Barely HDMI Display Gets A Steampunk-Inspired Enclosure

It’s an interesting question: What does one do for a follow-up to building the world’s worst HDMI display? Simple — stick it in a cool steampunk-inspired case and call it a day.

That seems to have been [mitxela]’s solution, and please don’t take our assessment as a knock on either the original build or this follow-up. [mitxela] himself expresses a bit of wonder at the attention garnered by his “rather stupid project,” which used the I2C interface in an HDMI interface to drive a tiny monochrome OLED screen. Low refresh rate, poor resolution — it has everything you don’t want in a display, but was still a cool hack that deserved the attention it got.

The present work, which creates an enclosure for the dodgy display, is far heavier on metalworking than anything else, as the video below reveals. The display itself goes in a small box that’s machined from brass, while the HDMI plug gets a sturdy-looking brass housing that makes the more common molded plastic plug look unforgivably flimsy — hot glue notwithstanding. Connecting the two is a flexible stalk, allowing it to plug into a computer’s HDMI port and giving the user the flexibility to position the nearly useless display where it can be seen best.

But again, we may be too harsh in our judgment; while DOOM is basically unplayable on the tiny display, “Bad Apple!!” is quite watchable, especially when accompanied by [mitxela]’s servo-controlled MIDI music box. And since when has usability been a criterion for judging a hack’s coolness, anyway?

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Custom-Fit Small Shop Crane Lightens The Load

On the shortlist of workshop luxuries, we’d bet a lot of hackers would include an overhead crane. Having the ability to lift heavy loads safely and easily opens up a world of new projects, and puts the shop into an entirely different class of capabilities.

As with many of us, [Jornt] works in a shop with significant space constraints, so the jib crane he built had to be a custom job. Fabricated completely from steel tube, the build started with fabricating a mast to support the crane and squeezing it into a small slot in some existing shelves in the shop, which somehow didn’t catch on fire despite being welded in situ. A lot of custom parts went into the slewing gear that mounts the jib, itself a stick-built space frame that had to accommodate a pitched ceiling. A double row of tubing along the bottom of the jib allows a trolley carrying a 500 kg electric winch to run along it, providing a work envelope that looks like it covers the majority of the shop. And hats off for the safety yellow and black paint job — very industrial.

From the look of the tests in the video below, the crane is more than up to the task of lifting engines and other heavy loads in the shop. That should prove handy if [Jornt] tackles another build like his no-compromises DIY lathe again.

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File testing rig

Science Vs Internet Trolls: Testing Another Kind Of File System

No matter what you do or say on the Internet, you’re always doing it wrong. Keyboard commandos are ready to pounce and tell you how it’s “ackchyually” supposed to be done. And so it was of little surprise when [Jason] of Fireball Tools was taken to task by the armchair millwright for his supposedly deficient method of filing metal.

But [Jason] chose to fight back not with words but deeds, building a system to test alternative methods of filing. His filing style is to leave the file in contact with the stock on both the front- and back-strokes, which enraged those who claim that a file must never be dragged back over the workpiece, lest the teeth become dull. The first video below shows the build of the test rig, which leveraged his enormous Cinncinatti shaper as the prime mover, as well as a pneumatic jig to hold the workpiece and imitate both styles of filing. Part two below shows the test rig in action, and [Jason] really outdoes himself with his experimental approach. He tested three different grades of Pferd files — nothing but the best, no expense spared — and did duplicates of each run using both the Internet-approved style and his lazier style.

The result? We won’t spoil that for you, but suffice it to say that the hive mind isn’t always right. And what’s more, [Jason]’s careful myth-busting yielded a few interesting and unexpected results. His channel is full of great shop tips and interesting builds, so check him out if you want to see how metalworking is done.

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Mini-lathe carriage wheel

Improving A Mini-Lathe With A Few Clever Hacks

Like many budget machinists, the delightfully optimistically named [We Can Do That Better] had trouble with some of the finer controls on his import mini-lathe. But rather than suffer through it, he chose to rectify the machine’s shortcomings and in the process, teach everyone a bunch of great tips.

[We Can Do That Better]’s lathe retrofit focused on the carriage handwheel, which appears to lack proper bearings and wobbles around in a most imprecise manner. On top of that, the gearing of the drive made for an unsatisfying 19 mm of carriage travel per revolution of the handwheel. A single gear change made that an even 20 mm per rev, which when coupled with a calibrated and indexed handwheel ring greatly simplifies carriage travel measurements.

While the end result of the build is pretty great in its own right, for our money the best part of the video is its rich collection of machinist’s tips. The use of a wooden dowel and a printed paper template to stand in for a proper dividing head was brilliant, as was using the tailstock of the lathe to drive an engraving tool to cut the index lines. We’ve seen the use of a Dremel tool mounted to the toolpost to stand in for a milling machine before, but it’s always nice to see that trick used. And the mechanism for locking the dial to the handwheel was really clever, too.

Considering a mini-lathe? As encouraging as [We Can Do That Better]’s experience may be, it might be wise to take a deep dive into the pros and cons of such a machine.

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Retrotechtacular: This 15th-Century Siege Cannon Might Kill You Instead Of The Target

For a happy weekend away in early September, I joined a few of my continental friends for the NewLine event organised by Hackerspace Gent in Belgium. You may have seen some of the resulting write-ups here, and for me the trip is as memorable for the relaxing weekend break it gave me in a mediaeval city as it is for the content of the talks and demonstrations. We took full advantage of the warm weather to have some meals out on café terraces, and it was on the way to one of them that my interest was captured by something unexpected. There at the end of the street was a cannon, not the normal-size cannon you’ll see tastefully arranged around historical military sites the world over, but a truly massive weapon. I had stumbled upon Dulle Griet, one of very few surviving super-sized 15th century siege cannons. It even had a familiar feel to it, being a sister to the very similar Mons Meg at Edinburgh Castle in Scotland.

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Hackaday Links: September 19, 2021

Things might be getting a bit dicey out in Jezero crater for Ingenuity. The little helicopter that could is starting to have trouble dealing with the thinning Martian atmosphere, and may start pressing against its margin of safety for continued operation. Ingenuity was designed for five flights that would all take place around the time its mothership Perseverance touched down on Mars back in February, at which time the mean atmospheric pressure was at a seasonal high. Over the last few months, the density of the Martian atmosphere has decreased a wee bit, but when you’re starting with a plan for a pressure that’s only 1.4% of Earth’s soupy atmosphere, every little bit counts. The solution to keeping Ingenuity flying is simple: run the rotors faster. NASA has run a test on that, spinning the rotors up to 2,800 RPM, and Ingenuity handled the extra stresses and power draw well. A 14th flight is planned to see how well the rotors bite into the rarefied air, but Ingenuity’s days as a scout for Perseverance could be numbered.

If you thought privacy concerns and government backdoors into encryption technology were 21st-century problems, think again. IEEE Spectrum has a story about “The Scandalous History of the Last Rotor Cipher Machine,” and it’s a great read — almost like a Tom Clancy novel. The story will appeal to crypto — not cryptocurrency — fans, especially those fascinated by Enigma machines, because it revolves around a Swiss rotor cipher machine called the HX-63, which was essentially a refinement of the original Enigma technology. With the equivalent of 2,000-bit encryption, it was considered unbreakable, and it was offered for sale to any and all — at least until the US National Security Agency sprung into action to persuade the inventor, Boris Hagelin, to shelve the HX-63 project in favor of electronic encryption. The NSA naturally helped Hagelin design this next generation of crypto machines, which of course all had backdoors built into them. While the cloak and dagger aspects of the story — including a possible assassination of Boris Hagelin’s son in 1970, when it became clear he wouldn’t “play ball” as his father had — are intriguing, the peek inside the HX-63, with its Swiss engineering, is the real treat.

One of the great things about the internet is how easy it is to quickly answer completely meaningless questions. For me, that usually involves looking up the lyrics of a song I just heard and finding out that, no, Robert Plant didn’t sing “Whoopie Cat” during Misty Mountain Hop. But it also let me answer a simple question the other day: what’s the largest single-piece metal object ever created? I figured it would have to be a casting of some sort, and likely something from the middle of the previous century. But as it turns out, the largest casting ever appears to have been manufactured in Sheffield, England in 2015. The company, Sheffield Forgemaster International, produced eleven castings for the offshore oil industry, each weighing in at over 320 tonnes. The scale of each piece is mind-boggling, and the technology that went into making them would be really interesting to learn about. And it goes without saying that my search was far from exhaustive; if you know of a single-piece metal part larger than 320 tonnes, I’ll be glad to stand corrected.

Have you heard about “teledriving” yet? On the face of it, a remote-controlled car where a qualified driver sits in an office somewhere watching video feeds from the car makes little sense. But as you dig into the details, the idea of remotely piloted cars starts to look like one of those “Why didn’t I think of that?” ideas. The company behind this is called Vay, and the idea is to remotely drive a ride-share vehicle to its next customer. Basically, when you hail a ride, a remote driver connects to an available car and drives it to your location. You get in and take over the controls to drive to your destination. When you arrive, another remote drive pilots the car to its next pickup. There are obvious problems to work out, but the idea is really the tacit admission that all things considered, humans are way better at driving than machines are, at least right now.

The interior of a failed boiler.

Fail Of The Week: Learning How Not To Silver Solder

Sure, there are subtleties, but by and large it’s pretty easy to pick up soldering skills with a little practice. But wait! Not all soldering is created equal, and as [Quinn Dunki] learned, silver soldering is far harder to get right.

Granted, the job [Quinn] is working on is much more demanding than tacking some components to a PCB. She has been building a model steam engine, a task fit to put anyone’s machining skills to the test. And a steam engine needs a boiler, which is where the silver soldering comes in. As she explains in the video below, silver soldering, or “hard” soldering, uses solder that melts at a much higher temperature than “soft” solders like we’re used to in electronics. That’s a big advantage in the heat and pressure of a boiler, but it does pose some problems, many of which [Quinn] managed to discover as she tried to assemble her copper beast.

It turns out that heating a big hunk of copper evenly without burning off the flux actually isn’t that easy, though you can’t say she didn’t give it the old college try. In the process, she managed to share a number of tidbits that were really interesting, like the fact that drawing acetylene from a tank too fast can be dangerous, or that model steam boilers have to be certified by qualified inspectors. In the end, her boiler couldn’t be salvaged, and was put to the saw to determine the problem, which seems to be her initial choice of heating with oxyacetylene; after that initial failure, there was little she could do to save the boiler.

As [Quinn] says, “Failure is only failure if you don’t learn from it.” And so it may be a bit unfair to hang “Fail of the Week” on this one, but still — she has to go back to the beginning on the boiler. And we already know that model steam engines aren’t easy.

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