Hacklet 115 – More Quick Tool Hacks

Some of the best hacks are the tools people make to help them complete a project. I last looked at quick tool hacks back in Hacklet 53. Hackers have been busy since then, and new projects have inspired new tools. This week on the Hacklet, I’m taking  a look at some of the best new quick tool hacks on Hackaday.io.

pickupWe start with [rawe] and aquarium pump vacuum pickup tool. Tweezers work great for resistors and caps, but once you start trying to place chips and other large parts, things quickly become frustrating. Commercial machines use high dollar vacuum pickup devices to hold parts. [rawe] built his own version using a cheap Chinese hand pickup tool and an aquarium pump. With some pumps, switching from air to vacuum is easy. Not with [rawe’s] pump. He had to break out the rotary tool and epoxy to make things work. The end result was worth it, a vacuum pickup tool for less than 10 Euro.

 

via1

Next we have [David Spinden] with ViaConnect Circuit Board Test Tool, his entry in the 2016 Hackaday Prize. [David] wanted a spring loaded pin which could be used in .100 holes in printed circuit boards. He ended up using pins from one connector, shell from another, and packaging the whole thing up into a new tool. ViaConnect essentially makes any PCB as easy to use as a solderless breadboard. No headers required. This is great both for testing new designs and for the education sector.

Allen tool holderNext up is our favorite quick tool hacker, [Alex Rich] with Improved Allen Wrench / Hex Key Holder. If [Alex] looks familiar, that’s because he’s the creator of the Stickvise. This time he’s come up with a new way to store and organize your Allen wrenches. Inspired by a similar device seen on a YouTube video from [Tom Lipton], [Alex] opened up his CAD software and started designing. The original used a steel spring to keep the wrenches in place. [Alex] switched the spring to a rubber o-ring. The o-ring securely holds the wrenches, but allows them to be easily pulled out for use. Of course the design is open source, so building your own is only a couple of hours of printing away!

 

 

solderdoodFinally we have [Solarcycle] with Cordless Foam Cutting Tool – USB Rechargeable. Soldering irons make a lot of heat in a small area to melt metal. Foam cutters make heat in a larger area to cut Styrofoam. [Solarcycle] saw the relation and converted a Solderdoodle Pro cordless soldering iron into a banjo style hot wire foam cutter. A barrel connector converts the soldering iron tip output to two stiff wires. The stiff wires carry current to a 3 cm length of Kanthal iron-chromium-aluminium (FeCrAl) heating element wire. If you don’t have any Kanthal around, ask your local vape enthusiast – they have tons of it. The result is the perfect hand-held tool for carving and sculpting in foam. Just make sure to have lots of ventilation.

If you want to see more of these hacks, check out our newly updated quick tool hacks list! See a project I might have missed? Don’t be shy, just drop me a message on Hackaday.io. That’s it for this week’s Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

A Raspberry Pi In An FPGA

Somehow or another, the Raspberry Pi has become a standardized form factor for single board computers. There are now Raspberry Pi-shaped objects that can do anything, and between the Odroid and bizarre Intel Atom-powered boards, everything you could ever want is now packaged into something that looks like a Raspberry Pi.

Except for one thing, of course, and that’s where [antti.lukats]’s entry for the 2016 Hackaday Prize comes in. He’s creating a version of the Raspberry Pi based on a chip that combines a fast ARM processor and an FPGA in one small package. It’s called the ZynqBerry and will, assuredly, become one of the best platforms to learn FPGA trickery on.

Xilinx’ Zynq comes with a dual-core ARM Cortex A9 running around 1GHZ, and from that fact alone should be about comparable to the original Raspberry Pi. Also inside the Zynq SoC is a very capable FPGA that [antti] is using to drive HDMI at 60hz, and can stream video from a Raspberry Pi camera to a display.

Last year for the Hackaday Prize, [antti] presented some very cool stuff, including a tiny FPGA development board no bigger than a DIP-8 chip. He’s hackaday.io’s resident FPGA wizard, and the ZynqBerry is the culmination of a lot of work over the past year or so. While it’s doubtful it will be as powerful as the latest Raspberry Pis and Pi clones, this is a phenomenal piece of work that puts an interesting twist on the usual FPGA development boards.

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The Continuing Adventures of a Project That Will Be Stolen

Imagine if the Snap-on tool truck wasn’t filled with hand tools. Imagine if that Snap-on truck was a mobile electronics surplus shop. That’s the idea behind the Travelling Hacker Box. It’s a box, shipped from hacker to hacker, filled with weird and esoteric components, enough parts to build a 3D printer, and enough capacitors to stop an elephant’s heart.

If this is the first time you’ve heard about the Travelling Hacker Box, here’s the quick FAQ to get you up to speed. Has this been done before? Yes, yes it has. The Great Internet Migratory Box of Electronics Junk was a ‘thing’ done by Evil Mad Scientist back in the ‘aughts. Hackaday (or rather the old commander in chief Eliot) received one of these boxes, and sent it off to [Bre Pettis]. Keep in mind, this was in 2008. Is there more than one Travelling Hacker Box actively travelling? No. Because I don’t want to organize a second. Either way, the Travelling Hacker Box has two goals: distance travelled and number of people visited. With just one box, we can maximize both objectives. What are the current travel plans? That’s the next paragraph.

US-Trips
The travels of the Travelling Hacker Box Mk. 2

As of right now, the second version of the Travelling Hacker Box – the first box was stolen by some waste of oxygen in Georgia – has travelled at least 21,838 miles around the United States, visiting 11 prolific hackaday.io contributors in Wyoming, New York, Alaska, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Florida, Wisconsin, Maine, and California. The goal for the first dozen or so trips across the United States was to put miles on the box. 25,000 miles would be equivalent to a trip around the world using only US Postal Service flat rate boxes. Thanks to [Lloyd T Cannon]’s reinforcement of a medium flat rate box with canvas, foam, Kevlar, and custard, this iteration of the Travelling Hacker Box has held up spectacularly.

The goal for the next two months is to make a trip around the United States to maximize the number of US hackers who contributed to the box. This trip will start in Pasadena, CA, go up the west coast to Seattle, loop around the Canadian border to New England, go down the Eastern seaboard, across to Texas, over the desert, and land back at Home Base in Pasadena. From there, the Travelling Hacker Box is off to England, the EU, Asia, India, maybe Africa, and Australia.

While there are already a few people scheduled for this last trip around the US, more are needed. If you’re interested, check out the project on hackaday.io, request to join the project, send a message on the team chat, and generally bug me on the hackaday.io chat. There are plenty of spaces to fill in this last trip around the US and the current inventory is quite a haul. Not bad for a project that will eventually be stolen.

What’s Tiny, Has Eight Legs, and Acts Like an Arduino?

Back in the late 1970s, comedian Steve Martin had a bit about “Let’s get small!” Over on Hackaday.io, [Daniel Grießhaber], has taken that call to heart. He’s been working on DIL-Duino, a minuscule form factor Arduino in an 8-pin DIP format.

Built with an ATtiny85, the board has an area of just under 75 square millimeters (less than 8 mm x 10 mm). If you add the USB port, it still comes in at just over 144 square millimeters. [Daniel] found other small Arduino boards like the Olimexino-85s and the Nanite are not as small as his design.

The module has a QFN CPU and castellated holes around the perimeter for mounting. With pin headers, this would easily fit into a breadboard (as [Daniel] shows) or you could mount it directly to another board like a surface mount device. In fact, that’s the reason for using castellated holes: you can inspect that the solder joint at the mating SMD pad is good. You sometimes hear the technique called half-vias or leadless chip carrier.

If you note, [Daniel] used an oversized board with full holes around the perimeter and then had the board maker score the board, so the holes are cut in half. This is a better technique than trying to drill half holes on the board edge, which is difficult to do.

Naturally, this isn’t the first tiny Arduino we’ve seen. If you are an ARM fan, there’s some little bitty cards for it, too, although not quite as small as DIL-Duino.

A Wooden Performance Is Fine WIth This Sequencer

You could sometimes be forgiven for thinking that making popular music has become too easy. With a laptop and suitable software almost anybody can now assemble something that had they secured the services of a canny promoter would be in with a shot at stardom. So many performances have been reduced to tightly choreographed dance acts to mask the absence of musicians or indeed musical talent, and our culture is poorer for it. It’s not that music made with modern technology or outside the performance is an indicator of lack of talent, indeed when a truly talented musician makes something with the resources of a modern technology the results are astounding. Instead it perhaps seems as though the technology is cheapened by an association with mediocrity when it should be a tool of greatness.

So it was with pleasure that we noticed a fresh project on Hackaday.io this morning which provides a marriage of accessible music technology and a requirement for performance. [Ernest Warzocha] has made a wooden sequencer.

It’s true, audio sequencers are old hat, so a new one will have to work hard to enthuse a seasoned Hackaday reader who’s seen it all. What makes [Ernest’s] sequencer different is that he’s made one with a very physical interface of wooden pucks placed in circular recesses on a wooden surface. Each recess has an infra-red reflective sensor that detects the surface texture of the puck placed in it and varies the sample it plays accordingly. It’s all held together underneath by an Arduino, and MP3 samples are played by a Sparkfun MP3 shield. At a stroke, he has turned the humble sequencer from a workaday studio tool into a performance art form that you can see in the video below, and we like that.

Home made sequencers have a special place in maker culture, and as you might expect over the years we’ve featured quite a few of them. Shift registers, CMOS analogue switches or even turntables as the sequencer elements, Lego as a human interface, a sequencer made from a cash register, and a rather lovely steampunk sequencer, to name but a few. So this one joins a rich tradition, and we look forward to more in the future.

Continue reading “A Wooden Performance Is Fine WIth This Sequencer”

Quickie WiFi Scanner

File this project under “Getting Stuff Done” rather than “Shiniest Things”. [filid] works with a local free-WiFi access group, and wanted to map out the signal strength (RSSI) and coverage of their installations. This is a trivial task for an ESP8266, and it was even easier for [filid] because he had already written some WiFi scanner code for the same hardware.

Basically, the device is a Neopixel ring connected to an ESP8266. If it detects a router that’s part of the Freifunk München network, it displays the RSSI on the ring in an attractive circular “bargraph”. When it doesn’t detect a Freifunk node, it displays the number of WiFi routers that it finds. It dumps a lot more detail over the serial port.

The code is short and sweet. Take a look if you’re just getting started with networking using the Arduino firmware on an ESP. Even if you don’t live in Munich, you’ll be able to tweak it to your own situation in a few seconds.

We want to see a GPS and an SD card added to this one, for a standalone wardriving-with-purpose setup. And while we admit that the small form-factor is probably appropriate for this project, how much cooler would it be if it glowed blue like Bilbo’s “Sting”?

8-bit Computer Made Solely From NAND Gates

As an electronics rookie, one of the first things they tell you when they teach you about logic gates is, “You can make everything from a combination of NAND gates”. There usually follows a demonstration of simple AND, OR, and XOR gates made from NAND gates, and maybe a flip-flop or two. Then you move on, when you want a logic function you use the relevant device that contains it, and the nugget of information about NAND gates recedes to become just another part of your electronics general knowledge.

Not [Alexander Shabarshin] though. He’s set himself the task of creating an entire CPU solely from NAND gates, and he’s using 74F00 chips to give a hoped-for 1MIPS performance.  His design has an 8-bit data bus but a 4-bit ALU, and an impressive 2-stage pipeline and RISC instruction set which sets it apart from the computers most of us had when 74-series logic was a much more recent innovation. So far he has completed PCBs for a D-type flip-flop and a one-bit ALU, four of which will work in parallel in the final machine

Unsurprisingly, we have maintained a keen interest in TTL computers here at Hackaday for a very long time. You might say that we have featured so many for the subject to deserve a review article of its own. There is the ASAP-3, the Magic-1, the Duo Basic, the Apollo181, the unnamed CPU made by [Donn Stewart], the BMOW, and a clone of the Apollo Guidance Computer. But what sets [Alexander’s] project aside from all these fine machines is his bare-metal NAND-only design. The other 74-series CPU designers have had the full range of devices such as the 74181 ALU at their disposal. By studying the building blocks at this most fundamental level a deeper understanding can be gained of the inner workings of parts normally represented just as black boxes.

One of the briefs for writing a Hackaday article is that if the subject makes the writer stop and read rather than skim over it then it is likely to do so for the reader too. This project may not yet have delivered a working CPU, but its progress so far is interesting enough for an in-depth read. Definitely one to watch.