Arvydas Juskevicius (say that five times fast) is an independent software developer and hardware hacker based in London (which is where I got a chance to talk with him) who's decided to bring the useful LED signalling capabilities of many modern smartphones into the world of desktop or laptop computers. With his £10 BlinkStick kit (£15 pre-assembled), you get a programmable multi-color LED that's about the size of a flash memory key. Deceptively simple -- it's essentially one giant pixel, after all, which might not sound exciting when you have millions of them on a dense display surface. But that LED light is something you can use as a signal for alarms, or to tell you that you have a message from one app while another is at full-screen, or practically anything else that you can devise software to notice and react to. I get the sense that Juskevicius would prefer that people get the kit version, to help spur interest in actually soldering some hardware rather than just plugging it in. If you're allergic to paying in other than U.S. dollars, the BlinkStick is also available from Adafruit Industries. Watch the video below to see it in action.
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First time accepted submitter wick3t writes "The Neo900 fundraising campaign has already achieved the milestone of 200 pre-orders which means that mass production is now feasible. This follows a successful first prototype that was showcased at the OpenPhoenux-Hard-Software-Workshop 2013. Their next target is 1000 pre-orders as they aspire to reduce the production costs of each device." For those not familiar, the Neo 900 is an offshoot of the OpenMoko GTA04 designed for use in the popular Nokia N900 case (and, yes, they're fixing the weak usb port).
Zothecula writes "Last August, it looked as if NASA's Kepler space telescope was as good as scrap due to the failure of its attitude control system. Now the space agency proposes what it calls the K2 mission concept, which may fix the problem by using the Sun to regain attitude control and allow Kepler to resume its search for extrasolar planets."
A year after the first schematics were completed and a few months after the first prototype board shipped, Make Play Live has released Improv, the first engineering card for EOMA-68 (EOMA-68 is a specification for modular systems that splits the cpu board from the rest of the system, allowing the end user to use the same core with several devices or upgrade e.g. a tablet without having to pay for a new screen shell). From Aaron Seigo's weblog post: "The hardware of Improv is extremely capable: a dual-core ARM® Cortex-A7 System on Chip (SoC) running at 1Ghz, 1 GB of RAM, 4 GB of on-board NAND flash and a powerful OpenGL ES GPU. To access all of this hardware goodness there are a variety of ports: 2 USB2 ports (one fullsize host, one micro OTG), SD card reader, HDMI, ethernet (10/100, though the feature card has a Gigabit connector; more on that below), SATA, i2c, VGA/TTL and 8 GPIO pins. The entire device weighs less than 100 grams, is passively cooled and fits in your hand. Improv comes pre-installed with Mer OS, sporting a recent Linux kernel, systemd, and a wide variety of software tools. By default it boots into console, so if you are making a headless device you needn't worry about extra overhead running that you don't need. If you are going to hook it up to a screen (or two), then you have an amazing starting point with choices such as X.org, Wayland, Qt4, Qt5 and a full complement of KDE libraries and Plasma Workspaces. Improv takes advantage of the open EOMA68 standard to deliver a unique design: the SoC, RAM and storage live on one card (the 'CPU card'), the feature ports are on a PCB it docks with (the 'feature board'). The two dock securely together with the CPU card sitting under the feature board nestled in a pair of rails; they are undocked from each other by pushing a mechanical ejector button." Check out the specs and pictures. The card is available now for $75. Improv is open hardware, with the schematics licensed under the GPL and available soon.
50000BTU_barbecue writes "I made a comment a few days ago in a story basically saying the oscilloscope is dead. While that's a bit dramatic, I've found that over the last 20 years my oscilloscopes have been 'on' less and less. Instead, I use a combination of judicious voltage measurements, a logic analyzer and a decent understanding of the documentation of the gadget I'm working on. Stuff is just more and more digital and microcontroller-based, or just so cheap yet incredibly integrated that there's no point in trying to work on it. (I'm thinking RC toys for example. Undocumented and very cheap. Doesn't work? Buy another.) While I still do old-school electronics like circuit-level troubleshooting (on old test gear), that's not where the majority of hobbyists seem to be. Yet one thing I keep hearing is how people want an oscilloscope to work on hardware. I think it's just not that necessary anymore. What I use most are two regulated DC lab supplies, a frequency counter, a USB logic analyzer, a USB I2C/SPI master, and a USB-RS-232 dongle. That covers a lot of modern electronics. I have two oscilloscopes, a 100MHz two-channel stand-alone USB unit and a 1960s analog plug-in-based mainframe that is a '70s hacker dream scope. But I rarely use them anymore. What equipment do hardware folks out there use the most? And would you tell someone trying to get into electronics that they need a scope?"
The Raspberry Pi project that we've been fans of for quite a while now has hit a new milestone: Today, they announced that as of the last week in October, the project has sold more than two million boards. Raspberry Pi is anything but alone in the tiny, hackable computer world (all kinds of other options, from Arduino to the x86-based Minnowboard, are out there, and all have their selling points), but the low price, open-source emphasis, and focus on education have all helped the Pi catch on. If yours is one of these 2 million, what are you using it for? (And if you favor some other small system for your own experiments, what factors matter?)
angry tapir writes "MenuetOS is an open source, GUI-equipped, x86 operating system written entirely in assembly language that can fit on a floppy disk (if you can find one). I originally spoke to its developers in 2009. Recently I had a chance to catch up with them to chat about what's changed and what needs to be done before the OS hits version 1.0 after 13 years of work. The system's creator, Ville Turjanmaa, says, 'Timeframe is secondary. It's more important is to have a complete and working set of features and applications. Sometimes a specific time limit rushes application development to the point of delivering incomplete code, which we want to avoid. ... We support USB devices, such [as] storages, printers, webcams and digital TV tuners, and have basic network clients and servers. So before 1.0 we need to improve the existing code and make sure everything is working fine. ... The main thing for 1.0 is to have all application groups available'"
Daniel_Stuckey writes "At the start of this year, President Obama nicely summed up the grandiose promise of 3D printing — or rather, the hype surrounding it. In his State of the Union address the president suggested the fledgling technology could save manufacturing by ushering in a second industrial revolution. That shout-out inspired a spate of buzzkill blog posts pointing out — rightly enough — that despite its potential, 3D printing is still in its infancy. It's not the panacea for the struggling economy we want it to be, at least not yet. Apparently the naysayers weren't enough to kill the 3D-printing dream, because, with support from the federal government, MakerBot announced its initiative to put a 3D printer in every school in America. The tech startup and the administration are betting big that teaching kids 3D printing is teaching them the skills they'll need as tomorrow's engineers, designers, and inventors." Caveat: Makerbot no longer produces open hardware, and they are pushing proprietary Autodesk software and educational materials as part of the free 3D printer. Makerbot also launched a call for open models of math manipulatives on Thingiverse (you might remember them from elementary school) so that teachers have something useful to print immediately.
Nerval's Lobster writes "Researchers have demonstrated a technique that produces inexpensive, functional electrical circuits that can be printed using about $300 worth of materials and equipment, including generic inkjet printers. The technique, developed by researchers from Georgia Tech, the University of Tokyo and Microsoft Research, allows circuits to be printed onto irregularly-shaped materials or almost anything able to go through the paper feed on a printer designed for consumers. The chief advantage of the technique is the ability to print circuits using silver nanoparticle ink rather than relying on the thermal-bonding technique called sintering, which is time-consuming and can destroy delicate base materials. Researchers were able to print new circuits in about 60 seconds on almost any material that could go through the printer, though resin-covered paper, PET film and glossy photo paper worked best, while sheets of canvas cloth and anything magnetic were ineffective. Once printed using silver ink on flexible base material, the circuits can be attached to existing hardware by simply laying or taping them in place and making connections using conductive tape or conductive glue. (Soldering would destroy the underlying material.)"
First time accepted submitter 192_kbps writes "Mike Clements, a long-haul trucker from West Jordan, Utah, built the largest amateur telescope ever with a whopping 70 inch primary mirror he purchased at auction. The entire telescope is 35 feet tall, 900 pounds, and he hopes to tour it in parks. As a hand-turned Dobsonian the telescope lacks the photographic capacity and tracking required for professional astronomy but the views must be breathtaking." (Are there other compelling candidates out there for "largest amateur telescope ever"? The 71" scope listed by nitesky.org appears to be dormant.)
alphadogg writes "The equipment is big and expensive, with the research costs at almost $500,000. But by just using retail components, Chinese professor Chi Nan has built her own Li-Fi wireless system that can use LED lights to send and receive Internet data. "I bought the lights from Taobao," she said, referring to the Chinese e-commerce site. The professor from Fudan University showed off the technology on Tuesday at the China International Industry Fair in Shanghai. Unlike traditional Wi-Fi routers that use radio signals, Chi's system relies on light to send and receive data wirelessly. Others scientists, especially in the U.K., have also been researching the technology, and dubbed it "Li-Fi". But rather than develop specialized hardware, Chi bought off-the-shelf retail parts to create her system."
rtoz writes "Motorola has announced 'Project Ara,' afree and open hardware platform for smartphones. The purpose of Project Ara is to create a modular smartphone that would allow users to swap hardware components according their own wish. The design for Project Ara consists of an endoskeleton (endo) and modules. The endo is the structural frame that holds all the modules in place. A module can be anything, from a new application processor to a new display or keyboard, an extra battery, a pulse oximeter — or something not yet thought of." Motorola's not the first one to think of such a thing; this project is in cooperation with Phonebloks, which had already been pushing for reusable, reconfigurable phone components.
An anonymous reader writes "My wireless router just died. I have an old netbook lying around that has a wired network interface and a wireless one. The wireless card is supported in master mode by Linux, FreeBSD, and OpenBSD. What does Slashdot recommend I use to turn it into a router/wireless access point? DD-WRT? pfSense? Smoothwall? Fedora/Ubuntu/OpenBSD with a manual configuration? I'm not afraid of getting my hands dirty and I know what I'm doing, but I want as close to zero maintenance as possible."
MTorrice writes "By attaching a lightweight, inexpensive device to the back of a smart phone, scientists can convert the phone into a sensitive fluorescence microscope. The attachment [paper abstract] allows the phone's camera to take pictures of single nanoparticles and viruses, possibly providing a portable diagnostic tool for health care workers in developing countries. For example, doctors in remote regions could use the technique to measure HIV viral loads in patients' blood samples, allowing the doctors to easily monitor disease progression and determine the best course of treatment."
judgecorp writes "Twelve men have been arrested over an attempt to take control of computers at a Santander bank branch in London using a stealthily planted KVM (keyboard, video and mouse) switch installed by a bogus maintenance engineer. The men were caught by the Metropolitan Police's Central e-Crimes Unit."
coop0030 writes "Adafruit has a new tutorial that will show you how to use your Raspberry Pi as a WiFi access point that blocks ads by default for any devices using it. This is really neat in that it would work for your Android or iOS device, your Xbox 360, TiVo, laptop, and more without needing to customize any of those devices other than to use your Raspberry Pi as the access point for WiFi. Using an ad-blocker can be useful for conserving bandwidth, helping out low-power devices, or for keeping your sanity while browsing the web!"
An anonymous reader writes "Using a Lego Mindstorms set, a Mac, and optical character recognition, Austrian professor Peter Purgathofer created a makeshift ebook copier. From the article: 'It's sort of a combination of high tech meets low. The scanning is done by way of the Mac's iSight camera. The Mindstorms set does two things: Hits the page-advance button on the Kindle (it appears to be an older model, like the one in the picture above), then mashes the space bar on the Mac, causing it to take a picture.' Purgathofer calls the creation a 'reflection on the loss of long established rights.' Check out the Vimeo video for a demonstration."
Lucas123 writes "Anticipating it will make a 'big splash,' Intel is planning to release an product late this year or very early next that will allow users to 'overclock' solid-state drives. The overclocking capability is expected to allow users to tweak the percentage of an SSD's capacity that's used for data compression. At its Intel Developers Forum next month in San Francisco, Intel has scheduled an information session on overclocking SSDs. The IDF session is aimed at system manufacturers and developers as well as do-it-yourself enthusiasts, such as gamers. 'We've debated how people would use it. I think the cool factor is somewhat high on this, but we don't see it changing the macro-level environment. But, as far as being a trendsetter, it has potential,' said Intel spokesman Alan Frost. Michael Yang, a principal analyst with IHS Research, said the product Intel plans to release could be the next evolution of SandForce controller, 'user definable and [with the] ability to allocate specified size on the SSD. Interesting, but we will have to see how much performance and capacity [it has] over existing solutions,' Yang said in an email reply to Computerworld."
cartechboy writes "Two Ph.D. students from MIT have created a keyboard accessory, the Pavlov Poke, that shocks you every time you go onto Facebook. The project comes as a result of the students finding the waste over 50 hours a week combined on the social network (instead of working on their dissertations) So the pair created an Arduino-based keyboard hand-rest that shocks computer users who spend too much time checking the social network. The hack is 'intended to generate discussion' — not actually turn into a business." Inventor Robert Morris describes it as "something of a joke," but I'm sure there's a market out there.
Zothecula writes "The additive layer process of conventional 3D printers means they are usually limited to bottom up fabrication on three axes. Now, the LA-based NSTRMNT team has created a 3D printing process called suspended disposition that gets around gravity by printing objects within a gel. Not only does this allow freeform additive fabrication on six axes, it also enables an 'undo' function."