This lovely Dansette portable radio is now playing the 21st century’s finest internet radio stations thanks to a loving upgrade. The centre of the tuning dial has been replaced with a bright LCD display showing the icon for the current radio station, with a convex glass bubble lens adding to the vintage aesthetic.
The trio of clicky little buttons on top control the power and let you skip up or down through a set of eight station presets. The dials peeping out at each corner are actually large, tactile micro-switch buttons for precisely controlling the volume.
On the inside is a Raspberry Pi, with a Pirate Audio board handling the display and amplification, and a 10,000 mAh power bank supplying plenty of juice for long summer afternoons in the garden. A simple Python script manages the playlists and channel art.
I’ve been meaning to start this project since buying the radio for £2 last October, and it turned out just as I’d planned – all the better for approaching it slowly.
At the same time as “needing” a new PI for my workbench I also ran out of space in what has become the Old Tech storage area. It was time for something bulky to either be used or go to the tip.
The bulkiest of them all was a Bang & Olufsen TV from 1987, a Beovision MX1500. Not a truly iconic piece but a nice design for what it was, a 15″ CRT TV. I bought it over three years ago and it’s never worked, but I still didn’t have the heart to bin it. I thought I’d give it one last chance, deciding to dismantle it and see how easy it would be to convert it.
The teardown went swimmingly, just literally a handful of screws and the whole thing came apart. With the CRT tube and the innards removed, all that was left was a perfectly-proportioned front section.
Now I needed to find a replacement screen. This part you literally couldn’t make up – I grabbed an old Dell monitor, held it in place for size and realised it was an exact fit. Not just close mind, perfect to the point that the screen was in the right position and it was held securely in place just by its own friction, no glue or fixings needed.
It only took minutes to connect up a tucked-away Pi and a wireless keyboard, and I was left stunned that somehow I had a fancy new appliance on my workbench less than an hour after taking the cumbersome TV apart.
It just goes to show that sometimes against all odds everything just slots into place! I’d been wilfully ignoring this TV for years but it’s now one of my favourite things. And best of all I’ve cleared space for more old junk, ready for whenever we make it back to the secondhand sales.
Ever since I started messing about with the Raspberry Pi High Quality Camera I’ve been trying to think of a way to focus it remotely, so that I could just pop it down in the garden and worry about focusing it later – and this weekend I cracked it!
I was sure if I found the right Lego Technic piece I’d be able to drill a hole in it and fix it to the camera lens, and a test part arrived from eBay late last week, a 60 tooth gear. Cutting a lens-sized hole in it was surprisingly easy, and it was an absolutely perfect push-fit.
I ordered a Lego-compatible servo from Pimoroni straightaway, and once it had arrived I spent a pleasant couple of hours rummaging for Lego pieces to make it all fit together. I was really lucky that the little servo cog and the lens cog fitted together so nicely, that could easily have been very tricky.
Next I made a long, thin focus button menu in GUIzero, so that it’d be visible to the side of the camera preview window, when viewed via RealVNC. This works really well, you can click the focus buttons on the side and see the effect immediately on the previewed image. The beauty of RealVNC is that it works equally well on a phone or tablet, which is extremely handy when keeping an eye on a wildlife trap in the garden.
As a proof of concept it’s a lot of fun, I can imagine adding this functionality to an existing pan/tilt camera bracket, or to a robot that needs to constantly re-focus as it moves around. Of course the best part of all was combining Lego with Raspberry Pi, two of my favourite things!
The interchangeable camera lens peeps out from what was the battery cover on the rear, and on the front, the matrix of buttons has been replaced by a HyperPixel four inch capacitive touchscreen.
Still, video, timelapse and slow motion modes are all available on the colourful touch menu, as well as the option to bulk-upload the captured photo and video files to Dropbox.
Additional touches include a handy tripod mount in Merlin’s base, and hardware buttons to manually capture images and video.
This build was a lot of fun, the case specifically was lovely to work with, and had plenty of space for components, for once. I did destroy the battery cover and had to make a new camera mount from perspex, but otherwise things went pretty smoothly!
I bought a cheap ESP32 board on a whim a few weeks back – it has WiFi and Bluetooth so I thought I’d better test it out by making some kind of IoT device!
After updating my Arduino IDE I to work with the ESP32 I looked for an appropriate example from the Adafruit IO library to start me off, choosing the Servo sketch . This sketch updates the position of a servo based on a value passed to an Adafruit IO feed – so for example if the feed is passed the value “90” then the servo will move to a mid-range point, the upper and lower limits being 0 and 180.
After connecting my servo to the board (VIN, GND and Pin 2) I poked it through the centre of an old clock and secured it with blu-tack, making a “pointer” by gluing a wooden drink stirrer to a servo arm.
Next I uploaded the sketch to the board, having added in my wifi details and specified the name of the “feed” that would do the controlling.
Amazingly it worked first time, the pointer moved instantly when I edited the feed values on the Adafruit IO website. Next I popped over to IFTTT and set up three new Weather Underground “applets”…
…so that depending on the weather conditions at my location, either the value 0, 90 or 180 would be forwarded to the Adafruit feed.
Lastly I grabbed some vintage BBC weather icons and printed them out, sticking them on the clock to match the three pointer locations.
This was a great bit of fun and took just over half an hour, not including the icons. It really shows how accessible the ESP32 ecosystem can be, and the weather clock has been running reliably for several weeks now.
Quite often I’ll use a Raspberry Pi for a project and people will comment “you should have used an Arduino or ESP32” – I’m certainly guilty of sticking to what I’m comfortable with, but also practically I have a cupboard full of old Raspberry Pis (2s mostly) that I want to make use of! This was an enjoyable first outing into the world of ESP32 though, and I’m certain I’ll find the ideal project for one of these nifty little boards in the very near future.
Earlier this month I pulled together all of the projects I’ve worked on so far in 2020, for a mid-year class reunion!
The idea was to see if I could get them all working at the same time for a photo opportunity. Inevitably one or two needed a tweak, but thankfully three had their own batteries, so I didn’t need to break out too many USB cables.
One quick upgrade I made is to the Tele-LED timer, it now lights up its LEDs in random colours instead of keeping them all red, and at the end of the hour it beeps like the BBC Radio “pips” instead of just monotonously.
Not all of the projects have been published at the time of writing, but the Merlin Pi camera is pretty much ready to go, I just have to finish off editing the video. That’ll be followed in July by the Dansette Pi Internet Radio and the Chiming Desk Clock, I just need to motivate myself to finish off the write-ups!
My favourite so far ? That wouldn’t be fair – but if I whisper, it’s between the radio and the clock, they’re both so clean and simple.
For now it’s on with the next project, which involves dozens of cassette tapes, a motor and more than a few RGB LEDs – watch this space.
I recently repaired the wall-mounted TV in my office (capacitors again), and decided it could do with an OSMC box, so that I’d be able to easily choose a movie or some music to have on in the background while working. The plain Raspberry Pi in a case didn’t really fit in with the rest of the decor, so I decided to give it a new/old home.
I started by taking apart an old “rabbit ears” TV aerial, stripping out the minimal internals (I’m sure decorative aerials were and continue to be the snake-oil of TV accessories). From here I drilled some holes to secure the Raspberry Pi board…
… then used a Dremel cutting disc to chop out the rear of the case, allowing the Pi to peep out.
I also chopped out a couple of holes for the Pi’s HDMI and power cables, so that all of the leads would emerge tidily out of the rear of the case. Although the OSMC menu is controlled with an infrared remote I didn’t need to add an IR diode to this box as I’m using a USB receiver, an old Microsoft Media Center unit.
I’m really pleased with the end result, and the transformation from a Pi and cables to something much more decorative took literally half an hour.
Catching up on posts after a few weeks of very low motivation!
We had a lovely mention as part of a BBC News article about old gadgets earlier this month, they canvassed on social media and some of our Twitter followers were kind enough to point them in our direction.
It was exciting to speak to an actual journalist, especially one so professional they could extract a coherent quote from my 5-minute ramblings about converting old tech. I’d just come off the cross-trainer when Zoe called so was dripping and flustered!
Rumble the cat is very excited to be featured in The MagPi this month, alongside the Apollo Pi thermal camera. He thinks this could be his big break, and is waiting by the phone for the Whiskas people to call.
Aside from the cat it’s a lovely four page feature, covering the transformation of an old microwave detector into a modern thermal camera, built with a Raspberry Pi and components from Adafruit.
It was a fun project to build and it’s a thrill as always to see it featured in the MagPi.
As if that wasn’t enough excitement, Issue 94 is a right rivetin’ read, with everything you need to know about the new 8gb Raspberry Pi 4, as well as Dan Aldred’s fantastic Giant Battleships on p24 and an article about HQ camera options that I’m saving for a quiet moment.
I imagine shops still exist and are selling magazines, just in case though you can order a hard copy online or download a free .pdf version.
I’ve had the Raspberry Pi HQ camera for a couple of weeks now – I confess I ordered one the minute I saw the announcement! While I waited for the parcel to arrive I busied myself making a home for it, in an old Merlin handheld game.
The idea was that the case would be all finished by the time the new camera arrived, ready to just slot it in and start experimenting, without having too many cables getting in the way.
This turned out to be a pretty good strategy – especially including a touchscreen display. I picked up the Hyperpixel 4″ screen during last year’s #YarrBooty shenanegans, and it’s so useful in this build.
It didn’t take long to set up the camera – I went with the 6mm lens and spent a while trying very hard to focus it with the adaptor in place (you don’t need the adaptor with this one, rtm). After that though we were in business on the workbench! First pic below.
The touchscreen soon proved very useful – you can’t wildly point & shoot with the HQ camera and expect great results, you need to take the time to focus the lens properly, and having an on-board screen made this much easier. An alternative would be to use a connected HDMI monitor or use Real VNC (enable “Direct Capture” in settings) to have a remote view.
Once I’d got a feel for the camera I set up a little touch user interface using GuiZero , so that I could select either video or still capture while out & about (well, in the garden at least). I also added in a “focus” option, which just displays the camera preview for 15 seconds, without saving. I found this really useful for getting the focus just right before recording/capturing. I also found that putting a piece of Lego in the frame helped me get the focus sharp when looking through the small screen in bright sunlight.
I’ve included a couple of my favourite images so far below – it’s a very different mindset for me, to spend time thinking about focus & exposure rather than just blazing away (I’ve never used a “proper” camera), but I enjoy the process and it’s satisfying when a nice pic comes out. I’ve also tried some “camera-trap” style nature videos but the shiny red Merlin case and leggy tripod are pretty conspicuous and seem to have frightened off the wildlife so far.
There’s certainly a lot still to learn, which I love, and I’m looking forward to a rummage around the camera stalls at the car boot some day to see if I can find different lenses to try. The HQ camera is undoubtedly a huge step up in quality, but is so different in its application that it’s definitely a welcome addition to, rather than a total replacement for, the V2 camera.
I’m continuing to tweak the Merlin Pi and there’ll be a full write-up and video released in the next week or two.