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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Building a Sturdy Remote Control Mailbox

This DIY mailbox pretty much has it all. Not only is it waterproof and secure, it’s beautifully built and unlikely to arouse the suspicion of or induce fear in the mailman.

It’s made of 2mm thick sheet metal and features accents made of merri, a rather nice blood wood native to Western Australia. [George] of Make It Extreme built this mailbox primarily for remote control access, the idea being that each of his family members would have a key fob remote to open it. There’s an input panel under the lid in case someone loses or forgets their remote.

The setup is simple. That 12V solar panel under the address number is connected to a solar charge controller and charges a small battery. Pushing the A button on the key fob remote triggers the latch to slide over, unlocking the door. A push of the B button turns on an interior light for late-night mail collecting. The tube on the side is for leaflets and other postal miscellany. Now, the coolest feature: when mail passes through the slot, it lets [George] know by calling his cell phone. Check out the build/demo video after the break.

We’ve featured all kinds of mailboxen over the years. This wifi-enabled ‘box uses an Amazon Dash button and a Pi to play the AOL notification on the owner’s phone. The flag on this adorable mini mailbox goes up when there’s mail in the real one outside.

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Path to Craftsmanship: Safety, Cleanliness, and Documentation as Habits

When I started boxing classes I was told, at my level, I could do just as much good for my form by doing core exercises such as crunches, running, push-ups, and pull-ups for a month as I could by doing the class. I consder habits like safety, cleanliness, and documentation to be habits that influence the quality of hacks much the same way. They’re not really related, and the work can get done without them, but their implementation alone improves the quality of everything you do at the workbench.

The best mechanic I’ve ever met had a well-organized shop. All of his employees wore nitrile gloves when they worked on engines to protect their hands from the chemicals inside. They used ear protection and safety glasses. His rates were low, and the car was always repaired fast. I never had to go back for the same repair twice. He knew exactly what repairs were done, and even kept the parts removed from my vehicle to show me if I desired. I got some of the most fantastic explanations of why parts failed from him. Two blocks down the street was a shop which was unorganized and had double rates. The employees were always sitting on the waiting chairs in the lounge. It took one trip there to never return.

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This Billboard Kills Zika Mosquitoes

Once in a great while, effective advertising doesn’t require any human engagement at all. This billboard, designed and built by a pair of Brazilian ad agencies and set free under the Creative Commons license offers a reproducible solution for trapping Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes, the primary carrier of the Zika virus.

Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen.

The design seems pretty simple, although the plans leave a bit of explanation to be desired. Inside the billboard are canisters of Lurex 3, a lactic acid-based mosquito attractant that is available pretty cheaply on Amazon. The lactic acid mimics the scent of human sweat and is released outward to distances up to 4km (2.5 miles) in a fine mist along with CO₂. Together, the Lurex and CO₂ act like a sweaty, mouth-breathing human beacon to lure mosquitoes into the billboard, where they become trapped and are doomed to die of dehydration.
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Hacklet 102 – Laundry Projects

Ah laundry day. The washing machine, the dryer, the ironing, and the folding. No one is a fan of doing laundry, but we (I hope) are all fans of having clean clothing. Hackers, makers, and engineers are always looking for ways to make a tedious task a bit easier, and laundry definitely is one of those tedious tasks. This week we’re checking out some of the best laundry projects on!

laundrifyWe start with [Professor Fartsparkles] and Laundrify. Anyone who’s shared a washer and dryer with house or apartment mates will tell you how frustrating it can be. You bring your dirty laundry downstairs only to find the machines are in use. Wait too long, and someone has jumped in front of you. Laundrify fixes all that. Using a current sensor, Laundrify can tell if a machine is running. An ESP8266 monitors the current sensor and sends data up to the cloud – or in this case a Raspberry Pi. Users access this laundry as a service system by opening up a webpage on the Pi. The page includes icons showing the current status of each machine. If everything is in use, the users can join a queue to be notified when a machine is free.


borgmachineNext up is [Jose Ignacio Romero] with Borg Washing Machine. [Jose] came upon a washer that mechanically was perfect. Electrically was a different story. The biggest issue was the failing mechanical timer, which kept leaving him with soapy wet clothing. Washing machine timers boil down to mechanically timed multipole switches. They’re also expensive to replace. [Jose] did something better – he built an electronic controller to revitalize his washer. The processor is a PIC16F887. Most of the mains level switching is handled by relays. [Jose] programmed the new system using LDmicro, which is a ladder logic implementation for microcontrollers. For the uninitiated, ladder logic is a programming language often used on industrial Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) systems. The newly dubbed borg machine is now up and running better than ever.



Next we have [Michiel Spithoven] with Hot fill washing machine. In North America, most washing machines connect to hot and cold water supplies. Hot water comes from the home’s water heater. This isn’t the case in The Netherlands, where machines are designed to use electricity to heat cold water. [Michiel] knew his home’s water heater was more efficient than the electric heater built into his machine. [Michiel]  hacked his machine green by building an automated mixing manifold using two solenoid valves and a bit of copper pipe. The valves are controlled by a PIC microprocessor which monitors the temperature of the water entering the machine. The PIC modulates the valves to keep the water at just the right temperature for [Michiel’s] selected cycle. [Michiel] has been tracking the efficiency of the new system, and already has saved him €97!


laundrespFinally we have [Mark Kuhlmann] with LaundrEsp. [Mark’s] washing machine has a nasty habit of going off-balance and shutting down. This leaves him with soggy clothing and lost time re-running the load. [Mark] wanted to fix the problem without directly modifying his machine, so he came up with LaundrEsp. When the machine is running normally, a “door locked” light is illuminated on the control panel. As soon as the washer shuts down – due to a normal cycle ending or a fault, the door unlocks and the light goes out. [Mark] taped a CdS light detecting resistor over the light and connected it to an ESP8266. A bit of programming with, and [Mark’s] machine now let’s him know when it needs attention.

If you want to see more laundry projects check out our brand new laundry project list! If I missed your project, don’t take me to the cleaners! Drop me a message on, and I’ll have your project washed, folded, and added to the list in a jiffy. That’s it for this week’s Hacklet. As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of!

The Hacker’s Notebook: a Mission Log for Every Project

While “writing it down” might seem like common sense, it wasn’t always the case. From the times of Ancient Greece, Plato tells a story of a worried Egyptian King, who, upon witnessing the invention of writing, remarks,

“If men learn this, it will implant forgetfulness in their souls; they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks. [1]”

To some, the notebook was a dangerous device, a thief that would rob us of our memories [2]. Fortunately, these days, there’s plenty of evidence from our Psych texts that say we humans are pretty shabby at keeping the facts straight. In fact, each time we recall a memory, we change it! Here lies the beauty of the notebook. Have an idea for a new project? Why not log it somewhere for future reference? With diligence, the notebook can become our own personal hub for spurring on new project ideas.

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5 Wide and Tall Monitors with Hacked Bezels for Wall of Awesome

If two is better than one, what about five? [Omnicrash] has posted a nice analysis of his monitor setup, which uses 5 portrait mounted monitors side-by-side. To minimize the bezel size between them, he removed the casing and built a custom stand that placed them all closely together for a surround viewing approach. He’s been using this setup for a couple of years and has posted a nice analysis of making it work for multiple purposes. On the upside, he says it is awesome for gaming and watching videos.

On the downside, NVidia’s drivers and multi-monitor setup are a pain, and some tasks just didn’t work with the bezels. He couldn’t, for instance, run a standard-sized remote desktop screen anywhere without having the bezel get in the way. So, with large, hi-res monitors now getting cheaper, would he do it again? “If I had to do it all over again nowadays however I’d probably just go with a single 34″ ultra-wide for about the same price..though I probably wouldn’t be able to help myself and would eventually be adding at least one on top and 2 in portrait on the side.”