Simple AC Current Detector Built On A 9 Volt

When working around mains voltages, it can be useful to know whether a given circuit is live or not. While this can be done by direct connection with a multimeter, non-contact methods are available too. A great example is this simple wireless AC current detector from [NEW PEW].

The circuit is a simple one, and a classic. The spring from a ballpoint pen is soldered to the base of a BC547 transistor, and when held close enough to a conductor carrying AC power, a current is induced in the spring which is sufficient to turn the transistor on. The transistor then switches on a second BC547, which lights an LED. The whole circuit is built on top of a battery clip so it can be run straight from the top of a standard 9 volt battery.

It’s a circuit you’ll find all over the place, even built into many modern multimeters. It can be particularly useful to help avoid drilling through mains wires embedded in the walls of your home. Of course, if you’d like even more information about what’s lurking within your walls, consider this capacitive imaging hack. Video after the break.

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Circuit VR: Squaring With Schmitt Triggers

In the fantasy world of schematic diagrams, wires have no resistance and square waves have infinitely sharp rise times. The real world, of course, is much crueler. There are many things you can use to help tame the wild analog world into the digital realm. Switches need debouncing, signals need limiting, and you might even need a filter. One of the basic elements you might use is a Schmitt trigger. In

In this installment of Circuit VR, I’m looking inside practical circuits by building Schmitt triggers in the Falstad circuit simulator. You can click the links and get to a live simulation of the circuit so you can do your own experiments and virtual measurements.

Why Schmitt Triggers?

You usually use a Schmitt trigger to convert a noisy signal into a clean square digital logic level. Any sort of logic gate has a threshold. For a 5V part, the threshold might be that anything under 2.5V is a zero and at 2.5V or above, the signal counts as a one. Some logic families define other thresholds and may have areas where the signal is undefined, possibly causing unpredictable outputs.

There are myriad problems with the threshold, of course. Two parts might not have exactly the same threshold. The threshold might vary a bit for temperature or other factors. For parts with no forbidden zone, what happens if the voltage is right at the edge of the threshold?

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Circuit Sculpture Breathes Life Into Discrete Components

We’ve probably all given a lot of thought to breathing this year in various contexts. Though breathing is something we all must do, this simple act has become quite the troublemaker in 2020. They say the best art imitates life, and [bornach]’s Astable Exhalation certainly does that, right down to the part about astability. It’s especially interesting that the end result — breathing, visualized — is so calming, it could almost be a meditative device.

There is nary a microcontroller to be found on this circuit sculpture, which uses a pair of astable multivibrator(s) to light two sets of LEDs that represent air being inhaled and exhaled. We like that [bornach] used two sized of exhale LEDs to represent droplets and aerosols in this beautiful circuit sculpture, and we love that most of the components were scavenged from old electronics and older projects.

Our Circuit Sculpture Challenge runs until November 10th, so even if you’re waiting to take the Remoticon workshop before entering, there’s still a little bit of time to whip something up afterward in the post-con adrenaline rush phase. If you need inspiration, check out some of the other contest entries or just surf through all things circuit sculpture.

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Check Your Pockets For Components

The ideal component tester is like a tricorder for electronics — it can measure whatever it is that you need it to, all the time. Maybe you have a few devices like an ohmmeter and maybe a transistor socket on our multimeter. But what do you do when you need to see if that thyristor is faulty? [Akshay Baweja] wants an everything-tester at the ready, so he’s building a comprehensive device that fits in a pocket. It will identify the type and size of: Continue reading “Check Your Pockets For Components”

Controlling A Broken Super Nintendo With MIDI

A Super Nintendo that has trouble showing sprites doesn’t make for a very good game system. As it turns out, Super Mario World is a lot less fun when the titular hero is invisible. So it’s no surprise that [jwotto] ended up tossing this partially functional SNES into the parts bin a few years back.

But he recently came up with a project that may actually benefit from its unusual graphical issues; turning the glitched console into a circuit bent video synthesizer. The system was already displaying corrupted visuals, so [jwotto] figured he’d just help things along by poking around inside and identifying pins that created interesting visual effects when shorted out.

Installing the new electronics into the SNES.

Once he mapped out the pins, he wired them all up to a transistor switching board that he’d come up with for a previous project. That would let an Arduino short out the pins on command while still keeping the microcontroller relatively isolated from the SNES. Then it was just a matter of writing some code that would fire off the transistors based on MIDI input.

The end result is a SNES that creates visual glitches along with the music, which [jwotto] can hook up to a projector when he does live shows. A particularly neat feature is that each game responds in its own way, so he can swap out the cartridge to show completely different visuals without having to change any of the MIDI sequencing.

A project like this serves as a nice introduction to both circuit bending and MIDI hacking for anyone looking to get their digital feet wet, and should pair nicely with the MIDI Game Boy Advance.

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Chaotic Oscillator From Antique Logic

While working on recreating an “ancient” (read: 60-year-old) logic circuit type known as resistor-transistor logic, [Tim] stumbled across a circuit with an unexpected oscillation. The oscillation appeared to be random and had a wide range of frequency values. Not one to miss out on a serendipitous moment, he realized that the circuit he built could be used as a chaotic oscillator.

Chaotic systems can be used for, among other things, random number generation, so making sure that they do not repeat in a reliable way is a valuable property of a circuit. [Tim]’s design uses LEDs in series with the base of each of three transistors, with the output of each transistor feeding into the input of the next transistor in line, forming a ring. At certain voltages close to the switching voltages of the transistors, the behavior of the circuit changes unpredictably both in magnitude and frequency.

Building real-life systems that exhibit true randomness or chaotic behavior are surprisingly rare, and even things which seem random are often not random enough for certain applications. [Tim]’s design benefits from being relatively simple and inexpensive for how chaotic it behaves, and if you want to see his detailed analysis of the circuit be sure to visit his project’s page.

If you want to get your chaos the old fashioned way, with a Chua circuit, look out for counterfeit multipliers.

The Descendants Of Ancient Computers

Building computers from discrete components is a fairly common hobby project, but it used to be the only way to build a computer until integrated circuits came on the scene. If you’re living in the modern times, however, you can get a computer like this running easily enough, but if you want to dive deep into high performance you’ll need to understand how those components work on a fundamental level.

[Tim] and [Yann] have been working on replicating circuitry found in the CDC6600, the first Cray supercomputer built in the 1960s. Part of what made this computer remarkable was its insane (for the time) clock speed of 10 MHz. This was achieved by using bipolar junction transistors (BJTs) that were capable of switching much more quickly than typical transistors, and by making sure that the support circuitry of resistors and capacitors were tuned to get everything working as efficiently as possible.

The duo found that not only are the BJTs used in the original Cray supercomputer long out of production, but the successors to those transistors are also out of production. Luckily they were able to find one that meets their needs, but it doesn’t seem like there is much demand for a BJT with these characteristics anymore.

[Tim] also posted an interesting discussion about some other methods of speeding up circuitry like this, namely by using reach-through capacitors and Baker clamps. It’s worth a read in its own right, but if you want to see some highlights be sure to check out this 16-bit computer built from individual transistors.