The Nixie Tube Killer That Never Was

With the wealth of Nixie projects out there, there are points at which Hackaday is at risk of becoming Nixieaday. Nixie clocks, Nixie calculators, Nixie weather stations, and Nixie power meters have all graced our pages. And with good reason – Nixie tubes have a great retro look, and the skills needed to build a driver are a cut above calculating the right value for a series resistor for an LED display.

But not everyone loved Nixies back in the day, and some manufacturers did their best to unseat the venerable cold cathode tubes. [Fran Blanche] came across one of these contenders, a tiny cathode ray tube called the Nimo, and after a long hiatus in storage, she decided to put the tube to the test. After detailing some of the history of the Nimo and its somewhat puzzling marketing — its manufacturer, IEE, was already making displays to compete with Nixies, and seven-segment LEDs were on the rise at the time — [Fran] goes into the dangerous details of driving the display. With multiple supply voltages required, including a whopping 1,700 V DC for the anode, the Nimo was anything but trivial to integrate into products, which probably goes a long way to explaining why it never really caught on.

If you happen to have one of these little bits of solid unobtanium, [Fran]’s video below will go a long way to bringing back its ghostly green glow. You might say that [Fran] has a thing for oddball technologies of the late 60s — after all, she’s recreating the Apollo DSKY electroluminescent display, and she recently helped a model Sputnik regain its voice.

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FoTW: LED Strips Make Awful Servo Drivers

We must all have at some time or another spotted a hack that seems like an incredible idea and which just has to be tried, but turns out to have been stretching the bounds of what is possible just a little too far. A chunk of our time has disappeared without trace, and we sheepishly end up buying the proper part for the job in hand.

[Orionrobots] had a conversation with a YouTube follower about LED strips. An LED strip contains a length of ready-made PWM drivers, they mused. Wouldn’t it be great then, if each of the drivers on a strip could be connected to a servo, making the strip a ready-made single-stop SPI servo driver. With a large multi-servo robot to build, he set to work on a strip of WS2801s.

If you are in the Soldering Zone and have elite skills at the iron, then soldering a wire to a surface mount driver chip is something entirely possible. For mere mortals though it’s a bit of a challenge, and he notes just how much extra time it’s added to the project. The fun starts though when the servo is hooked up, the best that can be said is that it vibrates a bit. On paper, the LED drivers should be able to drive a servo, because they can create the correct waveform. But in practice the servo is designed to accept a logic level input while the driver is designed to sit in series with an LED and control its current. In practice therefore the voltages required for a logic transition can’t quite be achieved.

He concludes by recommending that viewers splash out on a servo driver board rather than trying an LED strip. We applaud him for the effort, after all it’s a hack any of us might have thought of trying for ourselves.

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Scratch Built Watch Case is a Work Of Art

The wristwatch was once an absolute necessity, as much fashion statement as it was a practical piece of equipment. Phones in our pockets (and more often than not, in our faces) replaced the necessity of the wristwatch for the majority of people, and the fashion half of the equation really only interests a relatively small  subset of the population. The end result is that, aside from the recent emergence of smartwatches and fitness trackers, walking down the street it’s fairly unlikely you’ll see many people wearing a traditional watch.

But we think the scratch built wristwatch case recently shown off by [Colin Merkel] adds a new justification for wearing a watch: pride. From a chunk of steel rod stock, [Colin] walks through every step of the process to creating a professional looking watch case. This is actually his second attempt at the project; while his first one certainly didn’t look bad, he felt that he learned enough from his earlier mistakes that it was worth starting over from scratch. A man after our own heart, to be sure. Continue reading “Scratch Built Watch Case is a Work Of Art”

Quick Hack Helps ALS Patient Communicate

A diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, is devastating. Outlier cases like [Stephen Hawking] notwithstanding, most ALS patients die within four years or so of their diagnosis, after having endured the progressive loss of muscle control that robs them of their ability to walk, to swallow, and even to speak.

Rather than see a friend’s father locked in by his ALS, [Ricardo Andere de Mello] decided to help out by building a one-finger interface to a [Hawking]-esque voice synthesizer on the cheap. Working mainly with what hardware he had on hand, his system lets his friend’s dad flick a finger to operate off-the-shelf assistive communication software running on a laptop. The sensor is an accelerometer velcroed to a fingertip; when a movement threshold is passed, an Arduino sends the laptop an F12 keypress, which is all that’s needed to operate the software. You can watch it in action in the video after the break.

Hats off to [Ricardo] for pitching in and making a difference without breaking the bank. This isn’t the first expedient speech synthesizer we’ve seen for ALS patients — this one does it just three chips, including voice synthesis. Continue reading “Quick Hack Helps ALS Patient Communicate”

Hackaday Prize Entry: Pyrotechnics Sequencer with Wireless Control

[visualkev]’s friend was putting on his own fireworks show by lighting each one in turn, then running away. It occurred to [visualkev] that his friend wasn’t really enjoying the show himself because he was ducking for cover instead of watching the fun. Plus, it was kind of dangerous. Accordingly, he applied his hacker skills to the challenge by creating a custom fireworks sequencer.

He used a custom PCB from OSH Park with an ATMega328P controlling eight TPIC6C595 8-bit shift registers, which in turn trip the 64 relays connecting to the fireworks. A 5V regulator supplies the project from 5 5AA batteries, and he kept the wires neat with 8-wire ribbon cables.

Starting the sequence is a generic wireless remote — a cheapie from Walmart — allowing [visualkev]’s friend can launch the fireworks with one hand while working the barbecue tongs with the other.

Books You Should Read: The Cuckoo’s Egg

The mid-1980s were a time of drastic change. In the United States, the Reagan era was winding down, the Cold War was heating up, and the IBM PC was the newest of newnesses. The comparatively few wires stitching together the larger university research centers around the world pulsed with a new heartbeat — the Internet Protocol (IP) — and while the World Wide Web was still a decade or so away, The Internet was a real place for a growing number of computer-savvy explorers and adventurers, ready to set sail on the virtual sea to explore and exploit this new frontier.

In 1986, having recently lost his research grant, astronomer Clifford Stoll was made a computer system admin with the wave of a hand by the management of Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory’s physics department. Commanded to go forth and administer, Stoll dove into what appeared to be a simple task for his first day on the job: investigating a 75-cent error in the computer account time charges. Little did he know that this six-bit overcharge would take over his life for the next six months and have this self-proclaimed Berkeley hippie rubbing shoulders with the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, and the German Bundeskriminalamt, all in pursuit of the source: a nest of black-hat hackers and a tangled web of international espionage.

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Enlarged Miniature Forklift

How do you classify something that is gigantic and miniature at the same time? LEGO kit 850, from 1977 when it was known as an Expert Builder set, was 210 modular blocks meant to be transformed into a forklift nearly 140mm tall. [Matt Denton] scaled up the miniature pieces but it still produced a smaller-than-life forklift. This is somewhere in the creamy middle because his eight-year-old nephew can sit on it but most adults would demolish their self-esteem if they attempted the same feat.

[Matt] has been seen before building these modular sets from enlarged LEGO blocks, like his Quintuple-Sized Go-Kart. He seems to have chosen the same scale for the pieces and who wouldn’t? If you’re printing yourself a ton of LEGO blocks, it just makes sense to keep them all compatible. Isn’t combing all your sets into one mishmash the point after all? We’ll see what his nephew/co-host constructs after his uncle [Matt] leaves.

In the time-lapse video after the break, you can see how the kit goes together as easily as you would hope from home-made bricks. With that kind of repeatability and a second successful project, it’s safe to say his technique is solid and this opens the door to over-sized projects to which LEGO hasn’t published instructions.

Hackaday is bursting with LEGO projects, K’Nex projects, and even Erector set projects.

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