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.

Make A Mean-Sounding Synth From Average Components

A while back, [lonesoulsurfer] stumbled upon a mind-blowing little DIY synth on YouTube and had to make one of his own. We don’t blame him one bit for that, ’cause we’ve been down that cavernous rabbit hole ourselves. You might want to build one too, after you hear the deliciously fat and guttural sounds waiting inside those chips and passives. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

The main synth is built on five LM358 op-amps that route PWM through a pair of light-dependent resistors installed near the top. There are two more oscillators courtesy of a 40106 hex inverting Schmitt trigger, which leaves four more oscillators to play with should you take the plunge and build your own.

He didn’t just copy the guy’s schematic and call it good. He added [a 555-based arpeggiator that’s controlled with two homebrew optocouplers. These sound fancy and expensive, but can be bred easily at home by sealing an LED and an LDR inside a piece of black heat shrink tubing and applying a bit of PWM. With the flick of a toggle, he can bypass the momentary buttons and use the yellow knob at the top to sweep through the pitch range with a single input.

Although he doesn’t hold your hand through the build, [lonesoulsurfer] has plenty of nice, clear pictures of the process that nearly give a step-by-step guide. That plus the video demo and walk-through should get you well on your way to DIY synthville.

If this all seems very cool, but you’d really like to understand what’s happening as you descend into the rabbit hole, our own [Elliot Williams]’s Logic Noise series is an excellent start.

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Hackaday Links: April 28, 2019

Lego is releasing a series of Braille bricks. As near as we can tell, these Braille bricks are standard 2 x 4 bricks, with studs corresponding to Braille letters on the top. There are also screen/pad printed legends on top. I don’t mean to be a downer, but why, exactly, is this being created now? Did it really take fifty years for someone to say, ‘hey, if you don’t put some studs on top of a brick, it becomes Braille?’ How is this not already a thing? This isn’t me being facetious — how did it take so long for this to be invented?

KiCon is this weekend, so here’s a tip for everyone in Chicago right now: get a hot dog. Don’t put ketchup on it, or else someone will shoot you.

KiCon and Moogfest in one weekend? Yes, and that means new toys. The Matriarch is Moog’s latest synthy boi and the apparent successor to last year’s Moog Grandmother. The Matriarch is a four-note paraphonic synth that is semi-modular; no, you don’t need patch cables to make noises, but there are ninety-odd patch points for modular fun. It’s two grand, which is getting up there in the synth game. If only Radio Shack were still around and sold Moog synths…

We’re all aware that Russia launches rockets out of Baikonur cosmodrome, and the first stages eventually make their way onto the steppes of Kazakhstan. The locals, few there are, end up recycling these rockets, scrapping them, and sometimes taking space tourists and photojournalist out to the crash site of these boosters. Russia has other spaceports, and now we’re getting pictures of booster crashes from the frozen north. These rockets came from the Plesetsk cosmodrome and fell in the boreal forests near Arkhangelsk where hunters discovered them. Yes, these boosters are carcinogenic, but that’s what you do when a few tons of aluminum and titanium fall in your backyard.

No spoilers, but oh man the after-credits scene in Endgame was hilarious.

Hackaday Links: October 14, 2018

Here’s something of interest of 3D printing enthusiasts. How do you print lightweight 3D objects? [Tom Stanton] does a lot of stuff with 3D printing and RC airplanes, so yeah, he’s probably the guy you want to talk to. His solution is Simplify3D, printing two layers for whatever nozzle diameter you have, some skills with Fusion360, and some interesting design features that include integrated ribs.

Moog released their first polyphonic analog synth in 35 years. It’s massive, and it costs eight thousand dollars.

There’s a RISC-V contest, sponsored by Google, Antmicro, and Microchip. The goal is to encourage designers to create innovative FPGA and soft CPU implementations with the RISC-V ISA. There are four categories, the smallest implementation for SpartFusion2 or IGLOO2 boards, and the smallest implementation that fits on an iCE40 UltraPlus board. The two additional categories are the highest performance implementation for these boards. The prize is $6k.

” I heard about polarization filters and now I’m getting a hundred thousand dollars” — some moron. IRL Glasses are glasses that block screens. When you wear them, you can’t watch TV. This is great, as now all advertising is on TVs for some inexplicable reason, and gives these people an excuse to use frames from John Carpenter’s masterpiece They Live in their Kickstarter campaign. Question time: why don’t all polarized sunglasses do this. Because there’s a difference between linear and circular polarized lenses. Question: there have been linear polarized sunglasses sitting in the trash since the release of James Cameron’s Avatar. Why now? No idea.

Alexa is on the ESP32. Espressif released their Alexa SDK that supports conversations, music and audio serivces (Alexa, play Despacito), and alarms. The supported hardware is physically quite large, but it can be extended to other ESP32-based platforms that have SPI RAM.

Electronics Manufacturers React To China Trade Tariffs

Mere weeks ago, the United States announced it was set to impose a 25% tariff on over 800 categories of Chinese goods. These tariffs include nearly every component that goes into the manufacture of any piece of electronic hardware, from resistors to capacitors, semiconductors to microcontrollers, and even the raw components that are turned into printed circuit boards. These tariffs will increase the cost of materials for electronics, even if those electronics are ultimately manufactured in the United States because suppliers and subcontractors must source their materials from somewhere, and more often than not, that place is China.

Now, manufacturers are feeling the pinch. An email distributed by Moog Music last Friday has asked their supporters to contact their senators and representatives.

In the world of musical synthesizers, there is no bigger name than Moog. The company was founded in the 1950s manufacturing theremins, and in the 1960s, production moved to synthesizers. The famous Minimoog, launched in 1970, has been featured on tens of thousands of albums. Modern music simply wouldn’t exist without Moog synthesizers. After a buyout, mismanagement, and bankruptcy in the 1980s, the company was reborn in the early 2000s, moved into a beautiful factory in Asheville, North Carolina, and has gone on to produce some of the most popular synthesizers ever made.

The company’s statement says these new tariffs will, ‘immediately and drastically increase the cost of building our instruments, and have the very real potential of forcing us to lay off workers and could.. require us to move some, if not all, of our manufacturing overseas’. In a statement on Twitter, Moog says they source half their PCBs and a majority of other materials domestically, already paying up to 30% more than if the PCBs were sourced from China. However, because the raw materials for PCB manufacture are also sourced from China, board manufacturers for Moog’s synths will be forced to pass along the 25% tariff to their customers.

The threat of Moog being forced to move production of their instruments to China is real. Like cell phones, laptops, and other finished goods, synthesizers are not covered by the new tariff. As noted by Bunnie Huang, these tariffs have the perverse incentive of shifting US manufacturing jobs to China.

These tariffs have been a point of contention for the electronics and engineering communities. Anyone can easily pull up the distributor information from a Mouser or Digikey order and find the country of origin for an entire Bill of Materials. It has already been confirmed that most of the FR4 and other raw components that go into manufacturing PCBs in the United States come from Chinese suppliers. These items can be cross-referenced with the list of items that will be subject to a 25% tariff next week. Manufacturing electronics in the United States, even if you get your PCBs from US manufacturers and parts from US suppliers, will cost more in just a few short days.

Controlling A Moog Werkstatt With A Capacitive Touch Jankó Keyboard

[Ben Bradley], a member of Freeside Atlanta, built a capacitive touch Jankó keyboard for the Georgia Tech Moog Hackathon. Jankó Keyboards are a 19th-Century attempt to add a more compact piano keyboard. There are three times as many keys as a traditional piano but arranged vertically for (supposedly) greater convenience while playing–an entire octave can be covered with one hand. But yeah, it never caught on.

[Ben]’s project consists of a series of brass plates wired to capacitive touch breakout boards from Adafruit, one for each of the Arduino Mega clone’s four I2C addresses. When a key is touched, the Arduino sends a key down signal to the Werkstatt while using a R-2R ladder to generate voltage for the VCO exponential input.

The most recent Moog Hackathon was the third.  Twenty-five teams competed from Georgia Tech alone, plus more from other schools, working for 48 hours to build interfaces with Moog Werkstatt-Ø1 analog synths, competing for $5,000 in cash prizes as well as Werkstatts for the top three teams.

We’re synth-fiends here on Hackaday: we cover everything from analog synths to voltage controlled filters.

Via Freeside Atlanta, photo by [Nathan Burnham].

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MIDI DAC For Vintage Synth Hacks

A lot of classic synthesizers rely on analog control voltages to vary parameters; this is a problem for the modern musician who may want to integrate such hardware with a MIDI setup. For just this problem, [little-scale] has built a MIDI-controllable DAC for generating control voltages.

It’s a simple enough build – a Teensy 2 is used to speak USB MIDI to a laptop. This allows the DAC to be used with just about any modern MIDI capable software. The Teensy then controls a Microchip MCP4922 over SPI to generate the requisite control voltages. [little-scale]’s video covers the basic assembly of the hardware on a breadboard, and goes on to demonstrate its use with a performance using the MIDI DAC to control a Moog Mother 32 synth. [little-scale] has also made the code available, making it easy to spin up your own.

We can see this project being indispensable to electronic musicians working with banks of modular synths, making it much easier to tie them in with automation in their DAW of choice. This isn’t the first MIDI interfacing hack we’ve seen either – check out this setup to interface an iPad to guitar pedals.

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