The 555 Gives The CarolinaCon Badge Life

For the electronic badge enthusiast, these last two years have seen something of a famine. While the pandemic may not be over yet, we’re learning to live with it in 2022, and there’s the prospect of a flush of new badges even if not all events are in-person yet. First to reach us is the Carolinacon Online 2 badge, a fairly simple affair which naturally has us pleased as punch because it incorporates the only chip that’s guaranteed to get you through the semiconductor shortage, an NE555 timer. It’s got everything, a flashing LED, and, well, that’s it because with the best will in the world a 555 is no powerhouse on its own. As a memento and a way to support the event it fits the bill, but it’s fair to say that this is no electronic tour de force.

Carolinacon Online 2 launches on Friday 29th of April, and features a schedule of talks and a set of merch including the badge. If you’re thinking of previous Carolinacon badges, this event has always taken the simple-but-effective route. The version they produced in 2021 for example had a hidden message behind the silkscreen, revealed through clever placement of LEDs controlled by an ATtiny microcontroller.

Magnetic Hockey Game Uses A 555

We love a good project here at Hackaday, particularly one that makes us want to pick it up and have a go at whatever it does for ourselves. And when we see such a project and find that it contains the One Chip To Rule Them All (otherwise known as the NE555 timer), our collective cup runneth over with joy. So [Andrew Fentem]’s magnetic hockey project certainly pushes all our buttons, as it’s a game superficially similar to an air hockey table in which a magnetic puck is accelerated by a handheld electronic bat.

The bats look extremely high-tech but are in fact surprisingly simple. Each one contains a Hall effect sensor which triggers the 555 which we’d expect is wired as a monostable, this in turn fires a MOSFET which energises an electromagnet for a set period of time. The puck is a magnet, and thus when it is detected by the Hall sensor it is shot away at high speed by the electromagnet. the result is a fast-paced game which has an extra edge over conventional air hockey, and which being honest, we’d love to have a go at. You can see it in the video below the break.

Of course, if your budget doesn’t stretch to not one but two chips in this era of semiconductor shortages, you can always try a conventional table.

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Levitate The NE555 Way

Ultrasonic levitation — the practice of creating a standing wave between two ultrasonic sources and positioning lightweight objects such that they can float in the pressure minimums between them — has been a source of fascination to more than one experimenter. [Peter Lin] demonstrated this in the video below the break, by creating an ultrasonic levitation system using only the trusted chip of all true experimenters, the NE555. (Video, embedded below.)

The circuit is simplicity itself, just an astable of the type that has made a billion beepers and flashing LEDs. It drives two ultrasonic transducers in parallel, and with them pointing towards each other and a bit of gap adjustment work it can successfully levitate pieces of polystyrene. There was some work in adjusting the frequency to the transducer resonance, but that’s not a huge challenge given the right instrumentation. We can see that it would make a great demonstration of standing waves, and also a fantastic desk toy for not a lot.

We celebrate everyone’s favourite timer chip here at Hackaday, so much so that we recently ran a contest to find the best creations using it.

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Modules described in the article (two copies of the challenge shown, so, two lines of modules)

Spaceship Repair CTF Covers Hardware Hacker Essentials

At even vaguely infosec-related conferences, CTFs are a staple. For KernelCon 2021, [Tyler Rosonke] resolved to create a challenge breaking the traditions, entertaining and teaching people in a different way, while satisfying the constraints of that year’s remote participation plans. His imagination went wild in all the right places, and a beautifully executed multi-step hardware challenge was built – only in two copies!

Story behind the challenge? Your broken spaceship has to be repaired so that you can escape the planet you’re stuck on. The idea was to get a skilled, seasoned hacker solving challenges for our learning and amusement – and that turned out to be none other than [Joe “Kingpin” Grand]!

The modules themselves are what caught our attention. Designed to cover a wide array of hardware hacker skills, they cover soldering, signal sniffing, logic gates, EEPROM dumping and more – and you have to apply all of these successfully for liftoff. If you thought “there’s gotta be a 555 involved”, you weren’t wrong, either, there’s a module where you have to reconfigure a circuit with one!

KernelCon is a volunteer-driven infosec conference in Omaha, and its 2022 installment starts in a month – we can’t wait to see what it brings! Anyone doing hardware CTFs will have something to learn from their stories, it seems. The hacking session, from start to finish, was recorded for our viewing pleasure; linked below as an hour and a half video, it should be a great background for your own evening of reverse-engineering for leisure!

This isn’t the first time we’ve covered [Tyler]’s handiwork, either. In 2020, he programmed a batch of KernelCon badges while employing clothespins as ISP clips. Security conferences have most certainly learned just how much fun you can have with hardware, and if you ever need a case study for that, our review of 2019 CypherCon won’t leave you hanging.

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Work The World On A 555

Over the years the humble 555 timer has been used in so many unexpected places, but there’s a project from [Frank Latos] which we think may be a first. On a piece of stripboard sit a pair of 555s, and instead of the usual passives there are a set of LC circuits. This is no timer, instead it’s a CW (Morse) transmitter for the 80 metre amateur radio band.

One 555 is configured as a feedback oscillator through a toroidal transformer with a tuned circuit to set the frequency of oscillation. The other takes an inverted input from the oscillator to produce complimentary push-pull outputs from both 555s, which are fed to another transformer that in turn feeds a low-pass filter and thus the antenna.

Free-running squarewave oscillators of this type are not unusual for the lower HF bands, but we think this is the first 555 design we’ve seen. As shown it doesn’t produce much in the way of RF power, but remembering half-decent motor drivers using a 556 dual timer we think that selection of one of the more powerful 555 variants might deliver some more punch. We commend his creativity though, and hope he can get that all-important entry in the log to prove it works.

If you’re curious about low-power radio operation, it’s something we’ve explored before.

Vacuum tube Atari Punk Console

The Atari Punk Console, Now With More Vacuum Tubes

Most of us have beheld the sonic glory of an Atari Punk Console, that lo-fi synth whose classic incarnation is a pair of 555 timers set up to warble and bleep in interesting ways. Very few of us, however, have likely seen an APC built from 555s that are made from vacuum tubes.

It’s little surprise to regular readers that this one comes to us by way of [David] at Usagi Electric, who hasn’t met a circuit that couldn’t be improved by realizing it in vacuum tubes. His “hollow-state” Atari Punk Console began with the 18-tube version of the 555 that he built just for fun a while back, which proved popular enough that he’s working on a kit version, the prototype of which served as the second timer for the synth. With 32 tubes aglow amid a rats-nest of jumpers, the console managed to make the requisites sounds, but lacked a certain elegance. [David] then vastly simplified the design, reducing the BOM to just four dual-triode tubes. Housed on a CNC milled PCB in a custom wood box, the synth does a respectable job and looks good doing it. The video below shows both versions in action, as well as detailing their construction.

As cool as a vacuum tube synth may be, we realize that not everyone goes for the hot glass approach. No worries — plenty of silicon Atari Punk Consoles to choose from here. There’s one built into a joystick, a circuit sculpture version complete with mini-CRT, or even eight APCs teamed up with MIDI control.

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555 Timer On Its Own In Electronic Dice

One of the most common clich├ęs around here is that a piece of equipment chosen for a project is always too advanced. If a Raspberry Pi was used, someone will say they should have used an Arduino. If they use an Arduino, it should have been an ATtiny. And of course, if an ATtiny was used, there should have simply been a 555 timer. This time, however, [Tim] decided to actually show how this can be done by removing some of the integrated circuits from an electronic dice and relying entirely on the 555 timer for his build.

The electronic dice that [Tim] has on hand makes use of two main ICs: a NE555 and a CD4017 which is a decade counter/divider used for cycling through states. In order to bring the 555 to the forefront of this build, he scraps the CD4017 and adds an array of 555 timers. These are used to generate the clock signals necessary for this build but can also be arranged to form logic circuits. This comes at a great cost, however. The 555 chips take up an unnecessarily large area on the PCB (even though these are small surface-mount chips), consume an incredible amount of power, and are very slow. That’s fine for an electronic dice-rolling machine like this one, but that’s probably where [Tim] will leave this idea.

The 555 timer is a surprisingly versatile chip, and this project shows that there is some element of truth to the folks claiming that projects need naught but a few 555s. We’ve seen entire CPUs built using nothing but 555s, and even a classic project that uses a 555 timer to balance a robot.