Posts with «classic hacks» label

State Of The Art Big Mouth Alexa Bass

Hackers seem intent on making sure the world doesn’t forget that, for a brief shining moment, everyone thought Big Mouth Billy Bass was a pretty neat idea. Every so often we see a project that takes this classic piece of home decor and manages to shoehorn in some new features or capabilities, and with the rise of voice controlled home automation products from the likes of Amazon and Google, they’ve found a new ingredient du jour when preparing stuffed bass.

[Ben Eagan] has recently completed his entry into the Pantheon of animatronic fish projects, and while we’ll stop short of saying the world needed another Alexa-enabled fish on the wall, we’ve got to admit that he’s done a slick job of it. Rather than trying to convince Billy’s original electronics to play nice with others, he decided to just rip it all out and start from scratch. The end result is arguably one of the most capable Billy Bass updates we’ve come across, if you’re willing to consider flapping around on the wall an actual capability in the first place.

The build process is well detailed in the write-up, and [Ben] provides many pictures so the reader can easily follow along with the modification. The short version of the story is that he cuts out the original control board and wires the three motors up to an Arduino Motor Driver Shield, and when combined with the appropriate code, this gives him full control over Billy’s mouth and body movements. This saved him the trouble of figuring out how to interface with the original electronics, which is probably for the better since they looked rather crusty anyway.

From there, he just needed to give the fish something to get excited about. [Ben] decided to connect the 3.5 mm audio jack of an second generation Echo Dot to one of the analog pins of the Arduino, and wrote some code that can tell him if Amazon’s illuminated hockey puck is currently yammering on about something or not. He even added a LM386 audio amplifier module in there to help drive Billy’s original speaker, since that will now be the audio output of the Dot.

A decade ago we saw Billy reading out Tweets, and last year we presented a different take on adding an Alexa “brain” to everyone’s favorite battery powered fish. What will Billy be up to in 2029? We’re almost too scared to think about it.

A Turntable For Model Railroads

Way back when, before diesel-electric locomotives were a thing, trains weren’t really able to go backwards too well. Also it’s sometimes necessary to turn carriages around in a small space. For that, the railway turntable was invented. If you want to implement one on a model layout, this project from DIY & Digital Railworld is for you.

The project is at an early stage – thus far, laying out how to set up an Arduino Uno using a potentiometer to control the speed of a stepper motor, which rotates the turntable. The turntable itself is a 3D printed part sourced from Thingiverse, designed to suit the specific stepper motor used.

This has the easy part sorted – rotating a piece of track through 360 degrees to orient a train properly. However, there’s significant work ahead. Power needs to be hooked up to the rails, and a system for accurately aligning the turntable with outgoing tracks needs to be devised. This is particularly relevant for N-gauge setups, where tolerances are everything.

We’d love to know how you’d tackle the various issues to build a working model turntable in the comments. We’ve seen some serious model railroad builds before around these parts. Video after the break.


Racing the Beam and Dropping Some Beats

The heart of the Atari 2600 wasn’t the 6502 (or the 6507 for the pedants), it was the TIA chip. This is the chip responsible for drawing graphics on the display, racing the beam, and extremely limited support for sound generation. We haven’t seen many attempts of using the Atari 2600 for chiptunes, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. [John Sutley]’s Syndrum, a take on an Atari 2600 drum machine is nearly a work of art. It’s a custom cartridge for the wood-paneled Atari, and an impressive input device that turns this classic console into a beat machine

Did the Atari 2600 ever come with a drum machine cartridge? Maybe. Probably not. [John] originally built this project to experiment with the TIA chip, but found it was less tonal than a kazoo. That struck ‘Atari synthesizer’ off the list and replaced it with an ‘Atari drum machine’. There are two key parts of the build here, the first being a repurposed Asteroids cartridge that had the PROM replaced with a ZIF socket. This allows [John] to easily burn new code to an EEPROM, stuff it in the socket, and run it on the Atari. All the code was developed with batari Basic, a BASIC-inspired language that spits out .bin files for the Atari.

But running code on the Atari is just one half of this build. To do a drum machine, you somehow need to tell the Atari when to play each sound. Given the lack of expansion capabilities for the Atari, [John] turned to the controller port. The Syndrum uses Arduino Nano to bridge the DE9 controller connector to a MIDI port. Yes, it’s real MIDI, on a machine that could probably never do MIDI natively (although we’d love to see someone try).

Need a video of this mind-blowing hack in action? Here you go:

Poetry is the Fruit of this Loom

We’d wager that most people reading these words have never used a loom before. Nor have most of you churned butter, or ridden in a horse-drawn wagon. Despite these things being state of the art technology at one point, today the average person is only dimly aware of their existence. In the developed world, life has moved on. We don’t make our own clothes or grow our own crops. We consume, but the where and how of production has become nebulous to us.

[David Heisserer] and his wife [Danielle Everine], believe this modern separation between consumption and production is a mistake. How can we appreciate where our clothing comes from, much less the people who make it, without understanding the domestic labor that was once required to produce even a simple garment? In an effort to educate the public on textile production in a fun and meaningful way, they’ve created a poetry printing loom called Meme Weaver.

The Meme Weaver will be cranking out words of woolen wisdom at the Northern Spark Festival taking place June 15th and 16th in downtown Minneapolis. If any Hackaday readers in the area get a chance to check out the machine, we’d love to hear about it in the comments. Take photos! Just don’t blame us if you have a sudden urge to make all of your clothing afterwards.

Equal parts Guitar Hero and Little House on the Prairie, the Meme Weaver merely instructs the user on how to weave the fabric, it doesn’t do it for them. Lights and sounds provided by an Arduino Mega and Adafruit FX board indicate which levers to pull, with the end goal being the creation of a two-inch wide strip of hand-woven fabric that contains a poem or quote. The act of weaving the fabric by hand combined with the personalized nature of the text is intended to create a meaningful link between the finished product and the labor used to create it.

But how does it work? The operation of the machine seems mysterious to modern eyes, which arguably reinforces the point [David] and [Danielle] are trying to make in the first place. The levers on the front are moving heddles on the opposite side of the machine, which control the path the yarn takes through the loom.

By raising and lowering the white yarn, it’s possible to print text in what is essentially an ultra-low-resolution dot matrix. When the heddle levers are locked into place (thanks to electromagnets triggered by microswitches), the user then passes the shuttle through the loom, and finally pulls the lever that tightens up the completed line with what’s known as the beater. If that seems complex to your modern mind, imagine trying to explain an Arduino to somebody in the 1800’s.

If all this talk of weaving has caught your interest, you could always 3D print yourself a loom of your own. Then when you get tired of doing it by hand, you can upgrade to a Raspberry Pi powered version and start the whole cycle over again.

Reviving an Electron Microscope with Arduino

We don’t know about you, but when our friends ask us if we want to help them fix something, they’re usually talking about their computer, phone, or car. So far it’s never been about helping them rebuild an old electron microscope. But that’s exactly the request [Benjamin Blundell] got when a friend from a local hackerspace asked if he could take a look at a vintage Cambridge Stereoscan 200 they had found abandoned in a shed. Clearly we’re hanging out with the wrong group of people.

As you might imagine, the microscope was in desperate need of some love after spending time in considerably less than ideal conditions. While some of the hackerspace members started tackling the hardware side of the machine, [Benjamin] was tasked with finding a way to recover the contents of the scope’s ROM. While he’s still working on verification, the dumps he’s made so far of the various ROMs living inside the Stereoscan 200 have been promising and he believes he’s on the right track.

The microscope uses a mix of Texas Instruments 25L32 and 2516 chips, which [Benjamin] had to carefully pry out after making sure to document everything so he knew what went where. A few of the chips weren’t keen on being pulled from their home of 30-odd years, so there were a few broken pins, but on the whole the operation was a success.

Each chip was placed in a breadboard and wired up to an Arduino Mega, as it has enough digital pins to connect without needing a shift register. With the wiring fairly straightforward, [Benjamin] just needed to write up some code to read the contents of the chip, which he has graciously provided anyone else who might be working on a similar project. At this point he hasn’t found anything identifiable in his ROM dumps to prove that they’ve been made successfully, all he really knows right now is that he has something. At least it’s a start.

More and more of these older electron microscopes are getting a second lease on life thanks to dedicated hackers in their home labs. Makes you wonder if there’s ever going to be a piece of hardware the hacker community won’t bend to their will.

RFID Unlock Your PC, Because You’re 1337

Ever wanted to feel like one of those movie hackers from the late 90s? Yes, your basement’s full of overclocked Linux rigs and you’ve made sure all your terminal windows are set to green text on a black background, but that’s not always enough. What you need is an RFID tag that unlocks your PC when you touch the reader with your RFID cardOnly then may you resume blasting away at your many keyboards in your valiant attempts to hack the mainframe.

[Luke] brings us this build, having wanted an easier way to log in quickly without foregoing basic security. Seeing as an RC522 RFID reader was already on hand, this became the basis for the project. The reader is laced up with a Sparkfun Pro Micro Arduino clone, with both devices serendipitously running on 3.3V, obviating the need for any level shifters. Code is simple, based on the existing Arduino RC522 library. Upon a successful scan of the correct tag, the Arduino acts as a HID keyboard and types the user’s password into the computer along with a carriage return, unlocking the machine. Simple!

Overall, it’s a tidy build that achieves what [Luke] set out to do. It’s something that could be readily replicated with a handful of parts and a day’s work. If you’re interested in the underlying specifics, we’ve discussed turning Arduinos into USB keyboards before.

Hack a Day 18 Mar 06:00

Debunking Moon Landing Denial with an Arduino and Science

It’s sad that nearly half a century after the achievements of the Apollo program we’re still arguing with a certain subset of people who insist it never happened. Poring through the historical record looking for evidence that proves the missions couldn’t possibly have occurred has become a sad little cottage industry, and debunking the deniers is a distasteful but necessary ongoing effort.

One particularly desperate denier theory holds that fully spacesuited astronauts could never have exited the tiny hatch of the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM). [AstronomyLive] fought back at this tendentious claim in a clever way — with a DIY LIDAR scanner to measure Apollo artifacts in museums. The hardware is straightforward, with a Garmin LIDAR-Lite V3 scanner mounted on a couple of servos to make a quick pan-tilt head. The rig has a decidedly compliant look to it, with the sensor flopping around a bit as the servos move. But for the purpose, it seems perfectly fine.

[AstronomyLive] took the scanner to two separate museum exhibits, one to scan a LEM hatch and one to scan the suit Gene Cernan, the last man to stand on the Moon so far, wore while training for Apollo 17. With the LEM flying from the rafters, the scanner was somewhat stretching its abilities, so the point clouds he captured were a little on the low-res side. But in the end, a virtual Cernan was able to transition through the virtual LEM hatch, as expected.

Sadly, such evidence will only ever be convincing to those who need no convincing; the willfully ignorant will always find ways to justify their position. So let’s just celebrate the achievements of Apollo.

Circuit Bent Casio SK-1 gets an Arduino Brain

The Casio SK-1 keyboard is fairly well-known in the “circuit bending” scene, where its simple internals lend themselves to modifications and tweaks to adjust the device’s output in all sorts of interesting ways. But creating music via circuit bending the SK-1 can be tedious, as it boils down to fiddling with the internals blindly until it sounds cool. [Nick Price] wanted to do something a bit more scientific, and decided to try replacing his SK-1’s ROM with an Arduino so he could take complete control it.

Replacing the ROM chip with header pins.

That’s the idea, anyway. Right now he’s gotten as far as dumping the ROM and getting the Arduino hooked up in place of it. Unfortunately the resulting sound conjures up mental images of a 56K modem being cooked in a microwave. Clearly [Nick] still has some work ahead of him.

For now though, the progress is fascinating enough. He was able to pull the original NEC 23C256 chip out of the keyboard and read its contents using an Arduino and some code he cooked up, and he’s even put the dump online for any other SK-1 hackers out there. He then wrote some new code for the Arduino to spit data from the ROM dump back to the keyboard when requested. In theory, it should sound the same as before, but with the added ability to “forge” the data going back to the keyboard to make new sounds.

The result is what you hear in the video linked after the break. Not exactly what [Nick] had in mind. After some snooping with the logic analyzer, he believes the issue is that the Arduino can’t respond as fast as the original NEC chip did. He’s now got an NVRAM chip on order to replace the original NEC chip; the idea is that he can still use the Arduino to reprogram the NVRAM chip when he wants to play around with the sound.

We’ve covered some pretty fancy circuit bent instruments here in the past, but if you’re looking for something a bit easier to get your feet wet we ran a start-to-finish guide back in the Ye Olden Days of 2011 which should be helpful.

Build Your Own Wave Tank

Wave tanks are cool, but it’s likely you don’t have one sitting on your coffee table at home. They’re more likely something you’ve seen in a documentary about oil tankers or icebergs. That need no longer be the case – you can build yourself a wave generator at home!

This build comes to use from [TVMiller] who started by creating a small tank out of acrylic sheet. Servo-actuated paddles are then placed in the tank to generate the periodic motion in the water. Two servos are controlled by an Arduino, allowing a variety of simple and more complex waves to be created in the tank. [TVMiller] has graciously provided the code for the project on We’d love to see more detail behind the tank build itself, too – like how the edges were sealed, and how the paddles are hinged.

A wave machine might not be the first thing that comes to mind when doing science at home, but with today’s hardware, it’s remarkable how simple it is to create one. Bonus points if you scale this up to the pool in your backyard – make sure to hit the tip line when you do.

Filed under: classic hacks
Hack a Day 11 Oct 00:00

RetroModem for the Commodore 64

Retrocomputers are fun, but ultimately limited in capability compared to modern hardware. One popular pursuit to rectify this is the connection of early home computers to the Internet. To that end, [que] built the Retromodem for the Commodore 64.

The build starts with a case from an Intel 14.4 modem. A little fast for the Commodore 64 era, but anachronism is charming when done tastefully. Inside is an Arduino with an ethernet module to handle the heavy lifting of carrying packets to the outside world.  [que] took the time to wire up status LEDs for the proper vintage look, which really adds something to the project. They switch on and off to indicate the various settings on the modem – it’s great to see in the video below the break the “HS” LED light up when the baud rate is changed to a higher speed.

The project implements most of the Hayes command set, so you can interface with it over a serial terminal just like it’s 1983. [que] doesn’t go into too many details of how it’s all put together, but for the experienced code warrior it’s a project that could be whipped up in a weekend or two. For a more modern take, perhaps you’d like to hook your C64 up over Wifi instead?

Filed under: classic hacks, computer hacks