Yule-Inspired Tool Time With [Becky Stern]

And now for something completely different: [Becky Stern]’s musical tour of her favorite tools around the Adafruit factory is the best holiday tune we’ve heard since The Waitresses’ “Christmas Wrapping”. Of course, good tools are near and dear to us as well, and we found ourselves nodding frequently in agreement and smiling as broadly as [Billie, Ruby, and Gus], the anthropomorphic LED backup singers.

In other Adafruity news, it looks like their new Samsung SM482 pick and place machine was given the gift of eyes as big as pizza pies. What tools would you like to see under the tree, leaning against the Festivus pole, or all wrapped up a safe distance from the menorah this year? Do tell.

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Tiptoe Through the Tulips in No Time With Ukule-LED

Take it from someone who has played at the guitar for over 20 years: reading sheet music can be a big stumbling block to musical enjoyment. Playing by ear is somewhat unreliable, tablature only works well if you’re already familiar with the tune and tempo, and pulling melody from chord charts is like weaving fiction from the dictionary. A lot can be said for knowing basic chord formations, but it can be difficult get your fingers to mimic what you see on the page, the screen, or someone else’s fretboard. Enter Ukule-LED, a learning tool and all-around cool project by [Raghav and Jeff] at Cornell.

Ukule-LED uses 16 NeoPixels across the first four positions of the fretboard to teach chord positions. All 16 NeoPixels are connected in series to a single pin on an ATMega1284P, which sits on a board mounted to the bottom of the uke along with power and serial. [Raghav and Jeff] set the NeoPixels below the surface so as not to interrupt playability. The uke can operate in either of two modes, ‘play’, and ‘practice’. In ‘play’ mode, the user feeds it a text file representing a song’s chords, tempo, and time signature. The LEDs show the chord changes in real-time, like a karaoke teleprompter for fingers. In ‘practice’ mode, the user enters a chord through the CLI, and the lights hold steady until they get a new assignment. Knowing which fingers to use where is up to the user.

To add another layer of learning, major chords alight in green, minor chords in red, and 7th chords in blue. These are the currently supported chord types, but the project was built with open, highly extendable Python sorcery available for download and subsequent tinkering. Go on tour after the break.

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Retrotechtacular: Pipeline to the Arctic

They said it couldn’t be done, and perhaps it shouldn’t have been attempted. Shouldas and couldas aside, the oil crisis of the 1970s paved the legislative way for an 800-mile pipeline across the Alaskan frontier, and so the project began. The 48-inch diameter pipe sections would be milled in Japan and shipped to Alaska. Sounds simple enough. But of course, it wasn’t, since the black gold was under Prudhoe Bay in Alaska’s North Slope, far away from her balmy southern climes.

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System was constructed in three sections: from Valdez to Fairbanks, Fairbanks to a point in the Brooks Pass, and south from Prudhoe Bay to the mountain handoff. Getting pipe to the Valdez and Fairbanks is no big deal, but there is no rail, no highway, and no standard maritime passage to Prudhoe Bay. How on earth would they get 157 miles worth of 58-foot sections of pipe weighing over 8 tons each up to the bubblin’ crude?

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Taste the Rainbow One Color at a Time

It’s the end of another fall semester of Bruce Land’s ECE4760 class at Cornell, and that means a fresh crop of microcontroller-based student projects. For their project, [Alice, Jesse, and Mikhail] built a Skittle-sorting miniature factory that bags and seals same-colored candies into little pouches of flavor.

Their design is split into three stages, which are visually delineated within the all-cardboard housing. Skittles are loaded into a funnel at the top that leads to the color detection module. The color is determined here with an RGB LED and OPT101 photodiode driven by an ATMega1284.  Because the reflected RGB values of red and orange Skittles are so similar, the detector uses white light to make the final determination.

Once the matchmaking is over, a servo in the second stage rotates to the angle that corresponds with the color outcome. The Skittle then slides down a cardboard chute, passes through a hole in a cardboard disk, and drops into a hanging bag. Once the bags have reached the predetermined capacity, another servo moves the carousel of bags to a nichrome wire sealing rig. Lead factory worker [Jesse] must intervene at this point to pull the bags off the line. You can see the full walk-through and demonstration of this Skittle flavor separator after the break.

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Sqonkbox 55 is a Cigar Box Organ of Awesome

Sometimes, the best birthday presents are the ones you give yourself. In [Dino]’s case, they’re the ones you make for yourself.  In honor of his 55th, he built the Sqonkbox 55, a 13-note cigar box organ based on a 555 and amplified with an LM386.

It’s based on a 555 wired in astable mode, turning it into an oscillator that outputs a frequency. This frequency is determined by the resistors between pins 6 and 7, another between 7 and 8, and the capacitor between pin 2 and ground. [Dino] shows a breadboard version first, with a single tuning pot and momentary acting as a piano key. As he explains, this portion of the circuit is repeated 13 times with pots and momentaries that he arranges like piano keys through the lid of a cigar box.

“Sqonkbox,” you ask? A second 555 in astable mode sends the output through an LED. This LED stands face to face with an LDR, and they are shrouded in this configuration with black heat shrink tubing. The ‘sqonk’ 555 changes the frequency of the first 555, providing a clippy, rhythmic tone at the rate set by a potentiometer. [Dino]’s full video of the build is after the break. A BOM is forthcoming, but it’s easy enough to puzzle it out between the video and the lovely, Forrest Mims-esque schematicContinue reading “Sqonkbox 55 is a Cigar Box Organ of Awesome”

Retrotechtacular: Supersonic Transport Initiatives

In the early days of PBS member station WGBH-Boston, they in conjunction with MIT produced a program called Science Reporter. The program’s aim was explaining modern technological advances to a wide audience through the use of interviews and demonstrations. This week, we have a 1966 episode called “Ticket Through the Sound Barrier”, which outlines the then-current state of supersonic transport (SST) initiatives being undertaken by NASA.

MIT reporter and basso profondo [John Fitch] opens the program at NASA’s Ames research center. Here, he outlines the three major considerations of the SST initiative. First, the aluminium typically used in subsonic aircraft fuselage cannot withstand the extreme temperatures caused by air friction at supersonic speeds. Although the Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde was skinned in aluminium, it was limited to Mach 2.02 because of heating issues. In place of aluminium, a titanium alloy with a melting point of 3,000°F is being developed and tested.

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Philly Fixers Guild Will Teach You How to Fish

One crisp Saturday afternoon a couple of weeks ago, the Philly Fixers Guild held its second Repair Fair. Not second annual, mind you; the first fair was held in September. People came from miles around, hauling with them basement and attic treasures that needed, well, fixing. [Fran] is one of the Guild’s volunteer fixers, and she shot some video of the event which is waiting for you after the break.

The Philly Fixers Guild aims to promote sustainability in the surrounding community by teaching interested parties to repair their possessions that might otherwise end up in a landfill. The fairs are not meant to be a drop-off repair site—attendees are expected to stay and learn about what’s wrong with their item and how it can or can’t be fixed.

The Guild is open to volunteers who are interested in teaching people how to fish, as it were. Expertise is not limited to electronics repair; guild members are just as interested in teaching people how to sew a replacement button on their winter coat or building that thing they bought at IKEA.

Nowhere near Pennsylvania? Several groups like the Philly Fixers Guild have already been established in a few larger US cities. If you’re not near any of those either (and we can sympathize), you could do worse than to start your own. If you’re part of a ‘space, creating such a guild would be a good way to spread the word about it and the gospel of DIY.

In the video, [Fran] discusses an Atari 2600’s control problem with its owner. She re-seats the 6532 RIOT chip and explains that this may or may not have solved the problem. If not, [Fran] is confident that new old stock chips are available out there on the hinterwebs. There might still be some landfill carts on ebay if the owner gets it up and running. [Fran] also fixes the controls on a Peavey amp and gets some Pink Floyd to issue forth from a previously non-functioning Zenith portable AM/FM radio that’s old enough to have a snap cover.

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