Home-Brew Ruby Laser Packs A Wallop

In the past half-century, lasers have gone from expensive physics experiments using rods of ruby to cheap cutting or engraving tools, and toys used to tease cats. Advances in physics made it all possible, but it turns out that ruby lasers are still a lot of fun to play with, if you can do it without killing yourself.

With a setup that looks like something from a mad scientist movie set, [styropyro]’s high-powered laser is a lot closer to the ray gun of science fiction than the usual lasers we see, though hardly portable. The business end of the rig is a large ruby rod nestled inside a coiled xenon flash lamp, which in turn is contained within a polished reflector. The power supply for the lamp is massive — microwave oven transformers, a huge voltage multiplier, and a bank of capacitors that he says can store 20 kilojoules. When triggered by a high-voltage pulse from a 555 oscillator and an old car ignition coil, the laser outputs a powerful pulse of light, which [styropyro] uses to dramatic effect, including destroying his own optics. We’d love to hear more about the power supply design; that Cockcroft-Walton multiplier made from PVC tubes bears some exploration.

Whatever the details, the build is pretty impressive, but we do urge a few simple safety precautions. Perhaps a look at [Ben Krasnow]’s 8-kJ ruby laser would help.

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Resurrecting Dead LED Lightbulbs

If you’ve gone down the lighting isle of a store recently, you’ve no doubt noticed we are firmly in the age of the LED light bulb. Incandescent bulbs are kept in small stock for those who still have the odd-ball use case, there’s usually a handful of CFL bulbs for those who don’t mind filling their house with explosive vials of hot mercury, but mostly its all LED now. Which is as it should be: LED lighting is clearly the superior choice in terms of energy efficiency, lifetime, and environmental impact.

Unfortunately, a lot of the LED bulbs you’ll see on the rack are of pretty poor quality. In an effort to drive cost down corners get cut, and bulbs which should run for decades end up blowing after a couple of months. After yet another one failed on him, [Kerry Wong] decided to do a teardown to examine the failure in detail.

The failed LED driver.

He notes that most of the LEDs seem to fail in the same way, flickering after they are switched on until they just stop lighting up entirely. This hints at an overheating issue, and [Kerry] opines that aesthetic and cost considerations have pushed heat dissipation to the back burner in terms of design. It also doesn’t help that many of these bulbs are sitting in insulated recessed fixtures in the ceiling, making it even harder to keep them cool.

Once he separates the actual LEDs from the driver circuitry, he is able to determine that the emitters themselves still work fine. Rather than toss the whole thing in the trash, it’s possible to reuse the LEDs with a new power source, which is quickly demonstrated by showing off a shop light he built from “dead” LED light bulbs.

[Kerry Wong] isn’t the only one to put his LED bulbs under the knife. We’ve covered a number of teardowns which explore the cutting edge of home lighting; for better or for worse.

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Welding Batteries With Batteries

Welding equipment is always expensive and bulky, right? Heavens no! [Jaromir Sukuba] is making a welder for battery tabs which can fit in a pocket and gets its power from a coin cell. It may be expensive to power compared to a mains welder, but for the sake of portability this is quite the hack. Not only that, but it uses 555 timers in the charging circuit.

His entry for the 2017 Coin Cell Challenge saps every bit of power from a coin cell and stores it up in a 100F supercapacitor bank. All that stored energy takes a long time to get into the supercapacitors but it comes out in a flash. In fact, it can take 12 hours to fully charge. For the convenience of size, we have to trade the convenience of speed. This should be a strong contestant for the Supernova and Heavy Lifting categories.

We see a quick demonstration of a successfully welded tab which shows that using coin cells to weld metal to coin cells is equally ironic and apropos. Other welders on Hackaday feature a quicker way to control your battery tab welding, safety-rich spot welding, or just go off the rails completely and use an arc welder to make a coil gun.

A Watch Only A Ham Can Use

We’re not sure what to make of this one. With the variety of smartwatches and fitness trackers out there, we can’t be surprised by what sort of hardware ends up strapped to wrists these days. So a watch with an RPN calculator isn’t too much of a stretch. But adding a hex editor? And a disassembler? Oh, and while you’re at it, a transceiver for the 70cm ham band? Now that’s something you don’t see every day.

The mind boggles at not only the technical prowess needed to pull off what [Travis Goodspeed (KK4VCZ)] calls the GoodWatch, but at the thought process that led to all these features being packed into the case of a Casio calculator watch. But a lot of hacking is more about the “Why not?” than the “Why?”, and when you start looking at the feature set of the CC430F6137 microcontroller [Travis] chose, things start to make sense. The chip has a built-in RF subsystem, intended no doubt to enable wireless sensor designs. The GoodWatch20 puts the transceiver to work in the 430-MHz band, implementing a simple low-power (QRP) beacon. But the real story here is in the hacks [Travis] used to pull this off, like using flecks of Post-It notes to probe the LCD connections, and that he managed to stay within the confines of the original case.

There’s some real skill here, and it makes for an interesting read. And since the GoodWatch is powered by a coin cell, we think it’d be a great entry for our Coin Cell Challenge contest.

[via r/AmateurRadio]

Jerri Nielsen: Surviving the Last Place on Earth

There may be no place on Earth less visited by humans than the South Pole. Despite a permanent research base with buildings clustered about the pole and active scientific programs, comparatively few people have made the arduous journey there. From October to February, up to 200 people may be stationed at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station for the Antarctic summer, and tourists checking an item off their bucket lists come and go. But by March, when the sun dips below the horizon for the next six months, almost everyone has cleared out, except for a couple of dozen “winter-overs” who settle in to maintain the station, carry on research, and survive the worst weather Mother Nature brews up anywhere on the planet.

To be a winter-over means accepting the fact that whatever happens, once that last plane leaves, you’re on your own for eight months. Such isolation and self-reliance require special people, and Dr. Jerri Nielsen was one who took the challenge. But as she and the other winter-overs watched the last plane leave the Pole in 1998 and prepared for the ritual first-night screening of John Carpenter’s The Thing, she had no way of knowing what she would have to do to survive the cancer that was even then growing inside her.

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A Gloriously Impractical Electromechanical Display

For this year’s office holiday party, [Gavan Fantom] wanted to do something really special. Coworkers were messing with LEDs to come up with displays and decorations, but they lack that old-school feel of mechanical displays. He wanted to create something that had retro look of moving elements, but didn’t want to just recreate the traditional flip mechanism we’ve all seen over and over.

The mechanism to drive a single “pixel”.

What [Gavan] came up with is breathtakingly impractical 8×8 display that sounds as cool as it looks. Each “pixel” in the display is a 3D printed screw mechanism rotated by a hobby servo. As the pixel is rotated in its case, it becomes progressively more visible to the observer. The opacity of the pixel can even be adjusted by varying the degree of rotation, allowing for rudimentary display of grayscale images.

Each element in the display is made up of seven 3D printed parts and two nails, which the mechanism slides on to move forward and backward. An 8×8 display needs 64 elements, which means the entire display needs 64 servos, 128 nails, and a whopping 448 3D-printed parts. Even with two printers attacking the production in parallel, the printing alone took over two weeks to complete.

The display is powered by a Raspberry Pi and three “Mini Maestro” controllers which can each handle 24 servos. [Gavan] found some sample code in Python to pass commands to the Maestro servo controllers, which he used as a template when writing his own software. The Python script opens image files, converts them to grayscale, and then maps the value of each pixel to rotation of the corresponding servo. He says the software is a little rough and that there’s still some calibration to be done, but we think the results are phenomenal so far.

Mechanical displays are a favorite of hackers, due in no small part to the awesome noises they make while in operation. While we’ve seen some very creative approaches to this type of display before, what [Gavan] has created here is certainly in a league of its own.

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Prepping For Power Outages

When the mains power goes, we are abruptly brought face-to-face with how many of the devices and services we take for granted rely upon it. Telephones for instance, where once they were attached to the wall by a cable, now they are a cordless device with a mains-powered base station. Your cellphone can fill that gap, but a modern smartphone with a battery life of under a day is hardly a reliable long-term solution. Meanwhile modern heating systems may still burn gas or fuel oil, but rely on an electric pump for circulation. Your kitchen is full of electrically-powered white goods, your food is preserved by an electric refrigerator, even your gas cooker if you have one will probably expect a mains supply.

When the power goes out we might say that we instantaneously travel back a couple of centuries, but the reality is that our ancestors in 1817 wouldn’t have been in the same mess we are, they had appropriate solutions to surviving a wickedly cold winter when electricity was still something of a gleam in [Michael Faraday]’s eye. In short, they were prepared in a way most of us are not. That’s a shame, so let’s take a closer look sensible modern preparedness.

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