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« October 2007 | Main | December 2007 »

Radio-Controlled Helicopters Take Flight


Forget radio-controlled cars—this season it's all about taking to the air. From the WowWee Dragonfly ornithopter to the RadioShack Indoor Micro Mosquito RC Helicopter, kitchen air raids might be a common occurrence in many post-Christmas households. Aside from these more familiar insect-named flying toys, a more obscure and slightly higher cost model could be the cream of the crop.

The RC AH-64 Apache RTF 4-channel electric helicopter from HobbyTron is a high-performance flying model that can fly for approximately 10 minutes per charge and operate with a flight radius range up to 120 feet. But the real spec that makes this $129 toy spectacular is the ability to perform a fairly stable hover. Although the 16”-long Apache model is a little too large for flying inside most households, outdoors, this baby could be just the ticket for keeping those pesky squirrels out of the bird feeder. —Dave Prochnow

(Image: HobbyTron)

Stocking Stuffer Suggestion: Line-Sensing Robot Car Kit


Locating DIY bargains this holiday season is proving to be a real challenge. Yeah, remember those low-cost sub-$300 Compaq Presario notebook computers that were “conveniently” sold out at Circuit City upon your 5 a.m. arrival? I hear ya. Well, All Electronics might have the salve to ease that pain.

The LC-7 robot line-sensing car kit is a fun way to experiment with optical sensors wrapped up in a conventional vehicle chassis. Although you are unable to choose your chassis (e.g., street, rescue, Mars, or jungle) and the erasable marker board inside the box might be torn, at $7.50 each, this could become the robot toy of the season. Why? Well, just mount the enclosed marker on the nose of your car and let it draw its own line to follow. Be sure to explain to your Mom that all of those black lines around the house were done in the name of scientific experimentation. She’ll understand. —Dave Prochnow

(Image: All Electronics)

Special Project: Coffee Shoppe Chumby

Chumby I just don’t know what to make of Chumby: the always ON, Internet appliance critter. Just plug it in and you can see a constant stream of your desired data: news, stocks, sports, e-mail, eBay auctions, you name it, and Chumby will show it to you. In spite of all of these good info streams, there are, unfortunately, three things about Chumby that I’m not particularly fond of: portability, power choice, and looks.


  • Portability: I don’t like to have to find Chumby to read my daily news feeds. I want to move around the office/house and take Chumby with me. Even better, I want to take Chumby with me to the local coffee shop.
  • Power Choice: The power cord tether severely restricts the placement of Chumby. I don’t want to drape an electric cord, for example, over to my dining table for using Chumby during breakfast. And forget trying to locate an available power outlet at the coffee shop.
  • Looks: There’s something about that blobby, mushy amorphous Chumby shape that troubles me. It reminds me of a techie bean bag paperweight.

So let's do something about it. Click below for step-by-step instructions for freeing your Chumby from its AC-power leash and its less-than-civilized enclosure: the Coffee Shoppe Chumby. 

Continue reading "Special Project: Coffee Shoppe Chumby" »

Update: Project Building Tips

Bldg101 There has been a lot of interest in our online projects. Thank you; but along with this increased attention there have been several recurring questions/problems with our instructions. In an attempt to remedy this situation, here are a couple of tips for helping you successfully build our projects:

1. Never attempt to build a project that you don’t understand. While we feel that the instructions, parts lists, and discussions are adequate for understanding/building the project, they are not meant to be thorough nor comprehensive enough for an absolute beginner to follow. The steps are merely a general guideline to help you get started building the project—not an exhaustive tutorial.
2. Locate, download, and read the datasheets for all components cited in a project. Case in point, if you need to know the pin assignments for a part, read the datasheet.

Update: For example, in the Dingtones project, the two capacitors mentioned in the parts list are coupled to the voltage regulator for power stabilization. This connection is illustrated in most 78Mxx datasheets (e.g., National Semiconductor). Also, please note, that in this project, we substituted a 0.47mF capacitor for the 0.33mF one illustrated in most 78Mxx datasheets.

3. Test all connections with a multimeter during all phases of project building.

4. Most projects look easy to build. But each one can have its own set of hidden “gotchas.” Know your limitations, study the parts list, and think the project through before you begin. If something doesn’t “feel” right, then don’t build the project.

5. Manufacturers are making their products harder and harder to “open up.” If you don’t feel comfortable breaking, ruining, or voiding the warranty of your brand new gizmo, then don’t build that project.

—The How2.0 Blog Staff

Cure for the Failed Credit Card Swipe: It’s in the Bag

Card_swipe If you’ve ever stood at a checkout line and frantically swiped your credit (debit) card again and again, only to see error messages, try this little trick:

Slip your bashful card inside a plastic shopping bag (typically hanging right next to the card swipe reader). Smooth out all wrinkles and ensure that the bag is tight and taut on the magnetic stripe side of the card. Now swipe your card/bag combo through the card reader. Success! The plastic bag adds just enough thickness to your card for a persnickety card reader to accept. —Dave Prochnow

Holiday Project: Christmas Card Tower LED Lamp

Greeting_cards Do you have a blizzard of Christmas cards carpeting the top of your desk? Convert those cards into a Christmas Card Tower LED Lamp. NOTE: building the paper card tower is easier than the step-by-step instructions make it sound. Just follow the illustrations and as you complete a couple of cards, it should start to make sense.

Continue reading "Holiday Project: Christmas Card Tower LED Lamp" »

Holiday Project: Dot-Matrix LED Ornament

Dot_matrix_led_ornament Are you looking for a unique decoration for a “special” Christmas present? Then consider building this inexpensive “ornament” for adorning your next gift. You can easily hard-wire the 5x7 dot-matrix LED into just about any visual configuration that will fit within a grid of 35 green/red pixels. We have presented you with two templates for wiring a Christmas tree configuration. Refer to the BG Micro datasheet for the relevant wiring connections. For the more versatile gift box accoutrement, however, this simple programmable dot-matrix LED uses DIP switches for illuminating rows/columns of pixels. Granted, this project isn’t as flexible as individually programmable pixels, but it should help you get started with building your own more complex dot-matrix LED Ornament.

Continue reading "Holiday Project: Dot-Matrix LED Ornament" »

Vacation Break Project: Time on Your Hands

WARNING: This is an eclectic project with a touch of whimsy. If frivolous projects annoy you, please excuse me, ignore this post, and move on.

Time_on_your_hands If you’re like me, then you don’t have enough time in a single day to work on all of your projects, plans, and ideas. There’s picking the kids up from school, doing laundry, preparing meals, homework, reading the daily news, and sleep. Ugh, sleep, what a complete waste of time that is. If only I could get more time to do the things that I really want to do. Forget that “idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” stuff. I need time and lots of it. What I need is a clock that gives me all of the time that I need for project building. I need time on my hands.

Continue reading "Vacation Break Project: Time on Your Hands" »

A Basic Building BUG


If you listen to Peter Semmelhack, he will tell you that Bug Labs’ name is derived either from system software “bugs” or the Hemiptera (aka “bugs”) order of insects. Based on the open source Web-enabled modular software & hardware nature of Bug Labs’ BUG, I feel that a viable alternative definition might be more synonymous with the term “bug” used in the vernacular of circuit designers to represent today’s integrated circuit (IC)--the basic building block for all digital consumer electronics. Regardless, BUG is one of the most anticipated DIY products of 2007.

Consisting of a brilliant platform of modular components that simply plug together, BUG can quickly become, within reason, any product of your dreams. Although not quite ready for prime time (YET), the BUG lineup for 2007 is scheduled to include:

  • BUGbase - the ARM-based Wi-Fi Linux computer “brain” which acts as the foundation for building all BUG mashups
  • GPS
  • Touch-sensitive color LCD screen
  • Digital camera/videocam
  • Accelerometer

Also, slated for release in the first quarter of 2008 are these BUGmodules:

  • A 2x, bigger touch-sensitive color LCD screen
  • Mini-QWERTY keyboard
  • Teleporter - “…beam me up, Mr. Scott.”
  • Audio speaker

Acting as the “lifeblood” to make a BUG creation work is a Java-based programming environment known as the BUG Module Interface or BMI. Under the hood, BMI relies on a service-oriented component runtime called OSGi.

Get ready to be BUGged. As soon as BUG comes to retail life, we will have a more in-depth look at this modular DIY product lineup. In fact, maybe a GPS-enabled digital camera Google Maps project would be a great demonstration of BUG. Stay tuned.—Dave Prochnow

(Image: Bug Labs)

A Business-Card PSP Stand

Cardstand_485 What: A sturdy way to prop up your PSP or other device

How: 1. Divide a business card into thirds vertically. Fold the ends forward. 2. Cut it according to the diagram below. 3. Stand the card up, and rest your PSP on it to watch a movie.

Have an idea for a 5-minute project?
Send it to us at h20@bonniercorp.com.


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