It’s Super Easy To Build Yourself A USB-C Variable Power Supply These Days

Once upon a time, building yourself a power supply required sourcing all manner of components, from transformers to transistors, knobs, and indicators. These days, everything’s a bit more integrated which helps if you’re trying to whip something up in a hurry. This build from [Ricardo] shows just how straightforward building a power supply can be.

The build is a simple mashup, starting with a ZY12PDN USB Power Delivery board. This board talks to a USB-C supply that is compatible with the Power Delivery standard, and tells it to deliver a certain voltage and current output. This is then used to supply power to a pre-built power supply module that handles current limiting, variable voltage output, and all that fancy stuff. It even comes with a screen built-in! Simply slap the two together in a 3D printed case with a couple of banana plugs, and you’re almost done.

All you need then is a USB-C power supply – [Ricardo] uses a portable power bank which allows him to use the power supply on the go. It’s a great alternative to a traditional heavy bench supply, and more than enough for a lot of hobby uses.

We’ve seen a lot of interest in USB Power Delivery recently, and its likely hackers will continue to enjoy the standard for some time to come. If you’ve got your own USB PD hack, be sure to let us know!

The Internet – On A Casio Calculator!

Over the years we’ve become used to seeing some impressive hacks of high-end calculator software and hardware, most often associated with the Z80-based models from Texas Instruments. But of course, TI are far from the only player in this arena. It’s nice for a change to see a Casio receiving some attention. The Casio fx series of graphical calculators can now communicate with the world, thanks to the work of [Manawyrm] in porting a TCP/IP stack to them.

As can be seen in the video below, lurking in the calculator’s menu system is an IRC client, there is also a terminal application and a webserver which you can even visit online (Please be aware that it’s only a calculator though, so an onslaught of Hackaday readers clicking the link may bring it down). The Casio doesn’t have a network interface of its own, so instead, it speaks SLIP over the serial port. In this endeavor, it uses a UART driver sourced from [TobleMiner].

It’s always good to see a neglected platform get some love, and also to note that this is an unusual outing for an SH4 CPU outside its most familiar home in the Sega Dreamcast. It’s a surprise then to read that the SH4 in a calculator of all products, is a custom version that lacks an FPU. This deficiency doesn’t mean it can’t be overclocked though, as this very old Hackaday article describes.

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Hackaday Links: July 18, 2021

Tell the world that something is in short supply, and you can bet that people will start reacting to that news in the ways that make the most sense to them — remember the toilet paper shortage? It’s the same with the ongoing semiconductor pinch, except that since the item in short supply is (arguably) more valuable than toilet paper, the behavior and the risks people are willing to take around it are even more extreme. Sure, we’ve seen chip hoarding, and a marked rise in counterfeit chips. But we’d imagine that this is the first time we’ve seen chip smuggling quite like this. The smuggler was caught at the Hong Kong-Macao border with 256 Core i7 and i9 processors, valued at about $123,000, strapped to his legs and chest. It reminds us more of “Midnight Express”-style heroin smuggling, although we have to say we love the fact that this guy chose a power of 2 when strapping these babies on.

Speaking of big money, let’s say you’ve pulled off a few chip heists without getting caught, and have retired from the smuggling business. What is one to do with the ill-gotten gains? Apparently, there’s a big boom in artifacts from the early days of console gaming, so you might want to start spreading some money around there. But you’d better prepare to smuggle a lot of chips: last week, an unopened Legend of Zelda cartridge for the NES sold for $870,000 at auction. Not to be outdone, two days later someone actually paid $1.56 million for a Super Mario 64 cartridge, this time apparently still in the tamperproof container that displayed it on a shelf somewhere in 1996. Nostalgia can be an expensive drug.

And it’s not just video games that are commanding high prices these days. If you’ve got a spare quarter million or so, why not bid on this real Apollo Guidance Computer and DSKY? The AGC is a non-flown machine that was installed in LTA-8, the “lunar test article” version of the Landing Module (LM) that was used for vacuum testing. If the photos in the auction listing seem familiar, it’s with good reason: this is the same AGC that was restored to operating condition by Carl Claunch, Mike Stewart, Ken Shiriff, and Marc Verdiell. Sotheby’s estimates the value at $200,000 to $300,000; in a world of billionaire megalomaniacs with dreams of space empires, we wouldn’t be surprised if a working AGC went for much, much more than that.

Meanwhile, current day space exploration is going swimmingly. Just this week NASA got the Hubble Space Telescope back online, which is great news for astronomers. And on Mars, the Ingenuity helicopter just keeps on delivering during its “operations demonstration” mission. Originally just supposed to be a technology demonstration, Ingenuity has proven to be a useful companion to the Perseverance rover, scouting out locations of interest to explore or areas of hazard to avoid. On the helicopter’s recent ninth flight, it scouted a dune field for the team, providing photographs that showed the area would be too dangerous for the rover to cross. The rover’s on-board navigation system isn’t great at seeing sand dunes, so Ingenuity’s images are a real boon to mission planners, not to mention geologists and astrobiologists, who are seeing promising areas of the ancient lakebed to explore.

And finally, most of us know all too well how audio feedback works, and all the occasions to avoid it. But what about video feedback? What happens when you point a camera that a screen displaying the image from the camera? Fractals are what happens, or at least something that looks a lot like fractals. Code Parade has been playing with what he calls “analog fractals”, which are generated just by video feedback and not by computational means. While he’d prefer to do this old school with analog video equipment, it easy enough to replicate on a computer; he even has a web page that lets you arrange a series of virtual monitors on your screen. Point a webcam at the screen, and you’re off on a fractal journey that constantly changes and shifts. Give it a try.

Faulty Electrolytic Caps Don’t Always Look Bad

Old electrolytic capacitors are notorious for not working like they used to, but what exactly does a bad capacitor look like, and what kinds of problems can it cause? Usually bad caps leak or bulge, but not always. In [Zak Kemble]’s case, a bad cap caused his Samsung HT-C460 Home Cinema System to simply display “PROT” then turn itself off. Luckily, replacing the troublesome cap fixed everything, but finding the problem in the first place wasn’t quite so straightforward. A visual inspection of the device, shown open in the photo above, didn’t reveal any obvious problems. None of the capacitors looked anything out of the ordinary, but one of them turned out to be the problem anyway.

The output cap had developed an internal short, but visually looked fine.

The first identifiable issue was discovering that the -5 V supply was only outputting about -0.5 V, and there was a 6 V drop across two small 0805-sized resistors, evidence that something was sinking far more current than it should.

Testing revealed that the -5 V regulator wasn’t malfunctioning, and by process of elimination [Zak] finally removed the 470 uF output capacitor on the -5 V output, and the problem disappeared! Inspecting the capacitor revealed no outward sign of malfunction, but it had developed an internal short. [Zak] replaced the faulty cap (and replaced the others just to be safe) and is now looking forward to getting years more of use out of his home cinema system.

When a PSU gives up the ghost, bad capacitors are almost always to blame, but we’ve seen before that it’s not always easy to figure out which ones are bad. One thing that helped [Zak] plenty in his troubleshooting is finding a full schematic of the power supply, just by doing a search for the part number he found on it. A good reminder that it’s always worth throwing a part number into a search engine; you might get lucky!

MIDI Mouse Makes Marvelous Music

It’s an old misconception that digital musicians just use a mouse and keyboard for their art. This is often far from the truth, as many computer music artists have a wide variety of keyboards/synths, MIDI controllers, and “analog” instruments that all get used in their creative process. But what if one of those instruments was just a mouse?

Well, that must have been what was going through [kzra]’s mind when he turned an old ps/2 roller ball mouse into an electronic instrument. Born out of a love for music and a hate for waste, the mouse is a fully functional MIDI controller. Note pitch is mapped to the x-coordinate of the pointer, and volume (known as velocity, in MIDI-speak) is mapped to the y-coordinate. The scroll wheel can be used as a mod wheel, user-configurable but most often used to vary the note’s pitch. The mouse buttons are used to play notes, and can behave slightly differently depending on the mode the instrument is set to.

Not satisfied with simply outputting MIDI notes, [kzra] also designed an intuitive user interface to go along with the mouse. A nice little OLED displays the mode, volume, note, and mouse coordinates, and an 8×8 LED matrix also indicates the note and volume. It’s a fantastic and versatile little instrument, and you’ve gotta check out the video after the break to see it for yourself. We’ve seen some awesome retro-tech MIDI controllers before, and this fits right in.

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The Hidden Sounds Of The Past

If you stop to think, the number of pre-recorded voices and sounds you might hear on an average day might number in the hundreds. Everything from subway announcements, alerts on your phone, to sound effects at Disneyland is a sound that triggers in response to an event. [Techmoan] came across a device that many of us have interacted with, but likely never seen: a humble Sontranic 9A Announcer.

In their heyday, these sorts of devices formed the backbone of audio feedback. Messages from Father Christmas were recorded and could be reached when calling a number. Sound effects in theme parks that were activated when a ride activated some hidden switch. Anything where the sound effect needed to play on some sort of trigger.

An interesting thing to note is that this is not a reel-to-reel system. The tape is of the standard 1/4″ magnetic variety, perhaps a little thicker for extra durability. It instead sits in the top of the machine; coiling and uncoiling like a two-dimensional lava lamp. Additionally, there’s nothing clever about detecting the beginning or end of the audio loop (as there were four copies of the same recording on this particular tape). In fact, everything about this machine speaks of reliability as the most important design consideration. A reel-to-reel system would just add more points of failure.

After a little bit of diagnosing, [Techmoan] managed to get the device running again and found the message on the tape to be from the phone system, informing the listener that the line is no longer in service. This banal message is perhaps the best testament to the ubiquity of devices like these.

Perhaps in the future, we’ll see an instrument like this magnetic tape-based one created from a similar machine to the one [Techmoan] found.

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DeWalt Literal Hack Upgrades Battery

There are several important decisions you make in your life: Coke or Pepsi; vi or emacs; PC or Mac. But, lately, you need to pick a battery ecosystem for your tools. DeWalt? Black & Decker? Or just cheapies from Harbor Freight? But what happens when your vendor of choice changes their batteries? That’s the situation [jleslie48] found when a DeWalt 14.4V battery died. All the new tools require 18V batteries, so buying an old battery for one tool didn’t make sense. Time to literally hack the old tool to accept the new battery.

Presumably, nothing in the drill will mind the higher voltage. It is all a matter of mechanics and nothing a Dremel tool won’t fix. Since the tool was old and the 18V batteries relatively new, [jleslie48] decided to limit modifications to the tool only leaving the batteries intact for use with the newer tools.

The only problem once you remove the pins and clips that interfere with the battery fit, it won’t actually stay on the drill. We might have turned to duct tape or zip ties, but bungee cord works, too, as you can see in the finished product.

Honestly, though, the bungee is good because you can stretch it to remove the battery for charging. We might have just cannibalized the drill for its motor, but next time you have a tool with no battery, it might be worth looking to see if you could modify the tool.

Bungees are great for robots, too. Or, you can lay siege on your neighbors.