RIP Lou Ottens, Developer Of The Compact Cassette And More

It’s with sadness that we note the passing at the age of 94 of the long-time Phillips engineer Lou Ottens, who is best known as the originator of the Compact Cassette audio tape format that was so ubiquitous through the later decades of the 20th century. Whether you remember cassettes as the format for 8-bit software, for teenage mixtapes on a Walkman, they began life at his hands in the early 1960s at the Phillips factory in Hasselt, Belgium.

Through a long career with the Dutch electronics company, he was responsible either directly or in part for a string of consumer electronic devices that we would see as ubiquitous over the latter half of the century. Before the cassette he had developed the company’s first portable reel-to-reel tape recorder, and in the 1970s while technical director of their audio division he led the team that would develop the CD. He was reported as saying that his great regret was not beating Sony to the development of the miniature cassette player that would be sold as the Walkman, but we’d suggest that the Walkman would not have been possible without the cassette in the first place.

So next time you handle a cassette tape, spare a thought for Lou, an audio engineer whose work permeated so much of the last half-century.

Thanks [Carl] for the tip.

Images: Lou Ottens by Jordi Huisman CC BY-SA 4.0 and “An early Phillips cassette recorder” by mib18 CC BY-SA 3.0


Mini CNC Mill Goes Horizontal To Reuse CD Drives

Here at Hackaday, we pride ourselves on bringing you the freshest of hacks, preferably as soon as we find out about them. Thanks to the sheer volume of cool hacks out there, though, we do miss one occasionally, like this e-waste horizontal CNC mill that we just found out about.

Aptly called the “CDCNC” thanks to its reliance on cast-off CD drive mechanisms for its running gear, [Paul McClay]’s creation is a great case study on what you can do without buying almost any new parts. It’s also an object lesson in not getting caught in standard design paradigms. Where most CNC mills mount the spindle vertically, [Paul] tilted the whole thing 90 degrees so the spindle lies on its side. Moving it back and forth on a pair of CD drive mechanisms is far easier than fighting gravity for control, and as a bonus the X- and Y-axes have minimal loading too. The video below shows the mill in action, and it’s easy to see how the horizontal arrangement really helps make this junk bin build into something special.

We think [Paul] did a great job of thinking around the problem with this build, and we’re glad he took the time to tip us off. Apparently it was the upcoming CNC on the Desktop Hack Chat that moved him to let us know about this build. Here’s hoping he drops by for the chat and shares his experience with us.

Continue reading “Mini CNC Mill Goes Horizontal To Reuse CD Drives”

Continuous Integration: What It Is And Why You Need It

If you write software, chances are you’ve come across Continuous Integration, or CI. You might never have heard of it – but you wonder what all the ticks, badges and mysterious status icons are on open-source repositories you find online. You might hear friends waxing lyrical about the merits of CI, or grumbling about how their pipeline has broken again.

Want to know what all the fuss is about? This article will explain the basic concepts of CI, but will focus on an example, since that’s the best way to understand it. Let’s dive in. Continue reading “Continuous Integration: What It Is And Why You Need It”

Creating A Sonic Landscape With Glitching CD Player

CDs were a great advancement in audio quality when they were first put on the market. There’s no vinyl-style degradation of the medium if it’s played over and over, and there’s no risk of turning them into a giant pile of ribbon while rewinding like a cassette tape. The one downside was that if you were to take them on the move you needed special hardware and software to prevent the inevitable skipping. If you look at the skipping not as a downside, though, but as a way to produce interesting music, you might end up with a pretty unique piece of hardware.

[Dmitry] is known for his interesting art installations, and the latest one uses parts from three 1988 Sony D2 CD players that have been reassembled in order to take advantage of a skipping and glitching CD. The modified equipment is able to play during pause or rewind thanks to a processor modification, and can also change the rotational speed of the disc. There are other pieces of hardware included for more fine control of glitching and skipping of the audio being read off of the CD.

The new device functions as a working musical instrument, although [Dmitry] says that it is more useful for deconstructing the information stored on the disc, and exploring the medium itself. Of course if you have enough motivation, you can find sounds from almost anywhere on (or in) the planet too.

The CD Is 40, The CD Is Dead

The Compact Disc is 40 years old, and for those of us who remember its introduction it still has that sparkle of a high-tech item even as it slides into oblivion at the hands of streaming music services.

There was a time when a rainbow motif was extremely futuristic. Bill Bertram (CC BY-SA 2.5)
There was a time when a rainbow motif was extremely futuristic. Bill Bertram (CC BY-SA 2.5)

If we could define a moment at which consumers moved from analogue technologies to digital ones, the announcement of the CD would be a good place to start. The public’s coolest tech to own in the 1970s was probably an analogue VCR or a CB radio, yet almost overnight they switched at the start of the ’80s to a CD player and a home computer. The CD player was the first place most consumers encountered a laser of their own, which gave it an impossibly futuristic slant, and the rainbow effect of the pits on a CD became a motif that wove its way into the design language of the era. Very few new technologies since have generated this level of excitement at their mere sight, instead today’s consumers accept new developments as merely incremental to the tech they already own while simultaneously not expecting them to have longevity.
Continue reading “The CD Is 40, The CD Is Dead”

A Low-Cost Mini PCB Printer

The next great advancement in homebrew electronics is an easy way to turn copper clad board into functional circuit boards. This has been done since the 60s with etch resist pens, sheets of etch resist rub-on transfers, the ever-popular photocopy and clothes iron, and now with small CNC mills. It’s still a messy, slow, and expensive process. [johnowhitaker] and [esot.eric] are trying to solve the latter of these problems with a mini PCB printer made out of DVD drives.

Playing around with the guts of a DVD drive is something [john] and [eric] have been doing for a while now, and for good reason. There’s a lot of interesting tech in DVD drives, with motors, steppers, and gears able to make very, very accurate and precise movements. Most PCBs aren’t very big, either, so a laser cutter that can only traverse an area a few inches square isn’t that much of a downside in this case.

With a small diode laser mounted to a CNC gantry constructed out of DVD drives, the process of making a PCB is actually pretty simple. First, a slurry of laser printer toner and alcohol is applied to the board. Next, the laser on this PCB printer lases over the traces and copper fills, melting the toner. The board is removed, the excess toner wiped off, and the unwanted copper is melted away. Simple, even if it is a little messy.

Of course this method cannot do plated traces like your favorite Internet-based board house, but this does have a few advantages over any other traditional homebrew method. It’s cheap, since CD and DVD drive mechanisms are pretty much standardized between manufacturers. It’s also easy to add soldermask printing to this build, given that soldermasks can be cured with light. It’s a very cool build, and one that would find a home in thousands of garages and hackerspaces around the world.

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Tricking An Ancient Protocol To Play Tunes

A lot of technological milestones were reached in 2007. The first iPhone, for example, was released that January, and New Horizons passed Jupiter later on that year. But even with all of these amazing achievements, Volvo still wasn’t putting auxiliary inputs on the stereo systems in their cars. They did have antiquated ports in their head units though, and [Kalle] went about engineering this connector to accommodate an auxiliary input.

The connector in question is an 8-pin DIN in the back, which in the days of yore (almost eight years ago) would have been used for a CD changer. Since CDs are old news now, [Kalle] made use of this feature for the hack. The first hurdle was that the CD changer isn’t selectable from the menu unless the head unit confirms that there’s something there. [Kalle] used an Arduino Nano to fool the head unit by simulating the protocol that the CD changer would have used. From there, the left and right audio pins on the same connector were used to connect the auxiliary cable.

If you have a nearly-antique Volvo like [Kalle] that doesn’t have an aux input and you want to try something like this, the source code for the Arduino is available on the project page. Of course, if you don’t have a Volvo, there are many other ways to go about hacking an auxiliary input into various other devices, like an 80s boombox or the ribbon cable on a regular CD player. Things don’t always go smoothly, though, so there are a few nonstandard options as well.