New Project! The 1984 WeatherMan Pi

A walkman that displays the weather, the WeatherMan! Pi Zero smarts, LED icons, Dark Sky data and jiggling servo controlled headphones.

The WeatherMan Pi is an ambient weather display with early 80s style – animated weather icons, scrolling temperature text and graphical rainfall probability are displayed on a Pimoroni Unicorn HAT HD LED matrix, showing brightly through what was originally the cassette window.

When weather conditions change the servo-controlled headphones on top sweep back & forth to alert you.

Open up the magnet-latched cassette door and the Raspberry Pi zero and components are revealed for easy servicing, all held securely in place with Sugru mouldable glue. The weather data is sourced from the ultra-accurate Dark Sky API, and the data is refreshed every few minutes.

Precipitation Probability

This project was a lot of fun and only took a couple of weeks – the full build is documented below:

Instructables: https://www.instructables.com/id/1984-WeatherMan-Pi

Hackster: https://www.hackster.io/martin-mander/1984-weatherman-pi-77fb67

Youtube: https://youtu.be/9aZER9OiExg

Probably the last project for 2019 – we’ll be back in 2020 with a beautiful 1960s radio conversion.

 

Halloween Build – Dr. Tape Head

I was toying with the idea of a Halloween themed build a few weeks back but was stuck for ideas, then I came across an awesome fencing mask in a charity shop, and the idea for Dr. Tape Head was born!

I had a pretty clear idea from the start what I wanted – moving laser eyes, smoke generation and some kind of text to speech function to bring the whole thing to life.

DESTROY ALL HUMANS

I started by building the individual parts – eyes (ping pong balls with lasers and LEDs, cased in Lego) , ears (old headphones with speakers added) and mouth (cassette tape with pHAT Beat). I then built these into the mask, pulling together the code I needed to control them on the Raspberry Pi.

Next I cobbled together a Python script on the Pi to read text from a Google Sheets spreadsheet, then set this up to be auto-populated from the IFTTT service. This meant that the doctor would read out real-time notifications from the web, as well as messages sent directly to him via SMS or Google Assistant.

IFTTT Applets – Feed the Doctor!

Later I just had time to add finishing touches, with hair made from dismantled cassette tapes and an old mannequin hacked about to allow for clothing and a hidden power supply.

Getting the doctor up & running  was a really fun project – quite time pressured but great to jump on the Halloween bandwagon and work to a theme, i.e. spooky!

The full project write-ups are available at:

Instructables: https://www.instructables.com/id/Dr-Tape-Head-Undead-Media

Hackster: https://www.hackster.io/martin-mander/dr-tape-head-undead-media-c6f844

…and in case you can’t see the embedded video above it’s on YouTube at https://youtu.be/mykrJEozIoM

Happy Halloween!

 

Old Tech Finds – Autumn Delights

Another muddy car boot this morning, but well worth slipping and sliding for the gems we managed to pick up.

Similar colour, both obsolete, 40 years apart.

First a crusty but classy Dansette Companion radio, from way back in 1964, which cost £2. It’s seen better days but the colour is still really strong and the tuning dial is working, this would make an amazing portable internet radio.

I’m thinking the original dial could be repurposed to switch between favourite stations, and those great big rotary controls on the top corners could be converted to microswitches (as seen in the Flirt Pi). With the amount of space inside a full-size speaker and Pi could be used, for better audio quality and quicker boot times – this may be the perfect project to make use of the PiJuice rechargeable battery.

Next, a Nokia 3650 mobile phone, in incredible condition, also £2. Dating from 2002 it had one of their “experimental” keyboard layouts – this one even came with a 16mb SD card and unscratched integrated camera . After a battery swap and a charge it seems to be working fine, I just need to find a full-size SIM card for it. It’s a very tactile handset and I could well see myself using it for work calls.

Today’s star buy however was a Pioneer CT-W 205R cassette deck, slightly risky at £10. I have a small vintage Pioneer collection, most of which has been in our family since it was new in the 70s, and I’ve been after just the right tape deck for several years now.

Most of the old “silver” ones have perished belts and take a lot of tlc, but this is a later model and works perfectly – it’s almost identical to the unit that saw me through university in the early 90s. Sitting in front of it & playing the cassettes I bought & made in the 80s earlier was just like stepping into a time machine, something about the buttons, sound quality and VU meter provoked a strong and warm nostalgic response, perfect for an autumnal Saturday afternoon.

 

 

 

 

New Project! Flirt Pi Internet Radio

This beautiful little “Flirt” transistor radio from 1970 has had a loving internet radio conversion using a Raspberry Pi Zero. All the original controls have been re-used and with its LiPo battery & LED VU meter it’s ready to bang out tunes in the bathroom.

Shaving has never been so funky.

This could be one of my favourite projects ever, it has just the right combination of Old Tech and New Spec, and was my quickest to date, providing music in the bathroom just a week after I picked it up at the car boot.

As ever I learned new things while building it, including re-using parts of the volume dial to make microswitches that look identical to the original controls – definitely a technique I’ll be using in future projects.

From the outside you’d never know they’re microswitches.

I also used a LiPo battery for the first time in this build, something I’ve been shy of in the past, and was pleasantly surprised with the resulting flexibility and impressive run-time. Using a combination of the Pimoroni LiPo Shim and an Adafruit Micro LiPo I was able to integrate the charging circuit into the build itself, pleasingly tucked away under the original battery lid.

The original power switch toggles the battery between the Pi and the charging board.

This was a lot of fun to build, and is providing daily service in the bathroom, playing Soma FM’s Secret Agent while I’m shaving every morning. The project is fully documented on Instructables, Hackster and (new!) Maker Share, with the simple Python code on GitHub as usual.

 

Pi Tourer Console in HackSpace Issue 23

Another great issue of HackSpace magazine this month, and I’m not just saying that because the Pi Tourer Game Console is featured on page 14!

Always wonderful to be included, and it’s great to think a pic of the back of by son’s head is sitting in newsagents throughout the land.

It’s a top issue this time around, great for inspiration – especially if you’re starting (as I am) to think about a spoooky project of any kind for Halloween.

I guess you’d call that a Pumpkin Pi?

You can grab the .pdf version for free at https://hackspace.raspberrypi.org/issues/23

 

New Project! Converting a 1980s Joystick for RetroPie

This Cheetah 125 joystick from the 1980s has had a full rebuild with shiny new microswitches, arcade buttons and a Pimoroni Player X controller board. It now has four independent buttons and connects via USB, ready for some serious RetroPie gaming action.

We had great fun converting this old joystick to work on RetroPie – it really brought back the glory days of “gaming” on my old Commodore Vic 20, I had exactly the same model when it was new.

The build wasn’t without surprises though, I’d forgotten that in the 80s all buttons performed the same function – four in this case all wired together! With the help of a Player X board from Pimoroni we were able to make each button independent, and added in a couple of extras to make RetroPie play easier.

The idea behind the joystick conversion was to provide Player 2 controls for the Pi Tourer Game Console, and it’s now added all the blood-pumping fun of head-to-head competition to our retro gaming, with predictable gloating from the younger members of the household!

The project is fully documented in the video above and on Hackster at: https://www.hackster.io/martin-mander/1980s-joystick-usb-conversion-1366ef

…also on Instructables at https://www.instructables.com/id/1980s-Joystick-USB-Conversion/

Now if you’ll excuse me there’s a father & son Dr Mario tournament starting soon and I really need to practice…

 

Old Tech – Stocking Up for Winter

With Autumn coming the decent car boot sales are drawing to a close, so we’ve hit them pretty hard this weekend to stock up on source materials for winter projects.

The nice boxy old Orion tape player at the back cost £1, and the wood effect Steepletone transistor radio on the right was 10p.

The Hitachi personal cassette player is this week’s star find however, and I didn’t even leave the house to grab it, it was a gift from mother-in-law Rosemary. It’s a really lovely little thing, early to mid 80s and very solid, part-metal construction with a double headphone socket.

Within about 5 minutes I realised that the clear window in the tape door is exactly (and I mean to the mm) the same size as a Raspberry Pi HAT. This discovery bumped the little cassette player right to the top of the project list (sorry cuckoo clock), and I started thinking straightaway about what kind of HAT would look good in there.

The headphones are fairly toasty but unmistakably 80s, just missing the foam pads. I’m not 100% what the big orange button was for, I assume it was just a locking switch that would break the connection to the phones and act as a mute button – innovative!

Parts are on order, I hope to have the little Hitachi project finished in a couple of weeks (though it still has 2 other completed projects in front of it to be published first).

Old Tech Find – Orange Flirt

No, not a dig at the current US president, this was an unexpectedly awesome find at today’s car boot, a 1970 Flirt portable transistor radio in orange.

With the heavy rain last night there weren’t many stalls today, so to make the most of it we dug around in the many rummage boxes of the house clearance traders – I literally snatched this out and held on to it.

The colour and style grabbed me first, with that fantastic orange and squared-off dial it looks like the General Lee from the Dukes of Hazzard, but much smaller and with a speaker on top instead of the now-problematic confederate flag. Bundled with some old reel-to-reel tapes it cost me £2.

I do have a weakness for transistor radios, but I haven’t done a conversion since this one which – somehow – was over six  years ago. This one is now high on my list for a really simple rebuild – chop out the innards, bung in a Pi Zero, Speaker HAT and LiPo battery and we should have a cool portable internet radio for the bathroom. How hard could it be?

 

1963 Pi Tourer RetroPie Console

This 1963 Ever Ready car radio now has a new life playing RetroPie games!

It has a Raspberry Pi 3 and Picade controller inside, as well as a Pimoroni Blinkt that makes the front panel glow brightly in a range of colours, depending on what emulator is playing.

The fun doesn’t stop there though, thanks to its inbuilt handle and easy docking ports the Pi Tourer can be carried to other rooms, friends’ houses or anywhere a spare HDMI port can be found.

I couldn’t resist this 1963 radio at the car boot earlier in the year – it cost a princely £4. It was obviously not your normal car stereo however, as the underside had its own inbuilt speaker.

Research showed it had been a dual-purpose device, so you could remove it from your car and use it just like a normal portable radio. I decided to recreate this function, making it so it could “dock” with the workbench but still be easily removed and carried around to other retro gaming locations.

This project was as much fun to build as it is to play with, you can read the full story on Instructables and Hackster. The code I used to control the Blinkt colours based on the RetroPie emulator selection is all documented on GitHub.

For once this project turned out exactly as planned, there was just enough space in the case and I didn’t have to compromise on features. There’s one thing missing though – controls for Player 2! RetroPie is a ton of fun but playing against the kids takes it to another level altogether, apart from when they beat me, which is most of the time. For the next project we’re going to be building a controller for Player 2, upgrading an original 80s joystick and making it RetroPie-Ready.

Stay tuned for updates on that and be sure to subscribe on YouTube to catch the video when it’s released, probably around the 1st of September.

Polling the Pi Population

The last couple of times I’ve been working on projects I’ve found it really tricky to tell them apart on the home network, especially when using SSH to connect. I decided to document them once and for all, noting down the Pi version, software and IP address. I was surprised to find that I’m currently on Pi number 22, with a couple of others lined up for future projects!

“Pi Charts” may have been added to this spreadsheet.

To be fair many of these are doing menial jobs around the house like looking out for the postman, monitoring the cats or dishing up digital entertainment of some sort. Many have also been sourced second-hand on the likes of Gumtree – I just can’t resist a bargain Pi.

It was a fun exercise though, and worthwhile – making sure they were all up to date, had their default passwords changed etc. I think I have enough to see us through the Summer projects at least.

The blue streak conceals the current Pi project, a lovely looking dual-purpose appliance from way back in 1963. If it isn’t destroyed in the process we should be painting it this weekend & tidying up the final code, pics & video coming soon!