Never Miss a Thing With This Programmable Vacuum Fluorescent Display Ticker

VFD Ticker

[Coyt] wanted a more convenient way to keep up to date with the ever-changing Bitcoin exchange rates, as well as weather and other useful information. He realized that the vacuum fluorescent display (VFD) he had purchased a couple of years ago would be perfect to display small amounts of information.

[Coyt] discovered that the VFD had a serial interface. The problem was that the VFD was looking for a 12V serial signal but the Raspberry Pi he wanted to use runs at a 3.3V. Upon closer inspection [Coyt] discovered that the VFD actually ran at lower levels as well, but it had a level converter chip installed in front of the main connector. He simply bypassed the level converter and was then able to get the RasPi speaking directly to the VFD.

The brain running this display is a Raspberry Pi. The Pi runs a Python script that pulls down all of the relevant information from the internet and displays it on the VFD. [Coyt] didn’t stop there, though. He knew that having the screen on all of the time would be somewhat of a waste, so he hooked up a PIR sensor to automatically turn on the display only when needed. The PIR sensor can detect motion in the room and will disable the display after a set period of inactivity. Most of this is powered by an LM7805 voltage regulator. While [Coyt] admits a linear regulator is not his ideal solution, it does get the job done. The metal stand acts as a nice heat sink for the regulator.

[Coyt] also wanted his project to have a certain aesthetic. He started by bending a metal plate into a stand for the electronics. He then mounted the VFD on the front of the stand and the RasPi on the back. He also mounted green LEDs between the two plates to light up the edges for a little extra pizzazz. [Coyt] believes he can use the RasPi to PWM the LEDs but this has not yet been implemented. This would allow him to pulse the light for added effect.

Since the whole thing is run by a Python script, it would be trivial to modify it to display other kinds of information. What would you do if you had a motion sensitive automatic ticker?


Rackmount RasPi Leaves No Excuse to Lose Data

RasPi backup server

[Frank] knows how important backups are for data security, but his old method of plugging a hard drive in to take manual backups every so often is not the most reliable or secure way of backing up data. He realized he was going to need a secure, automated solution. He didn’t need a full-sized computer with a ton of power; why waste electricity for something so simple? His solution was to use a Raspberry Pi as the backup computer.

The main problem he faced with the Pi was finding a way to make it rack mountable. [Frank] started with an empty 1U server case. He then had to bend a few metal plates in order to securely mount the backup drive into the case. A couple of small rubber pads help dampen any vibrations caused by the hard drive.

The computer power supply was able to put out the 12V needed for the hard disk, but not the 5V required to run the Pi. [Frank's] solution was to use an LM2596 based switching supply to turn the 12V into 5V. He soldered the power supply wires directly to the Pi, thinking that a USB plug might vibrate loose over time. Mounting the Pi to the computer case should have been the trickiest part but [Frank] made it easy by simply gluing the Pi’s plastic case to the inside of the computer case. When all was said in done, the backup server pulls 29W under full load, 9W with the disk spinning, and only about 2W in an idle state.

On the software side of things, [Frank's] backup box uses bash shell scripts to get the job done. The Pi connects to his main server via VPN and then the bash scripts use rsync to actually collect the files. The system not only saves backups every night, but also keeps week old backups just in case. If you are really paranoid about your backups, try hooking up a custom battery backup solution to your Pi. If a Pi just isn’t doing it for you, you can always try one of many other methods.

Oinker is Twitter for HAMs


Have you ever wanted to send a quick message to your HAM radio buddies over the air but then realized you forgot your radio at home? [Troy] created Oinker to remedy this problem. Oinker is a Perl script that turns emails into audio.

The script monitors an email account for new messages and then uses the Festival text-to-speech engine to transform the text into audio. [Troy] runs Oinker on a Raspberry Pi, with the Pi’s audio output plugged directly into an inexpensive ham radio. The radio is then manually tuned to the desired transmit frequency. Whenever Oinker see’s a new email, that message is converted into speech and then output to the transmitter.

The script automatically appends your HAM radio call sign to the end of every message to ensure you stay within FCC regulations. Now whenever [Troy] runs into some bad traffic on the road, he can send a quick SMS to his email address and warn his HAM radio buddies to stay clear of the area.

The Raspberry Pi Compute Module


Raspberry Pi cluster computers are old hat by now, and much to our dismay, we’ve even seen Raspberry Pis crop up as the brains of a few ill-conceived Kickstarter projects. The Pi was never meant for these applications, with the very strange port layout and a bunch of headers most people don’t need. The Raspberry Pi foundation has a solution for the odd layout of the normal, consumer Pi:  The Raspberry Pi compute module, a Raspi and 4GB flash drive, sans connectors, on an industry standard DDR2 SODIMM module.

This isn’t something you can plug into your laptop (yet; that’s just a BIOS hack away, right?), but the new format does allow for some very interesting projects. All the normal Raspi I/O – CSI and DSI ports, USB, HDMI, JTAG – and a whole bunch more GPIO ports – are broken out onto an I/O board for development. The idea is that anyone can develop a product for the Raspberry Pi, create a custom board with a SODIMM connector, and use the compute module as the brains of their project.

The compute module should cost about $30/piece in quantity 100, available in June. No word yet on how much the I/O board will cost, but we expect a few open source expansion boards to crop up shortly so anyone can create a very cool cluster computer based on the compute module.


WS2812b Ambilight Clone For The Raspi


For how often the Raspberry Pi is used as a media server, and how easy it is to connect a bunch of LEDs to the GPIO pins on the Pi, we’re surprised we haven’t seen something like Hyperion before. It uses the extremely common WS2812b individually controllable RGB LEDs to surround the wall behind your TV with the colors on the edges of the screen.

One of the big features of Hyperion is the huge number of LEDs it’s able to control; a 50 LED strip only eats up about 1.5% of the Pi’s CPU. It does this with a “Mini UART” implemented on the Pi running at 2MHz.

There’s only one additional component needed to run a gigantic strip of RGB LEDs with a Pi – an inverter of some sort made with an HCT-series logic chip. After that, you’ll only need to connect the power and enjoy a blinding display behind your TV or monitor.

Thanks [emuboy] for sending this one in.


HTPC for Lunch


If you’re hungry for a portable HTPC (Home Theatre PC) solution, maybe packing everything into a stylish mini lunch box is the way to go. [tomhung] wanted a quick and easy way to drag his media around while he’s away from home, but in an intentionally portable, self-contained enclosure, and the Star Wars lunch box provided plenty of space for the necessary guts.

Inside, he’s stacked the RasPi and a USB hub on top of one another. Each is mounted to its own platform made out of plastic DVD covers, and kept separate by standoffs carved from what appear to be the casings of inexpensive plastic pens. The stack also includes a 250GB 2.5″ HD, which [tomhung] simply attached with velcro for easy removal. The cables underwent minor surgery to keep the rat’s nest under control, and although the interior may still cause cable management enthusiasts to cringe, the exterior of the box cleans up well for its evening out. [tomhung] fit a simple 6-port keystone wall plate to the face of the lunch box to provide simple connections for all the important plugs.

FFT On The Raspi’s GPU


The Raspberry Pi has been around for two years now, and still there’s little the hardware hacker can actually do with the integrated GPU. That just changed, as the Raspberry Pi foundation just announced a library for Fourier transforms using the GPU.

For those of you who haven’t yet taken your DSP course, fourier transforms take a function (or audio signal, radio signal, or what have you) and output the fundamental frequency. It’s damn useful for everything from software defined radios to guitar pedals, and the new GPU_FFT library is about ten times faster at this task than the Raspi’s CPU.

You can get a copy of  the GPU_FFT library by running rpi-update on your pi. If you happen to build anything interesting – something with a software defined radio or even a guitar pedal – you’re more than welcome to send it in to the Hackaday tips line. We’d love to see what you’re up to.


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