Hacker, artist, maker that works for the Museum of Science in Boston.
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Join Hackaday And Tindie This Thursday At Open Hardware Summit

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This weekend Hackaday and Tindie will be trekking out to beautiful Cambridge, Massachusetts, for the greatest congregation of Open Source hardware enthusiasts on the planet. This is the Open Hardware Summit. It’s every year, most of the time in different places, and this year it’s back in the hallowed halls of MIT. Somebody put a car on the roof before we do.

The schedule for this year’s Open Hardware Summit is stuffed to the gills with interesting presentations sure to satiate every hardware nerd. We’ve got talks on Open Source Software Defined Radio, and the people behind the Hackaday Prize entry Programmable Air will be there talking about controlling soft robotics.

Really, though, this is an extravaganza filled with the people who make things, and here you’re not going to find a better crew. At every Open Hardware Summit we’ve attended, you can’t turn your head without locking eyes with someone with an interesting story of hardware heroics to tell.

This is, without a doubt, the greatest gathering of the people behind all your favorite hardware designs. The greats of 3D printing will be there, we’re going to get an update on the now two-year-old Open Hardware Certification program (hint: great success!), and there’s an awesome badge, as always. There will be some extra-special Hackaday swag in the goodie bags, sure to be a collectable. We’re going to be there with boots on the ground, but it’s still not too late to get tickets if you’re in the Boston area.





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jprodgers
21 days ago
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I can't wait for this!
Somerville, MA
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Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Modern Epic

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Click here to go see the bonus panel!

Hovertext:
It occurred to me after drawing this that's it's basically a summary of The End of History.


Today's News:
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jprodgers
25 days ago
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Cuts deep in unexpected ways.
Somerville, MA
popular
28 days ago
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2 public comments
jlvanderzwan
28 days ago
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Just one more way in which Superman/Clark Kent changed storytelling I guess
WorldMaker
28 days ago
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The secret identity was inside us this whole time
Louisville, Kentucky

Use TensorFlow and Raspberry Pi to Build an Automatic LEGO Sorter #piday #raspberrypi @Raspberry_Pi

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Via Hackster.io:

You know the problem: all of those LEGO kits you’ve bought over the years eventually end up all mixed up in a big tub. Before long, you’ve got a bin full of thousands of different kinds of bricks, and finding any specific kind of brick is like searching for a needle in a rainbow stack of needles. Fortunately, Paco Garcia has developed a solution, and you can follow his lead to build your own automatic LEGO sorter with TensorFlow running on a Raspberry Pi.

Garcia was inspired to build his LEGO sorter after seeing how a Japanese farmer used TensorFlow to sort cucumbers. The basic concept is straightforward: a camera takes a photo of a LEGO brick, and then TensorFlow determines what kind of brick it is. The brick is then placed in a bin with others of its kind. Of course, actually executing that concept was a big challenge, and Garcia’s automatic sorting machine took a lot of mechanical engineering skill.

Learn more


3055 06Each Friday is PiDay here at Adafruit! Be sure to check out our posts, tutorials and new Raspberry Pi related products. Adafruit has the largest and best selection of Raspberry Pi accessories and all the code & tutorials to get you up and running in no time!

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jprodgers
26 days ago
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Cute project, but oof, that speed.
Somerville, MA
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Simulate PIC and Arduino/AVR Designs with no Cloud

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I’ve always appreciated simulation tools. Sure, there’s no substitute for actually building a circuit but it sure is handy if you can fix a lot of easy problems before you start soldering and making PCBs. I’ve done quite a few posts on LTSpice and I’m also a big fan of the Falstad simulator in the browser. However, both of those don’t do a lot for you if a microcontroller is a major part of your design. I recently found an open source project called Simulide that has a few issues but does a credible job of mixed simulation. It allows you to simulate analog circuits, LCDs, stepper and servo motors and can include programmable PIC or AVR (including Arduino) processors in your simulation.

The software is available for Windows or Linux and the AVR/Arduino emulation is built in. For the PIC on Linux, you need an external software simulator that you can easily install. This is provided with the Windows version. You can see one of several videos available about an older release of the tool below. There is also a window that can compile your Arduino code and even debug it, although that almost always crashed for me after a few minutes of working. As you can see in the image above, though, it is capable of running some pretty serious Arduino code as long as you aren’t debugging.

Looks and sounds exciting, right? It is, but be sure to save often. Under Linux, it seems to crash pretty frequently even if you aren’t debugging. It also suffers from other minor issues like sometimes forgetting how to move components. Saving, closing the application, and reopening it seems to fix that. Plus, we assume they will squash bugs as they are reported. One of my major hangs was solved by removing the default (old) Arduino IDE and making sure the most recent was on the path. But the crashing was frequent and seemed more or less random. It seemed that I most often had crashes on Linux with occasional freezes but on Windows it would freeze but not totally crash.

Basic Operation

The basic operation is pretty much what you’d expect. The window is broadly divided into three panes. The leftmost pane shows, by default, a palette of components. You can use the vertical tab strip on the left to also pick a memory viewer, a property inspector, or a file explorer.

The central pane is where you can draw your circuit and it looks like a yellow piece of engineering paper with a grid. Along the top are file buttons that do things like save and load files.

You’ll see a similar row of buttons above the rightmost pane. This is a code editor and debugging window that can interface with the Arduino IDE. It looks like it can also interface with GCBasic for the PIC, although I didn’t try that.

You drag components from the left onto the circuit. Wiring isn’t a distinct operation. You just let the mouse float over the connection until the cursor makes a cross. Click and then drag to the connection point and click again. Sometimes the program forgets to make the cross cursor and then I’ve had to save and restart.

Most of the components are just what you think they are. There are some fun ones including a keypad, an LED matrix, text and graphic LCDs, and even stepper and servo motors. You’ll also find several logic functions, 7400-series ICs, and there are annotation tools like text and boxes at the very bottom. You can right click on a category and hide components you never want to see.

At the top, you can add a voltmeter, an ammeter, or an oscilloscope to your circuit. The oscilloscope isn’t that useful because it is small. What you really want to do is use a probe. This just shows the voltage at some point but you can right click on it and add the probe to the plotter which appears at the bottom of the screen. This is a much more useful scope option.

There are a few quirks with the components. The voltage source has a push button that defaults to off. You have to remember to turn it on or things won’t work well. The potentiometers were particularly frustrating. The videos of older versions show a nice little potentiometer knob and that appears on my Windows laptop, too. On Linux the potentiometer (and the oscilloscope controls) look like a little tiny joystick and it is very difficult to set a value. It is easier to right click and select properties and adjust the value there. Just note that the value won’t change until you leave the field.

Microcontroller Features

If that’s all there was to it, you’d be better off using any of a number of simulators that we’ve talked about before. But the big draw here is being able to plop a microcontroller down in your circuit. The system provides PIC and AVR CPUs that are supported by the simulator code it uses. There’s also four variants of Arduinos: the Uno, Nano, Duemilanove, and the Leonardo.

You can use the built-in Arduino IDE — just make sure you have the real Arduino software on your path and it is a recent version. Also, unlike the real IDE, it appears you must save your file before a download or debug will notice the changes. In other words, if you make a change and download, you’ll compile the code before the change if you didn’t save the file first. You don’t have to use the built-in IDE. You can simply right click on the processor and upload a hex file. Recent Arduino IDEs have an option to export a hex file, and that works with no problem.

When you have a CPU in your design, you can right click it and open a serial monitor port which shows virtual serial output at the bottom of the screen and lets you provide input.

The debugging mode is simple but works until it crashes. Even without debugging, there is an option to the left of the screen to watch memory locations and registers inside the CPU.

Overall, the Arduino simulation seemed to work quite well. Connecting to the Uno pins was a little challenging at certain scales and I accidentally wired to the wrong pin on more than one occasion. One thing I found odd is that you don’t need to wire the voltage to the Arduino. It is powered on even if you don’t connect it.

Besides the crashing, the other issue I had was with the simulation speed which was rather slow. There’s a meter at the top of the screen that shows how slow the simulation is compared to real-time and mine was very low (10% or so) most of the time. There is a help topic explaining that this depends if you have certain circuit elements and ways to improve the run time, but it wasn’t bad enough that I bothered to explore it.

My first thought was that it would be difficult to handle a circuit with multiple CPUs in it since the debugging and serial monitors are all set up for a single CPU. However, as the video below shows, you can run multiple instances of the program and connect them via a serial port connection. The only issue would be if you had a circuit where both CPUs were interfacing with interrelated circuitry (for example, an op amp summing two signals, one from each CPU).

A Simple Example

As an experiment, I created a simple circuit that uses an Uno. It generates two PWM signals, integrates them with an RC circuit and then either drives a load or drives a load through a bipolar emitter follower. A pot lets you set the PWM percentages which are compliments of each other (that is, when one is at 10% the other is at 90%). Here’s the circuit:

Along with the very simple code:

int v;

const int potpin=0;
const int led0=5;
const int led1=6;

void setup() {
Serial.begin(9600);
Serial.println("Here we go!");
}

void loop() {
int v=analogRead(potpin)/4;
Serial.println(v);
analogWrite(led0,v);
analogWrite(led1,255-v);
delay(250);
}

Note that if the PWM output driving the transistor drops below 0.7V or so, the transistor will shut off. I deliberately didn’t design around that because I wanted to see how the simulator would react. It correctly models this behavior.

There’s really no point to this other than I wanted something that would work out the analog circuit simulation as well as the Arduino. You can download all the files from GitHub, including the hex file if you want to skip the compile step.

If you use the built-in IDE on the right side of the screen, then things are very simple. You just download your code. If you build your own hex file, just right click on the Arduino and you’ll find an option to load a hex file. It appears to remember the hex file, so if you run a simulation again later, you don’t have to repeat that step unless you moved the hex file.

However, the IDE doesn’t remember settings for the plotter, the voltage switches, or the serial terminal. You’ll especially want to be sure the 5V power switch above the transistor is on or that part of the circuit won’t operate correctly. You can right click on the Arduino to open the serial monitor and right click on the probes to bring back the plotter pane.

The red power switch at the top of the window will start your simulation. The screenshots above show close-ups of the plot pane and serial monitor.

Lessons Learned

This could be a really great tool if it would not crash so much. In all fairness, that could have something to do with my PC, but I don’t think that fully accounts for all of them. However, the software is still in pretty early development, so perhaps it will get better. There are a lot of fit and finish problems, too. For example, on my large monitor, many of the fonts were too large for their containers, which isn’t all that unusual.

The user interface seemed a little clunky, especially when you had to manipulate potentiometers and switches. Also, remember you can’t right-click on the controls but must click on the underlying component. In other words, the pot looks like a knob on top of a resistor. Right clicks need to go on the resistor part, not the knob. I also was a little put off that you can’t enter multiplier suffixes directly in component values. That is, you can’t enter a resistor value as 1K. You can enter 1000 or you can enter 1 and then change the units in a separate field to Kohms. But that’s not a big deal. You can get used to all of that if it would quit crashing.

I really wanted the debugging feature to work. While you can debug directly with simuavr or other tools, you can’t easily simulate all your I/O devices like you can with this tool. I’m hoping that becomes more robust in the future. Under Linux it would work for a bit and crash. On Windows, I never got it to work.

As I always say, though, simulation is great, but the real world often leads to surprises that don’t show up in simulation. Still, a simulation can help you clear up a host of problems before you commit to heating up the soldering iron or pulling out the breadboard. Simuide has the potential to be a great tool for simulating the kind of designs we see most on Hackaday.

If you want to explore other simulation options, we’ve talked a lot about LTSpice, including our Circuit VR series. There’s also the excellent browser-based Falstad simulator.





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jprodgers
27 days ago
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Much like the article, I found that it crashes too frequently to be useful. It crapped the bed just trying to get a Schmidt trigger inverting circuit to work, but it eventually did. Has potential, so I'll keep an eye on it, but it's a ways away from useful quite yet.
Somerville, MA
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Braille on a Tablet Computer

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Signing up for college classes can be intimidating, from tuition, textbook requirements, to finding an engaging professor. Imagine signing up online, but you cannot use your monitor. We wager that roughly ninety-nine percent of the hackers reading this article have it displayed on a tablet, phone, or computer monitor. Conversely, “Only one percent of published books is available in Braille,” according to [Kristina Tsvetanova] who has created a hybrid tablet computer with a Braille display next to a touch-screen tablet running Android. The tablet accepts voice commands for launching apps, a feature baked right into Android. The idea came to her after helping a blind classmate sign up for classes.

Details on the mechanism are not clear, but they are calling it smart liquid, so it may be safe to assume hydraulic valves control the raised dots, which they call “tixels”. A rendering of the tablet can be seen below the break. The ability to create a full page of braille cells suggest they have made the technology pretty compact. We have seen Braille written on PCBs, a refreshable display based on vibrator motors, and a nicely sized Braille keyboard that can fit on the back of a mobile phone.





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jprodgers
27 days ago
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I wish they had any videos of the device in action instead of marketing stuff, but it looks like they may have an actual product.
Somerville, MA
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Review: Mega-hit boardgame Scythe goes digital on Steam

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Article intro image

Enlarge (credit: Asmodee Digital)

Scythe is a heavy German-style board game that combines worker placement, area control, resource management, a little combat, and a point salad scoring with a setup so ornate that Alice Waters wanted to put it on her menu (read our original review of the game to see for yourself.) Scythe has been among the top-rated games on BoardGameGeek since its 2016 release thanks to an extremely well-balanced design, very little randomness, and the use of many different mechanics in a single game. But it comes with a steep learning curve—both for rules and strategy—which makes the game ideal for a digital adaptation.

Asmodee Digital, which has established itself as the premier developer for high-end ports of board games, has just released its version of Scythe: Digital Edition to Steam (for both Mac and Windows), and it is unsurprisingly superb. Scythe can easily take two-plus hours on tableto, but it's now accessible to more players through an excellent tutorial and a clever UI that keeps the screen clear while ensuring that key information is available to players.

That's important because Scythe requires you to track a tremendous number of things: you’re producing and spending four different resources, collecting three forms of currency (gold, power, and popularity), and trying to achieve six out of about a dozen possible objectives (such as getting to eight workers, building all four buildings, or reaching 16 power within a turn). The digital Scythe handles all of this accounting for you, keeping track of what you can do, what you still have left to do, and oh by the way did you forget you were entitled to this? There’s nothing intuitive at all about the rules of Scythe, and it’s the kind of game that will likely keep even experienced players peeking at the rule book. The app handles all of that quite smoothly, offering mouse-over prompts so you know what each option does and a series of questions and confirmation dialogs for each set of actions you can take.

In Scythe, you get to choose one action per turn, though if you have the right resources, you may get to take an associated second action. With rare exceptions, you can’t use the same action on consecutive turns, but you can plan your actions out several turns in advance as you build out your area of the map to achieve certain objectives. There’s limited interaction with other players—combat exists, and one objective is to win two battles, but fighting is neither necessary to win the game nor terribly satisfying—so long-term strategy is both possible and essential. As the game progresses, if you’ve planned well, your actions become more powerful, so you will produce more resources at one time or gain more bonuses. You might take half the game to achieve your first objective (shown as a star on your player icon in the lower right of the screen) but then find yourself hitting a new one every few turns after that.

Once any player has achieved six objectives, the game ends and the scoring begins. Players earn points for coins collected, areas controlled on the map, and star tokens placed for achievements. After this, each player earns a multiplier based on their final “popularity” score. Thus, you can be the first player to achieve six objectives but still not win the game, so delaying that end-game trigger may sometimes be to your advantage.

Your personal player mat has two rows of four action spaces, although some of those spaces offer you a choice of two different actions. For example, the top left space may give you the right to move two units one space each or acquire one gold coin; then, if you have the resources already, you can spend two oil to upgrade one space somewhere on your mat—such as increasing your movement ability from two units to three. The game will prompt you to accept each decision and remind you if you forget to take an action. If you lack the resources to take a bottom-row action, the game makes it clear on the bottom of the screen rather than forcing you to count your oil or figure out why the action isn’t available. This is particularly important for certain actions that provide a one-time bonus that isn’t immediately obvious from the digital player map. (I regularly try to End Turn too early because I forget I'm supposed to get that bonus.)

The on-screen display manages to keep the information you need within one click, while not cluttering the center of the screen where the map (and thus the action) lies. You can expand the top bar to the right to see your counts in all of those categories I mentioned above as well as how far you've progressed on some of the objectives, and you can expand it down into the main area of the screen to see where opposing players stand in the same areas. You can open several text screens on the left side of the screen that provide information, like a list of all possible objectives you can achieve or the two private objectives you were dealt for this game. The developers also did an excellent job of making sure that highlighted areas on the map or choices on the player mat are sufficiently distinguished by their colors. You can also get a preview of the final score at any time to see if you’re ready to end the game or if you need to buy more popularity to boost your multiplier.

The Scythe: Digital Edition trailer

The Steam version of Scythe has run smoothly for me for months, even as Asmodee Digital has pushed upgrades to the Early Access version I was playing. The tutorial is long but entirely necessary, and I felt completely prepared to at least play the game after finishing it (though it took several games against the Easy AI players to get the hang of the planning process). There are still a few areas where something happens on the screen that isn’t clear—for example, playing as the Crimea faction, I had the special ability to use a two-power combat card in lieu of a resource, but I didn’t realize that was happening until after the game ended and I looked it up. Experienced Scythe players will likely know these rules quirks, but new players could use a more direct on-screen explanation.

That's a minor quibble for an app of this complexity. I’m not a huge fan of the tabletop version of Scythe, yet I found the app consistently enjoyable, even when I was still learning the game and getting my clock cleaned regularly by the easy opponents. That joy is in part that’s because of how quickly this game plays; entire games against three bots take just half an hour.

It’s on the expensive side for a board game port at $19.99, but the tabletop version costs $80 and the digital version packs more into its design than just about any other board game app I’ve played. Scythe: Digital Edition sets a new standard for porting complex Euro-style cardboard titles to the digital realm. With some other heavy titles in Asmodee Digital’s pipeline—including Terraforming Mars later this year and Gloomhaven in 2019—tabletop players and video gamers alike should be encouraged to see this release come out as well as it has.

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jprodgers
30 days ago
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I have Scythe and it's expansions, and I highly recommend it for the type of folks that like longer board games. I'm throwing this on my wishlist though, as I'll probably buy it once the digital version is under $10.
Somerville, MA
MotherHydra
22 days ago
I'm tempted to get Scythe, how long does a typical session take?
jprodgers
22 days ago
If everyone knows what they are doing, then you can finish in under two hours. In practice, if you have any new players, then you are going to add much more time. It's complicated to teach, but the basics of what you can do each turn are fairly simple. I really enjoy its gameplay, and I'm really glad I spent the money on the metal coins, as it becomes a premium board game experience. I'd say pick up the digital version or check it out of a local board game library (if you're lucky enough to live near one). Playing it even once will tell you whether you're going to like the game or not.
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