MIDI All The Things Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, March 24 at noon Pacific for the MIDI All the Things Hack Chat with Tim Alex Jacobs!

In our technologically complex world, standards are a double-edged sword. While they clearly make it possible for widgets and doodads to interoperate with each other, they also tend to drift away from their original intention over time, thanks to the march of progress or even market forces. If there’s one thing you can expect about standards, it’s that they beget other standards.

One standard that has stood the test of time, with modification of course, is the Musical Instrument Digital Interface, or MIDI. It’s hard to overstate the impact MIDI has had on the music world since it was first dreamed up in the early 1980s. Started amid a Wild West of competing proprietary synchronization standards, MIDI quickly became the de facto interface for connecting electronic musical instruments together. And as it did, it moved from strictly pro-grade equipment down the market to prosumer and home users, fueled in part by the PC revolution.

Tim Alex Jacobs, who is perhaps better known as Mitxela on his YouTube channel, has long been interested in applying MIDI to unusual corners of the musical world. We’ve seen him MIDI-fy things that barely qualify as musical instruments, and also build a polyphonic synthesizer so small it fits within the shell of the DIN connector that’s so strongly associated with the MIDI standard. Tim joins us on the Hack Chat this week to talk about his experiences with MIDI, and to help us understand all the ways we can work with the interface in our builds.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, March 24 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 Hackaday.io. 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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Homebrew Metrology The CERN Way

We won’t pretend to fully grok everything going on with this open-source 8.5-digit voltmeter that [Marco Reps] built. After all, the design came from the wizards at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, home to the Large Hadron Collider and other implements of Big Science. But we will admit to finding the level of this build quality absolutely gobsmacking, and totally worth watching the video for.

As [Marco] relates, an upcoming experiment at CERN will demand a large number of precision voltmeters, the expense of which led to a homebrew design that was released on the Open Hardware Repository. “Homebrew” perhaps undersells the build a bit, though. The design calls for a consistent thermal environment for the ADC, so there’s a mezzanine level on the board with an intricately designed Peltier thermal control system, including a custom-machined heat spreader blocker. There’s also a fascinatingly complex PCB dedicated solely to provide a solid ground between the analog input connector — itself a work of electromechanical art — and the chassis ground.

The real gem of this whole build, though, is the vapor-phase reflow soldering technique [Marco] used. Rather than a more-typical infrared process, vapor-phase reflow uses a perfluropolyether (PFPE) solution with a well-defined boiling point. PCBs suspended above a bath of heated PFPE get bathed in inert vapors at a specific temperature. [Marco]’s somewhat janky setup worked almost perfectly — just a few tombstones and bridges to fix. It’s a great technique to keep in mind for that special build.

The last [Marco Reps] video we featured was a teardown of a powerful fiber laser. It’s good to see a metrology build like this one, though, and we have a feeling we’ll be going over the details for a long time.

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A Motorcycle Dashboard Straight From The ECU

Classic motorcycles are the wild west of information displays. Often lacking even basic instrumentation such as a fuel gauge and sometimes even a speedometer, motorcycles have come a long way in instrument cluster design from even 20 years ago. There’s still some room for improvement, though, and luckily a lot of modern bikes have an ECU module that can be tapped into for some extra information as [mickwheelz] illustrates with his auxiliary motorcycle dashboard.

This display is built for a modern Honda enduro, and is based upon an ESP32 module. The ESP32 is tied directly into the ECU via a diagnostic socket, unlike other similar builds that interface with a CAN bus specifically. It can monitor all of the bike’s activity including engine temperature, throttle position, intake air temperature, and whether or not the bike is in neutral. [mickwheelz] also added an external GPS sensor so the new display can also show him GPS speed and location information within the same unit.

[mickwheelz] credits a few others for making headway into the Honda ECU. [Gonzo] created a similar build using a Raspberry Pi and more rudimentary screen but was instrumental in gathering the information for this build. If you’re looking for a display of any kind for your antique motorcycle which is lacking an ECU, though, we would suggest a speedometer made with nixie tubes.

Circle Guitar Creates Wall Of Sound

In the 60s a musical recording technique called the “wall of sound” came to prominence which allowed artists to create complex layers of music resulting in a novel, rich orchestral feeling. While this technique resulted in some landmark albums (Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys for example) it took entire recording studios and many musicians to produce. This guitar, on the other hand, needs only a single musician but can create impressive walls of sound on its own thanks to some clever engineering.

Called the Circle Guitar and created by [Anthony Dickens], the novel instrument features a constantly-rotating wheel around the guitar’s pickups in the body. Various picks can be attached in different ways to the wheel which pluck the strings from behind continuously. This exceeds what a normal guitar player would be able to do on their own, but the guitarist is able to control the sounds by using several switches and pushbuttons which control a hexaphonic humbucker and are able to mute individual strings at will. Of course, this being the 21st century, it also makes extensive use of MIDI and [Anthony] even mentions the use of a Teensy.

While details on this project are admittedly a little fleeting, the videos linked below are well worth a watch for the interesting sounds this guitar is able to produce. Perhaps paired with a classic-sounding guitar amplifier it could produce other impressive walls of sound as well. Either way, we could expect someone like [Brian Wilson] to be interested in one once it is in production.

Thanks to [Mel] for the tip!

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Ondophone On Point

The name Ondophone is a mash-up of two instruments, the Marxophone, and the ondes martenot. From the Marxophone, [Wintergatan] borrows the spring-loaded hammers, which repeatedly strike a string once activated. The ondes martenot loans its Theremin-like sound and ability to lean back on western semi-tone notes. Mating such different instruments requires a team, and much like the name, it produces a splendid blend.

At the left-hand side of the Ondophone, we see the spring-hammer battering away on a steel string whenever the neck moves up or down. Next to it is an Ebow that vibrates a string with an electromagnet and can maintain a note so long as it has power. Hidden within the neck are magnets to demarcate semi-tone locations, so it’s possible to breeze past them for a slide sound or rest on them to follow a tune.

The combination of intermittent hammering and droning lends well to the “creepy” phase of the song, which leads segues to the scope-creep that almost kept this prototype on the drawing board. The video talks about all the things that could have been done with this design, which is a pain/freedom we know well. KISS that Ondophone headline act goodbye.

The ondes martenot is an early electronic instrument, so we’ve some high-tech iterations, and if you haven’t heard what’s possible with a DIY Ebow, we will harp on you.

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Open-Source Medical Devices Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, January 29 at noon Pacific for the Open-Source Medical Devices Hack Chat with Tarek Loubani!

In most of the developed world, when people go to see a doctor, they’re used to seeing the latest instruments and devices used. Most exam rooms have fancy blood pressure cuffs, trays of shiny stainless steel instruments, and a comfortable exam table covered by a fresh piece of crisp, white paper. Exams and procedures are conducted in clean, quiet places, with results recorded on a dedicated PC or tablet.

Such genteel medical experiences are far from universal, though. Many clinics around the world are located in whatever building is available, if they’re indoors at all. Supplies may be in chronically short supply, and to the extent that the practitioners have the instruments they need to care for patients, they’ll likely be older, lower-quality versions.

Tarek Loubani is well-versed in the practice of medicine under conditions like these, as well as far worse situations. As an emergency physician and researcher in Canada, he’s accustomed to well-appointed facilities and ample supplies. But he’s also involved in humanitarian relief, taking his medical skills and limited supplies to places like Gaza. He has seen first-hand how lack of the correct tools can lead to poor outcomes for patients, and chose to fight back by designing a range of medical devices and instruments that can be 3D-printed. His Glia Project has free plans for a high-quality stethoscope that can be built for a couple of dollars, otoscopes and pulse oximeters, and a range of surgical tooling to make the practice of medicine under austere conditions a little easier. Continue reading “Open-Source Medical Devices Hack Chat”

Open-Source Analytical Balance Pits Gravity Against Electromagnetism

As the open-source movement has brought its influence to more and more fields, we’ve seen an astonishing variety of things once only available at significant expense become accessible to anyone with access to the tools required to create them. One such arena is that of scientific instrumentation, and though we have seen many interesting developments there has been one which has so far evaded us. An analytical balance, a very specialised weighing machine designed to measure the tiniest of masses, remains available only as a new unit costing a fortune, or as a second-hand one with uncertain history and possible contamination. Fortunately, friend of Hackaday [Zach Fredin] is on the case, and as part of one of his MIT courses he chose to create an open-source analytical balance.

The write-up is interspersed with his course notes as he learns a series of fabrication techniques, but in addition to the milled Delrin finished model he treats us to his prototype and gives us an explanation of how these instruments work. It’s a technique that’s rather different to a traditional weighing machine: instead of measuring deformation of a spring in some way it produces a force from an electromagnet to oppose that exerted by gravity on the mass to be measured, and quantifies how much electrical energy is required to do that. The mechanism incorporates feedback through a vane and an optical sensor, which he admits he’s not yet had time to set up properly.

It’s an interesting project not least because it exposes some of the inner workings of an analytical balance, and we look forward to his completing it. If this whet your appetite for the topic it’s worth also looking at [Ben Krasnow’s] video of a balance made using a moving coil meter for an explanation of the technique.