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Hackaday Links: October 31, 2021

Global supply chain issues are beginning to hit closer to home for the hacker community, as Raspberry Pi has announced their first-ever price increase on their flagship Pi 4. The move essentially undoes the price drop on the 2GB version of the Pi 4 that was announced in February, and sets the price back up from $35 to $45. Also rolled back is the discontinuation of the 1GB version, which will now be available at the $35 price point. The announcements come from Eben Upton himself, who insists the price increase is only temporary. We applaud his optimism, but take it with a grain of salt since he also said that 2021 production across the board will stay at the seven million-unit level, which is what they produced in 2020. That seems to speak to deeper issues within the supply chain, but more immediately, it’s likely that the supply of Pi products will be pinched enough that you’ll end up paying above sticker price just to get the boards you need. Hope everyone is stocked up.

On the topic of supply chain issues and their threat to Christmas gift-giving, here’s one product we hope is stranded in a container off Long Beach or better still, bobbing along in the Strait of Juan De Fuca: a toddler’s toy telephone that actually makes and receives calls. Anyone born in the last 60 years probably had one of the Fisher-Price Chatter telephone, a toy that in its original form looked like a desk telephone on wheels that was dragged behind the child, popping along and providing endless hours of clicky amusement as kids twisted the dial and lifted the receiver. Come to think of it, the Chatter telephone may be as close to a dial phone as anyone born since 1990 may have come. Anyway, some genius stuck a Bluetooth module into the classic phone to let it hook up to an app on an actual phone, allowing kids (or more likely their nostalgia-soaked parents) to make and receive calls. It’s actually priced at a reasonable $60, so there might be some hacking potential here.

Also tangential to supply chains, we stumbled across a video guide to buying steel that might interest readers. Anyone who has seen the displays of steel and other metals at the usual big-box retailers might wonder what the fuss is, but buying steel that way or ordering online is a great way to bust a project’s budget. Fabricator and artist Doug Boyd insists that finding a local steel supplier is the best bang for your buck, and has a bunch of helpful tips for not sounding like a casual when you’re ordering. It’s all good advice, and would have helped us from looking foolish a time or two at the metal yard; just knowing that pipe is measured by inside diameter while tubing is measured by outside dimensions is worth the price of admission alone.

With all the money you save on steel and by not buying Raspberry Pis, perhaps you’ll have a couple of hundred thousand Euros lying around to bid on this authentic 1957 Sputnik I satellite. The full-scale model of Earth’s first artificial satellite — manhole covers excluded — was a non-flown test article, but externally faithful to the flown hardware that kicked off the first Space Race. The prospectus says that it has a transmitter and a “modern power supply”; it’s not clear if the transmitter was originally part of the test article or added later. The opening bid is €85,000 and is expected to climb considerably.

And finally, there’s something fascinating about “spy radios,” especially those from the Cold War era and before, when being caught with one in your possession was probably going to turn out to be a very bad day. One such radio is the Radio Orange “Acorn” receiver, which is in the collection of the Crypto Museum. The radio was used by the Dutch government to transmit news and information into the occupied Netherlands from their exile in London. Built to pass for a jewelry box, the case for the radio was made from an old cigar box and is a marvel of 1940s miniaturization. The radio used three acorn-style vacuum tubes and was powered by mains current; another version of the Radio Orange receiver was powered by a bike dynamo or even a water-powered turbine, which could be run from a tap or garden hose. The video below shows the water-powered version in action, but the racket it made must have been problematic for its users, especially given the stakes.

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Teardown: Linkimals Musical Moose

Like so many consumer products these days, baby toys seem to get progressively more complex with each passing year. Despite the fact that the average toddler will more often than not be completely engrossed by a simple cardboard box, toy companies are apparently hell-bent on producing battery powered contraptions that need to be licensed with the FCC.

As a perfect example, we have Fisher-Price’s Linkimals. These friendly creatures can operate independently by singing songs and flashing their integrated RGB LEDs in response to button presses, but get a few of them in the room together, and their 2.4 GHz radios kick in to create an impromptu mesh network of fun.

They’ll soon be back, and in greater numbers.

Once connected to each other, the digital critters synchronize their LEDs and sing in unison. Will your two year old pay attention long enough to notice? I know mine certainly wouldn’t. But it does make for a compelling commercial, and when you’re selling kid’s toys, that’s really the most important thing.

On the suggestion of one of our beloved readers, I picked up a second-hand Linkimals Musical Moose to take a closer look at how this cuddly pal operates. Though in hindsight, I didn’t really need to; a quick browse on Amazon shows that despite their high-tech internals, these little fellows are surprisingly cheap. In fact, I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that given its current retail price of just under $10 USD, I actually paid more for my used moose.

But you didn’t come here to read about my fiscal irresponsibility, you want to see an anthropomorphic woodland creature get dissected. So let’s pull this smug Moose apart and see what’s inside.

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Fisher Price Bluetooth Speaker Hack

A good hacker hates to throw away electronics. We think [Matt Gruskin] must be a good hacker because where a regular guy would see a junky old 1980’s vintage Fisher Price cassette player, [Matt] saw a retro stylish Bluetooth speaker. His hack took equal parts of electronics and mechanics. It even required some custom 3D printing.

You might think converting a piece of old tech to Bluetooth would be a major technical challenge, but thanks to the availability of highly integrated modules, the electronics worked out to be fairly straightforward. [Matt] selected an off the shelf Bluetooth module and another ready-to-go audio amplifier board. He built a custom board to convert the stereo output to mono and hold the rotary encoder he used for the volume control. An Arduino (what else?) reads the encoder and also provides 3.3V to some of the other electronics.

The really interesting part of the hack is the mechanics. [Matt] managed to modify the existing mechanical buttons to drive the electronics using wire and hot glue. He also added a hidden power switch that doesn’t change the device’s vintage look. Speaking of mechanics, there’s also a custom 3D printed PCB holder allowing for the new board to fit in the original holder. This allows [Matt] to keep the volume control in its original location

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Zeppelin On The Fisher Price Record Player Now Thanks To A 3D Printer

[Fred Murphy] went ahead and revised his method of making custom records for a Fisher Price toy record player. He’s now able to 3D print the discs. The toy works much like a music box, with a comb in the “cartridge” of the record player and notches in the record that pluck the fingers of the comb as it turns. He had previously developed a subtractive method that let him mill records out of a solid piece of plastic. But this additive method means less waste.

The music creation portion of the project is the same as the previous version. That’s because it’s pretty hard to outdo the C# software he wrote which serves as a composition studio. The difficulty comes in getting a clean print for the disk. The ridges on the discs are 0.7mm so you’re going to need a well-aligned printer with fine resolution. [Fred] printed in both ABS and what he calls “Vero clear” plastic. The former works but he got better results with the latter.