Pics of Microsoft Live Anywhere on Mobile Phone

“SuperRob” of Kotaku snapped a few fuzzy (okay, they’re more than fuzzy, they’re kind of horrible!) pics of MS Live Anywhere from Major Nelson’s phone (he of the Xbox dev team). If you squint really hard, you can kind of make out what’s going on…

Is This the Next Hardware Recall?

Some dude is claiming that his Maxtor DiamondMax 200GB hard drive went kablooey (“The flames were a good three inches high…”). He thinks one of the chips on the drive controller (see pic) may have gotten nuked (“one of the chips on the bottom of the HDD is burned badly, it actually looks like it exploded, some of the legs came de-soldered and are actually bent outwards like they blew out…”). He had it out of the case when it happened, so maybe he shorted something.

Here’s a link to the item and more pics (currently getting slash-dotted).

Street Tech Feature: Awesome Twin-Engine Solarroller Robot

I recently became aware of a BEAM builder named Zach DeBord who had a number of his creations on Flickr. I decided to pick his brain on one of his creations — a two engine, four storage cap, 2 solarengine circuit “Solarroller” — for a Street Tech DIY feature.

If you built tmy beginner solarroller from the cover story in MAKE Vol. 6, this could be a perfect follow-up project. This uses a variation of the solarengine (SE).circuit. This variation’s called a FLED SE because it uses a Flashing LED as its voltage trigger. Confused? Read on, the piece explains how this works…

Twin-Engine Solarroller

Gopod bless Flickr! While searching on it recently to see if anyone else had built Mousey the Junkbot or a Symet or Solarroller inspired by my recent BEAM robotics articles in MAKE, I discovered Zach DeBord and his amazing BEAM creations. A Chicago-based designer and Web developer who’s done work for (among others) Comcast, Volvo and Yellow Tail (mmm…wine), Zach’s bots put the “A” (as in “Aesthetics”) back into BEAM, with gorgeous, meticulous designs that are as much objets d’art as autonomous robo-critters.

All of his robots are awesome-looking, but I was instantly attracted to this roller because it’s bigger than any solarroller I’ve ever seen and it uses two solar cells, four storage capacitors, and two gearmotors. Ingeniously, this roller can be steered (sorta). Zach writes: “It is currently configured to go forwards, but by angling either solar panel, it will turn more in one direction since one panel will be getting more light. With both panels angled in the same direction, it is pretty phototropic.”

The two large drive wheels on the roller where made from the discs in old SyQuest 270MB 3.5″ removable cartridges. Of these, Zach sez: “The SyQuest platters make great wheels except that they are fairly slick. I plan on getting some rubberizing paint and putting beads along the edges to give the wheels more traction.” The third wheel, an idler, “keeps the motors from dragging on the ground. It is actually a small plastic part also taken out of the SyQuest disc.”

For this design, Zach used two FLED-based voltage-triggered Solar Engines (Type 1). In my “Beginner’s Guide to BEAM” and the “Two BEAMBots” projects in MAKE Vol. 6, we also discussed and used voltage-triggered Type 1 SEs, but they used a 1381 voltage detector IC to control the circuit. FLED-based SEs use a Flashing LED (hence “FLED”) in place of the 1381. On the FLED SE page on the Circuits Library on, this is how BEAM guru Wilf Rigter describes the way in which such a circuit works:

“The solar cell charges the main capacitor until the voltage is high enough for the FLED to start flashing. When the FLED flashes, current flows through the FLED and the base of the PNP transistor and it turns on. Now current passes through the PNP into the base of the NPN transistor and it turns on. When the NPN turns on the collector which is connected to the motor and the 2.2K resistor goes low (to GND). This places a voltage across the 2.2K resistor which provides more base current for the PNP transistor which makes it turn on even more. That is called positive feedback or latching of the circuit because both the PNP and NPN transistors remain on until the main capacitor is discharged to less than 0.7V. When the capacitor voltage drops below 0.7V the PNP and NPN transistors both turn off because of the minimum voltage required to keep the base emitter turned on.”

Here is a schematic for the basic FLED SE circuit, taken from Beam-Online.

Zach on building BEAM Roller circuits: “I usually build engines in a batch for later use. In the image below, you can see that there are sockets on top of the engine circuits (made from IC socket pins). These are used to easily plug in the solar cells. The two leads (red and black) coming out of the back of the engines go to the motors. In this picture you can see the two types of engines that I make: one “classic” configuration with storage capacitors (the two engines on the left) and another config using Polyacene disk batteries in place of the caps (which deliver roughly .6 Farads of stored power). These are represented by the three engines on the right.”


Parts List

Here is a list of the parts that Zach used to build his bot. Solarbotics parts numbers are given, but you can also get many of these parts from your own techno-junk collection, from Radio Shack, or other electronics sources (see “Resources List” below).

Quantity Part Solarbotics Parts # Notes
SyQuest Disc Platters N/A Dumpster diving, anyone?
3v Solar Cells #SC2433 Any 3v cells, such as the 24mm x 33mm ones SB sells.
Gear Motor GM3 #GM3 These are 224:1 90-degree shaft motors
2200uF caps N/A N/A
4700uF caps #CP4700uF N/A
2N3904 NPN transistors #TR3904 N/A
2N3906 PNP transistors #TR3906 N/A
Flashing LEDs #FLED N/A
2.2K-ohm resistors #R2.2k N/A
IC Socket pins #SPin24 These are on a 24-pin DIP that you pull off to use.
1/2″ piece of 1/4″ tube N/A Used as a spacer between engines.
1.5″ screw N/A To fasten engines together (via hole on motor casings. You just need to find a screw that’ll fit snuggly.
Round plastic piece N/A To be used as back stabilizing wheel. Zach got his from the same SyQuest disc.
Heat Shrink Tubing N/A Radio Shack has an assortment in various sizes. You’ll want it all the way up to 2″ dia.
Heavy Duty “Jumbo” Paper Clip N/A N/A
Hook-up Wire N/A Use red and black to keep things colorful and polarity-coded.

Zach’s twin-engine roller next to a more
common single-engine variety.

Resource List

Here are a few of the parts suppliers and websites that Zach (and I) recommend when planning out a BEAM project.

These guys are the go-to source for everything BEAM. I’ve been buying from them (and working with them) for many years and have always been impressed with their intense devotion to the BEAM hobby (and their customers).

Hobby Engineering
Good source for motors, robot kits, parts, and other geekly goodies.

Goldmine Electronics
I’ve never met a hardware geek who didn’t heart the Goldmine. If you’re not on their free catalog mailing list, get on it! It’s a treasure-trove of weird and wonderful parts and deep discounted gadgets.

Zach sez (and I concur): “Great for any extra parts you might need. You may be able to find parts a little cheaper elsewhere but I’ve found that their fast shipping and great packaging (every item comes in a clearly marked bag) makes it worth any savings you might find elsewhere.”

Several good places in Hong Kong offer cheap LEDs via eBay.
The BEAM community portal. The Library section drops all sorts of mad science on BEAM theory and practice.

Another venerable and useful site for all things related to BEAM.

Zach’s BEAM Bots on Flickr
To see additional (and hi-res) versions of these images, and Zach’s other bots, check out his Flickr page. To learn more about his design and fine arts work, visit his website.

Universal to Offer Catalog for Free Downloading

Universal Music Group (UMG) has just announced a partnership with SpiralFrog, a New York-based startup, that’s developed a music downloading service where consumers “pay” for the music by watching “non-intrusive, contextually-relevant, targeted advertising.” From the SpiralFrog press release it sounds like they’ll offer free music video downloads as well. Amazingly, they’ll still be crapping everything up with DRM. The press release says:

“Piracy continues to be one of the biggest issues facing the music industry… Digital rights protection will help us combat piracy and provide peace of mind for the record labels and the artists.”

Um…you’re going to be giving the music away. With the state of DRM tech today, even giving it away in this manner is not likely to deal a killing blow to piracy.

Here’s the SpiralFrog PR.

Update: TechCrunch has something of a scoop. They talked to someone who does PR for SpiralFrog. He claimed that downloads will only be listenable on one PC and two mobile devices (no iPods!), and that, you’ll have to log onto SpiralFrog at least once a month to view ads or all your music will go bye-bye. Charming. Untenable. A digital dodo in the making.

Thanks, Alberto!

Are Strategy Guides Actually Making Games Harder?

Over at 2Old2Game, Snakemeister has an interesting piece on the growing popularity, and indespensibility, of official game strategy guides. Have these guides led to games becoming more complex, possibly to warrant the purchasing of such guides, which has led to games getting even more complex, which means you can never actually fully explore a game world without a guide, and on and on you go, down the rabbit hole? In part, he concludes:

“I like to think that developers and publishers realised that their customers were looking for more content, more depth to their games, more ‘bang for their buck’ if you will. They needed the maximum return on their investment (that phrase again). As the games became more complex, the need for strategy guides, official and unofficial, became greater. The moment that strategy guides started to become official, developers were able to place secrets into their games that would guarantee the need for a guide. It’s unavoidable that these secrets would eventually be passed around online for free, but there will always be gamers, who will be seduced by the lure of a glossy 200 page strategy guide, shrink wrapped to protect its secrets, every inch of it screaming quality. And yes, I do count myself among those gamers.”

More Chumby Info

Bunnie Huang, co-developer of the chumby, offers some of his thoughts and some more background info on the device, on bunnie’s blog:

“So, the cat is out of the bag, and I’m finally able to talk about a project that I have had the priviledge of working on for the past several months. I have been working on the chumby, an inexpensive (sub-$150) Wi-Fi enabled content delivery device that is designed to be used around the home. From the hacker’s perspective, chumby is basically a linux client that runs a Flash player and streams content from the “chumby network”, our content management service. In my mind, these were the goals of the chumby design:

* simple. A non-hacker user familiar with computers– for example, a typical teenager–should be able to set up and use a chumby. In addition to a lot of thought put into the UI, the chumby network’s ability to deliver drag-and-drop content via Flash widgets is the tehnological cornerstone for chumby’s simplicity. It is this simplicity that differentiates chumby from general purpose devices such as PDAs and laptops.

* fun. This is a device whose core consumer market is not the gadget fanatic. It needs to be accessible to everyone, so we are trying to take the industrial design in a direction that we like to call the “anti-iPod”.

* deep. A fatal flaw in many “simple” products is that they are too shallow, and miss key features that would make them useful. Products like the Civa pictureframe, the Ambient Orb, and the Nabaztag rabbit are examples of devices that are too one-dimensional and lack depth. And this leads us up to the most important goal for me–

* yours. The chumby is architected to be as open as possible to anybody who wants to hack it. In the design of the system, we consider not only open source software hackers, but also hardware hackers and artists and “crafters”–e.g., people who are equally skilled in their ability and passion to do non-computer things, such as metalworking, sewing, carpentry, etc.”

You may also want to check out some close-up pics of the chumby mobo here and here.
Also, Bunnie addresses some the controversy around chumby’s End User License Agreement (EULA) here.

Homebrewed Xbox Portable

Move over Ben Heck, this dude wants a shot at making crazy portable game boxes, too. This one’s an Xbox married to a PSOne screen and stuffed into a vaccum-formed box the builder fabbed up himself. Can’t say much for that horrid green pain job. Yick.

[Via hackAday]

Open Wide for Chumby

Heard of the chumby? You may not have up until now, but if the developers’ hunches are correct, you’ll be hearing a lot about it in the near future, and especially if you’re a hacker type, you’ll *have* to have one to play around with. They’re expected to retail for about US$150.

The chumby is basically a small Wi-Fi enabled Internet appliance. But unlike other such devices of the past, this one is designed to be tinkered with, hacked, customized, and set up exactly how you want it. In fact, it was dreamt up by Bunnie Huang and Joe Grand (among others), both members of Make magazine’s advisory board. One of the cool pieces of hardware inside the unit is the “chumbilical cord.” Christine Herron, who played around with the chumby at this weekend’s annual FOO camp (Friends of O’Reilly) explains the geeky details:

“Chumby runs on a a 266MHz ARM controller, with 32MB SDRAM running at 133MHz bus speed and a six-layer board. The touchscreen is a 3.5” TFT LCD with LED backlighting, and an ambient light sensor tells chumby when to dim its backlighting. There are stereo speakers, a headphone jack, and a power supply that can use between 6 and 14 volts. A squeeze sensor allows users to open up the case after it’s been nestled inside its soft, Tribble-like shell.

“My favorite item: the “chumbilical.” This plugs into the board, and has a daughter card attached. As bunnie says, it’s a “hacker-friendly portal to the world.” This small card has USB; an SBI bus; and outputs for the bend sensor, speaker, battery, microphone, etc. Embedded software developer Steele also delivered a bunch of back doors for the hardware hacker.”

Read her entire posting here.
Here’s Dylworld’s coverage of the Foo show and tell, including a pic of Bunnie holding one of his little electronic Tribbles.