A Heart for His Girlfriend

[Decino] made a nice LED animated blinking heart box for his girlfriend. That’s a nice gesture, but more to the point here, it’s a nice entrée into the world of custom hardware. The project isn’t anything more than a home-etched PCB, a custom 3D-printed case, a mess of LEDs and current-limiting resistors, a shift register, and a microcontroller. (OK, we’re admittedly forgetting the Fifth Element.) The board is even single-sided with pretty wide traces. In short, it’s a great first project that ties together all of the basics without any parts left over. Oh, and did we mention Valentine’s day?

Once you’ve got these basics down, though, the world is your oyster. Building almost anything you need is just a matter of refining the process and practice. And if you’ve never played around with shift registers, a mega-blinker project like this is a great way to learn hands-on.

Not everything we write up on Hackaday has to be neural nets and JTAG ports. Sometimes a good beginner project that hits the fundamentals with no extra fat is just the ticket. What’s your favorite intro project?

Simple Clock is Great Stepper Motor Project

You’d think that we’ve posted every possible clock here at Hackaday. It turns out that we haven’t. But we have seen enough that we’ve started to categorize clock builds in our minds. There are the accuracy clocks which strive to get every microsecond just right, the bizzaro clocks that aim for most unique mechanism, and then there are “hello world” clocks that make a great introduction to building stuff.

Today, we’re looking at a nice “hello world” clock. [electronics for everyone]’s build uses a stepper motor and a large labelled wheel that rotates relative to a fixed pointer. Roll the wheel, and the time changes. It looks tidy, it’s cyclical by design, and it’s a no-stress way to get your feet wet driving stepper motors. And it comes with a video, embedded below.

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Thinking of You: IoT Style

Do you have loved ones who live far away? Or do you just want an interesting starter ESP8266 project to get your feet wet? If the answer to either of these questions is “yes”, we’ve got just the project for you. [Craig Lindley] built a “thinking of you” button-and-LED display device that helps people keep in touch, in a very simple way.

We like the minimalism of the design. One party presses their button, electrons flow, WiFis WiFi, data travels through a set of tubes, and an LED far away glows a pre-arranged color. The other side can signal back to say “hi” as well. It’s a cute item to have on your desk, or wherever you spend the most time. If you’re new to all of this, you can hardly beat the circuit for its simplicity.

Yeah, you could totally just send the other person a text message or an e-mail. But then you don’t get an excuse to play around with NodeMCU, and it just lacks the personal hacker touch. The code is available in a zip file here, and if you want to stay in touch with someone other than [Craig]’s sisters, you’ll probably want to customize it a bit.

Kicking The Tires Before You Buy: 3d Printers

So you’re looking to buy your first 3D printer, and your index finger is quivering over that 300 US Dollar printer on Amazon.com. Stop! You’re about to have a bad time. 3D printing has come a long way, but most 3D printers are designed through witchcraft, legends, and tall tales rather than any rigorous engineering process. I would say most 3D printer designs are either just plain bad, or designed by a team of Chinese engineers applying all their ingenuity to cost cutting. There are a few that are well designed, and there is a comparatively higher price tag attached.

I’ll start by going through some of the myths and legends that show up in 3D printers. After that I’ll go through some of the common, mostly gimmick, features that typically hinder your printer’s ability, rather than adding any useful function. Next I’ll go onto the things that will actually make your printer better. Finally, I’ll add some special consideration if you’re a beginner buying your first printer.

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Alfred P. Morgan: A Generation’s Radio Hacker

I was surfing the web looking for interesting projects the other day when I ran into [SkyKing’s] exquisite transistor demodulator radio builds. He mentioned that they were “Alfred P. Morgan-style” and that brought back a flood of memories about a man who introduced a whole generation to electronics and radio.

[Morgan] was born in 1889 and in the early part of the twentieth century, he was excited to build and fly an airplane. Apparently, there wasn’t a successful flight. However, he eventually succeeded and wrote his first book: “How to Build a 20-foot Bi-Plane Glider.” In 1910, he and a partner formed the Adams Morgan company to distribute radio construction kits. We probably wouldn’t remember [Morgan] for his airplanes, but we do recognize him for his work with radio.

By 1913, he published a book “The Boy Electrician” which covered the fundamentals of electricity and magnetism (at a time when these subjects were far more mysterious than they are today). [Morgan] predicted the hacker in the preface to the 1947 edition. After describing how a boy was frustrated that his model train automated to the point that he had nothing actually to do, [Morgan] observed:

The prime instinct of almost any boy at play is to make and to create. He will make things of such materials as he has at hand, and use the whole force of dream and fancy to create something out of nothing.

Of course, we know this applies to girls too, but [Morgan] wrote this in 1913, so you have to fill in the blanks. I think we can all identify with that sentiment, though.

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SAINTCON Badge (Badge Hacking for Mortals)

[Josh] attended his first SAINTCON this weekend before last and had a great time participating in the badge hacking challenge.

The 2014 SAINTCON is only the second time that the conference has been open to the public. They give out conference badges which are just an unpopulated circuit board. This makes a lot of sense if you figure the number of people who actually hack their badges at conferences is fairly low. So he headed off to the hardware hacking village to solder on the components by hand — it’s an Arduino clone.

This is merely the start of the puzzle. We really like that the published badge resources include a crash course on how to read a schematic. The faq also attests that the staff won’t solder it for you and to get your microcontroller you have to trade in your security screw (nice touch). Once up and running you need to pull up the terminal on the chip and solve the puzzles in the firmware’s menu system. This continues with added hardware for each round: an IR receiver, thermistor, EEPROM, great stuff if you’re new to microcontrollers.

[Josh] mentions that this is nothing compared to the DEFCON badge. Badge hacking at DEFCON is **HARD**; and that’s good. It’s in the top-tier of security conferences and people who start the badge-solving journey expect the challenge. But if you’re not ready for that level of puzzle, DEFCON does have other activities like Darknet. That is somewhere in the same ballpark as the SAINTCON badge — much more friendly to those just beginning to developing their crypto and hardware hacking prowess. After all, everyone’s a beginner at some point. If that’s you quit making excuses and dig into something fun like this!

A-Z of Electronics – Capacitors


[Jeri Ellsworth] recently released another video in her “A-Z of Electronics” series – this time Capacitors are the subject. As a penance for my boneheaded AC Capacitor suggestion yesterday (I swear it was lack of sleep talking), [Caleb] suggested that I be the one to write this article. Since I’m not an electrical engineer (I majored in Comp Sci), I enjoy watching these videos, and I share them with individuals who are new to electronics. [Jeri] always presents the subject matter in a clear and concise manner, so the subjects do not seem daunting or intimidating.

She briefly discusses the early development of capacitors, including Leyden Jars, then focuses on modern capacitors and their usage. She covers wiring capacitors in circuits, demonstrating the difference between series and parallel configurations, as well as how electrode distance affects capacitance.

If you have a spare minute, be sure to check out her current video as well as those she has previously released.