Giving An Industrial Push Button USB, Elegantly

[Glen]’s project sounds perfectly straightforward: have a big industrial-style push button act as a one-key USB keyboard. He could have hacked something together in any number of ways, but instead he decided to create a truly elegant solution. His custom PCB mates to the factory parts perfectly, and the USB cable between the button and the computer even fits through the button enclosure’s lead hole.

It turns out that industrial push buttons have standardized components which can be assembled in an almost LEGO-like manner, with components mixed and matched to provide different switch actions, light indicators, and things of that nature. [Glen] decided to leverage this feature to make his custom PCB (the same design used in his one-key keyboard project) fit just like a factory component. With a 3D printed adapter, the PCB locks in just like any other component, and even lines up with the lead hole in the button’s enclosure for easy connecting of the USB cable.

What does [Glen] use the big button for? Currently he has two applications: one provides a simple, one-button screen lock on a Linux box running a virtual machine at his place of work. It first disengages the keyboard capture of the virtual machine, then engages the screen lock on the host. The other inserts a poop emoji into Microsoft documents. Code and PCB design files for [Glen]’s small keyboards are available on GitHub.

The Three Faces Of The 555

In these days of cheap microcontrollers, it is hard to remember there was a time when timing things took real circuitry. Even today, for some applications it is hard to beat the ubiquitous 555 timer IC. It is cheap, plentiful, and reliable. What’s interesting about the 555 is it isn’t so much a dedicated chip as a bunch of building blocks on a chip. You can wire those building blocks up in different ways to get different effects, and [learnelectronics] has a video showing the three major modes you typically see with the 555: astable, bistable, and monostable.

The 555 is really only a few comparators, a voltage divider, one or two transistors, a flip flop and an inverter. The idea is you use a capacitor to charge and the comparators can set or reset the flip flop in different ways. A reset input or the flip flop can turn on the transistor to discharge the capacitor.

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Phone For Hackers Launches A Crowdfunding Campaign

Based on the WiFi / Bluetooth wunderchip, clad in a polycarbonate frame, and looking like something that would be an amazing cell phone for 2005, the WiPhone is now available on Kickstarter.

We’ve seen the WiPhone before, and it’s an interesting set of features for what is effectively an ESP32 board with some buttons and a screen. It’s become something of a platform, with expansion daughterboards for LTE, LoRa, a camera, a Bus Pirate, and a programmable NFC/RFID doohickey. If you’ve longed for the day of big ‘ol Nokia brick phones, want to hack your phone, but don’t really care about actually having cellular connectivity, this is something that’s right up your alley.

Although the WiPhone looks like a usable product that was designed by someone with a sense of design, it still is Open Source. You can build your own, and there are dozens of expansion boards that will plug into the back of the WiPhone for prototyping, experimentation, and RGB Gaming LEDs. There’s no cellular modem on the WiPhone, though; for calls you’ll have to turn to SIP or VoIP apps.

Considering how difficult it is to source a cellular modem in small quantities and the desire for a cell phone that respects your Right to Repair, we’ve got to hand it to the WiPhone for creating something people want. It gets even better when you consider this looks more like a product than the 3D printed pieces of electronic cruft we usually see, and we’re happy to see this crowdfunding campaign just passed its goal and is completely funded.

Developing The Ultimate Open Source Radio Control Transmitter

While we’ve come a long way in terms of opening up the world of radio control to open source software, a good deal of the hardware itself is still closed up. You can flash a cheap RC transmitter with a community developed firmware, in fact there’s a decent chance that’s what it ships with, but the hardware itself is still an immutable black box. That might be fine if you’re just flying an RC plane or quadcopter, but what if you’ve got something a bit more advanced in mind?

An in-development version of the hardware.

To address this issue, [Alireza Safdari] has spent the last several years working on a truly open source RC transmitter that can be modified and augmented to meet the user’s needs, called the Alpha V1. With the hardware and software nearing completion, he’s looking to get some community feedback on the system before the planned crowdfunding campaign kicks off.

From his personal experience, [Alireza] found that traditional RC transmitters have their limits when you start using them for robotics. You’ll often want input schemes or devices which would never occur to the remote’s designers, and you’ll almost certainly want to have more channels and functions than the original hardware will allow. One of the big advantages with the Alpha V1 is that the front and back of the controller are simple acrylic panels, meaning you can easily cut openings or drill holes in them to add more hardware without having to deal with the (relatively) ergonomic shapes of a traditional transmitter.

Of course, that’s only one half of the equation. When you add new hardware, you’ll need to make the software aware of it. To that end, [Alireza] says he and his team have developed a library of adaptable firmware modules which should make it very easy to add in new components without having to get bogged down with software configuration. In fact, he says the goal is to allow the user to add new hardware to the Alpha V1 without requiring them to write a single line of code.

The Alpha V1 communicates at 2.4 GHz using either XBee or Murata DNT24 radios, and supports as many as 72 individual channels as well as two-way telemetry. If your requirements aren’t quite so high, we recently covered a significantly less intimidating attempt at building an open source RC transmitter that might suit your needs.

Nixie Power Supply Shows Ins and Out of Offshore Manufacturing

[Tony] built a high-efficiency power supply for Nixie tube projects. But that’s not what this post is about, really.

As you read through [Tony]’s extremely detailed post on, you’ll be reading through an object lesson in electronic design that covers the entire process, from the initial concept – a really nice, reliable 170 V power supply for Nixie tubes – right through to getting the board manufactured and setting up a Tindie store to sell them.

[Tony] saw the need for a solid, well-made high-voltage supply, so it delved into data sheets and found a design that would work – as he points out, no need to reinvent the wheel. He built and tested a prototype, made a few tweaks, then took PCBWay up on their offer to stuff 10 boards for a mere $88. There were some gotchas to work around, but he got enough units to test before deciding to ramp up to production.

Things got interesting there; ordering full reels of parts like flyback transformers turned out to be really important and not that easy, and the ongoing trade war between China and the US resulted in unexpected cost increases. But FedEx snafus notwithstanding, the process of getting a 200-unit production run built and shipped seemed remarkably easy. [Tony] even details his pricing and marketing strategy for the boards, which are available on Tindie and eBay.

We learned a ton from this project, not least being how hard it is for the little guy to make a buck in this space. And still, [Tony]’s excellent documentation makes the process seem approachable enough to be attractive, if only we had a decent idea for a widget.

Reinking Dot Matrix Printer Ribbons Because It’s Fun, Okay

Ink! No matter the printer you’ve got, whether it be inkjet, laser or otherwise, it’s the consumables that will send you broke. At times, the cost of Hewlett-Packard black ink has exceeded the price per volume of human blood, and shareholders around the world have rejoiced.

As a retrocomputing reprobate, I have a personal dilection for printers of the vintage persuasion. My previous dalliances have involved fully fledged office copiers, but lately I’ve found myself tinkering with dot matrixes of a 1980s vintage. These workhorses are now reaching middle age, and as you’d expect, their ribbons are a little worse for wear after all this time.

Replacements are cheap enough for the most common printers, but shipping takes weeks and hackers are an impatient bunch. Plus, if you’ve got one of the more obscure models, it’s unlikely you’ll find a fresh cart just sitting on the shelf. It was these factors that spurred my good friend [Cosmos2000] and I into action.

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Building a Slimline Portable NES

Emulation of classic consoles has long been a solved problem. It’s now possible to run thousands of vintage games on a computer the size of a stick of gum, and to do so with all the benefits emulation brings. [M-Parks] isn’t the biggest fan, however – and decided to build a slimline NES handheld instead. The goal was to produce a portable NES in as compact a package as possible.

Things have come a long way in the handheld console modding scene in the last ten years. 3D printing has largely replaced vacuum forming, and it’s no different here. [M-Parks] modeled up a case and sent it off to be 3D printed in PLA, somewhat mimicking the general layout of the original Game Boy. It’s a little larger, but given that it accepts full-size original NES carts, it can only be so small.

A Retro-bit NES-on-a-chip console was used to provide the motherboard and cartridge connector for the build. Rounding this out is a power supply from Adafruit, an LM386 audio amplifier, as well as a digital volume control which is a nice touch.

While such a build may sound daunting to the absolute beginner, all it takes is a soldering iron, some hot glue, and a willingness to have a go. There’s nothing wild or groundbreaking about this build, but to dwell on that would be missing the point. [M-Parks] now has a portable NES to play on those long train rides, and learned some great skills doing it –  a solid result for any project!

If you’re keen on seeing another take, check out [Dave]’s build from a few years back.