A Hacker’s Epic Quest to Keep His Son Entertained

Little humans have a knack for throwing a wrench in the priorities of their parents. As anyone who’s ever had children will tell you, there’s nothing you wouldn’t do for them. If you ever needed evidence to this effect, just take a gander at the nearly year-long saga that chronicles the construction of an activity board [Michael Teeuw] built for his son, Enzo.

Whether you start at the beginning or skip to the end to see the final product, the documentation [Michael] has done for this project is really something to behold. From the early days of the project where he was still deciding on the overall look and feel, to the final programming of the Raspberry Pi powered user interface, every step of the process has been meticulously detailed and photographed.

The construction methods utilized in this project run the gamut from basic woodworking tools for the outside wooden frame, to a laser cutter to create the graphical overlay on the device’s clear acrylic face. [Michael] even went as far as having a custom PCB made to connect up all the LEDs, switches, and buttons to the Arduino Nano by way of an MCP23017 I2C I/O expander.

Even if you aren’t looking to build an elaborate child’s toy that would make some adults jealous, there’s a wealth of first-hand information about turning an idea into a final physical device. It isn’t always easy, and things don’t necessarily go as planned, but as [Michael] clearly demonstrates: the final product is absolutely worth putting the effort in.

Seeing how many hackers are building mock spacecraft control panels for their children, we can’t help but wonder if any of them will adopt us.

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Everyone Needs A Personal Supercomputer

When you think of supercomputers, visions of big boxes and blinkenlights filling server rooms immediately appear. Since the 90s or thereabouts, these supercomputers have been clusters of computers, all working together on a single problem. For the last twenty years, people have been building their own ‘supercomputers’ in their homes, and now we have cheap ARM single board computers to play with. What does this mean? Personal supercomputers. That’s what [Jason] is building for his entry to the Hackaday Prize.

The goal of [Jason]’s project isn’t to break into the Top 500, and it’s doubtful it’ll be more powerful than a sufficiently modern desktop workstation. The goal for this project is to give anyone a system that has the same architecture as a large-scale cluster to facilitate learning about high-performance applications. It also has a front panel covered in LEDs.

The design of this system is built around a the PINE64 SOPINE module, or basically a 64-bit quad-core CPU stuck onto a board that fits in an SODIMM socket. If that sounds like the Raspberry Pi Computer Module, you get a cookie. Unlike the Pi Compute Module, the people behind the SOPINE have created something called a ‘Clusterboard’, or eight vertical SODIMM sockets tied together with a single controller, power supply, and an Ethernet jack. Yes, it’s a board meant for cluster computing.

To this, [Jason] is adding his own twist on a standard, off-the-shelf breakout board. This Clusterboard is mounted to a beautiful aluminum enclosure, and the front panel is loaded up with a whole bunch of almost vintage-looking red LEDs. These LEDs indicate the current load on each bit of the cluster, providing immediate visual feedback on how those computations are going. With the right art — perhaps something in harvest gold, brown, and avocado — this supercomputer would look like it’s right out of the era of beautiful computers. At any rate, it’s a great entry for the Hackaday Prize.

Joule Thief Steals in Favor of Christmas

A lot of things tend to get stretched during the holiday season, like shopping budgets and waistbands and patience. This year, [Chris] is stretching the limits of both the mini breadboard and the humble 1.5 V LR44 coin cell with his joule thief-driven LED mini Christmas tree.

With the push of a micro momentary, the joule thief circuit squeezes enough power from an LR44 to boot an MSP430 microcontroller, which needs 1.8 V – 3.6 V. After boot, the micro takes control of the joule thief circuit and milks it whenever the voltage falls below 3.2 V. This tree may be small in stature, but it’s feature-rich. A push of the same momentary button cycles through four different light shows, ending with a medley of all four. Be dazzled after the break.

The code for this tiny tree, which features an awesome ASCII breadboard layout and schematic, is up on GitHub. [Chris] has it listed among a few other manageable bare-metal ‘430 projects that would be great for beginners at pure C. If that sounds like you, why not give yourself the gift of learning a new language?

We’ve seen some spirited ways of lighting LEDs, but doing it with candle power takes the fruitcake.

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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.

Horten Fyr is Norwegian for Blinkie

Our Norwegian is pretty weak, so we struggled a little bit with the documentation for a big public LED art project in the lighthouse (translated) in Horten, Norway. But we do speak the universal language of blinkies, and this project has got them: 3,008 WS2812b LEDs ring the windows at the top of the lighthouse and create reactive patterns depending on the wave height and proximity of the ferry that docks there.

This seems to be an evolving project, with more features being added slowly over time. We love the idea of searching for the WiFi access point on the ferry to tell when it’s coming in to port, and the wave height sensor should also prove interesting data, with trends at the low-frequency tidal rate as well as higher frequency single waves that come in every few seconds. What other inputs are available? How many are too many?

It’s so cool that a group of tech-minded art hackers could get access to a big building like this. Great job, [Jan] and [Rasmus] and [everyone else]!

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A Heart for His Girlfriend

[Decino] made a nice LED animated blinking heart box for his girlfriend. That’s a nice gesture, but more to the point here, it’s a nice entrée into the world of custom hardware. The project isn’t anything more than a home-etched PCB, a custom 3D-printed case, a mess of LEDs and current-limiting resistors, a shift register, and a microcontroller. (OK, we’re admittedly forgetting the Fifth Element.) The board is even single-sided with pretty wide traces. In short, it’s a great first project that ties together all of the basics without any parts left over. Oh, and did we mention Valentine’s day?

Once you’ve got these basics down, though, the world is your oyster. Building almost anything you need is just a matter of refining the process and practice. And if you’ve never played around with shift registers, a mega-blinker project like this is a great way to learn hands-on.

Not everything we write up on Hackaday has to be neural nets and JTAG ports. Sometimes a good beginner project that hits the fundamentals with no extra fat is just the ticket. What’s your favorite intro project?

Rainbow Cats Announce Engagement

[ANTALIFE] is going to tie the knot sometime in 2017. Instead of sending out paper announcements or just updating his Facebook status, he wanted to give their family members something lasting and memorable, like a small trinket with a pair of light-up cats.

This project is pretty simple in theory. A pair of RGB LEDs cycle through the colors of the rainbow with the help of an ATtiny25 and resistors carefully chosen for each LED. But there are several challenges at play here. [ANTALIFE] wanted to design something quite small that would last at least a day on a single CR2032 coin cell. This project was his first foray into SMD/SMT design and construction. We think that this warrants its own congratulations, especially since it looks as though he made at least a dozen of these things.

[ANTALIFE] made things much easier for himself with the purchase of a cheap hot air rework station and used a chip clip to program the ‘tiny. The cats are a design from Thingiverse, which he modified to turn them into bride and groom. Watch a whole line of them glow after the break. We sincerely hope that a larger version of these cats end up on top of the wedding cake.

For anyone with an undying love blinkenlights and impending nuptials, don’t forget the light-up invitations, wedding attire, and centerpieces.

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