Vintage Camera Flash Turned OLED Desk Clock

After covering a few of his builds at this point, we think it’s abundantly clear that [Igor Afanasyev] has a keen eye for turning random pieces of antiquated hardware into something that’s equal parts functional and gorgeous. He retains the aspects of the original which give it that unmistakable vintage look, while very slickly integrating modern components and features. His work is getting awfully close to becoming some kind of new art form, but we’re certainly not complaining.

His latest creation takes an old-school “Monopak” electronic flash module and turns it into a desk clock that somehow also manages to look like a vintage television set. The OLED displays glowing behind the original flash diffuser create an awesome visual effect which really sells the whole look; as if the display is some hitherto undiscovered nixie variant.

On the technical side of things, there’s really not much to this particular build. Utilizing two extremely common SSD1306 OLED displays in a 3D printed holder along with an Arduino to drive them, the electronics are quite simple. There’s a rotary encoder on the side to set the time, though it would have been nice to see an RTC module added into the mix for better accuracy. Or perhaps even switch over to the ESP8266 so the clock could update itself from the Internet. But on this build we get the impression [Igor] was more interested in playing with the aesthetics of the final piece than fiddling with the internals, which is hard to argue with when it looks this cool.

Noticing the flash had a sort of classic TV set feel to it, [Igor] took the time to 3D print some detail pieces which really complete the look. The feet on the bottom not only hold the clock at a comfortable viewing angle, but perfectly echo the retro-futuristic look of 50s and 60s consumer electronics. He even went through the trouble of printing a little antenna to fit into the top hot shoe, complete with a metal ring salvaged from a key-chain.

Late last year we were impressed with the effort [Igor] put into creating a retro Raspberry Pi terminal from a legitimate piece of 1970’s laboratory equipment, and more recently his modern take on the lowly cassette player got plenty of debate going. We can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

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Give Your Raspberry Pi SD Card a Break: Log to RAM

The fragility of SD cards is the weak link in the Raspberry Pi ecosystem. Most of us seem to have at least one Pi tucked away somewhere, running a Magic Mirror, driving security cameras, or even taking care of a media library. But chances are, that Pi is writing lots and lots of log files. Logging is good — it helps when tracking down issues — but uncontrolled logging can lead to problems down the road with the Pi’s SD card.

[Erich Styger] has a neat way to avoid SD card logging issues on Raspberry Pi, he calls it a solution to reduce “thrashing” of the SD card. The problem is that flash memory segments wear out after a fairly low number of erase cycles, and the SD card’s wear-leveling algorithm will eventually cordon off enough of the card to cause file system issues. His “Log2Ram” is a simple Unix shell script that sets up a mount point for logging in RAM rather than on the SD card.

The idea is that any application or service sending log entries to /var/log will actually be writing them to virtual log files, which won’t rack up any activity on the SD card. Every hour, a cron job sweeps the virtual logs out to the SD card, greatly reducing its wear. There’s still a chance to lose logging data before it’s swept to disk, but if you have relatively stable system it’s a small price to pay for the long-term health of a Pi that’s out of sight and out of mind.

One thing we really like about [Erich]’s project is that it’s a great example of shell scripting and Linux admin concepts. If you need more information on such things, check out [Al Williams’] Linux-Fu series. It goes back quite a way, so settle in for some good binge reading.

ESP8266 Wi-Fi Instant Camera is a Simple Shooter

If a camera that combines the immediate gratification of a Polaroid with cloud hosting sounds like something that tickles your fancy, look no farther than this ESP-powered point and shoot camera created by [Martin Fasani]. There’s no screen or complicated configuration on this camera; just press the button and the raw picture pops up on the online gallery. Somehow it’s simultaneously one of the most simplistic and complex implementations of the classic “instant camera” concept, and we love it.

The electronics in the camera itself, which [Martin] calls the FS2, is quite simple. At the core, it’s nothing more than the ESP board, an ArduCAM camera module, and a momentary button for the shutter. To make it portable he added a 2000 mAh Li-ion battery and an Adafruit Micro Micro USB charger. [Martin] added support for an optional 128×64 OLED display for user feedback. Everything is housed in a relatively spacious 3D printed enclosure, leaving some room for possible future hardware.

There are firmware versions for both the ESP8266 and ESP32, so fans of either generation of the popular microcontroller are invited to the party. Processing images is obviously a bit faster if you go with the more powerful 32-bit chip, but on the flip side the ESP8266 uses 3MB of SPI flash as a local buffer for the images during upload, which helps prevent lost images if there’s a problem pushing them to the cloud. The camera is intended to be as simple as possible so right now the only option other than taking still images is a time-lapse mode. [Martin] hopes to implement some additional filters and effects in the future. He’s also hoping others might lend a hand with his firmware. He’s specifically looking for assistance getting autofocus working and implementing more robust error correction for image uploads.

We’ve seen some impressive DIY camera builds using everything from a salvaged thermal sensor to film and molten aluminum. But the quaint simplicity of what [Martin] has put together here really puts his project in a whole new category.

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Flash Memory: Caveat Emptor

We all love new tech. Some of us love getting the bleeding edge, barely-on-the-market devices and some enjoy getting tech thirty years after the fact to revel in nostalgia. The similarity is that we assume we know what we’re buying and only the latter category expects used parts. But, what if the prior category is getting used parts in a new case? The University of Alabama in Huntsville has a tool for protecting us from unscrupulous manufacturers installing old flash memory.

Flash memory usually lasts longer than the devices where it is installed, so there is a market for used chips which are still “good enough” to pass for new. Of course, this is highly unethical. You would not expect to find a used transmission in your brand new car so why should your brand new tablet contain someone’s discarded memory?

The principles of flash memory are well explained by comparing them to an ordinary transistor, of which we are happy to educate you. Wear-and-tear on flash memory starts right away and the erase time gets longer and longer. By measuring how long it takes to erase, it is possible to accurately determine the age of chip in question.

Pushing the limits of flash memory’s life-span can tell a lot about how to avoid operation disruption or you can build a flash drive from parts you know are used.

Soldering Saves Data From Waterlogged Laptop

What happens when you drop your laptop in the pool? Well, yes, you buy a new laptop. But what about your data. You do have backups, right? No, of course, you don’t. But if you can solder like [TheRasteri] you could wire into the flash memory on the motherboard and read it one last time. You can see the whole exploit in the video below.

There’s really three tasks involved. First is finding the schematic and board layout for motherboard. Apparently, these aren’t usually available from the manufacturer but can be acquired in some of the seedier parts of the Internet for a small fee. Once you have the layout, you have to arrange to solder wires to the parts of the flash memory you need to access.

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Home-Brew Ruby Laser Packs A Wallop

In the past half-century, lasers have gone from expensive physics experiments using rods of ruby to cheap cutting or engraving tools, and toys used to tease cats. Advances in physics made it all possible, but it turns out that ruby lasers are still a lot of fun to play with, if you can do it without killing yourself.

With a setup that looks like something from a mad scientist movie set, [styropyro]’s high-powered laser is a lot closer to the ray gun of science fiction than the usual lasers we see, though hardly portable. The business end of the rig is a large ruby rod nestled inside a coiled xenon flash lamp, which in turn is contained within a polished reflector. The power supply for the lamp is massive — microwave oven transformers, a huge voltage multiplier, and a bank of capacitors that he says can store 20 kilojoules. When triggered by a high-voltage pulse from a 555 oscillator and an old car ignition coil, the laser outputs a powerful pulse of light, which [styropyro] uses to dramatic effect, including destroying his own optics. We’d love to hear more about the power supply design; that Cockcroft-Walton multiplier made from PVC tubes bears some exploration.

Whatever the details, the build is pretty impressive, but we do urge a few simple safety precautions. Perhaps a look at [Ben Krasnow]’s 8-kJ ruby laser would help.

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Trouble Flashing Your ESP8266? Meet DIO and QIO

[Pete] was building a hot tub controller, using a WEMOS board based on the venerable ESP8266. After assembly, the board was plugged into USB and [Pete] hit the flash button. No dice. Investigation with some terminal software indicated a checksum error.

Assuming the board was dead, [Pete] grabbed another — and suffered the same problem.  The WEMOS boards wouldn’t program, but other boards had no issues. Sensing that something may be amiss, further research was in order. A forum post turned up discussing different programming modes for the ESP8266.

It turns out that there are different types of flash used with the ESP8266, and the correct programming mode must be selected for a given hardware setup. These modes are known as DIO and QIO, meaning “dual IO” and “quad IO” respectively. This refers to the number of IO line used to talk to the flash memory. There are also further modes, known as DOUT and QOUT. It’s important to identify the modes supported by the flash chip on board, by looking at the datasheet. Obviously this can be difficult on some pre-built modules, so experimentation is the key here.

With the wrong mode selected, writes to the flash will fail, and reading back will turn up a checksum error. It’s a simple matter of changing a line in the make file and trying different modes, to see which one works. This forum post has a more in-depth coverage of the issue. 

By choosing different flash memory parts and selecting the DIO or DOUT modes, it’s actually possible to free up more GPIO pins as well. This knowledge is handy when optimizing ESP8266 designs for memory speed or maximum IO flexibility. It’s a good lesson that it always pays to look at the datasheet to get the best out of your parts.