Help Needed: No-Soldering ESP8266 IFTTT Button

We all love to see amazing hacks in their finished state and be dazzled by what our peers can do. But that’s just the summit of the hacker’s Everest. We all know that the real work is in getting there. user [stopsendingmejunk] is working on an ESP8266-based IFTTT Button based on a simple breakout board so that anyone could rebuild it without having to do any soldering, and he’s looking for collaboration.

[stopsendingmejunk]’s project takes off from this similar project on different hardware. The board he’s chosen to use is the EZSBC ESP8266-07 breakout, which should have everything he needs, including an on-board button. It should be an easy enough job, but he’s having trouble getting the thing to stay asleep until the button is pressed.

We’ve seen more than a few hacks of the Amazon Dash button, but aside from hacking for hacking’s sake, we’re also happy to see a ground-up open redesign. Besides, this looks like it’ll be a great introductory project, requiring little fiddling around. With a little help. The code is up here on GitHub. Anyone game?

Muscle Wire Pen Dances to Duke Nukem

[serdef] is clearly just having a little bit of fun here. One never needs a whiteboard pen that’s syncronized by MIDI to dance along with the theme from Duke Nukem.

But if you had all of the parts on hand (a highly liquid MIDI-driven relay board that connects straight up to a soundcard, some muscle wire, tape, and a whiteboard pen, naturally) we’re pretty sure that you would. You can watch the dancing pen in a video below the break.

The project is really about documenting the properties of [serdef]’s muscle wire, and he found that it doesn’t really contract enough with a short piece to get the desired effect. So he added more wire. We’ve always meant to get around to playing with muscle wire, and we were surprised by how quickly it reacted to changing the voltage in [serdef]’s second video.

Now the dancing pen isn’t the most sophisticated muscle wire project we’ve ever seen. And that award also doesn’t go to this Nitinol-powered inchworm. Did you know that there’s muscle wire inside Microsoft’s Surface?

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Scratching Vinyl Straddles Physical and Digital Realms

The life of a modern DJ is hard. [Gergely] loves his apps, but the MIDI controller that works with the app feels wrong when he’s scratching, and the best physical interfaces for scratching only work with their dedicated machines. [Gergely]’s blog documents his adventures in building an interface to drive his iPad apps from a physical turntable. But be warned, there’s a lot here and your best bet is to start at the beginning of the blog (scroll down) and work your way up. Or just let us guide you through it.

In one of his earliest posts he lays out his ideal solution: a black box that interprets time-code vinyl records and emulates the MIDI output of the sub-par MIDI controller. Sounds easy, right? [Gergely] gets the MIDI side working fairly early on, because it’s comparatively simple to sniff USB traffic and emulate it. So now he’s got control over the MIDI-driven app, and the hard part of interfacing with the real world began.

After experimenting a lot with timecode vinyl, [Gergely] gives up on that and looks for an easier alternative. He also considers using an optical mouse, but that turns out to be a dead-end as well. Finally, [Gergely] settled on using a Tascam TT-M1, which is basically an optical encoder that sits on top of the record, and that makes the microcontroller’s job a lot easier. You can see the result in the video below the break.

And then in a surprise ending worthy of M. Night (“I see dead people”) Shyamalan  he pulls timecode vinyl out of the grave, builds up a small hardware translator, and gets his original plan working. But we have the feeling that he’s not done yet: he also made a 3D printed optical-mouse holder.

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MSX with BlinkenLights

Blinkenlights-originalOld Mini and Mainframe computers often had huge banks of diagnostic lights to indicate the status of address, data and control buses or other functions. When the lights blinked, the computer was busy at work. When they stopped in a particular pattern, engineers could try and figure out what went wrong by decoding the status of the lights.

[Folkert van Heusden] has an old MSX-based Philips VG-8020 computer and decided to add his own set of BlinkenLights to his system. The VG-8020 was a first generation MSX released in 1983 and featured a Zilog Z80A microprocessor clocked at 3.56 MHz, 64KB of RAM, 16KB of VRAM, and two cartridge slots.

The cartridge slots of the MSX are connected to the address and data buses in addition to many of the control signals, so it seemed logical to tap in to those signals. Not wanting to play around with a whole bunch of transistors, he opted to use an Arduino Nano to connect to his computer and drive the LEDs. In hindsight, this seemed like a wise decision as it allowed him to do some processing on the incoming data before driving the LEDs.

Instead of creating a new PCB, he cut open one of his beloved game cartridges. A switch was added to the slot select control pin (SLTSL) and eight wires soldered directly to the data bus. These were hooked up as inputs to the Arduino. A bank of eight LEDs with limiting resistors were connected to outputs on the Arduino. A quick test confirmed it all worked, including the switch to enable / disable the cartridge. He had to experiment with the code a bit as the LEDs were initially blinking too fast.

v2_frontA couple of months later, he upgraded his BlinkenLight display to include the 16 bit address, 8 bit data and 8 lines for control signals. To do this, he used two MCP23017 – I2C 16 input/output port expander chips. For the LEDs, he installed a bank of four NeoPixel LED bars. A Pro-Mini takes care of the processing, and a custom PCB in the cartridge format houses all of it neatly. Check out the two videos below showing the BlinkenLights in action.

And if these BlinkenLights got you interested, take a look at this awesome Z80 Computer With Switches And Blinkenlights that has a hand operated crank to advance clock cycles.

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Maker Barn Organizer Creates Makerspace Access Control System

The MakerBarn is a new makerspace between The Woodlands and Tomball, TX (north of Houston). [George Carlson], one of the founders and a retired design engineer, wanted to make sure only members certified on a machine could use it. He worked with [Kolja Windeler] to create the MACS or Makerspace Access Control System. He has one video explaining MACS and, after the break, another explaining the browser based user interface for the system.

20151205_181615A control box, [George] calls them stations, controls the power to a machine. Member badges have an RFID tag that is read when inserted into the station’s reader. If the member is authorized to use the machine, the power is enabled. For safety, the member’s badge must remain in the reader to maintain power. The reader uses a Photon board from Particle with a WiFi link to a Raspberry Pi server.

[Kolja] developed a Pi system to maintain a database of member numbers and the machines they can use. The list is sent to the stations periodically or when updates occur. The user interface is browser based on the MakerBarn’s LAN so it can be maintained by a computer or smartphone in the space. Presently 21 MACS modules have been built with some going to Hanover University in Germany for their auto hobby shop.

Not only did [George] lead the effort on creating MACS but has been key to getting the construction done inside a pole barn to make the MakerBarn a reality.

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OSWatch, an open source watch

If you are a soldering ninja with a flair for working with tiny parts and modules, check out the Open Source Watch a.k.a. OSWatch built by [Jonathan Cook]. His goals when starting out the project were to make it Arduino compatible, have enough memory for future applications, last a full day on one charge, use BLE as Central or Peripheral and be small in size. With some ingenuity, 3d printing and hacker skills, he was able to accomplish all of that.

OSWatch is still a work in progress and with detailed build instructions available, it is open for others to dig in and create their own versions with modifications – you just need to bring in a lot of patience to the build. The watch is built around a Microdunio Core+ board, an OLED screen, BLE112A module, Vibration motor, a couple of LEDs and Buttons, and a bunch of other parts. Take a look at the schematics here. The watch requires a 3V3, 8MHz version of the Microdunio Core+ (to ensure lower power consumption), and if that isn’t readily available, [Jonathan]  shows how to modify a 5V, 16MHz version.

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Piezoelectric Transformers are a Thing, Have You Used One?

Cheap piezo buzzers are everywhere. They’re so cheap that they can be used in novelty birthday cards. Applying an alternating voltage across a piezo crystal makes it expand and contract, and fixing this crystal to a metal disk gives the piezo speaker its characteristic tinny sound that is anything but pleasant.

The piezoelectric effect works the other way too, and piezo elements are very useful as vibration sensors. Simply put one of your voltmeter leads on each of the piezo element’s wires and touch the element with your hand or knock it against your bench. You should see a voltage spike on your voltmeter which will change in magnitude with the amount of force you use when touching the element.

This ability to change shape when a voltage is applied and to create a voltage when they’re deformed is the basis of the piezoelectric transformer (PZT). While searching for a high voltage/low current transformer, Hackaday reader [Josh] was surprised to find a piezoelectric solution. He didn’t say whether he decided to use a PZT in his project but he did link us to a decent PDF on the subject.

piezo_transformerIn a PZT, two piezo elements sit next to each other. The primary is made up of multiple thin layers that expand horizontally and press on a single secondary piezo element. The more and the thinner the primary layers, the more force is exerted on the secondary, and the more voltage it develops. There are a few equations involved which you can check out in the PDF linked above that go over this concept in painful detail if you’re into that sort of thing.

If you have never played with piezo element you should add one to your next parts order. They are cheap and easy to experiment with. We have seen piezo elements used in DIY speakers, sonar projects, and even as the sensor for an atomic force microscope, but we have yet to see a piezoelectric transformer in a hack. Surely someone has used one in a project they worked on, leave us a link in the comments if you’re the person we’re talking about.