Old Tech Find – Unigraph Barometer

A truly great find on Gumtree this evening, a “Unigraph” desktop barometer from the 1930s. I just had to have this cool-looking thing as soon as I saw the ad, I drove round and picked it up straightaway, £10.

Up top it has a Fahrenheit temperature display, with a manual date indicator on the right of the (deco style?) stand, but it’s the barometer display that really attracted me. Instead of having a needle that meanders from Fair to Stormy this thing has what appears to be a decorated paper drum inside, that rotates to display a weather scene matching the current barometric pressure. An amazing data visualisation for the time!

The only slight problem is – it seems to be working perfectly. Both the temperature and pressure drums are wiggling fairly freely. I had great visions of keeping the visuals the same and recreating the mechanism with servos and weather API calls, illuminating the case from the inside and swapping the ratty date cards for an e-ink display!

I’ll have to keep an eye on it over the coming days as it gets used to the rarefied climate in my office. If it doesn’t change with the weather – well it’s coming apart.

 

 

New Project! 1970s E-Ink @YouTube Counter

This iconic digital clock from the 1970s now has a new life stylishly displaying YouTube statistics. It’s powered by a Raspberry Pi Zero and harnesses a simple Python script to retrieve Subscriber and View numbers for the Old Tech. New Spec. channel from the YouTube Data API, displaying the results on a Pimoroni Inky pHAT display.

The clock’s original alarm on/off switch now toggles the e-ink display between Views and Subscribers, and an inbuilt LED glows up the translucent red plastic around the display as it updates.

It’s a fun & practical addition to my office, sitting quietly on my desk speaker, and seeing the stats slowly increase helps keep me motivated to make more projects and videos. It also won First Prize in the recent Instructables Internet of Things Contest!

I bought this clock a year or two back, bundled with an old robot toy, and it was in daily use until it went pop recently – when it joined the ranks of broken Old Tech in the workshop awaiting conversion. The build was straightforward and involved a lot of precise measuring, as well as my favourite Raspberry Pi companion, Lego bricks!

I’m really pleased with the result and it’s a lovely looking little thing – nice coverage on the Hackster Blog too!

The project is fully documented on Instructables and Hackster as usual, the code is on GitHub and of course there’s a YouTube video showing the code & build, with the normal criticism from my feline friends.

 

 

New Project! The @Raspberry_Pi PiNG Video Doorbell

The PiNG Video Doorbell is powered by a Raspberry Pi and is retro-stylishly cased in a 1986 Intercom and an old Sony cassette player.

When the doorbell button is pressed the Pi makes a high-quality video call using Google Duo, which can be answered on a phone, tablet or computer, letting you see and speak to callers when you’re away from home (or at home but trapped under a cat). It works over WiFi and cellular, so you can even answer the door when you’re out pounding the streets.

It also sounds a standard wireless door chime inside the house as a fail-safe, in case the call can’t be taken.

The doorbell unit is fitted outside the house, with a companion base unit inside, connected with 6-core alarm cable. The base unit houses a Pi 3B+ and is housed in a stripped-out cassette player.

It works amazingly well and the Google Duo sound and video is smooth – I took a call from a delivery person while out walking yesterday lunchtime  which was very exciting!

I started this project in early March and finished it at the Easter weekend, and it’s been an absolute barrel of fun, I’d highly recommend playing around with Google Duo on a Raspberry Pi! If you have a Pi and some bits lying around you can probably make something similar in a couple of hours.

There are full project write-ups with instructions, photos and code at the links below:

Instructables: https://www.instructables.com/id/1986-Raspberry-Pi-Video-Doorbell

Hackster: https://www.hackster.io/martin-mander/1986-ping-video-doorbell-30b666

 

 

Geordie Score

We’re just back from a weekend up North, retracing the steps of my youth and catching up with the family. The bingo hall I worked in and bars I loved are sadly gone, but one important historical site remains – ESR Electronic Components.

You could make pixel art on those component drawers, there are so many.

It’s an independent electronics shop and as you can see from the wall of over 2000 drawers behind the counter they have a comprehensive inventory.

As well as being an exciting shopping opportunity (stoked by caffeine  & Donkey Kong at Cullercoats Coffee 3 doors down) it was a sentimental one – I bought my first ever electronics kit in this very shop, nearly 30 years ago. After clumsily soldering it together with my buddy Steve we had literally hours of fun with the FM Transmitter , tuning the stereos in Dixons to the right frequency then standing outside and trolling the customers via the FM microphone.

The shop exterior hasn’t changed much since the 80s. Good.

It means a lot that shops like this are still in business, especially so in a fairly quiet seaside town where so much else has changed. They’ve clearly moved with the times though and likely do a lot of business online now, but for me there’s enormous value in being able to walk in with a list and have the full “four candles” retail experience.

Bag of goodies from ESR

I was pretty restrained in there but scored some connectors, a sweet membrane keypad and most importantly several metres of 8 core alarm cable. They had loads of kits & components I’ve not seen elsewhere too, many made by Velleman, as well as full ranges of things like project boxes, harder to find now that the Maplin stores have closed.

Components, Coffee and Coastline within metres of each other, a perfect trip!

For me the whole nostalgia + shopping trip was one of the highlights of the break – I think the family up north may see us more often in future!

 

Coming Soon

The workshop has embraced the Spring thaw, the office is freshly renovated and now I’m elbow-deep in a brand new Raspberry Pi project, hoping to release the YouTube video & detailed write-ups on Instructables and Hackster in the next couple of weeks if all goes well. I’ve really missed the smell of solder and melted plastic over the winter months.

Click click click

I’m keeping a lid on the exact details for now, but as Wallace said in The Wrong Trousers it’s hopefully going to be a “valuable addition to our modern lifestyle”.

Arr I spy two pirates

It’s a pretty straightforward build, with easily modified Python code, some moderate hardware hacking, and more than a sprinkle of Google.

Some hacking, some chopping

Stay tuned for further updates and more teaser photos!

Really Old Tech

A fascinating Old Tech find at the car boot this week – a wax cylinder “Dictaphone Cameo Model” office transcribing machine.

Not a robotic wine rack

It would have been used in an office around the 1930s, likely in combination with other emerging technology like the telephone and the typewriter. It must have been quite the leap forward in efficiency at the time, though it seems equal parts clunky & bulky now.

Under the hood

It retains a lot of elegance though, and with those castors you can imagine it being dragged from one desk to another. It’s missing its control pedals, flexible speaking tube and horn, but the mechanism looks sound and the recording/playback head moves freely as it would have run up & down a wax cylinder around eighty years ago.

Take a letter…

I’ve not decided what to do with it as yet, its purchase coincided with my recent office renovations so for now it’s just for display.

It’d be nice to build a replacement speaking tube for it though, and maybe in a non-destructive way adapt it to record voice memos and upload / transcribe them, that’d be a lot of fun and possibly a straightforward conversion.

A Case of Zero Security

I picked up an official Pi Zero case at the Pi Store last week and only opened it yesterday – I’m notoriously easily pleased but was thrilled to find there were three different case tops included! Plus, as icing on the cake, a tiny cable to connect a Pi camera module tidily inside one of the lids.

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As luck would have it I already had a Pi Zero W handy and set up with MotionEye so it took minutes to clip the whole thing into place. I’ve been looking for a nice security camera case for a while and this ticked all of the boxes at once.

I tried it on the dining room wall but the field of vision didn’t cover the whole room – something that was rectified by a £5 set of smartphone lenses from Tiger  – the set came with a fisheye and “diamond” lens but the Wide Angle one was perfect for the job. While there I also picked up a 3 metre white USB cable for £3, which let me mount the camera high up in the room.

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Cheap wide angle lens superglued to the case.

The lens was easily superglued to the case, and I made a bracket out of Lego to hold it at just the right angle near the slope of the ceiling. The case was fixed to the bracket using 3m self-adhesive velcro pads (on special this week at Lidl)

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Fixed to the wall with sticky velcro pads

To finish the job I tidied the cable with some thin self-adhesive conduit, which is mostly tucked away behind a curtain. I’m so pleased with the end result, it only took about a half-hour to put everything together and it looks really clean and subtle on the wall. Now I can keep an eye on the cats without needing them to wander right in front of the camera!

This was also a great first experiment with camera lenses – my next big Pi project is camera “focussed” and we’ll be using the wide angle lens again as part of the build. Maybe not a pink one this time though.

A Trip to the #RPIstore

What to do with the kids at half term? A pilgrimage to the new Raspberry Pi store in Cambridge of course! I’ve been feeling an irresistible magnetic draw since the shop opened, and we finally got to visit last week. 

What to do with the kids at half term? A pilgrimage to the new Raspberry Pi store in Cambridge of course! I’ve been feeling an irresistible magnetic draw since the shop opened, and we finally got to visit last week.

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First impressions were great, much bigger than I expected with Pis set up all around the store, showcasing the many different things you can achieve. Lots of hands-on stations for kids (and adults) too, making it easy for customers to get interactive.

I came to shop though – I only had a short window of dedicated pi-time before the wife & kids caught up with me, so I headed straight for the shelves. There was a pleasantly surprising array of products, with lots of HATs, kits and accessories, even maker staples like packs of jumper cables, far more than just the Pi-branded gear I had imagined. First to be scooped up was an official Pi Zero case – I have a fair few zeros but no cases and this thing looked so small and cute I had to have it. Next I grabbed a Pi-branded mug and tote bag, and finished off with some Sugru, which I haven’t seen in the wild since Maplin closed down.

It was fascinating to see the responses of other shoppers too – while I was ogling the cases a lady next to me pointed out the boxed Pi 3s interestedly to her husband, who responded “I think you’ll find that’s just the mouse in that box”. I resisted getting involved.

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After a while the family arrived and we tried out some of the Pi stations, then busied ourselves opening all of the MagPi magazines & specials we could find to pages showing my projects and left them out on the coffee table.

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As shops go it’s pretty impressive and inspiring, though we were naturally biased! Plenty of helpful staff around too. I did think it could do with being a little bit brighter in there, but obviously it’s early days. We’re all looking forward to a return visit next time we’re in Cambridge (or when the Norwich branch opens – cmon please?)

We’re in the MagPi Issue 78!

Very excited to have a project featured in the MagPi this month, it’s a vintage Hitachi television I converted last year. It displays digital TV from another Raspberry Pi running a TV HAT, and uses the original rotary tuning dial to change channels.

As you can see hard copies are available in shops as well as the pdf version online. It’s a great issue all round and I’ve already been inspired to grab some arcade joysticks and buttons to try out some of the tutorials.

The article covers my experiences using the TV Hat with a converted TV from the 1970s – the original TV build Instructable write-up is here and the more recent TV Hat version is here. The simple Python script used to change the channels is available on GitHub.

There’s also a YouTube video of the unboxing and setup of the TV Hat…

…and one that gives a bit more information about how the Hitachi Pi TV was converted.

I’ve always been fascinated by televisions, as evidenced by the photo they included of me unboxing my first TV, aged around 10. 

Portable @Raspberry_Pi Scratch / Prototyping Station

This old Dell monitor has been given a new life as a portable Scratch / Development station for Raspberry Pi projects – it has an integrated Pi 3 A+, fixed breadboard and Lego tape on either side for holding components in place.

A portable Pi workstation for Scratch and Prototyping

I put it together mainly to make it easier to dip in & out of Scratch projects with the kids – with the Pi and breadboard attached to the monitor it takes seconds to set up, and with the Lego tape either side the kids can build structures to hold LEDs and other components in place while building code.

It’s also really useful for me when I’m developing code for projects, having everything in one place makes it harder (but not impossible!) to get sidetracked by trailing wires and loose connections.

It works look!

My favourite part though is the Pibow Coupe Tangerine case (hotglued to the monitor) – I bought it because it looks great, but on assembly I noticed it has all of the GPIO pin numbers on it – this makes coding so much easier. I had originally planned to print & stick a GPIO guide on one side of the monitor but this saves all of the squinting and pin-counting.

Developing code is much more convenient now, but obviously not all frustrations and distractions can be removed.

Around the back the leads are all neatly cable-tied in place, with the Pi connected to the ol’ Dell with an HDMI > DVI adaptor. For power a single trailing extension lead connects it to the mains, with a plug-through USB adaptor fixed behind the monitor powering the screen and providing 2x 2.1a USB supplies for the Pi and accessories.

Nice jumper bandolier you have there!

It was great fun to put together, and the monitor only cost £5 at a charity shop, PAT tested with a fully tiltable base. It’s especially useful in the winter months when the workshop is icy cold but we still want to get hands-on with the Raspberry Pi.