Powering Neon With A Joule Thief

Joule thief are small, fun circuits which exploit a few characteristics of electronics and LEDs in order to “steal” virtually all of the energy stored in a battery. They can operate at incredibly small voltages and are fairly simple to make. With a few modifications to this basic circuit it’s possible to drive other things than an LED, though, like this joule thief that lights up a neon bulb.

The circuit from [suedbunker] aka [fuselage] is based on a pin from the Chaos Communication Camp which had a standard LED. To get a neon light to illuminate a few modifications to the standard joule thief are needed.

First, the windings have to be changed from 10:10 to 10:80 to increase the voltage across the bulb. Second, a transistor with slightly different characteristics was used than the original design. The capacitor was also replaced with a larger one.

While it might seem simple, the physics of how a joule thief works are anything but, and modifying the delicate circuit to work with something other than an LED is commendable. It also has a steampunk vibe which is a cool look even in projects that don’t involve steam at all.

Get Your Weather Images Straight From The Satellite

[Josh] has a series called Ham Radio Crash Course and a recent installment covers how you can grab satellite images directly from weather satellites. This used to be more of a production than it is now thanks to software defined radio (SDR). Josh also has another project using a 3D printer to make an antenna suitable for the job. You can see the video below.

The software is the venerable WXtoImg program. This is abandonware, but the community has kept the software available. The program works on Linux, Windows, and Mac. The satellites in question operate around 137 MHz, but that’s easily in the range of even the cheap SDR dongles. [Josh] shows how to use a virtual audio cable on Windows to connect the output of the radio to the input of the WXtoImg program. Under Linux, you can do this with Pulse or Jack very easily without any extra hardware.

There’s some setup and calibration necessary for the software. You’ll also need the current orbital data and the program will tell you when you can find the next satellite passing overhead. Generally speaking you’ll want your antenna outside, which [Josh] solved by taking everything outdoors and having some lunch during the pass. It also takes some time to post-process the data into images and audio.

We know this isn’t new. But we did like [Josh’s] clear and up-to-date guide. We remember watching NOAA 15 as it started to lose its electronic mind.

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Manual To Hydraulic Press, With A Paint Sprayer

A press can be one of the most useful additions to a workshop, once you have one you will wonder how you ever coped beforehand when it came to all manner of pressing in and pushing out tasks. An arbor press with a big lever and ratchet is very quick to use, while a hydraulic pressĀ  gives much higher pressure but is extremely slow. [The Buildist] missed out on an arbor press, so turned his eye to improving the speed of his hydraulic one. The solution came from an unexpected source, an airless paint sprayer that had come his way because its valves were gummed up with paint.

An airless paint sprayer is simply a high pressure pump that supplies paint to a nozzle, and that pump is easily repurposed to pump oil instead of paint. Testing revealed it could produce a pressure of 3000 PSI, which would be plenty to move the hydraulic jack even if the hand pump would be needed to finish the job when higher force was required.

What follows over two videos is a masterclass in hydraulic jacks, as he strips down the jack from his press, and modifies it not only to take an input from the pump, but also to run inverted by the addition of an oil reservoir pick-up pipe. Along the way we learn a few useful gems such as the fact that a grease gun pipe is the same as a hydraulic pipe, but much cheaper.

The result is a jack that extends quickly, and has the pressure to do most pressing tasks without the hand assistance. He crushes a drinks can for effect, then pinches the end of a piece of pipe, because given a press, why wouldn’t you! Take a look at both videos below the break.

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The Ultimate Game Boy Talk

It is absolutely no exaggeration to say that [Michael Steil] gave the Ultimate Game Boy talk at the 33rd Chaos Communication Congress back in 2016. Watch it, and if you think that there’s been a better talk since then, post up in the comments and we’ll give you the hour back. (As soon as we get this time machine working…)

We were looking into the audio subsystem of the Game Boy a while back, and scouring the Internet for resources, when we ran across this talk. Not only does [Michael] do a perfect job of demonstrating the entire audio system, allowing you to write custom chiptunes at the register level if that’s your thing, but he also gets deep into the graphics engine. You’ll never look at a low-bit Pole Position clone the same again. The talk even includes some new (in 2016, anyway) hacks on the pixel pipeline in the last 15 minutes, and a quick review of the hacking tools and even the Game Boy camera.

Why do you care about the Game Boy? It’s probably the last/best 8-bit game machine that was made in mass production. You can get your hands on one, or a clone, for dirt cheap. And if you build a microcontroller-based cartridge, you can hack the whole thing non-destructively live, and in Python! Or emulate either the whole shebang. Either way, when you’re done, you’ve got a portable demo of your hard work thanks to the Nintendo hardware. It makes the perfect retro project.

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Corona Cancels Cons

As you read this, the Open Hardware Summit is taking place, but differently than in previous years. This year, it’s taking place in cyberspace! To what do we owe this futuristic development? Unfortunately, COVID-19, the corona virus.

And OHS isn’t alone. Vintage Computer Festival Pacific Northwest was cancelled outright. In Germany, where I live, the national health board has recommended cancelling all events with more than 1,000 attendees, and both the Maker Faire Berlin and the Chaos Computer Club’s 20th annual Easterhegg have been called off.

And just announced yesterday, our own Hackaday Belgrade event is going to be postponed and rescheduled for later this year. It’s truly sad, but we’re still looking forward to seeing you all a little bit later in the summer. If you can’t make the new date, tickets will of course be refunded. We’ll keep you informed when we get a new venue and time.

The best way to slow the spread of a global pandemic, according to the WHO who should know best, is washing your hands and avoiding contact with other people. “Social distancing” is the new catch-phrase, and that means keeping a few meters away from other folks whenever reasonable. And clearly, gathering people from all over the world, packing them into a single auditorium, and spending quality time together doesn’t meet this requirement.

So we’re all probably going to be laying low globally for a little while. On the positive side, this means more time for hacking here in the lab, and I’m excited to be able to watch the online version of the Open Hardware Summit. If you’re working from home, it’s that much easier to keep up to date with Hackaday. Still, I can’t wait to be on the other side of this thing, and it makes me appreciate the various social gatherings that much more.

And of course I have Isaac Newton in my thoughts, who developed the groundwork for his Calculus and laws of gravitation while at home because Cambridge was closed to stop the spread of the Great Plague. Wash your hands!

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Civilian RC Car Uses Lego NXT And Ada

Back in the last century, the US Department of Defense declared that Ada was going to be used everywhere and for everything. Books were published, schools build curriculum. Working programmers, however, filled out waivers to continue working in their languages of choice. As a result, only a little bit of safety-critical software really used Ada. However, we’ve noticed a bit of a resurgence lately. Case in point: an RC car using Ada for the brains. You can watch it tool around in the video below.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about Ada in the past few months. Partially, this could be because of the availability of the GNU compiler, although that’s been around since 1995, so maybe there’s another explanation. Ada’s strong typing does tend to plug holes that hackers exploit, so while we would hate to say it is hack proof, it certainly is hack resistant compared to many popular languages.

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Honeywell May Pull Into The Quantum Computer Lead

It has been a while since we thought about computers and thought about Honeywell. Sure, they had a series of computers they bought from General Electric and Computer Control Company in the 1970s. Even before that they joined with Raytheon and produced vacuum tube computers that later morphed into transistor-based computers. But in recent years, you are more likely to think of Honeywell for thermostats, air filters, and industrial controls. But now, Honeywell has come out of the computer shadows with some impressive quantum computer hardware and they clearly have big plans.

Comparing quantum computers is a bit dicey just as, for example, judging CPUs by instructions per second has its problems. In the past, vendors have jockeyed for the maximum number of qubits, but that’s misleading in some cases. Processing power depends on the number of qubits, their quality, and how they are connected. IBM introduced the idea of quantum volume and Honeywell claims their new machine will hit 64 by that measure, twice that of anyone else’s quantum computer that we know about.

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