Minivac 601 Replica Gets A Custom Motorized Rotary Switch

One of the joys of electronics as a hobby is how easy it is to get parts. Literally millions of parts are available from thousands of suppliers and hundreds of distributors, and everyone competes with each other to make it as easy as possible to put together an order from a BoM. If you need it, somebody probably has it.

But what do you do when you need a part that doesn’t exist anymore, and even when it did was only produced in small numbers? Easy – you create it yourself. That’s just what [megardi] did with this unique motorized rotary switch he needed to complete his replica of a 1960s computer trainer. We covered his build of the Minivac 601, a trainer from the early computer age that let experimenters learn the ropes of basic digital logic. It used mostly relays, lamps, and switches connected by jumpers, but it had one critical component – a rotary control that was used for input and, with the help of a motor, as an output indicator.

[megardi]’s version of the switch is as faithful to the original as possible, at least in terms of looks. The parts are mostly 3D-printed, with 16 reed switches embedded in the walls and magnets placed in the rotor. The motor to operate the rotor is a simple gear motor mounted to a hinged bracket; when the rotor needs to move, a solenoid pulls the motor’s friction drive wheel up against the rotor.

The unique control slots right into the Minivac replica and really completes the look and feel. Hats off to [megardi] for a delightful replica of a lost bit of computer history and the dedication to see it through to completion.

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Hacked Calipers Make Automated Measurements A Breeze

Now, digital calipers with wired interfaces to capture the current reading are nothing new. But the good ones are expensive, and really, where’s the fun in plugging a $75 cable into a computer? So when [Max Holliday] was asked to trick out some calipers for automating data capture, he had to get creative.

[Max] found that cheap Harbor Freight digital calipers have the telltale door that covers a serial connector, making them a perfect target for hacking. A little Internet sleuthing revealed the pinout for the connector as well as some details on the serial protocol used by most digital calipers: 24-bit packets is six four-bit words. [Max] used his SAM32, a neat open-source board with both a SAMD51 and an ESP32 that can run CircuitPython. An inverting buffer interfaces the serial lines to the board, which is just the right size to mount on the back of the caliper head. It’s hard to tell how [Max] is triggering readings, but the SAM32 is mounted as a USB device and sends keystrokes directly to a spreadsheet – yes, with the ESP32 it could have been wireless, but his client specifically requested a wired setup. Taking multiple readings is easy now that the user never has to swap calipers for a pen.

Cheap calipers like these are pretty hackable – you can add Bluetooth, turn them into DROs for a milling machine, or even make them talk.

An HDMI Input For A Laptop Screen, Minus Laptop

The lack of HDMI inputs on almost all laptops is a huge drawback for anyone who wants to easily play a video game on the road, for example. As to why no manufacturers offer this piece of convenience when we all have easy access to a working screen of this size, perhaps no one can say. On the other hand, if you want to ditch the rest of the computer, you can make use of the laptop screen for whatever you want.

This project from [Avner] comes to us in a few parts. In the first section, the teardown of the laptop begins and a datasheet for the screen is discovered, which allows [Avner] to prepare an FPGA to drive the screen. The second part involves building an HDMI sink, which is a device which decodes the signal from an HDMI source into its constituent parts so it can be sent to the FPGA. The final section of the project involves actually sending a video to this impressive collection of hardware in order to get a video to appear on the old laptop screen.

This build is worth checking out if you’ve ever dealt with anything involving digital video. It goes into great depth on a lot of the technical details involving HDMI, video devices, and hardware timing issues. This is a great build and, even though we’ve seen similar projects, definitely worth diving into if you have some time on your hands and a spare laptop screen.

Simple Timer Evolves Into Custom Kid’s Watch

Sporting a new wristwatch to school for the first time is a great moment in a kid’s life. When it’s a custom digital-analog watch made by your dad, it’s another thing altogether.

As [Chris O’Riley] relates, the watch he built for his son [Vlad] started out as a simple timer for daily toothbrushing, a chore to which any busy lad pays short shrift unless given the proper incentive. That morphed into an idea for a general purpose analog timepiece with LEDs taking the place of hands. [Chris] decided that five-minute resolution was enough for a nine-year-old, which greatly reduced the number of LEDs needed. An ATtiny841 tells a 28-channel I2C driver which LEDs to light up, and an RTC chip keeps [Vlad] on schedule. The beautiful PCB lives inside a CNC machined aluminum case; we actually commented to [Chris] that the acrylic prototype looked great by itself, but [Vlad] wanted metal. The watch has no external buttons; rather, the slightly flexible polycarbonate crystal bears against a PCB-mounted pushbutton to control functions.

With a snappy wristband, [Vlad] will be rolling fancy on the schoolyard. It’s a great looking piece that needed a wide range of skills to execute, as all watches do. Check out some other watch builds, like this lovely pure analog, another digital-analog hybrid, or this pocket watch that packs an Enigma machine inside.

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Open Source Synthesizers Hack Chat

Matt Bradshaw is a musician, maker, and programmer with a degree in physics and a love for making new musical instruments. You may remember his PolyMod modular digital synthesizer from the 2018 Hackaday Prize, where it made the semifinals of the Musical Instrument Challenge. PolyMod is a customizable, modular synthesizer that uses digital rather than analog circuitry. That seemingly simple change results in a powerful ability to create polyphonic patches, something that traditional analog modular synths have a hard time with.

Please join us for this Hack Chat, in which we’ll cover:

  • The hardware behind the PolyMod, and the design decisions that led Matt to an all-digital synth
  • The pros and cons of making music digitally
  • Where the PolyMod has gone since winning the Musical Instrument Challenge semifinals

You are, of course, encouraged to add your own questions to the discussion. You can do that by leaving a comment on the Open Source Synthesizers Hack Chat and we’ll put that in the queue for the Hack Chat.

join-hack-chat

Our Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, January 23, at noon, Pacific time. If time zones got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io.

You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about. And don’t forget to check out the Modular Synth Discussion, a very active chat that digs into the guts of all sorts of modular synthesizers.

Analog Clock Goes Digital, Or Vice Versa

Designing a good clock takes a lot of considerations. It’s not just hands, faces, and numbers anymore; there are also word clocks, electronic clocks, marble clocks, or water clocks, and just about anything else imaginable can be used to tell time. Of course, electronic clocks are great for their versatility, and this one shows off an analog-looking clock that is (of course) digital, leveraging all of the perks of analog with all of the upsides of digital electronics.

One of the key design considerations that [Sasa] had while building this piece was that it needed to be silent. LEDs certainly fit that description, so the decision was made to go with an WS2812b ring. It runs using a STM ST32F103 Nucleo board (and a cheaper version of it in later versions of this clock) which shows a red LED for the current hour, yellow LEDs for the traditional analog clock divisions, a green LED for the current minute, and glows the rest of the LEDs up to the current minute with a rainbow pattern.

This is a really clean, simple build with good design at its core, and would be easy to replicate if you’re looking for an eye-catching clock to build. As a bonus, all of the schematics and code are available on the project site, so everything you need is there. If you’re looking for more inspiration, there are some clocks that are even more unique, like this marble clock that is a work of art — but is anything but silent.

7 Segment Clockwork Display Made From Cardboard

We’ve seen a variety of oddball 7-segment displays in the past, but this one uses a new material: both for the display and the mechanical mechanism that drives it; cardboard. Yup, the whole thing is made from cardboard, wood and a few rubber bands. [The Q] shows how he put together in this nice video, starting from first principles that show how the segments are made: simple pieces of cardboard painted on one side with fluorescent paint. A piece of wood pushes the element out to blank it, and each element is connected to a cam wheel that pushes the wood in or out.

The really clever bit is that [The Q] mapped digits 0 – 9 onto a matrix for which of the 7 segments is “on” or “off”. He then used this information to create a stack of 7 cams on a central axle. As you rotate the axle, the cams turn, moving the wooding arms. The arms then cause the elements to flip as they count up through the digits. In essence, he engineered a physical decimal to 7 segment decoder, much like the electronic one inside the SN74LS47. The whole assembly is capped by a knob that indicates which digit is currently displayed. If mechanical displays like this are your thing, check out this one made from LEGO parts, or this awesome 3D printed creation.

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