Category Archives: Member projects

Need to etch PCBs? We can help!

Nat needed a PCB recently, so we decided to see if we could make good use of the PCB etching equipment we have in the hackspace. It’s a fairly simple process, print a positive on some laser-printer-acetate, stick it to a pre-sensitised PCB, expose it to UV, dip it in developer, then dip it in etchant.

The UV exposure box

The UV exposure box

At least, we thought it was that simple. We had a couple of failed attempts before we got a good board. We couldn’t agree on the correct time for exposure and development. On our third attempt, with two minutes in the light box and about thirty seconds in the developer solution, we got a decent image.

The first two attempts

The first two attempts

Now we really should have rubber gloves for this next bit, but we couldn’t find any. Fortunately we did have a pair of thick plastic carrier bags for handling the etching chemicals.

After allowing plenty of time in the etchant, agitating it for extra speed, we finally got a good looking PCB out.

Some of the tracks needed a little bit of fixing up afterwards, but this was just a quick test board. If this works, there will be two more done properly.

Now that we know how best to use the kit we have, if you have a project that requires a home-made PCB then why not come along and let us lend a hand?

Another random selection of interesting things

It’s just another week at the hackspace, here’s a few thing that were going on last Wednesday.

We recently had a generous donation of some old tech, it included this intriguing Ferranti Laser. Nat had a go switching it on, it seems to do something, we’re just not sure what it’s purpose is. If anyone knows, help us out by letting us know how to use it. (We’re already fairly sure it’s not powerful enough be used to make a laser cutter.)

Another fabulous little relic included in the donation was this this Vest Pocket Kodak. If anyone has any film that will work with it, come along next Wednesday and try taking a picture! We’d love to see the results.

In other news; Dave found something to do with some of the used bottle caps that are awaiting recycling.

And Bob modernised a ZX81 with a composite mod kit. So there’s even more retro projects going on in the space. No luck with the ZX printer as of yet, but perhaps with some tinkering it could rival the other sinclair-computer-printer project by being even more retro.

Member project: Cameras on quadcopters

Just a quick one;

With the rising popularity of small UAVs for hobbyists, it’s unsurprising that the hackspace has at least one drone enthusiast. Dave has quite a selection of drones in a range of sizes, recently he’s been experimenting with video cameras mounted to them to record the flight or provide a live feed to the operator during the flight.

At our last open evening he had a go at mounting a really tiny camera on tiny quadcopter. With a little help setting up a print on the 3D printer, Dave had a camera mount printed and ready to go before the end of the evening. The design for the mount was a slight modification of a mount for a similar camera and drone found on thingiverse.

Here’s a quick demo video…

Member project: How not to give away haribos

The free haribo box

Looks inviting?

If you weren’t at EMF Camp this year, then you missed one of the best weekends on the maker/hacker calendar. It’s not often you can get fibre-to-the-tent when camping.

I thought I’d tell you about a project that I took to EMF, you might have seen it if you were there. It didn’t go exactly to plan. The idea was fairly simple, a previous EMF badge was an arduino compatible board that could receive and transmit IR and so I decided to take a box that would unlock if you sent the right IR signals. I hoped that people would be able to use the badge to break into the box. Sadly there was no IR on this year’s badge. By the time I’d figured that out; it was too late. As a result, not many people were equipped to attempt to open the box. Nobody was able to get in to the box, but that’s not all that went wrong…

The box was laser cut from clear acrylic so that you could see the inner workings and the electronics and your potential prize. The prize, as the title of this blog post suggests, was a bag of haribo sweets.

Lock box

The infamous box

The design of the box is fairly simple, there is a latch that prevents the lid sliding open, you just have to push the slider to the left and lift the latch out of the way and the lid will slide open. What makes it tricky is that there is a cam blocking the path of the slider, you have to persuade the servo motor to move the cam out of the way before the slider will slide.

Lock prototype

An earlier prototype for the lock

A slight problem that I encountered was the speed of the transfer over IR and the relatively low reliability of the IR through the perspex that I accidentally made cloudy with superglue. It takes a while to open the box. The same hardware is used for the box and for the key. They each use an arduino pro-mini at 8MHz.

So how does it work?

First, the key sends a command to the box. There is a small set of commands that includes; setting the authentication type (or disabling authentication), pinging the box to test your authentication without unlocking, unlocking the box, forcing the box to unlock permanently, locking the box again after a permanent unlock, and some other commands. If the command needs authentication then the box will send a randomly generated challenge string to the key. In the default authentication mode, the key must then append the private key to the challenge string and then compute a Hashed Message Authentication Code (HMAC) and send that back to the box.

Nobody at EMF had to know all these details to get to the haribos. All of the code was on github and there was a link to it next to the box. I even put the mechanical design on github too. I didn’t provide the private key on github, part of the challenge was to figure out what that was, but that was fairly easy too. I left a small plastic key inside the box. Laser etched on this plastic key was the secret key text, and a misleading set of tabs and dots that looked important.

The biggest problem of all, however, was the sun. Besides making the weather beautiful for the whole of the EMF weekend, for which I am grateful, it melted the haribos in my accidental mini-greenhouse.

Lessons learned, perhaps I’ll try again at EMF 2018.


A bag of melted haribos. :-(

Haribo soup

Box and all parts

All the parts, including the haribo token that replaced the melted haribos.

Member Project: Ceranimation

Time for another blog post about a member’s project. This time it’s John Robinson’s abstract animations. This John is not to be confused with John Cooper, who made the tetris table from a recent blog post.

John has been collecting ceramics for about ten years, and has been playing around with abstract animations of his ceramic pieces. Naturally, the project had to be called “Ceranimation”.

John’s “ceranimations” are constructed with code. He’s using a tool called AVISynth to generate the movement of the images and put them in a sequence. Unfortunately the limitations of AVISynth quickly became quite restrictive and so, to avoid repetition, John has written some ruby scripts which generate AVISynth scripts.

But it’s not just us that think it’s great, one of John’s animations has been selected for the annual Animac animation festival. So if you’re going to Animac 2017, you might well see him and his animations there.

For more details about John’s ceranimation project, you can see his website.

So without further ado, here is ceranimation with an intro from the creator:

“A collection of studio pottery provides a treasury of shapes, colours and textures.  Still images of the pots are selected, trimmed and ordered by software.  Modern minimalist and ambient music provide a matching soundscape. The screen is full of colour and movement as the pots slide, turn, merge and dance.”

ceranimation from John Robinson on Vimeo.

Here’s John with some of his ceramics and some examples of how he creates his animations.

On the screens above you can see how some of his code generates groups of images in various patterns.

About John:

I have retired after programming computers for nearly half a century.  I have always loved animation, and I have made a few stop motion films as a hobby, first with Super-8 film, and more recently with digital tools.  I also make pottery, again as a hobby, and have built up a collection of studio ceramics which is threatening to take over the house.  I love going to animation festivals in the United Kindom and Europe.  Now I have had the time to combine all three pursuits in ‘Ceranimation’, my first film to be submitted to festivals.

Member project: John’s Tetris Table


Tetris is one of the world’s greatest games. Perhaps one of the reasons Tetris is such a ubiquitous computer game is because you don’t need a particularly high resolution display. You might even say it works better at low resolutions. Perhaps this is what John was thinking when he filled a table with neopixel-like LED strips to create a large low-res display for playing Tetris. If this looks familiar, perhaps you spotted it at the Derby Maker Faire.

John built the table himself from scratch and even gave it York Hackspace branding. He has ten LED strips running the length of the table. They are neopixel-like LEDs which chain together to form a single individually-addressable strip. The ten strips are wired together as one continuous line, snaking its way from one side of the table to the other.


The inside of the table is mostly hollow. The LED strips are stuck to the base and point up towards the perspex lid. To separate the LEDs and make sure that they each illuminate only a small square just above them, John has added a grid of foam walls.


The game is written in python and is running on a Raspberry Pi 2. John’s built a small board with an IO expander for driving the LEDs and reading the buttons.


Of course, there is nothing restricting the table to just running Tetris. At the last hackspace open evening, Nick had a go at writing a snake game. The controls for snake are not so intuitive when you just have four buttons in a straight line, but that adds an element of challenge to it. You can try any of the games or write your own using the tetris table simulator that John wrote as part of this project. All the code for playing in the simulator or on the real hardware is available on github:

Write your own Tetris table games! John will be thrilled to see your pull requests. With potential for two player games, you could get quite creative.

On the subject of creativity, I’ll leave you with this photo of “The Lucky Penny” that definitely isn’t in a hole that was drilled in the wrong place.



You can’t have enough retro computers

I’ve noticed that many members of York Hackspace are quite enthusiastic about old computers. As I look around the hackspace right now, I see that the ratio of modern PCs to retro PCs is about one quarter.

Most of these machines are, or have been, repair projects. I thought I’d share a quick roundup of the various machines people are working on. If nothing else, it’s a great excuse to fill a blog post with pictures of retro tech. As if I needed an excuse. This might take more than one post, so this one is mostly what I’ve been working on.



One particular interesting work in progress involves something like a cross between teletext and the world wide web. I am, of course, talking about ‘Viewdata’. In particular, I’m talking about simulating a prestel service on a modern PC and connecting it, via a sound-card-based phone line simulator, to a Sinclair ZX Spectrum. This is a project that’s been on the backburner for a while with some other members of the space, but we have two fully working ZX Spectrums and each one has a fully working Prism VTX 5000 prestel modem which allows the spectrum to connect to a prestel service. Watch this space, perhaps soon we will be able to tweet from a speccy. I tried to get a photo of it running, but sadly neither of the two TV screens in the space would cooperate. They both have analog tuners, but neither has a remote and the one with buttons on the screen couldn’t be tuned to the right frequency.

One of the two spectrums is mine (the one in the picture). This is one that I got for free from a friend, along with a cassette recorder. It wasn’t working when I got it, so I had to spend a little money on some replacement parts. There was a RAM chip missing and a blown transistor, no wonder it was free. I also decided to upgrade it from the 16k model to the 48k model. The prestel modem came from ebay along with some other stuff that I sold on for a profit. The whole thing was rather cheap.

Another repair project is this Atari 520st. The power supply needs some things fixing, it can’t quite deliver the current required to run the floppy disk drive at the moment. Even if it did, the drive belt is long gone and so we need a replacement. Would you believe that this was found in a skip, along with the monitor and a whole bunch of disks and documentation?



Now here’s one for the IBM keyboard fans. This is an IBM 5155. The “luggable”. It has a proper buckling spring keyboard. This too needs a little bit of work. One of the floppy disk drives is a little dodgy and makes some nasty noises, but it has two, so the worst case scenario is to just use one. It’s got a copy of IBM PC-DOS and also a 20MB hard-disk. The problem is that the hard-disk doesn’t work. That’s why it’s not installed at the moment. The hard-disk controller seems to work though, so the project here is to build an interface to allow something like a USB flash disk to be plugged in where the hard disk would go.




Last but not least for this post, is Luke’s commodore amiga with colour screen. This is also a bit of a rescue project. I’ll have to post more details about this one next time, but for now here is a sneak peek. He’s even got two joysticks for it, and of course he also has the obligatory “I can’t believe it’s not streetfighter” title. I can’t wait to play it. dsc_5475 dsc_5476 dsc_5477


I hope you found that interesting. If you want to help out with one of these projects or just have a look at some of these machines, feel free to come along to the next open meeting. Perhaps I’ll post some more in-depth details of the projects as they progress, if there is any interest.

3D printed coat hooks, wi-fi enabled bike lights and virtual reality

Just an average Wednesday open night down at York Hackspace.

Nick took an old plank from a pallet and with a little elbow grease and some shared knowledge turned it into a fine backing plate to the hold the coat hooks that he designed and printed on the space 3D printer.

Finished Coat Hooks

I took a very cheap hand plane and managed to get a good enough edge on it to let Nick clean up old pallet wood and turn it into quite a fine looking board.

This ended up with a fine mess of wood shavings that Nick was particularly pleased with.
Everybody likes to make some mess.

We had the loan of a PS4 and VR Headset for the night and Nathan spent some time playing at “Job” a virtual world created by the future robots to simulate what it was like to do Job in the 21st century. A lot more fun than it sounds. Everybody was enjoying his attempts to “repair” a car.

Through some more donations of kit we now have a fine looking multimedia setup in the works. It started with a projector that got attached to the ceiling. Then an amplifier and some speakers that is to be mounted on top of a shelving unit ( if you know of any spare shelving please let us know). Then through a convoluted set of connections and boxes we should be able to hook all the ageing kit up to most things. Wire lengths where measured ( in feet, meters, ceiling tiles and string lengths) and we may be able to hook it up next week. It will be useful for doing presentations or just playing tutorials from Youtube. Even the laser painting might be setup at some point.

As any true hackspacer knows things can always be improved with more LEDs and so I added a few more to his bike. Wrapped around the handmade wooden box on the front they currently provide a neat running light setup, red and white back and front then pulsing orange down the side. As they are run from an ESP8266 chip that has built in wifi it seems only a natural next step to add a wifi hotspot to the bike and a web server to control the lights.

More Bike Lights

Many more things where happening. John was having some problems with his new 3D printer but was having fun developing shapes in OpenSCAD. Dave and John where discussing wiring up sheds and sharing the tools to do it. A surprising amount of time spent trying to find something to play music to test the speakers, /dev/urandom, the computers random number generator, only goes so far. I really love the mixture of physical and digital that is happening in the space especially when there is a big group. Oh and we have a new member, Carwyn.

See you all next week.