3D Printed Breadboard Helper Makes Wiring Neater And Easier

Breadboards make it simple to prototype and test circuits. If you use flexible wires with pins to make connections, it usually results in a rat’s nest. For many of us, using solid wire makes a rat’s nest, too. However, the very neat among us will cut solid wire to just the right length and strip just the right amount of wire and lay the wires very flat and neat along the board. [Moononournation] did a 3D print that makes the latter method much easier. You can find his Breadboard Wire Helper on Thingiverse and see a video, below.

The idea is simple: start with a piece of wire stripped on one side, then count out the number of holes it needs to traverse and push the stripped end through the hole. Trim the wire to fit. To complete the other side, lay the wire flat along the tool to the edge. Now you can see where to strip that side of the wire. After you remove the insulation, you can bend the wire down and cut the wire to fit. Now you have a perfect size and shape wire to place in the actual breadboard.

Granted, this isn’t that hard to do with the existing breadboard if it isn’t too packed. You could even use a spare breadboard. But it is a little easier to trim the wire to the right size with this jig. If you don’t want to 3D print it, you could probably pull the tape off the back of a cheap board and remove the springs to get a similar effect.

So while this little tool probably won’t change your life, it might make it a little easier. What other tools do you use when breadboarding? Let everyone know in the comments.

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Learn Arduino In Time And In Tune For Christmas

If you’re one of the lucky ten thousand today who still haven’t tried programming electronics with the Arduino platform, this detailed guide by [Dafna Mordechai] should hopefully give you enough incentive to pick it up now and make a simple bit of Christmas-themed decoration with it.

The guide isn’t exactly aimed at complete ground-up beginners but it does give some pointers on where to look up whatever information you don’t have in order to follow along. Other than that, it’s very simple and has well-detailed steps, showing you how to turn a breadboard into a simple animated arrangement of LEDs in the shape of a Christmas tree, along with a piezo buzzer playing “Jingle Bells”. If you’ve never done this sort of stuff before, [Dafna] explains in pretty good detail which part of the code does what, making it pretty simple if you want to play around with it and customize it to your taste.

Once you’ve gotten the hang of the basics of Arduino, why not try a project that’s a little more elaborate? Without having to stray too far from your comfort zone, you can easily build a kid’s toy full of switches and lights or even a very extra clock that has no shortage of lights and dials.

Hacking Transmitters, 1920s Style

The origin of the term “breadboard” comes from an amusing past when wooden bread boards were swiped from kitchens and used as a canvas for radio hobbyists to roll homemade capacitors, inductors, and switches. At a period when commercial electronic components were limited, anything within reach was fair game.

[Andy Flowers], call sign K0SM, recently recreated some early transmitters using the same resources and techniques from the 1920s for the Bruce Kelley 1929 QSO Party. The style of the transmitters are based on [Ralph Hartley]’s oscillator circuit built for Bell Telephone in 1915. Most of the components he uses are from the time period, and one of the tubes he uses is even one of four tubes from the first Transatlantic contact in 1923.

Apart from vacuum tubes (which could be purchased) and meters (which could be scrounged from automobiles) [Flowers] recreated his own ferrite plate and outlet condensers for tuning the antennas. The spiderweb coils may not be as common today, but can be found in older Crosley receivers and use less wire than comparable cylindrical coils.

A number of others features of the transmitters also evoke period nostalgia. The coupling to the antenna can be changed using movable glass rods, although without shielding there are quite a number of factors to account for. A vertical panel in the 1920s style also shows measurements from the filament, plate current, and antenna coupling.

While amature radio has become increasingly high-tech over the last few years, it’s always good to see dedicated individuals keeping the old ways alive; no matter what kind of technology they’re interested in.

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Pushing Pixels To A Display With VGA Without A PC

[Ben Eater] is back with the second part of his video series on building a simple video card that can output 200×600 pixels to a display with nothing but a VGA connection, a handful of 74-logic chips and a 10 MHz crystal. In this installment we see how he uses nothing but an EEPROM and a handful of resistors to get an image onto the screen.

The interesting part is in how the image data is encoded into the EEPROM, since it has to be addressable by the same timing circuit as what is being used for the horizontal and vertical timing. By selecting the relevant inputs that’d make a valid address, and by doubling the size of each pixel a few times, a 100 x 75 pixel image can be encoded into the EEPROM and directly addressed using this timing circuit.

The output from the EEPROM itself not fed directly into the monitor, as the VGA interface expects a 0 V to 0.7 V signal on each RGB pin, indicating the brightness. To get more than three colors out of this setup, [Ben] builds up a simple 2-bit DAC that allows for two bits per channel, meaning four brightness levels per color channel or 64 colors effectively.

See the video after the link for the full details. While pretty close to perfect, a small issue remains at the end in the forms of black vertical lines. These are caused by a timing issue in the circuit, with comments on the YouTube video suggesting various other potential fixes. Have you breadboarded your own version yet to debug this issue before [Ben]’s next video comes out?
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A PDP Laptop, For Various Definitions Of A Laptop

Digital Equipment Corp.’s PDP-11 is one of the most important computers in history. It’s the home of Unix, although that’s arguable, and it’s still being used in every application, from handling nuclear control rods to selling Ed Sheeran tickets on Ticketmaster. As the timeline of PDP-11 machines progressed, the hardware did as well, and by the time the PDP was eclipsed by the VAXxen, there were PDP-11s on a single chip. The Eastern Bloc took notice and produced their own PDP-11 on a chip. This is the 1801-series CPU, and like most soviet electronics from the Cold War, they’re readily available on eBay.

[SHAOS] has an interesting project in mind for this PDP-on-a-chip. It’s a standalone computer built around the Soviet re-implementation of the PDP-11, built into a form factor that could be described as a single board computer.

This project is the outgrowth of [SHAOS]’ project for last year’s Hackaday Prize, the PDPii. This was a computer built around a backplane that replicated the PDP-11 using a KR1801VM2 CPU, the Soviet not-a-clone clone of the PDP-11. This project is basically a PDP-11/03 system, except it was made in this century, and you can put it in any computer case, with bonus points awarded for RGB lighting and liquid cooling.

This year’s project, the PDPjr, eschews standardization to something that is far more unique. This build is more or less a single board computer with a character LCD display and a real keyboard. Think of this as the PDP-11 equivalent of the TRS-80 Model 100, a machine widely regarded as being the first laptop.

There’s still a lot of work to go, but [SHAOS] has written a ‘Hello World’ for this chip, and is getting those words to display on the character LCD. That’s a great first step and we can’t wait to see where this project ends up.

Minivac 601 Replica Gets A Custom Motorized Rotary Switch

One of the joys of electronics as a hobby is how easy it is to get parts. Literally millions of parts are available from thousands of suppliers and hundreds of distributors, and everyone competes with each other to make it as easy as possible to put together an order from a BoM. If you need it, somebody probably has it.

But what do you do when you need a part that doesn’t exist anymore, and even when it did was only produced in small numbers? Easy – you create it yourself. That’s just what [Mike Gardi] did with this unique motorized rotary switch he needed to complete his replica of a 1960s computer trainer. We covered his build of the Minivac 601, a trainer from the early computer age that let experimenters learn the ropes of basic digital logic. It used mostly relays, lamps, and switches connected by jumpers, but it had one critical component – a rotary control that was used for input and, with the help of a motor, as an output indicator.

[Mike]’s version of the switch is as faithful to the original as possible, at least in terms of looks. The parts are mostly 3D-printed, with 16 reed switches embedded in the walls and magnets placed in the rotor. The motor to operate the rotor is a simple gear motor mounted to a hinged bracket; when the rotor needs to move, a solenoid pulls the motor’s friction drive wheel up against the rotor.

The unique control slots right into the Minivac replica and really completes the look and feel. Hats off to [Mike] for a delightful replica of a lost bit of computer history and the dedication to see it through to completion.

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Low Res Video Card Is Still Amazing Since It’s Made Out Of Logic Chips

[Ben Eater] has been working on building computers on breadboards for a while now, alongside doing a few tutorials and guides as YouTube videos. A few enterprising hackers have already duplicated [Ben]’s efforts, but so far all of these builds are just a bunch of LEDs and switches. The next frontier is a video card, but one only capable of displaying thousands of pixels from circuitry built entirely on a breadboard.

This review begins with a review of VGA standards, eventually settling on an 800×600 resolution display with 60 MHz timing. The pixel clock of this video card is being clocked down from 40 MHz to 10 MHz, and the resulting display will have a resolution of 200×150. That’s good enough to display an image, but first [Ben] needs to get the horizontal timing right. This means a circuit to count pixels, and inject the front porch, sync pulse, and back porch at the end of each horizontal line.

To generate a single horizontal line, [Ben]’s circuit first has to count out 200 pixels, send a blanking interval, then set the sync low, and finally another blanking interval before rolling down to the next line. This is done with a series of 74LS161 binary counters set up to simply count from 0 to 264. To generate the front porch, sync, and back porch, a trio of 8-input NAND gates are set up to send a low signal at the relevant point in a horizontal scan line.

The entire build takes up four solderless breadboards and uses twenty logic chips, but this isn’t done yet: all this confabulation of chips and wires does is step through the pixel data for the horizontal and vertical lines. A VGA monitor detects it’s in the right mode, but there’s no actual data — that’ll be the focus of the next part of this build where [Ben] starts pushing pixels to a monitor.

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