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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The next stage in the “Game” project is to prepare the portable TV for its new function. Dismantling is always one of the most fun parts of a new project as you never know what to expect when cracking something open for the first time.
This teardown went really well, four screws to remove and a few snips with the wire cutters left just the outer shell, which is the bit we need. There’s also a convenient earphone socket left over that we’ll eventually use to plug in the LCD Glasses.
Now that the TV is in bits the next thing is to very carefully cut a hole in the plastic screen to hold one of the most critical parts of the game – the siren. Once that’s done we can start figuring out where all of the other parts will go, and how it will actually work.
No old tech finds at the car boot over the bank holiday weekend, but something even better – a modelmakers vice. This thing is brilliant, it clamps onto the workbench making it easy to move around, and swivels all over thanks to a ball joint in the base.
Best of all its jaw opens wide enough to hold a full-size Raspberry Pi – not that I’d often grip a Pi in there but sometimes full-size HATs need some kind of soldering and it’ll be great for that.
It’s quite an old one, no visible brand but really well built, the lever brake applies smoothly to the ball joint when you have your angle selected, and it’s held rock solid. It also has a cool if slightly perished rubber gasket around the ball joint that reminds me of old car gearsticks.
Up to now I’ve been using a small suction vice when soldering, but that sucker has never really worked reliably and it tends to skate about on the bench. This is a definite upgrade and only set me back £4.
I’m just going to say this – black hot glue sticks are a thing, who knew?
I was browsing the RS Components website for Sugru last week and found this instead, I can’t believe I’ve lived without it for so long.
Normally I don’t use hot glue much as it’s a bit unsightly, but the black sticks work really well, are extra-long and leave a nice glossy finish (as long as you don’t mess with it while it’s cooling).
I’ve already used it several times in the workshop, to tidily fix the cracked plastic case of an old TV and to secure the LCD Shutters to the shades for The Game. And obviously to fix beer mats to the ceiling above the Progress Bar.
If you’re a maker in the UK and don’t live in a cave you’ll know that Maplin is in the final throes of its closing down sale right now. The tech press have been quick to negatively compare the sale prices with online deals but there really have been some bargains in store for the price-conscious tinkerer.
One deal I took advantage of is heat shrink tubing, 70% off. It’s wonderful stuff, both for insulating soldered connections and keeping project wiring nice and tidy. The problem is storage – it can be an unruly beast and refuses to stay neatly coiled once it’s out of its bag.
Even worse if you store it too close to your soldering iron it can shrink away all by itself before you can use it!
A top way to keep it both tidy and handy is to let it dangle – I cable-tied mine together at the top, then looped the strands over a convenient light fitting. The tubes are held straight by clip-on tablecloth weights (from Tiger).
As well as keeping it within easy reach and looking cool the dangling strands give you a nice visual guide for how much you have left.