Valve Sells Software, So What’s With All The Hardware?

Steam branding is strong. Valve Corporation has turned their third-party marketplace into the first place millions choose to buy their PC games. The service has seen record-breaking numbers earlier this year with over 25 million concurrent users, so whatever they are doing is clearly working. Yet with all those software sales, last month Valve announced a new piece of hardware they call the Steam Deck.

Use the colloquialism you’d like, “not resting on your laurels” or “Mamba Mentality”, it’s not as if competitors in the handheld PC space are boasting ludicrous sales numbers. At their core, Valve is in the business of selling computer games. So why venture into making hardware? Continue reading “Valve Sells Software, So What’s With All The Hardware?”

Overdriving Vacuum Tubes And Releasing The Magic Light Within

We’ve all seen electronic components that have been coaxed into releasing their small amount of Magic Smoke, which of course is what makes the thing work in the first place. But back in the old times, parts were made of glass and metal and were much tougher — you could do almost anything to them and they wouldn’t release the Magic Smoke. It was very boring.

Unless you knew the secret of “red plating”, of course, which [David Lovett] explores in the video below. We’ve been following [David]’s work with vacuum tubes, the aforementioned essentially smokeless components that he’s putting to use to build a simple one-bit microprocessor. His circuits tend to drive tubes rather gently, but in a fun twist, he let his destructive side out for a bit and really pushed a few tubes to see what happens. And what happens is pretty dramatic — when enough electrons stream from the cathode to the anode, their collective kinetic energy heats the plate up to a cherry-red, hence the term “red plating”.

[David] selected a number of victims for his torture chamber, not all of which cooperated despite the roughly 195 volts applied to the plate. Some of the tubes, though, cooperated in spades, quickly taking on a very unhealthy glow. One tube, a 6BZ7 dual triode, really put on a show, with something getting so hot inside the tube as to warp and short together, leading to some impressive pyrotechnics. Think of it as releasing the Magic Light instead of the Magic Smoke.

Having seen how X-ray tubes work, we can’t help but wonder if [David] was getting a little bit more than he bargained for when he made this snuff film. Probably not — the energies involved with medical X-ray tubes are much higher than this — but still, it might be interesting to see what kinds of unintended emissions red-plating generates.

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Bottle Filler Perfectly Tops Your Cup

You know those bottle fillers at schools and airports? What if you had one of those at home?

We know what you’re going to say: “My fridge has one of those!” Well ours doesn’t, and even though [Chris Courses’] fridge did, his bottle of choice didn’t fit in the vertically-challenged water and ice hutch, nor did it fill autonomously. The solution was to build a dubiously placed, but nonetheless awesome custom bottle filler in his kitchen.

The plumbing for the project couldn’t be more straight-forward: a 5-year undersink water filter, electronically actuated valve, some tubing, and a T to splice into the existing water line going to the fridge. Where the rubber hits the road is making this look nice. [Chris] spends a lot of time printing face plates, pouring resin as a diffuser, and post processing. After failing on one formulation of resin, the second achieves a nice look, and the unit is heavily sanded, filled, painted, prayed over, and given the green light for installation.

For the electronics [Chris] went for a Raspberry Pi to monitor four buttons and dispense a precise allotment tailored to each of his favorite drinking vessels. While the dispenser is at work, three rows of LEDs play an animated pattern. Where we begin to scratch our heads is the demo below which shows there is no drain or drip tray below the dispenser — seems like an accident waiting to happen.

Our remaining questions are about automating the top-off process. At first blush you might wonder why a sensor wasn’t included to shut off the filler automatically. But how would that work? The dispenser needs to establish the height of the bottle and that’s a non-trivial task, perhaps best accomplished with computer vision or a CCD line sensor. How would you do it? Continue reading “Bottle Filler Perfectly Tops Your Cup”

3D Printed Butterfly Valve Helps Automate Fume Extraction

It’s not something we always think about, but there’s plenty of hazardous fumes in the average workshop that can be deleterious to human health. Whether its soldering, lasercutting, or 3D printing, all of these processes release nasty chemicals into the air that are best filtered for health reasons. To help build out a working filtration system, [Fab] needed some valves, so set about printing some of his own.

[Fab] went with a simple butterfly valve design, similar to the throttle valve in most gasoline-powered cars. The butterfly vane rotates to vary the flow, turned by a small SG90 servo. A Wemos D1 Mini is used to run a pair of the valves, which are paired with a Y-adapter to connect both a soldering station and 3D printer to the fume extraction system. As a nice touch, a WiFi-enabled outlet is hooked up to the soldering iron which notifies the D1 Mini when it’s switched on, flipping the valve open to automatically start fume extraction.

It’s a tidy system that will enable [Fab] to breath easy in the workshop for years to come. Files are available for those wishing to print a set of butterfly valves for themselves. We’ve seen some other smart fume extractors before, too. Video after the break.

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Steam Engine Replica From LEGO

If engineering choices a hundred years ago had been only slightly different, we could have ended up in a world full of steam engines rather than internal combustion engines. For now, though, steam engines are limited to a few niche applications and, of course, models built by enthusiasts. This one for example is built entirely in LEGO as a scale replica of a steam engine originally produced in 1907.

The model is based on a 2500 horsepower triple-expansion four-cylinder engine that was actually in use during the first half of the 20th century. Since the model is built using nothing but LEGO (and a few rubber bands) it operates using a vacuum rather than with working steam, but the principle is essentially the same. It also includes Corliss valves, a technology from c.1850 that used rotating valves and improved steam engine efficiency dramatically for the time.

This build is an impressive recreation of the original machine, and can even run at extremely slow speeds thanks to a working valve on the top,  allowing its operation to be viewed in detail. Maximum speed is about 80 rpm, very close to the original machine’s 68 rpm operational speed. If you’d prefer your steam engines to have real-world applications, though, make sure to check out this steam-powered lawnmower.

Thanks to [Hari] for the tip!

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Hypercar Valve Technology On A Harbour Freight Engine

The inlet and exhaust valve timing of a piston engine plays a large role in engine performance. Many modern automotive engines have some sort of variable valve timing, but the valves are still mechanically coupled together and to the crankshaft. This means that there is always a degree of performance compromise for various operating conditions. [Wesley Kagan] took inspiration from Koenigsegg’s camless Freevalve technology, and converted a Harbour Freight engine to camless technology for individual valve control.

By eliminating the traditional camshaft and giving each valve its actuator, it is possible to tune valve timing for any specific operating condition or even for each cylinder. A cheap single-cylinder engine is a perfect testbed for the garage hacker. [Wesley] removed the rocker arms and pushrods, and replaced the stock rocker cover with a 3D printed rocker cover which contains two small pneumatic pistons that push against the spring-loaded valve stems. These pistons are controlled by high-speed pneumatic solenoid valves. A reference timing signal is still required from the crankshaft, so [Wesley] built a timing system with a 3D printed timing wheel containing a bunch of embedded magnets and being sensed by a stationary Hall effect sensor. An Arduino is used to read the timing wheel position and output the control signals to the solenoid valves. With a rough timing program he was able to get the engine running, although it wouldn’t accelerate.

In the second video after the break, he makes a digital copy of the engine’s existing camshaft. Using two potentiometers in a 3D printed bracket, he measured push rod motion for a complete engine cycle. He still plans to add position sensing for each of the valves, and after a bit more work on the single-cylinder motor he plans to convert a full-size car, which we are looking forward to.

People have been tinkering with cars in their garage for as long as cars have existed. [Lewin Day] has been doing a series on how to get into tinkering with cars yourself. With all the electronics in modern automobiles, messing around with their software has become a growing part of this age-old pastime. Continue reading “Hypercar Valve Technology On A Harbour Freight Engine”

Vacuum Tube Logic Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, December 9th at noon Pacific for the Vacuum Tube Logic Hack Chat with David Lovett!

For most of us, circuits based on vacuum tubes are remnants of a technological history that is rapidly fading from our collective memory. To be sure, there are still applications for thermionic emission, especially in power electronics and specialized switching applications. But by and large, progress has left vacuum tubes in a cloud of silicon dust, leaving mainly audiophiles and antique radio enthusiasts to figure out the hows and whys of plates and grids and filaments.

But vacuum tubes aren’t just for the analog world. Some folks like making tubes do tricks they haven’t had to do in a long, long time, at least since the birth of the computer age. Vacuum tube digital electronics seems like a contradiction in terms, but David Lovett, aka Usagi Electric on YouTube, has fallen for it in a big way. His channel is dedicated to working through the analog building blocks of digital logic circuits using tubes almost exclusively. He has come up with unique circuits that don’t require the high bias voltages typically needed, making the circuits easy to work with using equipment likely to be found in any solid-state experimenter’s lab.

David will drop by the Hack Chat to share his enthusiasm for vacuum tube logic and his tips for exploring the sometimes strange world of flying electrons. Join us as we discuss how to set up your own vacuum tube experiments, learn what thermionic emission can teach us about solid-state electronics, and maybe even get a glimpse of what lies ahead in his lab.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, December 9 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you tied up, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

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