Ask Hackaday: What’s Your Worst Repair Win?

Like many of you, I’ve become the designated “fix-it” person for my family and friends. While it can be a lot of work — I just finished an oil change that required me to lay in a cold, wet driveway and I can’t mention in polite company the substances I was bathed in while fixing a clogged pipe last week  — I generally relish my role. I enjoy solving problems, I love working with my hands and my head, and who doesn’t like saving money and time?

But for me, the best part of being the fix-it guy is the satisfaction that comes from doing something others can’t do. I find this especially true with automotive repairs, which conventional wisdom says is strictly the province of factory-trained experts. A little bit of a hero complex, perhaps? Absolutely! After all, I don’t get paid for my repairs, so I’ve got to get a little something for the effort.

This is why a recent pair of unrelated fixes left me feeling thoroughly unsatisfied. Neither of these jobs was a clear win, at least in terms of getting the rush of being able to do something that nobody else could. At best, these were qualified wins, which both still left me feeling a little defeated. And that got me thinking that I’m probably not the only one who has had marginal repair wins like these.

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A Simple Serial Display

Often with more “modern” complex protocols involving handshaking, token exchanges, and all the other hoops and whistles accompanying them, we forget how useful and powerful serial can be. In what might be a wonderful tribute to that, [Davide Gironi] created a simple AVR-powered 16-digit serial display.

It can display two numbers, and that’s it. A MAX7219 drives the display, and the brains are an ATmega8. It’s straightforward to send new values: a start byte, a CRC, the data to display, and an end byte. A CP2102 provides a UART to USB interface to connect to a host. An EEPROM helps it remember the last numbers shown. It supports positive, negative, and floating-point numbers.

This is a beautiful example of doing one thing and doing it well. The design is simple and allows it to be used for anything. You can show the current stock market price, the time for the next two trains for your commute, or whatever else you can think of. [Davide] included a schematic, code, and a 3d printed enclosure.

Perhaps the idea could be combined with a clever design for a single-motor seven-segment display.

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Spaceballs Get Serialized

As much as we’d love a TV show version of the cult classic movie, we’re talking about a different kind of Spaceball. While there have been many iterations, [Evan] had a Spaceball built by a company known as Spacetec in 1991 and rebranded by HP. Being an older peripheral, he used the Orbotron 9001, a converter from RS232 serial to USB, to interface his Spaceball with modern devices.

The spaceball was one of the first 6 degrees of freedom controllers, useful for CAD and some games that supported it. It’s famous for being involved in the NASA Mars Pathfinder mission as it was used to control the Sojourner rover. In addition to the perfect orb, it also features eight handy buttons.

The Orbotron is a USB-capable microcontroller (Atmel SAMD21) designed to support the Spaceball 360, 4000, and 5000 series. Ultimately, after tinkering with the code to support the 2003 and 3003 Spaceballs, he had some reasonably usable with some rough edges. For example, acceleration curves still need tweaking, and going too fast can get you stuck. The downside was the rubber coating on the ball that had degraded over the years, making it horrendously sticky.

All the code changes are on GitHub. We’d love to see more spacemice integrated into things, like this ergonomic keyboard. Or even an open-source version of a spacemouse. After the break, we have a video of [Adafruit] showing a Spaceball 2003 working with a serial adapter.

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