Cat-o-Matic 3000 Serves Your Feline Masters

When you have three cats and three humans, you have one problem: feeding them on a schedule without over or under feeding them. Even if there was only one human in the equation, the Cat-o-Matic 3000 would still be a useful tool.

Essentially, it’s a traffic light for cats — where green means you are go for feeding, and red means the cat was just fed. Yellow, of course, means the cat is either half-full or half-empty, depending on your outlook.

The brains of this operation is an ATmega88PA leftover from another project. There’s a no-name voltage regulator that steps up the two AA cells to 5 volts. Timing comes from a 32 kHz crystal that allows the microcontroller to stay in power-saving sleep mode for long periods of time.

Creator [0xCAFEAFFE] says the firmware was cobbled together from other projects. Essentially, it wakes up once per second to increment the uptime counter and then goes back to sleep. Short-pressing a button shows the feeding status, and long-pressing it will reset the timer.

Wanna make a cat status indicator without electronics? Give flexures a try.

Growing Simple Crystals For Non-Linear Optics Experiments

Here’s an exercise for you: type “crystals” into your favorite search engine and see what you get. If you’re anything like us, you’ll get a bunch of pseudoscientific posts about the healing power of crystals, along with offers to buy the same at exorbitant prices. But woo-woo aside, certain crystals do have seemingly magical powers — like the ability to turn light from one color into another.

None of this is magic, of course. Rather, as optics aficionado [Les Wright] explains, non-linear optics is all about physics. Big physics, too, like the kind that made the National Ignition Facility the first fusion research outfit to reach the “break-even” point, at least in terms of optical energy. To do so, they need to convert megajoules of infrared laser beams all the way across the visible spectrum into the ultraviolet, relying on huge crystals of deuterated potassium dihydrogen phosphate (KDP) to do so. Depending on how they’re cut, crystals of these sorts have non-linear optical properties like second-harmonic generation, which combines two input photons into a single output photon with twice the energy of the original. This results in a halving of the wavelength of the input, which doubles the frequency.

While the process used at the NIF produces crystals of enormous proportions, [Les] has more modest needs and thus a simpler process. His KDP is an off-the-shelf chemical, nothing fancy about it, which is added to boiling water to make a saturated solution. A little of the solution is poured out into a watch glass to make seed crystals, and everything is allowed to cool slowly. A nice seed crystal is glued to a piece of monofilament fishing line and suspended in the saturated solution, and with enough time a good-sized crystal forms. Placed into the beam path of a 1,064 nm IR laser and rotated carefully relative to the beam, the crystal easily produces a brilliant green laser output.

This is fascinating stuff, and we’re looking forward to seeing where [Les] goes with this. Polishing the crystals to make them optically cleaner would be a good next step, as would perhaps growing even larger crystals.

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Building A Receiver With The ProgRock2 Programmable Crystal

Crystals are key to a lot of radio designs. They act as a stable frequency source and ensure you’re listening to (or transmitting on) exactly the right bit of the radio spectrum. [Q26] decided to use the ProgRock2 “programmable crystal” to build a receiver that could tune multiple frequencies without the usual traditional tuning circuitry. 

 The ProgRock2 is designed as a tiny PCB that can be dropped into a circuit to replace a traditional crystal. The oscillators onboard are programmable from 3.5KHz to 200 MHz, and can be GPS discliplined for accuracy. It’s programmable over a micro USB pot, and can be set to output 24 different frequencies, in eight banks of three. When a bank is selected, the three frequencies will be output on the Clock0, Clock1, and Clock2 pins.There was some confusion regarding the bank selection on the ProgRock2. It’s done by binary, with eight banks selected by grounding the BANK0, BANK1, and BANK2 pins. For example, grounding BANK2 and BANK0 would activate bank 5 (as 101 in binary equals 5). Once this was figured out, [Q26] was on top of things.

In his design, [Q26] hooked up the ProgRock2 into his receiver in place of the regular crystal. Frequency selection is performed by flipping three switches to select banks 0 to 7. It’s an easy way to flip between different frequencies accurately, and is of particular use for situations where you might only listen on a limited selection of amateur channels.

For precision use, we can definitely see the value of a “programmable crystal” oscillator like this. We’ve looked at the fate of some major crystal manufacturers before, too. Video after the break.

Continue reading “Building A Receiver With The ProgRock2 Programmable Crystal”

How To Grow Your Own Pyramid Salt Crystals

The regular granular table salt you’re used to isn’t the most attractive-looking seasoning out there, even given its fundamentally compelling flavor. You don’t have to settle for boring old salt anymore though, because [Chase] has shown us you can grow your own pyramid salt crystals at home!

Pyramid salt crystals can grow naturally, and typically occur in locations where salt pools are undisturbed under the warmth of the sun. However, it’s possible to grow them on purpose, too. As a bonus, their hollow structure means they dissolve very quickly on the tongue, and can taste “saltier” than typical granular salt.

To grow your own, you’ll need a bag of salt, which is mixed with some water. You’ll want to do so in a glass dish, as the salty solution you’ll be making can ruin metal cookware. The dish can then be heated up on an electric hotplate, which is used to heat the solution to between 60 and 70°C.

A small amount of food-grade potassium alum is also added to the solution to calm the convection currents in the heated solution, allowing the crystals to form gently without sticking and clumping together. As the water boils away, the rectangular-pyramidal crystals grow.

Naturally, you must be careful before eating the results of any home-grown lab experiments. However, [Chase] reports having licked some of the crystals and has confirmed they do indeed taste salty. [Chase] also notes several ways in which the parameters can be changed to grow different types of pyramid crystals, too.

We’ve featured [Chase]’s crystal-growing work before. If you’ve got your own cool DIY crystal projects cooking up in the lab, be sure to let us know!

Multiband Crystal Radio Set Pulls Out All The Stops

Most crystal radio receivers have a decidedly “field expedient” look to them. Fashioned as they often are from a few turns of wire around an oatmeal container and a safety pin scratching the surface of a razor blade, the whole assembly often does a great impersonation of a pile of trash whose appearance gives little hope of actually working. And yet work they do, usually, pulling radio signals out of thin air as if by magic.

Not all crystal sets take this slapdash approach, of course, and some, like this homebrew multiband crystal receiver, aim for a feature set and fit and finish that goes way beyond the norm. The “Husky” crystal set, as it’s called by its creator [alvenh], looks like it fell through a time warp right from the 1920s. The electronics are based on the Australian “Mystery Set” circuit, with modifications to make the receiver tunable over multiple bands. Rather than the traditional galena crystal and cat’s whisker detector, a pair of1N34A germanium diodes are used as rectifiers — one for demodulating the audio signal, and the other to drive a microammeter to indicate signal strength. A cat’s whisker is included for looks, though, mounted to the black acrylic front panel along with nice chunky knobs and homebrew rotary switches for band selection and antenna.

As nice as the details on the electronics are, it’s the case that really sells this build. Using quarter-sawn oak salvaged from old floorboards. The joinery is beautiful and the hardware is period correct; we especially appreciate the work that went into transforming a common flat washer into a nickel-plated escutcheon for the lock — because every radio needs a lock.

Congratulations to [Alvenh] for pulling off such a wonderful build, and really celebrating the craftsmanship of the early days of radio. Need some crystal radio theory before tackling your build? Check out [Greg Charvat]’s crystal radio deep dive.

Turning Scrap Copper Into Beautiful Copper Acetate Crystals

Crystals, at least those hawked by new-age practitioners for their healing or restorative powers, will probably get a well-deserved eye roll from most of the folks around here. That said, there’s no denying that crystals do hold sway over us with the almost magical power of their beauty, as with these home-grown copper acetate crystals.

The recipe for these lovely giant crystals that [Chase Lean] shares is almost too simple — just scrap copper, vinegar, and a bit of hydrogen peroxide — and just the over-the-counter strength versions of those last two. The process begins with making a saturated solution of copper acetate by dissolving the scrap copper bits in the vinegar and peroxide for a couple of days. The solution is concentrated by evaporation until copper acetate crystals start to form. Suspend a seed crystal in the saturated solution, and patience will eventually reward you with a huge, shiny blue-black crystal. [Chase] also shares tips for growing crystal clusters, which have a beauty of their own, as do dehydrated copper acetate crystals, with their milky bluish appearance.

Is there any use for these crystals? Probably not, other than their beauty and the whole coolness factor of watching nature buck its own “no straight lines” rule. And you’ll no doubt remember [Chase]’s Zelda-esque potassium ferrioxalate crystals, or even when he turned common table salt into perfect crystal cubes.

Potassium ferrioxalate crystal

Growing Spectacular Gem-Like Crystals From Rust And Simple Ingredients

When we talk about crystals around here, we’re generally talking about the quartz variety used to make oscillators more stable, or perhaps ruby crystals used to make a laser. We hardly ever talk about homegrown crystals, though, and that’s a shame once you see how easy it is to make beautiful crystals from scratch.

We’ve got to say that we’re impressed by the size and aesthetics of the potassium ferrioxalate crystals [Chase Lean] makes with this recipe, and Zelda fans will no doubt appreciate their resemblance to green rupees. The process starts with rust, or ferric oxide, which can either be purchased or made. [Chase] chose to make his rust by soaking steel wool in a solution of saltwater and peroxide and heating the resulting sludge. A small amount of ferric oxide is added to a solution of oxalic acid, a commonly used cleaning and bleaching agent. Once the rust is dissolved, potassium carbonate is slowly added to the solution, turning it a bright green.

The rest of the process happens more or less naturally, as crystals begin to form in the saturated solution. And boy, did they grow — long, prismatic lime-green crystals, with a beautiful clarity and crisp edges and facets. The crystals don’t last long under light, though — they quickly lose their clarity and become a more opaque green.

[Chase]’s crystal-growing efforts have shown up here before, when he turned humble table salt into beautiful cubic crystals. We find the whole crystal-growing process fascinating, and we’re looking forward to more of this in the future.