Electronic ColorChord Turns Color Into Sound

[Dr. Cockroach] has delighted us again with another of his circuits on cardboard. He calls it steampunk inspired, and while we guess we can see what he’s getting at, it’s more like a sweet example of artful dead bug construction. He calls it the ColorChord. Point its photo cells at a color and it’ll play a tone or a combination of tones specific to that color.

Three 555-centric boards use thumbtacks as connection points which he solders to, the same technique he used for his cardboard computer. They provide simple tones for red, green, and blue and a mix for any other color. However, he found that the tones weren’t distinguishable enough for similar colors like a bright sun yellow and a reddish yellow. So he ended up pulsing them using master oscillator, master-slave flip-flop, and sequencer circuits, all done dead bug style.

We’re not sure how practical it is but the various pulsed tones remind us of the B space movies of the 1950s and 60s. And as for the look of it, well it’s just plain fun to look at. Hear and see it for yourself in the video below.

And if you want to see some dead bug circuitry as high art then check out this awesome LED ring, this sculptural nixie clock, and perhaps the most wondrous of all, The Clock.

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Home Decorating with Tiny Arcade Cabinets

Thanks to the general miniaturization of electronics, the wide availability of cheap color LCD screens, and the fact that licensing decades old arcade games is something of a free-for-all, we can now purchase miniature clones of classic arcade cabinets for about $20 USD. In theory you could play these things, but given they’re less than 4 inches in height they end up being more of a desk novelty than anything. Especially since it seems like most of the effort went into making the cabinet itself; a classic example of “form over function”.

Unfortunately, if you want to buy these little arcade cabinets to use as decoration for your office or game room, they aren’t particularly well suited to the task. The “demo” mode where the game plays itself doesn’t last for very long, and even if it did, the game would chew through batteries at an alarming rate. [Travis] decided to tackle both issues head on by powering his Tiny Arcades over USB and locking them into demo mode.

The stock power for the Tiny Arcade comes from three AAA batteries, or 4.5 V. This made it easy enough to run over  5 V USB, and a four port USB charger is used to provide power to multiple machines at once. Forcing the game to stay in demo mode wasn’t much harder: a 555 timer was used to “push” the demo button with a frequency of every 10 seconds or so to keep the game up and running. A simple timer circuit was put together in the classic “dead bug” style, and sealed up with liquid rubber so it would play nice with the insides of the Tiny Arcade.

Since his little machines wouldn’t need their stock power switches anymore, [Travis] rewired the speaker lead through it. So now the machine stays on and in demo mode as long as it’s plugged into USB power, and you can flip the switch on the back to turn off the sounds. Perfect for sitting up on a shelf or the corner of your desk.

Usability issues not withstanding, there’s a pretty big (no pun intended) following for micro sized arcade cabinets. We’ve seen projects ranging from modding a Game Boy Advance to even tinier scratch builds.

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LED Christmas Tree Is Perfect Holiday Build

Soon the most wonderful time of the year will be upon us. Families all over the globe will gather together to exchange gifts, eat good food and enjoy some quality time with each other. For many, it will be the first time they’ve seen each other since the last holiday season. For us hackers –  this translates to a time we get to talk about ourselves and show off a little about what we do. Been taking it easy this year? Have no hacks to talk about? Well, it’s not too late! Break out the soldering iron and whip up the perfect conversation starter – an LED Christmas tree!

[Gumix] took a handful of those flickering LEDs and a step down DC-DC converter to make his simple but elegant tree. No microcontroller here… no code is running. As soon as power is applied, the flickering LEDs do all the work to create a visual delight.

Flickering LEDs have been the focus of a few hackers. They’re basically LEDs designed to flicker like a real candle. [cpldcpu] hooked a scope to one and guessed that a linear shift-register was responsible for the randomness behind the flickering, which would be confirmed several months later.

Be sure to check out [Gumix] LED tree and the video demonstration below.

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Non-standard Circuits: Jazz For Electrons

How creative are you when you make your circuit boards? Do you hunt around for different materials to use for the board? As long as it’s an insulator and can handle the heat of a soldering iron, then anything’s fair game. Or do you use a board at all? Let’s explore some options, both old favorites and some you may not have seen before, and see if we can get our creative juices flowing.

Transparent Circuit Boards

Let’s start with the desire to show more circuit and less board. For that we can start with [CNLohr]’s circuits on glass, usually microscope slides. What’s especially nice about his is that he provides detailed videos of the whole process, including all the failed things he tried along the way. Since he didn’t start with copper clad board, he instead glued his copper sheet to the glass using Loctite 3301. That was followed by the usual etching process, though with plenty of gotchas along the way.

In the end, he made a number of circuits, including an LED clock with the LEDs on the glass itself, and even attempted leading the community in making a glass keytar. The latter didn’t work out, but the resulting glass circuits are a work of art anyway.

What about making a transparent circuit board out of acrylic? [Frank Zhao] attempted just that by laser cutting troughs into the acrylic for the traces, and then drawing in nickel ink. But something in the ink ate into the acrylic, and as if that wasn’t bad enough, the voltage drop across the nickel was too high for his circuit. Suggestions were made in the comments for how to solve these problems, but unless we missed it, we haven’t seen another attempt yet.

But we’ve only just begun. What if you wanted even more transparency?

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Adding Buttons to the ESP-12 – The Cheat Way

[sorki] had an ESP-12F and wanted to play with nodeMCU, but found they were lacking buttons for reset & flash. We’ve all been there – mucking about with a project on a breadboard, trying to save the time required to solder up a button by shorting pins with wire or bending component legs to touch. This either doesn’t work or ends up bricking the microcontroller when it inevitably goes wrong. [Buger] found a tidier solution to adding buttons to the ESP-12F with the minimum of effort.

It’s the spirit of deadbug applied to buttons. One side of a piece of wire is soldered to the pin needing to be pulled down. Component leg offcuts are ideal for this. The other end of the wire is bent up and left to float over the metal shield of the ESP-12, which is connected to ground. When you want the pin to go low, press the wire into the shield, grounding it. Let it go, and the pin returns high again, assuming your pullup resistors are all in order.

It’s a quick hack that’s much more robust than trying to hold two ends of a piece of hookup wire in place. It’s also still easier than trying to find a tactile switch solder leads to, and you don’t end up having it hanging off the board either.

For deadbug construction taken to an impressive conclusion, check out this clock built out of discrete components.

[Thanks to Richard Marko for the tip!]

Blinktronicator’s POV Sends Our Eyebrows Rocketing Skyward

You think you’ve seen everything that there is to see regarding blinking LEDs and then a simple little trick proves you wrong. Our friend [Zach Fredin], aka [Zakqwy], added a pander mode to his blinky board which shows the Hackaday Jolly Wrencher in a Persistence of Vision mode. We love pandering, and obviously you just need to start the mode and wave the board back and forth. But in thinking the obvious you’d be wrong.

blinktronicator-board
Badass deadbug soldering to “fix” a mirrored shift register footprint

In the video after the break [Zach] demonstrates all the features of the blinktronicator and it’s recently finalized firmware. The tiny little board is a USB dongle featuring two buttons and an arc of sixteen LEDs in a rainbow of colors. When we say tiny, we mean it. Those LEDs are 0402 components and the board was small enough (and interesting enough) to receive an honorable mention in the Square Inch Project.

You would think that soldering all those LEDs by hand would be the trick, but [Zach] pulled off a much more difficult feat. Look closely at the image here (or click to embiggen). The two shift register footprints on the prototype were mirrored. He deadbug soldered each of them using — get this — the individual strands from some 28 AWG stranded wire. You sir, get the hardcore hand soldering badge and then some.

Okay, we’ll stop beating around the bush. The ATtiny45 on this board isn’t connected to the USB data lines, they’re only for power. That means, at its heart this is purely a blinking LED project, albeit one that uses the huge range of colors of the PICOLED family of parts. [Zach] did well with just two user inputs, but it’s the very simple POV party trick that really sucked us in. Instead of waving the board around, [Zach] uses a metal offset spatula as a mirror. Moving it back and forth unfolds the carefully timed flashes to draw your message in the air. Such a simple concept, but so satisfying to see it applied in a slightly different way.

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Getting Ugly, Dead Bugs, and Going to Manhattan

Back in the 1980s I was a budding electronics geek working in a TV repair shop. I spent most of my time lugging TVs to and from customers, but I did get a little bench time in. By then new TVs were entirely solid-state and built on single PC boards, but every once in a while we’d get an old-timer in with a classic hand-wired tube chassis. I recall turning them over, seeing all the caps and resistors soldered between terminal strips bolted to the aluminum chassis and wondering how it could all possibly work. It all looked so chaotic and unkempt compared to the sleek traces and neat machine-inserted components on a spanking new 19″ Zenith with the System 3 chassis. In a word, the old chassis was just – ugly.

Looking back, I probably shouldn’t have been so judgmental. Despite the decades of progress in PCB design and the democratization of board production thanks to KiCad, OSH Park, and the like, it turns out there’s a lot to be said for ugly methods of circuit construction.

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