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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The trailer to Asimov's Foundation sure looks grand

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The first trailer to Apple TV+'s series adaption of Isaac Asimov's Foundation is certainly gorgeous eye candy. It remains a mystery how they plan to adapt such an immense and complex space opera, but... fingers (toes and tentacles) remain crossed.

On Quinn's Ideas, he offers his reaction to the trailer and discusses both this series and the forthcoming Dune film.

Here's a decent little backgrounder on Foundation.

Image: YouTube

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tekvax
5 days ago
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Burlington, Ontario
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Wireless Tin Can Telephone

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For many kids, the tin-can telephone is a fun science experiment that doesn’t last much longer than it takes to tangle the string around a nearby tree. [Geoff] decided to go a different however, building a tin-can telephone that’s completely wireless.

The build starts with a hacker favorite, the Arduino Uno. It’s hooked up to an microphone input board which uses the Arduino’s analog input to pick up audio. The Arduino then sends this data out over an NRF24L01+ wireless transceiver, to be picked up by the corresponding tin can receiver at the other end. An LM386 is given amplifier duties, hooked up to a small speaker so the user can hear the incoming audio.

The Arduino Uno is in no way a high-fidelity digital audio platform, but the project does deliver some legible, if scratchy, voice transmission. It also serves as a great way to learn about radio communications and working with digital audio signals. The NRF24L01+ is a great way to add wireless communication to a project, and if you’re looking for more range, we’ve got that covered, too. Video after the break.

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tekvax
7 days ago
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Burlington, Ontario
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Building an ESP32 Smart Power Strip from Scratch

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Surely the most straightforward way of creating a smart power strip would be to take an existing model and hack in some relays that you could fire with a WiFi-enabled microcontroller. But where’s the fun in that? Instead of repurposing a commercial power strip for his recent project, [Md Raz] decided to just build the whole thing himself.

The project started with a 3D printed enclosure that could hold the electronics and three panel mount sockets. The use of heat-set inserts makes it a bit more robust for future upgrade work, but otherwise it’s a fairly simple rectangular design. Nobody ever said a power strip had to be pretty, right? In addition to the panel mount sockets, there’s also a AC-DC converter to step mains voltage down to 5 VDC for the ESP32.

In addition to the microcontroller, the custom PCB in the power strip holds a trio of MOSFETs connected to AQH223 solid state relay (SSR) chips. Once the ESP32 toggles the line attached to each MOSFET, the indicator LED above the outlet goes on and the appropriate SSR is thrown to turn on the power. With a simple web interface running on the microcontroller, all three outlets can be independently controlled from any device with a web browser.

If you’d like to limit your interaction with mains voltages, then we’ve seen some projects that commandeer the low-voltage side of a commercial smart power strip. But remember, putting a Raspberry Pi inside of a power strip might seem suspicious to some folks.

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tekvax
7 days ago
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Burlington, Ontario
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Surviving The Pandemic As A Hacker: Making A Mask Of Your Very Own

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As the COVID-19 pandemic has continued along its way through the world, our community has responded as it always does, by designing and making things intended to solve the problems thrown up by the situation we find ourselves in. Much of this effort has gone into the production of PPE to plug the gap and many essential staff have been protected by maker-provided equipment, while the remainder of the effort has produced a wide array of clever designs for COVID-related items.

With curves flattened in many areas, Governments around the world are now encouraging the wearing of face masks in everyday social interactions. The purpose of mask for the general public is for droplet catching rather than virus filtering, and home made masks easily accomplish this. So let’s take a look at what you need to know about making a mast of your very own.

Now Is The Time To Talk About Making PPE

Raiding my old clothes and bed linen for mask materials
Raiding my old clothes and bed linen for mask materials

In the first part of this series I took an overview of how the requirements for a general public mask are different to those of a mask for medical staff, and examined a few commercially-available options. We will now examine together the materials and construction of home-made masks.

In the past I’ve looked at sewing machines and the textilist’s bench in detail, but for mask making you should be good to go with almost any sewing machine, a sharp pair of fabric shears, and maybe some pins to make your life easier. I want our community to come through all this in good shape, so I invite you to join me at the sewing machine. You could make a Government-sanctioned simple no-sew variety, but for use over the coming months there’s no substitute for a sew mask.

Before anything else when considering a mask, we must start with the choice of fabric. It is important that whatever layers your mask contains must be both effective filters and be safe to breathe through. Whatever air passes through it will end up in your lungs, so as you can probably imagine there will be unsuitable materials that can give you significant problems. In particular some non-woven cloths are not designed as filters and will shed fibres, and some materials may contain mineral or harmful chemical components. A commonly touted idea for example is that a vacuum cleaner bag  makes a suitable material based upon its filtering ability, however since there are vacuum cleaner bags whose paper contains fungicide as well as other harmful substances it would be difficult to ascertain whether your bag is safe to breathe through. We covered some research back in March that looked at the effectiveness of a variety of materials, and for the purposes of this article we’ll be going with their conclusion of a two-layer design featuring cotton-T-shirt fabric and cotton bed linen.

Making The Many Masks

Left: pleated mask. Right: fitted mask.
Left: pleated mask. Right: fitted mask.

There are a variety of mask designs to be found, but they all fall into two broad streams of pleated “surgical” style or a more fitted style with a seam down the middle. The style you pick is a matter of personal preference.

Of the two I found the pleated design to be easier to make but less stylish, and the fitted style to be difficult to get right but worth persevering — once you nail the dimensions you can made several to have on hand.

The patterns I used were the HK Mask which was the first fitted mask I tried, Tanya Fish’s pattern with instructions, and a pattern for a pleated mask from SleepPhones to which I have made a few modifications.

Pattern Behavior

Cutting the panels using the pattern for the fitted mask
Sewing the two layers together to form an inside-out bag

The first step is printing out the pattern to size and pinning it to your material. For the fitted mask you then sew together the two pattern pieces for each layer, with the pleated mask you simply cut out a rectangle of material. From there, sew the layers together as an inside-out bag along three seams integrating whatever nose stiffener you are using into the top seam.

Making The Turn and Securing the Straps

Turning the bag inside out to make the mask
Sewing the pleats and the trainer lace used as a tie

We left the fourth edge open so that you can turn the bag the right way out. The remaining seam can now be top-stitched. It’s best to follow the instructions with whatever design you choose, but once you have made more than a couple you’ll get the feel for it and be able to modify the pattern as you see fit.

On commercial masks the ties are universally elastic, and hook over the ears or round the head. At times during the pandemic there has been a shortage of elastic, so in its place I have used trainer laces. You can also try making your own bias tape with a 3D-pinted folding device and your sewing machine, or saving the elastic from disposable masks if you have any. The elastic can be incorporated into the side seams as you sew them, or in the case of trainer laces their half-way point can be laid over the centre of the side seam or pleated area and they can be sewn onto the surface of the fabric.

Fitting Around Your Nose and Adding Some Style to Your Mask

A single conductor from insulated copper house wiring cable, used as a nose wire.
A single conductor from insulated copper house wiring cable, used as a nose wire.

The nose wire can be almost anything stiff but flexible enough to bend, that will survive being washed. Pipe cleaners and gardening wire have been used, I tried a cable tie which wasn’t stiff enough, in the end I settled for a single insulated copper conductor from UK house wiring cable. I suggest you try a few for ease of bending before you commit to one.

These masks aren’t sterile medical devices, but they should be cleaned regularly. There must be any number of ways to sterilise them, but I am not going quite that far. Instead, since the advice is that the COVID-19 virus has a shell that is susceptible to soaps, I am washing my masks in the washing machine with the rest of my laundry.

Staying on-brand through the pandemic.
Staying on-brand through the pandemic.

Finally, with the pleated masks there are two ways that they can be folded. The first is as a series of short panels folded in one direction, but there is another one using a box pleat, a larger flat area with smaller pleats in opposing directions. It makes little difference to the wearer, but the latter style makes for better display of any logo or pattern on the fabric.

In particular last October at the eth0 event in the Netherlands I was lucky enough to have a friend use a Brother embroidery machine to put a Wrencher on a piece of linen dress fabric. It’s sat in my textile box ever since, and a Wrencher mask with the logo arranged at the centre of the box pleat is the perfect use for it. I’m sorry that it’s a one-off, but perhaps it will give you ideas should you know anyone with a similar embroidery machine.

I hope that the two parts so far of this series have filled any gaps in your knowledge about face masks, and have equipped you with everything you need to set about making your own. There’s one further part to come in this series on surviving the pandemic as a hacker, and this time it’s not to do with the virus itself. The lockdown and quarantine is a once-in-a-lifetime upheaval for most of us, and that will have an effect on people in itself. We’ll be looking at the mental health aspects of surviving it, and how to come out the other side with as few scars as possible.

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tekvax
7 days ago
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Burlington, Ontario
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The Sound of Silence: Speed Up Your Video Consumption

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There’s a lot of interesting content produced on video these days. Invariably, though, when we post something some comments will appear lamenting that a video isn’t the most efficient way to disseminate technical information. We have mixed feelings. Some things benefit from being able to see, for example, a screencast. Some people like the human connection of seeing an instructor interact with a class instead of just reading. But we will admit that sometimes a video takes longer to watch, especially if it is full of pauses. Unsilence is a tool from [labmoellertim] that can fix that. The command line tool takes a video and strips out the parts that are silent. You can also use it as a Python library if you want to build your own tools using the technique.

If you’ve ever taken a class online, it isn’t uncommon to speed up a video so you can get through class faster. This works to a point, but removing or speeding up silent gaps means you don’t have to “listen faster.” Of course, you could still speed up the video, too.

The tool can detect silent versus audible content and can do several operations. By default, it speeds up silent parts by a factor of 6. You can change the speed of either part, of course. You can also change the volume — presumably muting silence. The fact that it speeds up the silent parts is disconcerting at first, but after watching a bit, you realize it helps you understand what’s going on in many cases.

As an example, an MIT Python lecture (see videos below) clocks in at 9:45, but after processing takes under 8 minutes. Saving not quite two minutes might not sound like a lot, but for such a short clip it works out to almost 19%. For an hour lecture that could add up to nearly 12 minutes. Of course, a lot will depend on the style of the speaker and the video. Some videos may save more time; others less.

Unfortunately, you do need the video file locally so if you want to apply this to a YouTube video, you’ll need a way to download it first. That’s relatively easy to do, but it kills the immediacy of just watching a video in your browser.

Now if we could just skip the commercials. Then again, some of our favorite videos have no words, but they do sometimes have music, and that would prevent the tool from working.

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tekvax
7 days ago
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Burlington, Ontario
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Tiny Barcode Scanner Beeps Your Shopping List Together

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Taking a paper list to the grocery store seems like a good idea, at least until you get there and try to use it. Did you remember to bring a pen? Great. How about a clipboard so you don’t punch through the paper when crossing something off? Apps are easier to use for this, especially the ones with checkboxes, but you’ll still have to enter everything manually. Wouldn’t it be easier (and way more fun) to just scan the barcodes of stuff you need into a list before you chuck the packaging?

That’s exactly the idea behind [DavidE281]’s barcode scanner, which is designed to work with the Bring! app. All he has to do is scan a barcode, and the product ends up in a tidy list on his phone. It’s a simple build that’s based around the M5StickC, which is an ESP32 dev kit that has a small display and a 6-axis IMU along with some other goodies. [David] combined it with a 2D barcode scanner that has a serial port and designed a printed case that joins them together.

Here’s how it works: the M5Stick sends the barcode over MQTT to an external Raspberry Pi that’s running Home Assistant. The Pi does a lookup in a spreadsheet and sends the data to the Bring! app over a community-built API. At the same time, it sends the product name back to the M5Stick’s display to confirm that it was added to the list. Check out bite-sized demo video after the break.

Scanning barcodes is super fun. So why not use an IoT barcode scanner to keep track of everything you own?

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tekvax
8 days ago
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Burlington, Ontario
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