Help For High-Frequency Hobbyists

Dead-bug circuit building is not a pretty affair, but hey, function over form. We usually make them because we don’t have a copper circuit board available or the duty of making one at home is not worth the efforts and chemical stains.

[Robert Melville and Alaina G. Levine] bring to light a compromise for high-frequency prototypes which uses the typical FR4 blank circuit board, but no etching chemicals. The problem with high-frequency radio is that building a circuit on a breadboard will not work because there is too much added inductance and capacitance from the wiring that will wreak havoc on the whole circuit. The solution is not new, build your radio module on a circuit board by constructing “lands” over a conductive ground plane, where components can be isolated on the same unetched board.

All right, sometimes dead-bug circuits capture an aesthetic all their own, especially when they look like this and they do allow for a darned small package for one-off designs.

555 Timer Robots Will Rule The World

A running joke we see in the comments by Hackaday readers whenever a project includes an Arduino or Raspberry Pi that seems like overkill is to proclaim that “I could have done it with a 555 timer!” That’s especially the case if the project amounts to a blinking light or anything which oscillates. Well [Volos Projects] has made a whole robot out of a 555 timer circuit.

Okay, it’s really a dead bug circuit in the shape of a robot but it does have blinking lights. We also like how the base is the battery, though some unevenness under it seems to make the whole thing a bit unstable as you can see in the video below. There are also a few parts which are cosmetic only. But it’s cute, it’s a 555 timer circuit, and it’s shaped like a robot. That all makes it a win.

We do wonder how it can be taken further. After all, a walk cycle is a sort of oscillation so the 555 timer circuit could run some servo motors or at least some piezoelectric feet. Ideas anyone?

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a dead bug circuit which belongs in a fine arts museum then you need look no further than The Clock.

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Hackaday Links: September 2, 2018

It’s (was, is?) the end of August, and that means the entire dreadlocked population of San Francisco is out in the middle of the Nevada Desert for a week. Yes, it’s Burning Man, and as always we have a host of builds that make you ask, ‘how did they do that, and how did they get that here’.

For the last few years, the greatest logistical feat of art cars is the 747. Yes, it’s the fuselage of a 747, turned into an art car. The top deck is a convertible. The biggest question surrounding this 747 is how do you transport this thing? You can’t fly it in (well, you could, once), it’s not going to fit on a train, and it’s extraordinarily long. Now we have an answer: they did it on a truck. The 747 was stationed in the Mojave, and from there it’s a relatively quick shot up Nevada to Black Rock City. Several power lines had to be raised, and you’re still looking at an enormous logistical endeavour.

I’m saying it now. Sphere, the 1998 movie with Dustin Hoffman. There’s a 25 meter diameter mirror ball that looks like the sphere in Sphere. It’s inflatable, so that takes care of the obvious questions, but we’re still asking how this thing looks in person, how massive wind storms are going to affect what is basically a gigantic sale sail, and what the reflections of the sun will actually do. I suppose being convex, you’re not going to get the accidental architectural parabolic mirror effect that melts cars, but one can always hope.

Want a neat story on the features of Burning Man that doesn’t get a lot of press? IEEE Spectrum did a feature on Black Rock City airport. For one week a year, it is the third busiest airport in Nevada, behind McCarren and Reno. It’s also a towered, yet uncontrolled airport. This makes no logical sense, but it’s something that can happen with FAA regs.

[alicestewwwart] has left us with a quandary. She’s creating highly artistic circuits out of ICs, discrete parts, and wire. These circuits are functional, but we don’t know what to call them. They’re not quite deadbug, because SMD parts don’t have legs, and ‘deadbug’ gets its name from upside down DIPs that looks like dead centipedes. It’s not Manhattan style, although this might be closer to Manhattan than deadbug. So what is it? Leave your answer in the comments.

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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