‘Tis the season for gift giving, and what better to give than a newfound love for hacking, soldering, and blinkenlights? In order to spread cheer and education at the local hackerspace, [Tom Goff] created this festive tree circuit board that can either sit in a stand to be admired, or worn as jewelry. The resistors are even designed to look like candy canes hanging from the boughs.
The brains of this festive little tree is an ATmega328P, which you probably recognize as the microcontroller that powers the Arduino Uno. Although this circuit has none of the extra bits you’d find on an Uno, not even a crystal oscillator, it can still be programmed with Arduino and use the 8 MHz internal clock.
[Tom] has provided good, thorough instructions, especially for the sticky bit of setting up the IDE to program using the 8 MHz internal clock. So even if you’re nowhere near Norwich Hackerspace, you can join in the fun. Be sure to check out the video after the break, wherein [Tom] walks through designing the PCB using Inkscape and Fritzing.
The Ubo Pod by [Mehrdad Majzoobi] is a very highly polished extension pack and enclosure for the Raspberry Pi 4, which shows you how far you can go to turn a bare PCB into something that rivals the hardware offerings from Google and others. Gadgets like the Sonos speakers and Amazon or Google’s covert listening devices (aka Echo, Alexa, or whatever they’re branded as) are fun to play with. Still, the difficulty of hacking custom applications into them and god-forbid adding one’s own extension hardware, makes them fairly closed ecosystems. Add in the concerns of privacy and data security; they look less and less attractive the closer you look. Luckily the Raspberry Pi and its friends have improved the accessibility to the point where it’s positively easy to create whatever you want with whatever hardware you need, and to that end we think [Mehrdad] has done a splendid job.
The custom top PCB sits below the wooden top surface, hosting a central LCD display with push buttons located around it. Also sitting atop are some IR transmitters and receivers as well as RGB LEDs for the ring lighting. This top PCB acts as a RPi hat, and plugs into an RPi4 below, which then attaches to a side board via some PCB-mounted connectors, matching up with the USB and audio connectors. This board seems to act purely as an interconnect and form-factor adaptor allowing interfaces to be presented more conveniently without needing wires. This makes for a very clean construction. Extensive use of resin printing is shown, with lots of nice details of how to solve problems such as LED diffusion and bleeding. Overall, a very slick and well-executed project, that is giving us a few ideas for our own projects.
There are plenty of tutorials about making a functional PCB, but finding information about PCB art can be more difficult. [Ian] walks us through the different materials available from PCB fabs and how the different layer features can affect the final aesthetic of a piece. For instance, while black and white solder mask are opaque, other colors are often translucent and affected by copper under the surface.
PCB design software can throw errors when adding decorative traces or components to a board that aren’t connected to any of the functional circuitry, so [Ian] discusses some of the tricks to avoid tripping up here. For that final artistic flair, component selection can make all the difference. The guide has recommendations on some of the most aesthetically pleasing types of components including how chips made in the USSR apparently have a little bit of extra panache.
As [Phil Greenland] explains in the first part of his excellent write-up, the lithium battery used to keep the real-time clock (RTC) going on the Macintosh SE/30 has a nasty habit of exploding and leaking its corrosive innards all over the board. Looking to both repair the damage on a system that’s already had a battery popped and avoid the issue altogether on pristine boards, he started researching how he could replace the battery with something a bit more modern.
It turns out, the ATtiny85 is pin-compatible with the Mac’s original RTC chip, and indeed, [Andrew Makousky] had already written some code that would allow the microcontroller to emulate it. This is actually a bit more complex than you might realize, as the original RTC chip was doing double-duty: it also held 256 bytes of parameter random access memory (PRAM), which is where the machine stored assorted bits of info like which drive to boot from and the mouse cursor speed.
Laptop computers may be ubiquitous today, but there was a time when they were the exclusive preserve of rich businesspeople. Back in the early ’90s, the significant added cost of portability was something that few were willing to pay. As a result, not many laptops from those days survive; for those that do, keeping them running can be quite a challenge due to their compact construction and use of non-standard components.
[Adalbert] ran into these problems when he got his hands on a Toshiba T3200SXC from 1991. As the first laptop ever to feature a color TFT display, it’s very much worth preserving as an historical artifact. Sadly, the original display was no longer working: it only displayed a very faint image and went completely blank soon after. Leaky capacitors then destroyed the power supply board, leaving the laptop completely dead. [Adalbert] then began to ponder his options, which ranged from trying to repair the original components to ripping everything out and turning this into a modern-computer-in-an-old-case project.
In the end he went for an option in between, which we as preservationists can only applaud: he replaced the display with a modern one of the correct size and resolution and built a new custom power supply, keeping the rest of the computer intact as far as possible. [Adalbert] describes the overall process in the video embedded below and goes into lots of detail on his hackaday.io page.
Connecting a modern LCD screen was not as difficult as it might seem: where the old display had an RGB TTL interface with three bits per color, the new one had a very similar system with six bits per color. [Adalbert] made an adapter PCB that simply connected the three bits from the laptop to the highest three bits on the screen. A set of 3D-printed brackets ensured a secure fit of the new screen in the classic case.
For the power supply [Adalbert] took a similar approach. He designed a PCB with several DC/DC converters that fit easily inside the computer’s case, leaving enough space to add a battery. This made the old Toshiba more portable than it ever was — believe it or not, the original T3200SXC could only be used with a mains connection.
Once the laptop was restored to working order, [Adalbert] added a few finishing touches: a sound card and speakers made it suitable as a gaming platform, and a network card gave it rudimentary online capabilities. The end result is a T3200SXC that looks and feels exactly the way it did when it was new, but with a few added features. That’s a really satisfying result: many classic laptop projects add modern computing hardware, or even completely replace the original contents. You might also want to check out [Adalbert]’s unusual 3D printer based PCB manufacturing technique that he used for the new power supply.
Sending postcards to loved ones used to be standard procedure for travelers back when travel was glamorous and communications were slow. While some travelers still keep this tradition alive, many have replaced stamps and post offices with instant messaging and social media — faster and more convenient, but a lot less special than receiving a postcard with a handwritten message from a faraway land.
[Cameron] designed a postcard picture frame that aims to bring back a bit of that magic. It’s a wooden frame that holds an e-ink display, which shows pictures sent to it by your friends. All they need to do is open the unique link that you sent them beforehand and upload an interesting photo; the picture frame will cycle through the submissions based on an adjustable schedule. A web interface allows you to change settings and delete any inappropriate images.
The wooden frame is beautifully made, but the sleek black PCB inside is an true work of art. It holds a battery and a USB-C charging circuit, as well as an ESP32 that connects to WiFi, stores images and downscales them to the 800×480 monochrome format used by the display. [Cameron] has not accurately measured the current consumption, but estimates that it should work for about one year on a single charge thanks to the extremely low power requirements of e-ink displays.
While the ESP32 is clearly a superior piece of hardware, we think you’ll agree that the ESP8266 is just too useful not to have a dozen or so kicking around the parts bin at any given time. Cheap, easy to use, and just enough capabilities to bring your projects into the wonderful world of IoT. But if you really want to get the most out of it, you’ll eventually have to skip the development board and start working with the bare module itself.
It can be a scary transition, but luckily, [Ray] has collected some notes that should prove helpful for anyone looking use modules like the ESP-12F in their own custom PCBs. From different tips on making sure the power-hungry modules get enough juice, to cost cutting measures that help reduce the ancillary parts needed in your circuit design, it’s a worthwhile read for new and experienced ESP8266 wranglers alike.
For example, [Ray] talks a bit about using the infamous GPIO10 pin. This pin is on the rear of the ESP8266 module, and on many development boards, it isn’t even connected. That’s because its internally hooked up to the ESP8266’s SPI flash chip, and using it can cause problems if you’re not careful. But as explained in the blog post, as long as you make sure the flash mode is set to “dual IO” (DIO), then GPIO10 can be used just like any other free pin.
We also really liked the tip [Ray] shares at the end for making your boards more easily programmable. Sure you can leave an unpopulated header on the board, or fiddle with some pogo pin setup, but his edge connector approach is quite clever. Just slip the programmer on for the initial burn, and then after that you can update over the air.