Hackaday Prize Entry: Magic Bit-Of-Wire Motion Detector Library For Arduino

We’re still not sure exactly how [connornishijima]’s motion detector works, though many readers offered plausible explanations in the comments the last time we covered it. It works well enough, though, and he’s gone and doubled down on the Arduino way and bundled it up nicely into a library.

In the previous article we covered [connor] demonstrating the motion detector. Something about the way the ADC circuit for the Arduino is wired up makes it work. The least likely theory so far involves life force, or more specifically, the Force… from Star Wars. The most likely theories are arguing between capacitance and electrostatic charge.

Either way, it was reliable enough a phenomenon that he put the promised time in and wrote a library. There’s even documentation on the GitHub. To initialize the library simply tell it which analog pin is hooked up, what the local AC frequency is (so its noise can be filtered out), and a final value that tells the Arduino how long to average values before reporting an event.

It seems to work well and might be fun to play with or wow the younger hackers in your life with your wizarding magics.

High-Voltage Fractals

Int 1777, Georg Lichtenberg found that discharging high voltage on an insulating surface covered with a powder, a fractal-like image appears, sometimes known as a lightning tree. Incidentally, this is a crude form of xerography, the principle that lets copiers and laser printers operate.

[PaulGetson] had a high voltage power source from his Jacob’s ladder experiments and decide to see if he could create Lichtenberg figures. Turns out, he could.

Continue reading “High-Voltage Fractals”

Likely Everything You Need To Know Before Adopting A Drill Press

Oh sure, the thought of owning a happy whirring drill press of your very own is exciting, but have you really thought about it? It’s a big responsibility to welcome any tool into the home, even seemingly simple ones like a drill press. Lubricants, spindle runout, chuck mounts, tramming, and more [Quinn Dunki], of no small fame, helps us understand what it needs for happy intergration into its new workshop.

[Quin] covers her own drill press adventure from the first moments it was borne into her garage from the back of a truck to its final installation. She chose one of the affordable models from Grizzly, a Washington based company that does minimal cursory quality control on import machinery before passing on the cost to the consumer.

The first step after inspection and unpacking was to remove all the mysterious lubricants and protectants from the mill and replace them with quality alternatives. After the press is set-up she covers some problems that may be experience and their workarounds. For example, the Morse taper on the chuck had a few rough spots resulting in an incomplete fit. The chuck would work itself loose during heavier drilling operations. She works through the discovery and repair of this defect.

Full of useful tips like tramming the drill press and recommended maintenance, this is one of the best guides on this workshop staple that we’ve read.


Blowtorch SMD Reflow

result[whitequark] has been experimenting with a blowtorch for SMD reflow. Having just moved 8,000 km [whitequark] was stuck without any of the usual reflow tools. They did however have a blowtorch handy, and gave it a go.

When [whitequark] mentioned attempts on Twitter, we figured the results would mostly involve charred PCBs, smoke-filled rooms, and a possible trip to the local hospital. But [whitequark] is more sensible than we are, and by carefully monitoring the temperature and gauging the distance was able to get pretty decent results.

[whitequark]’s made a couple of further attempts and has had varying results. Overall, I’m not sure it’s a technique that I’m interested in trying myself, but it goes to show that in a pinch, a hacker will always find a creative way to get the job done.

How To Make Your Weller Wireless

On occasion I have encountered portable soldering irons and my impressions of them have ranged from nearly usable to total rubbish. While using a popular butane powered model and pondering if it was really any better than a copper wire and a candle a thought occurred to me. A regular old Weller station runs on 24 volts AC and performs all of its temperature regulation in a magnetically activated thermostatic fashion and all of that goodness occurs within the hand piece itself. It stood to reason that it could perform just as well with a DC source.

In this instance we are ignoring the negative effects of switching DC current over AC current on mechanical contacts. After all we are “In the Trenches” wherever we might have need for such a device. Using a couple of gel cell 12 volt 7 amp hour batteries freshly removed from a UPS I strung them up, and there you have it, a totally battery operated  iron with performance equal to that of the one at my bench.

Connecting SMPS to the Weller Iron
Connecting Power to the Weller Iron

Right at 24 volts the iron Thermocycles at the same rate as it would be while using the bench top supply for it. Just sitting under no load it cycles about every ten seconds and there was no perceptible difference in heat capacity or performance. A fully charged pair of batteries will last all day. The on state current draw from a full charge (13.5 volts on each of the batteries) yielded about a 2 amp draw. As the voltage began to decrease the current off cycle would get shorter as one would expect, but no drop in heat transfer was noticed until the batteries were well depleted and that took most of a work day.

For this instance I used the hand piece from the venerable Weller WTCPT station. For ongoing use I would not recommend this due to the use of a mechanical contact within the unit and switching of DC can reduced the life of most mechanical switches. Currently I am awaiting the arrival of some cheap eBay Hakko handpieces; I am sure they are knockoffs, but fine to experiment with a simple PWM with a feedback loop controller as the basic Hakko design also utilizes a 24 volt source. An automatic shut off timer would also be handy to avoid premature battery abuse due to a forgetful operator.


How to Use Docker to Cross Compile for Raspberry Pi (and More)

It used to be tedious to set up a cross compile environment. Sure you can compile on the Raspberry Pi itself, but sometimes you want to use your big computer — and you can use it when your Pi is not on hand like when on an airplane with a laptop. It can be tricky to set up a cross compiler for any build tools, but if you go through one simple step, it becomes super easy regardless of what your real computer looks like. That one step is to install Docker.

Docker is available for Linux, Windows, and Mac OS. It allows developers to build images that are essentially preconfigured Linux environments that run some service. Like a virtual machine, these images can run together without interfering with each other. Unlike a virtual machine, Docker containers (the running software) are lightweight because they share the same underlying kernel and hardware of the computer.

The reality is, setting up the Raspberry Pi build environment isn’t any easier. It is just that with Docker, someone else has already done the work for you and you can automatically grab their setup and keep it up to date. If you are already running Linux, your package manager probably makes the process pretty easy too (see [Rud Merriam’s] post on that process). However, the nice thing about the images is it is a complete isolated environment that can move from machine to machine and from platform to platform (the Windows and Mac platforms use a variety of techniques to run the Linux software, but it is done transparently).

Continue reading “How to Use Docker to Cross Compile for Raspberry Pi (and More)”

Cat-Operated Cat Food Dispenser

Tired of being harassed by your cat? [MomWillBeProud] made a cheap, effective — and more importantly cat-operated — cat food dispenser.

The feeder is of an efficient construction — a double cat food dish, one container to store the electronics, and a Pringles can to act as the hopper. A simple servo rotates the hopper thirty degrees and back on each button press; using gravity to drop food through an opening that appears due to this motion. The button itself is an old IKEA timer and a piece of plastic large enough for a hungry cat to swat.

An Arduino controls the servo, and while [MomWillBeProud] skips over going into detail on his code, you can check it out here.

Continue reading “Cat-Operated Cat Food Dispenser”