Blocks modular synth sounds almost as good as it looks

Blocks is a tiny synth system that fits in a laptop bag but looks like a ton of fun, with various modules that click together, weird touch- and pressure-sensitive rubbery keys and pads, and various "control" blocks for looping, recording, sequencing, and MIDI/USB connections to other gear.

Roli Blocks [Amazon]

They also sell a range of keyboard controllers using the same design. Even the two-octave models are awfully expensive; I don't even want to know how much the "grand" model is.

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Don't buy the crappy TruTemp digital thermometer

It's invariably the cheapest on the shelf, but the Taylor/TruTemp 3516 I got at Target fell apart the first time I pushed the button. It's the shabbiest piece of electronic tat I've bought from a major U.S. retailer. Don't buy it! A different brand is only $4 at Amazon, has good reviews, and isn't held together by the clasping pressure of a plastic cap that will obviously expand when pushed.

I even tried gluing it on with superglue. Then it stopped working altogether. Then I threw it in the trash. Read the rest

Third Thumb: an opposable prosthetic enhancement

Designer Dani Clode's Third Thumb is a 3D printed robotic prosthetic thumb that goes on the pinky side of your hand, created a motorized, opposable additional thumb that you can use to play the guitar, pick up objects, or crack an egg. Read the rest

Steampunk, Arduino-powered electro-mechanical clock

Redditor/machinist Spdltd was commissioned to create a steampunk, Arduino-powered electromechanical clock that uses a combination of belts, dials and needles arrayed across the wall to tell the time. Read the rest

Kickstarting maker-kits for kids based on conductive play-doh

Technology Will Save Us (previously) have fully funded their Dough Universe Kickstarter, maker kits for kids that combine conductive play-doh ("electro-dough") with simple components like motors and switches with apps that make it all programmable. Read the rest

California has so much solar power it has to pay Arizona to use its energy

...But California keeps green-lighting more natural gas plants, thanks to hydrocarbon industry pressure on state regulators, who operate at cross-purposes to the legislature and its targets for renewables. Read the rest

A tiny Hayes modem for your tiny retro computer

The WiFi232 is a traditional old-timey old-schooley Hayes-compatible 300-115200 baud modem, no wider than its own parallel DB25 port.

Automatically responds with a customizable busy message when already in a call.

The killer app seems to be using it to get internet onto ancient retro portables like the TRS-80 Model 102, but it's been put through its paces on various 16-bit Commodores, Ataris and Apples too. Here's Blake Patterson:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=92RIT_L-8jA

The purpose of the device is to act as a bridge between your serial port and your local WiFi router. It has a 25-pin RS-232 data interface and a Mini-USB connector for power — it should work with any computer sporting a standard serial port.

The WiFi232 is configured by connecting to the device’s built-in web server and loading the configuration page or by issuing extended AT configuration commands. For example,

AT$SSID=MyWifiHotspotName

points the device to your WiFi hotspot. Once things are configured (it supports 300 to 115,200 baud), just load up your favorite terminal program, type:

ATDT bbs.myfavbbs.com

and the WiFi232 “dials” into that telnet BBS. Your vintage computer thinks its talking on the phone.

It's $33 as a pile o' parts or $49 assembled, but there's a waiting list. Read the rest

iPhone killed tinkering, but only if you want to tinker with iPhone

Most tech-media takes on the iPhone's 10th anniversary are bland and self-congratulatory, but I like Tom Warren's at The Verge. He laments how Apple's pocket computer killed his inner nerd. As a youngster, he'd be constantly tearing down and building computers, even in the sweltering heat of summer. But now...

...All of that tinkering and hacking things ended for me shortly after the iPhone arrived ... When I look at modern PCs, tablets, and phones now I’m surprised at the simplicity of them. Not all of them are perfect, but technology is rapidly turning into something in the background that’s accessible to everyone and doesn’t require hours of configuration. I miss the thrill of hacking away and tinkering, but as I shout to Alexa to turn off my lights at night I can’t help but appreciate just how easy everything is now.

If anything I've had the opposite experience. I hate having to fiddle with technology because I have to if I want it to do something interesting, or simply to work in the first place. But now tinkering is all creation. Experimentation, hacking--all of it is freed from whatever technical needs I have.

Perhaps what people miss is the feeling that tinkering with tech will put them on the cutting edge of performance, will move them into the unequally-distributed future. But the same thing is now diversion, mere art, and that's not what they care about.

It's true, though, that the iPhone made gadgets boring. It's striking, when you look at the products released around that time and for years thereafter, just how astronomically ahead of the game Apple was in 2007. Read the rest

$70 Hackintosh matches MacBook Pro

Snazzy Labs built a startlingly powerful Mac with only $70—editing the video above on it to prove it!

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The $7 vertical ergonomic mouse is not awful

I suffer from mild RSI: a warning to stop, but one that goes away when I do stop. The trigger is using a mouse for extended periods. The alternatives for general everyday computer use aren't great for my work habits, which center on precise pointing and clicking, so I'm in the bad habit of mousing until the ache begins, stopping, then picking it right back up later. I'd never tried a vertical mouse in the past because my malfunction is mild, the ergonomic improvements aren't clear, and they tend to be expensive. But the OJA Wireless Vertical Ergonomic mouse is only $6.99 on Amazon, so I decided to give it an impulse-buy shot.

I imagined it would be an absolutely terrible mouse, but expected that I could at least use it long enough to see if the enormous vertical wedge shape of it would be good for my hand. As it happened, this thing is probably good enough to keep, with only a couple of slightly annoying issues holding me back.

From the design, it appears to be a knockoff of something by Logitech, with dark gray satin plastic, chrome trim on the mousewheel, and large dimensions all around. It's wireless (a provided USB dongle fits inside the mouse for storage) and charges via USB cable. There two thumb buttons in addition to the usual left, right and wheel buttons. There's a DPI switch and an a power toggle underneath. The photos on the Amazon page depict it with FCC and CE symbols that are not in fact present on the device. Read the rest

Review: bug-zapping lightbulbs are worthless

I got one of those bug-zapping LED lightbulbs, in hopes of murdering the flies drifting into my office during the increasingly warm and muggy Pennsylvania summer. I got mine from Home Depot, but the bulbs at Lowes, Wal-Mart and Amazon are all obviously identical. There are two lights in each bulb: an ultraviolet one inside an electrified bug-zapping cage, and a standard 60W-equivalent LED element to light the room. You can have one or both lit simply by turning the light off and on repeatedly within a second: it sounds clunky, but in practice is an ingenious way to cycle the options without adding interface elements.

But it doesn't matter, because they're useless.

I installed my bulb in three locations, moving it every couple of days until a week had passed. As a control, I moved one of those traditional gooey fly strips likewise.

Subjectively, neither did much to stop the flies, a job clearly best accomplished by closing the damn windows.

Objectively, the death tolls were as follows:

Traditional fly strip: 9 bugs, 3 large.

Bug-zapping lightbulb: 4 bugs, all tiny. (The bulb is pictured here, without cleaning)

VERDICT: Don't be tempted: they're not half as good as fly strips and are many times the price. The only advantage they have is not being quite so gross when you throw them in the trash. Read the rest

A DRM-locked, $400 tea-brewing machine from the Internet of Shit timeline

Did you buy a useless $400 "smart" juicer and now feel the need to accessorize it with more extrusions from the Internet of Shit timeline? Then The Leaf from Teaforia is just the thing: it's a tea-maker that uses DRM-locked tea-pods to brew tea in your kitchen so you don't have to endure the hassle of having the freedom to decide whose tea you brew in your tea-brewing apparatus, and so that you can contribute to the impending environmental apocalypse by generating e-waste every time you make a cup of tea. Read the rest

Blogger killed by exploding gadget

A popular French blogger was killed after a pressurized whipped cream dispenser exploded and struck her in the chest.

French media reported she had died of cardiac arrest after the incident, despite medical attention.

The popular fitness and travel figure was well-known in France, with some 55,000 Facebook fans and 154,000 followers on Instagram.

One of Ms Burger's family members took to Instagram, warning readers not to use the dispenser, saying that tens of thousands of "defective devices" remain in circulation.

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Spirited Away's No-Face as a mechanical piggy bank

The Kaonashi No-Face Piggy Bank makes the most out of one of the coolest characters in Studio Ghibli's storied history -- but getting one exported to you from Japan costs an astounding $164. (via Kadrey) Read the rest

Releasing a Cthulhoid podcast on wax cylinders

Paul from Yog Soggoth Dot Com writes, "To celebrate 19 years of the YSDC web site we've released a Limited Edition Wax Cylinder recording of one of our podcast shows on 19 cylinders. Yes, there really is a podcast on it. Fewer than 19 cylinders are available from the set as some people already have them." Read the rest

Make: a gorgeous, dramatic Internet Kill Switch

Want to be really sure that your Internet of Things gadgets and laptops aren't being remotely controlled by malware? Read the rest

The Commute Deck: a homebrew Unix terminal for tight places

Kerry Scharfglass designed his "Commute Deck" as a laptop alternative for his morning commute: it combines a mechanical keyboard (running the TMK open keyboard firmware), a 7", 720p display from Adafruit, a long-life USB battery, and a Raspberry Pi 2 with USB, wifi and Bluetooth dongles, and a little USB hub, all mounted on a laser-cut 1/4" plywood chassis. Read the rest

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