SIPing A Vintage Phone

Something that’s a bit of fun at hacker camps such as the recent EMF Camp is to bring along a wired phone and hook it up to the on-camp copper network. It’s a number on the camp network, but pleasingly retro. How about doing the same thing at home? Easy enough if you still have a wired landline, but those are now fast becoming a rarity. Help is at hand though courtesy of [Remy], who’s written about his experiences using a 1960s Dutch phone as a SIP device.

The T65 was the standard Dutch home phone of the 1960s and 1970s, and its curvy grey plastic shape is still not difficult to find in that country.  The guide covers using various different VoIP boxes between such an old machine and the Internet, but there’s more of interest to be found in it. In particular the use of an inline pulse-to-tone converter, either the wonderfully-named DialGizmo, or perhaps closer to our world, a PIC-based kit.

So if you can lay your hands on a VoIP box it’s completely possible to use an aged phone here in 2024. Remember though, a SIP account isn’t the only way to do it.

J. de Kat Angelino, CC BY 3.0.

A Peek Inside Apple Durability Testing Labs

Apple is well-known for its secrecy, which is understandable given the high stakes in the high-end mobile phone industry. It’s interesting to get a glimpse inside its durability labs and see the equipment and processes it uses to support its IP68 ingress claims, determine drop ability, and perform accelerated wear and tear testing.

Check out these cool custom-built machines on display! They verify designs against a sliding scale of water ingress tests. At the bottom end is IPx4 for a light shower, but basically no pressure. Next up is IPx5, which covers low-pressure ambient-temperature spray jets from all angles – we really liked this machine! Finally, the top-end IPx7 and IPx8 are tested with a literal fire hose blast and a dip in a static pressure tank, simulating a significant depth of water. An Epson robot arm with a custom gripper is programmed to perform a spinning drop onto a hard surface in a repeatable manner. The drop surface is swapped out for each run – anything from a wooden sheet to a slab of asphalt can be tried. High-speed cameras record the motion in enough detail to resolve the vibrations of the titanium shell upon impact!

Accelerated wear and tear testing is carried out using a shake table, which can be adjusted to match the specific frequencies of a car engine or a subway train. Additionally, there’s an interview with the head of Apple’s hardware division discussing the tradeoffs between repairability and durability. He makes some good points that suggest if modern phones are more reliable and have fewer failures, then durability can be prioritized in the design, as long as the battery can still be replaced.

The repairability debate has been raging strong for many years now. Here’s our guide to the responsible use of new technology.

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Oral-B Hopes You Didn’t Use Your $230 Alexa-Enabled Toothbrush

With companies desperate to keep adding more and more seemingly random features to their products, Oral-B made the logical decision to add Alexa integration to its Oral-B Guide electric toothbrush. Taking it one step beyond just Bluetooth in the toothbrush part, the Guide’s charging base also acted as an Alexa-enabled smart speaker, finally adding the bathroom to the modern, all-connected smart home. Naturally Oral-B killed off the required Oral-B Connect smartphone app earlier this year, leaving Guide owners stranded in the wilderness without any directions. Some of the basics of this shutdown are covered in a recent Ars Technica article.

Amidst the outrage, it’s perhaps good to take a bit more of a nuanced view, as despite various claims, Oral-B did not brick the toothbrush. What owners of this originally USD$230 device are losing is the ability to set up the charging base as an Alexa smart speaker, while the toothbrush is effectively just an Oral-B Genius-series toothbrush with Bluetooth and associated Oral-B app. If you still want to have a waterproof smart speaker listening in while in the bathroom, you’ll have to look elsewhere, it seems. Meanwhile existing customers can contact Oral-B support for assistance, while the lucky few who still have the Connect app installed better hope it doesn’t disconnect, as reconnecting it to the smart speaker seems to be impossible, likely due to services shut down by Oral-B together with the old “” domain name.

We recently looked at a WiFi-enabled toothbrush as well, which just shows how far manufacturers of these devices are prepared to go, whether they intend to support it in any meaningful fashion or not.

Hands On: Inkplate 6 MOTION

Over the last several years, DIY projects utilizing e-paper displays have become more common. While saying the technology is now cheap might be overstating the situation a bit, the prices on at least small e-paper panels have certainly become far more reasonable for the hobbyist. Pair one of them with a modern microcontroller such as the RP2040 or ESP32, sprinkle in a few open source libraries, and you’re well on the way to creating an energy-efficient smart display for your home or office.

But therein lies the problem. There’s still a decent amount of leg work involved in getting the hardware wired up and talking to each other. Putting the e-paper display and MCU together is often only half the battle — depending on your plans, you’ll probably want to add a few sensors to the mix, or perhaps some RGB status LEDs. An onboard battery charger and real-time clock would be nice as well. Pretty soon, your homebrew e-paper gadget is starting to look remarkably like the bottom of your junk bin.

For those after a more integrated solution, the folks at Soldered Electronics have offered up a line of premium open source hardware development boards that combine various styles of e-paper panels (touch, color, lighted, etc) with a microcontroller, an array of sensors, and pretty much every other feature they could think of. To top it off, they put in the effort to produce fantastic documentation, easy to use libraries, and free support software such as an online GUI builder and image converter.

We’ve reviewed a number of previous Inkplate boards, and always came away very impressed by the attention to detail from Soldered Electronics. When they asked if we’d be interested in taking a look at a prototype for their new 6 MOTION board, we were eager to see what this new variant brings to the table. Since both the software and hardware are still pre-production, we won’t call this a review, but it should give you a good idea of what to expect when the final units start shipping out in October.

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Internals of the Blu-ray player, showing both the blu-ray drive and the custom PCBs

An Ingenious Blu-Ray Mini-Disk Player

[befi] brings us a project as impressive as it is reminiscent of older times, a Blu-Ray mini disk player. Easily fitting inside a pocket like a 8 cm CD player would, this is a labour of love and, thanks to [befi]’s skills both in electronics and in using a dremel tool.

A BluRay drive was taken apart, for a start, and a lot of case parts were cut off; somehow, [befi] made it fit within an exceptionally tiny footprint, getting new structural parts printed instead, to a new size. The space savings let him put a fully custom F1C100S-powered board with a number of unique features, from a USB-SATA chip to talk to the BluRay drive, to USB pathway control for making sure the player can do USB gadget mode when desired.

There’s an OLED screen on the side, buttons for controlling the playback, power and battery management – this player is built to a high standard, ready for day-to-day use as your companion, in the world where leaving your smartphone as uninvolved in your life as possible is a surprisingly wise decision. As a fun aside, did you know that while 8 cm CDs and DVDs existed, 8 cm BluRay drives never made it to market? If you’re wondering how is it that [befi] has disks to play in this device, yes, he’s used a dremel here too.

Everything is open-sourced – 3D print files, the F1C100S board, and the Buildroot distribution complete with all the custom software used. If you want to build such a player, and we wouldn’t be surprised if you were, there’s more than enough resources for you to go off. And, if you’re thinking of building something else in a similar way, the Buildroot image will be hugely helpful.

Want some entertainment instead? Watch the video embedded below, the build journey is full of things you never knew you wanted to learn. This player is definitely a shining star on the dark path that is Blu-Ray, given that our most popular articles on Blu-Ray are about its problems.

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An image of a grey plastic carrying case, approximately the size of an A5 notebook. Inside are darker grey felt lined cubbies with a mirror, piece of glass, a viewfinder, and various small printed parts to assemble a camera lucida.

Camera Lucida – Drawing Better Like It’s 1807

As the debate rages on about the value of AI-generated art, [Chris Borge] printed his own version of another technology that’s been the subject of debate about what constitutes real art. Meet the camera lucida.

Developed in the early part of the nineteenth century by [William Hyde Wollaston], the camera lucida is a seemingly simple device. Using a prism or a mirror and piece of glass, it allows a person to see the world overlaid onto their drawing surface. This moves details like proportions and shading directly to the paper instead of requiring an intermediary step in the artist’s memory. Of course, nothing is a substitute for practice and skill. [Professor Pablo Garcia] relates a story in the video about how [Henry Fox Talbot] was unsatisfied with his drawings made using the device, and how this experience was instrumental in his later photographic experiments.

[Borge]’s own contribution to the camera lucida is a portable version that you can print yourself and assemble for about $20. Featuring a snazzy case that holds all the components nice and snug on laser cut felt, he wanted a version that could go in the field and not require a table. The case also acts as a stand for the camera to sit at an appropriate height so he can sketch landscapes in his lap while out and about.

Interested in more drawing-related hacks? How about this sand drawing bot or some Truly Terrible Dimensioned Drawings?

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Mechanical 7-Segment Display Looks Clean

[Jens] wanted a subscriber counter for his YouTube channel. He could have gone with a simple OLED, LCD, or LED display, but he wanted something more tactile and interesting. So he built a mechanical 7-segment display instead!

Currently, [Jens]’s channel is in the four-digit subscriber range, so he planned to build a four-digit display. He started by searching for existing projects in this space, and came across the designs of [shiura] on Thingiverse. [shiura] had a 3D printed cam-driven 7-segment digit that runs on a single servo motor. Once armed with four of the digits, he hooked them up to a Pi Pico W to drive them all with four servo outputs. The Pico W is responsible for querying the channel subscriber count online, and updating the display in turn.

It’s a neat build, and [Jens] learned some things along the way—like how Super Lube seemed to ruin filament for him. Ultimately, the build came good, and it looks great. We’ve seen some other mechanical 7-segment builds before, too!

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