Download A Bit Of Sinclair History

If you are a devotee of the Sinclair series of 8-bit home computers then a piece of news from the Centre For Computing History in Cambridge may be of interest to you, they’ve released a copy of the ROM from their ZX Spectrum prototype. This machine surfaced last year as part of a donation form the company originally contracted to write the Spectrum ROM and has been given pride of place int heir exhibition ever since. They’ve been doing some very careful work on it, and while The Register reports they can’t yet make the board boot, they have extracted the code for study. In the video below the break, we see it running on the Speccy emulator on an older Windows PC.

The ROM comes with an invitation to the ZX Spectrum community to analyze it against the stock version, in the hope of revealing ossified fragments of code such as that for the Microdrive storage peripheral which never made it into the stock Spectrum. But should you simply want to try your favorite games with the earliest possible version of the ROM, you can do that too.

We covered the machine’s emergence last year, meanwhile, if you haven’t been to the Centre for Computing History yet, we suggest you take a look at our review from a few years ago.

Posted in prototype, retrocomputing, rom, ZX Spectrum | Leave a comment

Global Status Board Keeps Eye on COVID-19 Situation

When it comes to keeping abreast of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are basically two schools of thought. Some people would rather not hear the number of confirmed cases or deaths, and just want to focus on those who recovered. That’s fair enough. But others want to have all of the available data at their disposal so they can form their own conclusions about what’s happening with this virus on a global scale. Looking at this incredible COVID-19 status board, we’ll give you one guess which category [Reuben] falls into.

Note the laser engraved component labels

Constructed out of 2020 extrusion with both 3D printed and laser cut parts, this wall-mounted display is built to last. Clearly [Reuben] believes we’re in this one for the long haul, and taking a peek at the plethora of data points this device can show at once, it’s not hard to see why.

Stats are pulled down every hour from a JSON API by an ESP32 and stored on an SD card. A running total of confirmed cases, deaths, and recoveries are shown on several TFT displays located behind the face of the display. On the right, the relative severity of the infection in 32 different countries is visualized with LEDs of varying brightness.

Perhaps the most visually striking element of the display is the large annunciator panel on the left side, which lights up to show various conditions all over the world. We appreciate that [Reuben] has thought ahead and added a light that can be used once a vaccine is deployed for COVID-19, but the inclusion of a “MARTIAL LAW” indicator certainly doesn’t help us shake the feeling we’ve all found ourselves in a proper dystopia.

For those who’d would rather get their information from the source rather than have it filtered through the media, we’ve recently covered a few APIs that will allow you to pull your own up-to-date COVID-19 stats. Whether you’re looking to build something as elaborate as this display, or just want to echo it out to the terminal, making sure you’re seeing accurate data is key to identifying the turning point.

Posted in annunciator, api, Covid-19, ESP32, led hacks, Microcontrollers, wall mounted | Leave a comment

An Arduino-Free Automatic Alcohol Administrator

With all the hands-free dispenser designs cropping up out there, the maker world could potentially be headed for an Arduino shortage. We say that in jest, but it’s far too easy to use an Arduino to prototype a design and then just leave it there doing all the work, even if you know going in that it’s overkill.

[ASCAS] took up the challenge and built a cheap and simple dispenser that relies on recycled parts and essential electronics. It uses an IR proximity sensor module to detect dirty digits, and a small submersible pump to push isopropyl alcohol, sanitizer, or soap up to your hovering hand. The power comes from a sacrificial USB cable and is switched through a transistor, so it could be plugged into the wall or a portable power pack.

We admire the amount of reuse in this project, especially the nozzle-narrowing ballpoint pen piece. Be sure to check out the build video after the break.

Hopefully, you’re all still washing your hands for the prescribed 20 seconds. If you’re starting to slip, why not build a digital hourglass and watch the pixels disappear?

Posted in airline tubing, dispenser, green hacks, IR proximity sensor, lifehacks, lockdown life, misc hacks, submersible pump, transistor | Leave a comment

Harry Potter Wand Hack Makes Magic Real

Any sufficiently advanced hack is indistinguishable from magic, a wise man once observed. That’s true with this cool build from [Jasmeet Singh] that magically opens a box when you wave a Harry Potter magic wand in the right way. Is it magic? No, it’s a neat hack that uses computer vision to track the wand and recognize when you make the magic gesture.

The trick is based on the same technique that Universal Studios use in their Harry Potter theme park, as detailed in a patent with the snappy title of “System and method for tracking a passive wand and actuating an effect based on a detected wand path“. The basic idea is that a retroreflective dot on the end of the wand reflects light from a set of infra-red LEDs around the camera. An infra-red sensitive camera detects this reflected light as a bright dot. This camera is tied into a computer vision system that tracks the path of the dot, then triggers the action if it follows a certain pattern.

The version that [Jasmeet] built uses a Raspberry Pi NoIR camera, and a Raspberry Pi 3 running OpenCV. This feeds into a machine learning graph that detects the letters of the alphabet. If the detected letter is an A (for Alomahora, the Harry Potter open spell), then the box opens. If it is a C, the box closes. This is all tied together using Python.

It’s a neat build that ties together a number of interesting techniques, and which could keep the kids amused for a while. You could also expand it further, such as adding a death ray that triggers if you trace an S for Sectumsempra. That’ll teach them not to mess with the dark arts.

Posted in harry potter, machine learning, opencv | Leave a comment

Hackaday Links: April 5, 2020

Git is powerful, but with great power comes the ability to really bork things up. When you find yourself looking at an inscrutable error message after an ill-advised late-night commit, it can be a maximum pucker-factor moment, and keeping a clear enough head to fix the problem can be challenging. A little proactive social engineering may be in order, which is why Jonathan Bisson wrote git-undo, a simple shell script that displays the most common un-borking commands he’s likely to need. There are other ways to prompt yourself through Git emergencies, like Oh Shit, Git (or for the scatologically sensitive, Dangit Git), but git-undo has the advantage of working without an Internet connection.

Suddenly find yourself with a bunch of time on your hands and nothing to challenge your skills? Why not try to write a program in a single Tweet? The brainchild of Dominic Pajak, the BBC Micro Bot Twitter account accepts tweets and attempts to run them as BASIC programs on a BBC Microcomputer emulator, replying with the results of the program. It would seem that 280 characters would make it difficult to do anything interesting, but check out some of the results. Most are graphic displays, some animated, and with an unsurprising number of nods to 1980s pop culture. Some are truly impressive, though, like Conway’s Game of Life written by none other than Eben Upton.

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing all sorts of cultural shifts, but we didn’t expect to see much change in the culture of a community that’s been notoriously resistant to change for over a century: amateur radio. One of the most basic facts of life in the amateur radio world is that you need a license to participate, with governments regulating the process. But as a response to the pandemic, Spain has temporarily lifted licensing requirements for amateur radio operators. Normally, an unlicensed person is only allowed to operate on amateur bands under the direct supervision of a licensed amateur. The rules change allows unlicensed operators to use a station without supervision and is intended to give schoolchildren trapped at home an educational experience. In another change, some countries are allowing special callsign suffixes, like “STAYHOME,” to raise awareness during the pandemic. And the boom in interest in amateur radio since the pandemic started is remarkable; unfortunately, finding a way to take your test in a socially distant world is quite a trick. Our friend Josh Nass (KI6NAZ) has some thoughts about testing under these conditions that you might find interesting.

And finally, life goes on during all this societal disruption, and every new life deserves to be celebrated. And when Lauren Devinck made her appearance last month, her proud parents decided to send out unique birth announcement cards with a printed circuit board feature. The board is decorative, not functional, but adds a distinctive look to the card. The process of getting the boards printed was non-trivial; it turns out that free-form script won’t pass most design rule tests, and that panelizing them required making some compromises. We think the finished product is classy, but can’t help but think that a functional board would have really made a statement. Regardless, we welcome Lauren and congratulate her proud parents.

Posted in amateur radio, basic, BBC Micro, birth announcement, bork, commit, Covid-19, enig, error, Git, Hackaday Columns, Hackaday links, license, panelizing, pcb, tweet, twitter | Leave a comment

The CLUE Tracker Points You To a Target, using CircuitPython

The main components are an Adafruit CLUE, Stemma GPS, and a lithium-polymer battery. No soldering required.

[Jay Doscher] shares a quick GPS project he designed and completed over a weekend. The device is called the CLUE Tracker and has simple goals: it shows a user their current location, but also provides a compass heading and distance to a target point. The idea is a little like geocaching, in that a user is pointed to a destination but must find their own way there. There’s a 3D printed enclosure, and as a bonus, there is no soldering required.

The CLUE Tracker uses the Adafruit CLUE board (which is the same size as the BBC micro:bit) and Stemma GPS sensor, with the only other active component being a lithium polymer battery. The software side of the CLUE Tracker uses CircuitPython, and [Jay] has the code and enclosure design available on GitHub.

[Jay] did a nice job of commenting and documenting the code, so this could make a great introductory CircuitPython project. No soldering is required, which makes it a little easier to re-use the parts in other projects later. This helps to offset costs for hackers on a budget.

The fact that a device like this can be an afternoon or weekend project is a testament to the fact that times have never been better for hobbyists when it comes to hardware. CircuitPython is also a fast-growing tool, and projects like this can help make it easy and fun to get started.

Posted in 3d printed, 3d Printer hacks, CircuitPython, clue, enclosure, gps, gps hacks, tracker | Leave a comment

Turn Off Those Batteries With Their Protection Chip

It should be a feature of every device powered by a lithium-ion battery, that it has a protection chip on board that automatically disconnects it should it go out of its safe voltage range. A chip most often used for this purpose in single-cell applications is the Fortune Semiconductor DW01, and [Oliver] shares a tip for using this chip to power down the battery. The DW01 has a CS, or current sense pin, which if taken high momentarily will put the chip into an off state until the battery is disconnected.

Looking at the DW01 datasheet we can see that this would work, but we can’t help having a few questions. The CS pin is a safety sensor pin, providing over current, short circuit, and reverse polarity detection. It’s the kind of pin one might mess with only when one is absolutely certain it’s not likely to trigger a dangerous fault condition, so a bit of care should be required. However, we can see that leaving its resistor in place and supplying it a momentary logic level through another resistor should work. We’d be interested in the views of any readers with more experience in the world of lithium battery protection on this hack.

Meanwhile, a good read for any reader should be our look last year at lithium-ion safety.

Posted in battery protection, battery shutdown, dw01, lithium, lithium battery, parts | Leave a comment

R/C Toilet Paper Roll is the Hero we Deserve

For reasons that most rational consumers can’t fathom, a not inconsiderable segment of the population believes the key to their continued survival during a pandemic unprecedented in modern times is to stockpile toilet paper. This leaves those of us not compelled to act based on the whims of our bowels looking at bare racks in the paper product aisle more often than not.

Which makes it the perfect time for [Ariel Yahni] to develop his remote controlled toilet paper roll. With this gadget deployed, you just might have a chance at drawing the Karens away from all the rolled gold long enough to grab yourself a pack. Even if it doesn’t distract the other competitors shoppers, you can at least enjoy the looks on their faces as it scurries by.

The project starts with, of all things, popsicle sticks. These are used to make a reinforced platform to which the two motors, radio receiver, speed controller, and battery are mounted. With some clever packing, [Ariel] is able to (tightly) fit it inside of a cardboard tube with just the bottoms of the two wheels protruding through cutouts. A careful wrapping with toilet paper is then used to give it the look of a partially used roll, including a trailing “tail” that flutters in its wake.

In the video after the break, you can see [Ariel] take his roll of motorized TP through a local mall for a test drive. We’re sorry to say that nobody appears to make a wild dive for it during the test. But that could be because the video was recorded back in December before people had resorted to fighting over toiletries. It also explains why he was able to get into a mall in the first place.

Just think, if we had embraced the high-tech toilets of the future back when we had a chance, we could have avoided this whole thing. As far as dystopias go, this one is shaping up to be pretty weird.

Posted in home hacks, Popsicle stick, remote control, toilet paper | Leave a comment

An Adapter to Solve Your ESP-01 Breadboard Woes

The ESP-01 launched the ESP8266 revolution back in 2014, and while today you’re far more likely to see somebody use a later version of the chip in a Wemos or NodeMCU development board, there are still tasks the original chip is well suited for. Unfortunately, they can be tricky to use while prototyping because they aren’t very breadboard friendly, but this adapter developed by [Miguel Reis] can help.

Of course, the main issue is the somewhat unusual pinout of the ESP-01. Since it was designed as a daughter board to plug into another device, the header is too tight to fit into a breadboard. The adapter that [Miguel] has come up with widens that up to the point you can put it down the centerline of your breadboard and have plenty of real estate around it.

The second issue is that the ESP-01 is a 3.3 V device, which can be annoying if everything else in the circuit is running on 5 V. To get around this, the adapter includes an SPX3819 regulator and enough capacitors that the somewhat temperamental chip gets the steady low-voltage supply it needs to be happy.

[Miguel] has released the schematics and board files so you can spin up your own copy of the adapter, but they’re also available for around $3 USD from his Tindie store.

Posted in adapter, breadboard, ESP-01, header, Microcontrollers, parts, prototyping, voltage regulator | Leave a comment

Typing By Slamming Your Laptop Closed. Repeatedly

Do you sometimes feel that your custom mechanical keyboard is not quite loud enough to proclaim your superior hacking powers? Or do you need a more forceful way shout in all caps at someone who is wrong on the internet? For all this and more, [Jesse Li] has got you covered, with a set of bash scripts that allows you to type by slamming your laptop closed repeatedly, using Morse code.

Not the fastest way to type, but definitely the most forceful

The scripts are quite simple, and work receiving the lid open/close events from ACPI (Advanced Configuration and Power Interface), recording the open and close timestamp and converting the timing to dots and dashes. After slamming to the required rhythm, you keep the lid open to see the character appear.

Why would want this? Well, you can now type the letter E by closing your laptop, instead of locking it. Maybe use it to send an emergency message while you’re being held by terrorists in a B-grade action movie. Otherwise, we think this is just an entertaining little hack that’s probably the product of quarantine induced boredom.

Morse code, otherwise known as CW, is still in surprisingly widespread use by ham radio operators, because it’s good at getting messages across intercontinental distances when signal conditions are bad and CW-only ham radio gear is cheap and easy to build yourself. We’ve also covered the Koch Method of learning CW, so don’t be afraid to dabble a bit during the quarantine.

Posted in bash, computer hacks, cw, laptop, morse code | Leave a comment