CNC Turns a Single PCB into Origami Hemisphere

Trying to make a hemispherical surface out of a PCB is no easy feat. Trying to do that and make the result a working circuit is even harder. Doing it with one solid piece of FR4 seems impossible, right?

Not so much. [brainsmoke] came up with a clever way to make foldable, working PCBs that can be formed into hemispheres. The inspiration for this came from a larger project that resulted in a 32-cm diameter LED-studded sphere, which a friend thought would make a swell necklace if it was scaled down. That larger sphere was made somewhat like a PCB soccer ball, with individual panels soldered together. [brainsmoke] didn’t relish juggling dozens of tiny PCBs to make a necklace-sized version, so the unfolded pattern for half a deltoidal hexecontahedron was laid out as one piece on single-sided FR4. The etched boards were then cut out on a CNC mill, with the joints between the panels cut as V-grooves from the rear of the board. By leaving just enough material to act as a live hinge, [brainsmoke] was able to fold the pattern up into a hemisphere while leaving the traces intact. The process was fussy and resulted in a lot of broken FR4 and traces, but with practice and the use of thicker board material and heavier copper, the hemisphere came together. The video below shows the final product

This objet d’art is [brainsmoke]’s entry in the Circuit Sculpture Contest, which is just wrapping up wrapped up last week. We can’t wait to share some of the cool things people came up with in this contest, which really seemed to get the creative juices flowing.

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Vintage Audio Gear Gets a Display Upgrade

The lengths the retrocomputing devotee must go to in order to breathe new life into old gear can border on the heroic. Tracing down long-discontinued parts, buying multiple copies of the same unit to act as organ donors for the one good machine, and when all else fails, improvising with current productions parts to get that vintage look and feel.

This LCD display backlighting fix for a vintage audio sampler falls into that last category, which was pulled off by [Inkoo Vintage Computer]. The unit in question is an Akai S1100 sampler, a classic from the late 1980s that had already been modified to replace the original floppy drive with a USB reader when the backlight on the LCD began to give out. Replacements for the original electroluminescent backlight are available, but [Inkoo] opted for a cheaper way out. An iPhone 6s 6 Plus backlight was an inexpensive option, if it could be made to fit. Luckily, [Inkoo] was able to trim the diffuser without causing any electrical issues. A boost converter was needed to run the backlight from the sampler’s 5 V DC rail, and interfacing the backlight’s flexible circuitry to the 80s-era copper wiring was a bit fussy, but the results were great. The sampler’s LCD is legible again, and looks just like it might have in the studio back when [Depeche Mode] and [Duran Duran] were using it to crank out hits.

As much as we like this repair, it doesn’t imply that EL is a dead technology. Far from it – [Ben Krasnow] is using it to create unique displays, and EL wire makes for some dazzling wearables. It doesn’t last forever, but while it does, it’s pretty neat stuff.

Hackaday Links: CES is Over

CES is over, and once again we have proof technology does not improve our lives. Here’s the takeaway from the @internetofshit. There’s a garbage can where you can drop your DNA sample. This is obviously not a Bay Area startup, because they just leave DNA samples on the sidewalk there. The ‘smart cooler’ market is heating up (literally) with a cooler that’s also a grill. Someone duct taped an air filter to a roomba, so your air filter can go to where all the dirty air is in your house. Internet of Rubik’s Cubes. The world’s first autonomous shower made an appearance. Now you can take a shower over the Internet. What a time to be alive.

Need some more bad news from CES? We have more proof the entire tech industry is astonishingly sexist. How so? Well, VR sex simulators can win best of show. That’s a given, obviously. But a ‘smart’ sex toy designed by and for women was selected for a CES 2019 Innovation Award in the Robotics and Drone category. This award was given, then rescinded, by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) because it was, ‘immoral, obscene, indecent, profane or not in keeping with the CTA’s image’. We presume they mean the latter, but we’re not sure.

Sometimes, though, there are actual engineers behind some of the gadgets on display at CES. Bell (yes, the aerospace company) unveiled the Bell Nexus, a five-seat VTOL ‘taxi’ powered by six ducted fans. These fans are powered by a hybrid electric power system. We assume a turboshaft connected to a generator powering electric motors. Most interestingly, speculation is that this will be the vehicle Uber’s Elevate air taxi program. This initiative by Uber intends to turn a random parking lot in LA into the busiest airport in the world. This is what the official marketing material from Uber says, I am not making this up, and it’s beyond stupid. You know what, just have Uber buy the Santa Monica airport, close it down, and turn it into an air taxi hub. This is the dumbest and funniest possible future imaginable.

Okay, CES is terrible, but here’s something for you. You can get a free ‘maker license’ of Solidworks. Just go here and enter promo code ‘918MAKER’. This info comes from reddit.

The Impossible Project was founded in 2008 as an initiative to remanufacture Polaroid film and refurbish cameras. The project was a rousing success with many supporters. It is a beacon of hope for anyone who wants to keep obsolete formats alive. Now, another format will live on. MacEffects, a company (or eBay store) in Indiana is remanufacturing color ribbons for Apple ImageWriter II printers. The ImageWriter II was the dot-matrix printer in your elementary school’s computer lab if you’re in the Oregon Trail generation, and yes, it could print color pictures. It could print very high-quality color pictures. The problem is getting color ribbons, and now you can get new ones. We’re very interested in seeing the art that can be made with a color ribbon in an ImageWriter, so if you have a portfolio, send it on in. If you have an ImageWriter, try to print something. It’s a serial printer, not a parallel printer.

Years Don’t Dim The Shine of These Curious Gadgets

[Maarten Tromp] recently took the time to document some of the unusual and creative electronic projects he received as gifts over the years. These gadgets were created in the early 2000’s and still work flawlessly today. Two of our favorites are shown here: Hardware Tetris Unit (shown in the image above) and Heap of Electronic Parts.

The “Heap of Electronic Parts” makes sounds when in sunlight.

Heap of Electronic Parts was a kind of hardware puzzle and certainly lives up to its name. It’s a bunch of parts soldered in a mystifying way to the backs of four old EPROMs — the chips with the little window through which UV is used to erase the contents. Assured that the unit really did have a function, [Maarten] eventually figured out that when placed in sunlight, the device ticks, buzzes, and squeals. [Jeroen] had figured out that the EPROMs could act like tiny solar cells when placed in sunlight, and together the four generate just enough power to drive an oscillator connected to a piezo speaker. It still chirps happily away, even today.

Hardware Tetris plays in a terminal window.

Hardware Tetris Unit was a black box intended to be plugged into a serial port. With a terminal opened using the correct serial port settings, a fully-functional Tetris game using ASCII-art graphics could be played. It was even self-powered from the serial port pins.

Inside Hardware Tetris is an AVR microcontroller with some level shifters, and the source code and schematics are available for download. 14 years later, computers no longer have hardware serial ports but [Maarten] says a USB-to-serial converter worked just fine and the device still functions perfectly.

There are a couple more devices documented on [Maarten]’s gifts page, including a Zork-inspired mini text adventure and a hardware board that does some trippy demos on an old Nokia color LCD.  [Maarten]’s friend [Jeroen Domburg] (aka Sprite_tm) had a hand in creating most of the gadgets, and he’s someone whose brilliant work we have had the good fortune to feature many times in the past.

A Fully Automatic Electric Can Crusher

Those of us who recycle our empty drink cans know the annoying storage problem these containers present. For an object with very little metal, a can takes up a huge amount of space, and should you possess a greater than average thirst you can soon end up with a lot of space taken up with stacks of cans. The solution of course is to crush them, and while there are many simple solutions involving hinged blocks of wood or lever systems, this is 2019! We have Machines to that kind of thing for us! [All Things Electro-Mechanical] thinks so anyway, for he has created an automatic can crusher that is a joy to behold.

At its heart is a 120V AC powered linear actuator, which crushes a can held in a welded steel guide. As the can is crushed it drops into a waiting bin, and when the actuator retracts a fresh can drops down from a hopper. Control is handled by a Raspberry Pi, and there are end sensors for the actuator and an optical sensor for the can hopper. As it stands, once the last can is in place the machine stops due to the optical sensor registering no can in the hopper, but no doubt a software change could cause it to execute a single crush cycle after the last can it detects.

This machine would be an ideal candidate for a simple industrial automation system, but however it is controlled it would save its owner from an embarrassing test of strength. Take a look, we’ve posted the two videos showing it in action below the break.

Thanks [Baldpower] for the tip.

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See the Radioactive World with This Peltier Cloud Chamber

Remember when a homemade cloud chamber was a science fair staple? We haven’t participated for decades, but it seemed like every year someone would put a hunk of dry ice in a fish tank, add a little alcohol, and with the lighting just right – which it never was in the gymnasium – you might be lucky enough to see a few contrails in the supersaturated vapor as the occasional stray bit of background radiation whizzed through the apparatus.

Done right, the classic cloud chamber is a great demonstration, but stocking enough dry ice to keep the fun going is a bit of a drag. That’s where this Peltier-cooled cloud chamber comes into its own. [mosivers] spares no expense at making a more permanent, turn-key cloud chamber, which is perched atop a laser-cut acrylic case. Inside that is an ATX power supply which runs a Peltier thermoelectric cooling module. Coupled with a CPU cooler, the TEC is able to drive the chamber temperature down to a chilly -42°C, with a strip of white LEDs providing the required side-lighting. The video below gives a tour of the machine and shows a few traces from a chunk of pitchblende; it’s all pretty tame until [mosivers] turns on his special modification – a high-voltage grid powered by a scrapped electronic fly swatter. That really kicks up the action, and even lets thoriated TIG welding electrodes be used as a decent source of alpha particles.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen a Peltier cloud chamber build around here, which is too bad because they’re great tools for engaging young minds as well as for discovery. And if you use one right, it just might make you as famous as your mother.

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Blowing the Dust off of an IBM AS/400 Server

If you’ve never seen an IBM AS/400 machine, don’t feel bad. Most people haven’t. Introduced in 1988 as a mid-range server line, it used a unique object-based operating system and was geared specifically towards business and enterprise customers. Unless you’re a particularly big fan of COBOL you probably won’t have much use for one today, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth playing around with if the opportunity presents itself.

So when a local IT company went belly up and was selling their old hardware, including a late 90’s era IBM AS/400e Series, [Rik te Winkel] jumped at the chance to take this unique piece of computing history home. He knew it was something of a risk, as maintenance and repair tasks for these machines were intended to be done by IBM certified technicians rather than the DIYer, leaving little in the way of documentation or even replacement parts. But in the end it worked out, and best of all, he documented the successful process of dragging this 90’s behemoth into the blinding light of the twenty-first century for all the world to see.

After getting the machine home and sitting through its thirty minute boot process, [Rik] was relieved to see the code 01 B N pop on the server’s display. This meant the system passed all the internal checks and was ready to go, he just had to figure out how to talk to the thing. Built to be a pure server, the machine didn’t offer any video output so he’d have to log into it over the network.

[Rik] noted that there was no new DHCP entry in his router for the server, but of course that was hardly surprising as the machine would have certainly had a static IP when it was in use. So he shut the server down, plugged it directly into his laptop’s Ethernet port, and watched the output of Wireshark as it went through its arduous boot sequence. Eventually he started to pick up packets coming from the IP address, and he had his target.

There are a few clients out there that allow you to remotely log into an AS/400, so he downloaded one and pointed it to the server’s IP. He was surprised to see the operating system was apparently in Dutch, but at least he was in. He tried a few common usernames and passwords, helped along by the fact that this OS from a somewhat more innocent era will actually tell you if you have the username right or wrong, and eventually managed to hack the Gibson with the classic admin/admin combo.

So he was in, but now what? [Rik] decided that he couldn’t truly call this machine bested until he could pull up the Hackaday Retro Edition, so he started work on writing a program to let him pull down the page directly on the AS/400 in IBM’s proprietary Report Program Generator (RPG) programming language. You know, as one does. He didn’t quite feel up to writing a whole HTML parser, but he got as far as generating a HTTP GET request, downloading the page’s source, and opening it up as a local file. That’s good enough for us.

Our very own [Al Williams] documented his adventures poking around an Internet-connected AS/400 machine, which might serve as a helpful primer if you ever find one of these delightfully oddball computers kicking around the local recycling center.