Thousands Of Discrete MOSFETs Make Up This Compact CPU-Less Computer

How long has it been since a computer could boast about the fact that it contained 2,500 transistors? Probably close to half a century now, at a guess. So in a world with a couple of billion transistors per chip, is a 2,500-transistor computer really something to brag about? Yes. Yes, it is.

The CPU-less computer, called the TraNOR by its creator [Dennis Kuschel], is an elaboration on his previous MyNOR, another CPU-less machine that used a single NOR-gate made of discrete transistors as the core of its arithmetic-logic unit (ALU). Despite its architectural simplicity, MyNOR was capable of some pretty respectable performance, and even managed to play a decent game of Tetris. TraNOR, on the other hand, is much more complicated, mainly due to the fact that instead of relying on 74HC-series chips, [Dennis] built every single gate on the machine from discrete MOSFETs. The only chips on the four stacked PCBs are a trio of memory chips; we don’t fault him at all for the decision not to build the memory — he may be dedicated, but even art has its limits. And TraNOR is indeed a work of art — the video below shows the beautiful board layouts, with seemingly endless arrays of SMD transistors all neatly arranged and carefully soldered. And extra points for using Wintergatan’s marble machine melody as the soundtrack, too.

As much as we loved the original, TraNOR is really something special. Not only is it beautiful, but it’s functional — it’s even backward-compatible with MyNOR’s custom software. Hats off to [Dennis] for pulling off another wonderful build, and for sharing it with us.

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Putting The Magic Smoke Back In A Cooked Scooter

When [Vitor Melon] found out there was a custom firmware (CFW) available for his Xiaomi Mijia M365 Pro electric scooter that would increase his top end speed, naturally he installed it. Who wouldn’t want a little more performance out their hardware? But while the new firmware got the scooter running even better than stock, he does have a cautionary tale for anyone who might decide to ride their Mijia a bit harder than the fine folks at Xiaomi may have intended.

Now to be clear, [Vitor] does not blame the CFW for the fact that he cooked the control board of his Mijia. At least, not technically. There was nothing necessarily wrong with the new code or the capabilities it unlocked, but when combined with his particular riding style, it simply pushed the system over the edge. The failure seems to have been triggered by his penchant for using the strongest possible regenerative breaking settings on the scooter combined with a considerably higher than expected velocity attained during a downhill run. Turns out that big 40 flashing on the display wasn’t his speed, but an error code indicating an overheat condition. Oops.

Results of the PCB repair.

After a long and embarrassing walk home with his scooter, complete with a passerby laughing at him, [Vitor] opened the case and quickly identified the problem. Not only had the some of the MOSFETs failed, but a trace on the PCB had been badly burned through. Judging by the discoloration elsewhere on the board, it looks like a few of its friends were about to join in the self-immolation protest as well.

After a brief consultation with his graybeard father, [Vitor] replaced the dead transistors with higher rated versions and then turned his attention to the damaged traces. A bit of wire and a generous helping of solder got the main rail back in one piece, and he touched up the areas where the PCB had blackened for good measure.

A quick test confirmed the relatively simple repairs got the scooter up and running, but how was he going to prevent it from happening again? Reinstalling the original firmware with its more conservative governor was clearly no longer an option after he’d tasted such dizzying speeds, so instead he needed to find out some way to keep the controller cooler. The answer ended up being to attach the MOSFETs to the controller’s aluminum enclosure using thermal pads. This allows them to dissipate far more heat, and should keep a similar failure from happening again. You might be wondering why the MOSFETs weren’t already mounted this way, but unfortunately only Xiaomi can explain that one.

With their rapidly rising popularity hackers have been coming up with more and more elaborate modifications for electric scooters, and thanks to their wide availability on the second hand market, it’s likely the best is still yet to come when it comes to these affordable vehicles.

Hacking A Non-Dimmable LED Fixture

For most of us, the solution to having a non-dimmable LED light bulb but needing a dimmable one is a simple as a drive to the store to get the right kind of bulb. But that seems downright boring, not to mention wasteful, so when [Leo Fernekes] was faced with this problem, he looked for a way to make a non-dimmable bulb dimmable.

To be fair, there was a financial aspect to this hack, too. [Leo] had a bunch of cheap non-dimmable light fixtures he wanted to put to use. He started with a teardown and reverse-engineering of a light strip, which contains little more than LEDs and a small buck converter. His analysis of the circuit led him to a solution for dimming the light: inserting a MOSFET as a shunt around the LEDs. That and the addition of a diode to isolate the LEDs from the current regulator would allow for simple PWM-control of the lights via a microcontroller.

As is typical with these things, there were complications. [Leo] found that a timing problem resulted in flickering LEDs; the fix came from adding a sync circuit that cleverly leveraged a flip-flop inside the PIC16 microcontroller he chose for the circuit. His prototype incorporates these modifications, plus an interface that supports the DALI protocol for architectural lighting control. As always, [Leo] is quick to point out that mixing line voltage into your projects is not without risks, which he takes pains to mitigate. And as is also typical for his projects, [Leo] gives just the right amount of detail to understand the theory behind his design.

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Electric Candle Replaces Flame With Plasma

Ah, the charm of candlelight! Nothing says “romance” — or “extended power outage” — like the warm, soft glow of a real candle. But if you’re not a fan of burning wax for whatever reason, this electric plasma candle may be just the thing to build for your next dinner for two.

This re-imagining of the humble candle comes to us by way of plasma super-fan [Jay Bowles], who has a lot of experience with plasmas and the high-voltage circuits that often go along with them. Even so, he had to enlist help with the circuit, with is essentially a 10-MHz Class-E oscillator, from [Leon] at the Teslaundmehr channel on YouTube. The most prominent feature of the build is the big resonator coil, surrounded by the shorter primary coil and sitting atop the heatsink for the MOSFET driver. [Jay]’s usual acrylic-rich style is well represented here, and the resulting build is quite lovely.

The tuning process, though, sounds like it was pure torture. It took a lot of tweaking — and a lot of MOSFETs — to get the candle to produce a stable flame. But once it did, the results were striking. The plasma coming off the breakout point on the resonator coil is pretty much the same size, shape, and — occasionally — the color as a candle flame. It’s also hot enough to do some damage, so do be careful if you build this. We’ve included both [Jay]’s and [Leon]’s videos below; [Leon]’s has great step-by-step build instructions.

We’ve been following [Jay]’s journey through the plasmaverse for a while now, from his cheap and simple Tesla coils to using corona discharge to clean his hands. He even hosted a Hack Chat on the subject last year.

Note: [Jay] reached out to us after publication about mitigating RF noise. He does his experiments inside a steel-reinforced concrete building with grounded metal screens over the windows. An RF-wizard friend has checked across the spectrum and detected no leaks to the outside. Sounds like the business to us.

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On-Air Sign Helps Keep Your Broadcasts G-Rated

Like many of us, [Michael] needed a way to let the family know whether pants are required to enter the room — in other words, whenever a videoconference is in progress. Sure he could hang a do not disturb sign, but those are easy to forget. There’s no need to worry about forgetting to change status because this beautiful wall-mounted sign can be controlled with Alexa.

Inside the gorgeous box made from walnut, curly maple, and oak is an ESP32, some RGB LEDs, and three MOSFETs. [Michael] is using the fauxmoESP library to interface the ESP32 with Alexa, which emulates a Phillips Hue bulb for the sake of using a protocol she already knows. [Michael] can change the color and brightness percentage with voice commands.

The sign is set up as four different devices — one default, and one for each color. Since talking to Alexa isn’t always appropriate, [Michael] can also change the color of the LEDs using sliders on a website that’s served up by the ESP. Check out the full build video after the break.

Need something quick and dirty that works just as well? Our own [Bob Baddeley] made a status indicator that’s simple and effective.

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Unique LED Display Inspired By Fighter Jet Dashboard

Last year, [Mangy_Dog] was asked by a few friends to consult on a project they were working on. The goal was to build an authentic replica of an F-18 cockpit, apparently for the purposes of creating a film. The project never materialized, but it did inspire him to take a hard look at the 1970s era alphanumeric displays utilized in the real aircraft. One thing lead to another, and he ended up using his own take on the idea to build his own “starburst” digit display.

As [Mangy_Dog] explains, while the faces of these original displays might have been quite small, there was a lot going on behind the scenes. Due to the technical limitations of the time, each alphanumeric character was made up of an array of incandescent light bulbs and fiber optic cables. This worked well enough, but was bulky and complex to manufacture.

Today, we can do better, even on the hobbyist level. As it turns out, 0402 LEDs are just about the right size to recreate the segments of the original starburst displays. So [Mangy_Dog] came up with a simple PCB design to not only align the LEDs properly, but drive them with a 74HC595 shift register and an array of MOSFETs. While assembly wasn’t without its challenges, he made good use of his custom built reflow oven to get all the diminutive components in place.

He went through a few different ideas for the diffuser, but eventually settled on black plastic with tiny holes drilled through courtesy of his laser cutter. Behind each set of three holes is a small pocket that got filled from both sides with transparent UV resin, which was then sanded down after curing. The end result isn’t perfect as you can still tell the center dot is brighter than its peers, but the overall effect is still very nice and definitely has a sort of faux-retro appeal.

The military naturally has access to some incredible technology, though they have a tendency to hold onto it for decades. That an individual with a meager budget and homemade tools can improve upon a piece of hardware installed in a $60+ million airplane is a testament to just how fast things are moving.

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Cool Off With A Piezo And A Glass Of Water

Some cool-mist humidifiers work by flinging water at a vaporizer, but our favorite kind uses a piezoelectric transducer. These work by using high-frequency sound waves to pound the surface of the water with mechanical energy. That energy introduces standing waves that force the water to break apart into a fine mist on the surface of the piezo disk.

The driving circuit for this DIY mist maker uses a 555 to generate 113 KHz, a trimmer potentiometer to fine-tune it, and a MOSFET to amplify the signal. You don’t need much more than that and a handful of passives to recreate this cool junk box experiment, but the spec of the piezo disk is quite important. The circuit is designed for atomizing transducers, which have a resonant frequency of 113 KHz — much higher than your average junk box piezo. Check out the demo and build video after the break.

Atomizing transducers can do way more than than moisten the air for our comfort. They’re not picky about where the water comes from, so if you have enough of them, you can dry a load of laundry in a few minutes.

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