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Analog PC Stats Meter

Intro

At some point while researching microcontroller projects, I came across several people who had used Arduinos and PICs to drive analog panel meters so they would display computer stats such as CPU load, memory usage, etc.  It immediately struck me as something I just had to do.  Here it is.  My PC meter uses an Arduino microcontroller and receives the stats from a .NET Framework application I wrote in C#.Net.  It’s housed in a plastic enclosure and looks quite professional IMHO.  It was a fun project, and something I think most any computer/electronics geek would enjoy.  I love mine, and I look forward to building more.

Here it is in action:

Read on for details on the parts and tools I used, some info on the process of building the device (and the problems I ran into) and links to download the source code and meter templates.

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2013 Garage Sale Bonanza finds

Army footlocker sideThis past weekend marked the 14th annual Garage Sale Bonanza, held at the Saybrook Plaza in Saybrook Township, Ohio.  It’s a large event, including just about everything you’d typically find at a garage sale except clothing.  All of the items sold are donated to the event and it is staffed entirely by volunteers.  Proceeds from the event benefit a variety of local non-profit organizations, including an animal shelter, senior center, clothes closet, transitional housing, cancer support group and several other worthy organizations.  I volunteer at the event each year, organizing, testing and repairing computer equipment and misc. electronics, and every year I also shop the event.  It’s a great place to find parts, tools and other bits and pieces for making things.

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Japanese Toolbox

Japanese Toolbox completeOftentimes, I find myself going to my parents’ house or a friend’s place to build or repair something, and I have nothing to put my larger tools in.  As a result, my drill, saw, clamps and other large items end up either laying on the floor of my truck or stuffed into whatever cardboard box I found laying around.  If I had a large, sturdy box to throw this stuff in, it would make these trips much more convenient and I would spend less time loading and unloading my tools and more time working.  So when I saw Len Cullum’s Japanese Toolbox project in MAKE 34, I knew I had found my solution.

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Night Joule Thief

Night Joule Thief completeI recently reviewed the Color Night Joule Thief by The LED Artist, and tonight I built the original Night Joule Thief.  It works just like the color version, except that it uses two white LEDs instead of a single color-changing LED, and has slightly fewer components.  Unlike the color version, I didn’t run into any problem with the PCB layout; everything fit with no risk of any short circuits.  Assembly is easy and well-suited for a beginner.

night joule thief litLight output is very good using a fairly new battery.  I tried it in my bedroom and it provides enough light to keep me from stubbing my toes on the bed posts after dark.  With that said though, I wish the output was spread out more, it’s very narrowly focused.  This could be adjusted to some degree by soldering the LEDs so they point at different angles.  Another possible solution is using LEDs with a wider output beam.  I purchased two kits, so I may try doing something like this with the other.  Other possible modifications which are discussed on the related Instructables page include using a switch instead of a photoresistor to turn the LEDs on and off, and using alternative battery clips to allow for C, D and other size 1.5v batteries.

Overall, this is an excellent kit, perfect for beginning electronics enthusiasts learning to solder as well as experienced hobbyists looking for a simple circuit to build that offers some room for customization.  It’s available for under $11 from The LED Artist.

RGB LED Shadow Art

RGB LED Test circuitWhile testing my recently acquired Piranha LEDs, I noticed quite by accident that the output from the breadboarded circuit created some interesting effects when used to cast shadows against a plain background.  The edges of the shadows show the red, blue and green (and mixed) colors due to their coming in from slightly different positions and angles.  It’s a fun effect, but there isn’t much room for creativity as my test circuit only had 6 LEDs (2 of each color) grouped closely together.  Something more interesting and dramatic could be achieved using larger light sources positioned further apart, which would allow control over where the different colors fall and how much they overlap.  It’s something I may pursue in the future when I have more lights built.  Until then, here’s a couple photos I snapped and a video I quickly put together using my test circuit.

The first photo is (quite obviously) my hand and the second is a failed amplifier circuit I had laying around.

RGB LED Shadow Art #1

RGB LED Shadow Art #2

And a video, which came out creepier than I had intended.  A friend described it as “Dr. Frankenstein visits Studio 54!”

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SuperFlux “Piranha” LED testing

I’m planning an LED floodlight project that will use a lot of square 4-pin LEDs, aka SuperFlux or “Piranha” LEDs.  I hadn’t had a chance to use these type of LEDs until now, so after receiving my order this week I immediately went to work on trying them out.  This won’t be a very technical review, just a quick look at the specs and my experience with testing the LEDs and what I thought of them.

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Colour Night Joule Thief

I recently stumbled upon Akimitsu Sadoi’s website, The LED Artist.  Akimitsu describes himself as a Brooklyn, NY based electronic artist with the motto “Art and Technology are Friends”.  He designs and builds LED Art projects and offers a variety of kits for sale through his online store.  I’m a sucker for anything that lights up, so it didn’t take me long to find several kits I wanted to purchase and build.  I can’t afford to buy every kit I want on there, but I did pick up a couple, the smaller (and cheaper) of which is the Colour Night Joule Thief.

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cMoy Headphone Amp

Intro

The cMoy Headphone Amplifier is a popular, well-documented DIY project, which makes it great for beginners to take on.  That’s exactly the reason I chose to do it.  I followed the instructions and suggestions from the TangentSoft cMoy Tutorial written by Warren Young, and it came out great, especially for my first attempt at building a headphone amplifier.

I won’t get into how I built mine (the tutorial at TagentSoft is where you should go for that) but read on if you’re interested in seeing what parts I used and some of the problems I ran into.

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Monobox Ammunition Can Amplified Speaker

Intro

I was looking for an electronics project I could build after teaching myself to solder (by building alot of Velleman 3D Christmas trees) when I came across Ross Hershberger’s Monobox amplifier project.  Right away, I knew I had to build this.  I tried to find a cigar box that would work, but didn’t have much luck.  But then I remembered that I had some old ammunition cans laying around, and inspiration struck.   It was a fun project that came out great, and I continue to enjoy it as it makes a great companion for my iPod.

This project was featured on the Make Blog: MonoBox Mods: Same Circuit, Two Builds.  Read on to learn what parts I used, some of the difficulties I ran into, and to see a video of the finished ammo can amp.

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Unsocial Media

SimpleNoteI’ve been quite excited by my recent discovery of SimpleNote, a web app for storing text notes that can sync with client apps on computers and mobile devices.  It’s simple, quick and easy to use.  I’ve been using it to record everything from to-do lists, to vehicle maintenance logs to random thoughts and collected quotes.  Notes can be shared, but I haven’t used any of the sharing options and I don’t expect to.  It’s just a place for me to store bits of information I find important or interesting that I can easily access from anywhere.  Sometimes I use it out of boredom.  I could be waiting for doctor’s appointment, or unable to sleep, and some idea or thought strikes me.  It’s easy to pull out my phone and start tapping out my thoughts in Flick Note and have them synced and available when I’m at my computer later.  This blog post is the result of one such thought, which struck me as I tried to fall asleep a couple nights ago.

That thought is this: that it almost seems strange to have an app on my phone that is dedicated to such introverted activity.  Most of the apps I have are for communication: text messaging, Facebook, Gmail, etc.  That makes sense (as that’s what phones are for) and I like those apps, but many times I’d rather just write out my thoughts and ideas than try to start a conversation with someone or post some boring status update to Facebook.  And that’s what I like about SimpleNote.  I can do that easily no matter where I am now and have access to it everywhere else.  It’s really great.

Social apps are fun, but I’m glad to have a quality “unsocial media” app to give me an outlet for my thoughts that the whole world doesn’t have to see.  It has me thinking that there may be other apps out there that are also fitting for similarly introverted activities.  If I think about it, I might come up with a few, and that could be an interesting list for a future blog post.  Hmmm.  I think I’ll start a list in SimpleNote.