Polar Platform Spins Out Intricate String Art Portraits

We have semi-fond memories of string art from our grade school art class days. We recall liking the part where we all banged nails into a board, but that bit with wrapping the thread around the nails got a bit tedious. This CNC string art machine elevates the art form far above the grammar school level without all the tedium.

Inspired by a string art maker we recently feature, [Bart Dring] decided to tackle the problem without using an industrial robot to dispense the thread. Using design elements from his recent coaster-creating polar plotter, he built a large, rotating platform flanked by a thread handling mechanism. The platform rotates the circular “canvas” for the portrait, ringed with closely spaced nails, following G-code generated offline. A combination of in and out motion of the arm and slight rotation of the platform wraps the thread around each nail, while rotating the platform pays the thread out to the next nail. Angled nails cause the thread to find its own level naturally, so no Z-axis is needed. The video below shows a brief glimpse of an additional tool that seems to coax the threads down, too. Mercifully, [Bart] included a second fixture to drill the hundreds of angled holes needed; the nails appear to be inserted manually, but we can think of a few fixes for that.

We really like this machine, both in terms of [Bart]’s usual high build-quality standards and for the unique art it creates. He mentions several upgrades before he releases the build files, but we think it’s pretty amazing as is.

Continue reading “Polar Platform Spins Out Intricate String Art Portraits”

Charging LiPos with USB Power Delivery

DC power bricks were never a particularly nice way to run home electronics. Heavy and unwieldy, they had a tendency to fall out and block adjacent outlets from use. In recent years, more and more gadgets are shipping with USB ports for power input. However, power over USB has always been fraught with different companies using all manner of different methods to communicate safe current limits between chargers and hardware.

These days, we’re lucky enough to have the official USB Power Delivery standard in place. Even laptop chargers are using USB now, and [FPVtv DRONES] decided to see if it was possible to use such a device as a high current power supply to charge batteries.

The test starts with a MI brand USB C laptop charger. A USB power meter is plugged inline to determine voltage and current output of the charger, while a small microcontroller device is used to speak with the laptop charger and set it to high voltage, high current delivery mode. A lithium battery charger is then plugged in, and the setup is tested by charging two large 4-cell LiPos at over 1.4 amps concurrently.

The setup demonstrates that, with the right off-the-shelf modules, it’s possible to use your laptop charger to run high-current devices, as long as you can spoof it into switching into the right mode. This is the natural evolution of USB power technology – a road which started long ago with projects like the MintyBoost, way back when. Video after the break.

Continue reading “Charging LiPos with USB Power Delivery”

Ultra Tiny PC plays Snake

[Steve Martin] used to do a comedy act about “Let’s get small!” You have to wonder if [Paul Klinger] is a fan of that routine, as he recently completed a very small 3D printed PC that plays snake. Ok, it isn’t really a PC and it isn’t terribly practical, but it is really well executed and would make a great desk conversation piece. You can see the thing in all its diminutive glory in the video below.

The 3D printer turned out a tiny PC case, a monitor, and a joystick. The PC contains an ATtiny1614, an RGB LED, and some fiber optic to look like case lighting. The monitor is really a little OLED screen. A 5-way switch turns into the joystick.

Continue reading “Ultra Tiny PC plays Snake”

The PC Speaker Lives On As A New Album

The speaker in the original IBM PC is nearly the worst electronic musical instrument ever created. This isn’t because amazing works of art were never created for the PC speaker; no, that’s been done, and it’s amazing. The PC speaker is terrible because of how limited it is. It does one note at a time, only square waves, driven by an 8253 Programmable Interval Timer. Polyphony? Forget about it. Volume control? Nope. These aren’t really shortcomings, because music is art, and you can write a novel without using the letter ‘E’; the trick is in how you manage to do it.

[shiru8bit] took a deep dive into the PC speaker and decided to make an album. The video, with the completely necessary CRT graphic display, can be seen here. This alone is impressive, but what makes it amazing is how this album happened.

If you want to play more than a simple melody on a PC speaker, there are two or two and a half ways to do it. The first is to (virtually) set up two (or more) channels, loaded up with frequency values. At set intervals, the CPU changes the 8253 to output one frequency, then in the next chunk of time, sets the 8253 to another frequency. It sounds ‘bubbly’ for lack of a better term, but the results can be amazing; just check out the PC speaker version of Monkey Island. The 8253 can also be turned into a rudimentary DAC, but this was a rare technique thanks to patents, and by the time the patents expired everyone already had a Soundblaster. Oh well.

[shiru8bit]’s album uses the first technique, cycling through monophonic square waves at 120 Hz, but the real trick here is how the individual channels were composed. This required creating a VSTi plugin called PCSPE. This emulates a PC speaker, and sort of, kind of, implements arpeggios, pitch, and priority of different channels. Effectively, it’s a PC Speaker tracker.

The result is classic chiptune goodness, made on an instrument that really shouldn’t be used for music. It can be played on DosBox, but the weirdness of the real hardware including transients and the inefficiencies of a tiny speaker make real hardware almost a necessity here. You can check out the entire album below.

Continue reading “The PC Speaker Lives On As A New Album”

Art Deco Control Panel Looks Out of Metropolis

Bakelite, hammertone gray finish, big chunky toggle switches, jeweled pilot lights – these are a few of [Wesley Treat]’s favorite retro electronics things. And he’ll get no argument from us, as old gear is one of our many weak spots. So when he was tasked by a friend to come up with some chaser lights for an Art Deco-themed bar, [Wesley] jumped at the chance to go overboard with this retro-style control panel.

Granted, the video below pays short shrift to the electronics side of this build in favor of concentrating on the woodworking and metalworking aspects of making the control panel. We’re OK with that, too, as we picked up a ton of design tips along the way. The control panel is all custom, with a chassis bent from sheet aluminum. The sides of the console are laminated walnut and brushed aluminum, which looks very chic. We really like the recessed labels for the switches and indicators on the front panel, although we’d have preferred them to be backlighted. And that bent aluminum badge really lends a Chrysler Building flair that ties the whole project together.

All in all, a really nice job, and another in a long string of retro cool projects from [Wesley]. We recently featured his cloning of vintage knobs for an old Philo tube tester, and we’ll be looking for more great projects from him in the future.

Continue reading “Art Deco Control Panel Looks Out of Metropolis”

Colour-Code Your Way To Timber Satisfaction

As Hackaday writers we see the insides of as many hackerspaces as we can, and some of us make it our business to be members of more than one within reach of our homes. Thus it was that a simple but extremely elegant hackerspace lifehack came our way, courtesy of our friends at Milton Keynes Makerspace.

MK Makerspace have found a home within another group, the local MK Men In Sheds is a charitable organisation providing workshop and social space for hackers of an older generation. Together the two combine to offer both a huge range of experience and a comprehensive array of tools and machinery.

Order imposed upon the chaos of the MK Men In Sheds woodstore.
Order imposed upon the chaos of the MK Men In Sheds woodstore.

Woodwork is a strong component in the life of any Shed, and at Milton Keynes the Shed has been particularly successful in attracting donations of surplus timber. The stock of freely available mixed pieces of wood has almost everything you could wish for when working on casual projects, but despite continual sorting efforts had become an unmanageable pile among which it was often difficult to find the piece required.

Step forward MK Men In Sheds member [Ricky] whose solution was nothing short of inspired in its combination of simplicity and effectiveness. A large rack has compartments, each one of which has a coloured label. Along the front of the rack is a simple ruler calibrated in coloured blocks, and it is the work of a moment to offer a new piece of timber up to the ruler and place it in the compartment with the appropriate colour. Now any member with a need for a piece of wood  can easily select an appropriate one, and return any usable offcut for easy selection by the next.

This may be a simple piece of work, but its value as a lifehack in a communal workshop is immense. It brings to mind a piece we published a couple of years ago, about how a vibrant hackerspace follows a good wood shop. Never a truer word was spoken for people of all ages.

Raspberry Pi Revives Stand-Alone DivX Player

It might seem almost comical to our more fresh-faced readers, but there was a time when you could go into a big box retailer and purchase what was known as a “DivX Player”. Though they had the outward appearance of a normal DVD player, these gadgets could read various digital video file formats off of a CD-R or DVD-R, complete with rudimentary file browser. Depending on how much video compression you could stomach, a player like this would allow you to pack an entire season of a show or multiple movies onto a single disc. Before we started streaming everything online, that was kind of a big deal.

Room to grow.

[Roberto Piva] got his hands on one of these early digital media players, a KiSS DP-500 circa 2003, and decided that it was too unique to send off to the recycling center. Not only was he curious about what made it tick, but he thought it would be interesting to try converting it into a Raspberry Pi powered streaming media player. One might say there’s something almost perverse about taking the carcass of one of these devices and stuffing it full of the same technology that made it obsolete in the first place, but who are we to judge?

Upon opening the vintage set top box, [Roberto] was immediately struck by how empty the thing was. He got the impression the device was a rush job, pushed out to capitalize on a relatively short-lived trend. Looking at it, we have to agree. It’s almost as though they got a deal on some old VCR chassis laying around in a warehouse someplace and decided to stick some (at the time) modern electronics in it. It even uses what appears to be a standard IDE optical drive rather than something purpose built.

[Roberto] hoped that he could tap into the player’s original power supply, but upon testing found that it wasn’t quite up to the task to reliably running a modern Pi. So into the cavernous enclosure went a powered USB hub, which he wired up to the original power switch on the player’s front panel. The original PSU couldn’t handle the Pi, but it does work nicely to spin up an IDE hard drive that he mounted to the top of the optical drive with zip ties.

This was enough to get a nice Kodi set top box that’s capable of pulling media from the Internet or the internal HDD, but [Roberto] has more plans for the future. He wants to try and get the optical drive working through a USB-to-IDE adapter so the device can come full circle and once again play burned discs full of video files, and mentions he would like to reverse engineer the front panel and IR receiver to control Kodi.

While this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a DVD player get an internal Raspberry Pi, the fact that this one is using an IDE drive is an interesting spin and should make for a very clean final product. We’ve also seen how integrating the original physical controls can really help sell the experience with these Pi-infused players. If you’ve got the space in your entertainment for one of these early 2000’s leviathans, they might make an ideal base for your own Pi set top box build.