The Battery Is Part Of The Art

A work of art is appreciated for its own sake and we will never tire of seeing stunning circuits from microscopic dead-bugs to ornate brass sculptures. We also adore projects that share the tricks to use in our own work. Such is the case with [Jiří Praus] who made some jewelry and shared his templates so we try this out ourselves.

The materials include brass wire, solder, and surface-mount LEDs. Template design expects a 1206 light, so if you step outside that footprint, plan accordingly. The printable templates are intuitive and leverage basic wire jewelry making skills. Some good news is that flashing LEDs are available in that size so you can have an array of blinkenlights that appears random due to drifting circuits. Please be wary with RGB lights or mixing colors because red LEDs generally run at a lower voltage and they will siphon a significant chunk of a coin-cell’s power from a competing green or blue. How else can these be personalized?

[Jiří]’s charms are just the latest of circuits that capture our eyes and tickle our ears.

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”

Tech Tattoos Trace Two Dimensions

Flexible circuit boards bend as you might expect from a playing card, while skin stretches more like knit fabric. The rules for making circuit boards and temporary tattoos therefore need to be different. Not just temporary tattoos, there are also circuits that reside on the skin so no unregulated heat traces, please. In addition to flexing and stretching, these tattoos can be applied to uneven surfaces and remain intact. Circuits could be added to the outside of projects or use the structure as the board to reduce weight and size. Both are possible with the research from Carnegie Mellon’s Soft Machines Lab and the Institute of Systems and Robotics at the University of Coimbra.

These circuits are an improvement over the existing method which relies on cropping away metal foil with a magnifying glass, tweezers and a steady hand. Instead, silver particles are printed with an inkjet printer before the traces are coated in eutectic gallium indium which is liquid metal at room temperature. If we were to oversimplify, we might describe it as similar to a non-toxic equivalent of mercury that we have also seen used in DIY OLEDs. This is a development likely to be interesting in a range of fields from medicine to cosplay.

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Lessons In Disposable Design From A Cheap Blinky Ball

Planned obsolescence, as annoying as it is when you’re its victim, still has to be admired. You can’t help but stand in awe of the designer who somehow managed to optimize a product to live one day longer than its warranty period. Seriously, why is it always the next day?

The design of products that are never intended to live long enough to go obsolete must be similarly challenging, and [electronupdate] did a teardown of a cheap LED blinky toy to see what’s involved. You’ve no doubt seen these seizure-triggering silicone balls before, mostly at checkout counters and the like where they’re sold at prices many hundreds of times what it took to make them. This particular device, which seems representative of the species, has two bright LEDs, a small controller chip, a trio of button cells for power, and a springy switch to activate it. All this is mounted to a cheap scrap of phenolic resin PCB, with the controller chip and one of the LEDs covered by a blob of clear epoxy.

This teardown one-ups most others, as [electronupdate] disrobes the chip and points a microscope at the die; the video below shows just how few transistors are employed and proposes a likely circuit. Everything about this ball just oozes cheapness, and it’s likely these things cost essentially nothing to build. Which makes sense for something destined for the landfill within a week or so.

Yes, this annoying blinky-thing is low-end garbage, but there are still design lessons to be learned from it. Anything that’s built for a broad market has to be built to a price point, and understanding those constraints is important to understanding how planned obsolescence works.

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Minimal Blinky Project Makes The Chip The Circuit Board

We’ve got a thing for projects that have no real practical value but instead seek to answer a simple yet fundamental question: I wonder if I can do that? This dead-bug style 555 blinky light is one of those projects, undertaken just to see how small a circuit can be. Pretty small, as it turns out, and we bet it can get even smaller.

[Danko]’s minimal circuit is about as small as possible for the DIP version of the venerable 555 chip. The BOM is stripped to the bone: just the chip, three resistors, a capacitor, and an LED. All the discrete components are SMDs in 0805. The chip’s leads are bent around the package to form connections, and the SMDs bridge those “traces” to complete the circuit. [Danko] shows the build in step-by-step detail in the video below. There’s some fairly fine work here, but we can’t help wondering just how far down the scale this could be pushed. We know someone’s made a smaller blinky using a tiny microcontroller, but we’d love to see this tried with the BGA version of the chip which is only 1.4 mm on a side.

Cheers to [Danko] for trying this out and having some fun with an old chip. He seems to have a bit of a thing for the 555; check out this cute robot sculpture that’s built around the chip.

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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.