A 555-Shaped Discrete Component 555

While the “should have used a 555” meme is strong around these parts, we absolutely agree with [Kelvin Brammer]’s decision to make this 555-shaped plug-in replacement for the 555 timer chip using discrete parts, rather than just a boring old chip.

As [Kelvin] relates, this project started a while back as an attempt to both learn EDA and teach students about the inner workings of the venerable timer chip. The result was a 555-equivalent circuit on a through-hole PCB, with the components nicely laid out into the IC’s functional blocks. As a bonus, the PCB was attached to an 8-pin header which could be plugged right in as a direct replacement for the chip.

Fast forward a few years, and [Kelvin] needed to learn yet another EDA package; what better way than to repeat the 555 project? It was also a good time to step into SMD design, as well as add a little zazzle. While the updated circuit isn’t as illustrative of the internal arrangement of the 555, the visual celebration of the “triple nickel” is more than worth it. And, just like the earlier version, this one has a header so you can just plug and chug — with style.

Want to know how the 555 came to be? We’ve covered that. You can also look at some basic 555 circuits to put your 555-shaped 555 to work. We’ve even seen a vacuum tube 555 if that’s more your thing.

3D Imaging For Natural Science — For Free

It isn’t that unusual for a home lab to have a microscope, but wouldn’t it be cool to have a CT scanner? Well, you probably won’t anytime soon, but if you are interested in scans of vertebrates — you know, animals with backbones — a group of museums have you covered.

The oVert project is scanning 20,000 specimens and making the results available to everyone. This should be a boon to educators and might even be useful for 3D printing animal forms. Check out the video about the project below.

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Playing ZX Spectrum’s Manic Miner On The Arduino Uno

Composite output shield with audio driver and controller inputs for Arduino Uno (Credit: Scott Porter)
Composite output shield with audio driver and controller inputs for Arduino Uno (Credit: Scott Porter)

Although it seems many have moved on to 32-bit MCUs these days for projects, there is still a lot of fun to be had in the 8-bit AVR world, as [Scott Porter] demonstrates with a recent Arduino Uno project featuring his game engine running a port of the Manic Miner game that was originally released in 1983 for the ZX Spectrum. For the video and audio output he created an add-on board for the Uno that creates a composite signal using two resistors, along with an audio driver circuit and control inputs either from the onboard buttons or from a NES controller. Audio can be sent either over the composite output or via the audio jack.

A demonstration of the game is provided in a number of videos on [Scott]’s YouTube account, which shows off a few levels, at 256×256 resolution. It contains all 20 original levels, with a few quality of life upgrades with animation. It also features original music, which may or may not work for you, but music can be turned on or off in the main menu. Compared to the 3.5 MHz Z80 MPU in the ZX Spectrum, the 16 MHz AVR of the Uno is a lot beefier, which raises the hope that a color version like the ZX Spectrum one is also in the future, even if it may require an add-on board with a framebuffer. As [Scott] notes, the weakness of the Uno is that the ZX Spectrum has significantly more RAM, which limits what can be done.

Thanks to [256byteram] for the tip.

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Hack Makes Microwave Cookies Fast And Not Terrible

Making a chocolate chip cookie is easy. Making a good chocolate chip cookie is a little harder. Making a good chocolate chip cookie quickly is a pretty tall order, but if you cobble together a microwave and a conventional oven, you just might get delicious and fast to get together.

The goal of this Frankenstein-esque project is to build a vending machine that can whip up a fresh-baked chocolate chip cookie on demand and make [Chaz] wealthy beyond his wildest dreams. We’re guessing at that last part; for all we know his goal is world peace through instant cookies. We’re fine with the idea either way, and his previous work on the project resulted in a semi-automatic cookie gun to splooge the dough out in suitable dollops.

The current work is turning those into something edible, for which a microwave seems a logical choice. Experience tells us otherwise, so off to the thrift store went [Chaz], returning with a used air fryer. He ripped the guts out of a small microwave, slapped the magnetron onto the side of the air fryer, and discovered that this was officially A Bad Idea™ via a microwave leakage tester. Round 2 went the other way — adding a conventional heating element to a large microwave. That worked much better, especially after close-up video revealed the dynamics of microwave cookery and the best way to combine the two cooking modalities. The result is a contraption that makes a pretty tasty-looking two-minute cookie. World peace, here we come!

Of course there’s plenty to say about the safety of all this, much of which [Chaz] himself cops to in the video. It’s important to remember that he’s just prototyping here; we’re sure the final machine will be a little more sophisticated than a heat gun duct-taped to the side of a microwave. Those cookies aren’t going to bake themselves, though, so you’ve got to start somewhere.

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Share Your Projects: KiCad Automations And Pretty Renders

I have a pretty large GitHub repository, with all of my boards open-sourced there. Now, I’m finally facing the major problem it has – it can be uncomfortable for others to work with. I don’t store Gerber files in the repository because that will interfere with how Git functions – you’re supposed to only have source files in the repo. Yet, when someone needs Gerbers for my PCB, or a schematic PDF, or just to see how the board looks before they clone the entire repository, I often don’t have a good option for them.

In my experience as a hacker, being able to find others’ PCBs on GitHub is simply wonderful, but a PCB repository without a README feels barren, and a PCB README without pictures makes me sad. On the other hand, not having these files autogenerate is uncomfortable – updating a picture every time is a major drawback in particular.

Let’s take a look at some KiCad Git integrations, and see what they have to offer.


We’ve mentioned kicad_cli back when KiCad 7 got released, and in the recently released KiCad 8, it’s only become more powerful. Before, it could do gerbers and schematic PDFs, but now, it can even do DRC checks – which is ideal if you want to add a hook for any pull requests you might encounter.

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Generator Control Panel Unlocked With Reverse Engineering Heroics

Scoring an interesting bit of old gear on the second-hand market is always a bit of a thrill — right up to the point where you realize the previous owner set some kind of security code on it. Then it becomes a whole big thing to figure out, to the point of blunting the dopamine hit you got from the original purchase.

Fear not, though, because there’s dopamine aplenty if you can copy what [Buy it Fix it] did to decode the PIN on a used generator control panel. The panel appears to be from a marine generator, and while it powered up fine, the menu used to change the generator’s configuration options is locked by a four-digit PIN. The manufacturer will reset it, but that requires sending it back and paying a fee, probably considerable given the industrial nature of the gear.

Instead of paying up, [Buy it Fix it] decided to look for a memory chip that might store the PIN. He identified a likely suspect, a 24LC08B 8-Kb serial EEPROM, and popped it off to read its contents. Nothing was immediately obvious, but blanking the chip and reinstalling it cleared the PIN, so he at least knew it was stored on the chip. Many rounds of soldering and desoldering the chip followed, blanking out small sections of memory each time until the PIN was located. The video below edits out a lot of the rework, but gives the overall gist of the hack.

To be honest, we’re not sure if the amount of work [Buy it Fix it] put into this was less than taking a couple of hours to punch in PINs and brute-force it. Then again, if he hadn’t done the reverse engineering he wouldn’t have stumbled upon where the generator parameters like running time and power figures were stored. And it’s not really his style, either; we’ve seen him perform similar heroics on everything from tractors to solar inverters, after all.

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On An Aging Space Station, Air Leaks Become Routine

Anyone who’s ever owned an older car will know the feeling: the nagging worry at the back of your mind that today might be the day that something important actually stops working. Oh, it’s not the little problems that bother you: the rips in the seats, the buzz out of the rear speakers, and that slow oil leak that might have annoyed you at first, but eventually just blend into the background. So long as the car starts and can get you from point A to B, you can accept the sub-optimal performance that inevitably comes with age. Someday the day will come when you can no longer ignore the mounting issues and you’ll have to get a new vehicle, but today isn’t that day.

Looking at developments over the last few years one could argue that the International Space Station, while quite a bit more advanced and costly than the old beater parked in your driveway, is entering a similar phase of its lifecycle. The first modules of the sprawling orbital complex were launched all the way back in 1998, and had a design lifetime of just 15 years. But with no major failures and the Station’s overall condition remaining stable, both NASA and Russia’s Roscosmos space agency have agreed to several mission extensions. The current agreement will see crews living and working aboard the Station until 2030, but as recently as January, NASA and Roscosmos officials were quoted as saying a further extension isn’t out of the question.

Still, there’s no debating that the ISS isn’t in the same shape it was when construction was formally completed in 2011. A perfect case in point: the fact that the rate of air leaking out of the Russian side of the complex has recently doubled is being treated as little more than a minor annoyance, as mission planners know what the problem is and how to minimize the impact is has on Station operations.

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