Analog Clock Goes Digital, or Vice Versa

Designing a good clock takes a lot of considerations. It’s not just hands, faces, and numbers anymore; there are also word clocks, electronic clocks, marble clocks, or water clocks, and just about anything else imaginable can be used to tell time. Of course, electronic clocks are great for their versatility, and this one shows off an analog-looking clock that is (of course) digital, leveraging all of the perks of analog with all of the upsides of digital electronics.

One of the key design considerations that [Sasa] had while building this piece was that it needed to be silent. LEDs certainly fit that description, so the decision was made to go with an WS2812b ring. It runs using a STM ST32F103 Nucleo board (and a cheaper version of it in later versions of this clock) which shows a red LED for the current hour, yellow LEDs for the traditional analog clock divisions, a green LED for the current minute, and glows the rest of the LEDs up to the current minute with a rainbow pattern.

This is a really clean, simple build with good design at its core, and would be easy to replicate if you’re looking for an eye-catching clock to build. As a bonus, all of the schematics and code are available on the project site, so everything you need is there. If you’re looking for more inspiration, there are some clocks that are even more unique, like this marble clock that is a work of art — but is anything but silent.

Revive that old Analog Cell Phone with SDR

With the latest and greatest 5G cellular networks right around the corner, it can be difficult to believe that it wasn’t so long ago that cell phones relied on analog networks. They aren’t used anymore, but it might only take a visit to a swap meet or flea market to get your hands on some of this vintage hardware. Of course these phones of a bygone era aren’t just impractical due to their monstrous size compared to modern gear, but because analog cell networks have long since gone the way of the floppy disk.

But thanks to the efforts of [Andreas Eversberg] those antique cell phones may live again, even if it’s only within the radius of your local hackerspace. His software allows the user to create a functioning analog base station for several retro phone networks used in Europe and the United States, such as AMPS, TACS, NMT, Radiocom, and C450. You can go the old school route and do it with sound cards and physical radios, or you can fully embrace the 21st century and do it all through a Software Defined Radio (SDR); in either event, calls to the base station and even between multiple mobile devices is possible with relatively inexpensive hardware.

[Andreas] has put together exceptional documentation for this project, which starts with a walk through on how you can setup your DIY cell “tower” with traditional radios. He explains that amateur radios are a viable option for most of the frequencies used, and that he had early success with modifying second-hand taxi radios. He even mentions that the popular BaoFeng handheld radios can be used in a pinch, though not all the protocols will work due to distortion in the radio.

If you want to take the easy way out, [Andreas] also explains how to replace the radios with a single SDR device. This greatly simplifies the installation, and turns a whole bench full of radios and wires into something you can carry around in your pack if you were so inclined. His software has specific options to use the LimeSDR and LimeSDR-Mini, but you should be able to use other devices with a bit of experimentation.

We’ve previously reviewed the LimeSDR-Mini hardware, as well as covered its use in setting up DIY GSM networks.

The Modern Analog Soldering Station

There is a certain sense of accomplishment one gets when building their own tools. This is what [Alejandro Velazquez] was going for when he built his own soldering station. Sure you can get a decent station for a pittance on Amazon, or eBay. You can even build your own microprocessor controlled station. [Alejandro] is currently interested in analog electronics, so he went that route to build his own closed-loop station.

The handle is a 50 watt, 24-volt affair with a thermocouple. You can find this handle on many Hakko 907 clone soldering stations, often referred to as the 907A. The station itself is completely analog. A triac switches the current going to the heater. The triac is controlled by a PWM signal. The PWM itself is generated and regulated by an LM324 quad op-amp, which is the heart of the station. The op-amp compares the setpoint with the current temperature read from the soldering handle’s thermocouple, then adjusts the duty cycle of the PWM signal to raise, or lower the temperature.

It’s a classic control system, and the schematic is definitely worth checking out if you want to understand how op-amps can be used to create complex operations.

You can find plenty more information on analog electronics right here on Hackaday — we’ve covered thermocouple amplifiers, as well as instrumentation amps. If you’re more of a digital man, check out this Arduino controlled soldering station!

AV Synth is Psychedelic Analog Mayhem

Digital video is cool and all, but it can’t compete with analog in terms of smooth, creamy glitches and distortion. [gieskes] has developed an analog audio-visual synthesizer that is a great example of the old-school retro visuals you can create with a handful of simple components.

Known as the 3TrinsRGB+1c, it’s available both assembled and in kit form. It’s probably best to start with the manual. Synthesis is achieved through the use of a HEF40106 hex inverting buffer – a cheap and readily available part that nonetheless provides for excellent results. Video can be switched between RGB oscillators and a series of inputs, and there are various controls to create those classic scrolling effects and other visual oddities.

Additionally, a series of connections to the underlying circuitry are broken out on a header connector. This allows for extra modules to be plugged in, and several designs are available to expand the unit’s capabilities.

Analog video isn’t used so much on a day-to-day basis anymore, but it’s a great technology to tinker and experiment with. We’ve seen some of [gieskes] experiments in this arena before, too – like this Arduino video sampler. Video after the break.

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New Controller For Retro Console

In the world of retro gaming, when using emulators and non-native hardware it’s pretty common to use whatever USB controller happens to be available. This allows us to get a nostalgic look while using a  configurable controller. One thing that isn’t as common is using the original hardware while still finding a way to adapt a modern controller to an old console. This is exactly what you need though, when you’re retro gaming on a platform with notoriously terrible controllers.

[Scott] enjoys his Atari 5200 but the non-centering and generically terrible joystick wasn’t well received even in the early 80s when the console was in its prime. He decided that using a Dual Shock controller from a Playstation 2 would provide a much better gaming experience, and set about building an adapter. He found that in a way the Dual Shock controller was an almost perfect pairing for the Atari because it has two analog control sticks built-in already. There’s also an array of information on pairing the Dual Shock controller with AVR microcontrollers, so he wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel. From there, it was just a matter of pairing communications protocols between the two pieces of hardware.

The project page goes into quite a bit of detail on SPI communication protocols and the needs of both the Atari and the Playstation controller. If you’re a retro gaming fan, really into communication protocols, or have always had a love-hate relationship with your Atari because the controllers were just that bad, it’s worth checking out. If this is too much, though, there are other ways to get that Atari nostalgia.

Thanks to [Baldpower] for the tip!

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Adding Analog Touch To (Nearly) Any Mechanical Keyboard

The new hotness for DIY electronics is mechanical keyboards, and over the past few years we’ve seen some amazing innovations. This one is something different. It adds an analog sensor to nearly any mechanical key switch, does it with a minimal number of parts, and doesn’t require any modification of the switch itself. It’s a reddit thread and imgur post, but the idea is just so good we can overlook the documentation on this one.

The key development behind this type of sensor is realizing that nearly every mechanical keyswitch (Cherry MX, Kalth, Gateron) has a spring in the bottom. A spring is just a coil of wire, and an inductor is just a coil of wire, too. By putting a spiral trace on the PCB of a mechanical keyboard underneath the keyswitch, you can sense the inductance of this spring. This does require a little bit of additional hardware, in this case an LDC1614 inductance to digital converter, but this is an I2C-readable part that can, theoretically, be integrated rather easily with any mechanical keyboard PCB and firmware.

The downside to using the LDC1614 is that sampling is somewhat time-limited, with four channels or individual keys being polled at 500 Hz. This isn’t a problem if the use-case is adding analog to your WASD keys, but it may become a problem for an entire keyboard. Additionally, the LDC1614 is a slightly expensive part, at about $2 USD in quantity 1000. A fully analog keyboard using this technique is going to be pricey.

Right now, the proof-of-concept for this analog mechanical keyswitch is just a 0.1 mm flexible PCB that is shoehorned inbetween a Cherry MX red and a (normal) mechanical keyboard PCB. The next step in the development will be a 2×4 keypad with analog sensors, and opening up the hardware and firmware examples up under a GPL license.

Hackaday Links: July 8, 2018

Software-defined radio has been around for years, but it’s only recently that it’s been accessible to those of us who don’t have tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment in their lab. Here’s a new book from Analog Devices that gives you the lowdown on software-defined radio. It’s heavy on MATLAB and components from Analog, but it’s still a solid foundation for SDR.

Do you like cyberpunk? Do you like stories about rebellious people overthrowing the system? How about androids? Do you like androids? Here’s a Kickstarter that’s tying all of that togetherNeptune Frost is (will be?) a movie about an e-waste village in Burundi that’s home to the ‘world’s most subversive hacking collective’, a coltan miner and an inter-sex runaway. It’s literally got everything.

Hey, this is cool, Hackaday has been cited in a journal article. The title of the article is An open-source approach to automation in organic synthesis: The flow chemical formation of benzamides using an inline liquid-liquid extraction system and a homemade 3-axis autosampling/product-collection device,  and can be found in Tetrahedron Volume 74, Issue 25, 21 June 2018, Pages 3152-3157.

Asteroid day was a few days ago, and there’s a Kickstarter to go with it. The Planetary Society, headed up by Bill Nye (a science guy) is raising awareness about the threat of asteroid impacts. There’s hilarious swag that says ‘Kick Asteroid’, even though actually kicking an asteroid might be a bad idea; a gravity tractor would be the best method of nudging the orbit of an asteroid given enough time.

Last year, a company in the US trademarked the word ‘RetroPie’ and used that trademark to sell Raspberry Pis loaded up with (you guessed it) RetroPie software. This company also used the trademark to force anyone else doing the same to stop. Obviously, this didn’t sit well with the developers of RetroPie. After some generous legal help, the RetroPie trademark issue has been resolved. That’s a tip of the hat to Eckland & Blando who offered some pro bono legal work.