We Assume Control: SPI and a Digital Potentiometer

In the last video I demonstrated a Universal Active Filter that I could adjust with a dual-gang potentiometer, here I replace the potentiometer with a processor controlled solid-state potentiometer. For those that are too young to remember, we used to say “solid-state” to differentiate between that and something that used vacuum tubes… mostly we meant you could drop it without it breakage.

The most common way to control the everyday peripheral chips available is through use of one of the common Serial Protocols such as I2C and SPI.  In the before-time back when we had only 8 bits and were lucky if 7 of them worked, we used to have to memory map a peripheral or Input/Output (I/O) controller which means we had to take many control and data lines from the microprocessor such as Data, Address, Read/Write, system clocks and several other signals just to write to a couple of control registers buried in a chip.

Nowadays there is a proliferation of microcontrollers that tend to have built-in serial interface capability it is pretty straightforward to control a full range of peripheral functions; digital and analog alike.  Rather than map each peripheral using said data and address lines,which is a very parallel approach,  the controller communicates with peripherals serially using but a handful of signal lines such as serial data and clock. A major task of old system design, mapping of I/O and peripherals, is no longer needed.

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Logic Noise: The Switching Sequencer Has the Beat

Logic Noise is all about using logic circuits to make sounds. Preferably sound that will be enjoyable to hear and useful for making music. This week, we’ll be scratching the surface of one of my favorite chips to use and abuse for, well, nearly anything: the 4051 8-way analog switch. As the name suggests, you can hook up eight inputs and select one from among them to be connected up to the output. (Alternatively, you can send a single input to one of eight destinations, but we won’t be doing that here.)

Why is this cool? Well, imagine that you wanted to make our oscillator play eight notes. If you worked through our first installment, you built an abrasive-sounding but versatile oscillator. I had you tapping manually on eight different resistors or turning a potentiometer to eight different positions. This week, we’ll be letting the 4051 take over some of the controls, leaving us to do the more advanced knob twiddling.

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Ground Stations are Just the Beginning: The SatNOGS Story

When you think of satellites, you may think of the Space Shuttle extending its robot arm with a huge piece of high-tech equipment waiting to pirouette into orbit. This misconception is similar to picturing huge mainframes when thinking about computers. The future (and arguably even the present) reality of satellites is smaller, cheaper, and more prolific. This future is also an “open” one if the Libre Space Foundation has anything to say about it.

This group that plans to make satellite communications available to anyone started out as a build at a hackerspace. One good idea, a shared set of skills and experience, and a little bit of time led them to accomplish amazing things. We are, of course, talking about the Grand Prize winners of the 2014 Hackaday Prize. The SatNOGS team built a working satellite ground station and laid the foundation for a data-sharing network to connect to it. But even this description can be a bit daunting, so come with me to learn what this is all about, and how it matters to you.

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Show me the Data: Hackaday.io Year #01

Today marks exactly one year since we announced to the world the first product from our software lab – Hackaday.io. In what has been an incredibly exciting year for all of us, we evolved from a simple idea and a prototype to a truly massive community that’s making its mark on the world. Day after day, carefully listening to the invaluable feedback from our users, we have improved and moved forward, one line of code at the time.

We still have a long way to go, but we’ll pause for a second now and reflect on how far we’ve come. Then get right back to fixing bugs and developing new features.

It all started with a simple idea – building a better project hosting website. Though there are project and content websites galore out there, with new ones popping up every day, it all still felt too bland. We thought we could do better. After all, the medium is the message. The place where something lives sooner or later becomes a key part of its identity. So in order to prevent a dystopian future in which we’re all hosting our projects using the (fictional) Microsoft Maker Suite 2020 and simply don’t care, we started to work on providing an alternative.

We quickly realized that we had a much bigger mission on our hands. Sure, a better project hosting website would be nice, but what we felt we really needed was something [Brian Benchoff] has been talking about for quite some time – a “virtual hackerspace.” Not just a place where you can post your builds once you’re done (and hope someone sees it), but a living, breathing community: a place where you can start with an idea and get feedback as it develops, find collaborators, iterate, and ultimately end up building something way more amazing than you would have accomplished on your own.

This has been the aim of Hackaday for many years, but most of the collaboration was constrained to the limited space of post comment threads and biased by the editorial choice of articles and topics. With the introduction of Hackaday.io, we open up a space for anyone to unleash their creativity and expertise, and together, change the way people build things.

The Data

Unfortunately, making bold claims about how we’re out there changing the world is pretty much a commodity these days. As most Web startups can testify, it doesn’t take more than a simple landing page with nice photography and some uplifting message for any arbitrary claims to appear credible.

So instead of trying to convince you with words about how awesome the last year had been, we’ll just stick with the data.

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Logic Noise: 8-bits of Glorious Sounds

Logic Noise is all about using analog circuits to make sounds. Preferably sound that will be enjoyable to hear and useful for making music. Now, the difference between music, sound, and noise is certainly in the ear of the behearer, but you must admit that last installment’s simple square wave lacked a little something. (Although the sync oscillator circuit extension was kinda cool.)

This week, we’ll take our single wimpy square-wave oscillator and beef it up by adding a bunch of sub-octaves to the mix. And we’ll do it using a chip that’ll be really useful for us in the future as well: the 4040 binary counter chip.

Counters (binary or decimal) are going to be fertile ground for more musical noise experiments. Why so? Because octaves are just doublings or halvings of frequencies, and because a lot of rhythmic patterns have factors of two underlying them.  Just think about the most basic drum pattern you know: bass drum on the one, snare on one and three, and hi-hats on one, two, three, and four. Each different instrument fires off twice as frequently as the one before it.

But for now, enough blabber. We’ve got an oscillator to build.

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Why You Should Care About Software Defined Radio

It hasn’t become a household term yet, but Software-Defined Radio (SDR) is a major player on the developing technology front. Whether you’re building products for mass consumption, or just playing around for fun, SDR is worth knowing something about and I’ll prove it to you.

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Omnibus Seen in the Wild

February 9th has come and gone and the Hackaday Omnibus 2014 is now shipping. If you were one of the early adopters who pre-ordered, thank you very much it should be in your hands shortly! If you missed out on the Pre-Order, don’t worry you can still get a copy of your very own but we only ordered a small over-run so don’t wait too long.

The Omnibus celebrates the best our writers and illustrators published in 2014 with an 80-page full color volume printed on premium paper. From tales of technology past, to current events, the Omnibus tells the story of what the high points in hardware were last year. We have fallen in love with having a physical version of this content since the proof copies hit our hands a month ago. We believe that this is a conversation waiting to happen — set it out and watch your friends gravitate toward it.

We’ve already seen them popping up on Twitter and we’d love to see more. Make sure to Tweet a picture of your copy to @Hackaday with hashtag #hadOmnibus. We’re happy to see any pictures shared, but if you’re one of the lucky souls who works with awesome hardware make sure to take some ‘extreme’ shots. For instance, reading while you wait for the cyclotron to warm up, the nuclear sub to surface, or your ride to pick you up from Amundsen-Scott.

This is our first ever print edition and we’ve gone to great lengths to make sure it’s something you’ll be proud to have on your coffee table, bookshelf, or anywhere for years to come.

[Photos via @jbdatko, @JeremySCook, @rdcampbell13, @ToddTerrazas]