Acoustic Coupler Pole-Vaults Over China’s Firewall

[agp.cooper]’s son recently went to China, and the biggest complaint was the Great Firewall of China. A VPN is a viable option to get around the Great Firewall of China, but [agp] had a better idea: an acoustic coupler for his son’s iPhone.

Hackaday readers of a recent vintage might remember an old US Robotics modem that plugged into your computer and phone line, allowing you to access MySpace or Geocities. Yes, if someone picked up the phone, your connection would drop. Those of us with just a little more experience under our belts will remember the acoustic coupler modem — a cradle that held a phone handset that connected your computer (indirectly) to the phone line.

With a little bit of CNC work, [agp] quickly routed out a block of plywood that cradled his son’s iPhone. Add in a speaker and a microphone, and that’s an acoustic coupler. There’s not much to it, really. The real challenge is building a modem.

In the late 90s, there were dedicated chipsets for modems, and before that, there was a 74xx-series chip that was a 300-baud modem. [agp] isn’t using anything like that. He’s building a modem with an Arduino. This is a Bell 103A-compatible modem, allowing an iPhone to talk to a remote computer at 300 bits per second. This is a difficult challenge; we’re not able to get 33kbps over a smartphone voice connection simply because of the codecs used. However, with a little bit of work, [agp] managed to build a real modem with an Arduino.

Well Engineered Radio Clock Aces Form and Function

Clocks that read time via received radio signals have several advantages over their Internet-connected, NTP-synchronised brethren. The radio signal is ubiquitous and available over a fairly large footprint extending to thousands of kilometres from the transmitting antennae. This allows such clocks to work reliably in areas where there is no Internet service. And compared to GPS clocks, their front-end electronics and antenna requirements are much simpler. [Erik de Ruiter]’s DCF77 Analyzer/Clock is synchronised to the German DCF77 radio signal, which is derived from the atomic clocks at PTB headquarters. It features a ton of bells and whistles, while still being simple to build. It’s a slick piece of German hacker engineering that leaves us amazed.

Among the clock functions, it shows time, day of the week, date, CET/CEST modes, leap year indications and week numbers. The last is not part of the DCF77 protocol but is calculated via software. The DCF77 analyzer part has all of the useful information gleaned from the radio signals. There are displays for time period, pulse width, a bit counter, bit value indicator (0/1) and an error counter. There are two rings of 59 LEDs each that provide additional information about the DCF77 signal. A PIR sensor on the front panel helps put the clock in power save mode. Finally, there is a whole bunch of indicator LEDs and a bank of switches to control the various functions. On the rear panel, there are RJ45 sockets for the DCF77 receiver antenna board, temperature sensor and FTDI serial, a bunch of audio sound board controls, reset switches and a mode control switch.

His build starts with the design and layout of the enclosure. The front panel layout had to go through a couple of iterations before he was satisfied with the result. The final version was made from aluminium-coated sandwich-panel. He used an online service to photo-etch the markings, and then a milling machine to carve out the various windows and mounting holes. The rear panel is a tinted acrylic with laser engraving, which makes the neatly laid out innards visible for viewers to appreciate. The wooden frame is made from 40-year-old Mahogany, sourced from an old family heirloom desk. All of this hard work results in a really professional looking product.

The electronics are mostly off the shelf modules, except for the custom built LED driver boards. The heart of the device is an Arduino Mega because of the large number of outputs it provides. There are seven LED driver boards based around the Maxim 7221 (PDF) serial interface LED drivers – two to drive the inner and outer ring LEDs, and the others for the various seven-segment displays. The numerous annunciator LEDs are driven directly from the Arduino Mega. His build really comes together by incorporating a noise resilient DCF77 decoder library by [Udo Klein] which is running on a separate Arduino Uno. All of his design source files are posted on his GitHub repository and he hopes to publish an Instructable soon for those who would like to build one of their own.

In the first video below, he walks through the various functions of the clock, and in the second one, gives us a peek in to its inside. Watch, and be amazed.

Thanks for the tip, [Nick]

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Scratch-built Camera Gimbal for Photographer with Cerebral Palsy

We so often hack for hacking’s sake, undertaking projects as a solitary pursuit simply for the challenge. So it’s nice to see hacking skills going to good use and helping someone out. Such was the case with this low-cost two-axis handheld camera gimbal intended to help a budding photographer with a motion disorder.

When [Tadej Strah] joined his school photography club, a fellow member who happens to have cerebral palsy needed help steadying cameras for clean shots. So rather than shell out a lot of money for a commercial gimbal, [Tadej] decided to build one for his friend. A few scraps of aluminum bar stock were bent into the gimbal frames and camera mount. Two hobby servos take care of the pitch and roll axes, controlled by an Arduino talking to an MPU-6050. Mounted to a handle from an angle grinder with the battery and electronics mounted below, the gimbal looks well-balanced and does a good job of keeping the camera level.

Hats off to [Tadej] for pitching in and solving a real world problem with his skills. We like to see people helping others directly, whether it’s building a gyroscopic spoon for Parkinson’s sufferers or vision enhancement for a nearly blind adventurer.

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Panel Mount Display Solves The Problem Of Drilling Square Holes

[Absolutelyautomation] has a problem with seven-segment displays. Fitting these displays in an enclosure is a pain because you can’t drill perfectly square holes, and you will invariably mess up a few enclosures with overzealous file work. There is a solution to this problem – panel mount meters.

The bezels on these panel mount meters hide the imperfections in the enclosure, and usually don’t require screws. They are, however, dedicated displays, usually for temperature, RPM, or some other measurement.

[Absolutelyautomation] took one of these dedicated panel mount displays and turned it into an all-purpose device. Basically, it’s a panel mount Arduino with three seven-segment displays.

This project is built on perfboard cut down to fit inside the enclosure of a very cheap panel meter found at the usual suppliers. Tucked away underneath this perfboard is an ATmega, a few resistors, and the support parts to make everything go. This panel mount meter can either be a serial slave or as a standalone controller, programmable with the Arduino IDE. It’s cheap, too. You can check out [Absolutelyautomaion]’s video below.

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The Custom Clicky Shortcut Keypad

You’re not cool unless you have a mechanical keyboard. Case in point: if you were to somehow acquire an identical keyboard to the one I used to type this, it would set you back at least seven hundred dollars. Yes, it’s mechanical (Topre), and yes, I’m cooler than you. Of course, you can’t be as cool as me, but you can build your own mechanical keyboard. [Robin] is, I presume, a pretty cool dude so he built his own keyboard. It’s the amazing shortcut keyboard, and it can be programmed graphically.

The idea for this keyboard came when [Robin] was studying as an engineer. We assume this is code for wearing out the Escape key on AutoCAD, but many other software packages have the same problem. The solution to [Robin]’s problem was a shortcut keypad, a 3 by 4 matrix of Cherry switches that could be programmed for any task.

The design of this keyboard started out as an Adafruit Trellis matrix keypad. This was combined with some software written in Processing that assigned macros to each button. This was a sufficient solution, but the switches in the Adafruit trellis look squishy. These are not the right switches for someone who craves a soft snap under every fingertip. It’s not the keyboard of someone who desires the subtle thickness of laser etched PBT keycaps. The Adafruit keypad doesn’t have the graceful lines of a fully sculpted set of keycaps. Oh my god, it’s doubleshot.

[Robin]’s completed keyboard has gone through a few revisions, but in the end, he settled on PCB-mounted switches and a very clever 3D printed standoff system to hold an Arduino Pro Micro in place. The enclosure, too, is 3D printed, and the end result is a completely custom keyboard that’s perfect for mashing key combos.

You can check out a video of this keyboard in action below.

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A Wordsearch Twist on the Word Clock

We love seeing new takes on existing ideas, and [Danny] certainly took the word clock concept in an unusual direction with his Wordsearch Clock. Instead of lighting up words to spell out the time, [Danny] decided to embrace the fact that the apparent jumble of letters on the clock face resembles a word search puzzle.

In a word search puzzle, words can be found spelled forward or backward with letters lined up horizontally, diagonally, or vertically. All that matters is that the correct letters are in a line and sequentially adjacent to one another. [Danny]’s clock lights up the correct letters and words one after the other, just as if it were solving a word search puzzle for words that just happen to tell the correct time. You can see it in action in the video, embedded below.

[Danny] went the extra mile in the planning phase. After using a word search puzzle generator tool to assist in designing the layout, he wrote a Processing sketch to simulate the clock’s operation. Visually simulating the clock allowed him to make tweaks to the layout, identify edge cases to address, and gain insight into the whole process. If you’re interested in making your own, there is a GitHub repository for the project.

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The Altair Shield

From PDPs to Connection Machines, the Hackaday crowd are big fans of blinkenlights. While this project isn’t an old CPU, RAM, ROM, and an S-100 bus wrapped up in a fancy enclosure, it is a great recreation of the Altair 8800, the historic kit computer that supposedly launched the microcomputer revolution.

[Justin] says his project is just another Altair 8800 clone, but this one is cut down to the size of an Arduino shield. This is in stark contrast to other Altair recreations, whether they are modern PCs stuffed in an old case, modern replicas, or a board that has the same functionality using chunky toggle switches.

On board [Justin]’s pocket-sized Altair are a few LEDs, some DIP switches, and an octet of spring-loaded dual throw switches that wouldn’t look out of place in a 40-year old computer.

This shield targets the Arduino Due rather than the Mega, but only because the Due performs better running an Altair simulation. Everything is there, and a serial terminal is available ready to run BASIC or any other ancient OS.