Unique Flat-Screen Display Put to Use in CRT Game Boy

The cathode-ray tube ruled the display world from the earliest days of TV until only comparatively recently, when flat-screen technology began to take over. CRTs just kept getting bigger over that time until they reached a limit beyond which the tubes got just too bulky to be practical.

But there was action at the low end of the CRT market, too. Tiny CRTs popped up in all sorts of products, from camcorders to the famous Sony Watchman. One nifty CRT from this group, a flat(tish) tube from a video intercom system, ended up in [bitluni]’s lab, where he’s in the process of turning it into a retro Game Boy clone with a CRT display. The display, which once showed the video from a door-mounted camera, was a gift from a viewer. Date codes on the display show it’s a surprisingly recent device; were monochrome TFT displays that hard to come by in 2007? Regardless, it’s a neat design, with the electron gun shooting upward toward a curved phosphor screen. With a little Google-assisted reverse engineering, [Bitluni] was able to track done the video connections needed to use his retro game console, which uses an ESP32 that outputs composite video. He harvested the intercom speaker for game audio, added a temporary Nintendo gamepad, and soon he was playing Tetris in glorious monochrome on the flat screen.

The video below is only the first in a series where the prototype will be stuffed into one nice tidy package. It certainly still needs some tweaking, but it’s off to a great start. We can’t wait to see the finished product.

[baldpower] tipped us off to this one. Thanks again!

Posted in classic hacks, composite video, crt, ESP32, flat screen, game boy, pal, tetris | Leave a comment

Low-energy ESP8266-based Board Sleeps Like a Log Until Triggered

Given the popularity of hacking and repurposing Amazon Dash buttons, there appears to be a real need amongst tinkerers for a simple “do something interesting on the internet when a button is pressed” device. If you have this need but don’t feel like fighting to bend a Dash device to your will, take a look at [Kevin Darrah]’s trigBoard instead.

The trigBoard is a battery-powered, ESP8266-based board that includes some clever circuitry to help it barely sip power (less than one microamp!) while waiting to be triggered by a digital input. This input could be a magnetic reed switch, push button, or similar, and you can configure the board for either normally open or normally closed switches.

The clever hardware bits that allow for such low power consumption are explained in [Kevin]’s YouTube video, which we’ve also embedded after the break. To summarize: the EPS8266 spends most of it’s time completely unpowered. A Texas Instruments TPL5111 power timer chip burns 35 nanoamps and wakes the ESP8266 up every hour to check on the battery. This chip also has a manual wake pin, and it’s this pin – along with more power-saving circuitry – that’s used to trigger actions based on the external input.

Apparently the microcontroller can somehow distinguish between being woken up for a battery check versus a button press, so you needn’t worry about accidentally sending yourself an alert every hour. The default firmware is set up to use Pushbullet to send notifications, but of course you could do anything an EPS8266 is capable of. The code is available on the project’s wiki page.

The board also includes a standard micro-JST connector for a LiPo battery, and can charge said battery through a micro-USB port. The trigBoard’s full schematic is on the wiki, and pre-built devices are available on Tindie.

[Kevin]’s hardware walkthrough video is embedded after the break.

[via Dangerous Prototypes]

Posted in ESP8266, low power, microcontroller, Microcontrollers, trigger, wifi | Leave a comment

Advent Calendar Tracks The Days Until Christmas

Internet-connected Advent calendarWhat’s a hacker to do when Halloween’s over and a new source of ideas is needed for more hacks? Make something for Christmas of course. That’s what [Dario Breitenstein] did when he made his Advent calendar both as a decoration and to help instill some Christmas spirit.

Designed in SketchUp, it’s a WS2812 LED strip mounted in a clean looking walnut enclosure. The light diffuses through 3D-printed PETG lids with vinyl over them to outline the days. Naturally, it had to be Internet-connected and so an ESP8266 based WEMOS D1 mini board fetches the date and time from an NTP server. Sundays light up in red and Christmas Eve in purple.

This appears to be just the thing hackers like [vk2zay] could use for inspiration during their sort-of-annual Advent Calendar of Circuits wherein a different circuit is made each day leading up to Christmas.

Posted in advent calendar, clock hacks, ESP8266, wemos d1 mini, ws2812 | Leave a comment

Hacked Heating Instruments for the DIY Biology Lab

[Justin] from The Thought Emporium takes on a common molecular biology problem with these homebrew heating instruments for the DIY biology lab.

The action at the molecular biology bench boils down to a few simple tasks: suck stuff, spit stuff, cool stuff, and heat stuff. Pipettes take care of the sucking and spitting, while ice buckets and refrigerators do the cooling. The heating, however, can be problematic; vessels of various sizes need to be accommodated at different, carefully controlled temperatures. It’s not uncommon to see dozens of different incubators, heat blocks, heat plates, and even walk-in environmental chambers in the typical lab, all acquired and maintained at great cost. It’s enough to discourage any would-be biohacker from starting a lab.

[Justin] knew It doesn’t need to be that way, though. So he tackled two common devices:  the incubator and the heating block. The build used as many off-the-shelf components as possible, keeping costs down. The incubator is dead simple: an insulated plastic picnic cooler with a thermostatically controlled reptile heating pad. That proves to be more than serviceable up to 40°, at the high end of what most yeast and bacterial cultures require.

The heat block, used to heat small plastic reaction vessels called Eppendorf tubes, was a little more complicated to construct. Scrap heat sinks yielded aluminum stock, which despite going through a bit of a machinist’s nightmare on the drill press came out surprisingly nice. Heat for the block is provided by a commercial Peltier module and controller; it looks good up to 42°, a common temperature for heat-shocking yeast and tricking them into taking up foreign DNA.

We’re impressed with how cheaply [Justin] was able to throw together these instruments, and we’re looking forward to seeing how he utilizes them. He’s already biohacked himself, so seeing what happens to yeast and bacteria in his DIY lab should be interesting.

Posted in bacteria, biochemistry, biohacking, biology, Chemistry, chemistry hacks, dna, heating, molecular biology, peltier, plasmids, yeast | Leave a comment

Arduino Provides Hands-Free Focus for Digital Inspection Scope

With surface-mount technology pushing the size of components ever smaller, even the most eagle-eyed among us needs some kind of optical assistance to do PCB work. Lots of microscopes have digital cameras too, which can be a big help – unless the camera fights you.

Faced with a camera whose idea of autofocus targets on didn’t quite coincide with his, [Scott M. Baker] took matters into his own hands – foot, actually – by replacing mouse inputs to the camera with an outboard controller. His particular camera’s autofocus can be turned off, but only via mouse clicks on the camera’s GUI. That’s disruptive while soldering, so [Scott] used an Arduino Pro Micro and a small keypad to mimic the mouse movements needed to control the camera.

At the press of a key, the Arduino forces the mouse cursor up to the top left corner of the screen, pulls down the camera menu, and steps down the proper distance to toggle autofocus. The controller can also run the manual focus in and out or to take a screenshot. There’s even a footswitch that forces the camera to refocus if the field of view changes. It looks really handy, and as usual [Scott] provides a great walkthrough in the video below.

Like it or not, if shrinking technology doesn’t force you into the microscope market, entropy will. If you’re looking for a buyer’s guide to microscopes, you could do worse than [Shahriar]’s roundup of digital USB scopes. Or perhaps you’d prefer to dumpster dive for yours.

Posted in arduino pro micro, camera, Eakins, emulation, focus, footswitch, gui, inspection, microscope, optics, tool hacks | Leave a comment

How To Evolve A Radio

Evolutionary algorithms are an interesting topic of study. Rather then relying on human ingenuity and investigation to create new designs, instead, an algorithm is given a target to achieve, and creates “offspring”, iterating in an evolutionary manner to create offspring that get closer to the target with each generation.

This method can be applied to the design of electronic circuits, and is sometimes referred to as “hardware evolution”. A team from Duke University attempted exactly this, aiming to produce an oscillator using evolutionary techniques.

The team used a platform called the “evolvable motherboard”, or EM. The EM is a platform controlled by an attached computer, consisting of reconfigurable solid state switches that allow attached circuit components to be interconnected in every combination possible. These components may be virtually any electronic component; in this experiment, 10 bipolar transistors were used.

The evolutionary algorithm was given a fitness function that rewarded output amplitude and frequency, aiming to create an oscillator operating at 25KHz. However, the team noticed some interesting emergent behavior. The algorithm tended to reward amplification behavior from the circuit, leading to many configurations that oscillated poorly, but amplified ambient noise. In the end, the algorithm developed circuit configurations that acted as a radio, picking up and amplifying signals from the surrounding environment, rather than oscillating on their own. The evolutionary algorithm took advantage of the interaction between not only the circuit elements, but effects such as the parasitic capacitance introduced by the switching matrix and appeared to use the PCB circuit traces as an antenna.

The team conclude that evolutionary algorithms used in circuit design ignore human preconceptions about how circuits work, and will take advantage of sometimes unpredictable and unexpected effects to achieve their targets. This is a blessing and a curse, bringing unconventional designs to the fore, but also creating circuits that may not work well in a generalized environment. If your “oscillator” relies on a nearby noise source to operate, it may operate unpredictably in the field, for example.

We’ve seen evolutionary algorithms used before, such as being applied to robotic design.

Posted in classic hacks, evolutionary algorithm, radio | Leave a comment

A Daylight-Readable Bar Graph Display in the 70s Wasn’t Cheap

The driver board with display attached; the row of lamps is visible on the right hand side.

LEDs weren’t always an easy solution to displays and indicators. The fine folks at [Industrial Alchemy] shared pictures of a device that shows what kind of effort and cost went into making a high brightness bar graph display in the 70s, back when LEDs were both expensive and not particularly bright. There are no strange materials or methods involved in making the display daylight-readable, but it’s a peek at how solving problems we take for granted today sometimes took a lot of expense and effort.

The display is a row of 28 small incandescent bulbs, mounted in a PCB and housed in a machined aluminum frame. Holes through which to view the bulbs are on both the top and front of the metal housing, which allows the unit to be mounted in different orientations. It was made as a swappable module, its 56 machined gold pins mate to sockets on the driver board. The driver board itself consists of 14 LM119 dual comparators, each of which controls two bulbs on the display.

An example of a Wamco minitron bar graph display. Each window contains an incandescent filament. [Source: industrialalchemy.org][Industrial Alchemy] believes that the display unit itself may have been a bit of a hack in its own way. Based on the pin spacing and dimensions of the driver board, they feel that it was probably designed to host a row of modular units known as the Wamco minitron bar graph display. An example is pictured here; they resembled DIP chips and could be stacked side-by-side to make a display of any length. Each window contained an incandescent filament in a reflective well, and each light could be individually controlled.

These minitron bar graph units could only be viewed from the top, and were apparently high in cost and low in availability. Getting around these limitations may have been worth creating this compatible unit despite the work involved.

Display technology has taken many different turns over the years, and you can see examples of many of them in one place in the Circus Clock, which tells the time with a different technology for each digit: a nixie, a numitron, a 7-segment thyratron tube, a VFD, an LED dot display, and a rear projection display.

Posted in 70s, bar graph, comparator, daylight readable, display, hardware, incandescent, led, machined aluminum, minitron, retro, retrocomputing, wamco | Leave a comment

The Naughty AIs That Gamed The System

Artificial intelligence (AI) is undergoing somewhat of a renaissance in the last few years. There’s been plenty of research into neural networks and other technologies, often based around teaching an AI system to achieve certain goals or targets. However, this method of training is fraught with danger, because just like in the movies – the computer doesn’t always play fair.

It’s often very much a case of the AI doing exactly what it’s told, rather than exactly what you intended. Like a devious child who will gladly go to bed in the literal sense, but will not actually sleep, this can cause unexpected, and often quite hilarious results. [Victoria] has created a master list of scholarly references regarding exactly this.

The list spans a wide range of cases. There’s the amusing evolutionary algorithm designed to create creatures capable of high-speed movement, which merely spawned very tall creatures that generated these speeds by falling over. More worryingly, there’s the AI trained to identify toxic and edible mushrooms, which simply picked up on the fact that it was presented with the two types in alternating order. This ended up being an unreliable model in the real world. Similarly, the model designed to assess malignancy of skin cancers determined that lesions photographed with rulers for scale were more likely to be cancerous.

[Victoria] refers to this as “specification gaming”. One can draw parallels to classic sci-fi stories around the “Laws of Robotics”, where robots take such laws to their literal extremes, often causing great harm in the process. It’s an interesting discussion of the difficulty in training artificially intelligent systems to achieve their set goals without undesirable side effects.

We’ve seen plenty of work in this area before – like this use of evolutionary algorithms in circuit design.

Posted in ai, artificial intelligence, classic hacks, evolutionary algorithm, machine learning, neural network, neural networks | Leave a comment

Hackaday Links: The Eleventh Day Of The Eleventh Month, 2018

For the better part of the last five years, the Great War Channel on YouTube has been covering the events of the Great War, week by week, exactly 100 years later. It’s hundreds of episodes designed for history buffs, and quite literally one of the most educational channels on YouTube. It’s the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the eighteenth year, which means the folks behind the Great War Channel are probably taking a well-deserved vacation. If you haven’t heard of this channel, it might be a good time to check it out.

Ikea is now selling NFC locks. [Mike] wrote in to tell us he found the new ROTHULT drawer deadbolts for $18 at Ikea. No, these aren’t meant for your front door, they’re meant for file cabinets. That’s a different threat model, and no lock is ever completely secure. However, there are some interesting electronics. You get a lock powered by three AAA batteries and two NFC cards for $18. Can’t wait for the teardown.

The biggest news from the United States this week is big. People gathered in the streets. Millions made sure their voices were heard. Journalists were cut down for asking questions. This is a week that will go down in history. The McRib is back for a limited time. It’s just a reconstituted pork patty, pickles, onions, and sauce on a hoagie roll, but there’s more to the McRib than you would think. McDonalds only releases the McRib when the price of pork is low, and in late October, pork belly futures hit their lowest price since the last time the McRib came to town. This has led some to claim the McRib is just a second lever for McDonalds in an arbitrage play on the price of pork. McDonalds is always buying pork futures, the theory goes, and when it looks like they’re going to lose money, McDonalds simply turns on the McRib production line, pushing pork consumption up, and netting McDonalds a tidy profit. With the volume you’re looking at, McDonalds will never lose money by betting on pork.

You can turn anything into a quadcopter. A dead cat? Yes, it’s been done. How about a quartet of box fans? That’s what the folks at Flite Test did, and while the completed article was wobbly and didn’t survive its first crash, it was a quadcopter made out of box fans.

Posted in Great War, Hackaday Columns, Hackaday links, ikea, McRib, WWI | Leave a comment

Belt Up With A Redundant Car Part

The toothed belt that turns the camshaft in synchronization with the crankshaft on many motor vehicle engines is something of an under-appreciated component. Unless you are unlucky enough to ave had one fail and destroy your engine, it’s probably something you’ve never given a second thought to outside of periodic service intervals.

For something to perform such a task over so many thousands of miles of motoring it must be made of pretty strong stuff. Even when a belt is life-expired it is still in good physical shape, and [Crispyjones] saw the potential in a used Subaru belt to make a different type of belt. After keeping his engine in sync for so long it would serve no less vital a purpose, and keep his pants from falling down.

You can of course buy the hardware for a belt from a decent crafting store, but he chose to recycle a buckle from a worn-out leather belt. Cleaning the timing belt and cutting it carefully so that the Subaru logo would be on show to the outside world in the finished article, he secured it round the buckle with some epoxy glue and a bit of stitching. The original leather retaining loop is not really appropriate, so one is fashioned from wire. Finally we see the process for measuring where the holes should be placed, followed by their creation with a hole punch.

Hackaday isn’t a crafting site, so we don’t often feature projects like this one. But the humble timing belt is a component that we’ve probably all replaced and thrown away more than once without really thinking what the properties of the thing we’re throwing away are. So we like this relatively simple project for its re-use of something few of us would otherwise keep, as well as for its delivering rather a cool belt. We’ve featured plenty of cambelts here doing their traditional job, but this is the first time we’ve had one as an item of clothing. We’ll leave you with a glimpse of a future without cambelts at all.

Posted in belt, cambelt, car hacks, toothed belt | Leave a comment