5 Minute Battery Case Hack

When prototyping it’s useful to have a power supply that can be easily switched on & off rather than just pulling a wire out of the block.

I needed an AA battery holder with a switch, looking at Amazon they cost anything between £2 & £5 including postage. However, I wondered if I had anything I could hack to do the job.

So rummaging through my box of faulty toys & electronics I found a £1 set of Christmas Led Lights from Poundland, this had a battery holder for two AAs and it had an on/off switch.

Step 1, Unsolder the existing LED cables from the case terminals.

Step 2, Snip of the jumper pins from one end of a red & black jumper wire.

Step 3, solder the red & black cables to the correct polarity terminals ( Red to + & Black to - ).

Step 4, Fit batteries and test.

Around 5 minutes work and you have switched protoyping 3V power supply.

March 26, 2017

Quick Bench Illuminated Magnifier Hack

Just when I need my old bench illuminated magnifier it packed in, it’s the old type with a ring fluorescent tube, it’s stopped working before and it’s either been the tube or the starter.

So I decide it was time to bring the thing into the age of LED.

Step 1, disconnect the tube and expose the wires, which I just terminated with a block.

Step 2, glue a strip of LEDs (bright white) to the inside of the case.

Step 3, replaced the mains plug with a 12V DC power supply plug.

Step 4, connected the wires the right way round and Hey Presto! a better Magnifier lamp.

It only took me around 30 minutes.

February 4, 2017

ATX Breakout Board

During 2016 I backed quite a few Crowdfunded projects, most of which have been languishing in my project boxes waiting for me to use them.

One of my 2017 resolutions was to blog about them, so here is the first one.

ATX Breakout BoardATX Breakout Board

This appealed to me because I never seem to have enough power supplies, or I have a project that requires multiple voltages.

This was a Kickstarter project created by Richard Willmott

The ATX Breakout board is compatible with 20 pin and 24 pin power supply’s, also there is an extra 4 pin connector to take advantage of the 12V CPU Power for extra current output. The output voltages are 12V 5V and 3.3V, also there is a USB Charging port capable of supplying 5 Amp.

This a high-quality board, it came ready built, it has an on/off switch and Blue LED indicator, so it just needs connecting to an ATX power supply, I did spend some time tidying up (removing) all the redundant cables.

ATX Breakout Board mounted on power supplyATX Breakout Board mounted on power supply

I am very happy with the set-up I just wish I could get another board so I could then have a unit at the Makerspace.

It got it’s first real use at Christmas, had a lot of Christmas lights all run off their separate plug power supplies (which all seemed to get very warm) so connected the whole lot up to the ATX unit, worked like a dream and stayed nice and cool.

I have found a few similar boards for sale on eBay & Amazon but none of the same quality.

January 15, 2017

What is a Makerespace?

Last year I joined the Swindon Makerspace, and all of my friends and family had the same question, What is a Makerspace?

So here is my attempt at answering that question.

The Maker Movement is simply the coming together of all the old hobby skills; Crafts, Model Clubs, Electronic tinkerers, the Garden Shed Inventors, Computer Hackers, DIYers and many others.

Most of the time these activities were carried out in a spare bedroom, garden shed or garage, usually by an individual or a few friends, and access to sophisticated tools was rare.

Over the last few years in addition to the old school machines like Lathes, Milling Machines and Welding equipment a lot of new technologies started to appear that meant interesting projects could be undertaken more quickly and professionally.

These technologies were CNC (Computer Numeric Control) machines, 3D Printers and Laser Cutters. We also started to see cheap & powerful electronic devices combined with easy to use computer coding tools, this meant we could produce sophisticated models and machines we could control.

The problem was a lot of these powerful technologies were still relatively expensive for the individual maker, and so was born the Makerspace”.

Think of it like a Super Shed” where the equipment is kept and where the members have access to the tools, and just as important to collaborate on projects and exchange ideas.

In the UK the number of Makerspaces has taken off, from a single one back in 2006 to hundreds (most large towns and cities have one)

The Swindon Makerspace to which I am now a director started small in the basement of the Swindon Computer Museum, it was called Swindon Hackspace, but it quickly outgrew the facilities.

Thanks to the generosity and hard work of the founder members it moved to a small industrial unit, this year the membership has grown to 40, and that means we are financially sustainable. It also means we again need more space so we plan to add a Mezzanine floor so we can separate the Crafts & Electronics from the dust and oil of the machines.

Our space has 3D printers, a Laser Cutter, both woodwork & metal lathes, a CNC machine, power tools, electronic test equipment, supplies of consumables and components.

Our membership spans a range of skills and ages, and we welcome anybody who is interested in technology or crafts to join us to make things and learn new skills.

We have been involved in a number of projects that involve the local community and plan to offer courses on many of the skills such as 3D printing and Electronics using popular platforms like the Arduino and Raspberry Pi.

I think 2017 is going to be a big year for the Maker Movement, so watch this space.

January 8, 2017

What does it mean to be British?

*We are a nation of hard workers.*
*We are an innovative and creative people.*
*We have a great sense of humor with a bent towards satire.*
*We revel in being  "the Mad Dogs and Englishmen."*
*We have a great sense of pride in being "British."*
*We are a caring and generous people.

As a nation we have never been satisfied with the status quo, to sit back and let other peoples and countries dictate what we should be like and do.

We have always been hard working, quirky and obstinate, but as part of the EU we were losing that individuality, we were becoming too European, we had started to adopt the manyana mentality.

To all those people who think that we have been led down the garden path by the Brixit politicians I say, you have it the wrong way round, those politicians only saw what the majority of people were thinking and saying, and so they jumped on the bandwagon.

As an engineer, I always followed the maxim, if it does not work start again, learn from our mistakes, move on and make things better.

The EU was not working, just nobody wanted to admit it, well the British people has said so, and wish to move on, let’s learn from our mistakes and make things better.

June 28, 2016

Computer Hardware Timeline

The development of computing devices in chronological order. (This list is an ongoing project and subject to change, there is still a lot to do, but if you would like to add anything please contact me)


Abacus (Babylonia)


Antikythera mechanism Early Analog device.
Astrolabe (Greece)


Slide rule Analog device


Pascals Calculator Analog device


Bouchon -Paper tape First use of paper tape to program looms


J.H. Muller Difference Engine Engineer in the Hessian army conceived the idea of a difference engine
(Muller never received funding to build this engine)


Jacquard punch card Chain of punch cards to program looms


Arithmometer First digital mechanical calculator


Babbage Difference Engine Proposed mechanical general purpose computer
(Babbage recieve £1700 from government to start project but it was abandonned in 1842)


Babbage Analytical Engine Proposed mechanical general purpose computer
(Charles Babbage never actual built this device)


Hollerith tabulator Electromechanial puncard tabulating machine


Alan Turing Principles of modern computing described in the seminal paper.


Computing-Tabulating-Recording CompanyThe start of IBM


IBM name adopted CTR changes name to Internationl Business Machines.


Konrad Zuse -Z3 Worlds first electromechanical computer.


Atanasoff–Berry computer (ABC) First Automatic electronic digital computer
(The ABC was not programmable nor Turing complete)


Colossus Computer World’s first programmable, electronic, digital computer


IBM Harvard Mark I IBM Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator(ASCC)


ENIAC -Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer Was the first electronic general-purpose programmable computer.

Depending who you talk to there are some opinions about who made the first
working digital computer, for a more in-depth discussion follow this link.

Comparisons with other early programmable digital computers


WITCH Wolverhampton Instrument for Teaching Computing from Harwell (WITCH)


Manchester Transistor digital computer
IBM 701 mainframes IBMs 700 series Mainframe coputers (Valve based)


TRIDIC Transistor digital computer


Metrovick 950 Built from 1956 onwards by British company Metropolitan-Vickers


IBM 7000 mainframes IBMs 7000 series Mainframe coputers (Transistor based)


DEC PDP1 First computer in Digital Equipment Corporation’s PDP series


Atlas Computer Development between the University of Manchester, Ferranti, and Plessey


IBM System 360 IBMs highly suscesful mainframe computer.
CDC 6600 computer Control Data Corporations flagship mainframe
IBM Data Cell Drive Announced Random access device that could store up to 400 million alphanumeric characters


DEC PDP 8 The first successful commercial minicomputer. DEC introduced it on March 22, 1965 for a price of $18,500
IBM 1130 IBMs least expensive computer at the time, more info at IBM1130.org


HP 2116A Hewlett-Packard entered the mini computer market
ILLIAC IV First attempts at a massively parallel computer system


Mouse The first ball-based computer mouse in 1968, Telefunken Rollkugel RKS 100-86 for their TR 86 process computer system.


Data General Nova The Nova was a popular 16-bit minicomputer built by the American company Data General it was packaged into a single rack mount case and had enough power to do most simple computing tasks.

Honeywell 316 The H-316 was used by Charles H. Moore to develop the first complete, stand-alone implementation of Forth at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, they were also used as ARPANET Interface Message Processor




8” floppy diskThe first floppy disks, developed in the late 1960s & came available in IBM PCs


Atari founded
Cray Research founded


Micral first microprocessor PC


Altair 8800
Data General Eclipse


Olivetti P6060


Tandem Computers
5.25” floppy disk Shugart Associates introduve the first 5.25” floppy


Apple II
5.25” floppy




Atari 400, 800


Seagate hard disk drive




Commodore 64
3.5” floppy Sony introduce the 3.5” floppy diskette, used in the Sony SMC70, it quickely became the de-facto standard for perosnal computers.


Apple Lisa


Apple Mac
Apple Lisa 2


PC Limited


Tandem Nonstop VLX


Thinking Machine CM2
Tera Computer Founded


Dell founded
[3.5” disk]


NeXT Founded




Apple Switches to PowerPC


Palmtop PC


Intel PPGA


VESA Local Bus


IBM Deep Blue chess computer


USB 1.0


Compaq buys Tandem






Apple iPod


Mac Mini


Apple transition to Intel processor


Apple iPhone 1


USB 3.0


Apple iPad
Apple iPhone 4


Apple iPhone 4s


Apple iPhone 5
Raspberry Pi 1
MicroSoft Surface


Apple iPhone 5C & 5S


Apple iPhone 6 & 6+


Apple Watch Apple iPhone 6S& 6S+


Apple iPhone SE
Raspberry Pi 3
BBC Microbit

April 6, 2016