New Project! 1963 Tele-LED Comfort Break Reminder

This old and unusual dial-less telephone now helps well-being and productivity to co-exist in the home office! Beneath its vintage grille a neopixel ring lights up 24 LEDs in sequence over an hour, switching to an eye-catching rainbow display when it’s time to take a break.

Ignore the rainbow and the LED ring starts flashing red, accompanied by a subtle but un-ignorable beep from the phone’s original buzzer unit.

That’s about 35 minutes.

To cancel the beeping or reset the timer at any time I just need to either press the button on the phone or momentarily lift the handset – both of which force me to get up and walk across the room.

Almost break time…

This project was nice & quick, just a bit of fun really, challenging myself to build something nice for the Instructables “Work from Home Speed Challenge” – but without buying anything new. I managed to re-use an old Zip Halo and Pi 2, learned a lot about controlling RGB LEDs, and ended up with a break reminder that I actually use daily.

The write-ups are available on Instructables and Hackster as usual, and the YouTube video should be embedded above.

 

New Project! Apollo Pi Thermal Camera

This vintage Apollo microwave detector now has a shiny new purpose as a thermal camera, powered by a Raspberry Pi Zero with an Adafruit thermal camera sensor taking the temperatures, displaying the results in real-time on a bright 1.3″ TFT display.

It has a Preset and a Dynamic mode – in the first the colours shown on screen are based on hard-coded temperature thresholds, and in the second the colour range can be adjusted using temperature sliders on an Adafruit.io dashboard.The dashboard also instantly displays any snapshots uploaded by the device, which are captured using the original thumb button on the grip.

The whole system is powered by a thin, cylindrical USB battery pack concealed in the hand grip, which can be easily recharged by popping off the nose cone and plugging in a USB lead.

Just three Python scripts control the menu logic, sensor and Adafruit.io integration, with the display handled by PyGame.

Working on this project has really helped keep me positive during lockdown, and with the extra time on our hands the kids & I have found many interesting things around the house to point it at!

The write-ups are available on Instructables and Hackster, and the scripts are on GitHub as usual.

Cassette Scroller in @HackSpaceMag

With everything else going on in the world I almost missed this, my Cassette Pi IoT scroller has a really nice feature in this months HackSpace magazine (issue 29).

I provided a dump of all the images and coincidentally they chose my favourite shot. It’s a big pic! Makes me glad I didn’t scratch the case up too much, and also relieved I cleaned the underside of my kitchen tablecloth, which is the background 🙂

Rather than make the traditional trip to Sainsburys to get the hard copy, I ordered it online (I should really just give in and get a subscription) and I’ve been enjoying dipping into it in breaks from work.

It’s a really cracking read this month, I especially enjoyed learning more about the Men’s Sheds movement (p62-69) and their focus on improving mental health, almost by stealth. Inspiring words from Charlie Bethel and I hope the sheds can re-open as soon as possible to continue their good work.

I’m also loving the “Get Started in Wood Working” (p34-49) feature – I work with wood fairly often, but it’s one of those skills you never completely learn, and it’s fascinating to fill in gaps in my knowledge.

You don’t need to venture out to grab a copy, as usual the .pdf version is available free from https://hackspace.raspberrypi.org/issues/29

I should have a new Raspberry Pi project ready to publish in a couple of weeks, I’m just waiting for paint to harden and putting the video together at the moment – I’m taking it slowly though and really valuing the brief moments of escapism this brings of an evening. In the meantime here’s a gif of the “menu”.

 

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!