Powering Neon With A Joule Thief

Joule thief are small, fun circuits which exploit a few characteristics of electronics and LEDs in order to “steal” virtually all of the energy stored in a battery. They can operate at incredibly small voltages and are fairly simple to make. With a few modifications to this basic circuit it’s possible to drive other things than an LED, though, like this joule thief that lights up a neon bulb.

The circuit from [suedbunker] aka [fuselage] is based on a pin from the Chaos Communication Camp which had a standard LED. To get a neon light to illuminate a few modifications to the standard joule thief are needed.

First, the windings have to be changed from 10:10 to 10:80 to increase the voltage across the bulb. Second, a transistor with slightly different characteristics was used than the original design. The capacitor was also replaced with a larger one.

While it might seem simple, the physics of how a joule thief works are anything but, and modifying the delicate circuit to work with something other than an LED is commendable. It also has a steampunk vibe which is a cool look even in projects that don’t involve steam at all.

Steampunk Motorcycle Runs On Compressed Air, Is Pure Hacking Art

Sometimes it’s ok to sacrifice some practicality for aesthetics, especially for passion projects. Falling solidly in this category is [Peter Forsberg]’s beautiful, barely functional steam punk motorcycle. If this isn’t hacker art, then we don’t know what is.

The most eye-catching part of the motorcycle is the engine and drive train, with most of the mechanical components visible. The cylinders are clear glass tubes with custom pistons, seals, valves and push rods. The crank mechanism is from an old Harley and is mounted inside a piece of stainless steel pipe. Because it runs on compressed air it cools down instead of heating up, so an oil system is not needed.

For steering, the entire front of the bike swings side to side on hinges in the middle of the frame, which is quite tricky to ride with a top speed that’s just above walking speed. It can run for about 3-5 minutes on a tank, so the [Peter] mounted a big three-minute hour glass in the frame. The engine is fed from an external air tank, which he wears on his back; he admits it’s borderline torture to carry the thing for any length of time. He plans to build a side-car to house a much larger tank to extend range and improve riding comfort.

[Peter] admits that it isn’t very good as a motorcycle, but the amount of creativity and resourcefulness required to make it functional at all is the mark of a true mechanical hacker. We look forward to seeing it in its final form.

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Steampunk Radio Looks The Business

Radios are, by and large, not powered by steam. One could make the argument that much of our municipal electricity supply does come via steam turbines, but that might be drawing a long bow. Regardless, steampunk remains a popular and attractive aesthetic, and it’s the one that [Christine] selected for her radio build.

The build cribs from [Christine’s] earlier work on a VFD alarm clock, using similar tubes and driver chips to run the display. FM radio and amplification are courtesy of convenient modules. Tubes are fitted for aesthetic purposes, artfully lit with a smattering of color-changing LEDs. Perhaps the neatest touch is the use of valve handles to control tuning and volume. A stepper motor turns a series of gears, as is mandatory for any true steampunk build, and there’s even an electromagnetic actuator to make the Morse key move. To run it all, a pair of Arduino Megas are charged with handling the I/O needs of all the various systems.

It’s a fancy build that shows how far the rabbit hole you can go when chasing a particular look and feel. It’s a radio that would make a great conversation piece on any hacker’s coffee table.  If that’s not enough, consider going for a whole laptop. Video after the break. Continue reading “Steampunk Radio Looks The Business”

Homebrew Laptop Makes A Statement With A Steampunk Theme

Some may argue, but your choice of computing hardware says exactly zero about you, at least when you buy off the shelf. Your laptop or PC is only one of millions, and the chances of seeing someone with the exact same machine are pretty good. If you want to be different, you really need to build something yourself.

This homebrew steampunk laptop does a great job at standing out from the crowd. [Starhawk]’s build is an homage to the Steampunk genre, in a wooden case with brass bits and bobs adorning. The guts are based on an Intel motherboard, a bit dated but serviceable enough for the job. There’s a touch-capable LCD in the lid, and we absolutely love the look of the keyboard with its retro-style chrome and phenolic keycaps. Exposed USB cables run to and fro, and the braided jackets contribute to the old-timey look. The copier roller as a lid hinge is a nice touch too.

[Starhawk]’s build log is long and detailed, and covers the entire build. We’ve seen interesting builds from him before, like this junk-bin PC build for a friend in need. Looks like this one is for personal use, though, and we can’t blame him.

Hand-Forged Cases Make Nixie Clocks Into Works Of Art

Both “Nixie” and “Steampunk” are getting a bit overused. It’s hard to count the number of clock projects we’ve seen recently that combine the two, and normally we’d be loath to feature yet another variation on that theme without a good reason. This is a good reason.

The single-digit Nixie clocks that [Claes Vahlberg] built are, simply put, works of art. There’s a small version of the clock, featuring a single IN-16 Nixie, and a larger version that uses a Dalibor Farny custom Nixie, a work of art in its own right. Each clock has features like time and date, temperature and barometric pressure, and even days remaining in the current lunar cycle. The cases for the clocks, though, are the real treat. Hand forged from steel, they remind us of steam whistles on top of a boiler.

[Claes] doesn’t have many details on the build process — we’ve been in contact and he says he’s working on documentation — but it doesn’t matter. As if all that weren’t enough, the clocks are controlled by a remote, which has its own IN-16 tube and is motion controlled. The last bit is a nice touch since there are no buttons to distract from the smooth lines of the hammered metal case.

We gush, but we think this one really shines. That’s not to take anything away from previous Nixie-steampunk mashups, like this single-digit clock or this solar power meter. But these clocks are a step beyond.

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Electronic ColorChord Turns Color Into Sound

[Dr. Cockroach] has delighted us again with another of his circuits on cardboard. He calls it steampunk inspired, and while we guess we can see what he’s getting at, it’s more like a sweet example of artful dead bug construction. He calls it the ColorChord. Point its photo cells at a color and it’ll play a tone or a combination of tones specific to that color.

Three 555-centric boards use thumbtacks as connection points which he solders to, the same technique he used for his cardboard computer. They provide simple tones for red, green, and blue and a mix for any other color. However, he found that the tones weren’t distinguishable enough for similar colors like a bright sun yellow and a reddish yellow. So he ended up pulsing them using master oscillator, master-slave flip-flop, and sequencer circuits, all done dead bug style.

We’re not sure how practical it is but the various pulsed tones remind us of the B space movies of the 1950s and 60s. And as for the look of it, well it’s just plain fun to look at. Hear and see it for yourself in the video below.

And if you want to see some dead bug circuitry as high art then check out this awesome LED ring, this sculptural nixie clock, and perhaps the most wondrous of all, The Clock.

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You’ve Never Seen A Flipping Eyeball Like This One!

Inspired by some impressive work on textile flip-bit displays, and with creative steampunk outfits to create for Christmas, [Richard Sewell] had the idea for a flippable magnetic eye in the manner of a flip-dot display. These devices are bistable mechanical displays in which a magnet is suspended above a coil of wire, and “flipped” in orientation under the influence of a magnetic field from the coil.

In [Richard]’s case the eyeball was provided by a magnetic bead with a suitable paint job, and the coil was a hand-wound affair with some extremely neat lacing to keep it all in place. The coil requires about 200 mA to ensure the eye flips, and the job of driving it is performed by a Digispark ATTiny85 board with an LM293 dual H-bridge driver upon which the two bridges are wired in parallel. The whole is mounted in the centre of a charity shop brooch that has been heat-treated to give a suitable aesthetic.

You can see the eyeball in all its glory in the two videos below the break, and should you be curious you can also read our write-up of the original pieces from [Irene Posch] that inspired it.

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