Next Level Spirit Level Is On The Level

Miss your shot and scratch on the eight ball? It’s natural to blame the table for not being level so you can save face, but in all likelihood, you’re probably right. [Huygens Optics]’s father never misses a billiards shot on his home table, until one day he did. [Huygens Optics] rushed to his aid and built an extremely precise spirit level for the table so it will never happen again.

First and foremost, he had to decide how sensitive the spirit level should be. Obviously, the table should be as level as possible, though other factors like the condition of the felt will come into play as well. In doing some calculations, he found that every degree of leveling error in the table translates to several millimeters of ball unevenness and deviation, so he wanted the level to have .01 degrees of accuracy. How he manages this feat of grinding and polishing in a hobbyist workshop is all captured in the fascinating video after the break.

The level is made from two disks cut from leftover 15mm borosilicate glass. Between the disks is a 4mm cavity for the liquid (ethyl alcohol) and the air bubble to move around. To avoid introducing error with uneven adhesive application, [Huygens Optics] tried to join the disks using optical contact bonding, wherein two surfaces stick together through the magic of intermolecular forces, like the one that keeps geckos attached to vertical things. That worked quite well until he added the liquid, which broke the bond. Instead, he used a thin, UV-curable epoxy.

Getting into optics doesn’t have to cost a lot. Instead of buying or grinding lenses for experimentation, you can laser-cut lens profiles out of acrylic.

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This Dibbling Plate Will Grow Your Love For Sowing

One of the best things about 3D printers and laser cutters is their ability to produce specialized tools that steal time back from tedious processes. Seed sowing is a great example of this. Even if you only want to sow one tray with two dozen or so seeds, you still have to fill the tray with soil, level it off, compress it evenly, and poke all the holes. When seed sowing is the kernel of your bread and butter, doing all of that manually will eat up a lot of time.

There are machines out there to do dibbling on a large scale, but [Michael Ratcliffe] has been dabbling in dibbling plates for the smaller-scale farm. He’s created an all-in-one tool that does everything but dump the soil in the tray. Once you’ve done that, you can use edge to level off the excess soil, compress it with the back side, and then flip to the bed-of-nails side to make all the holes at once. It comes apart easily, so anyone can replace broken or dulled dibblers.

[Michael] is selling these fairly cheaply, but you can find all the files and build instructions out there in the Thingiverse. We planted the demo video after the break.

More into micro-greens? 3D printing can feed that fixation, too.

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A Bootable Greeting For The Xenomorph In Your Life

When he needed a gift for his Alien superfan friend, [Stephen Brennan] decided the best way to put his unique set of skills to use would be to create a bootable Linux operating system that captures the sights and sounds of the Nostromo’s retro-futuristic computer systems. We could all use a friend like that.

Even if would never occur to you gift somebody a bootable flash drive, there’s a wealth of information in this blog post about Linux customization which could be useful for all sorts of projects. From creating a bootsplash image to automatically starting up a minimalistic windowing environment so a single graphical application takes center stage.

Whether you’re looking to tweak your desktop machine or build a Raspberry Pi kiosk, the commands and tips that [Stephen] shows off are sure to be interesting for anyone who’s not quite satisfied with how their Linux distribution of choice looks “out of the box”.

But there’s more to this project than a custom wallpaper and some retro fonts. [Stephen] actually took the time to create a facsimile of the “Personal Terminal” computer interface shown in the recent Alien: Isolation game in C using ncurses. The resulting program, aptly named “alien-console”, is released under the BSD license and is flexible enough that you could either use it as a base to build your own cyberpunk UI, or just load it up with custom text files and use it on your cyberdeck as-is.

Finally, to really sell the Alien feel, [Stephen] went through and ripped various audio clips from the film and wove them into the OS so it would make the movie-appropriate boops and beeps. He even included a track of the Nostromo’s ambient engine noise for proper immersion. But perhaps our favorite trick is the use of the sleep command to artificially slow down the terminal and give everything a bit more “weight”. After all, flying a pretend starship should feel like serious business.

No Need To Watch Your Tea, This Robot Does It For You

For anyone who’s ever had to make their own tea, steeping it for the right amount of time can be a pain. That’s precisely the problem that the automatic tea brewing robot solves with its painless approach to brewing tea, built by Slovenian electrical engineering student [Kristjan Berce].

You can use the robot by setting a timer on the knob, at which point the robot raises it arm for the tea bag then dips in the water every 30 seconds until the time has passed. At the end of the timer, the bag is raised clear of the cup to end the brewing. It’s a remarkably simple design that almost evokes chindogu (the Japanese art of useless inventions) if not for the fact that the robot actually serves a useful purpose.

The components for 3D printing the robot are available online, consisting of a case, a container for the Arduino-powered electronics, the lever for holding the tea, and the gear that raises the lever up and down. The device also uses an integrated Li-Ion battery with an accessible charging port and integrated BMS. A 35BYJ46 stepper motor and ULN2003 driver are used to move the 3D printed mechanism. The device uses a potentiometer for setting the steeping time between 1 and 9 minutes, and there’s even a buzzer for indicating once the tea is done brewing.

The Gerber and Arduino code files are open-source for any hackers looking to make their own tea brewers; just take care they operate with “deadly punctuality”.

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Hacked Tape Player Makes For A Unique Instrument

[Gijs Gieskes] is certainly no stranger to hacked cassette players, but his latest triumph may well be the most approachable project for anyone looking to explore the world of unorthodox tape unspooling. By attaching a fairly simple add-on PCB to a modern portable cassette player, the user is able to modify the playback speed of the tape at will. The skillful application of such temporal distortions leads to wonderfully abstract results.

The board that [Gijs] has come up with uses four potentiometers and matching push buttons to allow the user to set different playback speeds that they can engage with the push of the button. There’s also a fifth potentiometer to augment the “global” speed as well as an override switch. During playback, these controls can be used to arbitrarily tweak and augment the sound of samples contained on a the looping cassette.

If that’s a little hard to conceptualize, don’t worry. [Gijs] has provided some examples of how the the rapid adjustment of playback speed offered by this “Zachtkind” can add a fascinating level of complexity to sounds and melodies. The assembled player is available for purchase ready to go, but he also provides kits and a detailed installation guide for those who’d rather build it themselves.

Going all the way back to 2005, [Gijs] and his incredible creations have been a staple of Hackaday. From the Arduino video sampler to the array of oddly musical analog clocks, we never cease to be in awe of this exceptionally prolific hacker.

Analog Gauges Keep An Eye On Computer Performance

Keeping an eye on your computer’s resource utilization can be useful, particularly if you’re regularly doing computationally intensive tasks. While it’s entirely possible to achieve this with software tools, creating a dedicated hardware monitor can be cool too. [Sasa Karanovic] did just that, with a set of old-school analog gauges.

The build uses an STM32 microcontroller to drive a series of four galvanometers through an MCP4728 digital-to-analog converter. Data on CPU, memory, network and GPU utilization is collected by a Python script, and sent over a USB serial connection. This data drives the four-channel DAC, which in turn creates the voltages which control the needle position on the gauges. Aesthetically, the build features a few nice touches, including custom gauge faces and a 3D printed enclosure with a tasteful matte finish. A custom PCB keeps the electronics and wiring neat and tidy.

[Sasa] does a great job of explaining the basic theory of the device, as well as practical considerations for working with galvanometer-based gauges. It would make a great weekend project for anyone seeking to add some vintage charm to their desktop rig. There’s also scope to monitor other variables, like hard drive usage or CPU temperature. There’s bonus points if you integrate this into a laptop; the tip line would love to know. We’ve seen LED-based monitoring systems before, too. Video after the break.

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Tool Rolls, The Fabric Design Challenge That Can Tidy Up Any Workshop

You’ve designed PCBs. You’ve cut, drilled, Dremeled, and blow-torched various objects into project enclosurehood. You’ve dreamed up some object in three dimensions and marveled as the machine stacked up strings of hot plastic, making that object come to life one line of g-code at a time. But have you ever felt the near-limitless freedom of designing in fabric?

I don’t have to tell you how satisfying it is to make something with your hands, especially something that will get a lot of use. When it comes to that sweet cross between satisfaction and utility, fabric is as rewarding as any other medium. You might think that designing in fabric is difficult, but let’s just say that it is not intuitive. Fabric is just like anything else — mysterious until you start learning about it. The ability to design and implement in fabric won’t solve all your problems, but it sure is a useful tool for the box.

WoF? Fat quarter? How much is a yard of fabric, anyway?

To prove it, I’m going to take you through the process of designing something in fabric. More specifically, a tool roll. These two words may conjure images of worn, oily leather or canvas, rolled out under the open hood of a car. But the tool roll is a broad, useful concept that easily and efficiently bundles up anything from socket wrenches to BBQ utensils and from soldering irons to knitting needles. Tool rolls are the best in flexible, space-saving storage — especially when custom-designed for your need.

In this case, the tools will be pens, notebooks, and index cards. You know, writer stuff. But the same can just as easily organize your oscilloscope probes. It’s usefully and a great first foray into building things with fabric if this is your first time.

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