That’s A Lot Of Building Systems

The only thing makers like more than building things is making systems to build things. [Eric Hunting] has compiled a list of these modular building systems.

You’ve certainly heard of LEGO, grid beam, and 80/20, but what about Troxes or Clickaloo? The 70 page document has a helpful index at the beginning arranged in families of similar systems followed by information about each and some helpful links.

As the well-known XKCD comic likes to point out, the issue with standards is that they tend to proliferate instead of getting adopted, so this might be a good list to check before you start to implement your brilliant spin on modular construction. It’s possible the right system is already waiting for you.

The list certainly isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a good place to start. If you do have the modular building system that will solve all the world’s problems though, by all means, send it to the tipsline!

Inside America’s Last Morse Code Station

The Titanic famously (or infamously) used Morse code to call out in distress at the end of its final voyage. Ships at sea and the land-based stations that supported them used Morse code for decades, but with the growing use of satellites, maritime Morse code ended in 1999. With one notable exception. [Saahil Desai] writing in the Atlantic tells the story of  America’s last Morse code station, KPH just north of San Francisco.

In fact, KPH did shut down in 1997 as part of the wind down of Morse code in ocean vessels. But some radio enthusiasts, including [Tom Horsfall] and [Richard Dillman], have brought the venerable station back to life. The radio squirrels, as they call themselves, dutifully send news and weather every Saturday to anyone interested in listening. They also exchange radio traffic, primarily with the SS Jeremiah O’Brien, a World War II-era ship parked nearby. N2FQ visited the station and operated the station on video, which you can see below. Or, check out the tour in the second video, below.

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Phenolic board from an RC car - a well-known sight for a hacker

Pairing A New Remote To A Cheap RC Car

The cheap little RC cars are abundant anywhere you are, and if you’ve ever disassembled one, you are familiar with how the PCB looks. A single-sided phenolic paper PCB with a mystery chip driving a bunch of through-hole transistors, a sprinkle of through-hole capacitors, and a few supporting components for the wire antenna. It might not feel reusable, but [Chris Jones] begs to differ, with a Twitter thread showing us how he’s paired a scrap board from one RC car with a remote control from another, all to help a little family project.

These mystery ICs turn out to be RC-car-on-a-chip modules, and Chris lucked out in that his IC has a detailed datasheet available, complete with code pulse examples for different commands. The datasheet for the chip in the remote control is nowhere to be found, though, so we have to dig deeper. How about scoping the RF output? Turns out the supported codes between the two ICs are basically identical! The scrap board wouldn’t move any motors though, so it was time to narrow down the issue.

The RC car board has a 128KHz oscillator, and scoping that has shown the issue – it was producing 217KHz for some reason. It turned out that the oscillator’s load resistor was 100 kiloohms instead of recommended 200k, and switching that put it back on course. We would assume that, wherever the original remote control for that car is, it is similarly mis-tuned, or otherwise the RC car could never have worked.

Through sheer luck and tactical application of an oscilloscope, the RC car moves again, paired to a remote it was never meant to be, and the family project moves forward. Got a RC car, but no remote? Perhaps a HackRF can help.

Ferrules And 3D Prints Revive Classic Microphone

Contrary to what our readers may think, we Hackaday writers aren’t exactly hacking layabouts. True, we spend a great deal of time combing through a vast corpus of material to bring you the best from all quadrants of the hacking galaxy, but we do manage to find a few minutes here and there to dip into the shop for a quick hack or two.

Our own [Jenny List] proves that with this quick and easy vintage microphone revival. The mic in question is a Shure Unidyne III, a cardioid pattern dynamic microphone that has been made in the millions since the 1950s. She’s got a couple of these old classics that have been sidelined thanks to their obsolete Amphenol MC3M connectors. The connectors look a little like the now-standard XLR balanced connector, but the pin spacing and pattern are just a touch different.

Luckily, the female sockets in the connector are just the right size to accept one of the crimp-on ferrules [Jenny] had on hand with a snug grip. These were crimped to a length of Cat 5 cable (don’t judge) to complete the wiring, but that left things looking a bit ratty. Some quick OpenSCAD work and a little PLA resulted in a two-piece shell that provides strain relief and protection for the field-expedient connections. It’s not [Roger Daltry] secure, mind you, but as you can see in the video below the break it’s not bad — nothing a few dozen yards of gaffer’s tape couldn’t fix. Come to it, looks like The Who were using the same microphones. Small world.

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2024 Home Sweet Home Automation: Plantpal Is A Friend To You Both

One easy way to get started on the home automation front is with something that makes a house a home in the first place — lush, green plants. As nice as it is to have them around, it can be difficult to care (or remember to care) for them all the time.

Plantpal makes easy work of that, with an e-paper display that makes it plain as day how your plant is feeling. As you might expect, it features a soil moisture sensor, but what might be unexpected is that it’s capacitive instead of the usual resistive type. This way, no traces are exposed to the elements of plant life. It also has a BME688 sensor to monitor air quality and CO₂, so your plant has the chance to thrive.

Around back you’ll find an ESP32-C6, an AEM10941 for solar energy harvesting, and another set of solar panels. Be sure to check out the project’s GitHub if you want to learn more about this adorable and useful device.

Retro Gadgets: Pay TV In The 1960s

These days, paying for TV programming is a fact of life. You pay your cable company or some streaming service and the only question is do you want Apple TV and Hulu or would you rather switch one out for NetFlix? But back in the 1960s, paying for TV seemed unthinkable and was quite controversial. Cable TV systems were rare, and the airwaves were a public resource, so allowing someone to charge to watch TV on the public airwaves was hard to imagine. That was the backdrop behind the Telemeter — an early attempt to monetize TV programming that was more like a pay phone than a modern streaming service.

Rear view of the telemeter and coin box

[Lothar Stern] wrote about the device in the November 1959 issue of Popular Mechanics (see page 220). The device looked like a radio that sat on top of your TV. It added a whopping three pay-TV channels, and inside was a coin box, and — no kidding — a tape punch or recorder. These three channels were carried from a Telemeter studio over what appears to be a dedicated cable strung on existing phone poles.

Of course, TVs with coin boxes were nothing new. But those TVs were found in public places, airports, and hotels. The money was simply to turn the TV on for a set amount of time. This was different. A set-top box unscrambled channels delivered over a dedicated cable. Seems like old hat today, but a revolutionary idea in 1959.

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Hackaday Podcast Episode 261: Rickroll Toothbrush, Keyboard Cat, Zombie Dialup

This week, Editor-in-Chief Elliot Williams and Kristina Panos met up in a new disposable location to give the lowdown on this week’s best hacks. First up in the news — the Home Sweet Home Automation contest is still going strong. You’ve still got plenty of time, so get on over to Hackaday.IO and start your entry today. In the news, the UK is asking how powerful an electric bike should be (more than 250 Watts, certainly), and legal pressure from Nintendo has shut down two emulators.

Then it’s on to What’s That Sound. Kristina failed again, although she was pretty confident about her answer. Can you get it? Can you figure it out? Can you guess what’s making that sound this week? If you can, and your number comes up, you get a special Hackaday Podcast t-shirt.

But then it’s on to the hacks, beginning with a Wi-Fi toothbrush hack from [Aaron Christophel]. This can only mean the beginning of some epic toothbrush firmware, right? From there, we marvel at moving cat food, the ultimate bulk material, and the idea of spoofing a whole cloud of drones. Finally, we examine one of Jenny’s Daily Drivers in the form of Damn Small Linux (the other DSL), and reminisce about dial-up (speaking of DSL).

Check out the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Download and savor at your leisure.

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