Ask Hackaday: What’s an easy way to build a potentiometer for a soldering iron?

diy-potentiometer-2

[Lee] wrote in to share the work he’s done in building a controller for his soldering iron. The idea started when he was working with an ATX power supply. He figured if it works as a makeshift bench supply perhaps he could use it as the source for an adjustable iron. To get around the built-in short-circuit protection he needed a potentiometer to limit the current while allowing for adjustments. His first circuit used a resistor salvaged from an AT supply and a trimpot from some computer speakers. That melted rather quickly as the pot was not power rated.

This is a picture of his next attempt. He built his own potentiometer. It uses the center conductor from some coaxial cable wrapped around the plastic frame of an old cooling fan. Once the wire was in place he sanded down the insulation on top to expose the conductor. The sweeper is a piece of solid core wire which pivots to connect to the coil in different places. It works, and so far he’s managed to adjust a 5V rail between 5A and 20A.

How would you make this system more robust? Short of buying a trimpot with a higher power rating, do you think this is the easy way to build a soldering iron controller? Let us know by leaving your thoughts in the comments.

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Ask Hackaday: What to do with a home intercom system?

intercom

[Kyle] just moved into a new home, a 1970s abode that was very modern for its time. When the house was built, a home intercom system was installed. Of course this intercom system was eventually disconnected, but now [Kyle] would like to find a use for it.

The intercom system is a wonderful piece of engineering from the late 60s and early 70s. The base station has an FM radio, a mono input (for plugging in a turntable, we suppose), and a huge speaker. The satellite units – one for each room in the house – are much simpler with just a push to talk switch and a volume control. Yes, in classic minimalist style, the engineers for this intercom system used the speaker as a microphone.

[Kyle] would like to keep the wonderful plastic fantastic aesthetic of the intercom system, but he’s looking for something cool to do with this hardware.  This could be the beginnings of a very cool, very strange house-wide artificial intelligence build, kind of like a consumer version of HAL 9000. We’re interested in hearing what you’d do with [Kyle]‘s hardware, so leave your ideas in the comments.

Ask Hackaday: We might have some FPGAs to hack

rear

[Chris] is an IT guy for a medical clinic up in Alaska, and until very recently the systems he monitored, fixed, and beat with a wrench included over 100 Pano Logic “Zero Client” thin clients. Pano Logic just went out of business and all support for these little boxes have been cut off, leaving [Chris] with a hundred or so very interesting pieces of hardware.

The idea behind these “zero clients” is the ideal of a thin client – take all the storage, processing, RAM, and other goodies and move them to a server. Pano Logic took this one step further than other thin clients, removing the CPU, memory, and basically everything you’d find in a thin client. What was left was a Spartan-6 FPGA, a few chips to drive the USB ports, a pair of HDMI chips, and a few DDR2 modules. Basically, [Chris] has about 150 FPGA dev boards just sitting in a storage room. The only thing that is needed is a bunch of software and an extreme amount of cleverness.

After opening one of these zero clients, [Chris] found a Spartan-6 FPGA right next to what he thinks is a 6-pin programming port. Along with the FPGA are a few other chips that would make any FPGA dev board a very neat tool:

We’re going to agree with [Chris] these Pano Logic zero clients show a lot of potential. If you’re up to the challenge of creating a very, very cheap FPGA dev board out of some discarded hardware, head on over to ebay or chat up your local IT guy.

Ask Hackaday: How do you give a project away?

lcr

A few weeks ago, we caught wind of a DIY version of ‘smart tweezers’ from [Kai]‘s workbench that are able to measure SMD resistors, caps, and inductors. At that time, [Kai] hadn’t quite finished the software portion of his build, leaving him with a pile of parts and non-working PCBs. The code is finished now, meaning [Kai] has a very capable and very inexpensive version of LCR meter tweezers. He’d like to give back to the open source community and figure out a way to get his tweezers into the hands of makers the world over now. The only problem is he doesn’t know quite how to do that.

We’ve seen smart tweezers before, and they’re still available commercially for about $300. [Kai]‘s version brings down the price significantly, so there is a market for these LCR tweezers. The problem, it seems, is getting these tweezers manufactured.

We’re assuming that soldering hundreds of thousand of SMD parts isn’t what [Kai] thinks is a good time; this leaves a Kickstarter as a non-starter, unless he can contract out the manufacturing. Seeed Studio might be a good place for [Kai] to sell his wares, but we’re wondering what Hackaday readers would do in [Kai]‘s situation. Obviously he deserves to compensated for his work either through licensing or royalties, but as far as actual advice and recommendations we’re turning to Hackaday readers.

Hackaday’s official Kickstarter policy

we don’t have one… yet.

We’re getting inundated with campaigns on crowdfunding sites like kickstarter and indiegogo. Sometimes they’re really cool projects, sometimes they’re not. Unfortunately, they are all basically appeals for coverage on hackaday so they can get money. That immediately puts a negative taste in our mouths. Then again, if a hacker legitimately makes something really awesome, why wouldn’t we want to help spread the word?

We don’t want to stop a really cool project from being shared with you just because it is on kickstarter, but we also don’t want to serve as a crowdfunding advertising platform. It ends up being complicated, especially if the idea is really cool, but the details are sparse.

So, what do you think? Share your thoughts on how hackaday should handle crowdfunding in projects.

p.s. This started as a rant about how sick of the constant pleas for kickstarter coverage we’re getting. We’re trying to stay positive and constructive here, please do the same in the comments.

 

Ask Hackaday Anything over at Reddit tomorrow

I’ve had several requests over the years to do an AMA on Reddit. If you’re into that kind of thing (asking us anything), you can join us tomorrow morning at 10am central RIGHT HERE. For a rough example of what to expect, you can see the AMA that [Eliot Phillips] did when he moved on from hackaday. However, I suspect this one will contain much more Hackaday relevant content.

Hacking a floating RGB LED decorative ball

Knowing that I’m always happy to get something new and glowy, my wife brought home a cheap “floating pool light” that she found on sale for roughly $10. This is a large white floating ball that has LEDs inside and cycles through different colors. Meant to be put into a pool for neat effects, we found it to be much more interesting just used around the house.

However, it was a bit too bright and cycled colors too quickly for our taste. It was actually somewhat distracting when we were just trying to sit and have a few beers late at night on our patio. This gave me a perfect excuse to tear it apart and start hacking… like I wasn’t going to do that anyway.

What I found inside was extremely simple. There’s a single un-marked chip that holds the different display modes (there were 3 display modes: warm, cool, and white). The LEDs were arranged in an array of Reds, Blues, Greens, and Whites (half marked yellow).

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