The Commodore 64 holds a special place in many a computer enthusiast’s heart. That being said, the floppy disks used to load programs and files onto this computer can be less-than convenient, not to mention hard to find. If you’d like to step into the 21st century with your storage, while still using retro C64 hardware, then endresz_eu may have just the solution with the SD2IEC floppy emulator.
The device allows you to store your 1s and 0s on a microSD card, which is plugged into a reader on the device. The SD2IEC then interfaces with the C64’s serial port as a virtual floppy drive, providing a quasi SD-to-floppy bridge. Power can be provided externally via a Micro USB port, or you can simply plug it into the Commodore’s cassette port for juice.
The virtual drive address is set to 8, but you can change it to 9, 10, or 11 via a pair of DIP switches. While an SD card up to 32GB can be used, since C64 programs are so small, a 1 GB disk should give you nearly all the storage you could ever want. Most games will run on this system, but according to its creator no Commodore floppy emulator is 100% perfect, so you might want to keep those floppys around as well!
It’s December, meaning a variety of decorations can be put up to celebrate the holiday season. Christmas trees are perhaps the most prominent of such decorations, but cutting down a large healthy plant presents some practical obstacles. Some may also see it as wasteful, as they’ll be discarded in a month or so. For a reusable festive light show that won’t break your back (or budget) to set up, and doesn’t require refilling a bowl of water, check out this WiFi-Enabled Addressable LED Christmas Tree Kit from Moritz Wirger.
The tree uses an array of 14 APA106-F5 addressable LEDs for lighting, along with a Wemos D1 mini WiFi module for control. This setup makes it WiFi capable from the get-go, presenting a wide range of coordinated lighting possibilities. Another excellent feature of this lighting kit is it’s 3D design, featuring two concentric PCB lighting support circles, along with a third level of one LED on the top.
Of course, this isn’t the only Christmas tree on Tindie. In 2017 we examined another 3D kit that uses discreet components to flash at a set rate. Either option looks like a lot of educational fun, though the device here will give you a lot more control if needed!
If you’d like to learn about the basics of electronics, or teach others how an electrical circuit works, then this solderless “Don’t touch the wire” maze kit looks like a great way to get started. The game involves moving a conductive washer from one end of a curved length of wire to the other without actually touching it. One large diameter washer is included, which looks challenging but doable, along with a smaller diameter washer that would certainly be more frustrating.
When playing the game, each washer is connected to an alligator clip, allowing it to complete a circuit when it touches the wire, then sound an alarm to indicate an error. The kit comes with the needed wires and a 2AA battery holder, along with lever nuts that allow builders to snap everything together securely without the use of a soldering iron.
While one would want to avoid getting snapped by these connectors, not having to deal with a dangerously hot soldering iron would eliminate an important barrier to early electronics experimentation. The kit comes with instructions, and after one builds the kit (and learns about completing a circuit) it can function as a fun toy and conversation piece!
Minitel, as described in this project’s listing, is a French great-uncle of the Internet appearing frequently in retro-computing projects. While generally not used outside of France and a handful of other countries, the system did run on millions of dedicated terminals and wasn’t officially retired until 2012. So if you’re in the right place (i.e. France) you might get lucky and pick up one of these devices for a song.
As shown in the video below, these terminals can actually be quite retro-chic, and with a ‘secret’ peripheral port, it’s possible to get them to do your bidding without actually opening up the housing. That being said, Minitel projects generally require some combination of the appropriate connector, an Arduino/Raspberry Pi/etc, breadboard, connectors ,and other such electronic tidbits.
Such a setup can be difficult to work with and transport, and not nearly as fashionable as the Minitel box itself. To help with this challenge iodeo created the Minitel ESP32 dev board. The device includes everything you need to get your terminal working, and is powered from the Minitel device itself. The ESP32 module allows for wireless network interface and OTA programming. So you can change the terminal’s behavior without actually touching anything, or use it as a terminal to interface with other networked devices like a Raspberry Pi.
While such a setup would be difficult to obtain where I reside in the US, if you’re in more Minitel-abundant regions, you’ll know what to do if you come across one of these boxes!
If you’ve been working with Arduino boards for any length of time, you’ve certainly come across addressable LED lighting. You might even take the ability to use them for granted. On the other hand, think back to before you ever touched an Arduino, or when you were just getting started. Addressable LED matrices may have seemed extremely cool, but also something that may have seemed out of your immediate reach.
Of course this isn’t just a matter of knowledge, but having all the bits and pieces together to support a matrix display. If you’d like to get started from scratch, or introduce someone else to the wonderful world of Arduino LED Matrix hacking, then this kit from Cohen Electronics looks like a perfect solution.
The kit includes everything you need to set up and power a matrix (sans programming computer), including an Arduino Nano, 5V, 4A power supply, connectors and of course an 8×8 WS2812B RGB LED matrix. There’s even a capacitor and a pair or resistors that are generally recommended for such lighting setups, but are often neglected.
Once you have these items in-hand, instructions are available on the Cohen Electronics website to help you set everything up. The kit looks like a great instructional tool, or even an excellent Christmas gift for those who might want to start their journey exploring the world of electronics.
It’s a fairly safe assumption that if you’re reading this, you enjoy robotics to some extent. You may even be a fan of the Terminator series, or at least the machines involved. While this RoboSkull Badge from TeHyBug isn’t a Terminator badge per se, more of a Terminator with a bit of Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz thrown in, you’ll appreciate it’s fun style, and characteristic RGB blinking eyeball that evokes a bit of cinematic techno-nostalgia.
The blinking eyeball is, in fact a single RGB LED, controlled by an ATtiny13 microcontroller. Two buttons are available to adjust brightness, as well as switch between 10 standard glowing modes. A power switch is provided, but accommodations for the power source will need to be made by the user, and kept at 5V or below. Solder pads are available for reprogramming, so you can still get it to do your bidding if the available options don’t suit your style.
It was made as a light to attach to TeHyBug’s backpack so that cars could recognize someone walking along a dark road, and it certainly seems like it would do that in style. PCBs are available in red, black,and blue to suit your personal preference!
Raspberry Pi single-board computers are truly fantastic devices, able to run Linux at a very reasonable price in one compact package. The problem, if you can call it that, is that you have to supply your own keyboard/mouse/monitor/etc for interfacing. So your $10 Pi Zero W, or now $15 Pi Zero 2 W, setup may end up costing quite a bit more.
To be fair, you’ve probably got a spare keyboard/mouse lying around, but what if you wanted to make an all-in-one setup as a sort of “Pi Game Boy?” This could be a fun project, but if you don’t want to start from scratch then check out the Zepir Mini Computer HAT from Peter Misenko, AKA Bobricius.
The device is a clever combination of two stacked circuit boards that present the user with a compact keyboard, along with a 2″ 320×240 IPS screen and a speaker. A Raspberry Pi plugs in on the back of the boards; the combination of which is essentially a rather involved HAT, creating a miniature Linux terminal.
Misenko is quick to note that this is an experimental device, so you’ll need to do some development and hacking to get it working properly, and the keyboard is somewhat limited. However, if you’re up to the challenge, it could be a great little terminal interface that could perhaps be used to control some other experimental setup!
If you sell PCBs on Tindie, you’ve perhaps designed a board to be hand built, then eventually set it up as a PCBA for assembly elsewhere when the volume and maturity justifies it. I went through this process myself with one of my products. Admittedly, there was a part where I was applying solder paste for assembly which could have been done in a neater and less wasteful manner.
One solution is to use a solder stencil, which in my experience comes with its own set of challenges – including the need to actually design and make. The second solution is to use a dispensing setup that can help you more accurately dispense globs of solder paste than with a manual syringe. Such a device comes with its own set of challenges, often including the need for compressed air. The e.Dispenser from Dan M does things a little differently by precisely displacing solder paste with a servo-driven linear actuator.
I got my hands on one of these units to try out and I’ve been pretty impressed, but read on to see my thoughts on how the device works!
e.Dispenser Initial Impressions
The system sells for a list price of $149.00 USD, including enough accessories (sans actual solder paste) to get you going. There are also a number of additional options available, including a foot-pedal and on-dispenser device trigger.
The device is made in, and ships from, Mexico. As an American buyer, my first hesitation was that there might be some import duties and/or hassle, however, I’m happy to report that in my case getting it was no trouble whatsoever. It simply showed up at my house in Florida via UPS, 11 days after placing the order. The item was very well packaged in custom-cut foam, which could double as storage apparatus if you’re careful when opening it up.
The device itself was well-made, with a laser-cut housing, and an LCD character display that will be familiar to anyone who has browsed an Arduino projects site for even a few minutes. The reversible USB-C power input was a nice feature, and there’s a 3.5mm jack for accessory connection. Finally, the driving stepper motor is keyed in such a way that it can’t be reversed when plugging it into the controller.
Dispensing Solder Paste
The unit is easy enough to plug in and turn on, and features a menu system driven by two encoders. The left encoder selects the menu option, while the right actually modifies it. When you press the trigger button, settings are saved to the profile you’re working with. When either is pushed in (at any time) the left pushes the piston forward, while the right pulls it back.
To insert solder paste, a coupler is included that lets you push it out of your old tube into the new tube quite elegantly. From there, the machine’s piston can push it out blob-by-blob. This is where things got a little hairy, due to:
I had no idea of the scale needed to push out a component’s worth of paste
My roughly year-old paste, stored in a hot garage wasn’t doing me any favors.
Quite a bit of excess initially dripped out after dispensing, and didn’t get the right amount on my pads to begin with. I contacted Dan M. about my predicament.
Long story short: I was dispensing way too much paste, and, according to Dan, depending on the type of paste you’re using, tiny air bubbles can cause a sort of internal spring effect. He gave me a few suggestions on things to try, and after a bit of tinkering, it worked much better. Also, it might seem obvious to many readers, but pressing down on the board before triggering the paste seems to work better than triggering it mid-air and attempting to dip paste onto the pads.
Dan’s support was prompt and excellent, offering me input and settings to try. That being said, I should have perused the documentation on his website more carefully, especially the page about dot dispensing to get a better sense of scale. I eventually made several prototype boards using the dispenser, which turned out much better than my syringe-only attempts.
After a bit of adjustment, oozing improved significantly
In my testing, I still get some paste extrusion after finishing a job using the dot dispensing mode. If/when I continue to tweak things (and/or buy new solder paste) I suspect this will improve. This adjustability is an excellent feature of this device, and up to 5 setups can be saved to allow you to work with different paste setups and/or scenarios.
As mentioned earlier, there’s a 3.5mm jack into which you can plug a foot pedal, or a trigger that slips over the dispenser tube. Both worked as designed, and I primarily tested the pedal. It’s also easy enough to start the device via the button on the main controller, though using the foot pedal felt natural and helpful once I started using it.
In addition to outputting solder paste, this device is also capable of picking up components and small ICs using vacuum. As there’s no air compressor involved, the way it does this is by pushing the piston into position, then pulling back to create a vacuum when triggered. I tested this with a few addressable LEDs, and even the Ooberlights circuit board seen above, and it works well.
The fact that it doesn’t need an air compressor is probably the #1 feature that will draw people to this device. The tradeoff here is that the driving stepper motor is on top of the dispensing syringe, which means that the center of mass is well offset from its geometric center. This wasn’t a problem for the limited assembly work that I’ve done with it so far, and I am thrilled to have this as a part of my workbench for prototyping. At the same time, this would likely be problematic if put into constant use over a full production shift.
A fascinating possibility for this device is that it seems to be just begging for people to use it in an automated manner per its external trigger capability. Dan has a guide to setting it up on a 3D printer here, but who knows what other people will (and have) come up with? Notably, the device can dispense other types of paste, opening up possibilities further.
This dispenser is well built and well supported, and it fills the niche between “what am I doing with this squeezy syringe thing” and full offshore production. There’s also the exciting possibility of repurposing a 3D-printer or other robotics assembly to work with this device. If you fall in the category of avid SMD prototyper, then in my humble opinion, it’s absolutely worthy of consideration!
Dan M provided the product at a discounted rate to me for this review. I’ve tried to be fair, open and honest in my appraisal of it, but if you’d like a second opinion (or forty-second opinions), you can check out the device’s customer reviews.
Even with a wide range of modern indicator options, there’s still something really cool about how Nixie tubes glow to indicate a selected character. While generally not produced anymore, a large stock of new-old tubes means that they’re entirely usable today, with the caveat that they have to be DC powered in the 100 volt range. This requirement is a hassle for modern electronics, and also presents some potential danger.
While it won’t eliminate this danger, and need for experience/caution when working with such tubes, the Digitally Adjustable Nixie Tube Power Supply from WiZeus Store takes care of actually generating the needed DC power. From a 12VDC input, it’s able to generate voltages of between 85 to 175V, with a 20mA max current. This voltage range can be controlled by an Arduino board or other controllers via I2C, allowing for dynamic effects, such as dimming the tubes at night.
The device can also supply 5V or 3.3V for control electronics. Nixie power can be switched off when needed, while keeping the lower voltage power active, as an all-in-one power supply.
The OoberLights Micro RGB LED Module features 21 addressable LEDs arranged in three concentric rings. Or two concentric rings of 12 and 8 around a single LED, depending on how you’d like to view it. These can be controlled with the standard Arduino NeoPixel library, and besides a couple of capacitors and connection pads on the back, there’s little more to this board.
The unique feature of this board is its footprint: at 18mm x 18mm; it’s actually the size of a keyboard keycap, which is a lot of LEDs to fit on such a small control surface. Of course, it would need the proper adapter to fit on a key switch, a project that creator patshead.com is still contemplating.
While the OoberLights Micro is little more than a clever LED breakout, the story of its inspiration and build is quite interesting, as Pat humorously outlines in the product listing. The short story is that he’s been working on a larger version for quite some time. After receiving several JC Pro Macro keyboard prototypes (from me incidentally), he realized he could use the included breakout pins to control such a lighting apparatus.
You can see it in action in the video below, blinking under control of the macro pad. One could in theory use it for any sort of indication, such as for disk utilization or network traffic. The listing also has a well explained USPS letter shipping rate, though if you’re considering a similar arrangement, you might check out my Perfect Your Tindie Shipping Game post.
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