Denver Mini Maker Faire: Fun With Pinball

[Mark Gibson] probably has nothing against silicon. He just knows that a lot that can be done with simple switches, relays, and solenoids and wants to share that knowledge with the world. This was made abundantly clear to me during repeat visits to his expansive booth at Denver Mini Maker Faire last weekend.

In the sunlight-filled atrium of the Museum of Nature and Science, [Mark] sat behind several long tables covered with his creations made from mid-century pinball machines. There are about two dozen pieces in his interactive exhibit, which made its debut at the first-ever Northern Colorado Maker Faire in 2013. [Mark] was motivated to build these boards because he wanted to get people interested in the way things work through interaction and discovery of pinball mechanisms.

fun with pinball thumbMost of the pieces he has built are single units and simple systems from pinball machines—flippers, chime units, targets, bumpers, and so on—that he affixed to wooden boards so that people can explore them without breaking anything. All of the units are operated using large and inviting push buttons that have been screwed down tight. Each of the systems also has a display card with an engineering drawing of the mechanism and a short explanation of how it works.

[Mark] also brought some of the original games he has created by combining several systems from different machines, like a horse derby and a baseball game. Both of these were built with education in mind; all of the guts including the original fabric-wrapped wires are prominently displayed. The derby game wasn’t working, but I managed to load the bases and get a grand slam in the baseball game. Probably couldn’t do that again in a million summers.

fun with pinball baseball game
Take me out to the Maker Faire! Click to embiggen.

About five years ago, we covered [Mark]’s build of an atomic clock from pinball machine parts. It’s about time we featured his work again. We have shared a lot of pinball-related builds over the years from the immersive to the gigantic to the dankest of the dank.

The Almost Useful Machine

[Alex] is no stranger to making machines of negligible utility. A few years ago he made the Almost Useless Machine, a solar-powered system that cuts through a 20mm dowel rod while you wait (and wait, and wait). Enamored by the internet’s bevy of powered hacksaws, he sought to build a sturdier version that’s a little more useful. Approximately five months of free time later, he had the Almost Useful Machine.

It runs on a wiper motor and a recycled power supply from a notebook computer. [Alex] rolled his own board for controlling the motor with an ATtiny25. The circuit turns potentiometer movement into PWM, which controls the motor through a MOSFET. After the cut is finished, an endstop microswitch  immediately cuts the motor.

Every bit of the chassis is aluminum that [Alex] machined by hand. Don’t have that kind of setup? How about a powered hacksaw with a 3D-printed linkage? Make the jump to see it in action, and stick around for the two-part time-lapse build video.

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Rainbow Cats Announce Engagement

[ANTALIFE] is going to tie the knot sometime in 2017. Instead of sending out paper announcements or just updating his Facebook status, he wanted to give their family members something lasting and memorable, like a small trinket with a pair of light-up cats.

This project is pretty simple in theory. A pair of RGB LEDs cycle through the colors of the rainbow with the help of an ATtiny25 and resistors carefully chosen for each LED. But there are several challenges at play here. [ANTALIFE] wanted to design something quite small that would last at least a day on a single CR2032 coin cell. This project was his first foray into SMD/SMT design and construction. We think that this warrants its own congratulations, especially since it looks as though he made at least a dozen of these things.

[ANTALIFE] made things much easier for himself with the purchase of a cheap hot air rework station and used a chip clip to program the ‘tiny. The cats are a design from Thingiverse, which he modified to turn them into bride and groom. Watch a whole line of them glow after the break. We sincerely hope that a larger version of these cats end up on top of the wedding cake.

For anyone with an undying love blinkenlights and impending nuptials, don’t forget the light-up invitations, wedding attire, and centerpieces.

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Greet the Sun with a 555 Flute

Here’s an interesting implementation of a classic: the 555 timer as astable multivibrator for the noble purpose of making weird music. [pratchel] calls this a Morgenflöte or morning flute, indicating that it is best played in the morning. It would certainly wake up everyone in the house.

Instead of using LDRs in straight-up Theremin mode and waving his hands about, [pratchel] mounted one in each of several cardboard tubes. One tube is small and has just a few holes; this is intended to be used as a flute. [pratchel] cautions against locating holes too close to the LDR, because it will overpower the others when left uncovered. A larger tube with more holes can be used as a kind of light-dependent slide whistle with another holey tube that fits inside. We were disappointed to find that the giant tube sitting by the amplifier hasn’t been made into a contrabass flute.

Continuing the theme of astability, [pratchel] went completely solderless and built the circuit on a breadboard. The LDR’s legs are kept separate by a piece of cardboard. This kind of project and construction is fairly kid and beginner-friendly. It would be a good one for getting your musically inclined friends and family members into electronics. Here’s a 555 player piano built by Hackaday’s own [Steven Dufresne] that might be a good second step. Check out [pratchel]’s performance after the break.

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Motorized Music Box Cranks Out Stairway to Heaven

[Bokononestly] found a lil’ music box that plays Stairway to Heaven and decided those were just the kinds of dulcet tones he’d like to wake up to every morning. To each his own; I once woke up to Blind Melon’s “No Rain” every day for about six months. [Bokononestly] is still in the middle of this alarm clock project right now. One day soon, it will use a *duino to keep track of the music box’s revolutions and limit the alarm sound to one cycle of the melody.

stairway-musicbox-alarm-clock[Bokononestly] decided to drive the crank of the music box with a geared DC motor from an electric screwdriver. After making some nice engineering drawings of the dimensions of both and mocking them up in CAD, he designed and printed a base plate to mount them on. A pair of custom pulleys mounted to the motor shaft and the crank arm transfer motion using the exact right rubber band for the job. You can’t discount the need for a big bag ‘o rubber bands.
In order to count the revolutions, he put a wire in the path of the metal music box crank and used the body of the box as a switch. Check out the build video after the break and watch him prove it with the continuity function of a multimeter. A clever function that should at some point be substituted out for a leaf switch.

We’ve covered a lot of cool clock builds over the years, including one or two that run Linux. And say what you will about Stairway; it’s better than waking up to repeated slaps in the face.

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Retrotechtacular: Examining Music in 1950’s Russia

If you had told 12-year-old me that one day I would be able to listen to pretty much any song I wanted to on demand and also pull up the lyrics as fast as I could type the artist’s name and part of the title into a text box, I would have a) really hoped you weren’t kidding and b) would have wanted to grow up even faster than I already did.

The availability of music today, especially in any place with first world Internet access is really kind of astounding. While the technology to make this possible has come about only recently, the freedom of music listening has been fairly wide open in the US. The closest we’ve come to governmental censorship is the parental advisory sticker, and those are just warnings. The only thing that really stands between kids’ ears and the music they want to listen to is parental awareness and/or consent.

However, the landscape of musical freedom and discovery has been quite different in other corners of the world, especially during the early years of rock ‘n roll. While American teens roller skated and sock-hopped to the new and feverish sounds of Little Richard and Elvis Presley, the kids in Soviet Russia were stuck in a kind of sonic isolation. Stalin’s government had a choke hold on the influx of culture and greatly restricted the music that went out over the airwaves. They viewed Western and other music as a threat, and considered the musicians to be enemies of the USSR.

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Raspberry Pis Sweeten a Library’s Bottom Line

Here’s a great real-world use case for the Pi—a small job for a small computer. [viking–] works in a public library. Like many public libraries, this one has catalog-only terminals that are separate from the computers you reserve to get your fix of cat videos and Bejeweled Blitz. The catalog computers needed to be upgraded, and [viking–] replaced them all with Raspis.

They’re all running Raspbian and boot directly into Chromium with a clean profile every time. The Pis are otherwise completely locked down and accessible only through SSH. A dedicated WiFi network and whitelisted web access help keep them secure. The Pis reboot after five minutes of inactivity which erases all login credentials and bookmarks.

These terminals are scattered throughout the library. Those closest to the front desk have their Pi in a VESA mount on the back of the monitor. The others are locked up in cabinets so they don’t get pinched by the patrons. Library budgets are lean enough already. [viking–] was able to get management sign-off for the project by building a single prototype to show the simplicity of the system and the projected cost savings. Thanks to a couple of cron jobs, the Pis shut the monitors down every night, saving hundreds of dollars per year.