The DIN Rail and How It Got That Way

Unless you’ve spent some time in the industrial electrical field, you might be surprised at the degree of integration involved in the various control panels needed to run factories and the like. Look inside any cabinet almost anywhere in the world, and you’ll be greeted by rows of neat plastic terminal blocks, circuit breakers, signal conditioners, and all manner of computing hardware from programmable logic controllers right on to Raspberry Pis and Arduinos.

A well-crafted industrial control panel can truly be a thing of beauty. But behind all the electrical bits in the cabinet, underneath all the neatly routed and clearly labeled wires, there’s a humble strip of metal that stitches it all together: the DIN rail. How did it come to be, and why is it so ubiquitous?

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Hackaday Links: August 19, 2018

If you want to creep everyone out, [Hunter Irving] has your back. He found a weird, creepy knock-off Thomas the Tank Engine toy and mounted a servo to it. This animatronic face is really, really creepy and has the aesthetic of a pastel plastic hell of the forgotten toys destroyed in a day care in 1991. It probably smells like a thrift shop. This rosy-cheeked locomotive shall derail your soul. It sings karaoke.

Like badges? Sure you do. Ph0xx is the badge for the upcoming Fri3d Camp, a family hacker, maker, and DIY camp in Belgium with 600 attendees. The badge features an ESP-32, two 5×7 LED arrays, accelerometer, an 18650 battery with protection and a charger, expansion headers, and this badge is compatible with Lego Technic. Oh yes, they went there.

We’re filing this under ‘but why’. It’s a custom Mercedes-Benz motorcycle, with a sidecar, that looks like an early 80s Benz convertible. [Maarten] stumbled upon a few pics of this, but the google-fu is weak in trying to get some information about this build. Who built it? Why? Does it run?

Here’s something near and dear to my heart: my greatest contribution to humanity so far. The Shitty Add-On spec for this year’s batch of Def Con badges is the reason badges now have their own badges. Now it’s time for a slight upgrade to the standard, and I need your help. The SAO standard 1.1bis will retain the VCC/GND/SDA/SCL layout of the first revision, but to increase mechanical stability and decrease the complexity of populating the headers, we’re adding two pins. Here’s the question: what should these two extra pins do? The current options are adding TX and RX to the standard, or two GPIOs that are undefined, but able to be utilized by each badge team for their own purposes. Those are the two options, but I’m looking for your input in the comments. Hurry up, because we have Superconference badges to build.

You should know the Primitive Technology channel on YouTube. This week he made another step towards the iron age. The basic idea behind this channel is a guy in Australia playing Minecraft in real life, building everything he can, starting with the technology of punching trees. The latest video shows his process for smelting iron. The iron comes from iron-bearing bacterial sludge found in a creek. The geologic disadvantages of northeastern Australia notwithstanding, he’s doing everything else right. He’s making charcoal, and turning that sludge into something that could be a bloom of iron.

The Electrical Outlet and How It Got That Way

Right now, if you happen to be in Noth America, chances are pretty good that there’s at least one little face staring at you. Look around and you’ll spy it, probably about 15 inches up from the floor on a nearby wall. It’s the ubiquitous wall outlet, with three holes arranged in a way that can’t help but stimulate the facial recognition firmware of our mammalian brain.

No matter where you go you’ll find those outlets and similar ones, all engineered for specific tasks. But why do they look the way they do? And what’s going on electrically and mechanically behind that familiar plastic face? It’s a topic we’ve touched on before with Jenny List’s take on international mains standards. Now it’s time to take a look inside the common North American wall socket, and how it got that way.

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What Are Those Hieroglyphics on Your Laptop Charger?

Look on the back of your laptop charger and you’ll find a mess of symbols and numbers. We’d bet you’ve looked at them before and gleaned little or no understanding from what they’re telling you.

These symbols are as complicated as the label on the tag of your shirt that have never taught you anything about doing laundry. They’re the marks of standardization and bureaucracy, and dozens of countries basking in the glow of money made from issuing certificates.

The switching power supply is the foundation of many household electronics — obviously not just laptops — and thus they’re a necessity worldwide. If you can make a power supply that’s certified in most countries, your market is enormous and you only have to make a single device, possibly with an interchangeable AC cord for different plug types. And of course, symbols that have meaning in just about any jurisdiction.

In short, these symbols tell you everything important about your power supply. Here’s what they mean.

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JST Is Not A Connector

When reading about cool projects and products, it’s common to see wiring plugs labelled “JST connector.” This looks fine until we start getting hands-on and begin hacking things together. Inevitably we find the JST connector from one part fails to fit in the JST connector of another. This is the moment we learn “JST” is not a connector specification. It is short for Japan Solderless Terminals Manufacturing Company, Ltd. A company whose history goes back to 1957 and their website (styled in 1999) lists hundreds of different types.

We can simplify to “JST connector” when chit-chatting about projects. But when it comes to actual hardware specification, that’s not good enough. Which JST connector?

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LEGO-compatible Electronics Kits Everywhere!

Within the last few years, a lot of companies have started with the aim to disrupt the educational electronics industry using their LEGO-compatible sets. Now they’re ubiquitous, and fighting each other for their slice of space in your child’s box of bricks. What’s going on here?

Raison D’Être

The main reason for LEGO-compatibility is familiarity. Parents and children get LEGO. They have used it. They already have a bunch. When it comes to leveling up and learning about electronics, it makes sense to do that by adding on to a thing they already know and understand, and it means they can continue to play with and get more use from their existing sets. The parent choosing between something that’s LEGO-compatible and a completely separate ecosystem like littleBits (or Capsela) sees having to set aside all the LEGO and buy all new plastic parts and learn the new ecosystem, which is a significant re-investment. littleBits eventually caught on and started offering adapter plates, and that fact demonstrates how much demand there is to stick with the studs.

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This Way to the Ingress: Keeping Stuff Dry and Clean with IP and NEMA

When designing a piece of hardware that has even the faintest chance of being exposed to the elements, it’s best to repeat this mantra: water finds a way. No matter how much you try to shield a project from rain, splashing, or even just humid air, if you haven’t taken precautions to seal your enclosure, I’ll bet you find evidence of water when you open it up. Water always wins, and while that might not be a death knell for your project, it’s probably not going to help. And water isn’t the only problem that outdoor or rough-service installations face. Particle intrusion can be a real killer too, especially in an environment where dust can be conductive.

There’s plenty you can do to prevent uninvited liquid or particulate guests to your outdoor party, but it tends to be easier to prevent the problem at design time than to fix it after the hardware is fielded. So to help you with your design, here’s a quick rundown of some standards for protection of enclosures from unwanted ingress.

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