Complicated And Useless Cancel Each Other Out

We all know what it means to procrastinate, but what about actively spending time building a useless machine? You have undoubtedly seen the ornamental boxes with a tempting little toggle switch on the top. When you inevitably flip the switch, an actuator pops out from one half of the enclosure with the sole purpose of undoing its own power switch. [Paz Hameiri] took it a step further by adding some [Rube Goldberg] flavor, and with the help of a microcontroller, his levers take their sweet time powering themselves down. (Video after the break.)

We didn’t find any code or diagrams for the project, but if you know the useless machine’s internals, it shouldn’t be any trouble to recreate one for your desk. The most significant design factor is that the switches. Their contacts must be wired in parallel so that the controller has power as long as one is active. How would you spice up the useless machine?

Even though these are called useless machines, they serve the purpose of decoration, conversation-starting, or a way to show off your woodworking and programming skills.

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An Old-School Control Panel For Your Computer

For as long as computers have been in the hands of programmers, they have offered frequent mildly tedious tasks that their operators have sought to automate. Who hasn’t written a shell script or a batch file that unites a string of commands into one just to save a bit of typing?

But even that effort can be reduced with a hardware add-on that ties the script to a physical control, and in this endeavor [Tomas] has created a beauty. His control panel project mimics the robust industrial panels of yesteryear with an array of metal buttons and toggle switches in a sturdy metal case sourced from an old KVM switch.

Behind the scenes are a pair of I/O extenders and a NodeMCU board, whose ESP8266 does the talking to the host computer on which a daemon awaits its call. Individual addressable LEDs next to each switch convey the state of operation, and the switches trigger useful operations such as connecting to a VPN. All the code is available in a handy GitHub repository, and you can see it in action in the video we’ve placed below the break.

We rather like the idea of a desktop control panel here at Hackaday, indeed this isn’t the first one we’ve brought you.

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Axe Hacks: Spinning Knobs And Flipping Switches

From a guitar hacking point of view, the two major parts that are interesting to us are the pickups and the volume/tone control circuit that lets you adjust the sound while playing. Today, I’ll get into the latter part and take a close look at the components involved — potentiometers, switches, and a few other passive components — and show how they function, what alternative options we have, and how we can re-purpose them altogether.

In that sense, it’s time to heat up the soldering iron, get out the screwdriver, and take off that pick guard / open up that back cover and continue our quest for new electric guitar sounds. And if the thought of that sounds uncomfortable, skip the soldering iron and grab some alligator clips and a breadboard. It may not be the ideal environment, but it’ll work.

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Finally, A Differently Useless Machine

Traditionally, the useless machine is a simple one that invites passersby to switch it on. When they do, the machine somehow, some way, turns itself off; usually with a finger or finger-like object that comes out from the box in what feels like an annoyed fashion. Honestly, that’s probably part of what drives people to turn them on over and over again.

But [Bart Blankendaal] has managed to turn the useless machine on its head. When this machine is switched to the on position, unseen forces inside the box will spin the toggle switch around 180° to the off position.

What’s really happening is that an Arduino is getting a signal from the toggle switch, and is then rotating it on a ball bearing with a stepper motor driven through an H-bridge.

It shouldn’t be too hard to make one of these yourself, given that [Bart] has provided the schematic and STLs. If we weren’t living in such touchy times, we might suggest building one of these into your Halloween candy distribution scheme somehow. Sell the switch as one that turns on a candy dispenser, and then actually dispense it after three or five tries.

Many see useless machines as tangible examples of existential quandary. Here is one that takes that sentiment a bit further by snuffing out a candle.

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Magnum Opus Keyboardus, Or Build Ad Infinitum?

It happens to pretty much everyone who gets into keyboards. No commercial keyboard can meet all your needs, so you start building them. Use them a while, find problems, build a new keyboard to address them. Pretty soon you think you have enough user experience to design the perfect keeb — the be-all, end-all magnum opus clacker you can take to the grave. This time, it happened to [aydenvis]. We must say, the result is quite nice. But will it still be perfect in six months?

As you might expect, this board uses an Arduino Pro Micro. We can’t say for sure, but it looks like [aydenvis] created a socket with a second Pro Micro board populated only with female header. That’s definitely a cool idea in case the board fails. It also has two rotary encoders and a pair of toggle switches to switch controller and secondary designations between the PCBs.

We like the philosophy at play in this 36-key ‘board that states that prime ergonomics come when each finger must only travel one key distance from the home row. This of course requires programming layers of functionality into the firmware, which is easy enough to set up, but can be tricky to memorize. One thing that will help is the color-coded RGB underglow, which we’re going to call sandwich glow because it is emanating from the middle of a stacked pair of PCBs floating on 7 mm standoffs. We only wish we could hear how loudly those jade Kailh choc switches can clack. The board files are up on GitHub, so we may just have to make our own.

Indeed, many keebs we see use a Pro Micro or two, but here’s a tasty split that runs on a Raspberry Pi Zero W.

Via reddit

You’ll Flip For This Toggle Switch Handheld Game

Teacher says that every time a toggle switch clunks, a hacker gets their wings. Or something like that. All we know is that there are few things the hardware tinkerer likes more than the satisfying action of a nice flip. Which by extension means this handheld game built by [Roman Revzin] and controlled by nothing more than three toggle switches will likely be a big hit at the hackerspace.

The parts list for this game, which [Roman] calls the ToggleBoss, is about as short as it gets. There’s a NodeMCU ESP8266 development board, a common SH1106 OLED display, and a trio of suitably clunky toggle switches. Add a bit of wire, toss it all into a 3D printed enclosure, and you’re halfway to thumb flicking nirvana.

Naturally, you might be wondering about the sort of games that can be played with three latching digital inputs; after all, it’s not exactly the most conventional controller layout. But there is where ToggleBoss really shines. Instead of trying to shoehorn traditional games into an exceptionally unconventional system, [Roman] has come up with several games which really embrace the limited input offered to the user.

In a platforming game not unlike the classic Mario Bros, the positions of the physical switches are mapped to virtual walls that are raised and lowered to control a character’s movement through the level. Another game shows the player three dots which correspond to the intended switch states, which they have to match as quickly and as accurately as possible. [Roman] has released the source code to his current lineup of games, which hopefully will inspire others to try their hand at creating software for this fascinating little system.

With the availability of cheap OLED displays and powerful microcontrollers, we’ve started to see more of these bespoke gaming systems. While some will undoubtedly prefer a pocket full of Nintendo’s classics, we think there’s something special about a game system that you can truly call your own.

Fake That Fireplace Flicker With Flame Bulbs

Ask anyone who’s ever tuned into Fireplace TV on a cold winter’s night — even though you can’t feel the heat or roast a marshmallow with it, fake fire is almost as soothing as the real thing. And if you have kids or pets, it’s a whole lot safer. But why go to the expense of buying a lighted insert when you could just make your own?

You don’t even need to get fancy with a microcontroller and RGB LEDs, either — just do what [Ham-made] did and dismantle some LED flame bulbs. They already have everything you need, and the flex PCB makes them easy to work with.

[Ham-made] adhered three bulbs’ worth to a piece of foam board with double-stick tape, soldered all the leads together, and wired in a toggle switch and a 2xAA battery pack. The bulbs each had a tilt switch so that the “flames” flow upward regardless of orientation, but [Ham-made] removed those to avoid flickering connectivity and fights with the toggle switch.

Once it was all wired up, [Ham-made] hot-glued some magnets to the foam board and attached it to the underside of the grate to keep it safe from the logs and the ash pit, while still allowing the glow to emanate from the right spot for realism. The only thing missing are the crackles and pops, and [Ham-made] is burning to hear your implementation ideas.

[Ham-made] wasn’t using his fireplace in the traditional way because the house is smallish and centrally heated. But if you rely on yours to keep you warm and cozy, why not make it voice-activated?