A Tiny Tube Amp For Not A Lot

At the extreme budget end of tube audio lie single-tube amplifiers usually using very cheap small-signal pentodes. They’ve appeared here before in various guises, and a fitting addition to those previous projects comes from [Kris Slyka]. It’s a classic circuit with a transformer output, and it provides enough amplification to drive a pair of headphones or even a speaker at low levels.

The fairly conventional circuit of the tube amplifier.

Most tube enthusiasts will instantly recognize the anode follower circuit with a transformer in the anode feed through which the output is taken. The tube works in Class A, which means that it’s in its least efficient mode but the one with the least distortion. The transformer itself isn’t an audio part, but a small mains transformer taken from a scrap wall wart. It serves not only for isolation, but also to transform the high impedance output from the tube into a low impedance suitable for driving a headphone or speaker.

The HT voltage is a relatively low 24 V, but it still manages to drive headphones acceptably. Speaker levels require a pre-amp, but even then it’s likely that this circuit is pushing the tube beyond what it’s capable of with a speaker. The more it operates towards the edge of its performance envelope the more distortion it will generate and the worse a sound it will produce. This isn’t such a problem in a guitar application as here, but hi-fi enthusiasts may find it to be too much. It would be interesting to subject it as a headphone amplifier to a series of audio tests to evaluate the effect of a mains transformer over a dedicated audio one.

Last year we took a very in-depth look at the commonly-available Chinese kit pre-amps that use a similar anode-follower circuit but without the transformer. We’ve also seen a similar amp that uses an op-amp as an impedance converter, as well as a novel take on the idea whose unusual biasing allows it to run from only 3.3 volts. These circuits can be so cheap to get started with that we’d suggest anyone give them a try.

Head Lamp Gives Glowing Creature Comforts

What can we say? It’s 2021, and we could probably all use a psychotic glow worm lamp in our lives about now to lighten the mood and/or provide a new focal point for sitting and staring. Tired of dragging out that creepy little Elf on the Shelf every holiday season? [LiabilityLabs]’ Head Lamp is slightly less terrifying and far more functional. Really, the options are limitless.

The brain of this scare snake is an Electromage Pixelblaze LED controller, a powerful Wi-Fi enabled little board with a live web editor. [LiabilityLabs] recycled 20 milky plastic containers and their lids to help diffuse the light and avoid hot spots by holding the LED strip in the center of the tube. There’s a momentary button on the glowy guy’s tail that lets [LiabilityLabs] cycle through different color patterns with ease.

Whether you need a mascot for your stream channel, a confidant, or a refreshing rainbow rubber ducky of problem solving, Head Lamp is flexible. Feast your eyes on some brief animations after the break.

Want the glowies without the willies? This mesmerizing fiber optic lamp is an easy build.

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Hackaday Links: March 7, 2021

It’s March, which means Keysight is back in the business of giving away a ton of test gear. Keysight University Live starts on March 15, with daily events the first week followed by a string of weekly live events through April. We always enjoy these Keysight events; sure, they’re clearly intended to sell more gear, but the demos and tutorials are great, and we always learn a lot. There’s also a feeling of community that feels similar to the Hackaday community; just a bunch of electronics nerds getting together to learn and share. If you’re interested in that community, or even if you’re just looking for a chance to win something from the $300,000 pile of goodies, you’ll need to register.

There’s another event coming up that you’ll want to know about: the 2021 Open Hardware Summit. Because 2021 is the new 2020, the summit is being held virtually again, this year on April 9. Tickets are on sale now, and we’re told there are still plenty of Ada Lovelace Fellowships available to those who consider themselves to be a minority in tech. The Fellowship covers the full cost of a ticket; it usually covers travels costs too, but sadly we’re still not there yet.

Once we do start traveling again, you might need to plan more carefully if cities start following the lead of Petaluma, California and start banning the construction of gas stations. The city, about 40 miles (64 km) north of San Francisco, is believed to be the first city in the United States to ban new gas station construction. The city council’s decision also prevents gas station owners from expanding, reconstructing, or relocating existing gas stations. The idea is to create incentives to move toward non-fossil fuel stations, like electric vehicle charging stations and hydrogen fueling. Time will tell how well that works out.

Go home Roomba — you’re drunk. That could be what Roomba owners are saying after an update semi-bricked certain models of the robotic vacuum cleaners. Owners noted a variety of behaviors, like wandering around in circles, bumping into furniture, and inability to make its way back to base for charging. There’s even a timelapse on reddit of a Roomba flailing about pathetically in a suspiciously large and empty room. The drunken analogy only goes so far, though, since we haven’t seen any reports of a Roomba barfing up the contents of its dust bin. But we’re still holding out hope.

And finally, if you’re not exactly astronaut material but still covet a trip to space, you might luck out courtesy of Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa. He’s offering to pay the way for eight people from around the world on a planned flight to the Moon and back in 2023. Apparently, Maezawa bought up all the seats for the flight back in 2018 with the intention of flying a group of artists to space. His thinking has changed, though, and now he’s opening up the chance to serve as ballast join the crew to pretty much any rando on the planet. Giving away rides on Starship might be a harder sell after this week’s test, but we’re sure he’ll find plenty of takers. And to be honest, we wish the effort well — the age of routine civilian space travel can’t come soon enough for us.

The B-2 Bomber: Those Who Forget History Are Doomed To Reverse Engineer It

The Drive had an interesting post recently, about someone noticed a procurement from the U. S. Air Force to reverse engineer the B-2 bomber’s Load Heat Exchanger (whatever that is). You’d think if the Air Force wanted to reverse engineer something, they’d be looking at another country’s aircraft. What can this mean?

Presumably, the original plans for the system have been lost, or maybe the company who made them is long gone and the tooling to create new ones along with it. Then again, maybe the assembly needs parts that you can no longer get. The Drive has another interesting speculation: perhaps the plans were so secret that were accidentally destroyed.

You don’t hear much about the B-2. There are only 20 left of the 21 built, at least that we know about. Original plans in the 1980s called for 132, but the end of the Cold War spelled the end for the stealth bomber. They get an overhaul every nine years. The Drive also speculates that this may be part of the Air Force’s desire to digitize spare parts and use 3D printing, but — honestly — it doesn’t sound that way to us. Especially since the fleet will retire no later than 2032, so whatever is replaced is only needed for a decade.

If you think you want to have a go, here’s the help wanted ad from the Air Force. If you read the text, it’s pretty clear they have some defective units that need replacement and it sounds like no one knows how to do it with existing materials. Not many of us get to design things that are still working nearly three decades later. Keeping a supply of parts and even know-how for something built in the 1990s isn’t trivial. Something to think about if you design something with a long service life.

The B-2 is a stealth bomber and while one did crash, it wasn’t shot down. The F-117A — the stealth fighter — was shot down against all odds, though. While the B-2 appears to be quite a plane, we prefer our bombers a little bit older. Still, you might enjoy the video below about the B-2’s chief engineer, although he doesn’t mention the Load Heat Exchanger.

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Give Your Smart Home A Green Thumb With MQTT

We have all been stuck inside for too long, and maybe that’s why we have recently seen a number of projects attempting to help humans take better care of their housemates from Kingdom Plantae. To survive, plants need nutrients, light, and water. That last one seems tricky to get right; not too dry and not drowning them either, so [rbaron’s] green solder-masked w-parasite wireless soil monitor turns this responsibility over to your existing home automation system.

w-parasite MQTT diagram

Like this low-power soil sensor project and the custom controller for six soil sensors, [rbaron’s] w-parasite uses a “parasitic capacitive” moisture sensor to determine if it’s time to water plants. This means that unlike resistive soil moisture sensors, here the copper traces are protected from corrosion by the solder mask. For those wondering how they work, [rbaron]’s Twitter thread has a great explanation.

The “w” in the name is for WiFi as the built-in ESP-32 module then takes the moisture reading and sends an update wirelessly via MQTT. Depending on the IQ of your smart-home setup, you could log the data, route an alert to a cellphone, light up a smart-bulb, or even switch on an irrigation system.

w-parasite circuit board in a potted plant[rbaron] has shared a string of wireless hacks, controlling the A/C over Slack and a BLE Fitness Tracker that inspired more soldering than jogging. We like how streamlined this solution is, with the sensor, ESP-32 module, and battery all in a compact single board design. Are you asking yourself, “but how is a power-hungry ESP-32 going to last longer than it takes for my geraniums to dry out?” [rbaron] is using deep sleep that only consumes 15uA between very quick 500ms check-ins. The rechargeable LIR2450 Li-Ion coin cell shown here can transmit a reading every half hour for 90 days. If you need something that lasts longer than that, use [rbaron]’s handy spreadsheet to choose larger batteries that last a whole year. Though, let’s hope we don’t have to spend another whole year inside with our plant friends.

We may never know why the weeds in the cracks of city streets do better than our houseplants, but hopefully, we can keep our green roommates alive (slightly longer) with a little digital nudge.

 

This Dual Extrusion System Rocks

Dual extrusion systems for 3D printers have been around for quite a few years, but the additional cost, complexity, and hassle of printing with them have kept them off the workbenches of most hackers. [Jón Schone] from Proper Printing has now thrown his own hat in the ring, with a custom dual extrusion rocker system that can swap extruders without any additional actuators.

The two extruders are mounted on a spring-loaded rocker mechanism, which holds the inactive extruder up and away from the printing surface. Extruders are swapped by moving the carriage to either end of the x-axis, where the v-wheel rolls a ramp and pops the rocker over, putting the new extruder in the center line of the carriage. There are 3 wheels at the top of the carriage, but only two are in contact with the rail at any time. While this system is more complex than simply mounting two extruders side-by-side, it reduces the chances of the inactive nozzle oozing onto the parts or scraping across the surface. The height of each extruder can be adjusted with a screw,  and any horizontal offset between the nozzles is checked with a calibration procedure and corrected in the firmware. See the full video after the break.

[Jón] is offering the design files and modified firmware to perform this mod on your own Ender 3 Pro (though he notes other Creality printers should be compatible), but you’ll still need to source a control board with the additional stepper driver and heater output for the second extruder. This is yet another in a long list of hacks he’s performed on this popular entry-level printer, such as a modification that allows you to fold the machine up and take it on the go.

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The Digital Radio Era (Partially) Ends In Ireland

It’s commonly agreed that the future of broadcast radio lies in the eventual replacement of AM and FM analogue transmissions with digital services. A wide range of technologies exist to service this change-over, and for much of the world the most visible of them has been Digital Audio Broadcasting, or DAB. This VHF service has slowly increased in popularity to the extent that in some countries the FM or AM switch-off process has already happened or is well under way. It’s thus a surprise to hear a piece of news from a country that’s going the other way, as the Irish broadcaster RTÉ is about to turn off its national DAB multiplex.

The reason cited is cost-effectiveness, the take up of DAB in the Republic by listeners is low (Northern Ireland having the UK multiplexes instead), and that the broadcaster is the only one maintaining a national multiplex. Our Irish friends tell us that as in other parts of the world the rural coverage can be patchy, and with only RTÉ and no commercial stations on offer it’s easy to see why the allure of a DAB set is lacking.

In case anyone is tempted to prophecy the demise of digital broadcasting from this news, that’s not the real story. This is simply an abandonment of DAB. Plenty of Irish people listen to the radio through digital media just as anywhere else, this is simply an indication that they’re choosing not to do so via DAB. The Irish DVB television multiplexes carry the same stations and more, and meanwhile, the inexorable rise of online listening through smart speakers and mobile phones has eaten DAB’s lunch. But it does raise the point for other places: when your mobile phone delivers any radio station or streaming service you desire and is always in your pocket, why would you want a radio?

For more on DAB including some of its shortcomings, a few years ago we took an in-depth look at the system.

Thanks [Laura] for the header image.