VCF Swap Meet Takes Step Back To Move Forward

When computers were the sort of thing you ordered from a catalog and soldered together in your garage, swap meets were an invaluable way of exchanging not just hardware and software, but information. As computers became more mainstream and readily available, the social aspect of these events started to take center stage. Once online retail started really picking up steam, it was clear the age of the so-called “computer show” was coming to a close. Why wait months to sell your old hardware at the next swap when you could put it on eBay from the comfort of your own home?

Of course, like-minded computer users never stopped getting together to exchange ideas. They just called these meets something different. By the 2000s, the vestigial remnants of old school computer swap meets could be found in the vendor rooms of hacker cons. The Vintage Computer Festival (VCF) maintained a small consignment area where attendees could unload their surplus gear, but it wasn’t the real draw of the event. Attendees came for the workshops, the talks, and the chance to hang out with people who were passionate about the same things they were.

Consignment goods at VCF East XIII in 2018.

Then came COVID-19. For more than a year we’ve been forced to cancel major events, suspend local meetups, and in general, avoid one another. Some of the conventions were revamped and presented virtually, and a few of them actually ended up providing a unique and enjoyable experience, but it still wasn’t the same. If you could really capture the heart and soul of these events with a video stream and a chat room, we would’ve done it already.

But this past weekend, the folks behind VCF East tried something a little different. As indoor gatherings are still strongly discouraged by New Jersey’s stringent COVID restrictions, they decided to hold a computer swap meet in the large parking lot adjacent to the InfoAge Science and History Museum. There were no formal talks or presentations, but you could at least get within speaking distance of like-minded folks again in an environment were everyone felt comfortable.

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Bringing A Swap Meet 3D Printer Back From The Dead

At a recent swap meet, [digitalrice] found what appeared to be a like-new QIDI X-Plus 3D printer. It wasn’t clear what was wrong with it, but considering it retails for $900 USD, he figured the asking price of $150 was worth the gamble. As you might expect, the printer ended up being broken. But armed with experience and a supply of spare parts, he was able to get this orphaned machine back up and running.

The first and most obvious problem was that the printer’s Z axis didn’t work properly. When the printer tried to home the axis, one of the motors made a terrible noise and the coupler appeared to be spinning backwards. From his experience with other printers, [digitalrice] knew that the coupler can slip on the shaft, but that didn’t appear to be the case here. Removing the stepper motor and testing it in isolation from the rest of the machine, he was able to determine it needed replacing.

Improving the printer’s filament path.

Unfortunately, the spare steppers he had weren’t actually the right size. Rather than waiting around for the proper one to come in the mail, he took an angle grinder to the stepper’s shaft and cut off the 5 mm needed to make it fit, followed by a few passes with a file to smooth out any burrs. We’re not sure we’d recommend this method of adjustment under normal circumstances, but we can’t argue with the results.

The replaced Z motor got the printer moving, but [digitalrice] wasn’t out of the woods yet. At this point, he noticed that the hotend was hopelessly clogged. Again relying on his previous experience, he was able to disassemble the extruder assembly and free the blob of misshapen PLA, leading to test prints which looked very good.

But success was short lived. After swapping to a different filament, he found it had clogged again. While clearing this second jam, he realized that the printer’s hotend seemed to have a design flaw. The PTFE tube, which is used to guide the filament down into the hotend, didn’t extend far enough out. Right where the tube ended, the filament was getting soft and jamming up the works. With a spare piece of PTFE tube and some manual reshaping, he was able to fashion a new lining which would prevent the filament from softening in this key area; resulting in a more reliable hotend than the printer had originally.

It’s great to see this printer repaired to working condition, especially since it looks like [digitalrice] was able to fix a core design flaw. But a broken 3D printer can also serve as the base for a number of other interesting projects, should you find yourself in a similar situation. For example, replacing the extruder assembly with a digital microscope can yield some very impressive results.

Hackaday At Hamvention

There are a few interesting Hackaday gatherings going on next weekend. The first is the Bay Area Maker Faire. Most of the Hackaday and Tindie crew will be in San Mateo next weekend, and we’re giving away free tickets to the Faire – a $70 value, free to Hackaday readersHackaday is crashing a pub on Saturday night. There’s also a super-secret meetup on Sunday. Don’t tell anyone.

On the other side of the country, there’s an even better convention for people who build stuff.. It’s Hamvention, the largest amateur radio meetup in North America. I’m going to be there. Find me and pick up some Hackaday swag. I’ll be posting to the Hackaday Twitter all weekend.

A wooden modem and proof I can find cool stuff.
A wooden modem and proof I can find cool stuff.

The main purpose of my visit is to document the immense swap meet. There will be over a thousand vendors hocking their wares, from antique radios to gauges and other electronic paraphernalia. It is the biggest draw to Hamvention, and by every account I’ve heard, it’s impossible to look at everything.

It might be impossible to look at everything, but apparently I’ve very good at separating the wheat from the chaff at ham swaps. During my last visit to the W6TRW swap meet in Redondo Beach, I found an UltraSPARC laptop (!), and a wooden modem from the mid 60s. On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, it will be my job to document all the oddities of Hamvention.

Depending on how many people I meet at Hamvention, there might be a semi-official Hackaday get together after the show. The US Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson would be cool, but Ihop or Denny’s would be far more realistic. Look for the guy in the Hackaday hoodie flying a Hackaday flag and he’ll give you some sweet stickers and swag.

The State Of 3D Printing At MRRF

Only a few days ago, a significant proportion of the Hackaday crew was leaving Goshen, Indiana after the fourth annual Midwest RepRap Festival. We go to a lot of events every year, and even when you include DEF CON, security conferences, ham swap meets, and Maker Faires, MRRF is still one of the best. The event itself is an odd mix of people rallying under a banner of open source hardware and dorks dorking around with 3D printer. It’s very casual, but you’re guaranteed to learn something from the hundreds of attendees.

Hundreds of people made the trek out to Goshen this year, and a lot of them brought a 3D printer. Most of these printers aren’t the kind you can buy at a Home Depot or from Amazon. These are customized machines that push the envelope of what consumer 3D printing technology. If you want to know what 3D printing will be like in two or three years, you only need to come to MRRF. It’s an incubator of great ideas, and a peek at what the future of 3D printing holds.

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Tindie Opens A Flea Market For Tools, Components, And Other Gear

We like to pop into electronics flea markets and swap meets at every chance we get. Last month [Brian] made it to the ham swap meet at Northrup Grumman held in Redondo Beach. I had a great time a couple of years back at the Electronics Flea Market held at De Anza College. Physical proximity to one of these nearly-mythical events is, unfortunately, required. If only the Internet offered a solution to this problem…

The fact that you’re reading Hackaday puts you into one of three categories: you wish you had a lot more tools, you’re on the way to a well-stocked workshop, or you’re trying to pass on your shop surplus to someone who will love it like you do. There’s now a perfect solution for the buy-upgrade-horde cycle we all inevitably fall into: the Tindie Flea Market. If you use something to make hardware, this is going to be the place to buy or sell it.

tindie-flea-market-thumbHas that starter scope been collecting dust since you picked up not one, but two better models? We know you can’t part with it unless you know it’s not going to be thrown out, and this is the chance to find not just a good home, but an owner that will use and cherish it. This goes for all kinds of great tools. After all, how do you find someone to take that pick and place off of your hands?

At launch, the Tindie Flea Market categories will include Adapters and Cables, Audio and Video, Batteries and Power, Bulk Components, Equipment, Fasteners, RC, and Small Tools. Maybe I’ll finally be able to find a home for that tube of power transistors I ordered years ago in the wrong package — and maybe even that long tape of EEPROM that I ordered in 1.8v instead of 3.3v. Time to start my listings and keep good stuff out of the landfill. Yet another great reason we were so happy to welcome Tindie to the Hackaday family.

Hackaday Links: February 7, 2016

For a very long time, the original, 11 foot-long on-screen model of the USS Enterprise from Star Trek the original series – “NCC one seven O one. No bloody A, B, C, or D.” – was housed in the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. Recent visitors may have noticed the Enterprise is no longer on display. It’s being restored by the finest aircraft conservators in the world. There are a few great videos showing off how much goes into restoring a cultural icon.

Last weekend Hackaday visited Sparklecon in Fullerton, CA. This means I was in LA on the last Saturday of the month. What’s so special about that? The W6TRW Swap Meet at Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach. Here’s the pics from that. The best thing I found? A wooden acoustic coupler modem for $15. Once I told the guys at the booth what it was, the price went up to $20. Still worth it.

What’s the worst thing about modern computers? They’re all LCDs, and that means worse resolution, terrible colorspace, and monitors that are very, veeeerrrrryyyy wide. The consequence of this is a complete and total lack of screen savers. Never fear, because the flying toaster is back, this time as an SD card holder. It’s 3D printable, so if you have some white, silver, and black filament sitting around, you know what to do.

The USB Killer hit the tips line a few times this week for inexplicable reasons. We’ve seen it before, but we haven’t seen it again. Surprisingly, no one – outside a bizarre Indiegogo campaign that shouldn’t exist – has made their own USB killer. Here’s your call to action: build a USB killer, and I’ll test it out.

An SDIP-64 chip compared to a DIP-28 chip. Note the finer lead spacing on the SDIP device.
An SDIP-64 chip compared to a DIP-28 chip. Note the finer lead spacing on the SDIP device.

There’s more variety to your standard DIP-packaged chips than you might expect. The weirdest of these – at least when it comes to perfboard construction – is the SDIP, or Skinny Dual In-line Package. Instead of having a standard 0.1″ pitch between leads, the SDIP has a 0.070″ pitch. [Chuck] was having some problems looking for SDIP to DIP adapters until he found this amazing trick the connector companies don’t want you to know aboutJust plop the chip in at a 45º angle, bend a few pins, and you’re good to go.

Hamvention 2015, Less Than One Week Away!

The largest amateur radio and electronics swap meet on the planet is less than one week away.  Will you be there?

The Dayton Hamvention has been an annual swap meet since 1952.  There were 24,873 attendees during last year’s hamvention alone, that is a huge number of radio enthusiasts in one place!

For those of you interested in using vintage and used test equipment you can find anything at Hamvention.  I built my entire laboratory form equipment purchased here.   It has often been said, ‘if you can’t find it at Hamvention you don’t need it.’

This year Scott Pastor (KC8KBK) and I will be covering Hamvention for Hackaday.  We plan to provide one update after each day of Hamvention summarizing the day’s events.  We hope to see you in Dayton next week!