World’s Greatest Bubble Machine born of Space Program

[GordonKirkwood] needs soap bubbles. Big soap bubbles. Why does he need soap bubbles? Because – soap bubbles!

Actually, [Gordon] is a photographer, and he wants to capture candid moments and fleeting expressions. What better way to inspire wonder and amazement than to be able to produce a giant soap bubble on demand? And what better way to do it than with an intricate, computer controlled giant bubble machine?

[Gordon’s] inspiration for the bubble producing mechanism comes from the end effector of the Canadarm robotic Space Shuttle arm, which used a cable-grapple design to snare and secure payloads. [Gordon] uses a similar principle to interweave bubble juice-soaked strings and pull them apart in a plane to form a soap film. A puff of wind or a quick shot from a fan inflates and launches the bubble, which the mechanism can pinch off for precise control of size.

The amount of work [Gordon] put into the machine is impressive. His Instructables post is incredibly detailed and goes into not only his build but also his design process and prototyping, the science of soap bubble instruments, and even a nod to the work of other pioneering bubble enthusiasts. And he thoughtfully includes a recipe for professional-grade bubble juice, with a secret ingredient that may surprise you.

You say your bubble-producing needs run more toward quantity than quality? Try using the juice in this homemade bubble robot.

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High Voltage, Wood and Resin Result in Fractal Art

Wood burning, which goes by pyrography when it’s feeling fancy, has been an art form for centuries. [PapaJ06] puts a new twist on it by using a microwave oven transformer to generate fractal patterns in wood. We’ve seen these Lichtenberg figures before, but generally as electric discharges in acrylic sheets or crystal balls using multi-mega-electron volt accelerators. [PapaJ06]’s technique is considerably simpler and well within the reach of most would-be fractal artists, relying as it does on a transformer salvaged from a $20 Craigslist microwave.

But the extra twist that really brings the wow factor to the fractal patterns burned into the wood is the addition of some phosphorescent resin to fill the valleys carved by the electric discharge. [PapaJ06] carefully prepares the wood, fills the burns with glow powder mixed with epoxy resin, and finishes with a little sanding, linseed oil and polyurethane. The contrast between the charred and intact wood, and the way the resin fills the voids really brings out the fractal nature of the Lichtenberg figures.

[PapaJ06] doesn’t really show us too much about his process, but luckily [TheBackyardScientist] recently posted a video of his process for riding the lightning. Check it out after the break.

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Logic Noise: Ping-pong Stereo, Mixers, and More

So far on Logic Noise, we’ve built up a bunch of sound-making voices and played around with sequencing them. The few times that we’ve combined voices together, we’ve done so using the simplest possible passive mixer — a bunch of resistors. And while that can work, we’ve mostly just gotten lucky. In this session, we’ll take our system’s output a little bit more seriously and build up an active mixer and simple stereo headphone driver circuit.

For this, we’ll need some kind of amplification, and our old friend, the 4069UB, will be doing all of the heavy lifting. Honestly, this week’s circuitry is just an elaboration of the buffer amplifiers and variable overdrive circuits we looked at before. To keep things interesting we’ll explore ping-pong stereo effects, and eventually (of course) put the panning under logic-level control, which is ridiculous and mostly a pretext to introduce another useful switch IC, the 4066 quad switch.

At the very end of the article is a parts list for essentially everything we’ve done so far. If you’ve been following along and just want to make a one-time order from an electronics supply house, check it out.

klangoriumIf you’re wondering why the delay in putting out this issue of Logic Noise, it’s partly because I’ve built up a PCB that incorporates essentially everything we’ve done so far into a powerhouse of a quasi-modular Logic Noise demo — The Klangorium. The idea was to take the material from each Logic Noise column so far and build out the board that makes experimenting with each one easy.

Everything’s open and documented, and it’s essentially modular so you can feel free to take as much or as little out of the project as you’d like. Maybe you’d like to hard-wire the cymbal circuit, or maybe you’d like to swap some of the parts around. Copy ours or build your own. If you do, let us know!

OK, enough intro babble, let’s dig in.

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Your Brain Thinks Its Burning You, But It’s Not

In the cult classic Dune, there’s this fictional device called the “Pain Box”. If you touch it, you’ll feel like your hand is burning, but in reality, no tissue is being damaged. In the real world this is called the Thermal Grill Illusion, which was discovered back in 1896. Much to our chagrin, [Adam Davis] has just finished building a working prototype.

Sound familiar? We covered a similar project a few months ago — but unfortunately it didn’t work very well. Luckily, and boy do we love it when this happens, [Adam] saw the post, and got inspired to try it himself. He had actually designed a system years back but never got around to building it. Upon seeing the post — and the difficulties in making it work — he just had to figure it out.

So how does it work? The Thermal Grill Illusion uses alternating warm and cool bars which stimulate the temperature receptors in your skin — and confuse them. Neither the warm or cool bars are extreme enough in temperature to do any harm, but your confused little temperature receptors make it feel like you’re either burning or freezing your skin off!

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Digital Counter From Stuff You Have In Your Junk Drawer

In vehicle racing, a properly tuned suspension is essential for making good time around the track. Weekend Race Warrior [Julian], thought that his right rear suspension might be bottoming out when making hard left turns. After thinking about it for a while, he came up with a super simple way to measure how many times his suspension bottoms out during a lap: a digital counter made from a calculator.

There are two types of calculators out there, one is good for this project and the other won’t work. To figure out which one you have, type in 1+1=. All calculators should display 2. Then, press the = button again. Some calculators will continue to show 2, but some will change to 3, then 4 and so on as many times as the = button is pressed. This is the type of calculator this project requires.

[Julian] opened up his calculator and soldered a pair of wires across the = button terminals. After a hole was drilled in the case for the wires to exit, the calculator was put back together. To count how often his suspension bottomed out, a normally open limit switch was installed on the car at a point where it would be triggered when the suspension bottomed out. The 2 added wires coming out of the modified calculator connect to that switch. Switch presses now emulate a = button press. Before starting a lap, 1+1= is pressed to display 2. At the end of the lap, if the suspension bottomed out, the switch would be triggered and the displayed value would increase. Remember to subtract 2 from that value to get the total number of events that occurred.

A mechanical switch makes this a great application for counting when things move a certain way but there are some more options. Connecting the switch-side of a relay to the calculator allows [Julian] to count brake presses (via the break light signals) or count how often his boost pressure goes over a certain amount (using a pressure switch).

Blinking LEDs For A Timeless Fountain

We’ve seen a few of these builds before, but the build quality of [Mathieu]’s timeless fountain makes for an excellent display of mechanical skill showing off the wonder of blinking LEDs.

This timeless fountain is something we’ve seen before, and the idea is actually pretty simple: put some LEDs next to a dripping faucet, time the LEDs to the rate at which the droplets fall, and you get a stroboscopic effect that makes tiny droplets of water appear to hover in mid-air.

Like earlier builds, [Mathieu] is using UV LEDs and is coloring the water with fluorescein, a UV reactive dye. The LEDs are mounted on two towers, and at the top of the tower is a tiny, low power IR laser and photodiode. With the right code running on an ATxmega16A4, the lights blink in time with the falling water droplet, making it appear the drop is hovering in midair.

Blinking LEDs very, very quickly isn’t exactly hard. The biggest problem with this build was the mechanics. The frame of the machine was machined out of polycarbonate sheets and went together very easily. Getting a consistent drip from a faucet was a bit harder. It took about fifteen tries to get the design of the faucet nozzle right, but [Mathieu] eventually settled on a small output hole (about 0.5 mm) and a sharp nozzle angle of about 70 degrees.

[Mathieu] created a video of a few hovering balls of fluorescence. You can check that out below. It’s assuredly a lot cooler in real life without frame rate issues.

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Brass Clock Face Etched With PCB Techniques

Over the last few months, [Chris] has been machining a timepiece out of brass and documenting the entire process on his YouTube channel. This week, he completed the clock face. The clock he’s replicating comes from a time before CNC, and according to [Chris], the work of engraving roman numerals on a piece of brass would have been sent out to an engraver. Instead of doing things the traditional way, he’s etching brass with ferric chloride. It’s truly artisan work, and also provides a great tutorial for etching PCBs.

[Chris] is using a photoresist process for engraving his clock dial, and just like making PCBs, this task begins by thoroughly scrubbing and cleaning some brass with acetone. The photoresist is placed on the brass, a transparency sheet printed off, and the entire thing exposed to four blacklights. After that, the unexposed photoresist is dissolved with a sodium carbonate solution, and it’s time for etching.

The clock face was etched in ferric chloride far longer than any PCB would; [Chris] is filling these etchings with shellac wax for a nice contrast between the silvered brass and needs deep, well-defined voids.

You can check out the video below, but that would do [Chris]’ channel a disservice. When we first noticed his work, the comments were actually more positive than not. That’s high praise around here.

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