Follow the Bouncing Ball of Entropy

When [::vtol::] wants to generate random numbers he doesn’t simply type rand() into his Arduino IDE, no, he builds a piece of art. It all starts with a knob, presumably connected to a potentiometer, which sets a frequency. An Arduino UNO takes the reading and generates a tone for an upward-facing speaker. A tiny ball bounces on that speaker where it occasionally collides with a piezoelectric element. The intervals between collisions become our sufficiently random number.

The generated number travels up the Rube Goldberg-esque machine to an LCD mounted at the top where a word, corresponding to our generated number, is displayed. As long as the button is held, a tone will continue to sound and words will be generated so poetry pours forth.

If this take on beat poetry doesn’t suit you, the construction of the Ball-O-Bol has an aesthetic quality that’s eye-catching, whereas projects like his Tape-Head Robot That Listens to the Floor and 8-Bit Digital Photo Gun showed the electronic guts front and center with their own appeal.

Continue reading “Follow the Bouncing Ball of Entropy”

Isolated Voltage Measurements Through Frequency

This one’s not a flashy hack, it’s a great piece of work and a good trick to have up your sleeve. Sometimes you’ve got a voltage difference that you’d like to measure, but either the ground potential is at a different level, or the voltages are too high for your lowly microcontroller.

There are tons of tricks with resistive voltage dividers that you can play. But if you want serious electrical isolation from the target, there’s only one way to go — an optocoupler. But optocouplers only really transmit digital signals, and [Giovanni Carrera] needed to measure an analog voltage.


Enter the voltage-to-frequency IC that does just what it says: produces a square wave with a frequency that’s proportional to the voltage applied. Pass this square wave through an optocoupler, and you can hit one side with voltages approaching lightning strikes without damaging the microcontroller on the other side. And you’re still able to measure the voltage accurately by measuring the frequency on the digital I/O pins of the microcontroller.

[Giovanni] built up and documented a nice circuit. He even tested it for linearity. If you’re ever in the position of needing to measure a voltage in a non-traditional way, you’ll thank him later.

Hacklet 91: Ultrasonic Projects

Ultrasound refers to any audio signal above the range of human hearing. Generally that’s accepted as 20 kHz and up. Unlike electromagnetic signals, ultrasonics are still operating in a medium – generally the air around us. Plenty of animals take advantage of ultrasonics every day. So do hackers, makers, and engineers who have built thousands of projects based upon these high frequency signals. This weeks Hacklet is all about the best ultrasonic projects on!

spambakeWe start with [spambake] and World’s Smallest Bat Detector. [Spambake] is interested in bats. These amazing creatures have poor eyesight, but that doesn’t slow them down. Bats use echolocation to determine their surroundings. Ultrasonic chirps bounce off obstacles. The bat listens to the echos and changes its flight path accordingly. While we can’t hear most of the sounds bats make, electronics can. [Spambake] cooked this circuit up starting with a MEMs microphone. These microphones pick up human sounds, but unlike our ears, they can hear plenty above the 20 kHz range. The audio signal is passed through an amplifier which boosts the it up around 10,000 times. The signal is filtered and then used to trigger LEDs that indicate a bat is present. The final circuit works quite well! Check out [spambake’s] video to see the bat detector in action!

movvaNext up is [Neil Movva] with Pathfinder – Haptic Navigation. Pathfinder uses ultrasonic transducers to perform echolocation similar to bats. The received data is then passed on to a human wearer. [Neil’s] idea is to use Pathfinder to help the visually disabled and blind navigate the world around them. Pathfinder was a 2015 Hackaday Prize finalist. The ultrasonic portion of Pathfinder uses the ubiquitous HC-SR04 distance sensor, which can be found for as little as $2 USD on eBay and Alibaba. These sensors send out a 60 kHz signal and listen for the echos. A microcontroller can then measure the time delay and determine the distance from the sensor to an obstacle. Finally the data is passed on to the user by a vibrating pager motor. [Neal] was kind enough to give a talk about Pathfinder at the 2015 Hackaday SuperCon.

levitate[HoboMunching] likes his ultrasonic devices ultra powerful, and that’s just what he’s got with Ultrasonic Levitation Rig. Inspired by a similar project from Mike, [HoboMunching] had to build his own levitation setup. Ultrasonic levitation used to be a phenomenon studied only in the laboratory. Cheap transducers designed for the industrial world have made this experiment practical for the home hackers. [HoboMunching] was able to use his rig to levitate up to 8 tiny balls on the nulls between the 28.5 kHz sound waves produced by his transducer. The speed of sound can be verified by measuring the distance between the balls. Purists will be happy to hear that [HoboMunching]’s circuit was all based upon the classic 555 timer.

speaker-arrayFinally we have [Alan Green] with Ultrasonic Directional Speaker V1. Most audio signals are not very directional, due to wavelength and practical limitations on speaker size. Ultrasonics don’t have this limitation. Couple this with the fact that ultrasonic signals can be made to demodulate in air, and you have the basis for a highly directional speaker setup. “Sound lasers” based on this system have been around for years, used in everything from targeted advertising to defensive weapons. [Alan] is just getting started on this project. Much of his research is based upon [Joe Pompei’s] work at the MIT media lab. [Alan] plans to use an array of ultrasonic transducers to produce a directional signal which will then demodulate and be heard by a human. This project has a hard deadline though:  [Alan] plans to help his son [Mitchell] with a musical performance that is scheduled for May, 2016. The pair hope to have a prototype in place by March.

If you want to see more ultrasonic projects, check out our new ultrasonic projects list! If I missed your project, don’t be shy! Just drop me a message on That’s it for this week’s Hacklet. As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of!

Saving an Alarm System Remote and $100

[Simon] has been using his home alarm system for over six years now. The system originally came with a small RF remote control, but after years of use and abuse it was finally falling apart. After searching for replacement parts online, he found that his alarm system is the “old” model and remotes are no longer available for purchase. The new system had similar RF remotes, but supposedly they were not compatible. He decided to dig in and fix his remote himself.

He cracked open the remote’s case and found an 8-pin chip labeled HCS300. This chip handles all of the remote’s functions, including reading the buttons, flashing the LED, and providing encoded output to the 433MHz transmitter. The HCS300 also uses KeeLoq technology to protect the data transmission with a rolling code. [Simon] did some research online and found the thew new alarm system’s remotes also use the same KeeLoq technology. On a hunch, he went ahead and ordered two of the newer model remotes.

He tried pairing them up with his receiver but of course it couldn’t be that simple. After opening up the new remote he found that it also used the HCS300 chip. That was a good sign. The manufacturer states that each remote is programmed with a secret 64-bit manufacturer’s code. This acts as the encryption key, so [Simon] would have to somehow crack the key on his original chip and re-program the new chip with the old key. Or he could take the simpler path and swap chips.

A hot air gun made short work of the de-soldering and soon enough the chips were in place. Unfortunately, the chips have different pinouts, so [Simon] had to cut a few traces and fix them with jumper wire. With the case back together and the buttons in place, he gave it a test. It worked. Who needs to upgrade their entire alarm system when you can just hack the remote?

Bode plots on an oscilloscope


Bode plots – or frequency response graphs – are found in just about every piece of literature for high-end audio equipment. It’s a simple idea, graphing frequency over amplitude, but making one of these graphs at home usually means using a soundcard, an Excel spreadsheet and a multimeter, or some other inelegant solution. Following a neat tutorial from [Dave Jones], [Andrew] came up with a very simple way to make a Bode plot in real-time with an oscilloscope, a microcontroller, and a few off-the-shelf parts.

The basic idea behind [Dave Jones]’ impromptu Bode plotter is to configure a frequency generator to output a sine wave that ramps up over a period of time. Feed this sine wave through a filter, and you have amplitude on the vertical axis of your ‘scope and frequency on the horizontal axis. Boom, there’s your Bode plot.

[Andrew] did [Dave] one better by creating a small circuit with an Arduino and an AD9850 sine wave generator. Properly programmed, the AD9850 can ramp up the frequency of a sine wave with the Arduino outputting sync pulses every decade or octave of frequency, depending if you want a linear or log Bode plot.

It’s a nifty little tool, and when it comes to building test equipment from stuff that just happens to by lying around, we’ve got to give it up for [Andrew] for his really cool implementation.


Hacking grandfather clock accuracy while it’s still ticking


[Keith] got his hands on a few grandfather clocks. Apparently the price tag is greatly reduced if you are able to get them second-hand. The mechanical timepieces require weekly winding, which is a good thing since you’ll also need to correct the time at least that often. But this drift got [Keith] thinking about improving the accuracy of these clocks. He figured out a high-tech way to adjust the timepiece while it’s ticking.

The first thing he needed was a source of super-accurate time. He could have used a temperature compensated RTC chip, but instead went the more traditional route of using the frequency of mains power as a reference. The next part of the puzzle is to figure out how to both monitor the grandfather clock and make small tweaks to its pendulum.

The answer is magnets. By adding a magnet to the bottom of the pendulum, and adjusting the proximity of a metal plate positioned below it, he can speed up or slow down the ticking. The addition of a hall effect sensor lets the Arduino measure the rate of each swing and calculate the accuracy compared to the high voltage frequency reference.

1Hz timebase

Check out this nice simple method of achieving a 1Hz timebase. This is basically a lesson in dividing crystal frequencies in circuits to get the desired result. In this case, they are starting with a 32.768KHz crystal and dividing it down. Instead of using an NE555 like many projects, he chose to go a direction that would yield results less prone to drifting with temperature variation. The method chosen was a CD4060 frequency divider, basically just a chain of flipflops. The divider is one step short of getting to the desired result so an additional flipflop has to be added. This is pretty basic stuff, but a great read. They go into detail as to how it all works and why you would use this method.

Pssst, hey, remember that time I told you to just use a 1Hz crystal? yeah, we can laugh at that again.

[via HackedGadgets]