New Project! The Cassette Pi IoT Scroller

The Cassette Pi is a self-contained real-time notification scroller, all housed neatly inside a transparent cassette tape. A Raspberry Pi Zero is sandwiched between the two tape reels, retrieving Internet of Things notifications from the fabulous IFTTT service, delivered almost instantly to the Pi via an Adafruit.IO feed and a Python script. The whole cassette vibrates to alert you to the incoming notification, and the text is then scrolled clearly across a Pimoroni 11×7 LED display.

The between notifications animation represents tape movement.

Everything is powered by a 150mAh LiPo battery, connected to the Pi via a LiPo Shim – also within the cassette is an Adafruit Micro Lipo so when the battery runs low it can be plugged directly into a Micro USB power source to grab some juice.

The most fun part is that thanks to some trimming of the Pi itself, the cassette can still fit inside any vintage tape player, turning that old ornament into a functional and classy Internet of Things device.

I couldn’t resist making a tape box for it.

The Cassette Pi is perfect for use as a conference badge too, dangling from a lanyard and scrolling your name or a custom message – I hope to wear it to a Pi event or jam later this year.

“Ask me about Old Tech”

This is probably my favourite Pi project to date, everything went smoothly for once and I love the final result, it’s a very tactile little thing. It was built in a bit of a hurry so that I could enter the Instructables Raspberry Pi contest 2020 – at the time of writing the results haven’t been published but I’m hopeful of winning at least a T-shirt prize pack.

The write-up for the Cassette Pi project can be found on Hackster and Instructables, the video is on YouTube and the (questionable as ever) python script is on GitHub.

I have a feeling I may do more of these in the future!

Final Word in the MagPi

It’s always great to have a project featured in the MagPi magazine, but this month they asked if I’d like to write something for the “Final Word” column – I couldn’t say no of course!

I don’t pretend to be a great writer, and the brief was pretty loose, so I decided to stick to what I know and talked about my first experiences with the Raspberry Pi – somehow spending nearly a year building the Raspberry Pi VCR.

Pi VCR at the Raspberry Pi 3rd Birthday event.

It’s also quite a personal piece explaining how tinkering with the Raspberry Pi and VCR project helped me stay relatively sane through some dark & difficult times.

My bit’s just inside the back cover, and there’s loads of other great content this month, some very cool projects and an especially useful “Starter Electronics” guide that genuinely helped fill in the gaps of my self-taught component knowledge. You can grab The MagPi issue 91 in shops or at  https://magpi.raspberrypi.org/issues/91

 

Old(ish) Tech Find – CMS Super 8+ Controllers

It’s hard to keep up the project momentum over the winter, without secondhand fairs to root around every weekend, but online sources can still throw up a bargain – in this case a nearby pair of CMS Super 8+ arcade controllers – for free!

I love to “pounce” on this kind of bargain, and met the nice man a few hours later to collect the merchandise – one slightly used controller and one boxed, apparently mint. Part of the fun of Old Tech finds is doing a bit of research when I get them home (best to wait, Gumtree missions often go sideways) – not much to learn about these online though!

From the box I gathered they were obviously designed for PC use, having 15-pin connectors, and Greek in origin. Despite the retro style they’re definitely post-2000 as the box has both a web and hotmail address. A poke around the wayback machine narrowed this down further, to around 2002.

2002 snapshot from the wayback machine

They seem like great controllers, very clicky little microswitches and solidly built. It’s amazing to find one of these given their apparent scarcity (outside Greek ebay), but to have a pair and for free makes me feel an obligation to build something cool with them.

Connectivity shouldn’t be a problem, a Player X board or two, or even proper gameport adaptors will get RetroPie linked up, the question is what to build? I suspect there’s enough space inside for a pi zero, to make an all-in-one portable console, but having a matching pair makes me think bigger – much bigger.

I’m thinking of some kind of two-player furniture, either a side-by-side coffee-table job with a big screen or a taller head-to-head “cocktail table”, for the likes of Ms Pac Man. Both of these builds have been slightly done to death but I think working around these cool controllers would be a really interesting challenge. Definitely one for the warmer weather though!

 

1000 YouTube Subscribers! #1KCreator

The Old Tech, New Spec YouTube channel somehow hit 1000 subscribers earlier this week, prompting an instruction to share this Gif and the #1KCreator hashtag – who am I to argue?

It’s a great milestone to reach, especially as it’s difficult to keep the content coming during the winter months, when the car boot fairs are washed out and the workshop is freezing. I enjoy making the YouTube videos as much as the projects themselves, but it’s undeniably tricky squeezing everything in with work and family life.

It must be official if the e-ink YouTube counter says so.

The original idea of the channel was to support my project write-ups, keeping it simple and fun as far as possible so that anyone viewing would get a head-start in attempting something similar, or would at least be able to learn from the many mistakes the cats love to point out in the videos.

It’s very much a learning process, over time I’ve tried to keep the videos shorter and more watchable, this is totally an ongoing effort though. Recording the pieces where I’m on screen is what I find the hardest, being a bit of an introvert, but like many things it boils down to confidence and I’m becoming slowly more comfortable.

The Hitachi Info-TV concurs with the quoted figure.

For 2020 rather than chasing the next arbitrary number my channel aims are to release better videos more regularly, be more at ease on camera and (trickiest of all) to diversify the audience a bit. There’s certainly no shortage of projects (I have 3 in pieces at the moment) and hopefully one of them will make it to the channel sometime soon!

WeatherMan in the @TheMagPi

Very excited to have a project in  issue 90 of the MagPi magazine this month! There’s a lovely 4-page feature on the WeatherMan Pi , a 1980s cassette player that now displays weather info. on an LED matrix.

I built this project late last year and amazingly it’s still running, sitting on my desk every day and jiggling its earphones occasionally when the weather changes. The only problem I had was a few weeks back when the “current conditions” animation stopped working, then I realised I hadn’t included one for “Wind” – easily fixed.

I’d also half-expected the headphone assembly to fall apart by now, with all the spinning it does some days, but it turns out Sugru is stronger than I thought, good to know for future projects.

The MagPi’s a great read this month, all the usual Pi goodness plus a nice review of Pimoroni’s latest Pirate Audio HAT, I’m building a project with one of these at the moment and can confirm it’s awesome.

There’s also a helpful guide to building a Magic Mirror, something I’ve not tried yet, though I do have a stack of two-way mirror film left over from my Neon Infinity TV project so could well be tempted!

Issue 90 is on sale now in shops and available as a free .pdf download. You don’t get the free Raspberry Pi 4 cooling stand with the .pdf version though obviously!

 

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