Electronics, coding and hacking. And ADD.

Solskogen 2016 - Kaimana!


I've had the longest vacation in my lifetime this summer. 4 weeks of nothingness! Well, not exactly - I attended the Solskogen 2016 demoparty, and contributed with a demo called "Kaimana", coded for (and on) an OCS Amiga.

The demo ended up 5th in the Oldschool demo compo. Most of the code was ready before the party, but all linking and transitions was done on-site. The Pou√ęt page for the demo is here.

The name "Kaimaina" is Hawaiian, and means "The power of the ocean", which explains the nautic theme. The demo features effects such as a textured twistraster, RGB plasma tunnel and a cylindrical textured twister. There's a metric shit tonne of assembly code behind it.

If anyone out there are interested in technical details on how it was done, let me know and I'll make a post on it.

Engraving transparent stuff, making shiny things


When I received this laser engraver, I read warnings against attempting to engrave transparent or metallic materials. Good thing I'm not a smart guy, so I decided to try it anyway. It had to work. Guess what? Turns out it works a treat!

I decided to try and make LED illuminated signs, kind of like those "exit" signs you see places. The principle is simple: light passes through the sheet, and wherever there are bumps, engravings or scars, light will exit.

I bought two sheets of 300x300x2mm styrene acrylonitrile. They are easy to cut and come with a protective film on each side. This is a good thing, because these guys scratch easily. The sheets were cut by tracing the desired route with an utility knife, and then giving it a friendly whack to split the board.

Here's the sheet with the protective film on each side intact.

Here you can see the transparent sheet (without the protective film) being engraved. It's from another project, but shows the job being done. It had to run at a low speed in order to have an impact on this particular material.

Dickbutts aside, here's the first successful project I made. A square blue LED is superglued in an bottom insert, flush with the rest of the board. The edges are quite illuminated, this can be prevented either with electrical tape, or painting the edges with a solid colour. I think it looks cool the way it is.

Here's the CR2025 battery wedged between the LED's cathode and anode pins, which conveniently serves as a rest. The internal resistance of this battery is so high that a current limiting resistor is not required.

By adjusting the focus and the burn time, I was actually able to cut through the 2mm styrene acrylonitrile completely. However, while experimenting with this I stumbled across something unexpected - but I'll save that for a later post. (How's that for a cliffhanger ending?)

Sharks with frickin laser beams, hold the sharks.


A couple of weeks ago I ordered a NEJE DK-8-KZ 1W laser engraver/cutter from China, basically because the price was too good to let go. I spent a couple of hours yesterday trying to etch and cut a few different materials.

Fume extractor and lights mounted on top.

The Neje was surprisingly easy to set up and use. After unboxing and connecting the cables, simply install the CH340 driver and the software from the supplied MicroSD card and off you go. The device did not require any assembly or calibration.

It needs power from two 5VDC USB sources, one for the motors and one for the laser. I used an old 2A iPad charger and the PC's USB port for the other, which also happens to control the device.

The overall build quality is good. I went over all the screws and tightened them with the included Allen key, but all seemed to be sufficiently fastened. No loose ends, no rattling, no cracks or unwanted gaps in the plastic.

The software included is very simple to use. Basically, all you need is to drag'n'drop a 500x500 pixels image and start printing. The program supports some basic image rotation/translation/zooming. Before engraving, the printer goes into preview mode, hit the red button to switch to print mode.

I tested a few different materials out of curiosity. It easily engraved paper, cardboard, colored plastic, FR4 PCB, paper based PCBs. It would cut thin plastic, colored plastic foam, paper and thin cardboard. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, it did not engrave transparent acrylic glass. Metals and other reflective surfaces were not tested.

Pros and cons time.


  • Dirt cheap
  • Pretty much plug and play
  • Small and compact
  • Beginner friendly software


  • Very small print area, about the size of a box of matches.
  • Bottom plate easily gets engraved/cut if you're not careful

Overall conclusion: I'll make use of it, and I'm satisfied. Money well spent.

Although my room now smells like a forest fire.

3D printer


A few weeks ago I bought a second-hand 3D printer, namely Kossel 800 delta printer. It lacked the stepper motors, pulleys and a general clean-up of the wires. After a week of trying to figure out how this works, I had my first successful print last night.

Unfortunately I did not take pictures during the build, so you'll just have to take my word for it. We'll skip straight to the end result.

This is the latest print, the letter J. I'm quite pleased with the result so far, there are a few calibrations I need to do still, but all in all I'm very excited. Time to order a few kilograms of filament.

Oh, and if you're wondering why my latest posts have been from the kitchen table, it's because I'm building a new hobby room, so my daughter can have her own room in the house. The new hobby room is a converted outdoor shed; smaller and colder than ever before. Can't wait to move in.

WiFi-enabled RC car


My son owns an RC car that lacks the remote control. It's a cheap car, but still, instead of throwing it away I decided to rescue it somehow. I guess I could find a cheap replacement controller... but why not go all the way and hook it up to my WiFi network?

Good looking car does not know what's about to happen

I decided to use a WeMos D1 board that I had spare, which is an Arduino form factor ESP8266 based board. The ESP8266 specs are amazing, I encourage you to look into this if you need to WiFi-ify something (did I just invent a new word?)

WeMos D1 ESP8266 WiFi board

Not many surprises awaits when you have a transparent chassis. Either way, here's the case that holds the current motherboard. Two more screws and we're in.

Bottom's up! The bottom side appears crowded, but is actually quite nicely laid out. The easiest way to figure out what went where, is to follow the traces backwards - i.e. from the motors to the main IC.

The top side of the board reveals the main IC, which is a PT8A978BPE. It appears to be a common controller for low and mid range remote controllers. I had already figured out the pinouts for forward, reverse, left and right earlier.


Here are the pins labelled 1, 2, 3 and 4 clockwise by yours truly. I applied 3V3 directly to the pins and the wheels started spinning. This is the operating voltage of both the WeMos D1 and the PT8A978BPE, so I figured it's OK.

Wires were soldered to the pins, going directly to the WeMos board since the original motherboard provides the pull-down resistors required. The brown wire in the bottom left corner is to connect the ground planes.

All wired up!

The original battery case had room for six 1.5V AA batteries. Unfortunately I didn't have enough AAs, so I improvised with one 9V battery. However, on the bench I used a traditional power supply.

My heavy-duty power supply

The WeMos D1 found its new home, and I started writing the server software. At first I thought it would be fancy to use a web interface, and improvised a web server on it. Turns out that web calls isn't the best candidate for quick response applications, so I rewrote it down to a simple TCP client. I can even telnet to it and drive it from the command line.

The protocol is dead simple: there are four directions the car can go: forwards, backwards, left and right. The initial letter dictates the direction (F, B, L, R). Uppercase means on, lowercase means off. A sequence of commands to the car may look like this: FRfrBLbFl, and they are parsed on the fly.

The D1 found its new home

Now we're getting somewhere. All parts are wedged into place, and we are ready to start focusing on the client side of the software.

Professionally secured with electrical tape

Here it is on the test bench, a.k.a. an IKEA lamp. No wires attached, running 100% from battery power, controlled via WiFi.

Looking pretty sweet. The car looks a lot better without the original, limp antenna. And it probably does wonders for the aerodynamics as well, don't you think?

All mounted and ready to race.

It's hard to tell from the outside what's going on, but once you take a closer look you can see some of the modifications.

The client software was written in C++/Qt and works perfectly. You can click the buttons or use the keyboard, which is a bit more intuitive. The response time is around ~150-200ms, which is good enough for someone with my driving skills. Meaning I crash a lot anyway.

C++/Qt client

Here's a quick video of the thing in action. Turns out it's hard to drive around when you can't see a thing... Adding a camera to the equation is tempting...

The above video could be much cooler if I were a better driver.

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