The Hot and Cold of Balanced Audio

A few summers of my misspent youth found me working at an outdoor concert venue on the local crew. The local crew helps the show’s technicians — don’t call them roadies; they hate that — put up the show. You unpack the trucks, put up the lights, fly the sound system, help run the show, and put it all back in the trucks at the end. It was grueling work, but a lot of fun, and I got to meet people with names like “Mister Dog Vomit.”

One of the things I most remember about the load-in process was running the snakes. The snakes are fat bundles of cables, one for audio and one for lighting, that run from the stage to the consoles out in the house. The bigger the snakes, the bigger the show. It always impressed me that the audio snake, something like 50 yards long, was able to carry all those low-level signals without picking up interference from the AC thrumming through the lighting snake running right alongside it, while my stereo at home would pick up hum from the three-foot long RCA cable between the turntable and the preamp.

I asked one of the audio techs about that during one show, and he held up the end of the snake where all the cables break out into separate connectors. The chunky silver plugs clinked together as he gave his two-word answer before going back to patching in the console: “Balanced audio.”

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Juggling Machine Listens to the Bounce to Keep Ball in the Air

It’s a seemingly simple task: bounce a ping-pong ball on a wooden paddle. So simple that almost anyone can pick up a ball and a paddle and make a reasonable job of it. Now, close your eyes and try to do it just by the sound the ball makes when it hits the paddle. That’s a little tougher, but this stepper-driven platform juggler manages it with aplomb.

That’s not to say that the path to the finished product in the video below was a smooth one for [tkuhn]. He went through multiple iterations over the last two years, including a version that surrounded the juggling platform with a fence of phototransistors to track where the ball was at any time. That drove four stepper motors through a cross-linkage that popped the platform up at just the right moment to keep the ball moving, and at just the right angle to nudge it back toward the center of the platform. The current version of the platform does away with the optical sensors in favor of four small microphones. The mics pick up the sharp, well-defined sound of the ball hitting the platform, process the signal through an analog circuit, and use that signal to trigger a flip-flop if the signal exceeds a setpoint. An Arduino then measures the time delay between arriving signals, calculates the ball’s position on the platform, and drives the steppers through a PID loop to issue the corrective bounce.

The video below is entrancing, but we found ourselves wishing for a side view of the action too. It’s an impressive build nonetheless, one that reminds us of the many maze-runner and Stewart platform robots we’ve seen.

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Give the Clapper a Hand

While “The Clapper” probably first conjures images of low-budget commercials, it was still a useful way to remotely switch lights and other things around the house. But if the lights you want to switch weren’t plugged into the wall, like a ceiling fan, for example, The Clapper was not going to help you. To add some functionality to this infamous device, [Robin] built one from scratch that has all the extra features built in that you could ever want.

First, the new Clapper attaches to the light switch directly, favoring mechanical action of the switch itself rather than an electromechanical relay which requires wiring. With this setup, it would be easy to install even if you rent an apartment and can’t do things like rewire outlets and it has the advantage of being able to switch any device, even if it doesn’t plug into the wall. There’s also a built-in microphone to listen for claps, but since it’s open-source you could program it to actuate the switch when it hears any sound. It also includes the ability to be wired in to a home automation system as well.

If the reason you’ve stayed out of the home automation game is that you live in a rental and can’t make the necessary modifications to your home, [Robin]’s Clapper might be just the thing you need to finally automate your living space. All the files are available on the project site, including the 3D printing plans and the project code. Once you get started in home automation, though, there’s a lot more you can do with it.

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Test Ideas Now With Sensors Already In Your Pocket

When project inspiration strikes, we’d love to do some quick tests immediately to investigate feasibility. Sadly we’re usually far from our workbench and its collection of sensor modules. This is especially frustrating when the desired sensor is in the smartphone we’re holding, standing near whatever triggered the inspiration. We could download a compass app, or a bubble level app, or something similar to glimpse sensor activity. But if we’re going to download an app, consider Google’s Science Journal app.

It was designed to be an educational resource, turning a smartphone’s sensor array into a pocket laboratory instrument and notebook for students. Fortunately it will work just as well for makers experimenting with project ideas. The exact list of sensors will depend on the specific iOS/Android device, but we can select a sensor and see its output graphed in real-time. This graph can also be recorded into the journal for later analysis.

Science Journal was recently given a promotional push by the band OK Go, as part of their OK Go Sandbox project encouraging students to explore, experiment, and learn. This is right up the alley for OK Go, who has a track record of making music videos that score high on maker appeal. Fans would enjoy their videos explaining behind-the-scene details in the context of math, science, and music.

An interesting side note. Anyone who’s been to Hackaday Superconference or one of the monthly Hackaday LA meetups will likely recognized the venue used in many of the OK Go Sandbox videos. Many of them were filmed at the Supplyframe Design Lab in Pasadena. It’s also nice to see AnnMarie Thomas (Hackaday Prize Judge from 2016 and 2017) collaborated with OK Go for the Sandbox project.

While the Science Journal app has provisions for add-on external sensors, carrying them around would reduce its handy always-available appeal. Not that we’re against pairing smartphones with clever accessories to boost their sensing capabilities: we love them! From trying to turn a smartphone into a Tricorder, to an inexpensive microscope, to exploring serious medical diagnosis, our pocket computers can do it all.

[via Engadget]


Repairs You Can Print: Better Cable Splicing With 3D Printed Parts

A while back, [Marius] was faced with a problem. A friend of his lives in the middle of a rainforest, and a microphone was attacked by a dirty, greasy rat. The cable was gnawed in half, and with it went a vital means of communication with the outside world. The usual way of fixing a five- or six-conductor cable is with heat shrink, lineman’s splices, insulating tape, and luck. [Marius] needed something better than that, so he turned to his 3D printer and crafted his own wire splice enclosure.

The microphone in question is a fancy Jenal jobbie with a half-dozen or so conductors in the cable. A junction box was the obvious solution to this problem, and a few prototypes, ranging from rectangular to fancy oval boxes embossed with a logo were spat out on a 3D printer. These junction boxes have holes on either end, and when the cable ends are threaded through these holes, the wires can be spliced, soldered, and insulated from each other.

This microphone had to hold up to the rigors of the rainforest and rats, so [Marius] had to include some provisions for waterproofing. This came in the form of a hot glue gun; just fill the junction box with melted hot glue, pop the cover on, and just wait for it to cool. Like all good repairs, it works, and by the time this repair finally gives out, something else in the microphone is sure to go bad.

It’s a great repair, and an excellent example of how a 3D printer can make repairs easy, simple, cheap, and almost as good as the stock part. You can check out a few videos of the repair below.

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Repairs You Can Print: Fixing a Rat-Attacked Mic Cord

We’ve all been there — a steamy night in the rainforest of Papua New Guinea, sweaty slumber disturbed by the unmistakable sounds of gnawing. In the morning we discover that a rodent of unusual tastes has chewed the microphone cable of our transceiver right half in two, leaving us out of touch with base camp. If we had a nickel for every time that’s happened.

It may sound improbable, but that’s the backstory behind [Marius Taciuc]’s 3D-printed mic cord repair. Even with more mundane failure modes, the retractile cords on microphones are notoriously difficult to fix. Pretty much any of the usual suspects, like heat-shrink tubing or electrical tape, are going to do very little to restore the mechanical stability lost once that tough outer jacket is breached. [Marius]’s solution was to print as small an enclosure as possible to mechanically support the splice. The fit is tight, but there was just enough room to solder the wires and stuff everything back in place. Cable ties provide strain relief where the cord exits the splice, and a liberal squirt of hot glue pots the joint. It’s not perfect — we’ll bet the splice acts as a catch point and gets a little annoying after a while — but if it gets you back on the air fast and cheap, it probably makes sense.

[Marius] entered this rat-race beating hack into the Repairs You Can Print contest. Do you have an epic repair that was made possible by a 3D printer? Let the world know about it and you might just win a prize.

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34C3: Microphone Bugs

Inspiration can come from many places. When [Veronica Valeros] and [Sebastian Garcia] from the MatesLab Hackerspace in Argentina learned that it took [Ai Weiwei] four years to discover his home had been bugged, they decided to have a closer look into some standard audio surveillance devices. Feeling there’s a shortage of research on the subject inside the community, they took matters in their own hands, and presented the outcome in their Spy vs. Spy: A modern study of microphone bugs operation and detection talk at 34C3. You can find the slides here, and their white paper here.

Focusing their research primarily on FM radio transmitter devices, [Veronica] and [Sebastian] start off with some historical examples, and the development of such devices — nowadays available off-the-shelf for little money. While these devices may be shrugged off as a relic of Soviet era spy fiction and tools of analog times, the easy availability and usage still keeps them relevant today. They conclude their research with a game of Hide and Seek as real life experiment, using regular store-bought transmitters.

An undertaking like this would not be complete without the RTL-SDR dongle, so [Sebastian] developed the Salamandra Spy Microphone Detection Tool as alternative for ready-made detection devices. Using the dongle’s power levels, Salamandra detects and locates the presence of potential transmitters, keeping track of all findings. If you’re interested in some of the earliest and most technologically fascinating covert listening devices, there is no better example than Theremin’s bug.

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