They Have Electronics in Junk Mail Now

On the way to the mailbox, you might be expecting bills, birthday cards, perhaps a grocery store catalogue or two. [Steve] was like you, once – until an embedded computer showed up in the junk mail.

The mailer turned out to be from the Arconic corporation – some sort of publication trying to sway a board of directors vote one way or the other. But far more interesting is the hardware inside. The device consisted of a 3″ LCD screen within folded cardboard, some buttons and a micro USB port. After the device let the smoke out when [Steve] attempted to charge it, the next step was naturally to perform a full teardown.

It was a simple job to identify the chips inside which still had their factory markings, and [Steve] found that it appeared to share its design with an Audi marketing material from 2014. It’s rather amazing that such technology is cheap enough for this sort of mass mailout, though [Steve] notes that it’s rather an imprudent move to post out a “fire hazard that needs to be specially recycled”.

This reminds us of the e-paper Esquire magazine display from a few years back.

Hands on with the Pinebook

The Pine A64 was a 64-bit Quad-Core Single Board Computer which was kickstarted at the tail end of 2015 for delivery in the middle of 2016. Costing just $15, and hailed as a “Raspberry Pi killer,” the board raised $1.7 million from 36,000 backers. It shipped to its backers to almost universally poor reviews.

Now they’re back, this time with a laptop—a 11.6-inch model for $89, or a 14-inch model for $99. Both are powered by the same 64-bit Quad-Core ARM Cortex A53 as the original Pine A64 board, but at least Pine are doing a much better job this time around of managing user expectations.

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Juicero: A Lesson On When To Engineer Less

Ben Einstein, a product designer and founder at Bolt, a hardware-based VC, recently got his hands on a Juicero press. This desktop juice press that only works with proprietary pouches filled with chopped fruits and vegetables is currently bandied in the tech press as evidence Silicon Valley has gone mad, there is no future in building hardware, and the Internet of Things is a pox on civilization. Hey, at least they got the last one right.

This iFixit-style tear down digs into the Juicero mixer in all its gory details. It’s beautiful, it’s a marvel of technology, and given the engineering that went into this machine, it was doomed to fail. Not because it didn’t accomplish the task at hand, but because it does so with a level of engineering overkill that’s delightful to look at but devastating to the production cost.

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Measuring Capacitors at the Birth of Rock and Roll

The late 1950s [Bill Haley], [Elvis Presley], and [Little Richard] were building a new kind of music. Meanwhile, electronic hobbyists were building their own gear from Heathkit. A lot of that gear shows you how far we’ve come in less than a century. [Jeff Tranter’s] YouTube channel is a great way to look at a lot of old Heathkit gear, including this really interesting “direct reading capacity meter.” You can see the video, below.

Measuring capacitance these days is easy. Many digital multimeters have that function. However, those didn’t exist in the 1950s–at least, not in the way we know them. The CM-1 weighed 5 pounds, had several tubes, and cost what would equate to $250 in today’s prices. Unlike other instruments of the day, though, the capacitance was read directly off a large analog meter (hence, the name). You didn’t have to interpret readings using a nomograph or move a knob to balance a bridge and read the knob’s position.

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The Shocking Truth About Transformerless Power Supplies

Transformerless power supplies are showing up a lot here on Hackaday, especially in inexpensive products where the cost of a transformer would add significantly to the BOM. But transformerless power supplies are a double-edged sword. That title? Not clickbait. Poking around in a transformerless-powered device can turn your oscilloscope into a smoking pile or get you electrocuted if you don’t understand them and take proper safety precautions.

But this isn’t a scare piece. Transformerless designs are great in their proper place, and you’re probably going to encounter one someday because they’re in everything from LED lightbulbs to IoT WiFi switches. We’re going to look at how they work, and how to design and work on them safely, because you never know when you might want to hack on one.

Here’s the punchline: transformerless power supplies are safely useable only in situations where the entire device can be enclosed and nobody can accidentally come in contact with any part of it. That means no physical electrical connections in or out — RF and IR are fair game. And when you work with one, you have to know that any part of the circuit can be at mains voltage. Now read on to see why!

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Stereo Microscope Teardown

Stereo microscopes are very handy tools, especially for a lot of hackers who now regularly assemble, test and debug SMD circuits using parts as small as grains of sand. We have seen a lot of stereo microscope hacks here at Hackaday, so it helps to take a look inside one to understand how they work. Thanks to [noq2]’s teardown of a Wild Heerbrugg model M8 stereo microscope, we get to do exactly that. His M8 is from the mid-1970s, but it is in mint condition and doesn’t look like it’s over 40 years old. Despite being so old, [noq2] still uses it regularly, so the teardown is not super detailed. But there’s enough for us to get a good idea of how they work.

Stereo microscopes use one of two optical designs — the Common Main Objective (CMO) optical system and the Greenough optical system. [MicroscopeWorld] has a nice blog post explaining these two types and their pros and cons. Not surprisingly, stereo microscopes, just like other optical instruments, are highly modular to allow attaching various extensions, adapters and accessories. The Wild M8 uses the CMO design and its main parts are the binocular head, the main body and the objective lens.

The binocular head consists of the two eyepieces and a pair of prisms that create the binocular split. The alignment of these prisms is critical and they must not be disturbed in their mounting cages. The prism cages have a sliding adjustment to help set the interpupillary distance. The main body contains the zoom and magnification optics and the related mechanics. [noq2] is impressed with the lack of plastics used in the construction of these fine instruments. Finally, there’s the huge objective lens, which [noq2] feels is the Achilles heel of the instrument. Its design is not plan-apochromatic and that causes significant chromatic aberrations, especially when trying to capture photographs. Thankfully, there are other objective lenses which can be used, including some DIY adapter solutions. The Wild Heerbrugg brand was taken over by Leica who still produce a range of stereo microscopes under that badge. If you have one of these microscopes, [noq2] suggests you head over the French forum at where you’ll find extensive information about them.

As a bonus, also check out [noq2]’s ghetto lighting solution for his microscope – a pair of high power LED’s attached to salvaged heatsinks, and mounted on the frame of an old 80 mm cooling fan. The fan frame is perfect since it is the right size to slide over the objective lens. If you’re looking for a more capable lighting solution for your microscope, then check out “AZIZ! Light!”, a microscope ring light with a number of different features.

Before There were Nixie Tubes, There Were Edge-Lit Displays?

We’ve seen a bunch of replacements for nixie tubes using LEDs and edge-lit acrylic for the numbers. But one of the earliest digital voltmeters used edge-lit Lucite plates for the numbers and a lot of incandescent lamps to light them up.

[stevenjohnson] has a Non-Linear Systems Model 481 digital voltmeter and he’s done a teardown of it so we can get a glimpse of the insides. Again, anyone who’s seen the modern versions of edge-lit numeric displays knows what they are: A series of clear plastic plates with numbers (or characters) etched into them, each with a light source beneath them. You turn one light on to light one plate, another to light another, and so on. The interesting bit here is the use of incandescent bulbs and the use of sequential relays to cycle through the lights. The relays make a lot of racket, especially with the case open.

[stevenjohnson] also notes that he might have made a mistake opening up the part of the machine where the plates are stored as it took him a bit to get the plates back in place and back in the unit. We’d imagine it was pretty loud if you were taking a lot of measurements with this machine, although it looks great inside and, obviously, the idea is a pretty good one. Check out this edge-lit nixie tube display or these edge-lit numeric modules.

[via boingboing]

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