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!

 

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.

 

New Project! Converting a 1980s Joystick for RetroPie

This Cheetah 125 joystick from the 1980s has had a full rebuild with shiny new microswitches, arcade buttons and a Pimoroni Player X controller board. It now has four independent buttons and connects via USB, ready for some serious RetroPie gaming action.

We had great fun converting this old joystick to work on RetroPie – it really brought back the glory days of “gaming” on my old Commodore Vic 20, I had exactly the same model when it was new.

The build wasn’t without surprises though, I’d forgotten that in the 80s all buttons performed the same function – four in this case all wired together! With the help of a Player X board from Pimoroni we were able to make each button independent, and added in a couple of extras to make RetroPie play easier.

The idea behind the joystick conversion was to provide Player 2 controls for the Pi Tourer Game Console, and it’s now added all the blood-pumping fun of head-to-head competition to our retro gaming, with predictable gloating from the younger members of the household!

The project is fully documented in the video above and on Hackster at: https://www.hackster.io/martin-mander/1980s-joystick-usb-conversion-1366ef

…also on Instructables at https://www.instructables.com/id/1980s-Joystick-USB-Conversion/

Now if you’ll excuse me there’s a father & son Dr Mario tournament starting soon and I really need to practice…

 

1963 Pi Tourer RetroPie Console

This 1963 Ever Ready car radio now has a new life playing RetroPie games!

It has a Raspberry Pi 3 and Picade controller inside, as well as a Pimoroni Blinkt that makes the front panel glow brightly in a range of colours, depending on what emulator is playing.

The fun doesn’t stop there though, thanks to its inbuilt handle and easy docking ports the Pi Tourer can be carried to other rooms, friends’ houses or anywhere a spare HDMI port can be found.

I couldn’t resist this 1963 radio at the car boot earlier in the year – it cost a princely £4. It was obviously not your normal car stereo however, as the underside had its own inbuilt speaker.

Research showed it had been a dual-purpose device, so you could remove it from your car and use it just like a normal portable radio. I decided to recreate this function, making it so it could “dock” with the workbench but still be easily removed and carried around to other retro gaming locations.

This project was as much fun to build as it is to play with, you can read the full story on Instructables and Hackster. The code I used to control the Blinkt colours based on the RetroPie emulator selection is all documented on GitHub.

For once this project turned out exactly as planned, there was just enough space in the case and I didn’t have to compromise on features. There’s one thing missing though – controls for Player 2! RetroPie is a ton of fun but playing against the kids takes it to another level altogether, apart from when they beat me, which is most of the time. For the next project we’re going to be building a controller for Player 2, upgrading an original 80s joystick and making it RetroPie-Ready.

Stay tuned for updates on that and be sure to subscribe on YouTube to catch the video when it’s released, probably around the 1st of September.

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

 

 

Rotary Tuning with the Pi #TVHAT

The Raspberry Pi TV HAT arrived a week or so ago and we’ve had great fun setting it up and using it. It does a great job of streaming a digital TV signal around the house, and I use it daily.

For me though the critical thing was being able to easily stream TV to other Raspberry Pis – I have several converted vintage TVs (Like the Hitachi Pi and Casio Pi) and really wanted them to be able to display actual live TV broadcasts.

With a bit of Python I now have the 1982 TV Experience live on the Hitachi Pi! It uses a script to step through four separate VLC playlists (to match the four channels we had in 1982) using the TV’s original rotary tuning dial. The script is on GitHub and is really simple – you could also just use a push button.

I’ve covered my experiences (with some assistance from the cats) in the “New Spec Review” video below, and the write-up is live on Hackster and Instructables.

The next project is definitely going to be finding and adapting a nice vintage case for the TV server Pi – stay tuned for updates!

 

 

 

 

New Project: Retro-Fit a Google Home Mini

Bring some analogue style to your digital assistant by Retro-fitting it into an old cassette player or radio!

This simple and fun project only took an hour or so but brought a great-looking smart speaker to the wall of the workshop. I’ve covered the whole build from start to finish on YouTube…

… and the full build instructions are on Instructables and Hackster .

This is a great way to make practical use of an old or broken cassette player,  securely wall-mounting your Google Home Mini into the bargain.

I had the Home Mini kicking around the workshop in its box for almost a year before getting round to building this, and now I use it literally every day. It’s especially handy when you’re up to your elbows in solder and components and need to change the music or podcast.

New Project: Casio Pi CCTV Monitor

This is a sweet little Casio portable TV that I’ve converted into a handy CCTV monitor using a Raspberry Pi Zero W. It uses all of the original TV circuitry and the Pi is tucked away inside the battery cover. It’s ideal for keeping an eye on the cats or looking out for the postman!

It plays a video stream from a Pi Zero CCTV camera running MotionEye OS, but can equally play local files or any video stream using Omxplayer – it’s a great way to cheaply add a screen to a Pi project, as these old TVs can be powered from the same USB as the Pi and cost as little as £2 second hand.

The project is pretty straightforward and is fully documented on Instructables at…

https://www.instructables.com/id/Casio-Pi-Portable-CCTV-Monitor/

…and on Hackster at:

https://www.hackster.io/martin-mander/casio-pi-portable-cctv-monitor-e15607 

The build is also covered step by step on YouTube:

It’s the first project I’ve covered from start to finish with a video and it was a ton of fun. The video’s a bit longer than I would have liked but is split into chapters and these are linked from each section of the build on Instructables and Hackster at the links above. Now that I have the video template working and the recording equipment (mostly) behaving itself I hope to publish videos more regularly!

YouTube Channel Trailer

The YouTube channel is finally ready for business, Subscribe now for your regular fix of #Retro meets @Raspberry_Pi!

I’m hoping to publish a regular monthly project video with Retro-Spectives and New Spec Reviews in between. The monthly video will cover all the stages of a project in detail so you’ll be able to follow along and give some of your Old Tech a New Spec!