Rocking Out On A Limb With LE STRUM

It’s hard to imagine 80s Synth-pop without the keytar, and yet this majestic Centaur of a musical instrument rarely gets much love, and their players are often the target of ridicule. It almost seems as if being hung around the neck should be a privilege solely reserved for stringed instruments. Well, [midierror] has at least that part somewhat right then, with the Full On MIDI Leg that is guaranteed to make every keytarist look like a prestigious cellist in comparison.

What looks like the 1987 movie Mannequin taking a dark, Mengelesque turn, is as awesome as it is bizarre, thanks to building the concept of the LE STRUM into, well, a leg. LE STRUM itself is an open source MIDI instrument built by [Jason Hotchkiss], who describes it as “a cross between a Stylophone and an Omnichord”. It consists of a set of buttons to select different combinations of chords, that can than be strummed by scratching an attached stylus over an array of contact pads. However, [midierror], who also distributes a pre-assembled version of the LE STRUM, uses strings instead of contact pads, and a pick for the actual strumming, turning this into a close-enough string instrument.

The only thing missing now is a functioning knee joint, and maybe some inspiration from this MIDI-controlled concertina, and we’d be ready to revolutionize the accordion world with the, uhm, kneetar? And since it’s built around a PIC16, this thigh-slapper won’t even cost you an ARM, just the leg — but enough already with these toe-curling puns.

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Come On Baby Light My Fire Button

While the Nintendo GameCube stood deep in the shadows of the PS2 in its day, its controller remains a popular target for all sorts of modifications today — many of them involving LEDs, thanks to a translucent bottom and button option. As an avid player of the Super Smash Bros. series, [goomysmash] is of course an owner of the very same controller, which motivated him to write GoomWave, a “versatile and hackable LED library”. In an impressively detailed Instructable, he shows how to modify your own controller in two different ways to make use of the library for yourself.

Initially inspired by the Shinewave mod that lights up RGB LEDs in colors associated to pre-defined moves in Smash Bros, [goomysmash] aimed to improve on it and add more versatility from the very beginning. Its latest iteration comes in a simplified ABXY-buttons-only variety using an ATtiny85, and a full-blown all-button variety using an Arduino Nano. Both of them are powered straight from the controller board, and have different modes where they either react to controller interactions, or are just custom lights. A brief showcasing of all the different modes can be seen in the video after the break, and there a few more details also in an older version’s video, also embedded below.

Mesmerizing LED-blinking aside, we just have to admire the diligence and cleanliness [goomysmash] put into the wiring and fitting everything inside the controller. But in case light mods aren’t your thing or you’re looking for other GameCube controller modifications, how about adding Bluetooth?

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LED Matrix Takes You Down To Nixieland

It’s said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Sure, there are some who might simply sugarcoat blatant plagiarism with fancy quotes, but there are still cases that come from well-intended, genuine admiration. The Nixie tube with its ember-like glow is a component that definitely gets a lot of such admiration, and being a fond LED enthusiast, [tuenhidiy] saw a perfect opportunity to imitate them with a RGB LED Matrix and build a virtual Nixie clock from it.

What may sound like just displaying images of Nixie tubes on a LED matrix, is actually exactly that. Using the UTFT library and converter, [tuenhidiy] turned pictures of individually lit-up Nixie tube digits into arrays of 16bit RGB values, and shows the current time on an ESP32-controlled 64×64 matrix with them. Providing two different image sizes, you can either place two tubes next to each other, or in a 3×2 arrangement, and of course have plenty of flexibility for future extensions. In the demo video after the break, you can see the two options in action while displaying both the full time, and only the seconds.

Unfortunately, it’s always difficult to judge an LED project through the lens of a camera, especially when looking for the characteristic color of a Nixie tube, but we take [tuenhidiy]’s word that it resembles it a lot better in reality. On the other hand, the pixelated look certainly adds its own charm, so you might as well go completely overboard with the colors — something we’ve seen with a different LED-themed Nixie alternative a little while back.

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Mitigating Con Deprivation: Disobey 2020

While the Coronavirus-induced lockdown surely makes life easier for the socially anxious and awkward ones among us, it also takes away the one thing that provides a feeling of belonging and home: conferences. Luckily, there are plenty of videos of past events available online, helping to bypass the time until we can mingle among like-minded folks again. To put one additional option on the list, one event you probably never even heard of is Disobey, Finland’s annual security conference that took place for its fifth time in Helsinki earlier this year, and they recently published the playlist of this year’s talks on their YouTube channel.

With slightly under 1500 hackers, makers, and generally curious people attending this year, Disobey is still on the smaller side of conferences, but comes with everything you’d expect: talks, workshops, CTF challenges, and a puzzle-ridden badge. Labeling itself as “The Nordic Security Event”, its main focus is indeed on computer and network security, and most of the talks are presented by professional security researchers, oftentimes Red Teamers, telling about some of their real-world work.

In general, every talk that teaches something new, discusses important matters, or simply provides food for thought and new insight is worth watching, but we also don’t want to give everything away here either. The conference’s program page offers some outline of all the talks if you want to check some more information up front. But still, we can’t just mention a random conference and not give at least some examples with few details on what to expect from it either, so let’s do that.

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Did Grandma Remember Her Pills? This Dispenser Tells You!

Everything has to be smart these days, and while smartening things up is a good incentive to tip your own toes into the whole IoT field, many of these undertakings are oftentimes just solutions looking for a problem. Best case, however, you actually make someone’s life easier with it, or help a person in need. For [Guli Morad] and [Dekel Binyamin], it was a bit of both when they built their automated pill dispenser: help people dependent on taking medication, and ease the mind of those worrying whether they actually remembered to.

Using an ESP8266 and a rather simple construct comprised of a set of servos with plastic sheets attached, and a plastic tube with strategically placed cuts for each pill type, a predefined amount of each of the pills can be automatically dispensed into a box — either at a given time, or on demand — using a Node-RED web interface. A reed switch mounted on the box then monitors if it was actually opened within a set time, and if not, informs emergency contacts about it through the Telegram app. Sure, a tenacious medication recipient might easily fool the system, but not even adding a precision scale to make sure the pills are actually taken out could counter a pill-reluctant patient of such kind, so it’s safe to assume that this is primarily about preventing simple forgetfulness.

Their proof of concept is currently limited to only two different types of pills, but with enough PWM outputs to control the servos, this should be easily scalable to any amount. And while the built may not be as sophisticated as some pill dispensers we’ve seen entering the Hackaday Prize a few years back, it still gets its main task done. Plus, when it comes to people’s health, a good-enough solution is always better than a perfect idea that remains unimplemented.

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All About That Bass – Marble Machine X Keeps Growing

We’re okay if you call out Not A Hack™ on this one, because “hack” really doesn’t do justice to the creations of [Martin] from [Wintergatan]. You’re probably familiar with the Marble Machine that went viral a few years ago, and while it was impressive as-is back then, and most people would have declared the project finished at that point, it has turned into a seemingly never-ending work-in-progress project that has certainly come a long way ever since. Its latest addition: the Cyber Capos as upgrade for the bass, and you can find out all about it in its build video — also embedded below.

If you play a string instrument and ever used a capo — the clamping little helper device to smack the pitch up — you may have found yourself wishing that you could use it on any arbitrary fret on each string. Sure, there are partial capos and the spider capo to select individual strings, but you’re still limited to transpose along a single fret. Well, [Martin]’s Cyber Capos, a mechanical construct of four arms sliding along the neck, serve exactly that purpose, which allows him to free up his hands for other things while the marbles keep bouncing.

But you don’t have to be a bass player, or any musician really, to appreciate [Martin]’s build videos. We praised his general attitude and hacker-like spirit already the first time we mentioned the Marble Machine, and just watching him getting excited about his work and the appreciation for people supporting and assisting in the project, while embracing his mistakes, is a genuine delight.

Needless to say that [Martin] likes some uniqueness in music instruments, and the bass with its separate volume control and output for each string qualifies on its own for that. If you’re curious about more on that, there’s another video about it embedded after the break. And for the really impatient ones, you can see the capos in action in the first video around the 12:35 mark.

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Passing The Time By Reading The Time

Binary clocks are a great way to confuse your non-technical peers when they ask the time from you — not that knowing about the binary system would magically give you quick reading skills of one yourself. In that case, they’re quite a nice little puzzle, and even a good alternative to the quarantine clocks we’ve come across a lot recently, since you can simply choose not to bother trying to figure out the exact time. But with enough training, you’ll eventually get the hang of it, and you might be in need for a new temporal challenge. Well, time to level up then, and the Cryptic Wall Clock built by [tomatoskins] will definitely keep you busy with that.

Example of the clock showing 08:44:47
Diagram of the clock showing 08:44:47

If you happen to be familiar with the Mengenlehreuhr in Berlin, this one here uses the same concept, but is built in a circular shape, giving it more of a natural clock look. And if you’re not familiar with the Mengenlehreuhr (a word so nice, we had to write it twice), the way [tomatoskins]’ clock works is to construct the time in 24-hour format by lighting up several sections in the five LED rings surrounding a center dot.

Starting from the innermost ring, each section of the rings represent intervals of 5h, 1h, 5m, 1m, and 2s, with 4, 4, 11, 4, and 29 sections per ring respectively. The center dot simply adds an additional second. The idea is to multiply each lit up section by the interval it represents, and add the time together that way. So if each ring has exactly one section lit up, the time is 06:06:02 without the dot, and 06:06:03 with the dot — but you will find some more elaborate examples in his detailed write-up.

This straightforward and yet delightfully unintuitive concept will definitely keep you scratching your head a bit, though you can always go weirder with the Roman numerals palm tree clock for example. But don’t worry, [tomatoskins] has also a more classic, nonetheless fascinating approach in his repertoire.