Mickey the (USB Power) Bricky

A quick hack to bring some retro gaming cheer to a USB power bank!

I’m working on a Retropie project at the moment, and want the end result to be as portable as possible, so that only an HDMI cable is needed to connect it to a TV. I needed a power source with enough stamina to run the Pi through a gaming session, but without interfering with the analogue style and portability.

The solution – embed an unused 2500 mah power bank into an old gaming cassette box!

This Guji power bank came free with my phone and was the perfect solution – it’s almost exactly the same size as a cassette box.

 

 

 

 

A few trims with the Dremel and the box was easily modified to snugly hold the power bank, leaving a good air gap around it.

It’s a nice little solution and only took a few minutes, but the power bank is now much more tactile and will hopefully fit nicely with the finished project.

Rotary Tuning with the Pi #TVHAT

The Raspberry Pi TV HAT arrived a week or so ago and we’ve had great fun setting it up and using it. It does a great job of streaming a digital TV signal around the house, and I use it daily.

For me though the critical thing was being able to easily stream TV to other Raspberry Pis – I have several converted vintage TVs (Like the Hitachi Pi and Casio Pi) and really wanted them to be able to display actual live TV broadcasts.

With a bit of Python I now have the 1982 TV Experience live on the Hitachi Pi! It uses a script to step through four separate VLC playlists (to match the four channels we had in 1982) using the TV’s original rotary tuning dial. The script is on GitHub and is really simple – you could also just use a push button.

I’ve covered my experiences (with some assistance from the cats) in the “New Spec Review” video below, and the write-up is live on Hackster and Instructables.

The next project is definitely going to be finding and adapting a nice vintage case for the TV server Pi – stay tuned for updates!

 

 

 

 

New Project: Retro-Fit a Google Home Mini

Bring some analogue style to your digital assistant by Retro-fitting it into an old cassette player or radio!

This simple and fun project only took an hour or so but brought a great-looking smart speaker to the wall of the workshop. I’ve covered the whole build from start to finish on YouTube…

… and the full build instructions are on Instructables and Hackster .

This is a great way to make practical use of an old or broken cassette player,  securely wall-mounting your Google Home Mini into the bargain.

I had the Home Mini kicking around the workshop in its box for almost a year before getting round to building this, and now I use it literally every day. It’s especially handy when you’re up to your elbows in solder and components and need to change the music or podcast.

The #TVHAT Has Landed!

So excited to receive my Raspberry Pi TV HAT in the post this week! I’ve converted several old TVs using the Pi recently, like the Casio Pi and the Hitachi Pi but there’s always been something missing – an actual digital TV signal.

With the launch of the TV HAT so many possibilities have opened up, from adding a TV tuner to an OSMC Kodi build to streaming digital TV across the home network to other devices.

I’ll be releasing a “New Spec Review” video once I’ve fully got to grips with it (Mostly done, I’m half-watching a live stream of Carry on Cabby on the other monitor as I type), and I’ll also be testing it with my existing TV conversions – and maybe even making a nice retro case to hold the TV Server Pi in style. Stay tuned for updates!

 

Google Pi Intercom in MagPi’s 75 Greatest Projects

We’re honoured to be mentioned in the MagPi’s 75 Greatest Raspberry Pi projects article this month, the Google Pi Intercom made number 10 in the “Top 50 Reader Voted” section.

It’s always a special occasion when we have a project in the MagPi, even more so in this case to be surrounded by so many other inspiring builds – there’s absolutely tons of inspiration to be had from this issue.

You can download the .pdf version for free but I’d recommend nipping to WH Smith or Sainsburys to get the super-tactile foil-cover hard copy!

New Project: Casio Pi CCTV Monitor

This is a sweet little Casio portable TV that I’ve converted into a handy CCTV monitor using a Raspberry Pi Zero W. It uses all of the original TV circuitry and the Pi is tucked away inside the battery cover. It’s ideal for keeping an eye on the cats or looking out for the postman!

It plays a video stream from a Pi Zero CCTV camera running MotionEye OS, but can equally play local files or any video stream using Omxplayer – it’s a great way to cheaply add a screen to a Pi project, as these old TVs can be powered from the same USB as the Pi and cost as little as £2 second hand.

The project is pretty straightforward and is fully documented on Instructables at…

https://www.instructables.com/id/Casio-Pi-Portable-CCTV-Monitor/

…and on Hackster at:

https://www.hackster.io/martin-mander/casio-pi-portable-cctv-monitor-e15607 

The build is also covered step by step on YouTube:

It’s the first project I’ve covered from start to finish with a video and it was a ton of fun. The video’s a bit longer than I would have liked but is split into chapters and these are linked from each section of the build on Instructables and Hackster at the links above. Now that I have the video template working and the recording equipment (mostly) behaving itself I hope to publish videos more regularly!

We’re in HackSpace Issue 11!

Thrilled to be HackSpace magazine’s “Meet the Maker”  in issue 11, if you have a hard copy check out page 18-21, you can also download a free .pdf version.

I met the lovely people from HackSpace at Raspberry Fields and the article is mostly taken from the “lightning talk” I gave on the Sunday and our bit of chat around the stall.

It’s a great magazine for inspiration, I love that it covers all kinds of makes and makers, and I’ll almost certainly be having a crack at Sophy Wong’s LED Shoes (P102) with my daughter.

 

Autumnal OutRun

Another recent car boot find costing £2, a 1986 tabletop #OutRun game (or what’s left of it). This thing is absolutely trashed cosmetically, but has a strong look and an absolute ton of potential.

The main controls are a start button, high-low shifter on the left and that cool wheel. Amazingly it still kind of works, it chirps into life with a few beeps and bloops when you press the button and the LCD screen still partly shows the iconic OutRun car you’d control.

To be honest it was only when I took the LCD closeup pic today and saw the car that I realised it was an OutRun game, from there looking closely at the remaining sticker on the wheel I could just make out “Run”, confirming my hopes.

This would have been a really cool game at the time, and after researching what it looked like originally it’s accelerated quickly from the “to do” shelf onto the workbench.

And here it is in the 1989 Argos catalogue:

The thing is I just loved OutRun as a teenager, both in the arcades and on my Spectrum, playing Forza Horizon 4 with the kids yesterday really reminded me of those days. And oddly enough the cassette I used as a base for the “Old Tech. New Spec” branding is my very own original copy.

So here’s the plan.

  • Have it apart and figure out how the original controls work
  • Get the controls working with RetroPie
  • Possibly install an Adafruit Joy Bonnet in the centre of the wheel (to allow other games to be played, Mario Kart 64 runs great on a Pi 3 Model B+)
  • Install a 5″ 4:3 LCD TV in place of the existing LCD screen
  • Make some new bodywork, wheels etc and paint the whole thing, making some decals like the original.

It’ll be a decent-sized project but fun to build and well worth it to have my own unique bar-top OutRun game. Stay tuned for updates!

Sunday Roasted

Back in the summer heatwave I picked up this roasted old game console at the car boot for £3 – it’s an Interton VC 4000, an early German-made 8-bit cartridge  system from way back in 1978.

There’s not much left of it, but it was fascinating to read up on its history – it looks like 40 separate games were available, and each of them had multiple variations. Obviously with the limited graphics you’d have to use your imagination a bit for titles like Winter Sports and Outer Space Combat.

What really attracted me to the piece though was that analogue controller, with its tactile joystick and 14 buttons. Some of the games at the time included a cardboard overlay you’d put over the buttons, which I really like the idea of – and that explains why they don’t have any obvious markings.

I learned more about this old console from VectrexRoli’s Youtube Video  – he gives a tour of the features and some of the games, with a working console and a charming Austrian accent.

The joystick feels like one you’d see on an R/C plane controller, and with so many button options I think this would be ideal for controlling a Pi-based robot, ideally via bluetooth. It’s in stasis on the “to do” shelf for now until the right project comes along.

Our #RaspberryFields Experience

We had an absolute blast at Raspberry Fields last weekend, the whole family helped out with our show & tell stand and we came away truly inspired!

We weren’t sure what to expect but it was really welcoming and organised, especially the stamp trail which everyone enjoyed (while I was manning the stall, no Pi keyring 🙁 for me).  It’s the busiest Pi event I’ve attended so far, and speaking to so many people from all over the world it struck us that the Pi community is universally friendly and fantastically diverse.

 

Smile? It’s too hot to smile!

It was very warm in the Junction but even hotter outside to be fair, thankfully ice creams were readily available!  We took along the Alexaphone, Google Pi Intercom, Pi VCR, Kodak Pi, Info-TV and of course the freshly-named (and not yet documented) “Rabbit Ears of Doom” game, made from junk specially for the weekend. Despite the heat the projects worked well and didn’t catch fire as I’d feared, though the Intercom struggled with all the background noise and the Alexaphone was stricken with fatigue towards the end of Sunday. We didn’t use the siren much on the rabbit ears game as it startled people (as designed) and it was too dark to use the LCD Glasses, but we had a lot of fun with it.

So far so good.

I didn’t get much time to look around or attend many of the talks but saw a wild variety of amazing things, all with a Pi inside somewhere. The kids did it all though – I’d not expected them to last beyond lunchtime but they were sucked in and had a crack at absolutely everything, merrily gathering stickers as they went.

We all loved the super-artistic body painting, were fascinated by the potential of Museum in a Box and got to watch Cubert2.0 in glowing action all weekend as Lorraine Underwood had the stand next door to ours. And of course the lighthouse umbrella thing. It’s hard to shout-out all of our favourite displays & activities as it was all so good and people had obviously thrown a a lot of passion and time into preparing them.

The extended family

Among my personal highlights was showing numerous children which way up to hold a 70s trimphone and explaining what “hang up” meant, while waxing nostalgic and generally geeking out with the adults. I’m really pleased we stayed for the end-of-day shows too, Ada.Ada.Ada was genuinely inspiring and I was so glad my daughter got to see it. Brainiac Live was also brilliant and finished of the weekend perfectly (i.e. with an exploding microwave).

Sunday Setting Up

I did a quick lightning talk about upcycling old tech with the Pi on the Sunday, which went OK but I’m sure I went over my allocated time – I did get to see the other lightning talks though, enjoyed hearing all about the Mars-A project and the use of banks as cultural spaces in South Korea.

Bit far away from the microphone there. Photo by Paul Knighton.

We were all pretty worn out by the end of Sunday but it was an amazing & rewarding weekend, we’re still counting stickers and thinking about what to make with our swag and the booty I picked up from Pimoroni. Can’t wait for the next one, though I must remember to bring more business cards and stickers. General dump of photos below, I didn’t take many pics as the projects were all tethered to my phone’s wifi hotspot and I didn’t dare move it too far!

Kodak Pi in action. Photo by Izzy Bartley
Show us the shark!
A proper coding laptop
“You’re sure you want a hedgehog?”
Which way is the ice cream?
Quick get a picture while it’s all still working.