The Open Makers Cube: Have Hack, Will Travel

Don’t bother denying it, we know your workbench is a mess. A tangled pile of wires, tools, and half-completed projects is standard decor for any hardware hacker. In fact, if you’ve got a spotless work area, we might even be a bit skeptical about your credentials in this field. But that’s not to say we wouldn’t be interested in some way of keeping the electronic detritus in check, perhaps something like the Open Makers Cube created by [technoez].

This all-in-one hardware hacking station uses DIN rails and 3D-printed mounting hardware to allow the user to attach a wide array of tools, gadgets, and boards to the outside surface where they’re easily accessible. The OpenSCAD design includes mounts for the usual suspects like the Raspberry Pi, Arduino Uno, and general purpose breadboards. Of course, your own custom mounts are just a few lines of code away.

The Cube also includes a lighted magnifying glass on a flexible arm so you can zoom in on what you’re working on, a simple “helping hands” attachment, and provisions for internal USB power. It even features angled feet so the front side of the cube is held at a more comfortable viewing angle. All of which is held together by a lightweight and portable frame built from square aluminum tubing.

We can understand if you’ve got some doubts about the idea of mounting all of your tools and projects to the side of a jaunty little cube. But even if the jury is still out on the mobile workspace concept, one thing is for sure: the Open Makers Cube is easily one of the best documented projects we’ve seen in recent memory. Thanks to NopSCADlib, [technoez] was able to generate an exploded view and Bill of Materials for each sub-assembly of the project. If you’ve ever needed proof that NopSCADlib was worth checking out, this is it.

Vintage Plotter Gets Bluetooth Upgrade

Recently [iot4c] stumbled upon this gorgeous Robotron Reiss plotter from 1989, brand-new and still in its original box. Built before the fall of the Berlin Wall in East Germany, it would be a crime to allow such a piece of computing history to go unused. But how to hook it up to a modern system? Bad enough that it uses some rather unusual connectors, but it’s about to be 2020, who wants to use wires anymore? What this piece of Cold War hardware needed was an infusion of Bluetooth.

While the physical ports on the back of the Robotron certainly look rather suspect, it turns out that electrically they’re just RS-232. In practice, this means converting it over was fairly straightforward. With a Bolutek BK3231 Bluetooth module and an RS-232 to UART converter, [iot4c] was able to create a wireless adapter that works transparently on the plotter by simply connecting it to the RX and TX pins.

A small DC buck converter was necessary to provide 3.3 V for the Bluetooth adapter, but even still, there was plenty of room inside the plotter’s case to fit everything in neatly. From the outside, you’d have no idea that the hardware had ever been modified at all.

But, like always, there was a catch. While Windows had no trouble connecting to the Bluetooth device and assigning it a COM port, the 512 byte buffer on the plotter would get overwhelmed when it started receiving commands. So [iot4c] wrote a little script in Node.js that breaks the commands down into more manageable chunks and sends them off to the plotter every 0.1 seconds. With this script in place the Robotron moved under its own power for the first time in ~30 years by parsing a HP-GL file generated by Inkscape.

If you’re interested in a plotter of your own but don’t have a vintage one sitting around, never fear. We’ve seen an influx of DIY plotters recently, ranging from builds that use popsicle sticks and clothespins to customizable 3D printed workhorses.

Winter Is Coming, This Clock Will Let You Know When

For Game of Thrones fans, it’s an awkward time. The show has ended its run on HBO (not without a certain level of controversy), the planned prequel is still years away, and who knows when George R. R. Martin will actually get around to writing the final books in the series. Fans have no choice but to entertain themselves while waiting for further tales of adventure from Westeros, which is how we get things like this motorized clock from [Techarge].

Inspired by the now iconic opening sequence from the HBO series, elements of the 3D printed model spin around while the theme song is played courtesy of a DFPlayer Mini MP3 player module and small 2 watt speaker. The audio hardware, motor, and four digit LED display module in the front are all connected to an Arduino with a custom PCB shield, giving the inside of the clock a very clean and professional appearance.

Around the back side [Techarge] has two small push buttons to set the hour and minutes, and a large toggle to control the music and movement. As of right now it needs to be switched on and off manually, but a future enhancement could see it kick on hourly.  We’d also like to see an RTC module added to the PCB, or better yet, switch over to the ESP8266 and just pull the time down from NTP.

Who knows? By the time you’ve built one of these clocks for yourself, and the hand-made Iron Throne phone charger stand to go with it, maybe ol’ George will have slipped out a new book. But don’t count on it.

Building A Faux Retro Portable Computer

The modern laptop has its origins in the mid to late 1980s, when shrinking computer hardware and improvements to battery technology finally made mobile computing practical. But before the now iconic clamshell form factor became the standard, there was a market for so-called “portable” computers. These machines often resembled pieces of luggage with keyboards attached, and even at their peak, they were nowhere near as practical as today’s ultra-thin notebook computers. But for the more nostalgic among us, these vintage portables do have a special sort of charm about them.

Looking to recapture some of that magic with modern components, [davedarko] has started working on his own Raspberry Pi portable computer. Just like those machines of yore, his build is designed to be a self-contained computing experience that you can lug around, but not exactly something you’d be popping open on the train. Its extruded aluminum frame holds the display, power supply, and audio hardware, with plenty of room to spare for additional hardware should he decide to pack in a couple hard drives or something more exotic.

The skeletal frame has plenty of room for activities.

We particularly like the 3D printed hinge and lock mechanism he designed that holds the keyboard closed against the front of the frame. Sufficiently old experienced readers will recall this particular feature being a defining characteristic of portables such as the Osborne 1 and Compaq Portable, and it’s great to see it included here. All it needs now is a leather handle on the side to complete the look.

[davedarko] still has some work ahead of him, as ultimately he’d like to completely enclose his computer’s frame with laser cut panels. But the build is certainly progressing nicely, and frankly, it’s already at the point where we’d have no problem pulling it out at the next hackerspace meetup. Between builds like this and the growing collection of cyberdecks we’ve covered recently, it looks as though 1980s design aesthetic is alive and well within the hacker community.

Continue reading “Building A Faux Retro Portable Computer”

Creating Easy Glass Circuit Boards At Home

This tip for creating glass substrate circuit boards at home might hew a bit closer to arts and crafts than the traditional Hackaday post, but the final results of the method demonstrated by [Heliox] in her recent video are simply too gorgeous to ignore. The video is in French, but between YouTube’s attempted automatic translation and the formidable mental powers of our beloved readers, we don’t think it will be too hard for you to follow along after the break.

The short version is that [Heliox] loads her Silhouette Cameo, a computer-controlled cutting machine generally used for paper and vinyl, with a thin sheet of copper adhered to a backing sheet to give it some mechanical strength. With the cutting pressure of the Cameo dialed back, the circuit is cut out of the copper but not the sheet underneath, and the excess can be carefully peeled away.

Using transfer paper, [Heliox] then lifts the copper traces off the sheet and sticks them down to a cut piece of glass. Once it’s been smoothed out and pushed down, she pulls the transfer paper off and the copper is left behind.

From there, it’s just a matter of soldering on the SMD components. To make it a little safer to handle she wet sands the edges of the glass to round them off, but it’s still glass, so we wouldn’t recommend this construction for anything heavy duty. While it might not be the ideal choice for your next build, it certainly does looks fantastic when mounted in a stand and blinking away like [Heliox] shows off at the end.

Ironically, when compared to some of the other methods of making professional looking PCBs at home that we’ve seen over the years, this one might actually be one of the easiest. Who knew?

Continue reading “Creating Easy Glass Circuit Boards At Home”

A Python Serial Terminal To Get You Out Of A Jam

When fiddling around with old computers, you can occasionally find yourself in a sticky situation. What may be a simple task with today’s hardware and software can be nearly impossible given the limited resources available to machines with 20 or 30 years on the clock. That’s where [bison] recently found himself when he needed to configure a device over serial, but didn’t have any way of installing the appropriate terminal emulator on his Fujitsu Lifebook C34S.

His solution, since he had Python 2.6 installed on the Debian 6 machine, was to write his own minimal serial terminal emulator. He intended for the code to be as terse as possible so it could be quickly typed in, should anyone else ever find themselves in need of talking to a serial device on Linux but can’t get screen or minicom installed.

The code is very simple, and even if you never find yourself needing to fire up an impromptu terminal, it offers an interesting example of how straightforward serial communications really are. The code opens up the /dev/ttyS0 device for reading, and after appending the appropriate return character, pushes the user’s keyboard input into it. Keep looping around, and you’ve got yourself an interactive terminal.

With this program written, [bison] was able to connect the 266 MHz C34S to his Retro WiFi SI, a modem adapter that bridges the gap between a vintage computer and modern wireless network. Gadgets like these allow you to browse BBSes as the creator intended, and can be fashioned with nothing more exotic than an ESP8266 running some open source code.

A Printed Case For Your ESP Environmental Sensors

We’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating: rolling your own hardware solution is ridiculously easy these days. If you want to make a network attached environmental sensor, you wire a DHT11 up to an ESP8266 and you’re done. Time to move onto the software. In fact, it can take longer to come up with some kind of suitable enclosure for your hardware project than it does to assemble the thing.

Which is why [Pixel Hawk] has come up with this elegant 3D printed enclosure for the ESP8266 and ESP32. It’s designed to hold the microcontroller in the bottom compartment, while the environmental sensor (either the DHT11 or DHT22) is mounted to the top so it’s exposed to the outside. The case snap fits together so you don’t have to worry about gluing it, and there’s even an opening so you can keep the USB cable plugged in.

In the notes for the design, he mentions that in testing it was determined that the heat of the ESP itself can skew the temperature readings. So he recommends putting the microcontroller to sleep whenever possible, and keeping reads short so the enclosure doesn’t have time to heat up. He’s also created an alternate version of the case with more openings which should help combat this issue if you need to keep the chip awake.

If you’re looking for a complete solution, [Pixel Hawk] has included the source code he personally used to get his ESP32 sensor talking to Blynk, but you certainly don’t have to go that route if you don’t want to. There’s no shortage of existing projects out there that will help you get started with whole-house environmental monitoring. Our very own [Elliot Williams] happens to be partial to MQTT when he wants to get all his gadgets to play nice.