Roll Your Own Trackball Mouse

What do you do when you’re into trackball mice, but nothing out there is affordable or meets all your murine needs? You build one, of course. And if you’re like [Dangerously Explosive], who has a bunch of old optical mice squeaking around the shop, you can mix and match them to build the perfect one.

The mouse, which looks frozen mid-transformation into a rodential assassin, is a customized work of utilitarian art. Despite the excellent results, this project was not without its traps. [Dangerously] got really far into the build before discovering the USB interface chip was dead. Then he tried to sculpt a base out of Plasticine and discovered he’d bought the one kind of clay that can’t be baked. After trying his hand at making homemade salt dough, he painstakingly whittled a base from scrap pine using a drill and a hacksaw.

Every bit of this mouse is made from recycled bits, which, if you pair that with the paint job and the chosen shade of blinkenlights, makes this a green mouse on three levels. One of the two parts of this mouse that isn’t literally green, the cord, is still ecologically sound. [Dangerously] wanted a really long tail, so he scavenged a charger cable built for fruity hardware and threaded it through a hollowed-out piece of purple paracord.

We love the thumb-adjacent scroll wheel and the trackball itself, which is a ping pong ball painted black. The cool part is the guide it rolls around in. [Dangerously] spent a long time hand-whittling the perfect size hole in a particularly wide mouse palm rest. All that plastic shaving paid off, because the action is smooth as Velveeta.

[Dangerously] certainly designed this mouse to fit his preferences, and ergonomics seem a bit secondary. For a truly custom fit, try using whatever passes for Floam these days.

Posted in computer hacks, computer mouse, custom, hardware, mouse, optical mouse, ping pong ball, reuse, track ball, trackball | Leave a comment

ROPS Will Be The Board x86 Robot Builders Are Waiting For

If your robot has outgrown a Raspberry Pi and only the raw computing power of an x86 motherboard will suffice, you are likely to encounter a problem with its interfaces. The days of ISA cards are long gone, and a modern PC is not designed to easily talk to noisy robot hardware. Accessible ports such as USB can have interfaces connected to them, but suffer from significant latency in the process.

A solution comes from ROPS, or Robot on a PCI-e Stick, a card that puts an FPGA on a blazing-fast PCI-e card that provides useful real-world interfaces such as CAN and RS485 and a pile of I/O lines as well as an IMU, barometer, and GPS. If you think you may have seen it before then you’d be right, it was one of the first-round winners of the Open Hardware Design Challenge. They’re very much still at the stage of having an FPGA dev board and working out the software so there aren’t any ROPS boards to look at yet, but this is a project that’s going somewhere, and definitely one to watch.

Posted in 2018 Hackaday Prize, fpga, interface, PCI-E, robot, robots hacks, The Hackaday Prize | Leave a comment

Arduino and Pidgin C++

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Posted in arduino, Arduino Hacks, c++, C++ 2014, Software Development | Leave a comment

Digitizing Domesday Disks

After the Norman invasion of England, William the Conqueror ordered a great reckoning of all the lands and assets owned. Tax assessors went out into the country, counted sheep and chickens, and compiled everything into one great tome. This was the Domesday Book, an accounting of everything owned in England nearly 1000 years ago. It is a vital source for historians and economists, and one of the most important texts of the Middle Ages.

In the early 1980s, the BBC set upon a new Domesday Project. Over one million people took part in compiling writings on history, geography, and social issues. Maps were cataloged, and census data recorded. All of this was printed on a LaserDisk, meant to be played on an Acorn BBC Master. Now, 30 years on, hardly anyone can read the BBC Domesday Project. Let that be a lesson, kids: follow [Jason Scott] on Twitter.

Even though Acorn computers and SCSI LaserDisks and coprocessors are dying, that doesn’t mean the modern Domesday Disk is lost to the sands of time. This project aims to duplicate the Domesday Disk, and in the process provide a means to archive all LaserDisks. It’s a capture card for LaserDisks, and it also means we can finally make a good rip of the un-specalized Star Wars.

The Domesday Duplicator is a shield that plugs into an Altera DE-0 Nano FPGA board and a Cypress FX3 USB board. The Duplicator itself serves as an analog capture card complete with an RF amplifier and a 40 MSPS ADC — fast enough for any analog video signal. With the 50 Ohm input, it will work with most LaserDisk players, ultimately preserving this incredible historical archive from the early 80s.

Posted in Domesday, domesday project, fpga | Leave a comment

A MIDI Sequencer To Be Proud Of

MIDI sequencers are surprisingly expensive, making them an excellent target for [RH Electronics] who has created a sixteen-step device. It supports up to eight playable parts per step, which can be either MIDI or drum triggers.

The case and front panel are built to a very high standard, and on a piece of stripboard within lies an ATmega644 which does all the MIDI work, an ATmega328 that runs the many LEDs, and an ATtiny85 that reads the front panel buttons. The whole is kept in sync by a timer on the 644 set to produce the required MIDI clock. There is an LCD display too, which carries the status and programming interface.

You can see the result in the video below the break, in which the sequencer is put through its paces alongside a tantalising glimpse of a matching synthesiser. Is this another project, or a commercial device on which Google fails us when we try to find it? Meanwhile this is certainly not the first MIDI sequencer we’ve brought you here at Hackaday, this Arduino one is another example of several also using Atmel parts.

Posted in ATmega 644, midi, midi sequencer, musical hacks | Leave a comment

The History and Physics of Triode Vacuum Tubes

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Posted in de forest, fleming valve, history, patents, radio hacks, triode | Leave a comment

The History and Physics of Triode Vacuum Tubes

The triode vacuum tube might be nearly obsolete today, but it was a technology critical to making radio practical over 100 years ago. [Kathy] has put together a video that tells the story and explains the physics of the device.

The first radio receivers used a device called a Coherer as a detector, relying on two tiny filaments that would stick together when RF was applied, allowing current to pass through. It was a device that worked, but not reliably. It was in 1906 that Lee De Forest came up with a detector device for radios using a vacuum tube containing a plate and a heated filament. This device so strongly resembled the Fleming Valve which John Fleming had patented a year before, that Fleming sued De Forest for patent infringement.

After a bunch of attempts to get around the patent, De Forest decided to add a third element to the tube: the grid. The grid is a piece of metal that sits between the filament and the plate. A signal applied to the grid will control the flow of electrons, allowing this device to operate as an amplifier. The modification created the triode, and got around Fleming’s patent.

[Kathy]’s video does a great job of taking you through the creation of the device, which you can watch after the break. She also has a whole series on the history of electricity, including a video on the Arc Transmitter which we featured previously.

Posted in de forest, fleming valve, history, patents, radio hacks, triode | Leave a comment

Linear Track Makes Plasma Cuts Neat And Simple

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Posted in cnc, cutter, linear, metalwork, motorized, plasma, tool hacks | Leave a comment

Linear Track Makes Plasma Cuts Neat And Simple

No microcontroller, no display, and not even an LED in sight. That’s how [Made in Poland] decided to roll with this motorized linear plasma cutter, and despite the simplicity it really gets the job done when there’s metal to be cut.

Plasma cutting makes slicing and dicing heavy stock a quick job, but it’s easy to go off course with the torch or to vary the speed and end up with a poor edge. This tool takes the shakes out of the equation with a completely homebrew linear slide fabricated from square tubing. A carriage to hold the plasma cutter torch moves on a length of threaded rod chucked into the remains of an old cordless drill. The original clutch of the drill removes the need for limit switches when the carriage hits either end of the slide, which we thought was a great touch. Simple speed and direction controls are provided, as is a connection in parallel with the torch’s trigger. One nice feature of the carriage is the ability to swivel the torch at an angle, making V-groove welds in thick stock a snap. No need for a complicated bed with sacrificial supports and a water bath, either — just hang the stock over the edge of a table and let the sparks fall where they may.

Simple is better sometimes, but a CNC plasma table may still be your heart’s desire. We understand.

Posted in cnc, cutter, linear, metalwork, motorized, plasma, tool hacks | Leave a comment

Evolving the 3D Printed Linear Actuator

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Posted in 2018 Hackaday Prize, compliant mechanism, hobby servo, linear actuator, micro servo, Robotics Module, Robotics Module Challenge, robots hacks, servo motor, The Hackaday Prize | Leave a comment