DIY Electroluminescent Wire, Russian Style

Our favorite Russian mad scientists, [Kreosan], have shocked us yet again with another terribly ill-advised, super bad idea. Home made EL wire that runs off of mains voltage.

From the picture it looks a lot like EL wire, doesn’t it? Well, it’s actually just a nickel chromium wire hooked up to the main AC supply in their…. uh, testing house? Doesn’t look like they live there, so we have to wonder why it still has power. Anyway, yeah, they made a restive load using the wire, and connected it directly to the panel. So besides the fire hazard, you could also get electrocuted!

For house decorations it’s a great way to warm the place up, and it might even help start a fire if you’re lucky!

Measuring Capacitance Against Voltage

Ceramic capacitors are pretty much the pixie dust of the electronics world. If you sprinkle enough of them on a circuit, everything will work. These ceramic capacitors aren’t the newest and latest technology, though: you can find them in radios from the 1930s, and they have one annoying property: their capacitance changes in relation to voltage.

This is a problem if you’re relying on ceramic caps in an RC filter or a power supply. What you need is a device that will graph capacitance against voltage, and [limpkin] is here to show you how to do it.

Of course capacitance is usually measured by timing how long it takes to charge and discharge a cap through an RC oscillator. This requires at least one known value – in this case a 0.1% resistor – by measuring the time it takes for this circuit to oscillate, an unknown capacitance can be calculated.

That’s all well and good, but how do you measure capacitance against a bias voltage? EDN comes to save the day with a simple circuit built around an op-amp. This op-amp is just a comparator, with the rest of the circuit providing a voltage directly proportional to the percentage of charge in the capacitor.

This little project is something [limpkin] has turned into a Kickstarter, and it’s something we’ve seen before. That said, measuring capacitance against a voltage isn’t something any ‘ol meter can do, and we’re glad [limpkin] could put together an easy to use tool that measures this phenomenon.

Hacklet 88 – Projector Projects

Everyone loves a big screen TV. Back in the old days, anything over 27 ” was considered big. These days if you’re not sporting at least 50″, you’ll end up with display envy. One thing hasn’t changed though, those who want to go really, really big get into projectors. Hacking and projectors seem to go hand in hand. Anyone else remember those old DIY projection setups where the user would put their TV in a box upside down? This week’s Hacklet is all about projector hacks!

We start with [Chaz] with Projector Hush Box . [Chaz] had a good projector, but still found himself with a problem. Projectors generate a lot of heat, which is dissipated via a fan. For whatever reason, projector companies seem to pick the loudest fans available. [Chaz’s] solution is to put the projector inside a box. Done right, this makes for a quiet projector. Done wrong, it makes an oven. [Chaz] projector hasn’t caught fire yet, so we think he did it right. Two quiet and efficient PC fans direct air through the box, and around baffles which keep the noise down. An anti-reflective coated glass window lets the light out but keeps the noise in. Sound deadening foam helps cut the sound down even further.

Next up is [ric866] with 100w LED projector conversion. The killer with projectors these days are the bulbs. In some cases it’s more cost-effective to buy a new projector than to replace the bulb in an aging one. That’s how [ric866] ended up with a pair of old NEC projectors – one with a working bulb, and one without. Bulbs for this model aren’t cheap at £100. [ric866] found a cheap replacement in a 100 Watt LED. The LED in question only cost £8.99 from everyone’s favorite auction site. LEDs may be efficient, but anyone who’s played with powerful LEDs can tell you they still get hot. [ric866] had to cut up the projector’s case a bit to fit in a heat sink and fan. He also had to spend some time bypassing the various case interlock switches. The final products color calibration looks to be a bit off, but not too shabby for a quick mod!

[Tom_VdE] is serious about recycling. He isn’t one to let an old laptop go to waste when it can be turned into a projector! Remember the “TV in a box” kit we mentioned up in the title? This is the modern version of that same idea. [Tom] tore down the laptop’s LCD and placed it in a CRT monitor case with the appropriate lenses. A setup like this needs length, and focus adjustments. [Tom] managed all that by building a collapsible baffle out of plywood. A build like this needs a lot of light, so [Tom] is using a 100 Watt LED (or two). A water cooling system will keep the LED’s from melting down. [Tom] is still in the prototype phase, but we can’t wait to see his first movie night with this upcycled laptop.

Finally, we have [Alex] who built Automatic projector calibration, project #161 on Hackaday.io. [Alex] took his inspiration from [Johnny Chung Lee] to build a system which can map a projector to any angle, size, or position. The secret is phototransistors embedded in the corners of a rectangular piece of foamboard. An Arduino reads the phototransistors while the projector runs a calibration routine. [Alex] switched over to a scanning line from [Johnny’s] original binary pattern. The scan isn’t quite as fast as the binary, but it sure looks cool. Once the positions of the sensors are known, it’s just a matter of mapping the entire screen to a smaller piece of real estate. Toss in a few neat transitions, and you’ve got an awesome demo.

If you want to see more projector projects, check out our new projector project list! If I missed your project, 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!

Vinduino: Full Irrigation With 25% Less Water

Irrigation is a fairly crude practice. Sure, there are timers, and rain sensors, but all in all we’re basically dumping water on the ground and guessing at the right amount. [Reinier van der Lee] wanted a better way to ensure the plants in his vineyard are getting the right amount of water. And this is Goldilocks’ version of “right”, not too little but also not too much. Southern California is in an extreme/exceptional drought. Water costs a lot of money, but it is also scarce and conservation has a wider impact than merely the bottom line.

His solution is the Vinduino project. It’s a set of moisture sensors that work in conjunction with a handheld device to measure the effect of irrigation. Multiple moisture sensors are buried at different depths: near the surface, at root level, and below root level. This lets you know when the water is getting to the root system, and when it has penetrated further than needed. The project was recognized as the Best Product in the 2015 Hackaday Prize, and [Reinier] presented the project during his talk at the Hackaday SuperConference. Check out the video of that talk below, and join us after the break for a look at the development of this impressive product.

3D Printing On Shims?

Forget to generate support material for your 3D printed part? Already a few hours in? Don’t cancel the print — you might be able to save it!

[Dr Dawes] was printing a bunch of different parts for students in his electronics class. He slipped up and forgot to add support material to the one part that needed it. Figuring this out a few hours in, he didn’t have time to cancel the job and lose all the prints, so he made the best of the situation and paused the print to build his own support material. He ended up taping down index cards to the bed around his object until they reached layer 13 — the layer that would have started to bridge across the support material had he included it in his Octoprint settings.

Hackaday Explains: Li-Fi & Visible Light Communications

A new way to transmit data is coming that could radically change the way that devices talk to each other: LiFi. Short for Light Fidelity, LiFi uses visible light to send data, creating the link between router and device with invisible pulses of light. This type of Visible Light Communication (VLC) uses something that is present in pretty much every room: an LED lightbulb.

What is LiFi?

Li-Fi sounds like the an engineer’s fevered dream: it is fast, cheap, secure and simple to implement. Speeds of up to 10Gbps have been demonstrated in the lab, and products are now available that offer 10Mbps speed. It is cheap because it can use a modified LED lightbulb. It is secure because it only works where the light is visible: step out of the room and the signal is lost. It is simple to implement because it uses an existing technology: LEDs.

The basis of the technology is in turning the LED light on and off very fast. By switching an LED on and off millions of times a second, you can create a data signal that can be detected by a sensor, but which is invisible to the human eye. At the other end, another LED detects these pulses, and can send light pulses back in response, creating a bi-directional link. If you combine this with wired Ethernet or a WiFi network, you have an awesome combination: an Internet connection that uses visible light for the last link.

First Plasma In The World’s Largest Stellerator

If you’re looking for the future of humanity, look no further than the first plasma generated in the Wendelstein 7-X Stellerator at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics. It turned on for the first time yesterday, and while this isn’t the first fusion power plant, nor will it ever be, it is a preview of what may become the invention that will save humanity.

For a very long time, it was believed the only way to turn isotopes of hydrogen into helium for the efficient recovery of power was the Tokamak. This device, basically a hollow torus lined with coils of wire, compresses plasma into a thin circular string. With the right pressures and temperatures, this plasma will transmute the elements and produce power.

Tokamaks have not seen much success, though, and this is a consequence of two key problems with the Tokamak design. First, we’ve been building them too small, although the ITER reactor currently being built in southern France may be an exception. ITER should be able to produce more energy than is used to initiate fusion after it comes online in the 2020s. Tokamaks also have another problem: they cannot operate continuously without a lot of extraneous equipment. While the Wendelstein 7-X Stellerator is too small to produce a net excess of power, it will demonstrate continuous operation of a fusion device. [Elliot Williams] wrote a great explanation of this Stellerator last month which is well worth a look.

While this Stellerator is just a testbed and will never be used to generate power, it is by no means the only other possible means of creating a sun on Earth. The Polywell – a device that fuses hydrogen inside a containment vessel made of electromagnets arranged like the faces of a cube – is getting funding from the US Navy. Additionally, Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works claims they can put a 100 Megawatt fusion reactor on the back of a truck within a few years.

The creation of a fusion power plant will be the most important invention of all time, and will earn the researchers behind it the Nobel prize in physics and peace. While the Wendelstein 7-X Stellarator is not the first fusion power plant, it might be a step in the right direction.