Punch Card Interface Now on Twitter

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Ever want to go back to the “good old” days of computing, when men were men, and all coding was done on punch-cards? OK, maybe you don’t, but it’s always fun to combine old technology with new concepts, like this interface that let’s you tweet via punch cards.

The first step in making this clever retro-computing experiment was how to actually read the cards and transmit this information into a modern computer. The reader was made, after a brief attempt using mechanical contacts, with a series of infrared LEDs and photo-transistors salvaged from an HP print station. These LED/transistor pairs were attached to two plastic cards so that when a punch card is passed between the two, it can tell whether a hole is punched or not.

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This data is decoded by a Teensy 3.1 per IBM model 029 keypunch codes found here. This Teensy microcontroller then acts as a USB keyboard to the “mother” computer, transmitting whatever text equivalent is contained on the card. If you’d like to try this kind of experiement yourself, you can find the code on TimJay’s GitHub page, or you can just follow “it” on Twitter.

So far the reader hasn’t said much, but I’m hopeful there are some interesting quips on the horizon!


Cypress Announces PSoC 4 BLE

You may not immediately recognize the name Cypress, however the chances are very good that you’re familiar with their products in one form or another. The items that their PSoC has been used in is simply too long to list — from Sonicare toothbrushes, to Adidas shoes, and even the touch screen in the Tesla Model S. Cypress_125x125_bur1 Anyone looking to create wearables or low energy devices should find their latest announcement quite exciting: The PSoC 4 BLE is a PSoC that integrates an onboard Bluetooth low energy radio.

The specs of the PSoC 4 BLE are:

  • 48-MHz ARM® Cortex™-M0 CPU
  • Up to 128 KB Flash and 16 KB SRAM
  • Bluetooth LE (Smart) connectivity with Bluetooth 4.1:
    • 2.4-GHz Bluetooth LE radio with integrated Balun
    • -92-dBm Rx sensitivity, up to +3-dBm Tx power
  • Programmable analog
    • 4 x Op-amps
    • 1 x 12-bit, 1-Msps SAR ADC
    • 2 x Low-Power Comparators
    • 1 x Cypress CapSense™ touch controller with SmartSense™ Auto-Tuning
  • Programmable digital
    • 4 x universal digital blocks
    • 4 x 16-bit configurable Timer/Counter/PWM blocks
    • 2 x configurable serial communication blocks
  • 56-QFN (7 x 7 x 0.6 mm), 68-ball WLCSP (3.9 x 3.5 x 0.55 mm)
  • Flexible Low Power Modes
    • 1.3-μA Deep-Sleep Current
    • 150-nA Hibernate Current
    • 60-nA Stop Current
  • Wide Operating Range 1.7 – 5.5 V (Radio operational 1.9 V onwards)

If you’ve been messing around with combining stacks of different boards to get your work done, your mouth is probably watering at this point. The fact that the MCU + BLE Radio — with analog components like op-amps and comparators and a digital CPLD-like fabric — are all present in one single chip really sets this apart, and will greatly decrease the prototype time of any project.

On the software side the IDE has some unique features as well. The ability to visually create your custom circuit within the fabric, even extending out the BLE sections, will drastically change and simplify the workflow.

Another option they are offering is their PRoC, which is a bit more function-specific. They may not have the same flexibility as the PSoC, but they should be considerably cheaper.

The specs of the PRoC are

  • 48-MHz ARM® Cortex™-M0 CPU
  • 128-KB flash and 16-KB SRAM
  • Bluetooth Smart connectivity with Bluetooth 4.1:
    • 2.4-GHz Bluetooth LE radio with integrated Balun
    • -92-dBm Rx sensitivity, upto +3-dBm Tx output power
  • Modes: 1.3-μA Deep-Sleep, 150-nA Hibernate, 60-nA Stop
  • Analog and digital peripherals:
    • One 12-bit, 1-Msps SAR ADC
    • Four 16-bit TCPWM blocks
    • Two SCBs, configurable as I2C, SPI or UART
    • I2S for audio input
    • Flexible mapping onto GPIOs
  • Integrated library support for one- and two-finger gestures
  • 56-QFN (7 x 7 x 0.6 mm), 68-ball WLCSP (3.9 x 3.5 x 0.55 mm)
 

To get started developing with the PSoC 4 BLE, you can buy the Pioneer Kit at Arrow Electronics for $49 and download their free, drag-and-drop development software.

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The kit comes with the following:

  • BLE Pioneer baseboard preloaded with CY8CKIT-142 PSoC 4 BLE module
  • CY5671 PRoC™ BLE module
  • BLE dongle (CySmart USB dongle)
  • Quick start guide
  • USB standard A to mini-B cable
  • Four jumper wires (4 inch) and two proximity sensor wires (5 inch)
  • Coin cell

Of course, after you’re done prototyping, you may want to move on to something a little more professional. Cypress is offering these units as pre-certified by the FCC for under $10.

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We got ours and have only had time to pull it out of the box and take pictures. We’ll dig in soon and see what we can do with this thing! Watch for updates as we explore the possibilities. What would you make with one?


From The Gift Guide: Tremendous Tools And Tech

techMakers need tools. Its simple, we can’t make stuff without the proper tools. Maybe that tool is a screwdriver, maybe it is a scanner, maybe it is just storage for the parts of our projects. We have to have them or nothing will get done! The Tools & Tech section of our Ultimate Makers Gift Guide is the absolute best place to find the next tool for the maker in your life.

 

gg-prettyThis year’s guide features some incredible tools such as the new Sprout by HP which functions as an all-in-one computer, 3d scanner, interactive input surface and more! We’ve never seen anything like it.  On the other end of the spectrum we have Heavy Duty Scissors, an absolute necessity for any workshop.

Know someone who wants to get started with electronics but hasn’t yet ventured into the feild? They might appreciate a Deluxe Electronics Toolkit as well as some storage for all those tiny bits and pieces.

 

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How Meshnets Are Changing The Face Of The Web

Connected World

Wireless meshnets span the globe. (Credit: Junior Melo [CC-BY-SA-3.0])

Throughout the course of the last decade, the landscape of the Internet has shifted dramatically as political and corporate control have changed the structure of the network. The threat of the FCC overturning net neutrality, an increasingly powerful oligopoly of ISPs, and corporate and political surveillance online are endangering the state of the Internet as we know it. Groups of engineers and activists have begun to propose ways to resolve these issues, and the advent of inexpensive wireless networking has ignited a movement to create wireless mesh networks called meshnets.

A meshnet is a network topology in which each device on the network is connected to other devices and directly relays information throughout the network to its peers. Some of the benefits of meshnets include decentralization, security, and privacy due to the framework they use.

During the last few years, a global meshnet called Hyperboria has been developed which allows users to easily connect to a group of likeminded experimenters throughout the world. The stated goal of Hyperboria is “to provide an alternative to the internet with the principles of security, scalability and decentralization at the core.” Hyperboria runs on an open source networking protocol called cjdns, created by Caleb James DeLisle. The software uses public key cryptography to encrypt data, ensuring security and privacy of users’ data.

Decentralization, Security, and Privacy

Instead of relying on a centralized ISP model, Hyperboria and other meshnets allow information to propagate through the network using each of the nodes connected to the network. Rather than using a star or a tree topology managed topdown by an ISP, a meshnet is managed by the users and for the users.

Decentralization of the Internet through meshnets is vital because it solves multiple sociopolitical issues. During the Arab Spring, governments in Egypt, Libya, and Syria attempted complete Internet shutdowns in their countries. Internet censorship has also been an ongoing problem in China, North Korea, and Cuba, among other nations. In the United States, there has already been “Internet kill switch” legislation proposed in Congress, and laws such as the Communications Act of 1934 and the Telecommunications Act of 1996 could be used to justify Internet censorship or shutdown under martial law or in a crisis situation. The decentralized nature of meshnets would prevent a total shutdown of a nation’s network connectivity by a governmental power.

Ensuring users’ security and privacy is at the heart of projects like Hyperboria. According to DeLisle, “security should be ubiquitous and unintrusive, like air.” One historical issue with security software is its notorious difficulty to use, but this problem is easily avoided with cjdns, since security is built directly into the protocol. cjdns stores its routing table in a distributed hash table for security purposes, and it also uses stack-smashing protection to ensure that buffer overflows are prevented against.

How to Connect: An Overview

The best way to connect to Hyperboria is to find a local meshnet—also called a meshlocal—near you. There are a number of meshlocals popping up around the world, and Project Meshnet has a list of meshlocals available on their site. In many cases, joining a meshlocal will also give you access to the rest of the Hyperboria network, although this is not always the case.

Although there isn’t official hardware required to join Hyperboria, Project Meshnet recommends the Ubiquiti Nanostation or another OpenWrt-compatible router, such as a TP-Link TL-MR3040. The Ubiquiti Nanostation M5 is available on Amazon for approximately $80, and the TP-Link TL-MR3040 is available for $35, but any router compatible with OpenWrt will work. You can run cjdns on a Raspberry Pi Model B or another computer, and you can the additional accessories (a 4 GB SD card, a power supply, USB to Ethernet adapter, and two Ethernet cables) for about $30. There’s a great meshnet starter kit list available from NYCMeshnet that will help guide you through the necessary hardware to purchase. At the end of the day, you can get on the network for about $150.

After purchasing the hardware, connecting to Hyperboria is simple. You can download an easy-to-install Raspberry Pi image called Meshberry. After running a few commands, your Raspberry Pi will be up and running and ready to peer with other cjdns nodes. Another excellent tool for connecting to a meshnet is OpenWrt, which is open source firmware for routers that replaces the proprietary firmware your router is shipped with. Installation can be difficult, but the OpenWrt community is there to help. You can find a list of supported routers here. A new special-made OpenWrt build called Meshbox is also helping users connect faster than ever by using a custom-built version of OpenWrt with a cjdns GUI pre-installed.

Many early adopters of the meshnet technology are focusing on building the backbone of the network in a way which allows as many people as possible to connect. Because of this, some users are placing long distance routers on the roofs of their homes or apartments. This allows your router to reach the farthest possible distance to connect to other meshnet nodes. The Nanostation M5 is weather-resistant and includes mounting tools which makes it easy to install on a roof. You can also use outdoor-certified Ethernet cable to run a cable from the router back to your home.

Resources and Help

Because of the experimental nature of this network, it’s very common to run into issues while installing your equipment. Thankfully, it’s easy to get help thanks to growing user communities helping with the project. One great site to check out is projectmeshnet.org, which is a hub for users who are interested in building meshnets. Meshnet users also hang out on IRC, and you can join channels like #projectmeshnet and #cjdns on EFnet (among others) for help connecting to the network.



Hackaday Prize Winner Announced

satnogs

The Hackaday prize, where entrants competed to build something awesome that transmits data and is openly documented, has now been won by the satNOGs team led by Pierros Papadeas. The device, or system rather, is a open standard based network of ground stations for tracking and monitoring satellites.

As cool as that is, the prize, a trip into space or $196,418, is arguably even better!  This seems like an appropriate prize for such a skyward-centric project. The well-produced video explaining more about what this is can be seen below. Given how many people participated on this project, I’d have to expect that the cash prize would be more expedient than a trip into space!

The networking interface looks polished, and the mechanical altitude and azimuth tracker setup looked quite interesting as well. There’s even a geodesic dome design available if you’d like a semi-permanent setup. According to the video, they need more satellite tracking stations to help augment the system. I’d love to hear about anyone that decides to take this on as a project!

As amazing as this system and the grand prize is, the other winners have some really great projects as well. The other prizes may not have been a trip into space, but an industrial grade machine tool or team skydiving are pretty great too!


An Arduino-Based Computer

keyboard1

While most of us think of Arduino boards as something to be programmed by a computer, there’s really nothing that says you can’t use an Arduino-style microcontroller as one. It could be argued that the Arduino is already a computer, but in the case of the DemUino, a small display is embedded into an old PS/2 keyboard. It might not be what a person is used to, but someone not familiar with what a “microcontroller” is would more readily, on some level, recognize this as a computer.

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The software configuration is quite involved, including the author, “DemeterArt,” writing his own BASIC language. This “only” took around 2200 lines of code. The wiring also looks quite involved from the diagram provided.

Wow, a lot of work. Check out the demonstration below.

As noted by the original source, “The project had to be a minimum-cost-endeavor given the abundance of junk lying around in my home lab and my financial situation.” This sounds like the introduction to many interesting projects. If one had enough money, he or she might just boringly buy another toy to play with.

Personally, if I had an extremely abundant amount of money, I’d be tempted to hire my own staff of engineers and technicians to build more of the ideas that I come up with than I’m able to make myself!


"Dottie" the Flip Dot Clock

dottie

Most of us have probably seen clocks or numerical displays that flip sequential boards to display the next number in a sequence. If you wanted to take that a step further, you could make a replica of “Dottie,” which flips small dots as pixels. As the great video below says, it makes a “pleasant mechanical flipping sound all day.” It also tells the date, chimes every 15 minutes, and gives an animation show once an hour.

dottie-wiring

If you wanted to make one of these devices, the technical details are on David Henshaw’s site. He includes an incredible number of pictures in the description, and includes the Arduino code here. If you have any illusions about this being an easy project, the wiring seen above should help you get a grasp on the scope of this project. There was also the mechanical challenge of fitting everything together nicely, programming, and getting the chimes to work. It took David months to get this assembly working.

It’s a very cool project, and despite the scope, makes me tempted to try something similar. Of course, like many “makers,” sometimes my eyes are bigger than my garage, so I’ve got a few other projects to complete before something like this should even be considered!


Gizmo Gets an Update

gizmo The folks at Gizmosphere have launched the latest version of their open source, x86-based single board computer, the Gizmo 2. Priced at $199, the Gizmo 2 is aimed at professional embedded developers and advanced makers who need more compute power for their projects. The new board improves on the first Gizmo with 60% more processing power, less power consumption, and more interfaces for input and output. It runs a 1 GHz dual-core AMD G-Series system-on-chip and 1 gigabyte of RAM, which is a lot of power for a 4-inch by 4-inch computer. Its list of I/O interfaces and features is impressive: HDMI, Ethernet, HD audio, USB 3.0, microSD, PCIe, SATA, GPIO, SPI, I2C, UART, a digital-to-analog converter, an analog-to-digital converter and a real-time clock.

“The second-generation development board brings open source embedded development back to superior x86 processing,” said Scott Hoot, president and CEO of Sage Electronic Engineering, LLC and president of GizmoSphere. “Creative embedded developers everywhere will enjoy the simplicity of communications in this SoC, while exploring Gizmo 2’s sophisticated capabilities and support for multiple operating systems.”

Every Gizmo 2 includes a microSD card preloaded with TimeSys Embedded Linux, but it also supports other Linux distributions and a variety of other operating systems including Minoca, RTOS, Windows Embedded, and Qt.

The Gizmo 2 is available for pre-order now and they expect to start shipping by the end of the year. In the meantime, you can take a closer look at this powerful board below:

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Engadget Expand: The Hemingwrite

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_oXBZFK4wWg

The Hemingwrite is a distraction free writing tool. Our computers, the primary tool for many, have constant distractions. There’s facebook, twitter, manufacturer updates, and many other things that can pull you away from your writing. The Hemingwrite may not have the distractions of a laptop, but it has some of the benefits, such as cloud backups.


Sign Plus Plus at the Atlanta Maker Faire

IMG_1795-fxAt the Atlanta Maker Faire on October fourth, I was happy to meet Payam Ghobadpour and Madeleyne Vaca who were showing off a prototype sign language translation glove called the Sign plus plus. They, along with Kelley Sheffield abd Andrew Thieck came up with this device at a HackGT hackathon event.

The glove is powered by an Intel Edison general purpose computing platform. Interestingly, the Edison can be programmed in C++, which would seem to have something to do with the name of the device!

 

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I didn’t see it in action, translating signs into speech or text, but the basic idea is that there is a sensor attached to each finger and thumb, which would allow the processor to translate these finger motions into letters or words. As their website points out, although those that can’t speak can communicate with a teletype device, they lack the ability to express some of the nuances that signing allows for. It’s exciting to think what something like this could be capable of once developed further.

Interestingly, this type of glove, also listed at the “SignFlx,” is envisioned to possibly have more uses than signing to generate speech or text. Air guitar is mentioned as an application, as well as video games. Perhaps the latter use isn’t entirely new, but in their defense, typical college students are, I suppose, too young to remember the Power Glove!