Give the Clapper a Hand

While “The Clapper” probably first conjures images of low-budget commercials, it was still a useful way to remotely switch lights and other things around the house. But if the lights you want to switch weren’t plugged into the wall, like a ceiling fan, for example, The Clapper was not going to help you. To add some functionality to this infamous device, [Robin] built one from scratch that has all the extra features built in that you could ever want.

First, the new Clapper attaches to the light switch directly, favoring mechanical action of the switch itself rather than an electromechanical relay which requires wiring. With this setup, it would be easy to install even if you rent an apartment and can’t do things like rewire outlets and it has the advantage of being able to switch any device, even if it doesn’t plug into the wall. There’s also a built-in microphone to listen for claps, but since it’s open-source you could program it to actuate the switch when it hears any sound. It also includes the ability to be wired in to a home automation system as well.

If the reason you’ve stayed out of the home automation game is that you live in a rental and can’t make the necessary modifications to your home, [Robin]’s Clapper might be just the thing you need to finally automate your living space. All the files are available on the project site, including the 3D printing plans and the project code. Once you get started in home automation, though, there’s a lot more you can do with it.

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Pinball Wizard Hacks Table for Tommy Stage Show

Ever since he was a young hacker
[Mark Gibson] has messed with the silver ball.
From Soho down to Denver
he must have fixed them all.
But we ain’t seen anything like this
in any amusement hall.
That darn devious hacker
sure hacks a mean pinball.

He hacks it like an expert,
Becomes part of the machine
Automating all the bumpers
Always wiring clean
His table plays by automation,
And radio control for all
That darn devious hacker
sure hacks a mean pinball.

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A Home Network, Security System, And A Hidden Room Behind A Bookcase

Ok, now this is something special. This is a home network and security system that would make just about anyone stop, and with jaw hanging agape, stare, impressed at the “several months of effort” it took [timekillerjay] to install their dream setup. Just. Wow.

Want a brief rundown of the diverse skill set needed to pull this off? Networking, home security, home automation, woodworking, running two thousand feet(!) of cat 6a cable, a fair hand at drywall work for the dozens upon dozens of patches, painting, staining, and — while not a skill, but is definitely necessary — an amazingly patient family.

Ten POE security cameras monitor the premises with audio recording, infrared, and motion detection capabilities. This is on top of magnetic sensors for five doors, and eleven windows that feed back to an ELK M1-Gold security system which effortlessly  coordinates with an Insteon ISY994i smart home hub; this allows for automatic events — such as turning on lights after dark when a door is opened — to occur as [timekillerjay]’s family moves about their home. The ELK also allows [timekillerjay] to control other things around the house — namely the sprinkler system — via relays. [timekillerjay] says he lost track of how many smart switches are scattered throughout his home, but there are definitely 39 network drops that service the premises.

All of the crucial components are hidden in his office, behind a custom bookshelf. Building it required a few clever tricks to disguise the bookshelf for the secret door that it is, as well as selecting components with attention to how much noise they generate — what’s the point of a hidden security system if it sounds like a bunch of industrial fans?

An uninterruptible power supply will keep the entire system running for about 45 minutes if there is a power outage, with the cameras recording and system logging everything all the while. Not trusting the entrance to his vault to something from Batman, he’s also fitted the bookshelf with a 600lb magnetic lock that engages when the system is armed and the door already closed. A second UPS will keep the door secured for 6+ hours if the house loses power. Needless to say, we think this house is well secured.

[Via /r/DIY]

Automated Syrup System is Sweet Sweet Madness

Here at Hackaday we are big fans of the TV show, “How It’s Made”. It’s not much of a stretch to assume that, as somebody who is currently reading this site, you’ve probably seen it yourself. While it’s always interesting to see the behind the scenes process to create everyday products, one of the most fascinating aspects of the show is seeing how hard it is to make things. Seriously, it’s enough to make you wonder how companies are turning a profit on some of these products when you see just how much technology and manual work is required to produce them.

That’s precisely the feeling we got when browsing through this absolutely incredible overview of how [HDC3] makes his maple syrup. If that’s not a sentence you ever thought you’d see on Hackaday, you aren’t alone. But this isn’t a rusty old pail hanging off of a tap, this is a high-tech automated system that’s capable of draining 100’s of gallons of sap from whole groves of trees. We’ll never look at a bottle of syrup in the store the same away again.

It all starts with hundreds of tiny taps that are drilled into the trees and connected to a network of flexible hoses. The plumbing arrangement is so complex that, in certain, areas high tension support wires are necessary to hold up the weight of the hoses and their sweet contents. The main hose leads to an Arduino-powered collection station which maintains a 100 kPa (29 inHg) vacuum throughout the entire system.

The sap is temporarily held in a 250 gallon container, but at this point it’s still just that: sap. It needs to be refined into something suitable for putting on your pancakes. The first step of that process utilizes a reverse osmosis filtration system to pull the water out of the sap and increase its sugar concentration. [HDC3] says the filtration system is built from eBay scores and parts from the home improvement store, and it certainly looks the part of something that would be under a kitchen sink. This system is able to increase the sugar concentration of the sap from around 2% as it comes out of the trees to 8%. But it’s still a far way off from being ready to use.

Interestingly enough, the last steps of the process are about as old-school as they come. The semi-concentrated sap is placed in a long low metal pan, and heated over a wood fire to drive off more of the water. This process continues until the sap is roughly 60% sugar, at which point it is filtered and moved into the house to finish boiling on the stove.

All told, the syrup is boiled for eight hours to bring its sugar content up to 66%. Even with the improvements [HDC3] has made to the system, he reveals that all this hard work only results in slightly more than a half-gallon of final syrup. Talk about dedication.

It probably comes as no surprise that this is the first time Hackaday has ever run a story about producing maple syrup. However we’ve seen a number of automated beer brewing systems that seem to have been tackled with similar zeal. There’s probably a conclusion to be drawn there about the average hacker’s diet, but that’s a bit outside our wheelhouse.

[via /r/DIY]

You Can Learn a Lot From a Blinkenrocket

At this year’s Chaos Communication Congress, we caught up with [muzy] and [overflo], who were there with a badge and soldering project they designed to teach young folks how to solder and program. Blinkenrocket is a basically a 64-LED matrix display and just enough support hardware to store and display animations, and judging by the number of blinking rockets we saw around the necks of attendees, it was a success.

Their talk at 34C3 mostly concerns the production details, design refinements, and the pitfalls of producing thousands of a thing. If you’re thinking of building a hardware kit or badge on this scale, you should really check it out and crib some of their production optimization tricks.

For instance, instead of labelling the parts “C2” or “R: 220 Ohms”, they used a simple color-coding scheme. This not only makes it easier for kids to assemble, but it also means that they didn’t have to stick 1,000 part labels on every component. Coupled with [overflo]’s Zerhacker, SMD parts in strips were cut to the right length and color-coded in one step, done by machine.

The coolest feature of the Blinkenrocket itself is the audio programming interface. It’s like in the bad old days of software stored on cassette tapes, but it’s a phenomenal interface for getting a simple animation out of a web app and straight into a piece of minimal hardware — just plug it into a laptop or cell phone’s audio out and press “play” in the browser. The original design tried to encode the data in the pulse-length of square waves, but this turned out to be very hardware dependent. The final design used frequency-shift keying. What’s old is new again.

Everything you could want to know about the design, its code, and even the website itself are up on the project’s GitHub page, so go check it out. If you’d like to arrange a Blinkenrocket workshop yourself, shoot [muzy] or [overflo] an e-mail. Full disclosure: [overflo] gave us a kit, the “hard-mode” SMD one with 0805 1206 parts, and it was fun to assemble and program.

The Internet of Blast Gates

There’s nothing quite like building out a shop filled with tools, but even that enviable task has a lot of boring work that goes into it. You’ve got to run power, you’ve got to build benches, and you need to build a dust collection system. That last one is usually just fitting a bunch of pipe and tubes together and adding in a few blast gates to direct the sucking of your dust collection system to various tools around the shop.

For most shops with a handful of tools and dust collection ports, manually opening and closing each blast gate is an annoying if necessary task. What if all of this was automated, though? That’s what [Bob] over on I Like To Make Stuff did. He automated his dust collection system. When a tool turns on, so does the vacuum, and the right blast gate opens up automatically.

The first part of this build is exactly what you would expect for installing a dust collection system in a shop. The main line is PVC sewer pipe tied to the rafters. Yes, this pipe is grounded, and s otherwise not very interesting at all. The real fun comes with the bits of electronics. [Bob] modified standard blast gates to be servo-actuated. Each individual tool was wired up to a current sensor at the plug, and all of this was connected to an Arduino. With a big ‘ol relay attached to the dust collection system, the only thing standing in the way of complete automation was a bit of code.

This project is a continuation of [Bob]’s earlier Arduinofication of his dust collection system where all the blast gates were controlled by servos, an Arduino, and a numeric keypad. That’s an exceptionally functional system that gets around the whole ‘leaning over a machine to open a gate’ problem, but it’s still not idiot-proof – someone has to press a button to open a gate. This new system is, for the most part, completely automatic and doesn’t really require any thought on the part of the operator. It’s neat stuff, and a great application of cheap Arduinos to make shop life a bit easier.

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Light Switch For The Lazy

[Will Donaldson] has whipped up a quick hack for anyone thinking of dipping their toe into home automation — or otherwise detest flicking off the bedroom light before navigating their way to their bed: a remote control light switch!

This remote switch uses a sg90 servo, an Arduino Uno, and pairs of ATtiny85s with HC-05 Bluetooth modules assembled on protoboards. The 3D printed mount screws easily on top of a standard light switch cover while still allowing the switch to be flipped the old-fashioned way. It’s also perfect as a temporary solution — [Donaldson] is presently renting his apartment — or for those unwilling to mess with the mains power of their abode.

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