Soldering Teeny-Weenie Chips

You may have seen some of the how-tos online for using a toaster oven to bake-solder components on PCBs that use the BGA (Ball Grid Array) arrangement. But what do you do if you want to solder a fingernail-size chip onto a board and it’s not BGA? This Instructable shows you how. It’s definitely the kind of work that’ll grow hairs on your chest and your alpha geek cred will be uncontestable if you can do it. I wish I had the stones (and the soldering chops) to pull it off as I have a dead modem on a Series 1 TiVo I’d love to replace, but the components are just too damn tiny (and I don’t have the required microscope either).

[Via Make]

Modding Battery Packs

Did you know that the battery packs in many of your home tools and gadgets are just a bunch of rechargeable batteries inside of a plastic pack — and that the batteries that are used are usually on the cheap side (leading to less than spectacular batt life)? And, did you know that you can open that plastic case and replace the existing batteries with better ones? This Instructables project shows you how (on a cordless drill batt pack).

He Was No Robot, He Was My Friend!

Reuters had a rather disheveled piece yesterday about military robots in Iraq and how soldiers were getting attached to them, even grieving over their loss. That’s not the mixed up part. That’s completely understandable (more mundane example: I SWEAR my Roomba has an unhealthly interest in the umbrella stand by the front door and snubs his bump sensors at me as I yell: “Hey, stay away from there!” and “Get the rug out of your mouth”). The strange bit is how they used the robot casualties in Iraq angle to segue into talking about Rodney Brooks/iRobot’s ideas on robot avatars. This is Brooks’ answer to being able to get highly intelligent robots into our lives before reliable artificial intelligence is ready for prime time. So, what’s a robot avatar? Well, remote-controlled robots, such as the military PackBots, could qualify. But Brooks’ idea is a bit more expansive than R/C. After the jump is a piece of “micro-fiction” I wrote for my book Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Building Robots. Written for the intro to the “Robot Evolution” chapter, it explains one possible senario using Brooks’ concept.

Tell Time The Painfully Ponderous Way!

We’ve covered some commercially available geek watches here in the past. But how about homebrewing one of your own?

Hardware hacker extraordinaire (and fellow Make advisory board member) Joe Grand has created a cool POV Watch (as in “persistence of vision”). An array of LEDs on the watch band will show the time when you shake your arm. Not sure if Joe’s going to release this one as a kit, like he did with his Electronic Game Kit.

While we’re giving Todd Bailey all of this free publicity (he of the PCB bizney card), we might as well show off his bitchin’ binary bling-bling, a homemade LED watch that uses a PIC16F872 microcontroller and has a ribbon cable for a wrist band.

Instructions for making a similar LED watch can be found via this Make link.

My Nano Keeps Telling Me to Run Faster!

According to a piece on The Cult of the Mac:

“Apple is teaming up with Nike to cross-promote sneakers and iPods. The footwear and earwear giants are soon launching a new line of iPod-compatible sneakers, plus a wireless pedometer-connection-kit that pumps exercise feedback into runners’ ears.”

Thanks, Alberto!

Unpacking Pr0n ORGY

You knew it was bound to happen. A site entirely dedicated to the slow, purposeful unwrapping of expensive, brand new personal tech devices. When G4TV pulled their infamous prank of the “Geek Fantasies” porn site, with half-naked women fondling high-tech gadgets and d20 dice, little did they know, they could’ve dispensed with the woman entirely.

Thanks, Jay!

VW Vending Machine

And you thought today’s urban carparks required a tight turning radius. Luckily, in this one, it’s robo-valet parking only. Actually, what you’re looking at is a robot retrieval system for new cars at the VW plant in Wolfsburg, Germany. Think of it as a VW vending machine. Let’s just hope they don’t let the cars plummet to the bottom of the machine when you select one. You know what that does to your Fritos, imagine what it’d do to your new 2006 Jetta.

[Via Nxtbot]

Circuit Board Business Cards

How freakin’ deep geek are these!? I found them on Lady Ada’s wonderful site (which you have to check out if you haven’t already — she has lots of cool DIY projects there). When she asked Todd about the grid of solder pads in the lower right, he said: “That’s the prototyping area.” On the back it says “electronic design & embedded systems.” I MUST have a card like this! I don’t give out that many cards (not more than a dozen a year). My card says “Writer, Editor, B.S. Detector.” Maybe I could have a lille circuit on it to build your own BS detector. Has anyone here ever gotten PCBs made? I assume it’s not cheap.

Wearable Phone Booth

I saw a comedian on TV the other night claiming that crime was up in many cities because, with the advent of the mobile phone, Superman has no place to change anymore. If artist Nick Rodrigues’ vision came to pass, Superman would carry his booth with him, as would all of us. As Rodrigues explained on SensoryImpact:

“The Portable Cellular Phone Booth provides a visual image of the social sacrifices and opportunities to interact with one another lost due to our own self-involvement. The sculpture is a retractable phone booth that is carried on your back and can slide up and over your head to completely isolate you from society, kind of like the way a cell phone does. The action is fast and slick just like the flip action of a cell phone.”

Another artist, Jenny L Chowdhury, has a similar concept, a booth you zip yourself into to give your call the sense of importance and intentionality that climbing into a phone booth used to engender.

As the links on this we-make-money-not-art posting show, there seems to be a lot of recent art nostalgic for that old street corner staple, the now mostly extinct phone booth.