Spare Parts Express

I’ve got spare parts, and I cannot lie.

This week I’m sending out two care packages to friends and coworkers because I’ve got too many hackables on hand, and not enough time to hack them all. One is a funky keyboard, and the other is an FPGA dev board, but that’s not the point. The point is that the world is too interesting, and many of us have more projects piled up in the to-do box, with associated gear, than we’ll ever have time to complete.

Back in the before-times, we would meet up, talk about our ongoing hacks, and invariably someone would say “oh you need an X, I’ve got half a box of them” and send you one. Or maybe you’d be the one with the extra widgets on hand. I know I’ve happily been in both positions.

Either way, it’s a win for the giver, who gets to take a widget off the widget pile, for the receiver, who doesn’t have to go to the widget store, and for the environment, which has to produce fewer widgets. (My apologies to the widget manufacturers and middlemen.)

This reminded me of Lenore Edman and Windell Oskay’s Great Internet Migratory Box Of Electronics Junk back in the late aughts. Trolling through the wiki was like a trip down memory lane. This box visited my old hackerspace, and then ended up with Bunnie Huang. Good times, good people, good hacker junk! And then there’s our own Brian Benchoff’s Travelling Hacker Box and spinoffs.

These are great and fun projects, but they all end up foundering in one respect: to make sense, the value of goods taken and received has to exceed the cost of the postage, and if you’re only interested in a few things in any given box, that’s a lot of dead weight adding to the shipping cost.

So I was trying to brainstorm a better solution. Some kind of centralized pinboard, where the “have too many h-bridge drivers” folks can hook up with the “need an h-bridge” people? Or is this ad-hoc social network that we already have working out well enough?

What do you think? How can we get the goods to those who want to work on them?

Hackaday Podcast 083: Soooo Many Custom Peripherals, Leaving Bluetooth Footprints, And A Twirlybird On Mars

Hackaday editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams ogle the greatest hacks from the past 168 hours. Did you know that Mars Rover didn’t get launched into space all alone? Nestled in it’s underbelly is a two-prop helicopter that’s a fascinating study in engineering for a different world. Fingerprinting audio files isn’t a special trick reserved for Shazam, you can do it just as easily with an ESP32. A flaw in the way Bluetooth COVID tracing frameworks chirp out their anonymized hashes means they’re not as perfectly anonymized as planned. And you’re going to love these cool ways to misuse items from those massive parts catalogs.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (~65 MB)

Places to follow Hackaday podcasts:

Continue reading “Hackaday Podcast 083: Soooo Many Custom Peripherals, Leaving Bluetooth Footprints, And A Twirlybird On Mars”

The B-Sides: Curious Uses Of Off-the-Shelf Parts

I admit: a few years of prototyping without easy machine shop access really whets my tastebuds for turning metal chips. But all that time spent away from proper machine tools has also pushed me to re-imagine part catalogs, something I see almost every day. Without any precision metalworking tools handy, stock mechanical parts have become my supplement for complexity. And so a former dogma to machine-everything-thyself has been transformed into a hunt for that already-made-part-that-does-it-for-you.

But with part catalogs featuring tens of thousands of purpose-built parts, I started reimagining some of them for other misdeeds. And after a few years spent reinventing use cases for some of these parts, I’m about ready to tell you how to misuse them properly. So today I’d like to show you some of my favorite mechanical part B-sides, so to speak. These are ordinary parts in unorthodox places–something you surely won’t find in the datasheet! Now let’s have a look. Continue reading “The B-Sides: Curious Uses Of Off-the-Shelf Parts”

Control A Motor With A Touchpad

There are a surprising wealth of parts inside of old laptops that can be easily scavenged, but often these proprietary tidbits of electronics will need a substantial amount of work to make them useful again. Obviously things such as hard drives and memory can easily be used again, but it’s also possible to get things like screens or batteries to work with other devices with some effort. Now, there’s also a way to reuse the trackpad as well.

This build uses a PS/2 touchpad with a Synaptics chip in it, which integrates pretty smoothly with an Arduino after a few pins on the touchpad are soldered to. Most of the work is done on the touchpad’s built in chip, so once the Arduino receives the input from the touchpad it’s free to do virtually anything with it. In this case, [Kushagra] used it to operate a stepper motor in a few different implementations.

If you have this type of touchpad lying around, all of the code and schematics to make it useful again are available on the project page. An old laptop in the parts bin is sure to have a lot of uses even after you take the screen off, but don’t forget that your old beige PS/2 mouse from 1995 is sure to have some uses like this as well.

Continue reading “Control A Motor With A Touchpad”

Hardware Hacker’s Marie Kondo: How Many LM386s Is Too Many?

We’re running a contest on Making Tech at Home: building projects out of whatever you’ve got around the house. As a hacker who’s never had a lab outside of my apartment, house, or hackerspace, I had to laugh at the premise. Where the heck else would I hack?

The idea is that you’re constrained to whatever parts you’ve got on hand. But at the risk of sounding like Scrooge McDuck sitting on a mountain of toilet paper, I’ve got literally hundreds of potentiometers in my closet, a couple IMUs, more microcontrollers than you can shake a stick at, and 500 ml of etching solution waiting for me in the bathroom. Switches, motors, timing belts, nichrome wire…maybe I should put in an order for another kilogram of 3D printer filament. In short, unless it’s a specialty part or an eBay module, I’m basically set.

But apparently not everyone is so well endowed. I’ve heard rumors of people who purchase all of the parts for a particular project. That ain’t me. The guru of household minimalism asks us to weigh each object in our possession and ask “does it spark joy?”. And the answer, when I pull out the needed 3.3 V low-dropout regulator and get the project built now instead of three days from now, is “yes”.

And I’m not even a hoarder. (I keep telling myself.) The rule that keeps me on this side of sanity: I have a box for each type of part, and they are essentially fixed. When no more motors fit in the motor box, no more motors are ordered, no matter how sexy, until some project uses enough of them to free up space. It’s worked for the last 20 years, long before any of us had even heard of Marie Kondo.

So if you also sit atop a heap of VFD displays like Smaug under the Lonely Mountain, we want to see what you can do. If you do win, Digi-Key is sending you a $500 goodie box to replenish your stash. But even if you don’t win, you’ve freed up space in the “Robot Stuff” box. That’s like winning, and you deserve some new servos. Keep on hacking!

This article is part of the Hackaday.com newsletter, delivered every seven days for each of the last 200+ weeks. It also includes our favorite articles from the last seven days that you can see on the web version of the newsletter.

Want this type of article to hit your inbox every Friday morning? You should sign up!

A Datasheet Manifesto For The 21st Century

Selecting electronic components can be a frustrating process, one of trawling through the websites of distributors such as DigiKey, Mouser, or RS, and then poring over manufacturer data sheets. These documents produced as detailed guides to the technical specifications of a device contain enough to give an engineer everything they need to incorporate it into their designs.

Unfortunately many datasheets fall short of the ideal, and have instead become marketing documents designed to “win the socket”. This is a problem that vexes Boldport’s [Saar Drimer], and he has written a personal manifesto outlining his vision to make the world of datasheets a better place.

It’s a common-sense designer’s wishlist, and it’s one we could completely get behind. Chief among his desires are web-readable datasheets as well as the ubiquitous PDFs, with full data in human and machine readable forms instead of tiny printed graphs and tables. He also makes a plea for better UX testing to combat the scourge of the inaccurate pad layout, to which we’d add providing footprints ready-made for all popular CAD packages. These and the rest of his manifesto would be a game-changer, and wouldn’t displace the existing paper or PDF sheet for those who still use them. Whether or not the manufacturers will take heed is anyone’s guess, but to have such an ideal laid out is a start.

If you’re not familiar with [Saar]’s work, you’re in for a treat. Boldport produce some of the most beautiful artistic PCBs, and we’ve featured them before more than once.

Thanks to our colleague [Ted Yapo] for the header image.

Hackaday Podcast Ep6 – Reversing IPod Screens, Hot Isotopes, We <3 Parts, And Biometric Toiletseats

What’s the buzz in the hackersphere this week? Hackaday Editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys recap their favorite hacks and articles from the past seven days. In Episode Six we cover an incredible reverse engineering effort Mike Harrison put in with iPod nano replacement screens. We dip our toes in the radioactive world of deep-space power sources, spend some time adoring parts and partsmakers, and take a very high-brow look at toilet-seat technology. In our quickfire hacks we discuss coherent sound (think of it as akin to laminar flow, but for audio), minimal IDEs for embedded, hand-tools for metalwork, and the little ESP32 bot that could.

Links for all discussed on the show are found below. As always, join in the comments below as we’ll be watching those as we work on next week’s episode!

Direct download (63.5 MB)

Places to follow Hackaday podcasts:

Continue reading “Hackaday Podcast Ep6 – Reversing IPod Screens, Hot Isotopes, We <3 Parts, And Biometric Toiletseats”