A clock with a VFD display in an orange TV-like case

Never Miss An Email With This 1970s Style Desktop Notifier

If you like the 1970s aesthetic but think bell-bottoms, big hair and psychedelic wallpaper are a bit too much in this day and age, you might want to have a look at [Pierre Muth]’s latest build, The Absurd Notifier. It’s a useful desk accessory that adds just a little bit of ’70s flair to your office: housed inside what looks like an orange TV standing on shiny metal feet is a little gadget that can tell you if you’ve got important email messages waiting or an appointment coming up.

[Pierre] built the system around a Garmin Vivosmart 3 smartwatch that he bought very cheaply because it had a broken display. The display’s pinout and protocol were of course undocumented, so [Pierre] hooked up his logic analyzer to try and figure out how it worked. It turned out to be a simple SPI setup, and with a bit of trial and error he was able to extract the images that the watch was sending out.

To replace the broken screen, [Pierre] turned to some 128×64 pixel VFD displays that he had left over from an earlier project. Their resolution was exactly the same as the Garmin’s original OLED display, but their interface wasn’t: the VFDs expected 115k2 serial data. Programming a PIC microcontroller with an SPI port on one side and a UART port on the other made for a simple bridge between the two.

[Pierre] then designed and 3D printed a case reminiscent of a 1970s TV, with matching bright orange color. The end result is a funky little retro clock that shows notifications on a vintage green display. If you like desktop notifiers, we seen several neat ones alerting their owners about things ranging from new YouTube subscribers to the ISS passing by.

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Mini Space Station Keeps Tabs On The Real One

Over the years, we’ve seen a number of projects that can blink an LED or otherwise notify you when the International Space Station is overhead. It’s a neat trick that brings space a little closer to home, but not exactly a groundbreaking achievement in 2020. That said, we think this version built by [Lance] deserves some special recognition for the unbearably adorable miniature ISS he designed it around.

Especially once you realize that its tiny little solar panels are actually functional. Well, more or less. [Lance] says conditions have to be pretty ideal for the panels to actually charge up the internal battery, so there’s the option to top things off with a USB cable if need be. To try and reduce power consumption as much as possible, he uses some pretty aggressive power saving tricks which are interesting in their own right.

As the ISS silently passes over your head several times per day, the notifier can’t spend too much time sleeping on the job. The Particle Photon needs to wake up regularly to pull down the time of the next pass given the current geographical position, then go back to sleep until right before showtime. When the Station is nearby, it blinks an Adafruit Smart NeoPixel positioned under a small 3D printed model of the Earth, and finally goes back to sleep until the process starts over.

If you’re looking for something a little less complicated, this two dimensional representation of the Space Station might be more your speed. Then again, an even more complicated take on the idea using lasers sounds pretty good too.

Measure Your YouTube Importance

How do you hack your motivation? Do you put red marker Xs on a paper calendar every day you exercise? Do you use an egg timer to sprint through dozens of emails? Do you lock all the doors and shut off your data to write some bulletproof code? If you are [Hulk], you build a YouTube Desktop Notifier showing his YouTube subscribers and views. This is his ticket to getting off the couch to make a video about just such a device. There is something poetic about building a mechanism to monitor its own success making a feedback loop of sorts. The Hackaday.io page follows the video, so anyone who wants to build their own doesn’t have to scribble notes while pausing the video which is also posted below the break.

The hardware list is logical, starting with a NodeMCU module programmed through the Arduino IDE. Addressable 7-segment displays show the statistics in red, but you can sub in your preferred color with the back-lighting LEDs. It should be possible to share the CLK pins on the displays if you are important enough to need more digits. [Hulk] already outlined a list of improvements including switching to addressable backlights and adding daily and monthly tracking.

Monitoring online values without a computer monitor is satisfying on a level because it shows what motivates us, whether that is Bitcoin or the weather.

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Mailbox Notifier Texts When The Letter Carrier Arrives


[Felix Rusu’s] mailbox is on the other side of the street and he’s got a pretty big front yard. This means checking for mail is not just a pop your head out of the door type of activity. This becomes especially noticeable during the winter months when he has to bundle up and trudge through the snow to see if his letter carrier has been there yet. But he’s made pointless trips a thing of the past by building a notifier that monitors the mailbox for him.

He’s using a Moteino, which is an Arduino clone of his own making. It’s tiny and features an RF module on the underside of the board which takes care of communicating with a base station inside the house. The module seen above rolls the microcontroller board up along with a 9V battery and a hall effect sensor which can tell if the mailbox door is open or closed. When the Arduino detects a change to that sensor it pushes some data back to the base station which then relays the info to a computer or Raspberry Pi in order to send him a text message. All of this is shown off in the video after the break.

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Desktop Email Notification Bell


Instructables user [meseta] wanted an audible notification whenever he received an email, but must have thought that his computer’s built-in sounds were lacking in some regard. To get the perfect sound that he desired, he built himself a USB-powered notification bell.

Using an off the shelf “front desk bell” and a hand made electromagnet, he constructed a bell that could be triggered whenever a message showed up in his desktop email client. The electromagnet can be triggered by a quick pulse from a microcontroller, and in [meseta’s] case, he used a Forebrain dev board. He created a filter in his email client that runs an executable each time a message is received. This executable in turn sends a message to his microcontroller via USB, triggering the bell.

While we think that the notifier could have been put together using a far less powerful microcontroller, it’s a neat idea regardless. People seem to love alternative notification systems, so we’re pretty sure this bell will appeal to many in that crowd.

Keep reading to see a short video demonstration of his email notifier in action.

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Facebook Notifier Uses Some Papercraft And Simple Electronics

This weekend project will tell you when you’ve got something new to look at on your Facebook page (translated). The yellow flag on the side of the mini-mailbox automatically goes up, alerting you to your recent online popularity.

[Rocco’s] craftwork on this project is fantastic. We love the scale, the colors, and especially the artificial grass that adorns the base. Inside the mailbox an Arduino controls a small servo motor attached to the new mail flag. As with other Arduino-based notifiers (be it the Internet Furby, or our own troll sniffing rat) the USB connection makes it incredibly easy to convert online information to real-world signals. The client side of this is a Python script. It uses a package that we were previously unfamiliar with called mechanize. We’ve just made a cursory examination of how that package is used, but we’re going to keep it in mind as an alternative to our usual go-to package, BeautifulSoup, which tends to be a bit hairy when you’re just looking for some basic data.

Building A Dead Mouse’s Switch


[Ned] had a mouse problem in a very uncomfortable place.

No, not like the back of a Volkswagen, in his ceiling. He wanted to put a mouse trap up there to take care of the critter, but knowing how nasty a tripped trap can be after a few days, he was hesitant. He recalled a project he saw online where a mouse trap was wired like a dead man’s switch and he got to work putting together a trap of his own.

He scavenged some parts from around the house and wired up the mouse trap so that a pair of LEDs were lit so long as the trap had not been sprung on an unsuspecting mouse. Once a mouse is caught in the trap, his circuit is broken, and the LEDs go off, letting [Ned] know it’s time to poke his head back up into the ceiling and clean things up.

While his trap is decidedly low-tech, we always enjoy seeing a cheap and easy solution to annoying, everyday problems.