Sometimes you have an idea that is so brilliant and so crazy that you just have to make it a reality. In 2011, [Look Mum No Computer] drew up plans in his notebook for a Furby organ, an organ comprised of a keyboard and a choir of Furbies. For those who don’t know what a Furby is, it’s a small, cute, furry robotic toy which speaks Furbish and a large selection of human languages. 40 million were sold during its original production run between 1998 and 2000 and many more since. Life intervened though, and, [LMNK] abandoned the Furby organ only to recently take it up again.
He couldn’t get a stable note out of the unmodified Furbies so he instead came up with what he’s calling the Furby Forman Fusion Synthesis. Each Furby is controlled by a pair of Ardunios. One Arduino sequences parts inside the Furby and the other produces a formant note, making the Furby sing vowels.
We love the label he’s given for what would otherwise be the power switch, namely the Collective Awakening switch. Flicking it causes all 44 (we count 45 but he says 44) Furbies to speak up while moving their ears, eyes, and beaks. Pressing the Loop switch makes them hold whatever sound they happen to be making. The Vowel dial changes the vowel. But you’ll just have to see and hear it for yourself in the videos below. The second video also has construction details.
What do you get if you cross a Furby with a master of 20th Century literature? The Borgy. Argentinian hacker [Roni Bandini] found an old Furby and decided to hack it by altering its personality. His inspiration was the Argentinian writer Jorge Louis Borges, one of the pioneers of surrealist writing. The idea is that, at random times during the day, the Borgy will share a bit of wisdom from Borges to inspire and enlighten.
[Roni] hacked the Furby to replace the speaker with a more powerful one, and built a base to hold the larger speaker and a switch which can activate Borgy. He also used an Arduino Nano and a Sparkfun MP3 player shield loaded with the samples of Borges.
When the Furby speaks, it shares some wisdom from Borges. It’s a simple, but a surprisingly effective hack that could be very useful for someone seeking inspiration. Or, as Borges himself once said: “Don’t talk unless you can improve the silence.”
You know, we’re not sure how this escaped our attention for so long. Blame it on the summer heat. Did you know that [Look Mum No Computer] opened a museum of obsolete technology a few weeks ago?
This Museum is (Not) Obsolete is located by the seaside in the Ramsgate section of Kent, England, where you’ll also find the Micro Museum, a collection of computing and video game history. [LMNK] says it took 10 months to build the museum, which is a maze of vintage delights including decades of computers and computer accessories, signal generators, VFDs, vacuum tubes, old phone equipment, and 50 years’ worth of 150-in-one electronics kits. This list doesn’t even sort of start to scratch the surface.
Around every turn there are forgotten technological gems and never-heard-ofs, plus the space is peppered with [LMNK]’s own superb synth creations. (Who could forget the Furby Organ?) The goal is to make it as interactive as possible, and to keep growing the collection. So far, [LMNK] has welcomed visitors of all backgrounds and ages, which is exactly what he was after. Can’t quite make it to Ramsgate? Us either. Do what we did and take the video tour below.
The tape recorder was an invention that kicked off a golden period of exploration in sound. Beginning in World War II, the Nazi propaganda machine cut and spliced recorded materials and disseminated them across broadcasting stations in Europe. To the astonishment of the Allies, certain German officials appeared to be making broadcasts from different studios at the same time, due to the high quality of the recording hardware. After the war, this technology was discovered by a group of Parisian recording artists who began to experiment with an art that became known as musique concrète, using tape hardware in weird and wonderful ways to create new sounds heretofore unheard in nature.
Digital electronics are all well and good, but it’s hard to ignore the organic, living qualities of the analog realm. It’s these circuits that Kelly Heaton spends her time with, building artistic creations that meld the fine arts with classic analog hardware to speak to the relationship between electronics and nature. During her talk at the 2019 Hackaday Superconference, Kelly shared the story of her journey toward what she calls Electronic Naturalism, and what the future might bring.
Kelly got her start like many in the maker scene. Hers was a journey that began by taking things apart, with the original Furby being a particular inspiration. After understanding the makeup of the device, she began to experiment, leading to the creation of the Reflection Loop sculpture in 2001, with the engineering assistance of Steven Grey. Featuring 400 reprogrammed Furbys, the device was just the beginning of Kelly’s artistic experimentation. With an interest in electronics that mimicked life, Kelly then moved on to the Tickle Me Elmo. Live Pelt (2003) put 64 of the shaking Muppets into a wearable coat, that no doubt became unnerving to wear for extended periods.
Analog electronics parallel living organisms while programmable logic merely simulates life.
Wanting to create art with a strong relationship to organic processes, Kelly focused on working with discrete components and analog circuitry. Basic building blocks such as the astable multivibrator became key tools that were used in different combinations to produce the desired effects. Through chaining several oscillators together, along with analog sequencers, circuits could be created that mimicked the sound of crickets in a backyard, or a Carolina wren singing in a tree.
Digitally stored music is just data. But not long ago, music was analog and required machines with moving parts. If you have never owned a record player, you at least know what they look like, now that there’s a(nother) vinyl revival. What you may not be aware of is that the player’s stylus needs to be aligned. It makes sense, that hypersensitive needle can’t be expected to perform well if it’s tearing across a record like a drift racer.
There are professional tools for ensuring alignment, but it’s not something you’ll need each day. [Ali Naci Erdem] shows us his trick for combining a printable template with a mirror to get the same results without the professional tool costs. Instead of ordinary printer paper, he prints the template on a piece of clear plastic and lays it across a small mirror. These are both items which can be picked up at a hobby store, which is not something we can say about a record player mirror protractor.
Before Bluetooth, before the Internet of Things, and before network-connected everything, infrared was king. In the 90s, personal organizers, keyboards, Furbys, and critical infrastructure was built on infrared. Some of these devices are still around, hiding in plain sight. This means there’s a lot of opportunities for some very fun exploits. This was the focus of [Mike Ossmann] and [Dominic Spill]’s talk at this year’s Shmoocon, Exploring The Infrared World. What’s the hook? Using software-defined radio with terahertz frequencies.
Infrared communication hasn’t improved since the days of IrDA ports on laptops, and this means the hardware required to talk to these devices is exceptionally simple. The only thing you need is an IR phototransistor and a 4.7k resistor. This is enough to read signals, but overkill is the name of the game here leading to the development of the Gladiolus GreatFET neighbor. This add-on board for the GreatFET is effectively a software defined IR transceiver capable of playing with IrDA, 20 to 60 kHz IR remote control systems, and other less wholesome applications.
Demos are a necessity, but the world seems to have passed over IR in the last decade. That doesn’t mean there still aren’t interesting targets. A week before Shmoocon, [Mike Ossmann] put out the call on Twitter for a traffic light and the associated hardware. Yes, police cars and ambulances use infrared signaling to turn traffic lights green. You shouldn’t. You can, but you shouldn’t.
What was the takeaway from this talk? IR still exists, apparently. Yes, you can use it to send documents directly from your PalmPilot to a laser printer without any wires whatsoever. One of the more interesting applications for IR is an in-car wireless headphone unit that sends something almost, but not quite, like pulse coded audio over infrared. The demo that drew the most applause was an infrared device that changed traffic lights to green. The information to do that is freely available on the web, but you seriously don’t want to attempt that in the wild.