Advent Calendar Tracks The Days Until Christmas

Internet-connected Advent calendarWhat’s a hacker to do when Halloween’s over and a new source of ideas is needed for more hacks? Make something for Christmas of course. That’s what [Dario Breitenstein] did when he made his Advent calendar both as a decoration and to help instill some Christmas spirit.

Designed in SketchUp, it’s a WS2812 LED strip mounted in a clean looking walnut enclosure. The light diffuses through 3D-printed PETG lids with vinyl over them to outline the days. Naturally, it had to be Internet-connected and so an ESP8266 based WEMOS D1 mini board fetches the date and time from an NTP server. Sundays light up in red and Christmas Eve in purple.

This appears to be just the thing hackers like [vk2zay] could use for inspiration during their sort-of-annual Advent Calendar of Circuits wherein a different circuit is made each day leading up to Christmas.

Hacked Heating Instruments for the DIY Biology Lab

[Justin] from The Thought Emporium takes on a common molecular biology problem with these homebrew heating instruments for the DIY biology lab.

The action at the molecular biology bench boils down to a few simple tasks: suck stuff, spit stuff, cool stuff, and heat stuff. Pipettes take care of the sucking and spitting, while ice buckets and refrigerators do the cooling. The heating, however, can be problematic; vessels of various sizes need to be accommodated at different, carefully controlled temperatures. It’s not uncommon to see dozens of different incubators, heat blocks, heat plates, and even walk-in environmental chambers in the typical lab, all acquired and maintained at great cost. It’s enough to discourage any would-be biohacker from starting a lab.

[Justin] knew It doesn’t need to be that way, though. So he tackled two common devices:  the incubator and the heating block. The build used as many off-the-shelf components as possible, keeping costs down. The incubator is dead simple: an insulated plastic picnic cooler with a thermostatically controlled reptile heating pad. That proves to be more than serviceable up to 40°, at the high end of what most yeast and bacterial cultures require.

The heat block, used to heat small plastic reaction vessels called Eppendorf tubes, was a little more complicated to construct. Scrap heat sinks yielded aluminum stock, which despite going through a bit of a machinist’s nightmare on the drill press came out surprisingly nice. Heat for the block is provided by a commercial Peltier module and controller; it looks good up to 42°, a common temperature for heat-shocking yeast and tricking them into taking up foreign DNA.

We’re impressed with how cheaply [Justin] was able to throw together these instruments, and we’re looking forward to seeing how he utilizes them. He’s already biohacked himself, so seeing what happens to yeast and bacteria in his DIY lab should be interesting.

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Arduino Provides Hands-Free Focus for Digital Inspection Scope

With surface-mount technology pushing the size of components ever smaller, even the most eagle-eyed among us needs some kind of optical assistance to do PCB work. Lots of microscopes have digital cameras too, which can be a big help – unless the camera fights you.

Faced with a camera whose idea of autofocus targets on didn’t quite coincide with his, [Scott M. Baker] took matters into his own hands – foot, actually – by replacing mouse inputs to the camera with an outboard controller. His particular camera’s autofocus can be turned off, but only via mouse clicks on the camera’s GUI. That’s disruptive while soldering, so [Scott] used an Arduino Pro Micro and a small keypad to mimic the mouse movements needed to control the camera.

At the press of a key, the Arduino forces the mouse cursor up to the top left corner of the screen, pulls down the camera menu, and steps down the proper distance to toggle autofocus. The controller can also run the manual focus in and out or to take a screenshot. There’s even a footswitch that forces the camera to refocus if the field of view changes. It looks really handy, and as usual [Scott] provides a great walkthrough in the video below.

Like it or not, if shrinking technology doesn’t force you into the microscope market, entropy will. If you’re looking for a buyer’s guide to microscopes, you could do worse than [Shahriar]’s roundup of digital USB scopes. Or perhaps you’d prefer to dumpster dive for yours.

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Fail of the Week: Leaf Blowers Can’t Fly

Leaf blowers, the main instrument of the suburban Saturday symphony, are one of the most useful nuisances. It doesn’t take much work with a rake to convince even the most noise-averse homeowner to head to the Big Box Store to pick one up to speed lawn chores. Once you do buy one, and feel the thrust produced by these handheld banshees, you might wonder, If I let go of this thing, would it fly? 

[Peter Sripol] had that very thought and set about building a couple of leaf blower powered planes to answer the question. It’s probably not a spoiler alert to report that the answer is no, but the video below is a fun watch anyway. The surprising thing is just how close both planes came to succeeding. The first plane was a stripped-down Ryobi two-stroke leaf blower suspended from a giant wing and tail section that very nearly got off the ground. Version 1.1 gained a retractable electric boost propeller – strictly for take-offs – and lost a lot of excess weight. That plane practically leaped into the air, but alas, servo problems prevented [Peter] from shutting down the electric and flying on Ryobi alone. Even a servo fix couldn’t save the next flight, which cratered right after takeoff. A version 2.0, this time using a brutally modified electric leaf blower, was slightly more airworthy but augured in several times before becoming unflyable.

What can we learn from all this? Not much other than it would take a lot of effort to make a leaf blower fly. We appreciate all of [Peter]’s hard work here, but we think he’s better off concentrating on his beautiful homebrew ultralight instead.

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Lego Tardis Spins Through the Void

Using LEGO Technic gears and rods seems like a great way of bringing animation to your regular LEGO creation. Using gears and crank shafts you can animate models from your favorite TV show or movie like LEGO kinetic sculpture maker, [Josh DaVid] has done when he created a spinning TARDIS.  Crank the handle and the sculpture spins through space and time.

The large gear stays in place. The hidden gears, turned by the crank, rotate a shaft from below that goes through the large gear making the TARDIS rotate around the main axis. Connected to the TARDIS model is a smaller gear, at an angle, that meshes with the larger, stationary, gear. This smaller gear is what causes the TARDIS to rotate around its own axis while the whole thing rotates around the main axis. If your hand gets too tired, you can substitute a LEGO motor.

It’s a neat effect, and you can get the plans [Josh]’s Etsy page. The best part, however, is that you can get a set with all the parts as well! The TARDIS is a popular item here and we’ve had plenty of projects with it as the focus: Everything from a tree topper to sub-woofers. The only question we have, of course, is, ‘Is it bigger on the inside?’

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Sprite_TM’s Magic Paintbrush

When it comes to hackers we love, there’s no better example than Jeroen Domburg, a.k.a. Sprite_TM. Sprite’s now working for Espressif, makers of the fantastic ESP8266 and ESP32, where he created a miniature Game Boy and turned this PocketSprite into a real product. He’s installed Linux on a hard drive, and created a Matrix of virtualized Tamagotchis. In short, if you’re looking for someone who’s building the coolest, most technical thing of sometimes questionable utility, you need look no further than Sprite_tm.

Sprite was back at this year’s Superconference, and again he’s bringing out the big guns with awesome hardware hacks. This time, though, Sprite is tapping into his artistic side. Sprite is very accomplished in making PCB art and DaveCAD drawings, but actual art is something that’s been out of reach. No problem, because you can just buy an inkjet printer and make your own art. Sprite’s doing something different, and he’s turning his inkjet into a Magic Paintbrush.

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An Apollo Guidance Computer Laid Bare

An Apollo Guidance Computer probably isn’t a machine that’s likely to come the way of most Hackaday readers. The device that played such a vital role in taking astronauts to the Moon and bringing them home again is hardly a common find, even if it is one of the most iconic machines of its type and era.

[Carl Claunch] was approached to assist in the restoration of an AGC, and while he can’t reveal any information about its owner he is at liberty to document his progress. The result is a fascinating in-depth technical examination of the device over multiple blog posts, and is well worth a read for anyone with an interest in the Apollo program. It’s an ongoing progression of blog posts that are probably too numerous to list individually, but include the construction of a substitute for the DSKY control panel as well as looking at the device’s memory and construction. [Carl] then embarks on a series of posts looking at the restoration itself. This is where we see the computer in greatest detail, and learn the most about it.

If you think you might have seen [Carl]’s name here before, you’d be right. One of his past exploits was getting the first version of FORTH running on an IBM mainframe.