“Retro Future” Remote Control

Disclaimer: This is a project I submitted to Instructables.com for two of their contests.

I’ve always loved the look and feel of the “world of tomorrow” we were presented in mid-century science fiction and concept products.

Okay, that’s not true. When I was young I thought the Tricoders on Star Trek were ugly and clumsy, but the ones on The Next Generation were sleek and awesome. But now that I’m older I prefer the combination of black and silver, of leather and metal over featureless beige or black.

It’s only been the last decade or so that I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for the fusion of aesthetic and functionality over minimalism.

So when I embarked on a project to create a controller for my “atomic” studio, I wanted to use a television remote of the approximate era as a base. I found a two-pack of this Magnavox eight-button remote on eBay and fell in love. I only needed the one, but it was a good deal. Over the course of this project, I’ve been inspired to use the other one to take a different approach to the same concept in a future project.

I knew that early wireless television remote controls (often called “clickers”) used sound. [Side note: we had cheaper televisions in my house and I was the “remote”] The only other one I had seen in person had a single button which hit a strike plate inside to create a tone that the TV could hear to go to the next channel and the next and so forth until coming around to the off position.

But opening this remote showed so much more. The circuit board inside had a coil and something like a speaker that aimed out the top of the remote. Next to each of the buttons was a capacitor of a different rating. By pressing one of the eight buttons the circuit routed through one of the capacitors which modulated the frequency that was transmitted.

I found myself admiring the elegance of using simple parallel circuits to provide such a range of inputs. I started to regret taking it apart.

Well… I’ve got two. One can be sacrificed in the name of SCIENCE!

The Parts

  • A vintage remote control (I’m using a Magnavox remote with eight buttons)
  • A piece of permaboard (If you have the skills, time, and resources to make a custom PCB, go for it. My biggest challenges in this project came from wiring and soldering good connections in this form factor)
  • A microcontroller (I’m using the Adafruit Feather 32u4 Bluefruit LE)
  • A Bluetooth module (I used the above feather which has both in one, but I could have used separate pieces)
  • Buttons (I’m using the “Soft Tactile Buttons” from Adafruit because the larger buttons I was using originally clicked loud enough to be picked up on microphone)
  • A battery of some kind
  • An on/off switch

And from the inventory:

  • Solder
  • Wire
  • Headers
  • Electrical Tape
  • A third hand or PCB vice (I used both at times)
  • Wire cutter
  • Wire stripper
  • Calipers and/or a good eyeball


Dissecting the Remote

I have a vague memory of this, but my parents once told me about the time we went to Red Lobster and I started coming up with names for the lobsters in the tank. My parents tried to subtly dissuade me, but I persisted. Then when the meal came and there were dead crustaceans (I didn’t know lobsters from crabs apparently) on the plates I started asking if they had killed [insert childhood names for critters] for this!? I was pretty upset.

The horrible lesson I was supposed to take away from that was to not name things that were about to be killed.

So I spent a few minutes with my screwdriver poised over the back of “Clicky” pondering what a monster I was about to become.

Then I remembered I had two and I hadn’t named the other one yet so I killed it instead.

Removing the circuit board was easy. I clipped off the leads going to the battery holder before using pliers to pull those out as well.

Determine Position of Inputs and Place

Luckily the circuit board from the original remote was almost the exact same size as a piece of permaboard I had lying around so I didn’t have to cut anything there.

To place the buttons I used a combination of precision measurement and less precise “eyeballing” the first row of buttons and the first button of the second row. After that I just counted the same spaces up and over to place the others.

The on/off switch was relatively easy. I didn’t want to cut into the case if I didn’t have to, so I used the front where the emitter had been. In the picture above I had the switch on the other side from the buttons, but luckily I re-checked placement before soldering it in because it was unreachable through the hole unless I moved it to the other side.

Choosing Placement of Microcontroller

This is where I started to get sad.

I had originally thought to place the microcontroller on the bottom of the board with the buttons and place it where it would sit in the original battery compartment, but if I did that the board would not be tall enough to be screwed into place by the stand-offs that also held on the back.

Next I tried placing it across the top of the board but it wouldn’t fit between the stand-offs.

So in the end I decided to place it such that the GPIO pins that I was going to use lined up between the buttons themselves. I did have to shift it slightly to the side to get the ground pin where I needed it as well.

Soldering It All Together

First thing I did was connect a single wire to all the “top outer” pins of the buttons on each side. Then I bent the wires around the bottom edge of the board and created a solder bridge. Then I ran another wire from one side of the switch to the ground bus.

Next I cut a strip of header pins to the right length and placed them halfway in the holes. This way I could run wires from each of the “bottom inner” pins of the buttons to their respective GPIO pins beneath the plastic part of the header.

After that I sat on the couch sobbing into my hands while alternately drinking a Rum and Coke to get over the trauma I put myself through with all those connections and wishing I had the time and skill to make my own PCB. I also swore to various supernatural forces that if this worked, I never do it again. [Not pictured]

Next I ran a wire from the middle position of the switch to the “enable” pin of the Feather.

Then I placed a single header pin where it needed to be and soldered it into place running a short wire from it to the existing ground bus.

Lastly I placed the Feather in place and soldered it down. In the picture above I hadn’t finished the right side, just the ground pin.

Drilling Mounting Holes

Once again using a combination of precise measurement and imprecise eyeballing I marked the placement of the mounting screws and used my Dremel and stand to drill the holes.

Code!

Aside from my soldering job, this is the ugliest part of the project right now. It’s just a hack of two different libraries: one from Adafruit (from their Adafruit BluefruitLE nRF51 library) and something else I found after too many Rum and Cokes and sobbing.

I beat at them both until they worked.

Mostly.

In the version here, the remote keeps sending the meta keys at times it shouldn’t. It doesn’t affect my usage so I haven’t taken the time to fix it yet.

Basically it scans the GPIO pins and maps them to a number on the keyboard. It sends that number while holding down some meta keys so that I can assign them easily to shortcuts within the studio software I’m using.

Assemble and Enjoy!

I put some electrical tape down over all the wires for protection. I connected the battery and placed it between the mounting stand-offs toward the top. By bending the battery leads around the one stand-off the thing stayed in place nicely.

Now I have a Bluetooth remote that sends a hotkey to my studio computer when I press a button. I can control the software without having to have a visible keyboard in view.

THE FUTURE!

I have a few different ideas on where to take this next:

If I stay with the current system, I’d love to make my own board so the connections would be neater. I’d also update the code to be leaner and cleaner.

Another thought would be to use the other remote (Clicky!) as he was designed and build a receiver that would hear Clicky! and, using a microcontroller with HID capability, act as a keyboard for the studio computer.

MMPIS2 is up, at last, for now!

I’m a big fan of getting projects done. Not all of my projects get done. Sometimes a project being “done” is just about learning something. Like, all the ways things can go wrong. I did not keep detailed logs of the project known as MMPIS2 because it was meant to be a clone of MMPIS, and should have taken, at most, a few hours… not just shy of a year. But finally! MMPIS2 is working!

We originally had the idea before March 2017. Before that I had worked on using an HDMI to VGA converter to use a really old TV as a display. I think we got as far as hanging it on the wall but then I never got the hardware, and I also didn’t get around to producing low-resolution versions of the pages it would display. (It was one of those “We could do this!” moments without asking if we should do it.)

Eventually Tom brought in some better TVs, and then there was a swap and on went away, but we still had one, so we put it on the wall. Tony they jumped in to connect up the Pi and realized that the TV was locked (!?!?) and could only be unlocked with the remote control, which we did not have.

Oh, and somewhere along the way I had to find metric hardware. Looking for the correct length 6mm bolts at the space was a challenge, but with enough washers I found some that worked! (When I told this to Tom he said he’s bring in a pile of extra hardware from some old TV mounts.)

We gave up on the TV because no one wanted to order a remote (or thought about it) until later when Maks thought about doing it when I said we should smash the TV. (We didn’t. I think. Wait, maybe we did.)

Along the way there was also an issue with no Ethernet cable nearby, so I had to get a WiFi dongle and configure that. We also lacked a power cord that was long enough (had one at home) and an HDMI cable (had plenty at home) so yeah… fun times!

Then a member posted about a big TV he wanted to get rid of. It had no sound, which was fine with us! I picked it up from him and also got some audio stuff for the Dalek Asylum folks. Now we had a working TV, we just had to mount it. Wait, okay, holes are not the same. Time to cut a new piece of wood and attach it. I let Maks mark the holes to drill. It didn’t go well. I then showed him how to “elongate” holes with a drill. We also may have used a file. It eventually worked, taking 10 times longer than it should have…

Once the TV was up… it all worked! Hurray! And then… I came back a week later and the file system had gone corrupt. Sigh… start over. It took me a few weeks to remember to fix it, and when I finally did it worked again!

Also, the 3D printed plastic case was a little tight and the power cord didn’t fit right, so I used a cutter to nibble away some of the plastic. I cut too much and a piece broke. Tape fixed it well enough…

Since it was up and running, I tried to access MMPIS to copy the URLS to MMPIS2. No good. I checked the IP address Dan gave me, then I ran NMAP looking for things with port 8080 listening, and… nothing. Seems the software decided to stop running the web server or something. Dan SSH’d in and then we both worked on getting the data we needed from SQLite3 (more fun!) and then setting it up on MMPIS2. Also, two of the URLs he gave me didn’t work, seems he rewrote the code and the URLs changed… and then the server was unavailable. Of course it was.

So with this blog post, I declare MMPIS2 tentatively done! I still plan to swap out a few thing and make a backup. Totally. Backup this time.

Somewhere along the way I mentioned to Dan that this should have taken a few hours, not close to a year. He mentioned how I should probably go build one for work in the meantime, and I mentioned that I already did.

Maker Faire Milwaukee is Coming!

Good News, Everyone! Maker Faire Milwaukee returns for its fifth year! Milwaukee Makerspace is once again proud to be the co-host of the event along with the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum. We’ll be at Wisconsin State Fair Park on the weekend of September 29th & 30th, 2018.

If you’re interested in learning more about the event, or being involved in some way (as a maker, a volunteer, etc.) consider joining us for the first planning meeting of the year. We’ll be holding the meeting at the new headquarters for Maker Faire Milwaukee, Brinn Labs, which is just a mile north of the space.

The Maker Faire Milwaukee Planning Meeting is set for February 8 at 6:30pm at 433 E Stewart St. in Bay View. We hope to see you there!

Boxes, Tables, Lamps, and Signs

Vishal has been working on the front panel for the battery electrical box for his boat. The panel displays the master fuse and (2) watt meters that shows inputs and outputs to the battery bank.

He used the laser cutter and Acrylic bender to cut and bend the pieces into brackets to mount the meters.

Ben finished a black walnut dining table (with the help of Wolfgang, Shane, Steve, Bill, Rick, and other members) and he also built some nice modernist lamps that he showed at Hover Craft.

Rich and Bill built a sign for the foyer of their condo building. The wood part of the sign is 43″ in diameter and constructed using walnut, cherry, 2″ rivets for accent and the letter “W” is 44″ x 34″ and is made from 16 gauge metal.

Photos from the Makerspace

In an effort to share more visuals from Milwaukee Makerspace we’ve decided to start doing some photo roundups of thing we see at the space mixed in with shots of projects people share on the mailing list. Enjoy the first batch!

Isaac made this engraving guide you can use with the laser cutters. If you want a nice 1″ grid on the bed to see where you need to set your materials for etching, this might be useful!


Greg made this (literal) guitar amp as a gift. He got some help with the electronics from other members and put the rest together himself. It’s looking awesome!

Mat has been putting the large powder coating oven to good use to recycle HDPE scrap into blocks and sheet material. This is basically “plastic lumber” that is strong, durable, and ready to be cut, drilled, or milled.

Jake has been ramping up some of his Tesla Knight Productions projects and is almost done with a set of apple boxes for MKE Production Rental.

There’s a new group project happening in the hallway near the Laser Lab. Want to learn about aeroponics and grow some plants? Join the fun!

Check out these feet! Or least a Fusion 360 rendering of some feet…

After Billy spent some quality time with the CNC router…

He’s got some great looking feet for a lamp project he’s been working on.

Kathy H. upcycled some Knob Creek bourbon bottles into this lovely holiday decoration. She got the idea from Pinterest and used some old sheet music from a book she got at an estate sale. The letters were cut out using the laser cutter and then decorated and attached.

And last (but not least) is this wooden 3D vase created using the laser cutter. Marcin (one of our new Laser Lab Area Champions) has been doing some amazing work lately, and helping to keep the laser cutters running and well maintained. Thanks, Marcin!

We hope you’ve enjoyed this photo roundup… We’re already planning to do it again next month!