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Cordless Tool Battery Pack Turned into Portable Bench Supply

24 March, by Dan Maloney[ —]

Say what you want about the current crop of mass-marketed consumer-grade cordless tools, but they’ve got one thing going for them — they’re cheap. Cheap enough, in fact, that they offer a lot of hacking opportunities, like this portable bench power supply that rides atop a Ryobi battery.

Like many of the more common bench supply builds we’ve seen,  [Pat K]’s more portable project relies on the ubiquitous DPS5005 power supply module, obtained from the usual sources. [Pat K] doesn’t get into specifics on performance, but supplied with 18 volts from a Ryobi One+ battery, the DC-DC programmable module should be able to do up to about 16 volts. Mating the battery to the supply is easy with the 3D-printed case, which has a socket for the battery that mimics the sockets on tools from the Ryobi line. It’s simple and effective, as well as neatly executed. The files for the case are on Thingiverse; sadly, only an STL file is included, so if you want to support another brand’s batteries, you’ll have to roll your own.

Check out some of the other power supplies we’ve featured that use the DPS5005 and its cousins, like this nice bench unit. We’ve also covered some of the more hackable aspects of this module, such as an open-source firmware replacement.

Business On The Outside, Electronics Workstation On The Inside

24 March, by James Hobson[ —]

As an electrical engineering student, [Brandon Rice] had the full suite of electronics tools you’d expect. Cramming them all into a dorm room was doable — but cramped — a labour to square everything away from his desk’s top when he had to work on something else. To make it easier on himself, he built himself a portable electronics workstation inside the dimensions of a briefcase.

Built from scratch, the workstation includes a list of features that should have you salivating by the end. Instead of messing with a bunch of cables, on-board power is supplied by a dismantled 24V, 6A power brick, using a buck converter and ATmega to regulate and display the voltage, with power running directly to  12V and 5V lines of a breadboard in the middle of the workstation. A wealth of components are stored in two dozen 3d printed 1″ capsules setting them in loops pinned to the lid.

If all this was not already enough, there’s more!

Since he’ll be soldering a lot, there’s obviously an included soldering station, but were you expecting a helping hand and a carbon-filtered fume extractor? How about a folding overhead light to boot? Spools of wire are off to the rear to be tugged on when needed, and a drawer tucked into the side keeps circuit boards and jumper wires organized. There’s also a power strip along the other side — [Rice] notes that it was handier than he realized — for any other devices you might need. There’s even a built-in Arduino.

Hungry for more? How about a second serving, or even desert?

Ground-Effect Lighting For Your Bed.

24 March, by James Hobson[ —]

If you’ve ever disturbed your partner by getting up during the night and flicking on the bathroom light — or tripping over something and startling them awake completely in the ensuing catastrophe — [Kristjan Berce]’s idea to install motion-activated ground-effect lighting on his girlfriend’s bed might hold your attention.

[Berce] is using an Arduino Nano for the project’s brain, a PIR sensor from Adafruit, and an L7805 voltage regulator to handle load spikes.  He doesn’t specify the type of LED strip he’s using, but Neopixels might be a safe bet here. Soldering issues over with, he mounted his protoboard in a 3D printed project box. Instead of reinventing the LED, [Berce] copied the code from Adafruit’s PIR tutorial before sticking the project to the side of the bed with adhesive strips so the on/off switch within handy reach to flick before meeting Mr. Sandman. Check out the build video after the break!

Once back in bed, a Fall Asleep Device should help you make the most of your remaining sleep hours.

DIY Perpetual Flip Calendar

play episode
24 March, by Rich Hawkes[ —]

Flip calendars are a neat little piece of history. Sold as tourist trinkets, they sit on your desk and show the current day of the month and, depending on the particular calendar, month and year. Each day, you rotate it and it shows you the current date. At the end of February, you rotate it a bunch of times to get from February 28th (or 29th) to March 1st. [measuredworkshop] always had fun flipping the dates on his parents’ flip calendar, so decided to build his own wooden one.

The calendars consist of a series of tiles with the dates on them inside an enclosure. Rotating the enclosure allows a new tile to slide down in front of the old one. Once you know how many tiles you are going to use, you put a different date on the back side of each tile. In [measuredworkshop]’s case, there were 15 tiles to hold 30 dates (he created one with 30/31 on it for the end of the month) so the 1 has a 16 on the back, the 2 a 17, and so on. Tiles of different colored wood were cut and sanded and then the numbers drawn on by hand.

The enclosure was cut using a Morso Guillotine, a machine which uses sharp blades to do precise mitre cuts in wood. One side of the enclosure was covered by wood, the other by clear acrylic, so that you can see how the mechanism works as it is rotated. Finally, a stand was cut from wood as well and the final product assembled.

As you can see in the video below this is a great showpiece, and because of the design gives a view into how flip-calendars work. At the end of his write-up, [measuredworkshop] shares a link he found to a 3d printed flip-calendar on Thingiverse. Check out some of the more techie calendars posted at Hackaday, like this e-ink calendar, or this Raspberry Pi wall calendar.

via Reddit.

Building A Plate Reverb On The Cheap

23 March, by Tom Nardi[ —]

For those who don’t spend their free time creating music with experimental audio effects, a plate reverb is essentially a speaker. It just happens to be, by design, a rather poor one. Rather than using a paper cone for a diaphragm like a traditional speaker, the plate reverb uses as you might guess, a metal plate. As the plate vibrates along with the source audio, a set of piezoelectric pickups convert that to an output. The end result is that audio fed into the plate reverb comes out with a nice echo effect.

But despite their relative simplicity, a plate reverb costs thousands of dollars. They’re so expensive that the majority of people just emulate the effect in software. But it doesn’t have to be that way. [Sammartino] and an audio engineer friend recently came up with a detailed guide for building a plate reverb that cost about 10% of commercially available models.

The construction is fairly simple. A wooden frame is built, and eight hooks are installed around the edges. The plate is suspended between these hooks using guitar strings, which holds it tight but with enough give to vibrate along with the tunes. Another board is attached across the center of the frame to support the electronics: a transducer to vibrate the plate, and two piezo pickups to convert that to an audio signal, and a couple jacks and some wiring to tie it all together.

For a different take on the DIY plate reverb, check out this one we covered all the way back in 2013. If you’re in the market for something a bit larger, we’ve got you covered there as well.

We’re Making it Rain Achievements This Year

23 March, by Mike Szczys[ —]

We just dished out the first round of achievements to a bunch of hardware projects and there’s a lot more to come.

You may have missed it in all the fanfare last week, so today we take a closer look. Achievements are the newest edition to the Hackaday Prize and we’re really excited about them! With so much creativity in the projects we see entered, these achievements recognize a range of different aspects from serious to lighthearted, and even the downright absurd. There can be only 20 finalists in each challenge of the Prize, but there can be dozens of projects that unlock each achievement.

Today we’re taking a look at three of the achievements: Voltron, Pickle Rick, and the League of Extraordinary Cyborgs. You can also pursue the current list of achievements for an idea of what they’re all about.

Voltron Achievement

The five projects that have unlocked the Voltron Achievement aren’t about defending the universe (but if that’s what you’re doing, cool!). What we’re looking for is many things coming together to be greater than the whole. Two great examples are the Hexabitz project which is an edge-soldered modular PCB system, and a project that envisions swarm robotics for construction, inspection, and maintenance.

Pickle Rick Achievement

Does this need explaining? If your brain skips a cycle and your lips utter a halting “What?!” then you’ve unlocked the Pickle Rick Achievement. These are the out-of-the-ordinary hacks borne of the because-I-can mentality and we love them. The first two projects in this group are a neon 7-segment display (complete with bulky toggle switches and mechanical relays) and a robot snake that transforms into a robot car. What?!

League of Extraordinary Cyborgs Achievement

It’s dangerous to go alone. OK, maybe it’s not, but you can get a lot more done as a close-knit team! We’re looking for team entries, which is how you unlock the League of Extraordinary Cyborgs Achievement.

Unlocks and the Achievements We Forgot

These achievements are easy to unlock. Your project needs to be a Hackaday Prize entry, and meet the achievement criteria. They don’t come with a cash prize (and don’t affect your chances of winning one). Achievements are a tip of the hat to the hackers who are passionate about the hardware they’re building.

We’ll be digging through entries, awarding these as we go, but of course we would love your help. When you see projects perfect for an achievement, leave a comment on that page with your support. You can also send a Hackaday.io message to Stephen Tranovich, Technical Community Leader at Hackaday.io and the person most on the lookout for awarding achievements, requesting an achievement unlock.

The currently displayed list doesn’t include all of the achievements. Some of them are secret (we’ll tell you when we start awarding those). We will be adding more along the way. If an idea for an interesting achievement pops into your mind, let us know in the comments below and we might add it!

Hackaday Visits World’s Oldest Computer Festival: TCF 43

23 March, by Tom Nardi[ —]

I was fortunate enough to visit the Trenton Computer Festival last weekend. The show struck a very interesting mix of new and old, commercial and educational. Attendees were writing programs in BASIC on an Apple I (courtesy of the Vintage Computer Federation) not more than five feet from where students were demonstrating their FIRST robot.

The one-day event featured over fifty demonstrations, talks, and workshops on topics ranging from a crash course in lock picking to the latest advancements in quantum computing. In the vendor room you could buy a refurbished laptop while just down the hall talks were being given on heady topics such as using neural networks and genetic algorithms for day trading on the stock market.

Recent years have seen a widening of the content presented, but TCF’s longevity means there is a distinct “vintage” vibe to the show and the culture surrounding it. Many of the attendees, and even some of the presenters, can proudly say they’ve been attending since the very first show in 1976.

There was simply too much going on to see everything. At any given time, there were eleven talks happening simultaneously, and that doesn’t include the demonstrations and workshops which ran all day. I documented as many highlights from this year’s TCF as I could for those who haven’t had a chance to visit what might be the most low-key, and certainly oldest, celebration of computing technology on the planet. Join me after the break for the whirlwind tour.

Vendor Area a Flea Market at Heart

Affectionately referred to as the “Flea Market” in the TCF schedule, the vendor area is a hold-over from the days when the festival was one of the few places in the country you could purchase a computer. As computing became mainstream there was less and less demand for such a venue, and accordingly the vendors that bring their wares to TCF have changed quite a bit over the years.

Today you’ll still find a few professional vendors selling things like laptops, 3D printers, and of course Raspberry Pis. But the majority of those selling at TCF are simply individuals looking to offload some of their own personal collection of electronics, gadgets, and anything else that managed to work its way into their possession. It’s here that the “Flea Market” really earns its name, as more people have come to dig through boxes of assorted electronics components and bits of unidentifiable gadgetry than buy a new laptop.

While the vendor area was a flurry of activity, the consensus among those with a few TCF’s under their belt is that there seems to be fewer tables each year. There was still a considerable buffet of weird and wonderful hardware at the show, but the impact of eBay and Craigslist can’t be denied.

TCF: The Next Generation

Cody Hofstetter

Earlier in the month I had the opportunity to interview Dr Allen Katz, one of the founders and current Chair of TCF. We talked a bit about the fascinating history of the show, but also about where it is currently and how he thinks the future might look. As Dr Katz told me in our conversation, “We need to bring in younger people, who have different ideas from the people who’ve run it for 40 years.” Outreach doesn’t happen overnight, but browsing through the schedule of talks and demonstrations shows that progress is surely being made.

Cody Hofstetter gave a rousing presentation on privacy in the modern age (which he previously presented at Ohio LinuxFest 2017), covering everything from Google Maps to IMSI catchers. Charismatic and professional, he kept the packed audience engaged until they finally had to be cleared out for the next speaker to take the podium.

Sam Zeloof

Also in attendance was Sam Zeloof, a name that may sound familiar to Hackaday readers. In his garage-turned-laboratory, Sam has been doing work that redefines the limits of home fabrication. His talk, “How to Make Semiconductors and Integrated Circuits at Home”, was one of the longest presentations at TCF and held in a room much larger than most other talks. Even still, nearly every seat in the oversized venue was occupied by somebody taking diligent notes. Sam talks about semiconductor physics with such casual confidence you’d think he was talking about what he had for breakfast. I’d wager most in the audience would never suspect he’s still in high school, and the rest wouldn’t believe it if they were told.

Cody and Sam exemplify the type of speakers TCF has been courting as it moves in a more educational direction. They speak with passion on subjects that genuinely captivate them, and have no trouble keeping a technical audience hanging on their every word despite the fact they’re easily the youngest people in the room.

Interactive Demonstrations from FIRST to TOOOL

Michelle and Anthony of the Mighty Monkey Wrenches

The talks and vendor area are obviously the bookends of TCF, but there’s also a number of all-day workshops and demonstrations for attendees to wander in and out of when they have a free moment. The Arduino workshop was particularly popular, with the occasional line forming as people waited to get their hands on one of the ever-popular microcontrollers. Attendees were instructed to bring their own laptops, but the Arduinos as well as various sensors and motors were provided in an open-ended experimentation session complete with roving volunteers to help get code written and hardware wired.

The FIRST team from the nearby Ewing High School, the “Mighty Monkey Wrenches“, demonstrated their competitive robot throughout the day. A large ball shooter, the robot roamed the halls and fired its beanbag payload for attendees to try to catch. It was particularly popular with the younger show-goers; apparently a healthy fear of large robots shooting at you is a learned response and does not come naturally to more diminutive humans.

One of the workshops specifically praised by Dr Katz when I spoke with him was the lock picking demonstration and training presented by the New Jersey chapter of TOOOL. This group aims to increase public knowledge of lock picking, in an attempt to dispel some of the negative connotations surrounding it.

The “Lockpick Village” was filled with a wide array of people learning the basics of lock picking from the TOOOL representatives on hand. From handcuffs to high security padlocks, all manner of locks were being studied and (at least occasionally) bested by those in attendance.

The Sarnoff Collection

Those attending TCF were invited to head over to the next building on the campus to see “The Sarnoff Collection“, a museum chronicling major developments in 20th century communication technology. On display is everything from the first commercially available color television to early computing advancements such as core memory.

Attendee’s Perspective

All of the people I talked to at TCF were happy with the show, and said they’d certainly come back in the future. I heard a few common critiques. A number of people said they would like to see a two day show so there are fewer concurrent events, but if that’s not logistically feasible, than at least recordings of the talks would allow you to see what you missed. As it stands no recordings are made at TCF, which especially hurts when the scheduling is so tight that it’s almost impossible for you to see everything you want.

Almost everyone said they would like to see more tables in the vendor area, but it’s hard to say how that can be improved. Lowering or even waiving the fees on vendor tables could potentially be an option, even if it meant an increase in ticket price. Given the fact tickets are only $14 (or $20 at the door), most said they could accept a bump in cost if it meant making the show more attractive for vendors.

In general, people just wanted more of TCF. That’s a great endorsement for a show that’s been running for longer than many of the attendees have been alive. Everyone I spoke to thought that the 43rd Trenton Computer Festival was a rousing success!

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