From SPIDriver to I2CDriver

Communicating with microcontrollers and other embedded systems requires a communications standard. SPI is a great one, and is commonly used, but it’s not the only one available. There’s also I2C which has some advantages and disadvantages compared to SPI. The problem with both standards, however, is that modern computers don’t come with either built-in. To solve that problem and allow easier access to debugging in SPI, [James Bowman] built the SPIDriver a few months ago, and is now back by popular demand with a similar device for I2C, the I2CDriver.

Much like the SPIDriver, the I2C driver is a debugging tool that can be used at your computer with a USB interface. Working with I2C is often a hassle, with many things going on all at once that need to sync up just right in order to work at all, and this device allows the user to set up I2C devices in a fraction of the time. To start, it has a screen built in that shows information about the current device, like the signal lines and a graphical decoding of the current traffic. It also shows an address space map, and has programmable pullup resistors built in, and can send data about the I2C traffic back to its host PC for analysis.

The I2CDriver is also completely open source, from the hardware to the software, meaning you could build one from scratch if you have the will and the parts, or make changes to the code on your own to suit your specific needs. If you’re stuck using SPI still, though, you can still find the original SPIDriver tool to help you with your debugging needs with that protocol as well.

Many Uses For A Single Button

When building projects with a simple goal in mind, it’s not unheard of for us to add more and more switches, buttons, and complexity as the project goes through its initial prototyping stages. Feature creep like this tends to result in a tangled mess rather than a usable project. With enough focus, though, it’s possible to recognize when it’s happening and keep to the original plans. On the other hand, this single-button project with more than one use seems to be the opposite of feature creep. (YouTube, embedded below.)

[Danko]’s project has one goal: be as useful as possible while only using a single button and a tiny screen. Right now the small handheld device can be used as a stopwatch, a counter, and can even play a rudimentary version of flappy bird. It uses an Arduino Pro Mini, a 64×48 OLED screen running on I2C, and has a miniscule 100 mAh 3.7V battery to power everything. The video is worth watching if you’ve never worked with this small of a screen before, too.

Getting three functions out of a device with only one button is a pretty impressive feat, and if you can think of any other ways of getting more usefulness out of something like this be sure to leave it in the comments below. [Danko] is no stranger to simple projects with tiny screens, either. We recently featured his homebrew Arduino calculator that uses an even smaller screen.

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Need A Tiny CRT? Karaoke Might Just Help

[Brett] is working on a video installation, and for the past few months, has been trying to get his hands on tiny CRTs any way he can. After initially coming up short, he happened across a karaoke machine from 2005, and got down to work.

Karaoke machines of this vintage are typically fairly low-rent affairs, built cheaply on simple PCBs. [Brett] found that the unit in question was easy to disassemble, having various modules on separate PCBs joined together with ribbon cables and headers. However, such machines rarely have video inputs, as they’re really only designed to display low-res graphics from CD-G format discs.

While investigating the machine, initial research online proved fruitless. In the end, a close look at the board revealed just what [Brett] was looking for – a pin labeled video in! After throwing in a Raspberry Pi Zero and soldering up the composite output to the karaoke machine’s input pin, the screen sprung to life first time! This initial success was followed by installing a Raspberry Pi 3 for more grunt, combined with a Screenly install – and a TRS adapter the likes of which we’ve never seen before. This allows video to be easily pushed to the device remotely over WiFi. [Brett] promises us there is more to come.

Karaoke is a sparse topic in the Hackaday archives, but we’ve seen a couple builds, like this vocal processor. If you’ve got the hacks, though? You know where to send ’em.

Xbox Needs No TV

If you want a custom video game system, you could grab a used computer, throw an emulator on it, and build yourself a custom arcade cabinet. On the other hand, if you’d rather not deal with emulators, you can always use a console and modify it into your own tiny arcade cabinet using the original hardware. That’s what the latest project from [Element18592] does, using an Xbox 360 Slim and a small LCD screen to make a mini-arcade of sorts.

The build uses a 7″ TFT LCD and a Flexible Printed Circuit (FPC) extension board. The screen gets 12V power from the Xbox and another set of leads are soldered directly to the composite output on the motherboard. The project also makes use of a special switch which can enable or disable the built-in monitor and allow the Xbox to function with a normal TV or monitor.

Admittedly, he does point out that this project isn’t the most practical to use. But it is still a deceptively simple modification to make to the Xbox compared to some of the more complicated mods we’ve seen before. The fact that almost anyone could accomplish this with little more than some soldering is an impressive feat in the world of console mods.

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Chasing the Electron Beam at 380,000 FPS

Analog TV is dead, but that doesn’t make it any less awesome. [Gavin and Dan], aka The Slow Mo Guys recently posted a video about television screens. Since they have some incredible high-speed cameras at their disposal, we get to see the screens being drawn, both on CRT and more modern LCD televisions.

Now we all know that CRTs draw one pixel at a time, drawing from left to right, top to bottom. You can capture this with a regular still camera at a high shutter speed. The light from a TV screen comes from a phosphor coating painted on the inside of the glass screen. Phosphor glows for some time after it is excited, but how long exactly? [Gavin and Dan’s] high framerate camera let them observe the phosphor staying illuminated for only about 6 lines before it started to fade away. You can see this effect at a relatively mundane 2500 FPS.

Cranking things up to 380,117 FPS, the highest speed ever recorded by the duo, we see even more amazing results. Even at this speed, quite a few “pixels” are drawn each frame. [Gavin] illustrates that by showing how Super Mario’s mustache is drawn in less than one frame of slow-mo footage. You would have to go several times faster to actually freeze the electron beam. We think it’s amazing that such high-speed analog electronics were invented and perfected decades ago.

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Let There Be Automated Blinds!

More than once a maker has wanted a thing, only to find it more economical to build it themselves. When your domicile has massive windows, closing what can feel like a mile of blinds becomes a trial every afternoon — or every time you sit down for a movie. [Kyle Stewart-Frantz] had enough of that and automated his blinds.

After taking down and dismantling his existing roller blinds, he rebuilt it using 1-1/4 in EMT conduit for the blinds’ roll to mount a  12V electric shade kit within — the key part: the motor is remote controlled. Fitting it inside the conduit takes a bit of hacking and smashing if you don’t want to or can’t 3D print specific parts. Reattaching the roller blind also takes a fair bit of precision lest they unroll crooked every time. He advises a quick test and fit to the window before moving on to calibrating and linking all your blinds to one remote — unless you want a different headache.

Now, to get Alexa to do your bidding.

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Embiggen your Eclipse 2017 Experience with a Sun Funnel

As exciting as Eclipse 2017 is going to be this Monday, for some folks it might appear a bit — underwhelming. Our star only occupies about half a degree of the sky, and looking at the partial phase with eclipse glasses might leave you yearning for a bigger image. If that’s you, you’ll need to build a sun funnel for super-sized eclipse fun.

[Grady] at Practical Engineering is not going to be lucky enough to be within the path of totality, but he is going to be watching the eclipse with a bunch of school kids. Rather than just outfitting his telescope with a filter and having the kids queue up for a quick peek, he built what amounts to a projection screen for the telescope’s eyepiece. It’s just a long funnel, and while [Grady] chose aluminum and rivets, almost any light, stiff material will do. He provides a formula for figuring out how long the funnel needs to be for your scope, along with plans for laying out the funnel. We have to take exception with his choice of screen material — it seems like the texture of the translucent shower curtain might interfere with the image a bit. But still, the results look pretty good in the video below.

Eclipse 2017 is almost here! How are you planning to enjoy this celestial alignment? By proving Einstein right? By studying radio propagation changes? Or just by wearing a box on your head? Sound off in the comments.

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