars and Coffee, and start chatting with the owners of the rides you like best. The nicer members of the car scene will always be glad to chat and point you in the right direction.

Now that you’ve got an idea of what you’re looking for, it’s time to consider your budget. This should take into account not just the purchase price of the car, but other fees like insurance and registration. Being that you’re an enthusiast, you’ll want some cash set aside for modifications and upgrades, too, along with basic maintenance. Getting this right can be the difference between cruising the boulevards on a sunny summer’s afternoon, versus staring out the window at your former darling as it slowly rusts away under a tarp.

This author bought an MX-5 for a bargain price, thanks to the wrecked paint. “I’ll just respray it!” he said… back in 2016. Long story short, the paint has not yet been improved.

Consider the condition of the vehicle you’re looking at sourcing. You can generally knock money off the purchase price for body or mechanical damage. If you’re looking to do an engine swap anyway, buying a car with a blown head gasket is a great way to save coin. On the flipside, if you want a car that looks and feels nice, purchasing a car with heavily sun-damaged paint is going to cost thousands to fix. Money can be saved by doing the work yourself, but think carefully about your abilities and circumstances. There’s no point planning to respray your own car if you live in an apartment and have to work in the street!

There are several ways to keep things affordable. Certain cars become ultra-desirable, driving their prices up. If you’re just out of college with a part time job, you’re probably not going to be able to score a Mark IV Supra to build your own tribute to Paul Walker. Similarly, marques like Ferrari and Lamborghini will be out of reach. However, other factors also come into play. Certain vehicles, such as Mustangs and Miatas, are desirable to a wide range of enthusiasts. Despite this, as they were built in such large numbers, they remain affordable on the second-hand market. This has knock-on benefits, too. The popularity of these vehicles has led to a vibrant aftermarket, making replacement parts and performance hardware both cheap and readily available. For those on limited budgets, this can make all the difference. A set of shocks for a popular muscle car like an old Camaro can be had for a couple hundred dollars. If instead, you’re riding around in a 1980s Mercedes with air suspension, you could be looking at five times as much – if you can find the parts at all.

Your country of residence feeds into this, too. Corvettes and Challengers are a viable choice in the US, with parts on the shelf in every small town in the country. Junk yards are similarly full of old wrecks to pick over. If you find yourself down in Australia however, these cars would be a far more expensive choice. If you can get such a car in the first place, you’ll find everything from brake pads to universal joints have to be special ordered in from overseas, because it’s simply not viable for local stores to keep large stocks of parts for such obscure vehicles. Instead, those in the antipodes might consider picking up a Ford Falcon or Holden Commodore to get started with. This is a story that plays out around the world. Swedes will find it far easier to source parts for Volvos, while a Japanese resident will easily lay their hands on a Skyline that would be near-unobtainable in the States.

If you’re a beginner in the automotive scene, it definitely pays to go easy on yourself by choosing a vehicle with a strong local scene. On top of cheap parts, it also allows one to draw on the rich local knowledgebase when diagnosing problems. Finding a good local car forum or Facebook group can be a huge help when you’re starting out. Plus, if you’re lucky, you’ll meet a local greybeard or two with a few parts cars tucked away in a garage somewhere.

Narrowing It Down

One of these Jeeps is a cheap front-wheel-drive SUV with decent fuel economy, the other is a great base for a serious off-road rig. Spotting the difference can be tough for the uninitiated!

With the basics laid out, let’s consider an example. You’ve decided, after much pondering, that you’ve always wanted an offroad rig to tackle the trails in your local area. Lacking the knowledge to begin with, you join some local Facebook groups, and start eyeing off rides and asking questions. You’ve always been partial to Jeeps, but you want a car you can also use for the grocery run, so have a hard top in mind. Scraping the local classifieds, you’ve seen plenty of Jeep Patriots at used car lots, for fairly reasonable prices. This looks like a great way into the hobby, so you decide to post online to get some feedback before heading out.

Your post is met with a torrent of abuse and derision. Hardcore four-wheelers are laughing at you for considering a “mall-crawler”, and teenagers too young to drive are calling you a soccer mom in the comments. Thankfully, a handful of members reach out, asking a few questions about what you’re actually looking for in a car. You mention that you want to go offroad, do a little mudding, but as you’re looking for a second vehicle, your rig doesn’t have to be too nice and you’re not concerned about fuel economy.

The more helpful group members tell you that the Patriot, being a model based around front wheel drive and lacking good stock parts and aftermarket support, isn’t really the car for you. Instead, being based in the United States, they point you towards the XJ model Jeep Cherokee. With a stout 4.0 l engine, a rich community, and great aftermarket support, help and parts will always be close at hand. Plus, there’s plenty of beaters available for under a couple grand, so you won’t feel too guilty if you do end up wrecking out on the trail.

You end up doing a little more research, and with the help of your new pals, source a weather-beaten 1993 model with well-worn upholstery and plenty of charm. Being a simple car to work on with a huge fanbase, you begin to teach yourself to change the oil and coolant and do basic maintenance, and even manage to tackle the job of replacing your belts when the charging system suddenly conks out. With the help of your fellow wheelers, you slap a lift kit on and some big mud tyres, and have a great weekend wrenching while sinking a few beers. Your new rig can handle plenty of the local rough stuff, and you start eyeing off a classic CJ for your next build, just maybe!

It’s All About Community

Fundamentally, the best way to learn about cars is with the community by your side. It’s virtually a necessity too, particularly when trying to source rare parts or figure out how to diagnose strange sounds you haven’t heard before. By doing your research and learning about what’s out there before you buy, you can score yourself a great ride and begin an exciting project. Skip these steps, and you risk spending a huge wad of cash on a poorly performing lawn ornament. Good luck out there, and next time, we’ll look at what tools you’ll need when you’re starting to tinker with your new rig. Happy wrenching!

Posted in car hacks, cars, Featured, Interest, Original Art, project car, project cars | Leave a comment

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 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 You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

Posted in cubesat, Hackaday Columns, PocketQube, satellite, simulator, solar, space, telemetry, testing, The Hack Chat | Leave a comment

Winter is Coming, This Clock Will Let You Know When

For Game of Thrones fans, it’s an awkward time. The show has ended its run on HBO (not without a certain level of controversy), the planned prequel is still years away, and who knows when George R. R. Martin will actually get around to writing the final books in the series. Fans have no choice but to entertain themselves while waiting for further tales of adventure from Westeros, which is how we get things like this motorized clock from [Techarge].

Inspired by the now iconic opening sequence from the HBO series, elements of the 3D printed model spin around while the theme song is played courtesy of a DFPlayer Mini MP3 player module and small 2 watt speaker. The audio hardware, motor, and four digit LED display module in the front are all connected to an Arduino with a custom PCB shield, giving the inside of the clock a very clean and professional appearance.

Around the back side [Techarge] has two small push buttons to set the hour and minutes, and a large toggle to control the music and movement. As of right now it needs to be switched on and off manually, but a future enhancement could see it kick on hourly.  We’d also like to see an RTC module added to the PCB, or better yet, switch over to the ESP8266 and just pull the time down from NTP.

Who knows? By the time you’ve built one of these clocks for yourself, and the hand-made Iron Throne phone charger stand to go with it, maybe ol’ George will have slipped out a new book. But don’t count on it.

Posted in 3d printed, animated, Arduino Hacks, clock, clock hacks, DFPlayer, Game of thrones, led, shield | Leave a comment