Hacklet 27 – Holiday Hacks

It’s beginning to look a lot like the holidays around here. That means it’s time for holiday hacks here on The Hacklet! This week we’re looking at the coolest festive hacks created by YOU on Hackaday.io!

xmashdrWe start with [charliex] and Cypress PSOC 4 + ESP8266 WS2812 RGB XMAS Lights. The name might be a mouthful, but the goal of the project is a simple one: Awesome Christmas lights! [Charliex] has created WiFi controllable Christmas lights. To do this, he’s utilized ARM core based PSOC4 chips from Cypress. WiFi duty is handled by the popular ESP8266 module, and the lights themselves are WS2812 addressable strips.

[charliex] really outdid himself this time, creating a complete solution from the ground up. He started with a Cypress dev board, but quickly moved to a board of his own design. The PCBs  first were milled at home, then sent out for manufacturing.
Control of the strip is via UDP through a WiFi network. [Charliex] found the strips have plenty of WiFi range to place outside his home.  The last part of the puzzle was control – which [charliex] handled in style by creating his own GUI to handle synchronizing several strips to music played on a central computer.

snowflakeNext up is [nsted] with another LED hack, Glowing Xmas Snowflake Sculpture. [Nsted] was contracted to add some extra LED bling to a sculpture. The problem was that these LEDs would be filling in gaps left in the primary interactive lighting system which ran the entire sculpture. Any time you have to meld two systems, things can get crazy. [Nsted] found this out as he added WS2812B Adafruit NeoPixel strips to the Sensacell modules already designed into the sculpture. Communications happen via RS485, with Arduino Due and Megas handling the processing. Power was a concern with this sculpture, as it was pulling over 100 amps at low voltage. Like many art installations, this was a “work down to the wire” event. Everything came together at the last-minute though, and the project was a success!

musicNext up is [Jeremy Weatherford] with Christmas Orchestra.  [Jeremy] has taken on the task of making the most epic retro electronics orchestra ever created. He’s playing Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Wizards in Winter on four floppies, three scanners, and an ancient inkjet printer. LED strips on the moving elements add lights to the sound. An Arduino Mega with a RAMPS board controls the show. [Jeremy] had his orchestra professionally recorded both on audio and in video. We’re anxiously awaiting the final video upload so we can rock out to some old hardware!

xmaslightsFinally, we’ve got [crenn6977] with his Solar powered Christmas Light Controller. This was [crenn6977’s] entry in the The Hackaday Prize. While it didn’t take him to space, we’re sure it will bring Santa to his door. Rather than run lots of tiny solar cells for his Sun powered Christmas lights, [crenn6977] is going for a single large panel and wireless control. The nRF24L01+ is handling the wireless connectivity, while a STM32F042 ARM cortex M0 processor is the brains of the operation. Solar power demands efficient design, so [crenn6977] is digging deep into op-amp circuits to keep those LEDs running through the night, and the batteries charging through the day.

It’s just about time for us to settle our brains for a long winter’s nap, so we’ll close this edition of The Hacklet here.  As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Retrotechtacular: Pipeline to the Arctic

They said it couldn’t be done, and perhaps it shouldn’t have been attempted. Shouldas and couldas aside, the oil crisis of the 1970s paved the legislative way for an 800-mile pipeline across the Alaskan frontier, and so the project began. The 48-inch diameter pipe sections would be milled in Japan and shipped to Alaska. Sounds simple enough. But of course, it wasn’t, since the black gold was under Prudhoe Bay in Alaska’s North Slope, far away from her balmy southern climes.

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System was constructed in three sections: from Valdez to Fairbanks, Fairbanks to a point in the Brooks Pass, and south from Prudhoe Bay to the mountain handoff. Getting pipe to the Valdez and Fairbanks is no big deal, but there is no rail, no highway, and no standard maritime passage to Prudhoe Bay. How on earth would they get 157 miles worth of 58-foot sections of pipe weighing over 8 tons each up to the bubblin’ crude?

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Hacklet 26 – Arduino Projects

Arduino is one of those boards that has become synonymous with hacking and making. Since its introduction in 2005, over 700,000 official Arduino boards have been sold, along with untold millions of compatible and clone boards. Hackers and makers around the world have found the Arduino platform a cheap and simple way to get their projects off the ground. This weeks Hacket focuses on some of the best Arduino based projects we’ve found on Hackday.io!

drawingbot[Niazangels] gets the ball – or ballpoint pen – rolling with Roboartist, a robot which creates line drawings. Roboartist is more than just a plotter though. [Niazangels] created a custom PC program which creates line drawings from images captured by a webcam. The line drawings are converted to coordinates, and sent to an Arduino, which controls all the motors that move the pen. [Niazangels] went with Dynamixel closed loop servo motors rather than the stepper motors we often see in 3D printers.

tape[Peter Edwards] is preserving the past with Tapuino, the $20 C64 Tape Emulator. Plenty of programs for the Commodore 64, 128, and compatibles were only distributed on tape. Those tapes are slowly degrading, though the classic Commodore herdware is still going strong. Tapuino preserves those tapes by using an Arduino nano to play the files from an SD card into the original Datasette interface. [Peter] also plans to add recording functionality to the Tapuino, which will make it the total package for preserving  your data. All that’s missing is that satisfying clunk when pressing the mechanical Play button!


[Dushyant Ahuja] knows what time it is, thanks to his Infinity Mirror Clock. This clock tells time with the help of some WS2812B RGB LED. [Dushyant] debugged the clock with a regular Arduino, but when it came time to finish the project, he used an ATmega328 to create an Arduino compatible board from scratch. Programming is easy with an on-board Bluetooth module. [Dushyant] plans to add a TFT lcd which will show weather and other information when those power-hungry LEDs are switched off.

alarm2[IngGaro] built an entire home alarm system with his project Arduino anti-theft alarm shield. [IngGaro] needed an alarm system for his home. That’s a lot to ask of a standard ATmega328p powered Arduino Uno. However, the extra I/O lines available on an Arduino Mega2560 were just what the doctor ordered. [IngGaro] performed some amazing point-to-point perfboard wiring to produce a custom shield that looks and works great! The alarm can interface with just about any sensor, and can be controlled via the internet. You can even disarm the system through an RFID keycard.

Want MORE Arduino in your life? Check out our curated Arduino List!

That’s about all the millis()  we have for this weeks Hacklet. As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Fail of the Week: Teddy Top and Fourteen Fails

Last summer, [Quinn] made the trip out to KansasFest, the annual Apple II convention in Kansas City, MO. There, she picked up the most modern Apple II system that wasn’t an architecturally weird IIGS: she lugged home an Apple IIc+, a weird little machine that looks like an old-school laptop without a screen.

Not content with letting an old computer just sit on a shelf looking pretty, [Quinn] is working on a project called the Teddy Top. ‘Teddy’ was one of the code names for the Apple IIc, and although add-ons to turn this book-sized computer into something like a laptop existed in the 80s, these solutions have not withstood the test of time. [Quinn] is building her own clamshell addition to her IIc+, and somehow failing at something she’s done hundreds of times before.

While the IIc+ has an NTSC composite output, the super-special video add-ons for the IIc+ used a DB15 expansion connector. Here, any add-on could access video sync signals, the a sound signal from the audio circuit, and even a +12V line that could drive loads up to 300 mA. It just so happened the display [Quinn] is using for this project runs at 12V, 200 mA. Everything was great, but as a worthy trustee of this computer’s Earthly existence, [Quinn] thought a bit of current limiting should be included in her addon. She designed a circuit around an NPN power transistor, that would allow the display to draw power until the load was around 250mA. After that, the transistor would start dumping excess power as heat. Yes, a fuse would be better. [Quinn] calls this Fail #1. There are thirteen more to go.

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Retrotechtacular: Supersonic Transport Initiatives

In the early days of PBS member station WGBH-Boston, they in conjunction with MIT produced a program called Science Reporter. The program’s aim was explaining modern technological advances to a wide audience through the use of interviews and demonstrations. This week, we have a 1966 episode called “Ticket Through the Sound Barrier”, which outlines the then-current state of supersonic transport (SST) initiatives being undertaken by NASA.

MIT reporter and basso profondo [John Fitch] opens the program at NASA’s Ames research center. Here, he outlines the three major considerations of the SST initiative. First, the aluminium typically used in subsonic aircraft fuselage cannot withstand the extreme temperatures caused by air friction at supersonic speeds. Although the Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde was skinned in aluminium, it was limited to Mach 2.02 because of heating issues. In place of aluminium, a titanium alloy with a melting point of 3,000°F is being developed and tested.

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Scope Noob: Microcontroller Quirks with DDS

In this installment of Scope Noob I’m working with Direct Digital Synthesis using a microcontroller. I was pleasantly surprised by some of the quirks which I discovered during this process. Most notably, I had a chance to look at errant triggers solved by using holdoff and a few timing peculiarities introduced by my use of the microcontroller. Here’s a video synopsis but I’ll cover everything in-depth after the break.

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Hacklet 25 – ESP8266 WiFi Module Projects

Few devices have hit the hacker/maker word with quite as large a bang as the ESP8266. [Brian] first reported a new $5 WiFi module back in August. Since then there have been an explosion of awesome projects utilizing the low-cost serial to WiFi module that is the ESP8266. This week’s Hacklet is all about some of the great ESP8266 projects we’ve found on Hackaday.io!

retroWe start with [TM] and the ESP8266 Retro Browser. [TM] has a great tutorial on combining the ESP8266 with an Arduino Mega2560. [TM’s] goal was a simple one: create a WiFi “browser” to access Hackaday’s Retro Site.  This is a bit more complex than one would first think, as the Arduino Mega2560 is a 5V board, and the ESP8266 are 3.3V parts. Level shifters to the rescue! [TM] was able to bring up the retro site in a terminal, but found that even “simple” websites like google send enough data back to swap the poor ESP8266!

oilmeterNext up is [Thomas] with the Simple Native ESP8266 Smartmeter. [Thomas] has created a device to measure run time on his oil heating system. He implemented this with some native programming on the ESP8266’s onboard Diamond Standard L106 Controller. When he was done, the ‘8266 had two new AT commands, one to start measurement and one to stop. A bit of web magic with some help from openweathermap.org allows [Thomas] to plot oil burner run time against outside temperature.

native[Matt Callow] is also checking out native programming using the EspressIf sdk with his project ESP8266 Native. ExpressIf made a great choice when they released the SDK for the ESP8266 back in October. [Matt] has logged his work on building and extending the demo apps from EspressIf. [Matt] has seven demo programs which do everything from blinking an LED to connecting to thingspeak via WiFi. While the demos aren’t all working yet, [Matt] is making great progress. The best part is he has all his code linked in from his Github repo. Nice work [Matt!]


8266[Michael O’Toole] is working on ESP8266 Development PCBs. The devboards have headers for the ESP8266, an on-board ATmega328 for Arduino Uno compatibility, and a USB to serial converter to make interfacing easy. [Michael] also provides all the important components you need to keep an ESp8266 happy, such as programming buttons, and a 3.3V regulator. We really like that [Michael] has included a header for a graphical LCD based local console.

Want to see more ESP8266 goodness? Check out our curated ESP8266 list on Hackaday.io!

Hackaday.io Update!

Hackaday.io gets better and better every day. We’ve just pushed out a new revision which includes some great updates. Search is now much improved. Try out a search, and you’ll find you can now search by project, project log, hacker, or any combination of 11 different fields. Our text editor has been revamped as well. Update a project log to give the new look a try!
We know everyone on .io is awesome, but just in case a spammer slips in, we’ve added “report as inappropriate” buttons to projects and comments. Once a few people hit those report buttons, projects or comments get sent to the admins for moderation.

That’s all the time we have for this week’s Hacklet! As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!