Hackaday Links: February 16, 2014


[Moogle] wrote in to see if anyone can figure out why his unused electrolytic capacitors are popping. This is the behavior you see in populated caps whose electrolyte dries out. But these are still in his parts bin. Anyone know why they would pop when going unused?

We see a lot of BIOS flashing hacks; but it’s always a handy thing to know about when you get in a bind. Here [Adan] shows us how to reflash a corrupt BIOS using a Tiva C Launchpad board.

Wanting to hack together her own blow gun [Carlyn] scrapped a handheld vacuum cleaner. When she discovered the pump could not easily be converted from suck to blow she made a handheld suction manipulator which picks up paper plates and a few slightly heavier objects.

Unfortunately a drill press is not one of the tools we have in our lair right now. If we did, this tip about using it to help tap threads in a hole would come in really hand.

Retro computing fans will appreciate this Z80 computer build (translated). It’s a fairly large mainboard with plenty of chips, resistors, buttons, and seven segment displays. Excellent. [Thanks Daniel]

We start to drool a little bit when we see a teardown post that shows off a piece of equipment really well. We’ve already reached for a bib to catch the slobber from pawing our way through [David’s] teardown of an HP 6010A bench supply.

A Much More DYI Air Gap Flash Unit

In reaction to the other air gap flash unit we featured a few days ago, [Eirik] sent us a tip about another one he recently made. In his setup, the duration of the flash peak intensity is around 300ns (1/3,333,333 of a second). As a reminder, an air flash unit consists of a circuit charging a high voltage capacitor, a circuit triggering a discharge on demand, a high voltage capacitor and the air flash tube itself. The flash tube contains two wires which are separated just enough to not spark over at max potential. Isolated from the other two, a third wire is placed in the tube. This wire is connected to a trigger/pulse transformer, which will ionize the gap between the two capacitor leads. This causes the gap to breakdown and a spark to form, thereby creating a flash of light.

[Eirik] constructed his flash tube using an olive jar and a glass test tube. As you can see from the (very nice) picture above, the spark travels along the glass test tube, making the quenching much faster than in an open air spark. [Eirik] built his own high voltage capacitor, using seven rolled capacitors of roughly 2nF each made with duct-tape, tin foil and overhead transparencies. For ‘safety’ they are stored in a PP-pipe. A look at the schematics and overall circuit shown on the website reveals how skilled [Eirik] is, making us think that this is more a nice creation than a hack.

Disclaimer: As with the previous airgap flash, high voltages are used here, so don’t do this at home.

Building a Rail Gun

[Valentin] tipped us about his latest project: a homemade railgun. For the few that may not know already, a railgun is an electrically powered electromagnetic projectile launcher. It is comprised of a pair of parallel conducting rails, along which a sliding armature is accelerated by the electromagnetic effects of a current that flows down one rail, into the armature and then back along the other rail. [Valentin]’s writeup starts with a detailed explanation of this principle, then a simple proof of concept is shown where a metal stick with two small round magnets on each end is accelerated along two alumium strips powered by a 9V battery.

The final build shown above is powered by a capacitor bank consisting of three 400V 2200uF capacitors in parallel. [Valentin] opted for a hot rail design, where the power is always present on the rails. The projectile is inserted into the assembly by a spring-loaded lever. A video is embedded after the break. If you found this interesting, you’re going to love the fully-automatic Gauss gun.

Continue reading “Building a Rail Gun”

Project Thumper Walkthrough


The Geek Group is at it again! Many years ago they built Project Thumper, a 1,600V @80,000A electrical impulse … well … “thumper”.

For those of you that don’t know, The Geek Group is the world’s largest not-for-profit Hackerspace. Lately they have been working on developing better videos for their YouTube channel, and have just released a stunning CGI animation of the build, operation, and explanation of Project Thumper.

So what is Project Thumper? In the simplest terms, it’s a giant capacitor, or more specifically, an entire server rack filled with capacitors. The Hackerspace uses it for experiments and demonstrations — but from the looks of their videos, they mostly just use it to blow things up, as shown in their 2008 Project Promo video. I think we would too. They even used it to blow up an iPhone! (Skip to 3:00 for the explosion). We think someone with a high-speed camera really needs to film Thumper in action!

The awesome CGI animation explanation of it is after the break.

Continue reading “Project Thumper Walkthrough”

Safety warning: Arduino GSM shield may cause fires

Be careful with those Arduino GSM cards. As [James] reports, they may turn into fire starters. One person has reported a small explosion and fire already on the Arduino forums.
Now before we go any further – You may be asking yourself who the heck [James] is, and what gives him the ability to second guess the Arduino team. Well, here is [James’] blog disclaimer:  “James is a Senior Technical Expert for Technology and Applications at KEMET Electronics, a capacitor manufacturer. The content of this post are his and in no way reflects opinions of his employer.”

Senior Technical Expert?  That’s a good enough reason for us to believe him.

[James] states the problem is a tantalum capacitor used to decouple the GSM radio power supply from the main Arduino supply.
Tantalum capacitors are great for their low ESR properties. However, they have a well known downside of getting very hot, or even exploding when stressed. It’s not the Tantalum Anode that is burning. The Manganese Dioxide used as a cathode in some Tantalum capacitors is the culprit. Continue reading “Safety warning: Arduino GSM shield may cause fires”

A variable capacitor made from junk


[Jezan] decided to introduce his son to electronics by building a small crystal radio. These crystal sets have been around for a long time, and make for a great beginner electronics project, but some of the required parts are a little hard to come by. The most difficult to source part for these radios is a variable capacitor, and not finding one in his parts bin, [Jezan] decided to make his own.

This variable capacitor comes directly from a piece of 1.5 mm thick aluminum sheet. Instead of fancy CNC machines, power tools, or even a pair of tin snips, [Jezan] cut the rotors and stators for his variable capacitors with a pair of scissors. The center hole was punched out with a piece of sharpened pipe, and all the pieces were filed down and sanded for a perfect finish.

Considering the variable caps you can get your hands on are either rare or very old, this looks like a great afternoon project for the budding electronics wizard or radio enthusiast. [Jezan]’s craftsmanship is incredible as well and the finished part looks like it came off an assembly line.

Shocking Operation makes sure you have skin in the game


Odds are you played the game of Operation when you were a kid. The classic electronic toy challenges you to use a tethered tweezers to extract plastic pieces without touching the sides of the holes they’re hiding in. This upgrade makes the challenge more interesting for a grown-up audience. If you touch the sides you won’t hear a jarring sound, you’ll get a painful shock!

The modification starts by clipping off the melted plastic portions that hold the paperboard face plate on the game. From there the original electronics are completely removed. We think this a bit of a mistake as we’d still like spectators to hear the sound as the player gets a shock. But we digress. The circuit board from a disposable camera is patched into the game. A wrist band forms an electrical connection with your body, providing a path for the camera’s flash capacitor to discharge if you happen to touch the sides with the tweezers.

This write-up is missing one important thing: video of someone getting shocked. [Psycosisnine] promises to add some soon, but for now you’ll just have to fall back on our absolute favorite Mindflex shock project.