The Sixtyforgan Proves That Church Organs Are Definitely Chiptune

Church organs may be mechanically complicated and super old-school, but they share something in common with the earliest computer sound chips. In theory, and largely in practice, they produce very simple waveforms. The primary reason that church organs seem so full and rich compared to your old Commodore 64 is that they have the benefit of a whole church’s worth of reverb to fatten out the sound. [Linus] demonstrates this with the Sixtyforgan.

The Sixtyforgan is a Commodore 64 hooked up to a spring reverb tank. By running the relatively basic waveforms from the Commodore’s SID chip through this reverb, it’s possible to generate sounds that are eerily similar to those you might hear at your local Sunday service. While we won’t expect chiptune luminaries like [chipzel] to start busting out songs of praise at events like Square Sounds, it’s kind of awesome to think of the composers of antiquity rocking out to some mad Game Boy jams way back when.

It’s a great demonstration of the Commodore’s musical abilities, and we particularly like the application of the chromatic button layout borrowed from the accordion. We’d love to see this setup combined with an orchestra of the retro computers, like this demonstration playing The Sugar Plum Fairy. Alternatively, Billy Corgan on the Sixtyforgan playing Tiberius would be pretty great, too. Pretty sounding video after the break.

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Moving Things With Electricity

We use electricity to move things with the help of motors and magnets all the time. But if you have enough voltage, you can move things with voltage alone. As [James] found out, though, it works best if your objects — ping pong balls, in his case — are conductive.

He wanted to add a Van de Graaff generator to add to his “great ball machine” which already has some cool ways to move ping pong balls. However, to get the electrostatic motion, [James] had to resort to spraying the balls with RF shielding spray.

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Oh Brother, Would You Look At This Cistercian Clock

We were beginning to think we’d seen it all when it comes to RGB clocks, but [andrei.erdei] found a fast path back into our hearts and minds. This clock is a digital representation of an ancient numeral system used by 13th century Cistercian monks before the Indo-Arabic system that we know and love today took over. It’s a compact system (at least for numbers 1-9,999) that produces numerals which sort of look like 16-segment displays gone crazy.

Image via Wikipedia

Every numeral has a line down the middle, and the system uses the four quadrants of space around it to display the ones, tens, hundreds, and thousands positions starting in the upper right corner.

[andrei] adapted the system to show time by assigning tens of hours to the thousands quadrant in the bottom left, hours to the hundreds quadrant in the bottom right, tens of minutes in the upper left, and minutes in the top right. The tricky part is that the system has no zero, but [andrei] just darkens the appropriate quadrant to represent zero.

The timekeeping is done with an ESP-01, and there are a total of 31 RGB LEDs including the middle bit, which blinks like a proper digital clock and doubles as a second hand. As usual, [andrei] has provided everything you’d need to build one of these for yourself. We admit that the system would take a little time to learn, but even if you never bothered to learn, this would make a nice conversation piece or focal point for sitting and staring. Take a minute to check it out in action after the break.

We love a good clock build no matter how it works. Sink your teeth into this clock that’s driven by a tuning fork.

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Put The Perfect Point On Your Tungstens With This Die Grinder Attachment

Aspiring TIG welders very quickly learn the importance of good tungsten electrode grinding skills. All it takes is a moment’s distraction or a tiny tremor in the torch hand to plunge the electrode into the weld pool, causing it to ball up and stop performing its vital function. Add to that the fussy nature of the job — tungstens must only be ground parallel to the long axis, never perpendicular, and at a consistent angle — and electrode maintenance can become a significant barrier to the TIG beginner.

A custom tungsten grinder like this one might be just the thing to flatten that learning curve. It comes to us by way of [The Metalist], who turned an electric die grinder into a pencil sharpener for tungsten electrodes. What we find fascinating about this build is the fabrication methods used, as well as the simplicity of the toolkit needed to accomplish it. The housing of the attachment is built up from scraps of aluminum tubing and sheet stock, welded together and then shaped into a smooth, unibody form that almost looks like a casting. Highlights include the mechanism for adjusting the angle of the grind as well as the clever way to slit the body of the attachment so it can be clamped to the nosepiece of the die grinder. We also thought the inclusion of a filter to capture tungsten dust was a nice touch; most TIG electrodes contain a small amount of lanthanum or thorium, so their slight radioactivity is probably best not inhaled.

We love builds like this that make a tedious but necessary job a little quicker and easier to bear, and anything that stands to make us a better welder — from simple purpose-built fixtures to large-scale rotary tables — is OK in our book.

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Bluetooth PS3 Controllers Modernize The Nintendo GameCube

While the PlayStation 3 and Gamecube come from opposing sides of the aisle, and in fact aren’t even from the same generation of hardware, this DIY adapter built by [Jeannot] allows Nintendo’s console to use Sony’s Bluetooth controllers with surprisingly little fuss. This might seem unnecessary given the fact that Nintendo put out an official wireless controller for the system, but given how expensive they are on the second-hand market, you’d need to have pretty deep pockets for an untethered four-player session. Plus, there’s plenty of people who simply prefer the more traditional control layout offered by Sony’s pad.

The internals of the 3D printed adapter are actually quite straightforward, consisting of nothing more than an Arduino Nano wired to a MAX3421E USB host shield. A common USB Bluetooth adapter is plugged into the shield, and the enclosure has an opening so it can be swapped out easily; which is important since that’s what the PS3 controller is actually paired to.

A Gamecube controller extension cable must be sacrificed to source the male connector, though if you wanted to fully commit to using Bluetooth controllers, it seems like you could turn this into an internal modification fairly easily. That would let you solder right to the controller port’s pads on the PCB, cutting the bill of materials down ever further.

[Jeannot] says the firmware is the product of combining a few existing libraries with a fair amount of experimentation, but as demonstrated in the video below, it works well enough to navigate the console’s built-in menu system. Future enhancements include getting the stick sensitivity closer to the values for the Gamecube’s standard controller, and adapting the code to work with newer PS4 controllers.

We’ve seen a fair amount of projects dedicated to the Gamecube’s official wireless controller, the Wavebird. From reverse engineering its RF communications protocol to adapting it for use with Nintendo’s latest console. There’s little debate that the Wavebird is a fine piece of engineering, but with how cheap and plentiful PlayStation controllers are, they tend to be the one hackers reach for when they want a dual-stick interface for their latest creation.

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A Few Of My Favorite Things: Pens

Pens! They just might be the cheapest, most important piece of technology ever overlooked by a large group of people on a daily basis. Pens are everywhere from your desk to your car to your junk drawer, though they tend to blink out of existence when you need one. Where would we be without them? Probably still drawing on cave walls with dandelions and beets.

Photo of a Pilot Metropolitan by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Why do I think pens are so great? Well, they’re a relatively cheap tool depending on the pen you get, but whatever you spend, you’re getting a lot for your money. Pens are possibility, pure and simple, and they’re even conveniently packaged in a portable device.

Aesthetically speaking, I like pens because of how different they can be both inside and out. Some of them make thick lines, some make thin lines, and in the case of flexible nibs, some alternate between thick and thin lines depending on pressure. I use pens for a number of reasons, most notably for writing. Everything you read here that bears my name began life as pen marks on paper.

Pens are revolutionary because they can be used to make ideas permanent and/or illustrate any concept. It’s up to you to use the pen wisely. You can use other, better tools later, but pens are always a great first tool. If you’re not encumbered by an uncomfortable grip, ink that skips, or a scratchy, draggy contact point, your ideas will flow more freely. When you find the right pen for you, you aren’t hindered by your tool — you’re elevated by it. Continue reading “A Few Of My Favorite Things: Pens”

Physics Of Lightning Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, March 31 at noon Pacific for the Physics of Lightning Hack Chat with Greg Leyh!

Of all the things that were around to terrify our ancestors, lightning must have been right up there on the list. Sure, the savannahs were teeming with things that wanted to make lunch out of you, but to see a streak of searing blue-white light emerge from a cloud to smite a tree out of existence must have been a source of dread to everyone. Even now, knowing much more about how lightning happens and how to protect ourselves from it, it’s still pretty scary stuff to be around.

But for as much as we know about lightning, there are plenty of unanswered questions about its nature. To get to the bottom of this, Greg Leyh wants to build a lightning machine of gargantuan proportions: a pair of 120 foot (36 m) tall Tesla towers. Each 10-story tower will generate 8.8 million volts and recreate the conditions inside storm clouds. It’s an ambitious goal, but Greg and his team at Lightning on Demand have already built and demonstrated a 1/3-scale prototype Tesla tower, which is impressively powerful in its own right.

As you can imagine, there are a ton of engineering details that have to be addressed to make a Tesla tower work, not to mention the fascinating physics going on inside a machine like this. Greg will stop by the Hack Chat to answer our questions about the physics of lightning, as well as the engineering needed to harness these forces and call the lightning down from the sky.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, March 31 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you tied up, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.
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