Modular 555 Synth is Controlled by MIDI

[Atdiy and Whisker] aka [The Tymkrs] have created a  MIDI controlled 8 note modular synthesizer. (YouTube link). The project was designed to highlight some of the modules they have available at their Tindie Store. Essentially, the synthesizer is 8 classic Atari Punk Console (APC) tone generators. Each APC is made up of two 555 chips, rather than the 556 used in the original design. The APCs are tuned to a Pentatonic scale, with the 8 notes covering 1.5 octaves. [Whisker] added a single potentiometer which controls all 8 of the monostable oscillators at once. Tweaking this knob gives the synth that classic Atari Punk Console sound we’ve all come to know and love.

The 8 APC outputs are routed to once side of an AND gate. The other side of the AND gate is connected to a 74hc595 shift register. A Parallax Propeller processor converts MIDI note data into a serial stream that can be daisy chained across several ‘595 shift registers. The outputs of the 8 and gates are mixed to a single combined output, which goes out to [The Tymkrs] studio amplifier.

Like many [Tymkrs] videos, this one ends with a MIDI driven jam session, outlining how the circuit would sound in a song. Click past the break to see it all in action!

Continue reading “Modular 555 Synth is Controlled by MIDI”

Cute Tiny Robot Gets a Pair of Hacked Eyes

One day while at our poor, poor Radio Shack, [davidhend] purchased a little 6-legged walking robot. It came with an infrared remote that allowed a user to control its movements from afar. After a few minutes of making the robot walk around [davidhend] got bored and decided it would be a great toy to hack.

His plan was to make the robot autonomous and able to avoid obstacles. To start off, the robot was taken apart enough to expose the circuit board. There he found a ST1155A bi-directional motor driver that was controlled by an on-board microcontroller. After checking out the ST1155A data sheet, [davidhend] thought he would be able to drive it with an Arduino. So, out came the soldering iron and all the unnecessary components were removed from the original circuit board.

An off the shelf PING))) sensor was mounted on the front of the robot and is responsible for detecting obstacles. That information is then sent back to the Arduino Nano which controls the motor driver to make the robot back up, turn and then start walking straight again until another obstacle is detected. [davidhend] made his Arduino Code (.zip file) available to anyone who wants to make a similar project. Check out the video after the break!

Oh, and if you plan to run down to the Shack to pick up a robot of your own you better do it like right now.

Continue reading “Cute Tiny Robot Gets a Pair of Hacked Eyes”

Prefix Your Phone Alarm with a Desk Lamp

If you are like [Gbola], then you have a hard time waking up during the winter months. Something about the fact that it’s still dark outside just makes it that much more difficult to get out of bed. [Gbola] decided to build his own solution to this problem, by gradually waking himself up with an electric light. He was able to do this using all off-the-shelf components and a bit of playing around with the Tasker Android application.

[Gbola] started out with a standard desk lamp. He replaced the light bulb with a larger bulb that simulates the color temperature of natural daylight. He then switched the lamp on and plugged it into a WeMo power switch module. A WeMo is a commercial product that attempts to make home automation accessible for consumers. This particular module allows [Gbola] to control the power to his desk lamp using his smart phone.

[Gbola] mentions that the official WeMo Android application is slow and includes no integration with Tasker. He instead decided to use the third-party WeMoWay application, which does include Tasker support. Tasker is a separate Android application that allows you to configure your device to perform a set task or series of tasks based on a context. For example you might turn your phone to silent mode when your GPS signal shows you are at work. WeMoWay allows [Gbola] to interact with his WeMo device based on any parameter he configures.

On top of all of that, [Gbola] also had to install three Tasker plugins. These were AutoAlarm, Taskkill, and WiFi Connect. He then got to work with Tasker. He configured a custom task to identify when the next alarm was configured on the phone. It then sets two custom variables, one for 20 minutes before the alarm (turn on the lamp) and one for 10 minutes after (turn it off).

[Gbola] then built a second task to actually control the lamp. This task first disconnects and reconnects to the WiFi network. [Gbola] found that the WeMoWay application is buggy and this “WiFi reset” helps to make it more reliable. It then kills the WeMoWay app and restarts it. Finally, it executes the command to toggle the state of the lamp. The project page has detailed instructions in case anyone wants to duplicate this. It seems like a relatively painless way to build your own solution for less than the cost of a specialized alarm clock lamp.

Watt Meter build walks you through Power Measurement basics

You almost never hear of a DC Watt Meter – one just does some mental math with Volts and Amps at the back of one’s head. An AC Watt Meter, on the other hand, can by pretty useful on any workbench. This handy DIY Digital AC Watt Meter not only has an impressive 30A current range, but is designed in a hand-held form factor, making it easy to carry around.

The design from Electro-Labs provides build instructions for the hardware, as well as the software for the PIC micro-controller at its heart. A detailed description walks you through the schematic’s various blocks, and there’s also some basics of AC power measurement thrown in for good measure. The schematic and board layout are done using SolaPCB – a Windows only free EDA tool which we haven’t heard about until now. A full BoM and the PIC code round off the build. On the hardware side, the unit uses MCP3202 12 bit ADC converters with SPI interface, making it easy to hook them up to the micro-controller. A simple resistive divider for voltage and an ACS-712  Hall Effect-Based Linear Current Sensor IC are the main sense elements. Phase calculations are done by the micro-controller. The importance of isolation is not overlooked, using opto-isolators to keep the digital section away from the analog. The board outline looks like it has been designed to fit some off-the-shelf hand-held plastic enclosure (if you can’t find one, whip one up from a 3D printer).

Although the design is for 230V~250V range, it can easily be modified for 110V use by changing a few parts. Swap the transformer, change the Resistive voltage divider values, maybe some DC level shifting, and you’re good to go. The one feature that would be a nice upgrade to this meter would be Energy measurements, besides just Power. For an inside look at how traditional energy meters work, head over to this video where [Ben Krasnow] explains KiloWatt Hour Meters


Brewing Beer with a Sous Vide Cooker

[Ken] found an interesting use for his sous vide cooker. He’s been using it to help him with his home brewing. It’s unlikely that the manufacturer ever intended it to be used in this manner, but as hackers we don’t really care about warranties.

Beer brewing is as much of an art as it is a science. There are a lot of variables that go into the process, and tweaking any one of them can result in your beer tasting different. There is one process during brewing that is called mashing. Mashing is when you soak malted grains in hot water to pull out the sugar. The amount of sugar that gets extracted is very dependent on how long the grains are soaked, and the temperature of the water. If you want your beer to taste a certain way, then you want to ensure that the water stays at constant, repeatable temperature.

As a home brewer, [Ken] has been using his stove top to heat the water. This gets the water warm, but in order to keep the temperature consistent, he has to constantly monitor the temperature and adjust the knob accordingly. Who wants to sit around and do that all day? He needed something to control the temperature automatically. Enter the sous vide cooker.

Sous vide is a method of cooking in which food is placed into an airtight bag and then submerged in a water bath with very strict temperature control. The process takes a long time to cook the food, but the result is supposed to be meat that is cooked perfectly even while also retaining all of the moisture and juices. [Ken] figured he might be able to use a sous vide cooker to control the temperature of the mash instead of a water bath.

His experiment worked wonderfully. He used the stove top to help get the mash up to the close temperature, then the sous vide cooker was used to fine tune things from there. [Ken] says he was able to achieve 75% efficiency with his mash, which is exactly what he was going for. Continue reading “Brewing Beer with a Sous Vide Cooker”

Hackintosh Project Looks Like a Mac, Smells Like a Mac…

It’s not often that you find a Macintosh dumped out on the side of the road. [GrandpaSquarepants] was one of the lucky individuals that did. Being the good friend that he is, he made his roomy carry the 50 lb behemoth back to their apartment. Not surprisingly, the machine didn’t boot up and ended up sitting around the apartment for a few years.

HackintoshFast forward from 2012 to present day and [G.S.] decided it was time to do something with that G5. That “something” wasn’t about fixing it. Instead, it was gutted to turn it into a Macintosh-cased Hackintosh. If you’re unfamiliar with Hackintosh, it’s a term used to describe a project that gets Mac OS to run on non-Apple hardware.

[G.S.] could have just crammed everything into the G5 case and called it a day but he decided to spend the time to make it look supremely presentable. The case was significantly modified to fit the non-Apple computer components, including the addition of a custom rear panel made from aluminum to mount the power supply, cooling fan and to allow access to the motherboard connectors. Take a close look; there are two CPU coolers in there. It was such a close fit that there is only 2.6mm (.1 inch) of clearance between the cooler and the case.

Two Dell U2415 monitors and an Apple wireless keyboard and mouse make up the rest of the setup. Overall, [G.S.] is happy with the final outcome of his project, well… except for the Apple mouse. He says that has got to go!

[via reddit]

How Green Screen Worked Before Computers

If you know anything about how films are made then you have probably heard about the “green screen” before. The technique is also known as chroma key compositing, and it’s generally used to merge two images or videos together based on color hues. Usually you see an actor filmed in front of a green background. Using video editing software, the editor can then replace that specific green color with another video clip. This makes it look like the actor is in a completely different environment.

It’s no surprise that with computers, this is a very simple task. Any basic video editing software will include a chroma key function, but have you ever wondered how this was accomplished before computers made it so simple? [Tom Scott] posted a video to explain exactly that.

In the early days of film, the studio could film the actor against an entirely black background. Then, they would copy the film over and over using higher and higher contrasts until they end up with a black background, and a white silhouette of the actor. This film could be used as a matte. Working with an optical printer, the studio could then perform a double exposure to combine film of a background with the film of the actor. You can imagine that this was a much more cumbersome process than making a few mouse clicks.

For the green screen effect, studios could actually use specialized optical filters. They could apply one filter that would ignore a specific wavelength of the color green. Then they could film the actor using that filter. The resulting matte could then be combined with the footage of the actor and the background film using the optical printer. It’s very similar to the older style with the black background.

Electronic analog video has some other interesting tricks to perform the same basic effect. [Tom] explains that the analog signal contained information about the various colors that needed to be displayed on the screen. Electronic circuits were built that could watch for a specific color (green) and replace the signal with one from the background video. Studios even went so far as to record both the actor and a model simultaneously, using two cameras that were mechanically linked together to make the same movements. The signals could then be run through this special circuit and the combined image recorded all simultaneously.

There are a few other examples in the video, and the effects that [Tom] uses to describe these old techniques go a long way to help understand the concepts. It’s crazy to think of how complicated this process can be, when nowadays we can do it in minutes with the computers we already have in our homes. Continue reading “How Green Screen Worked Before Computers”