Surfing Diorama Makes For A Neat Desk Toy

In 1994, Weezer famously said that “you take your car to work, I’ll take my board”. Obviously, for the office-bound, surfing is simply out of the question during the working day.  That doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun with a desk toy inspired by the waves.

The crux of the build is a watery diorama, which interacts with a faux-surfboard. The diorama consists of a tank constructed out of plexiglas, sealed together to be watertight. It’s then filled with blue-dyed water, and topped off with baby oil. The tank is then mounted on a cam controlled by a servo, which rocks the tank back and forth to create waves. This is controlled by the motion of the rider on the plywood surfboard, which can be rocked to and fro on the floor thanks to its curved bottom. An Arduino built into the board monitors a three-axis accelerometer, and sends this information to the Arduino controlling the tank.

By riding the board, the user can shake the tank. Get the motion just right, and smooth rolling waves are your reward. Jerk around with no real rhythm, and you’ll just get messy surf. We reckon it would be even better with a little surfer floating in the tank, too. It’s a fun build, and one that might help stave off the negative health effects of sitting at a desk all day. You might prefer a more shocking desk toy, however. Video after the break.

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Simulated Newton’s Cradle Makes A Flashy Desk Toy

Newton’s Cradle was once upon a time, a popular desk toy in offices around the world. For [TecnoProfesor], however, it wasn’t quite flashy enough. Instead, they built a simulated version with flashing LEDs. As you do.

Rather than relying on the basic principles of the cradle to make it work, this relies on two servo motors to move the balls on the ends, with the ones in the middle remaining stationary. Each ball is fitted with an RGB LED, which flashes with the simulated “motion” of the cradle. By using ping pong balls, the light from the LEDs is nicely diffused. The frame is built from wooden dowels, metal rods, and acrylic.

It’s a project that is sure to confuse at first glance, but it’s a great way to learn basic microcontroller skills like interfacing with LEDs and servomotors. We’d love to see a version that works like a real Newton’s Cradle, flashing the LEDs as they are hit by their neighbours. We’ve even seen them automated, for the truly lazy among us.  Alternatively, one could go completely ridiculous and have such a device tweet on every hit, though you might run afoul of the API’s spam restrictions. If you give it a go, drop us a line.

Burn Some Time With This Arduino Reddit Browser

If you’re like us, you probably spend more time browsing Reddit than you’d like to admit to your friends/family/boss/therapist. A seemingly endless supply of knowledge, wisdom, and memes; getting stuck on Reddit is not unlike looking something up on Wikipedia and somehow managing to spend the next couple hours just clicking through to new pages. But we’re willing to bet that none of us love browsing Reddit quite as much as [Saad] does.

He writes in to tell us about the handheld device he constructed which lets him view random posts from the popular /r/showerthoughts sub. Each press of the big red button delivers another slice of indispensable Internet wisdom, making it a perfect desk toy to fiddle with when you need a little extra push to get you through the day. Like one of those “Word a Day” calendars, but one that you’ll actually read.

For those curious as to how [Saad] is scraping Reddit with an Arduino, the short answer is that he isn’t. Posts are pulled from Reddit using an online tool created for the project by his wife (/r/relationshipgoals/), and dumped into a text file that can be placed on the device’s SD card. With 1500 of the all-time highest rated posts from /r/showerthoughts onboard, he should be good on content for awhile.

[Saad] has done an excellent job documenting the hardware side of this build, providing plenty of pictures as well as a list of the parts he used and a few tips to help make assembly easier. Overall it’s not that complex a project, but his documentation is a big help for those who might not live and breathe this kind of thing.

For the high-level summary: it uses an Arduino Pro Mini, a ILI9341 screen, and a 3.3 V regulator to step down 5 V USB instead of using batteries. A bit of perfboard, a 3D printed case, and a suitably irresistible big red button pulls the whole thing together.

We’ve seen a similar concept done in a picture frame a couple of years back, but if that’s not interactive enough you could always build yourself a Reddit “controller”.

Storm Detector Modules: Dancing In The Rain

Earlier, we had covered setting up an AS3935 lightning detector module. This detector picks up radio emissions, then analyzes them to determine if they are a lightning strike or some other radio source. After collecting some data, it outputs the estimated distance to the incoming storm front.

But that only gets you halfway there. The device detects many non-lightning events, and the bare circuit board is lacking in pizzazz. Today I fix that by digging into the detector’s datasheet, and taking a quick trip to the dollar store buy a suitable housing. The result? A plastic plant that dances when it’s going to rain!
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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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Newton’s Cradle For Those Too Lazy To Procrastinate

Desk toys are perfect for when you don’t want to work. There’s a particularly old desk toy called the Newton’s cradle. If you don’t know the name, you’d still recognize the toy. It is some ball bearings suspended in midair on strings. If you pull back, say, two balls and let them swing to impact the other balls, the same number of balls on the other side will fly out. When they return, the same number will move on the other side and this repeats until friction wears it all down.

We think [JimRD] might be carried away on procrastination. You see, he not only has a Newton’s cradle, he has automated it with an Arduino. According to [Jim], this is his third attempt at doing so. You can see the current incarnation in the video, below.

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