Archive for the ‘ Miscellaneous Small Projects ’ Category

Tiny CRT Display

I had an old camcorder that was pretty useless. It used VHS tapes (so it was HUGE), but it also didn’t work properly and would eat the tapes sometimes. I decided to take it apart to see if I could do anything cool with it. I found that the viewfinder was a tiny CRT display. I tried to hook it up externally to use it as a display, but I didn’t know much at this point (I was maybe 13 or 14) and probably fried it. I later read online that a lot of video cameras with old CRT viewfinders just took composite video and power for input. I went to the local freecycle forum and got an old camcorder with a CRT viewfinder. I took it apart and took out the viewfinder.DSC_0374This thing is tiny. I think it’s around 0.5″ across. I figured out the pinout of the driver board and hooked it up to 5v and composite video, and it worked great. I wired up a 5v regulator to a 9v battery clip, as well as a 5v input on a molex connector, and wired on a composite video lead.DSC_0365



My mom was doing a photography contest where the theme was minaturization, so I made a little cutout of a old TV and we took a couple pictures:


ADM3A – ancient dumb terminal

A very long time ago, on take your child to work day, I went to my mom’s office. I got some stickers for something, then I traded them for this dumb terminal (they were award points for something at the office). This is an ADM3A, from 1977. It is all discreet logic chips, no major integrated circuits. This terminal is where the HJKL navigation keys in vi come from (vi was written on one and those keys have arrows on them on its keyboard). It’s also where the ~ = home directory in unix comes from as well, the ~ key is also the home key.Image

About 8 years ago, I thought it’d be a fun challenge to get this thing on the internet. I found an old laptop with a serial port, put linux on it, and configured it to use the serial port as a console. I ended up getting it online, and on IRC and Google Talk.

I found this terminal again recently, and wanted to get it back online so I could snag a pic of it on Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to work anymore. I took a look at it, and the part that failed turned out to be the big clunking mechanical power switch. It had gotten dirty and corroded. I took the switch apart and cleaned it out, and now it works again. Amazing for almost 37 year old electronics.

This time, however, I didn’t have a laptop with a serial port handy, so I made a MAX232 serial adapter for a raspberry pi and hooked the pi up to the terminal. The serial adapter is just a typical MAX232 circuit, I pulled it right out of the datasheet, page 7. You can get these things on ebay for a couple bucks, but I had a couple MAX232 lying around and I figured I could put a header for the pi right on the board, instead of having to make an adapter cable. I only bothered to hook up the tx and rx lines, I skipped DTR and CTR. I used a standard serial port header like motherboards used to have for the serial connection, so I could easily swap between 25 pin serial (which the adm3a has) and 9 pin serial. I had a bunch of the serial port header cables on hand as well.

Here are a couple pictures of the adapter:


On the software side, the pi is running Wheezy. This serial terminal runs at a max speed of 19200 baud, but I went with 9600 baud (because it’s a common default). The pi had a lot of config for using a serial terminal at 115200 baud. I got most of my information from this article describing how to use the pi as a serial terminal and what to disable to prevent it being a serial host.

In /boot/cmdline.txt, I made sure console and kgdboc (kernel debugging) were set to the serial port on the header and to the right speed

console=ttyAMA0,9600 kgdboc=ttyAMA0,9600

In /etc/inittab, I changed the getty line for the serial port to the right speed, and defined the term as adm3a, since the adm3a predates the vt100, isn’t fully compatible, and has different control characters (e.g. the arrow keys on hjkl. the only way to delete characters is ^h).

#Spawn a getty on Raspberry Pi serial line
T0:23:respawn:/sbin/getty -L ttyAMA0 9600 adm3a

I added a TERMINFO location definition to my .bashrc

# set terminfo location to location with adm3a

I was a little surprised to find that Wheezy still includes terminfo definitions for terminals this old (and older). The terminfo directory is 6.5MB.

After these changes and a reboot, the pi printed its console correctly to the terminal, with lots of beeping too.
Some programs don’t run very well on the terminal, anything that tries to do color just has all of its control characters displayed on the screen. lynx was unusable without the correct terminal definition.


Flip Top Xbox 360

I made a flip top Xbox 360. Other than the flip top, it is completely stock. At first, this seems rather useless, because you can’t do swap tricks or anything similar like you could with older consoles (e.g. PS2, PS1). You can’t play burned games or anything with this console either. It’s good for a single thing: avoiding buying a second copy of a game to play it on a second console. It’d be great for LAN parties. I use it for achievements.

In Halo 4, there’s one where you need to beat the campaign on co-op. None of my friends had Halo 4 at the time, and there’s no matchmaking for campaign in Halo 4. So I just fired up this console with Halo 4 and had it join my game on my main console and did coop by myself, but I didn’t have to split screen.

Here’s how it works: the 360 lets you install games to the hard drive, which saves wear and tear on the laser, and makes the console much much quieter during use. When a game is installed, you still need to put the disc in the tray, so you can’t rent a game, install it, then return it and still be able to play it. If you have a scratched disc, but the console still recognizes it as the game, you can borrow a working disc and install that, then just use your scratched disc to launch the game. The cool thing is that the console only checks the disc during boot (and for a minute or two after boot). So I can install the game, then boot it, then open the flip top and pull out the game (without the console knowing the drive opened) and put the game in a different xbox. If the console knows the drive opened, it goes right back to the dashboard.

Here’s what the console looks like:
2012-12-09 01.06.02

I used parts from a local hardware store, and unfortunately that know was the smallest I could find.. That’s the only thing I really dislike about this mod.

Here’s the front of the xbox:

2012-12-09 01.06.18

I had to cut the plastic that goes over the front of the DVD tray because the top of the DVD drive hit that on the way out. As it is, the top of the DVD drive barely clears the faceplate.

This is the top of the xbox with the flip cover opened:

2012-12-09 01.06.39

I made this as simple as possible. I cut the top of the DVD drive off the rest of the DVD drive housing. I left some tabs on the sides to help align the top when I close the cover. The black plastic circle on the top of the drive is what holds the disc in place (and it doesn’t touch the rest of the DVD drive top cover when the top is closed). A magnet holds it in place and makes sure the spindle has a good coupling with the disc. There’s (thankfully) a lot of play in the mount for it, so I didn’t need to get everything lined up exactly.

Here’s a close up of the flip top:

2012-12-09 01.06.49

You can start to see some of the finer details here. The top of the 360 case has some little plastic standoffs that go over pegs ont he front of the DVD drive. When I cut out the flip top, I left those on the actual flip part because they will help align the flip top when it’s closed (this is why there are two ‘ears’ at the front of the flip top). I used some standoffs and hot glued the plastic top to the DVD drive top while everything was closed and lined up. Then I drilled 4 holes and put some screws and plastic spacers in place to really hold the pieces together. I used a screw in each of the hinges, and two screws near the front of the drive (one on each side).

I made this a while ago and it’s held up without issue. I’ve also never had any problems with a game trying to load more data from the disc when it’s no longer in the drive.

Fixing a DLP rear projection TV.

A few years ago, my uncle had a big screen TV that was starting to go bad. The color wheel was misbehaving, resulting in distorted colors, and sometimes an unstable image. He had an estimate for repairs, and since Sharp doesn’t sell just the color wheel, the whole projection assembly would have to be replaced, from something like $1400. Definitely not worth it, so my uncle got a new TV and gave me the old one. I used it as it was for a short while, but it slowly got worse, and I grew tired of dealing with it.

I decided to take it apart and have a look, to see if I could replace just the color wheel if I could find a source for one (same model TV on Ebay, broken, but with a different issue). I took the back off, pulled out the light engine (the projection assembly) and opened the chamber containing the color wheel. I didn’t feel any problems with the spindle; there was no sticking at all. I saw that there was a thin whitish film on the color wheel, so I took the wheel out and cleaned it with Windex (probably not the best idea, but it hasn’t been a problem so far). I then noticed that the outside of the motor had the same film on it. The outside of the motor case what shiny reflective silver, and it had a black sticker on it, and there is an optical sensor to make sure the wheel is spinning at the correct speed (10800 rpm I think). I figured that the film came from the chamber getting too hot, and when it got hot after a couple of hours of use, the optical sensor would misread the speed and the TV would try to compensate, resulting in all the problems I was having. I cleaned off the motor housing with Windex and put it back together, and it worked.

I still wanted to get a spare color wheel, just in case, so I contacted a seller on Ebay who agreed to send me just the color wheel. I had offered to make him a guide to take it out of the TV, and he said he would want that. So I took the TV apart again, but this time I took lots of pictures. Once I had it apart, I thought why not make a guide on how to fix the TV like I fixed mine, so others with the same problem can fix it themselves. I documented the whole process, and wrote it up on Instructables. Before this guide, I couldn’t find any info on repairing this TV, only others with the same problem. I’ve gotten comments from a few people saying they were able to fix their TV with my guide. The Instructable is here:

Keyboard Light

Over the summer a couple of years ago, I started to use my (quite old) desktop to play some computer games. I was playing in the dark, and couldn’t see the keyboard to type anything, so I decided I wanted to make a keyboard light. I didn’t want to ruin the night vision I had gained from being in the dark, nor to distract from the game, so I decided I wanted the light to be red, or as close as possible. I went scrounging for LEDs I could salvage, but all I could really find was a hard drive mounting cage from a server that had orange surface mount LEDs (1206 I think).

Hard drives mounted in a similar unit:

The board I removed the LEDs from, it still has 2 green LEDs for each drive:

I removed all 6 orange LEDs, but since they were SMD, I couldn’t easily just solder wires directly to them, so I cut up a protoboard and soldered the LEDs to those pieces, and soldered the wires to that:

I then cut a long thin strip of cardboard and mounted the LEDs on that, equally spaced:

I wanted the LEDs to have a standalone power supply, but because most of the wall warts I have are unregulated and not switched mode, they can fluctuate voltage with current quite a bit. I was playing with lasers a bit at this point, and had an LM317 constant current driver (I think the design is attributed to someone called Daedal on that was good enough to drive a laser diode. Laser diodes are much more sensitive than LEDs, so it was overkill for the LEDs, I probably could’ve just used a resistor, but since I had it, I figured why not use it. The driver is fed right form a 12v wall wart (I think 300mA). Here’s a closer picture of the driver:

Lights on:

I have the lights on their own switch on my power strip, so I can control them independently from everything else and only have them on when I need them. Here’s what it looks like from a user’s point of view:

It works quite well; I use it whenever I use this computer in the dark.

Christmas Sign

A couple of years ago at the beginning of December, my roommates were joking around about Christmas lights, and about how we could put up a sign with a pun about our address (we lived on Mary Street) saying “917 Mary Christmas”. We put of a few Christmas lights, and we tried to spell it out just by taping the lights to the side of our house. This completely failed, so I decided I had to figure out how to make a proper sign. I went home and scrounged through my mom’s garage and found some scrap foam board insulation. I printed off some giant letters (1 letter per page) and punched holes in them for where the lights should go. Picture soon:

I measured out and taped the letters to the sign and marked where the holes would go for the lights. I then used a screwdriver to poke holes in the foam board for all the lights, and used 3 strands of lights to spell it out. It turned out a bit better than I expected:

I then had to figure out how to mount it outside the house without screwing into anything (i.e. with just tape). I made a wood frame out of scraps in the basement, then screwed the sign to the wood frame using large washers. There was a square frame, then a piece of wood in front of the bottom to keep the bottom of the sign from being pushed forward off the front. This way most of the weight of the sign as resting on the bottom, and the front wood and screws just kept it from falling over. To mount it outside, there was a small (less than 1 inch) window sill sticking out past the brick on each of the 2 front windows. With the help of my roommate, we put the sign across the two windowsills, and put tape from the lower board in the bottom of the window, again holding the sign from falling off the windowsill, but not holding any weight. We then ran tape from the top board to the tops of the windows (and in the window) to keep the top of the sign from falling over. This turned out to be quite strong, the sign showed absolutely no signs of falling, even through all the snow and rain (we left it up for quite a while out of laziness).

Here’s what our house looked like for Christmas that year:

Needless to say, our electricity bill was quite high that month, but I think it was worth it.

Rock Band Pedals

A common problem with the rock band pedals is snapping in half. When I started playing RB drums, I didn’t have any problems or worries about this, I played heel down all the time. I went through drum kits like mad (thankfully I got a decent one before they stopped replacing them), they broke quite easily; they’d either stop responding to input, or grow overly sensitive to crosstalk. Anyway, once I got to the hard or expert level and started playing songs with a fair amount of bass pedal, I switched to heel up style. Some songs are much easier, especially some of my favorites, like songs by The Who. If played heel down style, my leg usually cramps up and I can’t play at all after that.

Playing heel up style puts a lot more pressure in the middle of the pedal, where it’s unsupported and not reinforced. My pedal broke rather quickly after I started playing heel up style.

I had my pedal replaced under warranty, but the warranty was limited and the design flaw wasn’t being addressed. Rock Band 2 tried to fix this problem (but caused another) by covering the top of the plastic with a thin piece of metal. This way the pedal flexes less and is held together even if it snaps. However, this just caused the pedal to snap right above the hinge instead. I didn’t want to suffer from endless broken pedals, so I decided to make my own that wouldn’t break. I don’t have a 3d printer, or metal working tools, so I built a pedal out of what I could work with: wood. I first built a single pedal out of pine; I made it twice as thick as the stock pedal, but all the other dimensions were the same. I just had to take the pedal apart at the hinge, transfer the mounting hardware and magnet (used to trigger the reed switch that connects to the rest of the kit), and it was all set. It was a rough cut, and made rather quickly, so I didn’t like it (it also wasn’t a great piece of pine). It worked great though. I decided I should make some out of hardwood. I bought the smallest piece I could find, I think it was oak, and decided I would make some wood pedals. A family friend has a good woodworking shop in his house, so my dad and I ventured over there and made 10 pedals, 5 each for rock band 1 and rock band 2 style bases. They have nice routed edges and feel very nice. I’ve been using mine ever since and I’ve had no problems at all. The original plan was to sell them online, but I never ended up doing that (Anyone interested?).

Top and Bottom of pedals, ready for mounting hardware:

Pedal on a base:

Pedal on base showing mounting:

I eventually bought an Ion drum kit (from craigslist, it was in my price range there), but I didn’t like the pedal that came with it. Luckily, it’s just a basic open/closed switch just like these pedals, so I soldered together an adapter real quick and now use this pedal with the Ion. Adapter:

Room Lighting

When I’m using my computer in my room at school, I don’t like having the main room light on because it’s a little bright. It’s rather awkward sitting in the dark, so I needed some dimmer lighting. My roommate found a Jimmy John’s sign in a dumpster and he left it in my room while he went abroad. It had a broken pin in the power socket, easily fixed with some pliers (what a waste for Jimmy John’s to throw it out). I tried some 12v wall warts I had, but 2A just isn’t enough to power this thing. I found a ps2 slim power supply works great and gives just the right amount of brightness with its 8.5v at 5.65A, though the supply gets a little warm. I actually need the supply for my ps2, so I looked elsewhere. Computer power supplies work well, supplying 10A+ at 12v, but the sign is a bit bright at 12v, so I scrapped the idea of using that as mood lighting. Then it hit me: a lite brite. A sweet toy I remember playing with when I was little, would provide a little light and could show off a sweet picture. I acquired a lite brite from craigslist and scanned in the plastic piece that holds the pegs. I erased the holes, so I had a rough template that I could layer over a picture in Photoshop to get a guide for making a design. I like the old school Apple logo, so I chose this as my design. It turns out that lite brites don’t come with nearly enough pegs to fill out even half the board, so I’m in the process of getting more pegs.

Here’s a couple pictures of it in its current state:

Update: I got some more pegs (and another lite brite), so I was able to finish it. Some of the pegs are a different style, and I don’t think it looks as good as it can, but I’m not about to spend any more money on this.

Also, this is the Jimmy John’s sign at the brightness I liked: