Rŏ̽ta: Counting, With Style

Rǒta counts things. That’s it, really — what a cheap little mechanical counter does with a thumb press, or what you can do by counting on your fingers and toes, that’s pretty much all that Rǒta does. But it does it with style.

OK, that’s being a bit unfair to [Kevin Santo Cappuccio] — Rǒta has a few more tricks up its sleeve than simple counting. But really, those functions are just icing on the cake of how this little gadget looks. Rǒta was built around the unbeatable combination of a rotary telephone dial mechanism and a trio of Nixie tubes. The dial looks like it might have come from an old pay phone, all shiny and chrome and super robust looking. The Nixies sit atop the dial on a custom PCB, and everything, including the high-voltage supply for the tubes, is enclosed in a 3D printed case with a little bit of a Fallout vibe.

But what does this thing do? Actually, quite a lot. It’ll count up and down, using whatever number you dial into it. You can either increment from zero, or enter any three-digit number as the starting count. It keeps track of the score of your golf game, if that’s your thing, and it’s also got a stopwatch function. You can even dial up a display of the current battery voltage. It takes some ingenuity to use just the dial for all these functions, but that’s as easy as dialing the operator used to be — dialing 0 puts it in menu mode, allowing you to access any of the functions printed on the card in the center of the dial. It’s pretty clever — check out the video below.

Is it particularly useful? Perhaps not. But when has that ever been a measure of the worth of a project? Something like this rotary cellphone might be more useful, but sometimes looking great is good enough.

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Reverse-Engineering A Smoker

In certain parts of the world, cooking meat in a regionally-specific way is a critical part of the local culture. From barbeque in the American south to boerewors and braaivleis in South Africa to Montréal smoked meat in French Canada, almost every location has its cookout specialty. So much so that various manufacturers of the tools used for these foods include all kinds of gadgets to monitor the sometimes days-long process of cooking various cuts of meat. [megamarco833]’s smoker, though, includes some tools of his own design.

The smoker is made by a company called Pitboss and includes a rotary switch and control board for maintaining a precise temperature in the smoker. The switch works by changing the voltage value sent to a small microcontroller. By interfacing an ESP32 to this switch, [megamarco833] can remotely change the smoke level and temperature of the smoker. On the software side, it uses a combination of Node-RED and Domoticz to handle the automation and control.

For a cookout that can last hours (if not days) a remotely accessible smoker like this is an invaluable tool if you want to do something other than manually monitor the temperature of your meat for that much time. And, if your barbeque grill or smoker of choice doesn’t already have an embedded control board of some type, we’ve seen analog cooking tools adapted to much the same purpose as this one.

Thanks to [Peter] who sent in the tip and also helped [megamarco833] with the reverse-engineering of the control board!

Simplify Your Life With This Pocket Rotary Cellphone

With its constant siren song of distraction and endless opportunity for dopamine hits, a smartphone can cause more problems than it solves. The simple solution would be a no-nonsense flip phone, but that offers zero points for style. So why not build your own rotary dial pocket cellphone?

Of course, what style points accrue to [Justine Haupt] take a hit in terms of practicality, but that was never really the point of this build. And even then, the phone appears to be surprisingly useful. It’s based on the rotary dial from a Trimline phone, which itself was an epic hack back in 1965 when it was introduced. The 3D-printed case contains an ATmega2560V microcontroller and an Adafruit FONA 3G cell module, while a flexible mono eInk display adorns the outside. Some buttons, a folding SMA antenna, and some LEDs for signal strength and battery level complete the build, which easily slips into a pocket. The dial can be used not only to dial the phone but to control the speaker volume; in practice, [Justine] mainly uses the speed dial buttons to make calls, though.

We’ve seen rotary phones converted to cell before, but this one is a next-level integration of the retro and the modern. It’s simple, intuitive, and distraction-free, and best of all, it’s a great excuse not to return a text.

Thanks to [J. Peterson] for the tip.

Finely Machined Valve Controls Miniature RC Hydraulics

Hydraulic components are the industrial power transmission version of LEGO. Pumps, cylinders, valves – pretty much everything is standardized, and fitting out a working system is a matter of picking the right parts and just plumbing everything together. That’s fine if you want to build an excavator or a dump truck, but what if you want to scale things down?

Miniature hydraulic systems need miniature components, of which this homebrew hydraulic valve made by [TinC33] is a great example. (Video embedded below.) If you’re curious about why anyone would need these, check out the tiny hydraulic cylinders he built a while back, wherein you’ll learn that miniature RC snowplows are a thing. The video below starts with a brief but clear explanation about how hydraulic circuits work, as well as an explanation of the rotary dual-action proportional valve he designed. All the parts are machined by hand in the lathe from aluminum and brass stock. The machining operations are worth watching, but if you’re not into such things, skip to final assembly and testing at 13:44. The valve works well, providing very fine control of the cylinder and excellent load holding, and there’s not a leak to be seen. Impressive.

[TinC33] finishes the video with a tease of a design for multiple valves in a single body. That one looks like it might be an interesting machining challenge, and one we’d love to see.

Thanks to [mgsouth] for the tip.

CNC Machine Rolls Up An Axis To Machine PVC Pipe

Whether it’s wood, metal, plastic, or otherwise, when it comes to obtaining materials for your builds, you have two choices: buy new stock, or scrounge what you can. Fresh virgin materials are often easier to work with, but it’s satisfying to get useful stock from unexpected sources.

This CNC router for PVC pipe is a great example of harvesting materials from an unusual source. [Christophe Machet] undertook his “Pipeline Project” specifically to explore what can be made from large-diameter PVC pipe, of the type commonly used for sewers and other drains. It’s basically a standard – albeit large-format – three-axis CNC router with one axis wrapped into a cylinder. The pipe is slipped around a sacrificial mandrel and loaded into the machine, where it rotates under what looks like a piece of truss from an antenna tower. The spindle seems a bit small, but it obviously gets the job done; luckily the truss has the strength and stiffness to carry a much bigger spindle if that becomes necessary in the future.

The video below shows the machine carving up parts for some lovely chairs. [Christophe] tells us that some manual post-forming with a heat gun is required for features like the arms of the chairs, but we could see automating that step too. We like the look of the pieces that come off this machine, and how [Christophe] saw a way to adapt one axis for cylindrical work. He submitted this project for the 2019 Hackaday Prize; have you submitted your entry yet?

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Control Your Web Browser Like It’s 1969

Imagine for a moment that you’ve been tasked with developing a device for interfacing with a global network of interconnected devices. Would you purposely design a spring-loaded dial that can do nothing but switch a single set of contacts on and off from 1 to 10 times? What kind of crazy world would we have to live in where something like that was the pinnacle of technology?

Obviously, such a world once existed, and now that we’ve rolled the calendar ahead a half-century or so, both our networks and our interfaces have gotten more complex, if arguably better. But [Jan Derogee] thinks a step backward is on order, and so he built this rotary phone web browser. The idea is simple: pick up the handset and dial the IP address of the server you want to connect to. DNS? Bah, who needs it?

Of course there is the teensy issue that most websites can’t be directly accessed via IP address anymore, but fear not – [Jan] has an incredibly obfuscated solution to that. It relies on the fact that many numbers sound like common phrases when sounded out in Chinese, so there end up being a lot of websites that have number-based URLs. He provides an example using the number 517, which sounds a bit like “I want to eat,” to access the Chinese website of McDonald’s. How the number seven sounding like both “eat” and “wife” is resolved is left as an exercise to the reader.

And here we thought [Jan]’s rotary number pad was of questionable value. Still, we appreciate this build, and putting old phones back into service in any capacity is always appreciated.

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Crisp Clean Shortcuts

People always tell us that their favorite part about using a computer is mashing out the exact same key sequences over and over, day in, day out. Then, there are people like [Benni] who would rather make a microcontroller do the repetitive work at the touch of a stylish USB peripheral. Those people who enjoy the extra typing also seem to love adding new proprietary software to their computer all the time, but they are out of luck again because this dial acts as a keyboard and mouse so they can’t even install that bloated software when they work at a friend’s computer. Sorry folks, some of you are out of luck.

Rotary encoders as computer inputs are not new and commercial versions have been around for years, but they are niche enough to be awfully expensive to an end-user. The short BOM and immense versatility will make some people reconsider adding one to their own workstations. In the video below, screen images are rotated to get the right angle before drawing a line just like someone would do with a piece of paper. Another demonstration reminds of us XKCD by cycling through the undo and redo functions which gives you a reversible timeline of your work.

If you like your off-hand macro enabler to have more twists and buttons, we have you covered, or maybe you only want them some of the time.

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