NES Light Gun Turned (Video) Synthesizer

[Russell Kramer] made our day today. We’re tremendous fans of minimalism in electronics design, dirty noise hacks, and that old NES  light gun. He’s posted up a project that combines all three to make a light-gun controlled, VGA video display that makes bleepy-bloopy noises to boot. Check out the video below!

To appreciate this hack, you really need to read through the project logs in detail. Start with the VGA signal creation, for instance. The easiest way to go these days is to throw a microcontroller at the problem. But because he’s done that to death, [Russell] takes a step back thirty years and generates the sync pulses periodically with a relaxation oscillator and a binary counter IC. The rest of the build follows this aesthetic choice: everything is op amps and CMOS logic. The rainbow effect, for instance, is created from the audio signal through a three-stage, 120-degree phase-shift oscillator sent to the R, G, and B channels. Kudos!

The high-level overview is that the light intensity and position hitting the gun’s sensor is converted into a voltage that drives an audio-frequency oscillator. This audio output is then piped back into the video generator. Watching the video, it’s obvious that pointing the gun at different parts of the screen changes the pitch, but playing a given pitch is nearly impossible on this thing with all the feedback going on. [Russell] added a bit of more control into the system — when the gun’s trigger is pulled, it registers full-brightness regardless of the video input — but even so, we’d be hard-pressed to play “Mary Had a Little Lamb”.

But that’s not the point. The point is awesome, light-gun-waving noisy madness set to a responsive colorful video background. And that’s been achieved in spades!

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A Hackers Guide to Arts, Crafts, Food, and Music in Shenzhen

When you mention Shenzhen, many people think about electronic gadgets, cheap components, manufacturing, and technology. I’m there quite often and find that all of the technology and manufacturing related stress can be overwhelming at times. Sometimes I feel the need to escape it all so I go to markets and places that aren’t traditionally associated with technology so I can clear my head as well as expose myself to something different. It provides me with a constant source of new design ideas and also allows me to escape the persistent tech treadmill that Shenzhen runs on. There are a lot of places in Shenzhen that I consider hidden gems that don’t get a lot of press since mainstream media associates Shenzhen with either factories or technology. Here are my favorite places to window shop and de-stress in Shenzhen.

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Beautiful and Bizarre Boards

weirdboard
An odd board (piezo coupler), fabbed by OSHPark.

Recently I’ve been getting curious about interesting PCB shapes. In the past I’ve always used simple Polygons, perhaps rounding out the corners to make the design a little more aesthetically pleasing. The board to the right was my introduction to the possibilities of oddly shaped boards. It’s designed to couple with a piezo buzzer (used as an actuator). I’ve been planning to have it fabricated out of FPC (Flexible Printed Circuits), but with fabrication being so cheap I sent it to OSHPark to see what they’d make of it. OSHPark doesn’t have hard specs around internal routing, but in my experience they’re up to try anything (and they’re quality is always great). The width of the prongs on the PCB shown is 5mm. I figured it was a risk, and that it was likely the FR4 could break, but it came back great!

This has led me to the realization that my boards could look much more exciting than they do currently, and that our highly optimized modern PCB fabrication process provides a lot of room for experimentation. This article will discuss some of the options available when creating non-traditional PCBs.

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It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, No… It’s High Voltage EPROM Man!

At Hackaday, we cover some pretty high-tech builds. Sometimes, though, you see something simple, but it still makes you feel happy to see it. That’s pretty much the case with [ProtoG’s] High Voltage EPROM Man.

The parts probably came out of a junk box, but the good news is that they don’t have to work, and you can freely substitute anything you have. According to [ProtoG], the “robot” head is a bulb socket with a crystal for the visor. The arms are fuses with fuse clips for the hands. The knees are adjustable caps, and the feet are TO-220 transistors.

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A Digital Canvas That’s Hard to Spot

While sorely lacking in pictures of the innards of this digital canvas, we were extremely impressed with the work that went into making such a convincing object. [Clay Bavor] wanted a digital picture frame, but couldn’t find one on the market that did what he wanted. They all had similar problems, the LCDs were the lowest quality, they were in cheap bezels, they had weird features, they had no viewing angle, and they either glowed like the sun or were invisible in dark environments.

[Clay] started with the LCD quality, he looked at LCD specs for the absolute best display, and then, presumably, realized he lived in a world where money is no object and bought a 27″ iMac. The iMac has a very high pixel density, no viewing angle, and Apple goes through the trouble of color balancing every display. Next he got a real frame for the iMac, cut a hole in the wall to accommodate it, and also had a mat installed to crop the display to a more convincing aspect ratio for art. One of the most interesting part of the build is the addition of a Phidgets light sensor. Using this, he has some software running that constantly adjusts the Mac to run at a brightness that’s nearly imperceptible in the room’s lighting.

Once he had it built he started to play around with the software he wrote for the frame. Since he wanted the frame to look like a real art print he couldn’t have the image change while people were looking, so he used the camera on the Mac and face detection to make sure the image only changed when no one was looking for a few minutes. He also has a mode that trolls the user by changing the image as soon as they look away.

We admit that a hackier version of this would be tearing the panel out of a broken iMac and using a lighter weight computer to run all the display stuff. [Clay] reached the same conclusion and plans to do something similar for his version 2.0.

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Making a Wooden Multi-Mirror Display Device

Do you have 835 servo motors sitting around? Why not build your own binary wood-pixel-display-device?

Using the same basic concept as a DMD (Digital Micromirror Device) — the heart of all DLP projection technology — an artist created this wooden mirror. It features 835 wood “pixels” which are controlled by servo motors. Each pixel or wood chip can flip 30 degrees down, and 30 degrees up. A series of spot lights shining on the mirror provides lighting so shadows form when the pixels are “off”. The result is quite fascinating.

A small camera mounted in the middle of the display takes a black and white image of whoever (or whatever) is standing in front of the mirror. A bit of image processing later, and the mirror displays what it sees.

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Hackaday Links: December 27th, 2015

PCBs can be art – we’ve known this for a while, but we’re still constantly impressed with what people can do with layers of copper, fiberglass, soldermask, and silkscreen. [Sandy Noble] is taking this idea one step further. He took C64, Spectrum, and Sinclair PCBs and turned them into art. The results are incredible. These PCBs were reverse engineered, traced, and eventually turned into massive screen prints. They look awesome, and they’re available on Etsy.

$100k to bring down drones. That’s the tagline of the MITRE Challenge, although it’s really being sold as, “safe interdiction of small UAS that pose a safety or security threat in urban areas”. You can buy a slingshot for $20…

[styropyro] mas made a name for himself on Youtube for playing with very dangerous lasers and not burning his parent’s house down. Star Wars is out, and that means it’s time to build a handheld 7W laser. It’s powered by two 18650 cells, and is responsible for more than a few scorch marks on the walls of [styropyro]’s garage.

Everybody is trying to figure out how to put Ethernet and a USB hub on the Pi Zero. This means a lot of people will be launching crowdfunding campaigns for Pi Zero add-on boards that add Ethernet and USB. The first one we’ve seen is the Cube Infinity. Here’s the thing, though: they’re using through-hole parts for their board, which means this won’t connect directly to the D+ and D- USB signals on the Pi Zero. They do have a power/battery board that may be a little more useful, but I can’t figure out how they’re doing the USB.

[Keith O] found a fascinating video on YouTube and sent it into the tips line. It’s a machine that uses a water jet on pastries. These cakes start out frozen, and come out with puzzle piece and hexagon-shaped slices. Even the solution for moving cakes around is ingenious; it uses a circular platform that rotates and translates by two toothed belts. Who would have thought the latest advancements in cutting cakes and pies would be so fascinating?

It’s time to start a tradition. In the last links post of last year, we took a look at the number of views from North Korea in 2014. Fifty-four views, and we deeply appreciate all our readers in Best Korea. This year? For 2015, we’ve logged a total of thirty-six views from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. That’s a precipitous drop that deserves an investigation. Pyongyang meetup anyone?