A Busy Night at the HacDC Cave

On a recent night in HacDC headquarters, Tim C. touched the probes of a volt-ohm-meter to a set of pins on the end of a tube projecting from the back of a worn-looking metal panel which stood about two feet tall, a foot wide, and several inches deep. The pins connected to a lighted, yellow, circular, push switch about a quarter of an inch in diameter, which poked out of the front of the panel. It joined a crowd of dozens.
“I’m reanimating it,” Tim said, nodding to the Univac 1180 tape-drive front panel. But no response from the light. Nothing’s simple. Next step, “reverse engineering,” Tim said. Going to have to peer deep into the wiring that extrudes from the back of the panel like skeins of yarn. Also fun — checking every bulb to see if it’s working.
On another front, Nick B., John P., and Martin R. were wrangling with the payload of one of the Spaceblimp 4 containers — an ordinary, insulated, zippered, six-pack bag. They manipulated padded cameras, sensors, circuit boards, radio beacons, and other highly valuable junk, trying them on for size and fit, like pieces in a puzzle. Most were encased in cut pieces of insulation, taped together to form boxes. Launch date is coming up fast — Saturday April 2, 2011. For a full list of payload components and details of the balloon and communications provisions, see http://wiki.hacdc.org/index.php/HacDC_Spaceblimp.
A small solar panel was proving vexing. How to protect its surface with a cover that would allow sunlight in, and at the same time protect the bottom with a substrate that could be affixed to the floppy, plastic, six-pack bag — and keep it all lightweight? The ziplock bag under consideration as a carrier for the panel was producing frowns all around. And whatever the carrier, how to attach it to the bucket? Epoxy? Double-sided tape? Silicone sealant, someone suggested. Just as quickly, another voice wondered if that would hold up at minus 40°C. It can get that cold when you’re reaching for 100,000 feet.
Over in the classroom area, Elliot W. was teaching Microcontroller Monday. “I’m developing a new microcontroller class,” he said. “This is the beta version.” They’re working with AVR’s AT Mega 88 Atmel chip. In this night’s class, he was showing students how to make the microcontroller do analog input and output. For example, how to read voltages between 0 and 5, and “make something happen at a particular value,” he said. Say, maybe, turn on an indoor light when the outdoor light is fading. There was also a lot of interest in smooth motor control. Were the students impressed? Yeah, Elliot said, adding he heard a lot of people saying, “You can do that?”