Live Floppy Music Adds Elegance To Any Event

It wasn’t long after early humans started banging rocks together that somebody in the tribe thought they could improve on things a bit by doing it with a little rhythm. As such the first musician was born, and since it would be a couple million years before humanity figured out how to record sound, musical performances had to be experienced live throughout most of history. On the cosmic scale of things, Spotify only shows up about a zeptosecond before the big bash at midnight.

So its only fitting that [Linus Åkesson] has perfected the musical floppy drive to the point that it can now be played live. We understand the irony of this being demonstrated via the video below the break, but we think it still gets the point across — rather than having to get a whole array of carefully-scripted drives going to perform something that even comes close to a musical number, he’s able to produce tones by manipulating a single drive in real-time.

In his write-up, [Linus] not only goes over the general nuts and bolts of making music with floppy drives, but specifically explains how this Commodore 1541-II drive has been modified for its new life as a digital virtuoso. From his experiments to determine which drive moves corresponded to the most pleasing sounds, to the addition of a small microphone and a piezo sensor paired with an LMC662-based amplifier to provide a high-fidelity capture of the drive’s sounds and vibrations, there’s a lot of valuable info here for anyone else looking to make some sweet tunes with their old gear.

We’ve seen something of a resurgence of the floppy drive this year, with folks like Adafruit digging into the classic storage medium, and an experimental project to allow the Arduino IDE to create bootable x86 floppies. You won’t hear any complaints from us — while they might not offer much capacity compared to more modern tech, there’s something about a stack of multi-colored disks with hastily applied labels that warms our cold robotic hearts.

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Hackaday Links: September 26, 2021

Dealing with breakdowns is certainly nothing new for drivers; plenty of us have had our ride die in mid-flight, and experienced the tense moment when it happens in traffic. But the highly integrated and instrumented nature of the newest generation of electric vehicles can bring an interesting twist to the roadside breakdown, if the after-action report of a Tesla driver is any indication.

While driving on a busy road at night, driver [Pooch] reports that his Tesla Model S started beeping and flashing warnings to get to the side of the road right away. [Pooch] tried to do so, but the car died, coasted to a stop in the middle of the road, and engaged the parking brakes. The bricked Tesla would have been a sitting duck in the middle of the road but for a DOT crew who happened to be nearby and offered to provide some protection while [Pooch] waited for help. The disturbing part was the inability to get the car into any of the service modes that might let it be pushed off to the shoulder rather than stuck in traffic, something that’s trivial to do in ICE vehicles, at least older ones.

In other electric vehicle news, Chevy Bolt owners are turning into the pariahs of the parking garage. General Motors is telling Bolt EV and EUV owners that due to the risk of a battery fire, they should park at least 50 feet (15 meters) away from other vehicles, and on the top level of any parking structures. There have been reports of twelve battery fires in Bolts in the US recently, which GM says may be due to a pair of manufacturing defects in the battery packs that sometimes occur together. GM is organizing a recall to replace the modules, but isn’t yet confident that the battery supplier won’t just be replicating the manufacturing problem. The social distancing rules that GM issued go along with some fairly stringent guidelines for charging the vehicle, including not charging overnight while parked indoors. With winter coming on in the northern hemisphere, that’s going to cause a bit of inconvenience and probably more than a few cases of non-compliance that could end in tragedy.

Fans of electronic music might want to check out “Sisters with Transistors”, a documentary film about some of the pioneering women of electronic music. Electronic music has been around a lot longer than most of us realize, and the film reaches back to the 1920s with Theremin virtuoso Clara Rockmore, and continues on into the 1980s with Laurie Spiegel, whose synthesizer work has been speeding away from Earth for the last 44 years on the Golden Records aboard the Voyager spacecraft. Hackaday readers will no doubt recognize some of the other women featured, like Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire, who cobbled together the early Dr. Who music with signal generators, tape loops, and random bits of electronics in the pre-synthesizer days of the early 60s. We’ve watched the trailer for the film and it looks pretty good — just the kind of documentary we like.

We’re big fans of circuit sculpture around here, and desperately wish we had the patience and the skill to make something like Mohit Bhoite or Jiri Praus can make. Luckily, there’s now a bit of a shortcut — Geeek Club’s Cyber Punk PCB Construction Kit. These kits are a little like the love child of Lego and PCBWay, with pieces etched and cut from PCB stock. You punch the pieces out, clean up the mouse bites, put Tab A into Slot B, and solder to make the connection permanent. Each kit has some components for the requisite blinkenlight features, which add to the cool designs. Looks like a fun way to get someone started on soldering, or to build your own skills.

And finally, another nail was driven into the coffin of Daylight Savings Time this week, as the island nation of Samoa announced they wouldn’t be “springing ahead” as scheduled this weekend. Daylight Savings Time has become a bone of contention around the world lately, and mounting research shows that the twice-yearly clock changes cause more trouble than they may be worth. In Europe, it’s due to be banned as soon as all the member nations can agree on normal time or summer time.

In the case of Samoa, DST was put into effect in 2010 on the assumption that it would give plantation workers more productive hours in the field and save energy. Instead, the government found that the time change just gave people an excuse to socialize more, which apparently upset them enough to change the rule. So there you have it — if you don’t like Daylight Savings Time, start partying it up.

Ask Hackaday: What Can Only A Computer Do?

It is easy to apply computers to improve things we already understand. For example, instead of a piano today, you might buy a synthesizer. It looks and works — sometimes — as a piano. But it can also do lots of other things like play horns, or accompany you with a rhythm track or record and playback your music. There’s plenty of examples of this: word processors instead of typewriters, MP3 players instead of tape decks, and PDF files instead of printed material. But what about something totally new? I was thinking of this while looking at Sonic Pi, a musical instrument you play by coding.

But back to the keyboard, the word processor, and the MP3 player. Those things aren’t so much revolutionary as they are evolutionary. Even something like digital photography isn’t all that revolutionary. Sure, most of us couldn’t do all the magic you can do in PhotoShop in a dark room, but some wizards could. Most of us couldn’t lay out a camera-ready brochure either, but people did it every day without the benefit of computers. So what are the things that we are using computers for that are totally new? What can you do with the help of a computer that you absolutely couldn’t without?

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Music Production Studio In A Box

[Emil Smith] is an electronic music producer in the Greater London area. He spent a lot of time commuting in and out of central London, so he decided to put together COVERT-19, a portable music production studio. After making a couple of prototypes, [Emil] settled on what he needed from his portable studio: a sampler, a sequencer, a synthesizer, a mixer, and a way to record his work.

[Emil] didn’t overlook any details with his mechanical design. Taking the beautiful London weather into account, he designed a laser-cut plywood case that has a neoprene foam gasket to keep water out when closed and put all of the inputs and outputs on the interior of the case. Inside the case, he opted for machine screws with threaded inserts so he could disassemble and reassemble his creation as often as he liked, and he included gas springs to keep the studio open while he’s making music. [Emil] even thought to include ventilation slots to keep the built-in PC cool!

A portable studio is useless without a power supply, so [Emil] taught himself some circuit theory and bought his first soldering iron in order to create the custom power delivery system. Power is supplied by a battery of twelve 18650 cells with switching converters to supply the three different voltages his studio needs. Even with all of his music-making gear, he manages to get about four hours of battery life!

The music-making gear consists of a sequencer and synthesizer as well as a touch-screen NUC PC running Xubuntu. The built-in PC runs software that allows him to mix the audio, apply extra effects, record his creations, and save his patches when he’s done working. The system even has an extra MIDI output and audio input to allow it to incorporate an external synthesizer.

If you’re interested in getting started with MIDI synthesizers, but you’re more interested in building than buying, check out the KELPIE.

Arduino Drums Bring The Noise, No MIDI Required

When looking through existing Arduino drum kit projects, [joekutz] noticed that most of them just used the microcontroller as an input for an existing MIDI device. That’s fine if you’re just looking to build your own hardware interface, but he wondered if it would be possible to forgo the MIDI device completely and actually generate the audio internally.

To be sure, this is a lot to ask of an 8-bit microcontroller, which is probably why nobody does it this way. But [joekutz] wasn’t giving up without a fight. One of the trickiest aspects was storing the samples: the 8-bit, 11.025 KHz mono WAV files ultimately had to be converted into C data arrays with a custom Python script.

Unfortunately, since the samples are essentially part of the drum’s source code, he says distributing the firmware is something of a problem. Though it sounds as though there might be a solution to this soon for those who want to play along at home.

But don’t get the impression that this project is just software. Check out the custom impact sensors lovingly crafted from popsicle sticks and metal cut from soda cans, which have been mated with sections cut out of old DVD-Rs. Actually getting the beats out of the Arduino required the addition of a R2R DAC circuit and a TDA2822 amplifier. In the video after the break, you can hear the results for yourself.

[joekutz] is no stranger to homebrew electronic instruments. When we last heard from him, he was turning a very pink keyboard into his own personal circuit bending playground.

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Hackaday Links: May 24, 2020

We’re saddened to learn of the passing of Gershon Kingsley in December 2019 at the age of 97. The composer and electronic music pioneer was not exactly a household name, but the things he did with the Moog synthesizer, especially the surprise hit “Pop Corn”, which he wrote in 1969, are sure to be familiar. The song has been covered dozens of times, in the process of which the spelling of the name changed to “Popcorn.” We’re most familiar with the 1972 cover by Hot Butter, an earworm from our youth that doesn’t hide the Moog as deeply in the backing instruments as Kingsley did in the original. Or, perhaps you prefer the cover done by a robotic glockenspiel, because robotic glockenspiel.

A few months back, we covered the audacious plan to recover the radio gear from the Titanic. At the time, the potential salvors, Atlanta-based RMS Titanic, Inc., were seeking permission to cut into the submerged remains of the Titanic‘s Marconi room to remove as much of the wireless gear as possible. A federal judge granted permission for the salvage operation last Friday, giving the company the green light to prepare an expedition for this summer. The US government, through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Park Service, argued strenuously to leave the wreck be and treat it as a tomb for the 1,527 victims. For our part, we had a great discussion about the merits in the comments section of the previous article. Now that it’s a done deal, we’d love to hear what you have to say about this again.

Although life appears to be slowly returning to what passes for normal, that doesn’t mean you might not still have some cycles to spare, especially when the time spent can bolster your skillset. And so if you’re looking to adding FPGAs to your resume, check out this remote lab on FPGA vision systems offered by Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University. The setup allows you to watch lectures, download code examples, and build them on your local computer, and then upload the resulting binaries to real hardware running on the lab’s servers in Germany. It sounds like a great way to get access to FPGA hardware that you’d otherwise have a hard time laying hands on. Or, you know, you could have just come to the 2019 Hackaday Superconference.

Speaking of skill-builders, oscilloscope owners who want to sharpen their skills could do worse than to listen to the advice of a real scope jockey like Allen Wolke. He recently posted a helpful video listing the five most common reasons for your scope giving “wrong” voltage readings. Spoiler alert: the instrument is probably doing exactly what you told it to do. As a scope newbie, we found the insights very helpful, and we can imagine even seasoned users could make simple mistakes like using the wrong probe attenuation or forgetting that scope response isn’t flat across its bandwidth.

Safety tip for the gearheads among us: your jack stands might be unsafe to use. Harbor Freight, the stalwart purveyor of cheap tools, has issued a recall of two different models of its jack stands. It seems that the pawls can kick out under the right conditions, sending the supported load crashing to the ground. This qualifies as a Very Bad Day for anyone unlucky enough to be working underneath when it happens. Defective jack stands can be returned to Harbor Freight for store credit, so check your garage and be safe out there in the shop.

And finally, because everyone loves a good flame war, Ars Technica has come up with a pronunciation guide for common tech terms. We have to admit that most of these are not surprising; few among the technology literate would mispronounce “Linux” or “sudo”. We will admit to a non-fanboy level of ignorance on whether the “X” in “iOS X” was a Roman numeral or not, but learning that the “iOS” part is correctly pronounced as three syllables, not two was a bit shocking. It’s all an exercise in pedantry that reminds us of a mildly heated discussion we had around the secret Hackaday writers’ bunker and whether “a LED” or “an LED” is the correct style. If the Internet was made for anything, it was stuff like this.

Open Source Synthesizers Hack Chat

Matt Bradshaw is a musician, maker, and programmer with a degree in physics and a love for making new musical instruments. You may remember his PolyMod modular digital synthesizer from the 2018 Hackaday Prize, where it made the semifinals of the Musical Instrument Challenge. PolyMod is a customizable, modular synthesizer that uses digital rather than analog circuitry. That seemingly simple change results in a powerful ability to create polyphonic patches, something that traditional analog modular synths have a hard time with.

Please join us for this Hack Chat, in which we’ll cover:

  • The hardware behind the PolyMod, and the design decisions that led Matt to an all-digital synth
  • The pros and cons of making music digitally
  • Where the PolyMod has gone since winning the Musical Instrument Challenge semifinals

You are, of course, encouraged to add your own questions to the discussion. You can do that by leaving a comment on the Open Source Synthesizers Hack Chat and we’ll put that in the queue for the Hack Chat.

join-hack-chat

Our Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, January 23, at noon, Pacific time. If time zones got you down, 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 Hackaday.io.

You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about. And don’t forget to check out the Modular Synth Discussion, a very active chat that digs into the guts of all sorts of modular synthesizers.