Tiny Cube Hosts A Hearty Tube

Tiny PCBAs and glowy VFD tubes are like catnip to a Hackaday writer, so when we saw [hamster]’s TubeCube tube segment driver we had to dig in to learn more. We won’t bury the lede here; let’s enjoy a video of glowing tubes before we go further:

The TubeCube is built to fit the MiniBadge badge addon standard, which is primarily used to host modules on the SAINTCON conference badge. A single TubeCube hosts a VFD tube, hardware to provide a 70 V supply, and a microcontroller for communication and control. Each TubeCube is designed to accept ASCII characters via UART to display on it’s display, but they can also be chained together for even more excitement. We’re not sure how [hamster] would be able to physically wear the beast in the video above, but if he can find a way, they all work together. If you’re interested in seeing the dead simple UART communication scheme take a look at this file.

We think it’s also worth pointing about the high voltage supply. To the software or mechanically minded among us it’s easy to get trapped thinking about switching power supplies as a magical construct which can only be built using all-in-one control ICs. But [hamster]’s supply is a great reminder that a switching supply, even a high voltage one, isn’t as complex as all that. His design (which he says was cribbed from Adafruit’s lovely Ice Tube Clock) is essentially composed of the standard primitives. A big low voltage capacitor C1 to source the burst of energy which will be boosted, the necessary inductor/high voltage cap C2 which ends up at the target voltage, and a smoothing cap C3 to make the output a little nicer. It’s controlled by the microcontroller toggling Q1 to control the current flow through L1. The side effect is that by controlling the PWM frequency [hamster] can vary the brightness of the tubes.

Right now it looks like the repository has a schematic and sources, which should be enough to build a small tube driver of your own. If you can’t get enough TubeCubes, there’s one more video (of a single module) after the break.

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This Is The Year Conference Badges Get Their Own Badges

Over the last few years, the art and artistry of printed circuit boards has moved from business cards to the most desirable of all disposable electronics. I speak, of course, of badgelife. This is the community built on creating and distributing independent electronic conference badges at the various tech and security conferences around the globe.

Until now, badgelife has been a loose confederation of badgemakers and distributors outdoing themselves each year with ever more impressive boards, techniques, and always more blinky bling. The field is advancing so fast there is no comparison to what was being done in years past; where a simple PCB and blinking LED would have sufficed a decade ago, now we have customized microcontrollers direct from the factory, fancy new chips, and the greatest art you’ve ever seen.

Now we have reached a threshold. The badgelife community has gotten so big, the badges are getting their own badges. This is the year of the badge add-on. We’re all building tiny trinkets for our badges, and this time, they’ll all work together. We’re exactly one year away from a sweet Voltron robot made of badges.

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The Adafruit Feather Is A Thing

A few years ago, Adafruit launched the Feather 32u4 Basic Proto. This tiny development board featured — as you would expect — an ATMega32u4 microcontroller, a USB port, and a battery charging circuit for tiny LiPo batteries. It was, effectively, a small Arduino clone with a little bit of extra circuitry that made it great for portable and wearable projects. In the years since, and as Adafruit has recently pointed out, the Adafruit Feather has recently become a thing. This is a new standard. Maxim is producing compatible ‘wings’ or shields. If you’re in San Francisco, the streets are littered with Feather-compatible boards. What’s the deal with these boards, and why are there so many of them?

The reason for Adafruit’s introduction of the Feather format was the vast array of shields, hats, capes, clicks, props, booster packs, and various other standards. The idea was to bring various chipsets under one roof, give them a battery charging circuit, and not have a form factor that is as huge as the standard Arduino. The Feather spec was finalized and now we have three-phase energy monitors, a tiny little game console, LoRaWAN Feathers, and CAN controllers.

Of course, the Feather format isn’t just limited to Adafruit products and indie developers. The recently introduced Particle hardware is built on the Feather format, giving cellular connectivity to this better-than-Arduino format. Maxim is producing some development boards with the same format.

So, do we finally have a form factor for one-off embedded development that isn’t as huge or as wonky as the gigantic Arduino with weirdly offset headers? It seems so.

Hacking Facebook To Remove The Social Value Facade

We see [Ben Grosser’s] point that all the metrics found on the Facebook user interface make the experience somewhat of a game to see if you can better your high score. He thinks this detracts from the mission of having social interactions that themselves have a value. So he set out to remove the ‘scores’ from all Facebook pages with a project he calls the Facebook Demetricator.

You can see two UI blocks above. The upper offering is what a normal user will see. The lower is the page seen through the lens of the Demetricator. [Ben’s] feels it doesn’t matter how many people like something or share something, but only that you are genuinely interested in it. With the numbers removed you’re unlikely to follow the herd mentality of only clicking through to things that are liked by a huge number of people. He explains this himself in the clip after the break.

The Demetricator works much like the Reddit Enhancement Suite. It’s a browser add-on for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari that selectively strips out the metrics as the page renders.