Building a Better Baby Bottle Boiler

[Sebastian Foerster] hasn’t been at his blog in a while. He and his wife just had twins, so he’s been busy standing waiting for formula or milk to warm up. Being a technical kind of guy, he took a look at the tools currently on the market to do this, analyzed them, and decided instead to do it himself.

[Sebastian] looked to his Nespresso Aeroccino – a milk frother designed to give you hot or cold frothy milk for the top of whatever beverage you decide to put it on top of. It made the milk a bit too hot, 60°C, but once it got to the temperature, it would shut off, so if [Sebastian] could get it to shut off at a lower temperature, he had found the solution!

After taking the Aeroccino apart and going over the circuit, it seemed like a simple design relying on a resistor and NTC (negative temperature coefficient) thermistor connected to an ATTiny44 microcontroller. [Sebastian] didn’t want to have to reprogram the ATTiny, so he looked at the resistor and NTC. The resistor and thermistor create a voltage divider and that voltage is read in by the microcontroller through an analog pin. After looking up some info on the thermistor and replacing the resistor with a potentiometer, [Sebastian] could adjust the shut-off temperature while measuring with a thermometer. When he got the temperature he liked, he reads the value of the potentiometer and then replaces it with a couple of resistors in series.

Now [Sebastian] gets the babies’ bottles ready from fridge to temperature in about 25 seconds. He doesn’t have to worry about keeping an eye on the bottles as they heat up. We’re sure that getting two bottles ready in under a minute is much better on the nerves of new parents than waiting around for ten minutes. For more fun with thermistors, check out our article on resistors controlled by the environment or check out this bluetooth bbq thermometer!

Crossing Wheatstone Bridges

The Wheatstone bridge is a way of measuring resistance with great accuracy and despite having been invented over 150 years ago, it still finds plenty of use today. Even searching for it on Hackaday brings up its use in a number of hacks. It’s a fundamental experimental device, and you should know about it.

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Automatic Resistance: Resistors Controlled by the Environment

Resistors are one of the fundamental components used in electronic circuits. They do one thing: resist the flow of electrical current. There is more than one way to skin a cat, and there is more than one way for a resistor to work. In previous articles I talked about fixed value resistors as well as variable resistors.

There is one other major group of variable resistors which I didn’t get into: resistors which change value without human intervention. These change by environmental means: temperature, voltage, light, magnetic fields and physical strain. They’re commonly used for automation and without them our lives would be very different.

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Taming A Variac With A Thermistor

The folks at TOG, Dublin Hackerspace, have a large variac. A variac is a useful device for testing some fault conditions with AC mains powered equipment, it allows an operator to dial in any AC output voltage between zero, and in the case of TOG’s variac, 250V.

Their problem was with such a magnificent device capable of handling nearly 3KW, it presented an inductive load with a huge inrush current at power-on that would always take out the circuit breakers. Breakers come with different surge current handling capabilities, evidently their building is fitted with the domestic rather than the industrial variants.

Their solution was a simple one, they fitted an NTC surge limiter in series with the variac input. This is a thermistor whose resistance falls with temperature. Thus on start-up it presented an extra 12 ohm load which was enough to keep the breaker happy, but soon dropped to a resistance which left the variac with enough juice.

This is a simple fix to a problem that has faced more than one hackerspace whose imperfect lodgings are wired to domestic-grade spec. In a way it ties in neatly with our recent feature on mains safety; making the transformer no longer a pain to use means that it is more likely to be used when it is needed.

Via: TOG, Dublin Hackerspace.

Nixie Thermometer Destined for Custom PC Case

There’s no denying the retro appeal of the warm glow of a set of Nixies, and when a friend was looking for a unique touch for the case of his new liquid-cooled PC, [Luca] pitched in with this sweet Nixie thermometer.

From the look of [Luca]’s detailed blog entries, he’s been at this build since the New Year. He starts with a list of requirements, including the oddly specific need for a round PC board. For the thermometer, three Nixies are enlisted for the display, two for the temperature and one for the units. Everything was prototyped on perf board before committing to a PCB design, but even with careful planning, the Nixie sockets on the final PCB came out a tiny bit too close together. Luckily the tubes still fit, even if they are snuggled together some. And yes, the tube bases all include the hated RGB LEDs – hey, it’s what the customer wanted. The specs are for the colors to change at the touch of a button; we’d like to see a color gradient linked to the temperature – blue for “nice and cool”, red for “leave the room.” You can see the finished thermometer in action below the break.

The recent run of Nixie projects continues unabated, and this one has a nice look that’s sure to complement the finished case. We’ve asked [Luca] to keep us up-to-date on the project, so hopefully we’ll get a look at why a round PCB is needed. While we wait for that, check out an earlier Nixie thermometer build with a bar graph twist.

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A Pair of Toaster Reflow Oven Builds

For some reason or another, the Hackaday tip line sometimes sees a short burst of submissions for the same project. The latest one of these was for toaster oven reflow stations. They’re both great builds and different approaches to making a useful tool out of home appliances.

First up is [Richard]’s build. he ended up with a fairly high-end build using a Rocket Scream Reflow Oven Controller Arduino shield. This shield accepts a normal K-type thermocouple and controls an external solid state relay with the Arduino’s PID library. [Richard]’s build has a few neat additions – a properly dremeled enclosure, computer fan, and a welding blanket for insulation. Now that we think about it, it’s odd we’ve rarely seen any sort of insulation in these reflow oven builds.

Next up is [Ray]’s version of a Black & Decker reflow oven. While not as fancy as [Richard]’s build, this one does have a few features that make it very interesting. Instead of messing around with thermocouples, [Ray] simply took a digital kitchen thermometer – a neat tool that already a thermistor in a compact metal probe – and read the analog value with an Arduino. To control the power, [Ray] is using a cheap 433 MHz radio transmitter to control a few remotely operated power sockets. It’s a very clever and inexpensive replacement for a SSR, especially since [Ray] had these power sockets just lying around.

So there you go. The same tool, built two different ways. A great demonstration of how you can not only build anything, but you can build anything any way you want.

Tracking cicadas with Radiolab and an Arduino


Once every 17 years, a population of cicadas ranging from Connecticut to the Appalachian highlands of North Carolina emerges to annoy everyone within earshot. The last time east coasters saw this brood was in 1996, making 2013 yet another year of annoying insect pests. The only question is, when will we start to see this year’s cicada brood?

Radiolab, the awesome podcast and public radio show, has put together an awesome project that asks listeners to track when the cicadas in their area will emerge. Cicadas generally enter their loud and obnoxious adult stage when the ground temperature 8 inches below the surface reaches 64º F. Armed with an Arduino, thermistor, and a few wires and resistors, any Radiolab listener can upload soil temperature data to Radiolab servers where all the data will be correlated with documented cicada sightings.

After following the page’s instructions for wiring up a bunch of LEDs and a thermistor to an Arduino, just upload the most well-commented code we’ve ever seen and go outside to take soil temperature measurements. The temperature is displayed in a pseudo-binary format on nine LEDs. To decode the temperature without counting by powers of two, Radiolab has an online decoder that also allows you to upload your data and location.