Big Mouth Billy Bass Channels Miley Cyrus

Here’s a Big Mouth Billy Bass with extra lip thanks to Alexa. If you’re not already familiar, Big Mouth Billy Bass is the shockingly popular singing animatronic fish designed to look like a trophy fish mounted to hang on your wall. In its stock condition, Billy uses a motion sensor to break into song whenever someone walks by. It’s limited to a few songs, unless you like to hack things — in which case it’s a bunch of usable parts wrapped in a humorous fish! Hackaday’s own [Bob Baddeley] combined the fish with an Amazon Echo Dot, connecting the two with an ATtiny84, and having Billy speak for Alexa.

[Bob] had a few problems to solve, including making Billy’s mouth move when there was audio playing, detecting when the Echo was on, moving the motors and playing the audio. After a bit of research and a lot of tweaking, a Fast Fourier Transform algorithm designed for the ATtiny was used was used to get the mouth moving. The mouth didn’t move a lot because of the design of the fish, and [Bob] modified it a bit, but there was only so much he could do.

It’s all well and good for the fish to lie there and sing, but [Bob] wanted Billy to move when Alexa was listening, and in order the detect this, the best bet was to watch for the Dot’s light to turn on. He tried a couple of things but decided that the simplest method was probably the best and ended up just taping a photo-resistor over the LED. Now Billy turns to look at you when you ask Alexa a question.

With a few modifications to the Dot’s enclosure, everything now fits inside the original mounting plaque and, after some holes were drilled so the Dot could hear, working. Billy has gone from just a few songs to an enormous entire library of songs to sing!

We’ve seen Alexa combined with Big Mouth Billy Bass before, but just demos and never an excellent guide like [Bob’s].  The nice thing about this guide is that once you’ve hacked the hardware, it’s a breeze to add new functionality using Alexa skills.

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Beautiful Pi-Powered Cocktail Machine

Science fiction has long had the idea that a good drink should just appear from a sliding panel in a wall. Bartending is to be the preserve of robots and AIs – manual control is for the past, and in an effort to continue our progress to towards that sci-fi future, Reddit user [HighwingZ] has built a beautiful machine that mixes and serves drinks.

Instead of a sliding wall panel, [HighwingZ] has built a hexagonal container. Five of the six sides contain bottles to fill the drink with, the last panel contains the spigot and a spot for the glass. The machine works by weighing the liquid that gets poured into the glass using a load cell connected to a HX711 load cell amplifier. An aquarium pump is used to push air into whichever bottle has been selected via some magnetic valves which forces the liquid up its tube and into the glass. A simple touch screen UI is used so the user can select which drink and how much of it gets poured. All of this is connected to a Raspberry Pi to control it all.

The whole thing is built into a great looking wooden showcase with see-through sides, so you can see the bottles to be used to make the drinks. [HighwingZ] put the Python code that controls everything on github for anyone wanting to make their own. There are a few cocktail making hacks on the site, like this one, or this one if you need some inspiration.

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DIY Perpetual Flip Calendar

Flip calendars are a neat little piece of history. Sold as tourist trinkets, they sit on your desk and show the current day of the month and, depending on the particular calendar, month and year. Each day, you rotate it and it shows you the current date. At the end of February, you rotate it a bunch of times to get from February 28th (or 29th) to March 1st. [measuredworkshop] always had fun flipping the dates on his parents’ flip calendar, so decided to build his own wooden one.

The calendars consist of a series of tiles with the dates on them inside an enclosure. Rotating the enclosure allows a new tile to slide down in front of the old one. Once you know how many tiles you are going to use, you put a different date on the back side of each tile. In [measuredworkshop]’s case, there were 15 tiles to hold 30 dates (he created one with 30/31 on it for the end of the month) so the 1 has a 16 on the back, the 2 a 17, and so on. Tiles of different colored wood were cut and sanded and then the numbers drawn on by hand.

The enclosure was cut using a Morso Guillotine, a machine which uses sharp blades to do precise mitre cuts in wood. One side of the enclosure was covered by wood, the other by clear acrylic, so that you can see how the mechanism works as it is rotated. Finally, a stand was cut from wood as well and the final product assembled.

As you can see in the video below this is a great showpiece, and because of the design gives a view into how flip-calendars work. At the end of his write-up, [measuredworkshop] shares a link he found to a 3d printed flip-calendar on Thingiverse. Check out some of the more techie calendars posted at Hackaday, like this e-ink calendar, or this Raspberry Pi wall calendar.

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Hacking a 30-year-old Russian VFD

Reddit user [InThePartsBin] found some VFDs (Vacuum Fluorescent Displays) on an old PCB on eBay. The Russian boards date from 1987 and have a bunch of through-hole resistors, transistors and a some mystery ICs, plastic wraps around the legs and the top of the tube is held steady by a rubber grommet (the tip itself goes through a hole in a board mounted perpendicular to the main board.) Being the curious kind of person we like, and seeing the boards weren’t too expensive, he bought some in order to play around with to see if he could bring them back to life.

After getting the VFDs lighting up and figuring out the circuitry on the back, [InThePartsBin] decided that a clock was the best thing to build out of it. It was decided that a specialized VFD driver chip was the easiest way to make the thing work, so a MAX6934 was ordered. To give the clock some brains, an ATmega328 was recruited and to keep time, [InThePartsBin] had some DS3231 real-time clock modules left over from a previous project, so they were recruited as well. A daughterboard was designed to sit on the back of the vintage board and hold the ‘328 and the VFD driver chip.

Once [InThePartsBin] soldered on the components it was time to fire it up and send 1’s to the driver to turn on all the segments on all the tubes. Success! The only thing that [InThePartsBin] has left to do is write the code for the clock, but all the segments and tubes are controllable now, so the hardware part is done. There are other VFD clock projects on the site: Check out this one, or this one, and bask in the beautiful steel-blue glow.

Via Reddit.

I’ll Have a Beer With a Compliment Chaser

[Andrew MacPherson] found out that compliments, even insincere ones, make the recipients feel better. So, he put together a thermal printer and a hilariously large button with an Arduino and created a machine that prints compliments. And where best to put a machine that prints out compliments? The local bar, where else?

An Arduino Nano clone runs the show connected to a thermal printer. The Nano clone didn’t like the 9 volt power supply, so a buck converter was used to reduce the voltage down to 5 volts for the Nano, while the printer gets the full power. During initial trials, the printer was very slow to print and it took [Andrew] a while to adjust the parameters – after tweaking the speed as well as the heating time, he was able to get the printer working without burning the paper or taking forever to print.

Once the machine was working, it was time to add a button. A large, light-up button was connected and glued to the side of the printer. More glue was used (after some “modifications” to the printer chassis) to secure a barrel connector for the power adapter.

[Andrew] decided that since he’s down at his favorite bar quite a lot, he’d set it up there. The customers could push the button and receive a compliment while drowning their sorrows. He got a friend of his who’s a copywriter to come up with some nicely written compliments to print out. The printer was such a hit that the bartender sent [Andrew] a message on Facebook saying so. If you have a thermal printer lying around, you can use this tutorial to connect it to the internet, or, if you don’t have one, you can build your own.

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Road Apology/Gratitude Emitter Car LED Sign

Sometimes, when you’re driving, a simple wave when someone lets you in can go unnoticed and sometimes you make a mistake and a simple wave just isn’t enough. [Noapparentfunction] came up with a nice project to say ‘Thanks’ and ‘My Bad’ to his fellow drivers.

The display uses four Max 7219 LED matrix displays, so the total resolution is 32 by 8. [Noapparentfunction] came up with an inspired idea: using a glasses case to hold the LED matrices and Raspberry Pi. It’s easy to get into if necessary, stays closed, and provides a nice finished look. Having little knowledge of electronics and no programming skills, [Noapparentfunction] had to rely on cutting and pasting Python code as well as connecting a mess of wires together, but the end result works, and that’s what matters.

A network cable runs from the glasses case suction cupped to the rear window to another project box under the dashboard. There, the network cable is connected to two buttons and the power. No network information is passed, the cable is just a convenient collection of wires with which to send signals. Each of the buttons shows a different message on the display.

Depending on where you live, this might not be legal, and we’re sure many of our readers (as well as your author) could come up with some different messages to display. However, this is a cool idea and despite [Noapparentfunction]’s admitted limitations, is a nice looking finished product. Also, its name is Road Apology Gratitude Emitter. Here are some other car mod articles: This one adds some lighting to the foot well and glove compartment and this one on the heinousness of aftermarket car alarms.

60’s Comedy Rescued from Nigerian Basement

In the sixties, videotape used to film television programs was expensive. When a program had been shown as many times as the contract required the tape was wiped and reused, unless someone requested it be saved for some reason. At least, this was the BBC’s doctrine. Many episodes of the BBC’s programs have gone missing due to this reuse of the videotapes but sometimes the films of these episodes are found in an attic or storage facility. [Cplamb] brings us the story of the salvation of some episodes of British comedians Morecambe and Wise’ first series on the BBC, their first color series.

Do make duplicates, the BBC would film a television playing one of the videotapes. This film duplicate would be sent out to television stations around the world, rather than the tapes. The Morecambe and Wise film was found in the humid basement of a television station in Nigeria. Due to the conditions, the film was “diseased” and was in danger of decomposing into soup.

A series of hacks was used to restore the episodes from the rotting film stock. X-ray microtomography was used to scan a roll of film to see if this could be used. This worked because the film has a layer of silver oxide emulsion(the image) on one side and plastic (the film stock) on the other. A program was written so that the resulting voxels could be remapped into two dimensions in order to see the original frame. However, the volume that the machine could x-ray was small – using it on an item the size of a full roll of film would probably destroy the film, if it could be done. The next hack was to cut the film into small blocks using a laser cutter. This itself seems destructive but if you can either cut it up and scan it or let it turns into soup the choice is easy.

A second part of the story has been published, but the third article in the series hasn’t been yet, so we don’t know how the resulting film looks. But this is a pretty cool story involving scanning, x-rays, programming, and laser cutters — all hallmarks of the great hacks we see on Hackaday. Check out this article on the mechanics of film projection and this one on automatically scanning 8mm film for similar style hacks.