Solar-Harvesting Blinkenlights

A few years ago a fad ripped through the makersphere where people would build cheap, solar powered LED blinkers, glue a magnet to them, and throw them on anything metal. It was an interesting time, but luckily did not last for too long. With some effort and craftsmanship, though, the solar throwie idea can be turned into something more elegant, though, such as this solar harvesting blinking gadget.

Like its predecessors, the device itself behaves simply, although this one is equipped with a small supercapacitor which can run the device for 8 hours without sun. It has a small solar panel which can charge the capacitor in five minutes, and from there the LEDs inside simply blink. The quality shows in the final packaging, as [Jasper] has taken to encasing them in epoxy shapes such as pyramids, for a nice paperweight or tchotchke. It is also noteworthy because of Jasper’s test device; since he is mass producing them he needed something to test each board for functionality before encasing them in the epoxy, and he built a small pen tester specifically for them too.

While the build is pretty straightforward, anyone looking to enclose a simple circuit in epoxy without bubbles or other problems might want to check this one out. It would also be a good platform for building other throwie-like projects on top of. In the past they didn’t just blink lights but also did things like run small Linux servers.

This Blinken Grid Is All Analog

The personal computers of today are economical with their employ of the humble LED. A modern laptop might have a power LED, and a hard drive indicator if you’re lucky. It was the mainframes of the ’60s and ’70s that adhered to the holy Doctrine of Blinken, flickering lamps with abandon to indicate machine activity to the skilled operators of yore. [Matseng] wanted to recreate this aesthetic, and went about it in an entirely analog fashion.

The project is built around an 8×8 LED grid, that was soldered up using a 3D printed jig for dimensional accuracy. Fitted to each column is a PNP flip flop that pulls the column to VCC, while each row has an NPN flip flop which pulls it to ground. Due to variances in component values and tolerances, the oscillators are all out of sync, leading to a remarkably pleasing blinkenlights effect.

We’re a big fan of the raw aesthetic, but [Matseng] has also fitted the grid with a diffuser which more clearly represents that vintage computer aesthetic. We’re a big fan of the blinken here, such as this loving recreation of the PDP-8/I. Video after the break. Continue reading “This Blinken Grid Is All Analog”

Relive Radio Shack’s Glory Days By Getting Goofy

The Golden Age of Radio Shack was probably sometime in the mid-1970s, a time when you could just pop into the local store and pay 49 cents for the resistors you needed to complete a project. Radio Shack was the place to go for everything from hi-fi systems to CB radios, and for many of us, being inside one was very much a kid in a candy store scenario.

That’s not to say that Radio Shack was perfect, but one thing it did very well was the education and grooming of the next generation of electronics hobbyists, primarily through their “Science Fair” brand. Some of us will recall the P-Box kits from that line, complete projects with all the parts and instructions in a plastic box with a perfboard top. These kits were endlessly entertaining and educational, and now [NetZener] has recreated the classic neon “Goofy Light” P-Box project.

As it was back in the day, the Goofy Light is almost entirely useless except for learning about DC-DC converters, multivibrators, RC timing circuits, and the weird world of negative resistance. But by using the original Science Fair instructions, compiling a BOM that can be filled from Mouser or Digikey, and making up a reasonable facsimile of the original P-Box chassis, [NetZener] has done a service to anyone looking for a little dose of nostalgia.

It would be interesting if someone brought back the P-Box experience as a commercial venture, offering a range of kits with circuits like the originals. If that happens, maybe some of the offerings will be based on that other classic from Radio Shack’s heyday.

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MSX With BlinkenLights

Blinkenlights-originalOld Mini and Mainframe computers often had huge banks of diagnostic lights to indicate the status of address, data and control buses or other functions. When the lights blinked, the computer was busy at work. When they stopped in a particular pattern, engineers could try and figure out what went wrong by decoding the status of the lights.

[Folkert van Heusden] has an old MSX-based Philips VG-8020 computer and decided to add his own set of BlinkenLights to his system. The VG-8020 was a first generation MSX released in 1983 and featured a Zilog Z80A microprocessor clocked at 3.56 MHz, 64KB of RAM, 16KB of VRAM, and two cartridge slots.

The cartridge slots of the MSX are connected to the address and data buses in addition to many of the control signals, so it seemed logical to tap in to those signals. Not wanting to play around with a whole bunch of transistors, he opted to use an Arduino Nano to connect to his computer and drive the LEDs. In hindsight, this seemed like a wise decision as it allowed him to do some processing on the incoming data before driving the LEDs.

Instead of creating a new PCB, he cut open one of his beloved game cartridges. A switch was added to the slot select control pin (SLTSL) and eight wires soldered directly to the data bus. These were hooked up as inputs to the Arduino. A bank of eight LEDs with limiting resistors were connected to outputs on the Arduino. A quick test confirmed it all worked, including the switch to enable / disable the cartridge. He had to experiment with the code a bit as the LEDs were initially blinking too fast.

v2_frontA couple of months later, he upgraded his BlinkenLight display to include the 16 bit address, 8 bit data and 8 lines for control signals. To do this, he used two MCP23017 – I2C 16 input/output port expander chips. For the LEDs, he installed a bank of four NeoPixel LED bars. A Pro-Mini takes care of the processing, and a custom PCB in the cartridge format houses all of it neatly. Check out the two videos below showing the BlinkenLights in action.

And if these BlinkenLights got you interested, take a look at this awesome Z80 Computer With Switches And Blinkenlights that has a hand operated crank to advance clock cycles.

Continue reading “MSX With BlinkenLights”