A PoE adapter's RJ45 jack added inside an Acer laptop

Laptop Empty Space Filled With RS485 And PoE

Out of all the laptop upgrade options typically available, you wouldn’t expect this specific one. [controlmypad] decided to take a part of his RS485 device programming workflow and put it inside of a spare laptop he picked up for cheap. Typically, he’d occupy some desk space and lay out an unwieldy combination of a USB-RS485 dongle, a PoE power injector, a PSU for that injector, and a few cables to join it all – being extra weight in the tool bag, cluttering the workspace when laid out, and the RS485 adapter slowly wearing out the USB ports during the work-related motions. No reason that all of this couldn’t be packed inside a laptop, however.

What helps a lot is that, in many modern cheap laptops, the motherboard is fairly small, and the DVD drive plastic placeholder can be omitted without second thought. Cutting off the plastic molding from both of the adapters turns them into a nicely reusable circuit board and a small PoE module, respectively. After laborious yet careful cutting of the laptop case with a hobby knife, the PoE injector fits right in and, essentially, adds an extra RJ45 port to the laptop. From where the Hackaday.io write-up left off, it doesn’t seem like this mod got fully completed, but most of the important details are there for us to learn from. What got left out is connecting it to an internal USB port (should help that the motherboard’s schematics are available online), as well as creating 12V-24V from the laptop’s power rails. At this point, however, this mod is a big step forward usability-wise, even if it still requires an external PSU.

Laptop internal upgrade projects are rare but cherished – it’s a combination of “daring”, “inquisitive” and “meticulous” that results in people successfully hacking on a thing they certainly were not meant to hack, and have that thing serve their needs better. Apart from all the EEE PC upgrade options that set the bar for a generation of laptop modders, there’s a myriad of unconventional laptop modification vectors – you could do a thorough from-scratch Type-C charging port conversion, replace your webcam with an FSF-endorsed open firmware WiFi dongle, build in a “12-axis” sensor for auto-orientation and data-logging, or invent a remote self-destruct mechanism for your laptop. Those are, indeed, quite a few things you won’t typically find in the list of available options while customizing your laptop at the manufacturer website.

Developing A Power Over Ethernet Stack Light

A common sight on factory floors, stack lights are used to indicate the status of machinery to anyone within visual range. But hackers have found out you can pick them up fairly cheap online, so we’ve started to see them used as indicators in slightly more mundane situations than they were originally intended for. [Tyler Ward] recently decided he wanted his build own network controlled stack light, and thought it would double as a great opportunity to dive into the world of Power Over Ethernet (PoE).

Now the easy way to do this would be to take the Raspberry Pi, attach the official PoE Hat to it, and toss it into a nice enclosure. Write some code that toggles the GPIO pins attached to the LEDs in the stack light, and call it a day. Would be done in an afternoon and you could be showing it off on Reddit by dinner time. But that’s not exactly what [Tyler] had in mind.

An early Arduino-based prototype.

He decided to take the scenic route and designed his own custom PCB that combines an Ethernet interface, PoE hardware, and the ESP32 into one compact unit. It’s no great secret that it only takes a few extra components to plug the ESP32 into the network rather than relying on WiFi, but it’s still not something we see done very often by hobbyists. Rarer still is seeing somebody roll their own PoE solution, but thanks to the in-depth documentation [Tyler] has provided for his circuit, that may change in the future.

On the software side [Tyler] has developed a firmware for the ESP32 that supports both Art-Net and RDM protocols, which are subsets of the larger DMX protocol. That means the controller should be compatible with existing software designed for controlling theatrical lighting systems. If you’d rather take a more direct approach, the firmware also sports a web interface and simple HTTP API to provide some additional flexibility.

While it’s exceptionally impressive, not everyone will need such a robust solution. If you just want a quick and easy way to fire up your stack light, a USB controlled relay and some Python can get you where you need to go.

Starlink: A Review And Some Hacks

I could probably be described as a SpaceX enthusiast. I catch their launches when I can, and I’ve watched the development of Starship with great interest. But the side-effect of SpaceX’s reusable launch system is that getting to space has become a lot cheaper. Having excess launch capacity means that space projects that were previously infeasible become suddenly at least plausible. One of those is Starlink.

Starlink is SpaceX’s satellite Internet service. Wireless and cellular internet have helped in some places, but if you really live out in the sticks, satellite internet is your only option. And while satellite Internet isn’t exactly new, Starlink is a bit different. Hughesnet, another provider, has a handful of satellites in geostationary orbit, which is about 22,000 miles above the earth. To quote Grace Hopper, holding a nearly foot-long length of wire representing a nanosecond, “Between here and the satellite, there are a very large number nanoseconds.”

SpaceX opted to do something a bit different. In what seemed like an insane pipe dream at the time, they planned to launch a satellite constellation of 12,000 birds, some of them flying as low as 214 mile altitude. The downside of flying so low is that they won’t stay in orbit as long, but SpaceX is launching them significantly faster than they’re coming down. So far, nearly 1,600 Starlink satellites are in orbit, in a criss-crossing pattern at 342 miles (550 km) up.

This hundred-fold difference in altitude matters. A Hughesnet connection has a minimum theoretical latency of 480 ms, and in reality runs closer to 600 ms. Starlink predicts a theoretical minimum of under 10 ms, though real-world performance isn’t quite that low yet. In the few weeks I’ve had the service, ping times have fallen from mid-60s down to 20s and 30s. The way Starlink works right now, data goes up to the closest satellite and directly back to the connected ground station. The long-term plan is to allow the satellites to talk directly to each other over laser links, skipping over the ground stations. Since the speed of light is higher in a vacuum than in a fiber-optic cable, the fully deployed system could potentially have lower latency than even fiber Internet, depending on the location of the endpoint and how many hops need to be made.

I got a Starlink setup, and have been trying out the beta service. Here’s my experience, and a bonus hack to boot.

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A Cyclopic LCD Case For Your Raspberry Pi Server

If you’ve got a personal website that needs hosting or a few hundred gigabytes of files that could use a centralized storage location, the Raspberry Pi’s small size and extreme energy efficiency make it a compelling server choice compared to that curbside Pentium 4 box you’ve been trying to find a home for. All you need is something to put in.

Of course there’s no shortage of Pi case designs ready to be extruded from your 3D printer, but we recently found ourselves particularly taken with this unique one designed by [Ken Segler]. It’s not only small and sleek with a dash of futuristic flair, but it includes a front-mounted two inch 240 x 320 IPS display that connects to the Pi over SPI. At the minimum that gives you a way to see all those beautiful boot messages on startup, but with a little code, it could provide you with various system statics and status messages at a glance.

While the LCD is clearly the star of the show here, the case also has a few other nice features that make it worthy of your consideration. The magnetically attached fan filter on the the top, for one. The stacked layout that puts the Pi directly above the SSD also makes for a relatively compact final product.

One thing to note though is that [Ken] is using Power-over-Ethernet, meaning there’s no spot for a dedicated power jack on the case. It’s an easy enough feature to add into your own build, but naturally not everyone’s network is suitably equipped. In that case, beyond the normal annoyances of editing STL files, it shouldn’t be too much trouble to add one in without having to literally hack your way through the printed plastic.

A Network Attached VFD Tube Clock

The elegance of Power over Ethernet (PoE) is that you can provide network connectivity and power over a single cable. Unfortunately not nearly enough hardware seems to support this capability, forcing intrepid hackers to take matters into their own hands. The latest in this line of single-cable creations is this beautiful Vacuum Fluorescent Display (VFD) clock from [Glen Akins].

Testing the VFD tube socket

One of the key advantages VFDs have over their Nixie predecessors is greatly reduced energy consumption, and after [Glen] ran the numbers, he saw that a display using six VFD tubes could easily be powered with standard PoE hardware. With this information, he started designing the PCB around the early 1990s era IV-12 tube, which has the advantage of being socketed so he could easily remove them later if necessary.

[Glen] first had to create a schematic and PCB footprint for the IV-12 tube that he could import into Eagle, which he was kind enough to share should anyone else be working with these particular tubes down the line. After a test of the newly designed socket was successful, he moved onto the rest of the electronics.

The clock is powered by a Microchip PIC18F67J60, which connects to the Ethernet network and pulls the current time down from NTP. After seeing so many clocks use an ESP to connect to the Internet over WiFi, there’s something refreshing about seeing a wired version. The tube segments are driven by a HV5812, also Microchip branded. Lastly, [Glen] used a number of DC/DC converters to generate the 1.5 V, 3.3 V, 5 V, and 25 V necessary to drive all the electronics and VFDs.

We absolutely love the simplicity of this clock, from its sleek aluminum enclosure to that single RJ45 jack on the back. But if you’re looking for something with a bit more flash, [Glen] also put together some PoE Christmas lights over the holidays which share a number of design elements with this project.

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PoE Powers Christmas Lights, But Opens Up So Much More

Addressable LEDs are a staple of homemade Christmas decorations in our community, as is microprocessor control of those LEDs. So at first sight [Glen Akins]’ LED decorated Christmas tree looks pretty enough, but isn’t particularly unusual. But after reading his write-up you’ll discover there’s far more to the project than meets the eye, and learn a lot about the technologies behind it that has relevance far beyond a festive light show.

The decoration is powered exclusively from power-over-Ethernet, with a PIC microcontroller translating Art-Net DMX-over-Ethernet packets into commands for the LED string. The control board is designed from the ground up and includes all the PoE circuitry, and the write-upĀ  gives a very thorough introduction to this power source that takes the reader way beyond regarding PoE as simply another off-the-shelf black box. Along the way we see all his code, as well as learn a few interesting tidbits such as the use of a pre-programmed EEPROM containing a unique MAC address.

So if your house has CAT5 wiring and you want an extra dimension to your festive splendour, you’ve officially got a whole year to build your own version. He’s featured here before, with his buzzer to break the Caps Lock habit.

Continue reading “PoE Powers Christmas Lights, But Opens Up So Much More”

Using PoE With A Raspberry Pi 3 For About Two Bucks

When the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ was announced in March of 2018, one of its new features was the ability to be (more easily) powered via Power-over-Ethernet (PoE), with an official PoE HAT for the low price of just twenty-one USA bucks. The thing also almost worked as intended the first time around. But to some people this just isn’t good enough, resulting in [Albert David] putting out a solution he calls “poor man’s PoE” together for about two bucks.

His solution makes it extra cheap by using so-called passive PoE, which injects a voltage onto the conductors of the network cable being used for PoE, without bothering with any kind of handshake. In general this is considered to be a very reliable (albeit non-standard) form of PoE that works great until something goes up in smoke. It’s also ridiculously cheap, with a PoE injector adapter (RJ-45 plug & 2.1×5.5 mm power jack to RJ-45 jack) going for about 80 cents, and a DC-DC buck converter that can handle the input of 12V for about 50 cents.

The rest of the $2 budget is mostly spent on wiring and heatshrink, resulting in a very compact PoE solution that plugs straight into the PoE header on the Raspberry Pi 3 board, with the buck converter outputs going into the ground and +5V pins on the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO header.

A fancier solution would implement any of the standard PoE protocols to do the work of negotiating a suitable voltage. Maybe this could be the high-tech, $5 solution featuring an MCU and a small PCB?