Soldering Like It’s 205 BC

Did you ever stop to think how unlikely the discovery of soldering is? It’s hard to imagine what sequence of events led to it; after all, metals heated to just the right temperature while applying an alloy of lead and tin in the right proportions in the presence of a proper fluxing agent doesn’t seem like something that would happen by accident.

Luckily, [Chris] at Clickspring is currently in the business of recreating the tools and technologies that would have been used in ancient times, and he’s made a wonderful video on precision soft soldering the old-fashioned way. The video below is part of a side series he’s been working on while he builds a replica of the Antikythera mechanism, that curious analog astronomical computer of antiquity. Many parts in the mechanism were soldered, and [Chris] explores plausible methods using tools and materials known to have been available at the time the mechanism was constructed (reported by different historians as any time between 205 BC and 70 BC or so). His irons are forged copper blocks, his heat source is a charcoal fire, and his solder is a 60:40 mix of lead and tin, just as we use today. He vividly demonstrates how important both surface prep and flux are, and shows both active and passive fluxes. He settled on rosin for the final joints, which turned out silky smooth and perfect; we suspect it took quite a bit of practice to get the technique down, but as always, [Chris] makes it look easy.

If you’d like to dig a bit deeper into modern techniques, we’ve covered the physics of solder and fluxes in some depth. And if you need more of those sweet, sweet Clickspring videos, we’ve got you covered there as well.

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Epic Clock Clocks The Unix Epoch

Admit it: when you first heard of the concept of the Unix Epoch, you sat down with a calculator to see when exactly 2³¹-1 seconds would be from midnight UTC on January 1, 1970. Personally, I did that math right around the time my company hired contractors to put “Y2K Suspect” stickers on every piece of equipment that looked like it might have a computer in it, so the fact that the big day would come sometime in 2038 was both comforting and terrifying.

[Forklift] is similarly entranced by the idea of the Unix Epoch and built a clock to display it, at least for the next 20 years or so. Accommodating the eventual maximum value of 2,147,483,647, plus the more practical ISO-8601 format, required a few more digits than the usual clock – sixteen to be exact. The blue seven-segment displays make an impression in the sleek wooden case, about which there is sadly no detail in the build log. But the internals are well documented, and include a GPS module and an RTC. The clock parses the NMEA time string from the satellites and syncs the RTC. There’s a brief video below of the clock in action.

We really like the look of [Forklift]’s clock, and watching the seconds count up to the eventual overflow seems like a fun way to spend the next two decades. It’s not the first Epoch clock we’ve featured, of course, but it’s pretty slick.

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A Look at Liquid Dielectrics

One evening quite a few years ago, as I was driving through my hometown I saw the telltale flashing lights of the local volunteer fire department ahead. I passed by a side road where all the activity was: a utility pole on fire. I could see smoke and flames shooting from the transformer and I could hear the loud, angry 60 Hz buzzing that sounded like a million hornet nests. As I passed, the transformer exploded and released a cloud of flaming liquid that rained down on the road and lawns underneath. It seemed like a good time to quit rubbernecking and beat it as fast as I could.

I knew at the time that the flaming liquid was transformer oil, but I never really knew what it was for or why it was in there. Oil is just one of many liquid dielectrics that are found in a lot of power distribution equipment, from those transformers on the pole to the big capacitors and switchgear in the local substation. Liquid dielectrics are interesting materials that are worth taking a look at.

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Hacked Electric Toothbrush Defeats Locks With Ease

The movie version of lockpicking tends to emphasize the meticulous, delicate image of the craft. The hero or villain takes out a slim wallet of fine tools, applies them with skill and precision, and quickly defeats the lock. They make it look easy, and while the image isn’t far from reality, there are other ways to pick a lock.

This expedient electric toothbrush lockpick is a surprisingly effective example of the more brute force approach to lockpicking. As [Jolly Peanut] explains, pin tumbler locks work by lining up each pin with the shear line of the cylinder, which allows the lock to turn. This can be accomplished a pin at a time with picks, or en masse by vibrating the pins until they randomly line up with the shear line just long enough for the lock to turn. A locksmith might use a purpose-built tool for the job, but a simple battery-powered electric toothbrush works in a pinch too. [Jolly Peanut] removed the usual business end of the brush to reveal a metal drive rod that vibrates at a high frequency. The rod was slimmed down by a little grinding to fit into the keyway of a lock, and with the application of a little torque, the vibration is enough to pop the pins into the right position. He tries it out on several locks in the video below, and it only takes a few seconds each time.

Such brute force methods have their drawbacks, of course. They’re not exactly subtle, and the noise they create may attract unwanted attention. In that case, hone your manual lockpicking skills with a giant 3D-printed see-through lock.

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Hand-Forged Cases Make Nixie Clocks into Works of Art

Both “Nixie” and “Steampunk” are getting a bit overused. It’s hard to count the number of clock projects we’ve seen recently that combine the two, and normally we’d be loath to feature yet another variation on that theme without a good reason. This is a good reason.

The single-digit Nixie clocks that [Claes Vahlberg] built are, simply put, works of art. There’s a small version of the clock, featuring a single IN-16 Nixie, and a larger version that uses a Dalibor Farny custom Nixie, a work of art in its own right. Each clock has features like time and date, temperature and barometric pressure, and even days remaining in the current lunar cycle. The cases for the clocks, though, are the real treat. Hand forged from steel, they remind us of steam whistles on top of a boiler.

[Claes] doesn’t have many details on the build process — we’ve been in contact and he says he’s working on documentation — but it doesn’t matter. As if all that weren’t enough, the clocks are controlled by a remote, which has its own IN-16 tube and is motion controlled. The last bit is a nice touch since there are no buttons to distract from the smooth lines of the hammered metal case.

We gush, but we think this one really shines. That’s not to take anything away from previous Nixie-steampunk mashups, like this single-digit clock or this solar power meter. But these clocks are a step beyond.

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This Nearly NIMO Clock Fakes it and Makes It

Pity the aficionado of rare vintage displays. While Nixies and VFD tubes get all the attention and benefit from a thriving market to satisfy demand, the rarer displays from the mid-20th century period are getting harder and harder to find. One copy of an especially rare display is hard enough to find. Six copies for a clock? That’s a tall order.

That doesn’t mean you can’t fudge it, though, which is how this faux-NIMO clock came to be. [Paul Bricmont] was inspired by [Fran Blanche]’s NIMO tube primer, wherein the rare, single-digit CRT display was put through its paces. We’ve got to admit, it’s an easy display to fall in love with, thanks to its eerie blue phosphor glow, high voltage supply, and general quirkiness. [Paul] was unable to lay hands on a single tube, though, so he faked it with six tiny TFT displays and some plastic lenses. The lenses mimic the curved front glass of the original NIMO, while the TFT displays provide the stencil-style images of each numeral. The phosphor glow comes from replacing the stock white TFT backlight with a Neopixel array that can produce just the right shade of blue-green. 3D-printed modules hold two digits each, and the usual Arduino components run the show. The effect is quite convincing, although we bet some software tweaks could add things like faux burn-in and perhaps soften the edges of the digits to really sell it.

What other rare displays could be replicated this way? Given the variety of displays that were tried in the pre-LED era, it may be a rich vein to mine.

Flexible PCBs Make The Fins Of This Robotic Fish

We love a little outside-the-box thinking around here, and anytime we see robots that don’t use wheels and motors to do the moving, we take notice. So when a project touting robotic fish using soft-actuator fins crossed the tip line, we had to take a look.

It turns out that this robofish comes from the fertile mind of [Carl Bugeja], whose PCB motors and flexible actuators have been covered here before. The basic concept of these fish fins is derived from the latter project, which uses coils printed onto both sides of a flexible Kapton substrate. Positioned near a magnet, the actuators bend when a current runs through them. The video below shows two prototype robofish, each with four fins. The first is a scrap of foam with a magnet embedded; the fins did flap but the whole thing just weighed too much. Version two was much lighter and almost worked, but the tether to the driver is just too stiff to allow it to really flex its fins.

It looks like it has promise though, and we’re excited to see where [Carl] take this. Perhaps schools of tiny robofish patrolling for pollution?

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