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Hackaday Links: June 18, 2023

Will it or won’t it? That’s the question much on the minds of astronomers, astrophysicists, and the astro-adjacent this week as Betelgeuse continued its pattern of mysterious behavior that might portend a supernova sometime soon. You’ll recall that the red giant star in the constellation Orion went through a “great dimming” event back in 2019, where its brightness dipped to 60% of its normal intensity. That was taken as a sign that perhaps the star was getting ready to explode — or rather, that the light from whatever happened to the star 548 years ago finally reached us — and was much anticipated by skywatchers, yours truly included. As it turned out, the dimming was likely caused by Betelgeuse belching forth an immense plume of dust, temporarily obscuring our view of its light. Disappointing.

Those who gave up on the hope of seeing a supernova might have done so too fast, though, because now, the star seems to be swinging the other way and brightening. It briefly became the brightest star in Orion, nearly outshining nearby Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. So what does all this on-again, off-again business mean? According to Dr. Becky, a new study — not yet peer-reviewed, so proceed with caution — suggests that the star could go supernova in the next few decades. The evidence for this is completely unrelated to the great dimming event, but by analyzing the star’s long history of variable brightness. The data suggest that Betelgeuse has entered the carbon fusion phase of its life, a period that only lasts on the scale of a hundred years for a star that size. So we could be in for the ultimate fireworks show, which would leave us with a star brighter than the full moon that’s visible even in daylight. And who doesn’t want to see something like that?

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Off-Grid Van Build Uses 3D Scanning For Smarter Planning

Folks who refurbish and rebuild vans into off-grid campers (especially with the ability to work in them remotely) put a fantastic amount of planning and work into their projects. [Rob] meticulously documented his finished van conversion and while he does a ton of clever work, we especially liked how he shows modern tools like photogrammetry can improve the process.

Photogrammetry helped turn a bunch of photos from different angles into a textured 3D model with accurate dimensions.

[Rob] used a camera and photogrammetry software to 3D scan the van inside and out. The resulting model means that CAD tools can better assist with the layout and design phase. This is an immense help, because as [Rob] points out, an empty van is anything but a hollow box on wheels. Every surface is curved, none of the sides are identical, and there frankly isn’t a right angle to be found anywhere. When every little scrap of space counts, it’s important to have an accurate reference.

Of course, mapping the work are was just the beginning. It took six months, but he turned a Volkswagen Crafter cargo van into a slick off-grid camper capable of remote work. The full series of videos is on his site, but you can also watch the video highlights, embedded below.

The photogrammetry was done with Meshroom, and if you’d like to know more, we’ve previously explained different 3D scanning methods and how they can help with design work like this.

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eBike conversion

EBike Conversion On A Budget Uses Skateboard Motor

[Dave Schneider] has been chasing an electric-bike build for more than 10 years now. When he first started looking into it back in 2009, the cost was prohibitive. But think of how far we’ve come with the availability of motors, electronic speed controllers, and of course battery technology. When revisiting the project this year, he was able to convert a traditional bicycle to electric-drive for around $200.

Electric skateboards paved the way for this hack, as it was an outrunner motor that he chose to use as a friction drive for the rear wheel. The mounting brackets he fabricated clamp onto the chain stay tubes and press the body of the motor against the tire.

The speed of the motor is controlled by a rocker switch on the handlebars, but it’s the sensors in the brake levers that are the neat part. Magnets added to each brake lever are monitored by hall-effect sensors so that the throttle cuts whenever it senses the rider squeezing the front brake (effectively free-wheeling the bike), while the rear brake triggers a regenerative braking function he’s built into the system!

Sure you can buy these bikes, you can even buy conversion kits, but it’s pretty hard to beat the $88 [Dave] spent on the motor when the cost of purpose-built motors is usually several times this figure. The rest is fairly straight-forward, and besides ordering batteries and an electronic speed controller, you likely have the bits you need just waiting for you in your parts bin.

Handheld Multimeter Converted For Bench Top Use

A few years ago [Mechatrommer] got one of the low-cost Aneng Q1 multimeters and has converted it into a bench top meter. He first tried and failed to do an LCD modification and set it aside. It remained in a storage box until he needed another meter to repair his rubidium frequency standard. Finding that off-the-shelf bench multimeters were literally off-the-shelf — they were too deep for his bench — he decided to take matters into his own hands.

He dug out the dismantled an Aneng Q1 and undertook a more drastic modification than before, slicing the multimeter into three pieces and mounting each piece in a new enclosure. The power-draining back-lit display of the Q1, problematic in a battery-powered handheld meter, isn’t an issue in a bench top design. [Mechatrommer] replaced the battery pack with a mains powered supply. Next he reconnected all the signals which had been interrupted by the bandsaw, and now the meter lives again.

The resulting meter is pleasing enough (ignore the sideways input jacks) and looks like a typical piece of home-brew test gear. The enclosure has a lot of empty space, which he uses to stow test leads and sandwiches (we saw a similar storage compartment in [Dave Jones]’s recent teardown of a portable Fluke 37 multimeter). Kudos to [Mechatrommer] for coming up with this unusual conversion project.

We’ve written about the differences between these low-cost and more professional multimeters before if you want to learn more.

Thanks to [Adrian] for the tip.

Generator Runs On Natural Gas With Field Expedient Tip

Many small gasoline engines can be safely modified to run on natural gas or propane with a kit that replaces the carburetor and adds a regulator, providing a reliable alternative fuel source in the event that gasoline is difficult to obtain in an emergency situation. This seat of the pants hack by [HowToLou] is definitively not the safe way to run your generator on natural gas, but if you ever find yourself in a situation where getting the power back on might be a literal matter of life or death, it’s a tip worth keeping in mind.

The basic idea here is that you feed natural gas (though propane should also work) directly into the engine’s intake by way of a hose attached to the air filter box. While cranking the engine, a valve on the gas line is used to manually adjust the air–fuel mixture until it fires up. It’s an extremely simple hack that, in a pinch, you can pull off with the parts on hand. But as you might expect, that simplicity comes at a cost.

There are a few big problems with this approach, but certainly the major one is that there’s nothing to cut off the flow of gas when the engine stops running. So if the generator stalls or you just forget to close the valve after you shut it down, there’s the potential for a very dangerous situation. Additionally, the manual gas valve will be at odds with a generator that automatically throttles up and down based on load. Though to be fair, there are certainly generators out there that simply run the engine flat-out the whole time.

Much like his DIY generator interlock plate that we covered last month, we imagine this project may rub some folks in the wrong way. Admittedly, this isn’t a modification that you should take lightly and certainly not something you’d want to rely on for long-term use. But as the recent situation in Texas has reminded us, drastic times can occasionally call for drastic measures.

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Old Laptop Gets New Lease On Life With Raspberry Pi

It seems not a day goes by that we don’t see somebody cramming a Raspberry Pi into some unwilling piece of consumer electronics. But despite being a pretty obvious application for the diminutive ARM board, we don’t often see it installed in an actual computer. Which makes this very clean Raspberry Pi laptop conversion by [Sherbethead2010] all the more interesting.

The first step involved taking a Dremel to the Dell’s chassis and essentially leveling out the entire internal volume. The only component that got reused was the fan, and even that appears to be relocated, so all the mounting posts were just standing in the way of progress.

[Sherbethead2010] mounted the Raspberry Pi towards the rear of the case so its USB and Ethernet ports would be available from the outside, and installed a driver board for the original Phillips LP171 LCD panel in the old drive bay. Power is provided by two custom 18650 battery packs connected to dedicated buck converters, along with an onboard charge controller to safely top them off.

Rather than trying to adapt the original input devices, [Sherbethead2010] decided to take the easy route and installed a Rii K22 wireless keyboard with integrated track pad into the top of the laptop. It turned out to be an almost perfect fit, and beyond the keys being slightly off-center, at first glance it looks like it could be stock.

The last time we saw a Raspberry Pi so well integrated into a real laptop, it was to create a functioning version of one of the props from Hackers. While that build was a joy for its own reasons, it’s hard not to be impressed with how unassuming this computer looks after all the work that’s been done to it.

Classic Leica Film Camera Turns Digital

While there’s still a market for older analog devices such as vinyl records, clocks, and vacuum-tube-powered radio transmitters, a large fraction of these things have become largely digital over the years. There is a certain feel to older devices though which some prefer over their newer, digital counterparts. This is true of the camera world as well, where some still take pictures on film and develop in darkrooms, but if this is too much of a hassle, yet you still appreciate older analog cameras, then this Leica film camera converted to digital might just attract your focus.

This modification comes in two varieties for users with slightly different preferences. One uses a Sony NEX-5 sensor which clips onto the camera and preserves almost all of the inner workings, and the aesthetic, of the original. This sensor isn’t full-frame though, so if that’s a requirement the second option is one with an A7 sensor which requires extensive camera modification (but still preserves the original rangefinder, an almost $700 part even today). Each one has taken care of all of the new digital workings without a screen, with the original film advance, shutters, and other HIDs of their time modified for the new digital world.

The finish of these cameras is exceptional, with every detail considered. The plans aren’t open source, but we have a hard time taking issue with that for the artistry this particular build. This is a modification done to a lot of cameras, but seldom with so much attention paid to the “feel” of the original camera.

Thanks to [Johannes] for the tip!