The sort-of-ghetto ammo box stereo!

Have you ever caught yourself, while sitting around, wondering what life would be like if you had a set of battery-powered speakers mounted in a metal ammunition container? No. You haven’t nobody actually thinks like that. But nonetheless, I decided to make one.

From the get-go, I knew that I wouldn’t be doing anything super new and original, nor would I be going bravely where none have gone before. I’ve seen plenty of posts on HackADay and similar, showing off peoples’ awesome ammo-box stereos. Theirs were much better than mine was going to be, But the difference between theirs and mine is that I don’t have theirs. I only have mine, so who gives a crap what anyone else’s is like?

So with that attitude, let’s begin.

For the battery, I chose the  NP7-12 SLA battery I got from Newark’s Blogger Outreach Program. In return for a review of the item, they gave it to me free. Off to a good start!

Rather than design my own amp system, which I totally should have done, I opted for something that I already had. I had a set of PC-speakers that had served me well, so I volunteered them. They had originally run off of an AC to AC wall wart, so I had to “Adapt” Them to work with 12v DC.

Side question: Who the heck even designs AC-to-AC wallwarts? That’s so un-handy! I mean, I guess with no rectification they can save space, but really? You can’t stick 4 diodes and a capacitor in there like everyone else? Anyway, yeah. Time to do this. Image

In the upper right, you can see my AC to DC conversion, which consisted of cutting the diodes out and jumpering some stuff. Boom, now we’re in business.

The next thing I had to tackle was how to mount the controls. I had to desolder the pot in the lower left, solder 6 wires between it and the board, and then mount it in the box. I did the same for the power switch, but without removing the old one. Here’s a pic.

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So now we’re on to the hard parts: Mounting all of this stuff in the ammo box. I sanded and painted the speaker grills, and then mounted them, with liberal amounts of hot glue. I mounted the speakers behind them in a similar fashion. Then I drilled and mounted the power LED, 3.5mm jack, power switch, and volume knob, Here’s a closeup of the “Instrument Panel:”

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It’s no aesthetic masterpiece, but it’s really not too shabby either.

Now that the mounting was done, I put everything in the box, securing the battery with velcro so it doesn’t fall all over the place. That way it’s removable for charging, and if I want to replace it I can. The only thing it doesn’t have is a fuse, which I’m going to add ASAP, because I don’t want it to explode.

Finished!

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(For some reason the light makes it look like the left grille is pushed in at the bottom, and I ran to check when I looked at this picture, but everything is fine.)

Here’s a video!

Anyway, yeah. It’s not super pretty, but it sounds okay and it’s rugged enough to have outside with me while I’m shovelling/working/etc, so  I’m pretty satisfied.

Semi-obligatory: The battery I got from Newark is awesome and you should all go spend your money there. (All joking aside, the battery does exactly what I need it to and I have exactly zero complaints. Thanks, Newark!)

Thanks for reading! You can subscribe to my blog by putting your email in to the right. Or don’t. I don’t care. That’s just like, your opinion, man.

-Noah Farrington

Un-crapifying My Stereo

Hey, Internet! Long time no see!  Anyway, today I’m going to show a quick (but not necessarily dirty) hack I did on my car, literally 24 hours after purchasing it.  The glorious beast of a vehicle I purchased (From my grandparents) is a 2001 Ford Focus Wagon. The car had everything I wanted (namely getting me from point A to point B), minus one thing. It didn’t have aux in! http://i.imgur.com/0GEgv.jpg What was I going to do!? How would I survive? Who shot Mr. Burns? All of these questions were running through my head. I knew something had to be done.  After doing some research, I came upon some forum posts from people who were in the same desperate situation that I was in. I found that I had the following options:

  • Get over it (impossible)
  • Tap into the built in AUX capability of the cd player (Doesn’t exist in my car)
  • Use the weird Ford media protocol built in to the back (Beyond my abilities)
  • Trick the stereo into thinking it’s playing a cd, and inserting my own music (Bingo!)

As you can see, my only option was the fourth. I would have to hack into the CD audio lines inside the stereo.  First, I had to open the stereo up. In order to remove the stereo from my car, people were saying I would need to buy some fancy stereo removal tools on Amazon. Having literally no money available, I decided to use what I had. Namely, tent pegs and coat hangers. Both worked perfectly and soon I had the stereo out. Here’s a blurry photo of the insides of the cd player section:

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In the lower left, you can see the ribbon cable slot that goes from this board, which is the CD player assembly, to the rest of the stereo for amplification and stuff. Under that are the solder pads I need. Here’s a close-up:

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Aha! We see ROUT, LOUT, and several GND connections. That’s our entry point. Some very careful soldering and very liberal hotgluing later, we have this:

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There! Wire those to a 3.5mm jack and we’re done here, right?  Wrong. There’s just a little bit more work to be done. The stereo apparently requires a signal from the CD player, saying “Hey! I’m playing music now!” Before it accepts the audio and amplifies it. So we have to fake that information, with a fake cd.  I opened up Audacity (Everyone should have Audacity. It’s awesome.) and clicked “Generate silence.” I chose 1 hour, but I could’ve fit more on. Oh well. Burned that to a CD and voila! A silent CD!  Now all that is required is to put the CD in and play it, then play your music from your phone, iPad, or whatever. Here’s a picture of the finished product:

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And a closeup of the jack:

 

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There! Everything’s pretty, and works like a charm! Here’s a video of the thing in action:

 

Save Those Paperclips!

Recently, I tried my hand at setting up a wireless repeater. Little did I know I would have a few problems and would end up 30-30-30 resetting my repeater-to-be several times. Here’s my angle at fixing that foolishly tiny button that you have to hold for a ludicrously time in order to reset the router.

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All I did was solder one side of a couple wires to the original button, and the other sides to a new, easier to reach button. Here’s what it looks like from the top:

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Now no more wasted paperclips! Hooray!

Edit: I’ve seen quite a few people commenting on various sites saying, in short, that if I’m resetting my router this much, I need a new router, not a fancy button. I’d like to clarify that I didn’t need the button, nor are daily resets required. This router is the one that I go to if I want to try something out, such as making a repeater, or a client bridge, etc. So between locking myself out, and 30/30/30 resets before flashing firmware, I’ve needed to reset a few times, and it always frustrated me, fiddling around with a paperclip and that tiny hole. During normal operation, this router doesn’t need resets. But normal operation is not what I do :-)

How to Replace capacitors!

Hello world! I’m Noah, and today, instead of something interesting, I’m going to give you an in-depth guide on how to replace capacitors. But first, a little story.

Almost exactly a year ago, my Uncle asked me to see if I could fix his computer. I took a look at it, and, thanks to the help of the Internet, concluded the problem to be blown capacitors (The main piece of evidence was all of the blown capacitors.) At that time, I didn’t even own a soldering iron, let alone know how to use one, so I wouldn’t be any help re-capping the motherboard. So I did as best I could, which was to get an IDE-to-usb enclosure, package everything up, and give my Uncle his brand-new harddrive-turned-thumbdrive. After that, I packed the rest of the computer away under a table somewhere and forgot all about it.

I remembered the computer a week ago and realized that I, now one year older, wiser, and more skilled, have the skills to re-cap this computer. Why not give it a go? So I put in an order on Mouser for the capacitors I needed, and soon after, got going. Working on this computer, I gained a lot of handy knowledge about the whole process of replacing capacitors, so I’ll break it down real nice and easy, beginning to end. It’s not very hard, so here goes!

1: Buy the capacitors

This isn’t super difficult. Just log on to your favorite parts supplier (I suggest Mouser or Digikey since they have such an awesome selection) and order the caps. Make sure you have the right capacity and voltage, but also, and I almost forgot to do this myself, REMEMBER TO ORDER THE SAME SIZE. I was halfway to the checkout screen when I realized that the caps I had were twice as wide as the ones on the motherboard. This would’ve caused serious problems had I not caught it, so make sure to do the same. A handy-dandy ruler will help you figure out the size of your caps. Most of the time, height is less important than width, since there’s often a ton of headroom, but try and get it as close as possible just in case.

2: Identify bad capacitors

Here’s a picture of several capacitors on the motherboard I was working on: Image

As you can see, 2 of them have dielectric leaking out, and the rest are bulging, so they’re probably not far behind. Basically, any capacitor that looks like the top is about to explode off of it needs to be replaced.

3: Preparing your capacitors 

A trick I learned about while researching is to snip the leads of your replacement capacitors to a much shorter length; they originally have way too much space between the tip of the legs and the beginning of the cap. Here’s what they should look like for maximum handiness:

ImageClip them to this length, or a bit longer. A lot longer if you’re putting it in a hard-to-reach place such as between other capacitors, as “aiming” is easier with longer legs. Clip one leg a bit shorter than the other for maximum handiness.

4: Remove old capacitor. 

    No picture here. Just apply your soldering iron to one pad on the underside of the motherboard, and push the cap lightly so that it “Leans” a bit away from the heated pad. The leg should slide out without too much effort. Do the same with the other pad while pulling the capacitor gently away, and you should find that it isn’t too hard. If it takes more force, apply said force liberally and without restraint (Don’t actually do this.)

5: Confirm Polarity

I went into this expecting to have to remember the polarity of each capacitor I removed, and make sure to place the new one in the same way, lest I reverse one and the computer explodes. Luckily, there are a couple ways to tell the polarity of the cap you’re putting in. Firstly, on the topside of the circuitboard, in the footprint of the original capacitor, there is a little arrow denoting where the positive leg goes. It looks like this: ImageSee how great that is? Now you don’t have to guess how to orient your capacitor. Easy!

Secondly, if you look closely, the solder-holes have a trick of their own which will tell you all you need to know. If you look at the above picture, you can see that the leg-holes (yes I know that’s not the official word for them) are different shapes. It turns out that this is the same throughout the board. The positive hole is square, and the negative is circular. This is a pretty good way to be sure you’re not screwing everything up.

6: Insert new capacitor.

This is it. The moment you’ve been waiting for. Do this. I believe in you. Position one leg into it’s hole. It probably won’t go through, since leftover solder loves to fill tiny holes. Place your iron on the other side of the hole, and as the solder melts, the leg should slide in. Slide it in a bit, then position the other leg and do the same thing. Once they’re both in, moving the whole thing flush to the board is no problem.

If it doesn’t look something like this, you are a failure:ImageNow comes the simple matter of applying some solder to the joints to make everything solid, and there you go! You’ve just replaced a capacitor! Now only 378 to go until your computer works!

Your electronics may possess awesome secrets.

Greetings! I found something mildly awesome and figured I’d write a mini-blogpost about it. In my house, there is a tiny alarm clock.It looks exactly like this, because this is a picture of it:

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It used to be my Dad’s, then it was my brother’s, and then I stole it and opened it up. I was not expecting, however, for this seemingly innocent alarm clock to have a secret. It’s been holding out on me. Check it out:

ImageLooks pretty normal, huh? A few components, some markings, and some wires leading to the alarm piezo. Uninteresting, right?

But wait! There’s more! What’s that in the upper-right corner of the board? What’s that tiny line between the two holes all about? Look closer:

ImageOh man. Does that mean what I think it means? That my 2-dollar alarm clock has a super-secret hidden feature? That not only can it display 12-hour time, it can also display military time? NO WAY.

I don’t know why, but I actually got really excited about this. So I hurried up and connected the two pads!

ImageThen I screwed everything back in, extra tight, popped in a battery, and did a little dance. It worked!

ImageWoah! 13:03! That’s awesome!

But wait a minute…

Take a careful look at the LCD display. I think I know why this feature ended up getting scrapped. The display only has enough segments to display a “1″ in the leftmost digit. So what happens if I set the time higher than 19?

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It goes back to 10! Well, maybe not really. Maybe it’s just displaying the rightmost part of the 2. I couldn’t be sure unless I took an in-depth look at how the clock displays the time. But that’s besides the point! I kept clicking the “Hour” button until it went all the way to “14,” and then it reverted back to 0. So while it couldn’t display the WHOLE Military time, it still did pretty good for a cheap clock!

Thinking about this makes me sad and excited at the same time. Sad, because I know that there are devices out there that have not realized their full potential. For whatever reason, what would be an awesome setting gets cut out of the final device, left to be unnoticed by 99% of people.

It also makes me excited though! There could be all kinds of hidden features in your electronics! All, I had to do was open up the case and solder a tiny wire, and I got a whole new display type! Yet another reason to open up ALL the things!

So go out there and hack those electronics!

I, for one, am going to go search my phone’s circuit board for a “Laser” function.

The light of the future!

Hey guys! Sorry about the lack of posts recently. It’s not because I haven’t been working on stuff, it’s just that I haven’t had the attention span to sit down, organize everything, and write. But finally I do! So here we go!

A very long while ago (Not really, it was like January,) I purchased a few sensors to get me started on the very basics of electronics. Among these was a handy sensor that never seems to stop having uses. I got one of  these bad boys for a bit cheaper than the price in that listing, and it’s been a ton of fun. Basically, it uses sonar to detect the distance to whatever you’re pointing at it. It’s great for anytime you need to see where something is. Which is like, all the time.

So, I was playing around with this thing, and it struck me how easy it would be to wire this up to an Arduino and an LED or two (or nine, as it turned out) and make a cool light that could be activated by a wave, instead of a button!

Version 1 was kind of cool, but pretty crappy looking. I used the enclosure to an old router (thank you, D-link, for sacrificing your life in the name of science) to house arduino, a breadboard, the sensor, and the light. It worked pretty well, but it wasn’t great. Firstly, everything was kind of just sitting inside the enclosure, with tape securing it in place. Secondly, and the main reason why I had to redo it, is that, for a project which needed 3 I/O pins (2 for the sensor and one for the light,) I was using a 35-dollar arduino that has 20-ish pins and enough computing power to run 15 of these lights at the same time. The verdict was clear, it had to be redone.

Since I definitely needed some kind of microcontroller, but I certainly didn’t need Arduino, I decided to go with something in the middle. A couple of weeks ago I bought several ATTiny micros for exactly this type of thing: when I need pins, but not many. I used MIT’s High Low Tech tutorial found  here to program them, which took about 15 minutes. Go MIT!

After I was sure I was happy with the programming, and had tested it on a breadboard, I took the leap and perf-boarded everything. It really isn’t super complicated or impressive looking, since it’s just the ATTiny, a voltage regulator, the sensor, and the LEDs, but here’s a pic of the board for science:

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Not included in the picture are the light (That’s where the two black wires go, you can see it in the final product) and the barrel jack for power input. But you get the idea.

Now all there was to do is drill holes and put it into a snazzy enclosure!

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I’m really happy with the way it all turned out. Here’s a video of it in action:

See you guys later! If you have any questions, email me at: nfarrington1 <at> gmail <dot> com

Making an RC-Car awesome again!

A few weeks ago, I found one of these bad boys lying on a table marked “free.”  Compulsive hoarder that I am, I picked it up and immediately thought of what awesomeness I could convert it to. I settled on controlling an RC-car with it because I had a car handy, and I thought it would be cool to take this approach to driving it. Originally, I was controlling the whole thing with an Arduino, but it turned out to be kind of a waste of a 50-dollar microcontroller, and I didn’t want to have Arduino stuck in this project forever. So I got to work on doing everything with hard logic. First, I unplugged and removed the board from the steering wheel base to simplify everything before I even got started. Ignore the wires sticking out of it.Image

Next, I got to work on the board. I had discovered, back when I was controlling it with an Arduino, that in order to activate each function (Forward, Back, Left, Right,) I had to ground one side of each button-pad. Comparators seemed like the best way to do this, so I decided to use a couple of 358 opamps as comparators to take inputs from the pedals and such and compare them to a set voltage, and flip to negative if the pedals were pushed down or the wheel was turned a certain way. Here’s a schematic of the circuit I built: Sorry if it’s confusing. I’m kind of new to this.ImageAfter a few hours of soldering and such, I had this:

ImageI used potentiometers to create reference voltages for the steering wheel. This way, when supply voltage changes, it doesn’t throw everything off. This is also pretty handy because I can change how sensitive the steering wheel is in about 14 seconds flat.

So, after all was said and done, I had a pretty sweet setup! Here’s a picture of the whole thing, all done: ImageAnd, as an added bonus, here’s my cat enjoying a glass of wine.

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Happy hacking!

Portable Powered Breadboard!

Recently, I was pondering the mysteries of life, and I realized how convenient it would be for travels and such, if I had an enclosed, portable breadboard! It would be great to have something small and close-able to take on travels and such, and I figured it might be a fun project too! I decided that it needed to have some kind of power source, and bonus points would be given for adjustability (Adjustableness.)

A few weeks ago, my dad brought home a portable, old parallel debugging box from work, and, since I didn’t think I would be debugging any parallel ports any time soon I decided that it would be an awesome enclosure to use for this project. So I got to work!

Here’s the box before I got to the fun stuff.

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The first step would be to gut the box out and make room for the new stuff. I saved all of the internals just in case I needed it (Coughcough hoarding,) Then I hot-glued a mini breadboard into it. Here’s what it looked like: Image

Next, A circuit had to be created, and diagrammed for easy creation. After looking through my supplies, I found a pretty sick rotary selector switch and some voltage regulators, and inspiration followed. Here’s the diagram:

And now the fun part! I grabbed the parts needed and got a-soldering. It didn’t take me very long, since everything is pretty simple and straightforward. Here’s the finished product, all glued and soldered:Image

So there you have it! A portable, adjustable-powered breadboard.There isn’t anything in one side, so I can store jumper wires and stuff there when I need to. Hope you enjoyed it!

Introduction!

Hey people!

People? Hello?

Whatever. Moving on. I made this site for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I needed a place to publish and document my projects and stuff. Secondly, someday, I might actually start making cool things. If that ever happens, I have a place for people to go and say, “Wow. This kid is awesome. I want to be like him!”

Also, I’m a pretty freaking awesome person and you might want to come take notes. Just a suggestion.

Ok, I think that’s it! Feel free to email me at : nfarrington1 <at> gmail <dot> com with any suggestions or whatever.