No Solder! Squeeze Your Parts To The PCB

What’s solder for, anyway? It’s just the stuff that sticks the parts to the PCB. If you’re rapid prototyping, possibly with expensive components, and want to be able to remove chips from the board easily when you spin up the next iteration, it would be great if you didn’t have to de-solder them to move on. If only you could hold the parts without the solder…

That’s exactly the goal behind [Zeyu Yan] et al’s SolderlessPCB, which uses custom 3D printed plastic covers to do the holding. And it has the knock-on benefit of serving as a simple case.

In their paper, they document some clever topologies to make sure that the parts are held down firmly to the board, with the majority of the force coming from screws. We especially like the little hold-down wings for use with SMD capacitors or resistors, although we could absolutely see saving the technique exclusively for the more high value components to simplify design work on the 3DP frame. Still, with the ability to automatically generate 3D models of the board, parts included, this should be something that can be automated away.

The group is doing this with SLA 3D printing, and we imagine that the resolution is important. You could try it with an FDM printer, though. Let us know if you do!

This is the same research group that is responsible for the laser-cut sheet-PCB origami. There’s clearly some creative thinking going on over there.

The Minimalistic Dillo Web Browser Is Back

Over the decades web browsers have changed from the fairly lightweight and nimble HTML document viewers of the 1990s to today’s top-heavy browsers that struggle to run on a system with less than a quad-core, multi-GHz CPU and gigabytes of RAM. All but a few, that is.

Dillo is one of a small number of browsers that requires only a minimum of system resources and will happily run on an Intel 486 or thereabouts. Sadly, the project more or less ended back in 2016 when the rendering engine’s developer passed away, but with the recent 3.10 release the project seems to be back on track, courtesy of efforts by [Rodrigo Arias Mallo].

Although a number of forks were started after the Dillo project ground to a halt, of these only Dillo+ appears to be active at this point in time, making this project revival a welcome boost, as is its porting to Atari systems. As for Dillo’s feature set, it boasts support for a range of protocols, including Gopher, HTTP(S), Gemini, and FTP via extensions. It supports HTML 4.01 and some HTML 5, along with CSS 2.1 and some CSS 3 features, and of course no JavaScript.

On today’s JS-crazed web this means access can be somewhat limited, but maybe it will promote websites to have a no-JS fallback for the Dillo users. The source code and releases can be obtained from the GitHub project page, with contributions to the project gracefully accepted.

Thanks to [Prof. Dr. Feinfinger] for the tip.

A Google Pixel 7 with a detachable Bluetooth keyboard.

BlueBerry Is A Smartphone-Agnostic Keyboard Firmware

If you’re anything like us, you really, really miss having a physical keyboard on your phone. Well, cry no more, because [Joe LiTrenta] has made it possible for any modern smartphone whatsoever to have a detachable, physical keyboard and mouse at the ready. [Joe] calls this creation the BlueBerry.

A couple of metal plates and a mag-safe pop socket connect a Bluetooth keyboard to a Google Pixel 7. The keyboard/mouse combo in question is a little BlackBerry Bluetooth number from ZitaoTech which is available on Tindie, ready to go in a 3D printed case. What [Joe] has done is to create a custom ZMK-based firmware that allows the keyboard be device-agnostic.

In order to easily mount the keyboard to the phone and make it detachable, [Joe] used adhesive-backed metal mounting plates on both the phone and the keyboard, and a mag-safe pop socket to connect the two. The firmware makes use of layers so everything is easily accessible.

Check out the demo video after the break, which shows the board connected to a Google Pixel 7. It makes the phone comically long, but having a physical keyboard again is serious business, so who’s laughing now? We’d love to see a keyboard that attaches to the broad side of the phone, so someone get on that. Please?

Do you have a PinePhone? There’s an extremely cute keyboard for that.

Continue reading “BlueBerry Is A Smartphone-Agnostic Keyboard Firmware”

Software Bug Results In Insulin Pump Injuries, Spurs Recall

Managing Type 1 diabetes is a high-stakes balancing act — too much or too little insulin is a bad thing, resulting in blood glucose levels that deviate from a narrow range with potentially dire consequences on either side. Many diabetics choose to use an insulin pump to make managing all this easier, but as a recent recall of insulin pump software by the US Food and Drug Administration shows, technology isn’t foolproof.

Thankfully, the recall is very narrow in scope. It’s targeted at users of the Tandem t:slim X2 insulin pump, and specifically the companion application running on iOS devices. The mobile app is intended to run on the user’s phone to monitor and control the pump. The pump itself is a small, rechargeable device that users often keep on their belt or tucked into a pocket that delivers a slow, steady infusion of insulin during the day, plus larger bolus doses to compensate for meals.

The t:slim X2 insulin pump.

But version 2.7 of the t:connect mobile app can crash unexpectedly, and on iOS devices, that can lead to the OS continually relaunching it. Each time it does this, the app tries to reconnect with the pump via Bluetooth, which eventually runs down the battery in the pump. Once the battery is dead, no more insulin can be delivered, potentially leading to a condition called hyperglycemia (“hyper” meaning an excess, “gly” referring to sugar, and “emia” meaning presence in blood — excess sugar in the blood.)

Untreated hyperglycemia can progress to a much more serious state called diabetic ketoacidosis, which can lead to coma and death. Thankfully, nobody has suffered that fate from this bug, but the FDA has received over 200 reports of injuries, hence the recall. Tandem sent out a notice to all affected customers back in March to update their apps, but it’s still possible that some users didn’t get the message.

Apart from the human cost of this bug, there’s a lesson here about software design and unintended consequences. While it intuitively seems like a great idea to automatically relaunch a crashed app, especially one with a critical life-safety function, in hindsight, the better course might have been to just go into a safe mode and alert the user with an alarm. That’s a lesson we’ve learned by exploring space, and it seems to apply here as well.

Images: AdobeStock, Tandem Diabetes

The Impossible Repair: Ribbon Cables

It’s a problem that faces many a piece of older equipment that ribbon cables of the type used on membrane keyboards start to fail as they become older. These cables are extremely difficult to repair as they can’t be soldered to, and since they are usually custom to the device in question. All is not lost, though, as [Spare Time Repair] shows us with the cable on a Honeywell heating controller broken by a user attempting to remove the battery with a screwdriver.

The whole process can be seen in the video below the break, and it involves the use of a vinyl cutter to cut the pattern of tracks in aluminium tape stuck on a sheet of acetate. This makes a new piece of ribbon cable, however it’s still a step short of being part of the circuit. His challenge is to make a clip tight enough to attach it to the intact part of the broken cable and maintain contact, then to hope that the new piece of cable bent back on itself can make enough contact for the device to work.

At the end of it all, he has a working Honeywell controller, though as he points out, it’s a device he has little interest in. Instead, this opens a window on an extremely useful technique that should be of relevance far beyond the world of heating. There’s one machine close to home for us that could use this technique, for example.

Continue reading “The Impossible Repair: Ribbon Cables”

Institutional Memory, On Paper

Our own Dan Maloney has been on a Voyager kick for the past couple of years. Voyager, the space probe. As a long-term project, he has been trying to figure out the computer systems on board. He got far enough to write up a great overview piece, and it’s a pretty good summary of what we know these days. But along the way, he stumbled on a couple old documents that would answer a lot of questions.

Dan asked JPL if they had them, and the answer was “no”. Oddly enough, the very people who are involved in the epic save a couple weeks ago would also like a copy. So when Dan tracked the document down to a paper-only collection at Wichita State University, he thought he had won, but the whole box is stashed away as the library undergoes construction.

That box, and a couple of its neighbors, appear to have a treasure trove of documentation about the Voyagers, and it may even be one-of-a-kind. So in the comments, a number of people have volunteered to help the effort, but I think we’re all just going to have to wait until the library is open for business again. In this age of everything-online, everything-scanned-in, it’s amazing to believe that documents about the world’s furthest-flown space probe wouldn’t be available, but so it is!

It makes you wonder how many other similar documents – products of serious work by the people responsible for designing the systems and machines that shaped our world – are out there in the dark somewhere. History can’t capture everything, and it’s down to our collective good judgement in the end. So if you find yourself in a position to shed light on, or scan, such old papers, please do! And then contact some nerd institution like the Internet Archive or the Computer History Museum.

Gather ‘Round This Unique 4-Player Arcade Cabinet

Usually when we see arcade cabinet builds, they’re your standard single-player stand up variety. Even one of them takes up quite a bit of room, so as appealing as it might be to link up two or more cabinets together for the occasional multiplayer session, the space required makes it a non-starter for most of us.

But this cleverly designed 4-player cocktail cabinet from [OgrishGadgeteer] goes a long way towards solving that problem. The circular design of the cabinet gives each player a clear view of their respective display in a much smaller footprint than would otherwise be possible, and the glass top allows the whole thing to double as an actual cocktail table when it’s not game time.

The cabinet was modelled in 3D before construction.

According to a post on r/cade, it took [OgrishGadgeteer] three months to go from paper sketches of the cabinet’s basic shape to the final product. Most of the components were picked up on the second hand market, which brought the total cost of the build to around $350. That wouldn’t have been a surprising price for a traditional full-size cabinet build, so for this, it seems like an absolute steal.

A Dell OptiPlex 7060 small form factor PC provides the power for this build, with the video output passing through a 4-way VGA distribution amplifier into 20 inch monitors. At $75, the four player control kit ended up being the single most expensive component of the build, though you could make do with some parts bin buttons and a Pi Pico if you wanted to really bring this one in on a budget.

Perhaps the most surprising element of the whole build is that, despite the cabinet’s complex design, [OgrishGadgeteer] pulled it off without a CNC to cut the plywood panels. Instead, a vinyl cutter was used to make full-size templates of the cuts and holes that needed to be made, which were attached directly to the wood. After that, it was just a matter of following the lines with a jigsaw. Not the fastest or most convenient solution, but it’s hard to argue with the final results.

We’ve seen other cocktail cabinet builds in the past, but this is the first that managed to cram four players in. Well, unless you count Dungeons & Dragons, anyway.