Little hacks

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A little collection of alternative uses for components i found out while working
with breadboards and electronics. Like for the Stampdock software.
Collected together here, so i can send a single link to people if i want to explain a something.
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I have this KVM to switch between a PC, Mac, Amiga and linux machine, but it
doesn't switch between Audio .. so with some parts from very old ISA sound and modem cards
i made a little device to connect all the machines to a set of big PC-speakers.

USB case.

I was thinking about some usb cases to keep backups organized, i actually made some
sketches but did nothing with them. Then i showed them to Joke Belonje who makes all sorts of
boxes .. and she turned the design actually into some very sturdy actuall cases !


I wanted to use the USB port on an MBED controller on a breadboard, but did not want to pull
a HUB apart for a USB connector. So i rememberd i have some of the PS/2 to USB "converters"
from logitech mice laying about. So i pulled them apart and soldered some wires to them.


These are USB B connectors i got from old printers, usefull for if you want to use an MBED,
or power a breadboard by USB !
And i made a little adapter so i can use the cord as a 2 wire battery adapter.


I had this microscope for decades, it was powered by batteries and only had a small hard to replace
lightbulb on the underside. So you could only look at semi-transparant object .. or with a lot of difficulty
look at a chip by putting a powerfull desklight directly against it. But now I put two powerfull white LEDs on it, which makes it very easy to look at objects like chips.

LPC800 mini board.

NXP send me this nice LPC800 miniboard, but to be able to use it i made some changes.
At first i desolderd the controller and placed it in a socket, so i can use it in a project
Then i added a row of header pins to connect it to an LPCXPRESSO j-link, as i didnt have a 0.05"
cable for the default connector.
And finally i added header pins to plug it into a breadboard like a stamp like device.
Oh .. and of cause i needed to cut the connections on the LPCXPRESSO and add headerpins.

Tablet stand.

This is a little tablet stand i made, which makes it a little easier to develop
software for it. As you can put the tablet next to the monitor while it is connected to PC and power.
Shown with a 10" dual core 1280x800 pixel cherry mobility m-1038 kruidvat tablet on it.

Made from a piece of PC case, some aluminium a bit of profile and epoxy.

Solder fan.

This might seem very obvious, its an emptied PC PSU with 12cm (5") fan to suck solder
fumes away. But when i started experimenting i only had a bunch of PC PSUs with 8cm fans and some loose 8cm fans.
The power switch still functions and it has a wal wart connector for power.
I made a little adapter cable with male/female molex connectors to daisy chain it with
other gear on the desk. And some 9v adapters for portable use.
Apparantly fans like this dont have enough power to use some kind of filter.
I also tried to use some PSUs with 8cm fans, but those take up a lot of space on the desk,
i ended up using thosw to blow a stream of air over the desk to blow fumes away from me
as the jet from the PSUs has a long reach .. while they only suck fumes away directly in
front of them.

vacuum pump.

This is a little (FAILED) hack to try to make a continues solder sucker.
It consists out of a centrifugal fan from a popcorn maker, some desert packaging, an old solder sucker
a semi transparant plastic bottle from a cycling suplement i found at the road and some tubing.
The original solder sucker failed as some plastic parts broke. Useally suckers with plastic parts
break after a short while while all metal ones work for decades. So i tried to connect the
business part to a vacuum pump. But there is almost no vacuum. Probably because the tubing is to long
and far to thin. Perhaps some foot operated bicycle tyre pump would be better.


Normally you stick chips in MOS foam .. bigger parts like transistors or regulators don't seem
to stick in that. So i found that you can stick them in thick plastic foam. And also write down connections
on that. So i have a lot of pieces of foam with transistors. Also great for bigger breadboard modules.

Meter tools.

I still have an analog multimeter that i have had for decades now and that survived several
digital multimeters. It is still very usefull and might have advantages over digital meters, like it doesnt
need a battery, the read out doesnt jump all over the place and it doesnt have electronics that break.
Over the years i made some small tools for it.
First is an adapter so i can connect 4 devices to it using female headers, each header has ground, signal and 9v.
So i can connect active probes to it to measure things like temperature or magnetic field.
But als connect a scope probe with an adapter, crocodile leads, or leads with very thin needles
(made with pushpins) that actually fit in holes of breadboards .. as normal leads dont fit.
Also i can insert a resistor adapter so you can measure diodes or LEDs.
There is a board with a TL431C from an old PC PSU that acts like a 2.5volt reference source.
And not shown is a BPW34 photodiode adapter to measure IR LEDs (remotes) or UV LEDs to check
how much UV glasses filter.


Some time ago i got a HP vectra PC with severe PSU problems, but as it was a desktop case
with an odd shaped PSU i decided to transplant it to an old server Tower case.
However there was a problem with the motherboard, it only had a custom HP header for buttons and leds.
The normal header with more pins wasnt populated.
With the HP header there werent ground pins next to signal pins or the cables needed 3 pins, while there
was spacing for 2 pins on the motherboard so i made some adapters to connect up all the signals.

RS232c nullmodem cable.

This is a little changeable serial nullmodem cable i made from some discarded serial
mice decades ago. As i needed one and couldnt find one locally.


Someone needed some fans with their wood stove, to blow warm air in the room.
Also the speed needed to be changeable and there was no budget.
So everything is recycled, fans from PCs, an 18V PSU from a very old HP printers.
And an LM317 to control the fan voltage from 7v to 14v. Where R1=100 Ohm .. and R2 is a 540
Ohm resistor and a 470 Ohm potmeter. And of cause a couple of capacitors.

Pinnacle remote.

I was testing a bunch of infrared remotes, and while most give a sort pulsewidth
codes which are tricky to decode, i noticed that the pinnacle one gives normal serial signals
with 1200 baud. Which isn't that odd as it was used to control a PC PCI-TV tuner card. And the
receiver used to be connected to the serial port of a PC. So its very easy to use it as input
on a microcontroller. Just connect it to serial port. However reception seems slightly worse
as a normal remote. Looks like it sends 3 bytes at 1200 baud with one stop and no parity bits.

logic probe.

I wanted to make a logic probe for breadboards, but figured that if i use a VU-meter module
i get something like a fast solid state meter that is more versatile as it can display differences
between 5v and 3v.
Now the big trick is to mount it in the transparant cylinder, which was the packaging of a pen.

This is how it ended up.

Stepper motor.

Stepper motors can be great to move things like mirrors fast and accuratly, however connecting
something to the thick axle might be a problem. Not with a fuse holder !. It holds very tight

Custom regulator.

A lot of devices like controllers or displays need a voltage of 3.0v or 3.3v, to not need to
remember the LM317 connections or find matching resistors i made this variable regulator with
the same pinout of the old 7805
The device next to it is a resetable fuse from an old network card solderd to some board
Basically if you put more then 1Amps through it it heats up, and increases its resistance
so the current to the circuit is cut off.

LED Tester.

This is a little passive device to test remote controls, basically its a light meter made from a little
battery/field strength meter i got from an old radio a long time ago. Its connected to a BPW34 photo diode.
It can also be used to test infrared diodes or photo diodes.
The device next to it i use to test LEDs in, it just connects to a 9V battery or a power supply.
You would think testing LEDs is easy with a breadboard, but you need to find the right resistor and voltage
and its hard to point a breadboard at a test target

9V battery Hack.

Someone had the problem that wireless microphone receivers need 9V batteries, and have no means for external power.
So they asked me to showehow hack some adapter together, like screw the top of a battery to some wood.
After some experimenting this was the result, a battery with its inerts replaced with cardboard and a wire
soldered to the poles.


Just a little I2C bus i made so i can test I2C sensors like the compas or gyro
without having to turn a whole breadboard.

Phone LCD.

Most phone LCDs have impossible small connectors or copper traces for which its hard to make a connector
so after a while a gave up trying to connect a display just found one with huge copper tracks and soldered
wires to it.

Power adapter.

This might be a bit obvious, these are adapters so i can power a breadboard with
Wall wart adapters. Usefull when you don't want to take a lab power suply with you.
I think the sockets came from a very old calculator and a fax machine.
Note that i added a power switch to a wall wart. Might have been more practical to add one
to the adapters too.

basic stamp.

Some little adapters to program basic stamps and javelin stamps in a breadboard.
Note that they have two capacitors on the reset line.

basic stamp.

One of the basic stamp adapters in use.


A little adapter to add a serial port to a LPCXpresso on a breadboard.
Note that the adapter at the bottom is almost the same as the basic stamp adapters i made,
but this one is to program a basic stamp on a PCB with 4 headers pins (or other pins with the small
adapters) it connects to the little board which inverts the serial signals to 3.3v or 5v depending
on the jumper. You can find the circuit here.
I made it so i can connect an lpcxpresso to a PC and use it with the stampdock software.


I only had some short serial cables but some long phone cables. So i soldered some rj-45
connectors to serial connectors so i can have cables as long as i want.
The cable at the bottom was a null-modem cable i used to connect basic stamps with earlier mentioned
adapters to things like palm pilots.


I made these so i can quickly add a number of LEDs to a breadboard while they take
very little space on the breadboard. And of cause its lets work to wire them up.

And some quick connect LEDs/logical probe for breadboard.


I you put voltage on the right pins of a SCSI terminator you can use it to test LEDs.

little meters.

Multimeters can take up a lot of deskspace next to a breadboard, so i remembered
i have some small meters from old radios and such. So i added a resistor and replaced the wires
with more flexible ones and header pins to use them on a breadboard.

battery clips.

This might be obvious, but is a little development. I started with soldering header pins to a 9v battery clip.
So you could plug a 9v battery to a breadboard when you need power. But after a number of times plugging it in
the wires started to fray. And i plugged it in once wrong, shorting the pins. Making the battery boil.
So i added a switch !. And after a while just soldered female header pins to battery adapters so the pins dont
short out when they touch metal on your desk. So i made some cables with a switch and male header pings
to connect battery adapters to breadboards. The thing in the middle is a PCB that came from a 9V battery,
it is much sturdier as normal 9v battery clips, and might make a nice 9v battery clip.


These are battery adapters i tried with a 5v step up board to make a very light power suply.
i didn't have an AAA battery adapter, but i had a very cheap radio which seems to work fine as an adapter.
i also tried a CR2032 battery. but it seems to have to much current to power anything with the converter.


Instead of taking devices apart to separate parts it can be interesting to check what
function parts have. These are a 30v to 5v converter from a printer and a headphone amp. from a CDrom.


This is a part of an old printer, the buttons each have a wire. While the LEDs are connected
to a shift register. Actually there was space for two more (hidden) LEDs in the corner left under which i added.

crocodile clips.

For use on a breadboard crocodile leads are often to long and to stiff. And to connect them
you have to clip them to a resistor or a pin. So i made some custom leads that take less space on a
breadboard and are easier to use.
Also by default a lot dont work as they where clamped badly, so i reworked them to these but with
soldered connections.

I have this very old rechargeable drill and the NiCd's gave out completely.
Without the battery its a nice very light drill, so i tried it on a lab. supply with
some sets of crocodile leads. It worked, but the leads got warm and shorted.
So i made some long crocodile leads with thick wire. Great to connect anything to the lab. supply

pc case.

The metal of cases of old PCs can be very usefull. But you need some nibbler (knabbelschaar) to cut it
and don't cut to much at a time or you get blisters.
I made half a dozen of display stands that way, which makes them easier to use with breadboards.


This is an iphone stand from 2 pieces of PC case and some tape.
Its usefull with programming, as you can take the iphone out and its still connected with the
debugging Mac. In a normal dock you would have lost connection. I also made a taller one for an ereader.


Just a little jig i use to make connectors with headerpins for use on breadboards.
I use experiment board where 3 holes are connected, and solder header pins to that.

cd rom motors.

I got some motors from old CDrom drives, and wonderd if i could use them as a sort direct drive in a robot.
By just putting wheels on them, as they should have more torque as normal motors.
So i made some adaper cables for these flex cables from connector from old drives and printers.
I tried to use a motor by connecting them to 3 phases made with 6 transistors and a basic stamp and that seems to work.
I did not use the HAL sensors in the motor, but with low rpms and low acceleration it seems to work.
Also you could use the HAL sensors in the motor as some sort of position indicator, or use the cable with
other devices like displays from phones.

cd rom heads.

Way back in school i did some reports about how CDplayers work, and years later i opened up
some broken CDrom drives and wondered if i could use the heads to make something like a scanning microscope.
So i figured out the connections and made some adapter cables, and soldered some protection cables
to the laser connections. I made a little object table with the lens actuator from another CDrom head.
Also with these cables and the earlier CDrom motor cable it might be possible to control a complete
CDrom drive.

cd rom tray.

I was figuring to make servos from CDrom trays by adding a potmeter or some optical sensor.
so i can use them in a robot or scanner or plotter. With three of these connected to each other
it should be possible to move a device in 3D. You might not even need the potmeter but send
pulses with a specific lenght to the motors but you would have to go back to the start position
a lot to make sure the position is calibrated.


Little adapter to be able to program Scenix/Ubicom SX28 processors on a breadboard.
Using a parallax serial in circuit programmer.

scanning tunneling microscope.

I was thinking about making a scanning tunneling microscope, i took some heavy metal plates
which where supposed to hold the arms rests of a desk chair and connected them to some springs as a
base without vibrations.
Took some piezo buzzers and make some very fine scratches on them to divide them in 4 parts.
I glued a jumper to the piezo, so i can insert a tiny PCb with header pins as a scanner.
From some old HP printers i got a lot of tiny tiny springs that connected the heads to a board, which
might be fine to make connections to the piezo.
Now i need some mechanism to move the sample. I am thinking of the motor that moved a CDrom head.
To move the piezo i want to use an mbed that charges and discharges a capacitor to move it with steps,
and use the ADC of the mbed to check the actual position.
Still a big experiment.

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Copyright 2008-2010 by Arend-Paul Spijkerman



Copyright 2009-2010 by Arend-Paul Spijkerman