Help Solve The Single-Transistor Latch Mystery

If you’ve spent any time on hackaday.io, you may have noticed that more than a few denizens of the site are fans of “alternative” electronic logic. Aiming to create digital circuits from such things as relays, vacuum tubes, discrete transistors, and occasionally diodes, they come up with designs that use these components in either antiquated or occasionally new and unexpected ways. This is exactly what [Mark Sherman] has done with his latest project, a single-transistor latch.

If you think every design has to compete with cutting-edge integrated circuits, or even must have an immediate practical application, you might as well stop reading now — and to play on the famous Louis Armstrong quip about jazz, if you have to ask why someone would do such a thing, you’ll never know.

Given that you’ve come this far, you’ll appreciate what [Mark] has come up with. It’s semi-well-known that the collector-emitter junction of a bipolar junction transistor (BJT) can exhibit a negative resistance characteristic when reverse-biased into avalanche breakdown. It’s this principle that allows a single BJT to be used as an ultra-simple LED flasher. [Mark] took this concept and ran with it, creating a single-transistor latch that can store one bit of information. As a bonus — or is it a requirement? — the transistor also drives an LED, so that you can visualize the state. We’ve seen a one-transistor flip-flop before, but that one also required diodes and an AC bias supply. In this new device, none of this is necessary, so it’s a step up according to the unwritten, unspoken, and generally agreed upon rules of the game.

In true hacker fashion, [Mark] came up with a working device without fully understanding exactly how it works.  We, too, are a little mystified at first glance. So, [Mark] is asking for your help in replicating and/or analyzing the circuit. He explains what he has found so far in the video after the break, but the main questions seem to revolve around why the base resistor is required, and why it works with 2N4401s but not 2N2222s.

So, Hackaday, what’s going on here? Sound off in the comments below.

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Blacksmith Elevates the Craft with this Fabulous Strongbox

For most of human industrial history, the blacksmith was the indispensable artisan. He could fashion almost anything needed, from a simple hand tool to a mechanism as complex as a rifle. Starting with the most basic materials, a hot forge, and a few tools that he invariably made himself, the blacksmith was a marvel of fabrication.

If you have any doubt how refined the blacksmith’s craft can be, feast your eyes on [Seth Gould]’s masterpiece of metalwork. Simply called “Coffer”, [Seth] spent two years crafting the strongbox from iron, steel, and brass. The beautifully filmed video below shows snippets of the making, but we could easily watch a feature-length film detailing every aspect of the build. The box is modeled after the strongboxes built for the rich between the 17th and 19th centuries, which tended to favor complex locking mechanisms that provided a measure of security by obfuscation. At the end of the video below, [Seth] goes through the steps needed to unlock the chest, each of which is filled with satisfying clicks and clunks as the mechanism progresses toward unlocking. The final reveal is stunning, and shows how much can be accomplished with a forge, some files, and a whole lot of talent.

If you’ve never explored the blacksmith’s art before, now’s the time. You can even get started easily at home; [Bil Herd] will show you how.

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Vintage Programmer Gets Modern Chip Adapter

While trying to revive a Donkey Kong Jr arcade board, [Jelmer Bruijn] found himself in the market for an EPROM programmer and became the proud owner of a 1990’s era Dataman S4. Despite its age, it’s a fairly nice tool which allows you to read and write a laundry list of different EPROM types, all without being tied to a computer. The only catch is that a few types of chips need an adapter to work in the Dataman S4, some of which are unsurprisingly no longer available.

After some above and beyond support from the current crew at Dataman set him on the right track, [Jelmer] decided to try his hand at reverse engineering how the old adapters worked so he could build his own. His ultimate goal was to read 40 pin EPROMs on the 32 pin Dataman S4, but in the end he says the information he gathered should be applicable for building other adapters if you ever find yourself in need of such things.

As you might expect, there’s a bit more to the project than a simple pin adapter. [Jelmer] assumed some kind of shift register or latching arrangement would be required to make up for the shortage of pins on the Dataman S4’s ZIF socket. It was just a matter of figuring out how it all went together.

Luckily, [Jelmer] found that the programmer would happily attempt to perform operations on a 16 bit EPROM even though no adapter was physically present. This gave him a chance to probe around with a logic analyzer to figure out what it was trying to accomplish. The trick turned out to be splitting the 16 bit bus into two 8 bit buses which are requested sequentially.

With careful observation, close studying of 16 bit chip datasheets, and much brow furrowing, he was eventually able to come up a design that used five 74xx573 latches and put a schematic together in Eagle. There were a few kinks to iron out when the boards finally arrived, but ultimately the design worked on the first try. [Jelmer] says the same technique should work for 42 pin EPROMs, but as Dataman still actually sell adapters for those he decided not to supply schematics for it.

[Jelmer] tells us that he was inspired to send this success story our way after reading how our very own [Elliot Williams] took the long away around to erase a couple UV EPROMs recently While this isn’t the first time we’ve seen somebody have to hack support for 16 bit EPROMs into their programmer, it’s good to see that the manufacturer at least had the customer’s back in this case.

Repairs You Can Print: Racing the Clock for a Dishwasher Fix

No matter how mad your 3D printing skills may be, there comes a time when it makes more sense to order a replacement part than print it. For [billchurch], that time was the five-hour window he had to order an OEM part online and have it delivered within two days. The race was on — would he be able to model and print a replacement latch for his dishwasher’s detergent dispenser, or would suffer the ignominy of having to plunk down $30 for a tiny but complicated part?

As you can probably guess, [bill] managed to beat the clock. But getting there wasn’t easy, at least judging by the full write-up on his blog. The culprit responsible for the detergent problem was a small plastic lever whose pivot had worn out. Using a caliper for accurate measurements, [bill] was able to create a model in Fusion 360 in just about two hours. There was no time to fuss with fillets and chamfers; this was a rush job, after all. Still, even adding in the 20 minutes print time in PETG, there was plenty of time to spare. The new part was a tight fit but it seemed to work well on the bench, and a test load of dishes proved a success. Will it last? Maybe not. But when you can print one again in 20 minutes, does it really matter?

Have you got an epic repair that was made possible by 3D printing? We want to know about it. And if you enter it into our Repairs You Can Print Contest, you can actually win some cool prizes to boot. We’ve got multiple categories and not that many entries yet, so your chances are good.

RADAR Controlled Speakers

[Scott] had a simple problem – he was tired of leaning over his work bench to change the volume on his speakers. He desired a system that would readily allow him to switch the speakers on and off from a more comfortable distance. Not one to settle for the more conventional solutions available, [Scott] whipped up a RADAR-activated switch for his speaker system.

The build relies on a surprisingly cost-effective RADAR module available off the shelf, running in the 5.8GHz spectrum. At under $10, it’s no big deal to throw one of these into a project that requires some basic distance sensing. [Scott] decided to keep things simple – instead of going with a full-fat microcontroller to control the speakers, a 74HC590 IC was used to create a latch. Each time the RADAR module senses an object in close proximity, it toggles the state of the latch. The latch then controls a transistor that switches the power for the speakers.

Overall it’s a build that combines a modern integrated RADAR module with some very simple control logic to create a functional build. Of course, there’s so much more you can do with some 74-series logic. Video after the break.

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Easy LCD control for Arduino Mega

arduino-mega-easy-lcd-adapter

[Andy Brown] wrote in to show off the TFT LCD adapter he’s been working on for connecting inexpensive displays to an Arduino Mega.

These TFT LCD screens can be picked up on eBay for a few dollars. But they’re more suited for 16-bit microcontrollers which operate at 3.3V levels. His adapter board, which plugs directly into the Mega’s dual-row pin header, makes it easier to control these with an 8-bit chip that is running at 5V.

There’s a couple of things that make this happen. First off, he’s included level converter chips to managed the 3.3V/5V issues. Second, he uses latch chips to translate eight pins on the Arduino Mega to sixteen pins on the display. Those chips have a latch pin which holds the output values in memory while the input pins are changed. He manages to drive the latch on just one of the chips using the chip select (CS) line called for by the LCD protocol. This means you don’t lose any extra pins.

Another way to uses the displays with Arduino is to use a smart controller for TFT screens.

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Adding an electronic lock to a DIY book safe

electronic-book-safe

DIY book safes are well and good, but if you give someone enough time to peruse your book collection, the 3-inch thick “Case study on Animal Husbandry Techniques during the 14th Century” is likely to stand out among your collection of hand-bound “Twilight” fan fiction. In an attempt to teach his friend a bit about microcontrollers and circuits, [Jonathan] spent some time adding a bit more security to your run of the mill book safe.

The pair started out with the time-consuming process of gluing the book’s pages together and creating enough hollow space for both storage and the electronics. With that out of the way, they installed a latch and servo motor inside the cavity, the latter of which is controlled using an Atmega328p with the Arduino bootloader. To gain access to the goodies stashed away inside, Jonathan hooks up a small PS/2 keypad and enters a passcode. This triggers the servo motor, opening the latch.

While the latch likely only adds a nominal bit of security to the book safe, it’s a fun enough learning exercise to justify the time spent putting it together.

Continue reading to see a short video of [Jonathan’s] electronic latching book safe in action.

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