Back To Basics With A 555 Deep Dive

Many of us could sit down at the bench and whip up a 555 circuit from memory. It’s really not that hard, which is a bit strange considering how flexible the ubiquitous chip is, and how many ways it can be wired up. But when was the last time you sat down and really thought about what goes on inside that little fleck of silicon?

If it’s been a while, then [DiodeGoneWild]’s back-to-basics exploration of the 555 is worth a look. At first glance, this is just a quick blinkenlights build, which is completely the point of the exercise. By focusing on the simplest 555 circuits, [Diode] can show just what each pin on the chip does, using an outsized schematic that reflects exactly what’s going on with the breadboarded circuit. Most of the demos use the timer chip in free-running mode, but circuits using bistable and monostable modes sneak in at the end too.

Yes, this is basic stuff, but there’s a lot of value in looking at things like this with a fresh set of eyes. We’re impressed by [DiodeGoneWild]’s presentation; while most 555 tutorials focus on component selection and which pins to connect to what, this one takes the time to tell you why each component makes sense, and how the values affect the final result.

Curious about how the 555 came about? We’ve got the inside scoop on that.

Continue reading “Back To Basics With A 555 Deep Dive”

Your Home Mainframe

We miss the days when computers looked like computers. You know, blinking lights, rows of switches, and cryptic displays. [Phil Tipping] must miss those days too since he built PlasMa, a “mini-mainframe simulator.”

The device would look at home on the set of any old science fiction movie. Externally, it has 540 LEDs, 100 switches, and a number of other I/O devices, including a keypad and an LCD screen. Internally, it can support three different instruction sets. Everything is run by an ATmega2560, and it has simulated paper tape, magnetic tape, and disks (all via SD cards). The magnetic tapes also have LED simulated reels to show the tape position and other status information (the round displays just above the LCD display).

Continue reading “Your Home Mainframe”

Agate Light Twinkles Just Right

Mother Nature is often a cruel mistress, but what can you do? You’ve got to make the best of what she gives you. This lovely little light was born from death — the death of a pine tree, that is, that was killed by beetles boring large holes inside.

When [Craig Lindley]’s friends gave him some slices of that pine tree, he knew he had to make a blinkenlights thing out of it. The next step was to procure slices of agate, and from the top of Pike’s Peak, no less.

Each slice of agate has three RGB LEDs behind it, and  these are controlled by an ESP32. There’s also a PIR sensor that detects people and gives them a show. More specifically, it runs through several patterns at random speeds up and down the piece.

The agate slices are embedded in the wood, which [Craig] achieved first with a Dremel, and then with a router when the Dremel proved difficult. After some troubles with resin and an unfortunate mishap with a rag, [Craig] ended up with a beautiful light with which to dazzle his friends, especially the ones who gave him the pine slice.

You know we love blinkenlights; you see them here all the time. Did you know you can use them to keep time?

A More Conspicuous Computer Assistant

Back in the last century, especially in the ’40s to the ’60s, one of the major home decor trends was to install various home appliances, like the television or stereo, into its own piece of furniture. These were usually bulky, awkward, and incredibly heavy. And, since real life inspires art, most of the futuristic sci-fi technology we saw in movies and TV of the time was similarly conspicuous and physical. Not so with modern technology, though, where the trend now is to hide it out of the way and forget it exists. But [dermbrian] wanted some of his modern technology to have some of the mid-century visibility aesthetic so he made some modifications to his Amazon Echo.

The Echo itself remains largely unmodified, other than placing it inside a much larger cookie tin with some supporting electronics. For that, [dermbrian] found a relay board with a built-in microphone which switches the relay off when it detects sound so that when the Echo is activated, the sound from its speaker activates the module. From there it drives a series of blinkenlights which mimic the 60s computer aesthetic. Some custom fabrication and light diffusion methods were needed to get it to look just right, and a switch on the outside can disable the mechanism if it is getting triggered by background noise like music from his stereo.

While the appeal of this style may be lost on anyone who wasn’t a fan of the original Lost in Space, Star Trek, or Jetsons, it certainly holds a special significance for those who grew up in that era. It’s certainly not the first project we’ve seen to take a look back at the aesthetics of bygone eras, either. Take a look at this project which adds lenses to modern displays to give them the impression of antiquated CRT displays.

Continue reading “A More Conspicuous Computer Assistant”

Woodworking, Blinkenlites, And FFT’s Dance To The Music

We all have that one project on our minds that we’d love to build if we could just find the right combination of time, energy, and knowledge to dive right in. For [Jonathan], that project was a sound sculpture that’s finally made it from concept to complete. [Jonathan] describes the sound sculpture as the culmination of a decade of learning, and in a moment you’ll understand why.

The sculpture itself is a beautiful display of woodwork mixed with what appear to be individually addressable LED’s. The varying length of the individual enclosures evokes the idea that the sculpture is somehow involved in the sound production, which is a nice touch.

An Adafruit microphone module feeds detected audio into a PSoC 5 microcontroller. You’d expect that [Jonathan] just used one of the FFT libraries that are available. But you’ll recall that this was the culmination of a decade of learning- why so? Because [Jonathan] went through the process of procuring his own grey hairs by writing his own FFT function. A homebrew FFT function and blinkenlites? What’s not to love!

You may also enjoy this discussion of Sine Waves, Square Waves, and FFT’s with our own Bil Herd.

Continue reading “Woodworking, Blinkenlites, And FFT’s Dance To The Music”

Need A Small, Cheap Ammeter? Blinkenlights To The Rescue!

You know how it is. You’ve got that new project running, and while it doesn’t consume much power, it also doesn’t give much indication of whether it’s functioning or just sitting there with a dead battery. What you need is an ammeter to check power consumption, even from across the room. And it just so happens that [Manuka] has Just The Circuit You Need, complete with a demonstration in the video after the break!

Oh sure, you could grab a cheap ammeter at your favorite tool import store or site, but those are bulky and take batteries. You could put in an LED that gets dimmer as voltage drops. But wait- is that the sun shining on it? or is it on? Or has something gone awry and it’s consuming too much power?

What [Manuka] gives us is a circuit that is designed to be built into your project or project’s power supply. Using only an ultra-bright white LED, red blinking LED, PNP transistor, and a diode, the circuit gives a strong visual indication of current consumption by blinking brighter and more frequently as current increases. With a bit of calibration, accurate measurements can be obtained. All of this is made possible by using the Flashing LED as a driver for the ultra-bright LED, which is a pretty slick hack!

Flashing LEDs have a great number of uses, like protecting your family from lions. Yes, really. Got a cool tip for flashing LEDs, blinkenlights, 555’s, or any odd thing that strikes your hackers fancy? Let the tip line know!

Continue reading “Need A Small, Cheap Ammeter? Blinkenlights To The Rescue!”

The Most Important Device In The Universe on display at Modern Props

The Most Important Device In The Universe Is Powered By A 555 Timer

The Hackaday comments section has become infamous for a recurring theme that goes something like “I don’t know why they used an Arduino, they could have done it with a 555 timer!” If you’ve ever thought the same way, then this post is for you!

What is The Most Important Device In The Universe, then? It’s the Modern Props #195-290-1, a movie prop originally built in the 1970’s. It’s a product of the creative mind of [John Zabrucky] who founded Modern Props in 1977 to serve Sci-Fi television and movie productions that wanted to invent the future with their props. Known for their high quality and impeccable craftsmanship, Modern Props’ products were in demand until the day they closed the doors so that [John] could retire.

This particular piece is called The Most Important Device In The Universe due to its ubiquity in modern productions that we’ve all heard of: several Star Trek franchises, The Last Starfighter, Knight Rider, Airplane II, Austin Powers, and countless others. The next time you sit down to watch a Sci-Fi show, see if you can spot it! Be sure to check the video below the break to see several examples.

Nobody is sure what The Most Important Device does, aside from the fact that it has red lights that go back and forth. What we do know, thanks to a comment by the man who installed the electronics, [Gene Turnbow], is how it’s powered. [Gene] explained that 45w NPN power transistors drive the neon tubes through step up transformers. The transistors themselves are connected to a 74C4514 demultiplexer, which is itself driven by a 7493 binary counter. What’s the 7493 driven by? You guessed it: the venerable 555 Timer. And so it is that the 555 timer runs The Most Important Device In The Universe.

We did think that [Gene]’s final comment was rather indicative of how much things have changed since the prop was originally built. After explaining the device, he says “These days we would just use an Arduino to do the same job.” Indeed.

Don’t worry, 555 lovers. We’ve got you covered with this Vacuum Tube 555, and and the Trollduino, a 555 on an Arduino Shield. Thanks [Matt K] for the great tip. Don’t forget to submit your favorite hacks to our Tip Line!

Continue reading “The Most Important Device In The Universe Is Powered By A 555 Timer”