A Look At Liquid Dielectrics

One evening quite a few years ago, as I was driving through my hometown I saw the telltale flashing lights of the local volunteer fire department ahead. I passed by a side road where all the activity was: a utility pole on fire. I could see smoke and flames shooting from the transformer and I could hear the loud, angry 60 Hz buzzing that sounded like a million hornet nests. As I passed, the transformer exploded and released a cloud of flaming liquid that rained down on the road and lawns underneath. It seemed like a good time to quit rubbernecking and beat it as fast as I could.

I knew at the time that the flaming liquid was transformer oil, but I never really knew what it was for or why it was in there. Oil is just one of many liquid dielectrics that are found in a lot of power distribution equipment, from those transformers on the pole to the big capacitors and switchgear in the local substation. Liquid dielectrics are interesting materials that are worth taking a look at.

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Oil-Immersed Raspberry Pi Keeps Its Cool Under Heavy Loads

As a general rule, liquids and electronics don’t mix. One liquid bucks that trend, though, and can contribute greatly to the longevity of certain circuits: oil. Dielectric oil cools and insulates everything from the big mains transformers on the pole to switchgear in the substation. But what about oil for smaller circuits?

[Lord_of_Bone] was curious to see if an oil-cooled Raspberry Pi is possible, and the short answer is: for the most part, yes. The experimental setup seen in the video below is somewhat crude — just a Pi running Quake 3 for an hour to really run up the CPU temperature, which is monitored remotely. With or without heatsinks mounted, in free air the Pi ranges from about 50°C at idle to almost 70°C under load, which is pretty darn hot. Dunking the Pi in a bath of plain vegetable oil, which he admits was a poor choice, changes those numbers dramatically: 37°C at idle and an only warmish 48°C after an hour of gaming. He also tested the Pi post-cleaning, which is where he hit a minor hiccup. The clean machine started fine but suffered from a series of reboots shortly thereafter. Twelve hours later the Pi was fine, though, so he figures a few stray drops of water that hadn’t yet evaporated were to blame.

Is oil immersion a practical way to cool a Pi? Probably not. It doesn’t mean people haven’t tried it before, of course, but we applaud the effort and the careful experimentation.

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Bringing A VIC-20 Back From An Oily Grave

No matter which platform you’re into, retrocomputing is usually a labor of love. The obsolete, the unpopular, the downright weird – old computers of every stripe are found, restored to something like their former glory, and given a new lease on life. It’s heartwarming, in a way. But when a computer has obviously been abused, it takes a little extra effort, of a lot in the case of this oil-submerged VIC-20 restoration.

In the two-part video below, [The 8-Bit Guy] goes through the gory details of bringing this classic Commodore back from the grave. The first video shows the cosmetic rebuild, which given the filthy state of the machine was no mean feat. Cracked open, the guts were found to be filled with an oily residue; [The 8-Bit Guy] chalks that up to a past life in some kind of industrial setting, but we see it more as flood damage. Whatever the sad circumstances on the machine’s demise, the case required a workout to clean up, and it came out remarkably fresh looking. The guts needed quite a bit of cleaning too, mainly with brake cleaner to cut through the gunk.

Part two focuses on getting the machine running again, and here [The 8-Bit Guy] had his work cut out as well. With a logic probe, signal injector, and some good old-fashioned chip swapping, he was able to eliminate most of the potential problems before settling in on some RAM chips as culprits for the video problems he saw at power-up. It all worked out in the end, and the machine looks and acts like new. We’re impressed.

Maybe we shouldn’t question [The 8-Bit Guy]’s call on the VIC-20 being from an industrial setting, though. After all, the “little Amiga that could” ran a school’s HVAC system for over 30 years.

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Mechanisms: Mechanical Seals

On the face of it, keeping fluids contained seems like a simple job. Your fridge alone probably has a dozen or more trivial examples of liquids being successfully kept where they belong, whether it’s the plastic lid on last night’s leftovers or the top on the jug of milk. But deeper down in the bowels of the fridge, like inside the compressor or where the water line for the icemaker is attached, are more complex and interesting mechanisms for keeping fluids contained. That’s the job of seals, the next topic in our series on mechanisms.

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You Got A 3D Printer, Now What?

Given the incredibly low prices on some of the models currently on the market, it’s more than likely a number of Hackaday readers have come out of the holiday season with a shiny new desktop 3D printer. It’s even possible some of you have already made the realization that 3D printing is a bit harder than you imagined. Sure the newer generation of 3D printers make it easier than ever, but it’s still not the same “click and forget” experience of printing on paper, for instance.

In light of this, I thought it might be nice to start off the new year with some advice for those who’ve suddenly found themselves lost in a forest of PLA. Some of this information may seem obvious to those of us who’ve spent years huddled over a print bed, but as with many technical pursuits, we tend to take for granted the knowledge gained from experience. For my own part, the challenges I faced years ago with my first wooden 3D printer were wholly different than what I imagined. I assumed that the real challenge would be getting the machine assembled and running, but the time it took to build the machine was nothing in comparison to the hours and hours of trial and error it took before I gained the confidence to really utilize the technology.

Of course, everyone’s experience is bound to be different, and we’d love to hear about yours in the comments. Grand successes, crushing defeats, and everything in between. It’s all part of the learning process, and all valuable information for those who are just starting out.

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Oil Barrel Smoker

What would you do with a pair of oil drums and a craving for delicious food? Like any sane person, redditor [Kilgore_nrw] made the logical choice and built a smoker.

To make the build easier, he picked up a double barrel stove kit which came with a door, hinges, legs and flue connectors. While fixing the legs and mounting the stove door — high enough for a bed of bricks in the fire barrel — went as planned, he had to improvise the installation of the smoke flue. It ended up being the exact same diameter as the flue connectors, but notching it enough to slide into place made a satisfactory seal.

Not liking the look of having the stack at the ‘front’ of the smoker, he mounted it above the flue at the rear and added two sandstone slabs in the smoking chamber to evenly distribute the heat. Finishing touches included heavy duty drawer slides for the cooking rack — ensuring easy access to deliciousness — and painstakingly grinding off the old paint to apply a new heat resistant coating. For any fans out there, the finished pictures are a sight to behold.

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Paraffin Oil And Water Dot Matrix Display

In preparation for Makerfaire, [hwhardsoft] needed to throw together some demos. So they dug deep and produced this unique display.

The display uses two synchronized peristaltic pumps to push water and red paraffin through a tube that switches back over itself in a predictable fashion. As visible in the video after the break, the pumps go at it for a few minutes producing a seemingly random pattern. The pattern coalesces at the end into a short string of text. The text is unfortunately fairly hard to read, even on a contrasting background. Perhaps an application of UV dye could help?

Once the message has been displayed, the water and paraffin drop back into the holding tank as the next message is queued up. The oil and water separate just like expected and a pump at the level of each fluid feeds it back into the system.

We were deeply puzzled at what appeared to be an Arduino mounted on a DIN rail for use in industrial settings, but then discovered that this product is what [hwhardsoft] built the demo to sell. We can see some pretty cool variations on this technique for art displays.

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