Get Organized With This Raspberry Pi E-Ink Calendar

Like many hackers, we love e-ink. There’s something mesmerizing and decidedly futuristic about the way the images shift around and reconstitute themselves. Like something from Harry Potter, but that you can buy on Alibaba instead of from a shop in Diagon Alley. But as anyone who’s used the technology can tell you, the low refresh rate of an e-ink screen limits its potential applications. It works great for reading books, but beyond that its struggled to find its niche in a world of cheap LCDs.

But [Zonglin Li] has recently wrapped up a project which shows that e-ink has at least one more use case: personal calendars. You can get way with only updating the screen once a day so the refresh rate won’t matter, and the rest of the time it’s going to be static anyway so you might as well enjoy the energy savings of leaving the screen off. With a Raspberry Pi behind the scenes pulling data from the Internet, it can populate the calendar with everything from your personal schedule to when your favorite podcast drops.

In practice, [Zonglin] is actually updating the display every hour as he’s included the current weather conditions on the top left of the screen, but even still, this is a perfect application for the very unique properties of e-ink displays. The display is a 7.5 inch 640×384 model from Waveshare that retails for about $50 USD, so between the display, the Raspberry Pi, and something to put it all in (here, a picture frame) this is a pretty cheap build compared to some of the large format e-ink displays out there.

The software side is written in Python 3, and [Zonglin] has documented how others can easily plug in their own information so it can pull schedule data from Google Calendar and local conditions from Open Weather Map. The MIT licensed source code is also very well organized and commented, so this could serve as an excellent base if you’re looking to create a more comprehensive e-ink home information display.

If this seems a little too pedestrian for your tastes, you could always put together an e-ink movie player, a surprisingly functional Linux terminal, or a very slick ESP8266-based name tag. If you’ve got the better part of $1K USD and don’t know what to do with it, you could even get an e-ink license plate.

Modernizing a Soviet-era LED Matrix

Used in everything from calculators to military hardware, the 3LS363A is an interesting piece of vintage hardware. With a resolution of 5 x 7 (plus a decimal point), the Soviet-made displays contain no electronics and are simply an array of 36 green LEDs. It’s not hard to drive one of them in a pinch, but [Dmitry Grinberg] thought this classic device deserved a bit better than the minimum.

He’s developed a small board that sits behind the 3LS363A and allows you to control it over I2C for a much more modern experience when working with these vintage displays. Powered by the ATtiny406, his adapter board makes it easy to chain the modules together and even handles niceties like flipping the displayed image to account for different mounting positions. While most of us probably won’t have the chance to play around with these relatively rare displays, there’s still plenty of useful information here if you’re thinking of creating your own I2C gadgets.

In his write-up, [Dmitry] explains his rationale behind the design and some of the quirks of working with the display. For example he explains how he gave each column of the display its own FET, but to save space on the board ended up running the single decimal point (technically its own column) directly off of a spare GPIO pin. Relying on the low duty cycle, he even left current limiting resistors off the design. The end result is a tiny board that keeps the same footprint of the 3LS363A itself.

[Dmitry] went all out with developing the firmware for his new “smart” 3LS363A displays, and has written up documentation for the different commands he has implemented. From re-configuring the I2C address to updating the firmware, he’s made sure no stone was left unturned for this project. We’re not ones to shy away from a quick and dirty code, but it’s always nice to see when somebody has really put some thought into the software side of a project.

We’ve seen our fair share of oddball Soviet displays here at Hackaday, utilizing everything from heavy duty incandescent bulbs to remarkably tiny “intelligent” LEDs. While it’s unlikely any of them will dethrone the nixie as king of the retro display devices, it’s always interesting to see unusual hardware being used in the wild.

3D Printed Wheels Get Some Much Needed Grip

You’d be hard-pressed to find more ardent supporters of 3D printing then we here at Hackaday; the sound of NEMA 17 steppers pushing an i3 through its motions sounds like a choir of angels to our ears. But we have to admit that the hard plastic components produced by desktop 3D printers aren’t ideal for a number of applications. For example, the slick plastic is useless for all but the most rudimentary of wheels. Sure there are flexible filaments that can give a printed wheel a bit of grip, but they came with their own set of problems (not to mention, cost).

In the video after the break, [Design/Forge] demonstrates a clever method for fitting polyurethane rubber “tires” onto 3D printed hubs which is sure to be of interest to anyone who’s in the market for high quality bespoke wheels for their project. The final result looks extremely professional, and while there’s a considerable amount of preparation that goes into it, once you’re set up you should be able to pump these out quickly and cheaply.

The process begins with a 3D printed mold pattern, which includes the final tire tread texture. This means you can create tire treads of any design you wish, which should have some creative as well as practical applications. The printed part is then submerged in silicone rubber and allowed to cure for 8 hours. Once solidified, the silicone rubber becomes the mold used for the next steps, and the original printed part is no longer needed.

The second half of the process is 3D printing the wheels to which the tires will be attached. These will be much smaller than the original 3D printed component, and fit inside of the silicone mold. The outside diameter of the printed wheel is slightly smaller than the inside diameter of the mold, which gives [Design/Forge] the space to pour in the pigmented polyurethane rubber. The attentive viewer will note that the 3D printed wheel has a slight ribbed texture designed into it, so that there will be more surface area for the polyurethane to adhere to. Once removed from the mold and cleaned up a bit, the final product really does look fantastic; and reminds us of a giant scale LEGO wheel.

Whether you’re casting metal parts or just want a pair of truly custom earbuds, creating silicone molds from 3D printed parts is an extremely useful skill to familiarize yourself with. Though even if you don’t have a 3D printer, there’s something to be said for knowing how to mold and cast real-world objects as well.

Continue reading “3D Printed Wheels Get Some Much Needed Grip”

An Arduino Carbon Fiber Wrapping Machine

Many of the projects we feature on Hackaday are motivated by pure greed. Not on the part of the hacker, mind you; but rather the company that’s charging such an outrageous price for a mass produced item that somebody decides they can do the same thing cheaper as a one-off project. Which is precisely how [Bryan Kevan] ended up building his own carbon fiber tube wrapping machine. Not only do the finished tubes look fantastic, but they cost him a fraction of what even the “cheap” commercial ones cost.

The principle behind producing the tubes is really pretty simple: carbon fiber ribbon (or “tow”, in the official parlance) gets wrapped around a rotating mandrel, ideally in interesting patterns, and epoxy is added to bind it all together. When it’s hardened up, you slide the new carbon fiber tube off the mandrel and away you go building a bike frame or whatever it is you needed light and strong tubes for. You could even do it by hand, if you had enough patience.

[Bryan] had done it by hand before, but was looking for a way to not only automate the process but make the final product a bit more uniform-looking. His idea was to rotate a horizontal PVC pipe as his mandrel, and move a “car” carrying the carbon fiber ribbon back and forth along its length. The PVC pipe just needs to rotate along its axis so he figured that would be easy enough; and using a GT2 belt and some pulleys, getting the carbon-laying car moving back and forth didn’t seem like much of a challenge either.

The frame of the winder is built from the hacker’s favorite: 20/20 aluminum extrusion. Add to that an Arduino Uno, two stepper motors with their appropriate drivers, and the usual assortment of 3D printed odds and ends. [Bryan] says getting the math figured out for generating interesting wrap patterns was a bit tricky and took a fair amount of trial and error, but wasn’t a showstopper. Though we’d suggest following his example and using party ribbon during testing rather than the carbon stuff, as producing a few bird nests at the onset seems almost a guarantee.

One of the trickiest parts of the project ended up being removing the carbon fiber tubes from the PVC mandrel once they were done. [Bryan] eventually settled on a process which involved spraying the PVC with WD-40, wrapping it in parchment paper, and then using a strip of 3M blue painter’s tape to keep the parchment paper from moving. If you can toss the whole mandrel in the freezer after wrapping to shrink it down a bit, even better.

So was all this work worth it in the end? [Bryan] says he was originally looking at spending up to $70 USD per foot for the carbon fiber tubes he needed for his bike frame, but by buying the raw materials and winding them himself, he ended up producing his tubes for closer to $3 per foot. Some might question the strength and consistency of these DIY tubes, but for a ~95% price reduction, we’d be willing to give it a shot.

Years ago we covered a Kickstarter campaign for a very similar carbon winder. Probably due to the relatively limited uses of such a gadget, the winder didn’t hit the funding goal. But just like the current wave of very impressive homebrew laser cutters, the best results might come from just building the thing yourself.

Compiling NodeMCU for the ESP32 With Support for Public-Private Key Encryption

When I began programming microcontrollers in 2003, I had picked up the Atmel STK-500 and learned assembler for their ATtiny and ATmega lines. At the time I thought it was great – the emulator and development boards were good, and I could add a microcontroller permanently to a project for a dollar. Then the ESP8266 came out.

I was pretty blown away by its features, switched platforms, except for timing-sensitive applications, and it’s been my chip of choice for a few years. A short while ago, a friend gave me an ESP32, the much faster, dual core version of the ESP8266. As I rarely used much of the computing power on the ESP8266, none of the features looked like game changers, and it remained a ‘desk ornament’ for a while.

About seven weeks ago, support for the libSodium Elliptic Curve Cryptography library was added. Cryptography is not the strongest feature of IoT devices, and some of the methods I’ve used on the ESP8266 were less than ideal. Being able to more easily perform public-private key encryption would be enough for me to consider switching hardware for some projects.

However, my preferred automated build tool for NodeMCU wasn’t available on the ESP32 yet. Compiling the firmware was required – this turned out to be a surprisingly user-friendly experience, so I thought I’d share it with you. If I had known it would be so quick, this chip wouldn’t have sat on my desk unused quite so long!  Continue reading “Compiling NodeMCU for the ESP32 With Support for Public-Private Key Encryption”

The 7400 Quad 2-Input NAND Gate, A Neglected Survivor From A Pre-Microprocessor World

There are a range of integrated circuits that most of us would regard as definitive examples of their type, devices which became the go-to for a particular function and which have entered our collective consciousness as electronics enthusiasts. They have been in production since the early days of consumer integrated circuits, remaining in use because of a comprehensive understanding of their characteristics among engineers, and the job they do well.

You can probably name the ones I’m going to rattle off here, the µA741 op-amp designed by David Fullagar for Fairchild in 1968, the NE555 timer from Hans Camenzind for Signetics in 1971, and a personal favourite, Bob Widlar’s µA723 linear regulator for Fairchild in 1967. There may be a few others that readers will name in the comments, but there’s one that until today it’s likely that few of you would have considered. Texas Instruments’ 5400 and 7400 TTL quad 2-input NAND gate has been in continuous production since 1964 and is the progenitor of what is probably the most numerous breed of integrated circuits, yet it doesn’t trip off the tongue when listing famous chips, and none of us can name its designer. So today we’re turning the spotlight on this neglected piece of silicon, and trying to bring it the adulation it deserves. Continue reading “The 7400 Quad 2-Input NAND Gate, A Neglected Survivor From A Pre-Microprocessor World”

Cheap Multimeter Leads Come With Extra Ohms, Free!

[Nop head] discovered that cheap multimeter leads costing only a few bucks can come with more than one may have bargained for. The first set had a large amount of useful-looking attachments, but the wires used for the leads were steel with a resistance of about one ohm each. With two leads in use, that means any resistance measurement gets two ohms added for free. More seriously, when measuring current, the wires can heat up rapidly. Voltage measurements would be affected the least, but the attachments and lead design expose a large amount of bare metal, which invites accidental shorts and can be a safety hazard with higher voltages.

Are all cheap multimeter leads similarly useless? Not necessarily. [nop head] also purchased the set pictured here. It has no attachments, but was a much better design and had a resistance of only 64 milliohms. Not great, but certainly serviceable and clearly a much better value than the other set.

It’s usually not possible to identify garbage before it’s purchased, but [nop head] reminds us that if you do end up with trash in hand, poor quality counterfeits can be good for a refund. That goes for electronic components, too.