Broadcast Engineer at BellMedia, Computer history buff, compulsive deprecated, disparate hardware hoarder, R/C, robots, arduino, RF, and everything in between.
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WKRP's fantastic Thanksgiving turkey giveaway

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"The turkeys are hitting the ground like sacks of wet cement!"

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Two More Particles Spotted At Large Hadron Collider

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The Large Hadron Collider has helped staff spot two previously unseen particles. Both are known as baryons and are made up of three quarks.

The two baryons have the somewhat uncatchy names of  Xi_b’- and Xi_b*-. The existence of both had previously been predicted by the quark model, but they had yet to be seen in reality. Both have around six times the mass of a proton.

According to CERN’s Dr Patrick Koppenberg, ongoing analysis of data collected from the Large Hadron Collider helps identify an average of five particles a year, but it’s very rare to make two such discoveries at the same time. Being able to identify both the mass of the two baryons and their spin (the two have opposite spins to one another) will help scientists continue to narrow the range of known ways in which quarks can be (and are) arranged to form particles.

(Image credit: Julian Herzog via Creative Commons license)

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Thanksgiving Dinner On The International Space Station

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NASA has put out details of what the crew of the ISS will be eating this Thanksgiving: it’s a traditional meal but with some very unconventional preparation methods:

Their menu will include traditional holiday fare with a space-food flair — irradiated smoked turkey, thermostabilized candied yams and freeze-dried green beans and mushrooms. The meal also will feature NASA’s own freeze-dried cornbread dressing — just add water. Dessert features thermostabilized cherry-blueberry cobbler.

NASA also notes that while the current mission is exploring the possibility of growing lettuce in space, in the long term the sweet potato may be the most likely candidate for growing a staple food in space:

It provides an important energy source — carbohydrate — as well as beta-carotene. The sweet potato is able to adapt to a controlled environment with artificial sunlight. It is highly adaptable to a variety of vine-training architectures. The main shoot tip, or the end of the main vine, is the only really sensitive part. It sends hormones throughout the plant that stimulate root development, which is important since it is the roots that become the sweet potatoes. The side shoots, if picked when young, are tender and can be eaten in salads, improving the plant’s usefulness.

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A 16-voice Homebrew Polyphonic Synth

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Homebrew synths – generating a waveform in a microcontroller, adding a MIDI interface, and sending everything out to a speaker – are great projects that will teach you a ton about how much you can do with a tiny, low power uC. [Mark] created what is probably the most powerful homebrew synth we’ve seen, all while using a relatively low-power microcontroller.

The hardware for this project is an LPC1311 ARM Cortex M3 running at 72 MHz. Turning digital audio into something a speaker can understand is handled by a Wolfson WM8762, a stereo 24-bit DAC. Both of these chips can be bought for under one pound in quantity one, something you can’t say about the chips used in olde-tyme synths.

The front panel, shown below, uses 22 pots and two switches to control the waveform, ADSR, filter, volume, and pan. To save pins on the microcontroller, [Mark] used a few analog multiplexers. As far as circuitry goes, it’s a fairly simple setup, with the only truly weird component being the optocoupler for the MIDI input.

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The software for the synth is written mostly in assembly. In a previous version where most of the code was written in C, everything was a factor of two slower. Doing all the voice generation in assembly allowed for twice as many simultaneous voices.

It’s a great project, and compared to some of the other synth builds we’ve seen before, [Mark]’s project is at the top of its class. A quick search of the archives says this is probably the most polyphonic homebrew synth we’ve seen, and listening to the sound sample on the project page, it sounds pretty good, to boot.


Filed under: ARM, musical hacks, news
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Anthropomorphizing Microprocessors

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Vintage microprocessors usually do something, be it just sitting in an idle loop, calculating something, or simply looking cool in a collector’s cabinet. [Lee] has come up with a vastly cooler use for an old microprocessor: he’s anthropomorphized it by wiring LEDs up to the address lines and arranged those LEDs into a face. After wiring up the right circuit, the face of LEDs slowly changes expressions, making this tiny little board react to random electronic fluctuations.

The CPU used for this project is the RCA 1802, best known for being the smarts in the COSMAC Elf, a very early microprocessor training computer, but still capable of teaching the basics of computing today, albeit on a processor that isn’t made any more with an instruction set that is barely supported by anything modern.

[Lee] apparently has a lot of these 1802s, and to show off how simple a microcomputer can get, he created the strangest use for a CPU we’ve ever seen. You can’t program this face of LEDs; the data bus is left floating so random values are ‘displayed’ on the face. Only one of the data lines is pulled high. This prevents the data bus from ever being 0x00, the HALT instruction.

If you’re looking for something a little more useful to do with an RCA 1802 MPU, [Lee] also has a COSMAC Elf membership card. It’s a reproduction of the famous COSMAC Elf, repackaged into a board the size of an Altoid tin. It has the 1802 onboard, a few switches and blinkenlights,  and a parallel port for interacting with peripherals.


Filed under: classic hacks
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Custom Raspberry Pi Thermostat Controller

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Thermostats can be a pain. They often only look at one sensor in a multi-room home and then set the temperature based on that. The result is one room that’s comfortable and other rooms that are not. Plus, you generally have to get up off the couch to change the temperature. In this day and age, who wants to do that? You could buy an off-the-shelf solution, but sometimes hacking up your own custom hardware is just so much more fun.

[redditseph] did exactly that by modifying his home thermostat to be controlled by a Raspberry Pi. The temperature is controlled by a simple web interface that runs on the Pi. This way, [redditseph] can change the temperature from any room in his home using a computer or smart phone. He also built multi-sensor functionality into his design. This means that the Pi can take readings from multiple rooms in the home and use this data to make more intelligent decisions about how to change the temperature.

The Pi needed a way to actually talk to the thermostat. [redditseph] made this work with a relay module. The Pi flips one side of the relays, which then in turn switches the buttons that came built into the thermostat. The Pi is basically just emulating a human pressing buttons. His thermostat had terminal blocks inside, so [redditseph] didn’t have to risk damaging it by soldering anything to it. The end result is a functional design that has a sort of cyberpunk look to it.

[via Reddit]


Filed under: Raspberry Pi
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