Better Ways To Drive Nixie Tubes

Ah, Nixie tubes. You’re not cool unless you have a few Nixie tubes sitting around, and you’re not awesome unless you’ve built your own Nixie tube clock. That’s what [Thomas] is doing for his entry into the Hackaday Prize, and he’s come up with a very low-cost way of doing it.

For the high voltage supply of this build, [Thomas] is turning to one of the standard circuits based on the MC34063 that’s simple enough and good enough to make everything work. There are really no surprises with the power supply here. This is all a project about turning on different digits inside the Nixie, though, and for that [Thomas] spun his own board capable of driving a pair of IN-1 Nixies with a single ATMega8.

These two-Nixie boards are daisy chained together through a UART connection, where each board passes digits down the line. For example, the first board receives, 12, 30, and 59, displays 59, and passes 12 and 30 down to the next boards. The second board then displays 30 and passes 12 to the last board.

Of course, if you’ve designed a Nixie driver, the next thing to do is to build a clock. [Thomas] had the rather clever idea of making an enclosure for this clock out of concrete, using a 3D printed interior mold. Everything seemed to be going well until it was time to pull the interior mold out, and a few light taps resulted in some fairly large cracks. That’s disappointing, but with a slight redesign and some more fibers in the concrete mix, this is going to turn out to be a weighty win.

Turning Cheap WiFi Modules Into Cheap WiFi Swiss Army Knives

When the ESP8266 was released, it was sold as a simple device that would connect to a WiFi network over a UART. It was effectively a WiFi modem for any microcontroller, available for just a few bucks. That in itself is awesome, but then the hackers got their hands on it. It turns out, the ESP8266 is actually a very capable microcontroller as well, and the newest modules have tons of Flash and pins for all your embedded projects.

For [Amine]’s entry to the Hackaday Prize, he’s using the ESP8266 as the ultimate WiFi Swiss Army knife. The Kortex Xttend Lite is a tiny little WiFi repeater that’s capable of doing just about anything with a WiFi network, and with a bit of added hardware, can connect to Ethernet as well.

The hardware on this board sports an ESP8266-07S module, with two free GPIO pins for multiple functions. There’s a USB to UART in there, and a voltage regulator that’s capable of outputting 600mA for the slightly power hungry radio. There’s also an integrated battery management and charge controller, allowing this board to charge an off-the-shelf lithium cell and run for hours without any wires at all.

So, what can this board do? Just about everything you would want for a tiny little WiFi Swiss Army knife. There’s traffic shaping, port mapping, packet sniffing, and even support for mesh networking. There’s also an SMA connector on there, so grab your cantennas — this is a great way to extend a WiFi network, too.

This is a well-designed and well-executed project, and what makes this even more amazing is that this was done as one of [Amine]’s high school projects. Yes, it took about a year to finish this project, but it’s still amazing work for [Amine]’s first ‘high-complexity’ design. That makes it an excellent learning experience, and an awesome entry to this year’s Hackaday Prize.

Friday Hack Chat: Everything About The ESP

When the ESP-8266 first arrived, it was a marvel. For two dollars, you could buy a simple module that could serve as a bridge between WiFi networks and microcontroller projects. It understood the Hayes command set, it didn’t use much power, and, as noted before, it only cost two dollars. The idea of cheap and accessible Internet of Things things was right there for the taking.

Then hackers figured out what was actually going on inside the ESP-8266. It was a full-blown microcontroller. There was Lua stuff you could put on it. You could program it with the Arduino IDE. It had WiFi. This was the greatest microcontroller release in the last decade, and it came from a company no one had ever heard of.

Since then, the ESP ecosystem has bloomed, and there’s a new ESP on the block. The ESP-32 is an even more powerful WiFi and Bluetooth-enabled chip that’s just as easy to program, and it costs three dollars. Microcontrollers have never been cooler.

For this week’s Hack Chat, we’re going to be talking all about the ESP. Our guest for this Hack Chat should need no introduction, but if you’re unfamiliar, [Sprite_tm] plays video games on his keyboard and has installed Linux on a hard drive. He also works at Espressif, the company behind the ESP-8266 and ESP-32, where he’s applied his skills towards tiny Game Boys and miniature Macs.

During this week’s Hack Chat, we’re going to be covering everything about the ESP, including peripherals, ultra-low power consumption, SIP packages, and what’s coming up for the ESP family. You are, as always, welcome to submit your questions for [Sprite]; just add those as a comment on the Hack Chat page.

join-hack-chat

Our Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. [Sprite]’s in China, so we’re not doing this one at the usual time: This week, the Hack Chat will happen at 7:00 am, Pacific, Friday, March 9th. Want to know what time this is happening in your neck of the woods? Have a countdown timer!

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 Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

Zombie Badges Take Over Security Con

We can’t get enough of hacker-con badges. BSides Cape Town, held Last December, featured an IR-equipped badge that immersed attendees in a game while they chatted.

A group led by [AndrewMohawk] and [ElasticNinja] designed the badge around an ESP8266 and 128×64 OLED display, with eight buttons, an IR receiver and transmitter, five “level” LEDs, an RGB LED, and a 600 mAh LiPo that charged over USB.

The hardware was designed specifically to play an organic game so that the organizers could watch the interaction between the badges in real time. Each badge was randomly sorted into a faction, either red, blue, or green—identifiable by an RGB LED glowing on the badge. There was also a series of five LEDs signifying your level in the game. When two or more badges got close to each other, enough for the IR to link, the badge with the lowest level was converted to the faction of the winner.

Of course, the badge displayed attendees’ handles and contained a list of convention programming. It also presented attendees with a series of challenges, which could be unlocked to play Pong or Rock/Paper/Scissors/Lizard/Spock, scan for wireless networks, and run animations.

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Attack on the Clones: A Review of Two Common ESP8266 Mini D1 Boards

ESP8266-based development boards have proliferated rapidly. One favorite, the WEMOS Mini-D1 is frequently imitated and sold without any branding. As these boards continue to ship to hobbyists and retailers around the world, we thought it might be interesting to conduct a little experiment.

There are a few ESP8266 development boards available, and the most popular seem to be the NodeMCU ‘Amica’ board. Of course, there are dozens of other alternatives including the WiFiMCU, Sparkfun’s ESP8266 Thing, and Adafruit’s HUZZAH ESP8266. Given that, why is this review limited to the Mini D1 boards? Because the Mini D1 is the cheapest. Or was, until it was cloned.

We took a look at some of these ‘clone’ boards to figure out the differences, find out if they work as intended, and perhaps most importantly, are these clone boards shipped out reliably. What are the results? Check that out below.

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Your Internet of Things Speaks Volumes About You

If only Marv and Harry were burglars today; they might have found it much easier to case houses and — perhaps — would know which houses were occupied by technically inclined kids by capitalizing on the potential  vulnerability that [Luc Volders] has noticed on ThingSpeak.

As an IoT service, ThingSpeak takes data from an ESP-8266, graphs it, and publicly displays the data. Some of you may already see where this is going. While [Volders] was using the service for testing, he realized anyone could check the temperature of his man-cave — thereby inferring when the house was vacant since the location data also happened to be public. A little sleuthing uncovered several other channels with temperature data or otherwise tied to a location that those with nefarious intent could abuse.

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Open Sound Control of Kitchen Lights

Controlling the Internet of Things is all about passing information around. Realistically, it doesn’t matter what is used, be it MQTT, HTTP, serial data, whatever, and it doesn’t really matter what data is sent as long as the sender and receiver agree on what the data means. MIDI could be used to pass information back and forth, for example and while MIDI is good for some things, Open Sound Control is a more modern alternative and one area where OSC excels over MIDI is Internet connectivity. [Matt] used OSC to control the lighting he installed in his kitchen.

kitchen_controller
ESP8622-1 and Buck Converter

[Matt] had moved in to a new house and wanted some under-cupboard lighting for his kitchen. He got a few cheap warm white LED lights from the Internet and went about wiring them together. For the controller, an ESP8266-1 was used as well as a 12 volt constant-current buck converter. The software runs on the Sming framework, rather than the Arduino framework, and listens for incoming OSC messages. When it receives a command on a specific channel, a callback function turns the lights on and off.  [Matt] also added a switch on the outside of the control box to manually turn the lights on and off.

OSC might not be the right choice for this project, and even [Matt] doesn’t know why he used it, but [Matt] got it working and uses an app on his phone to control it. If he wanted to, he could have used Ableton or another controller to control the lights. (He hasn’t wanted to yet.) OSC is an interesting alternative to MIDI and can also be used with an Arduino without an ethernet shield, or with RFID tags.