The Astronomical Grit Of Ronald McNair

There is more than one way to lead a successful life. Some people have all the opportunity in the world laid out before them, and it never does them any good. Others have little more than the determination and desire they’ve dredged up within themselves, and that grit turns out to be the abrasive that smooths the path ahead.

Ronald McNair succeeded despite poverty, racism, and an education system designed to keep Black people down. He became an accidental revolutionary at the age of nine, when he broke the color barrier in his small South Carolina town via the public library. This act of defiance in pursuit of education would set the course for his relatively short but full life, which culminated in his career as a Space Shuttle mission specialist.

Rule-Breaker with a Slide Rule

Ronald McNair was born October 21, 1950 in Lake City, South Carolina, the second of three sons, to Pearl and Carl McNair. His mother was a teacher, and encouraged his love of reading. Ronald’s father, Carl was an auto mechanic who never finished high school and always regretted it. Though the family was poor, Ron grew up surrounded by books, music, and support.

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Wireless Sax Mic Done On The Cheap

Sometimes, economies of scale don’t work in our favor. While guitarists and singers will find themselves well catered to by the accessories market, players of fancier, less popular instruments will often have to dig deeper in their pockets to get what they need. [Henry Goh] found himself in need of a saxophone mic. However, off-the-shelf solutions were a touch expensive, and thus he decided he could probably whip something up himself.  (Video, embedded below.)

Parts of a saxophone, for the uninitiated. The microphone should be placed a good distance from the center of the bell to pick up the best sound.

It’s a simple solution, one that we could imagine any maker quickly whipping up with junkbox parts. Not one to skimp on quality, [Henry] picked a Rode Wireless Go paired with a lavalier mic for a quality wireless microphone solution. The real problem would be mounting the device, intended to be worn on a shirt, to the right position in front of the saxophone’s bell.

To achieve this, most dedicated sax mics used a bendable arm to allow the position to be readily changed. Instead, [Henry] whipped up some mounts on the 3D printer that would allow him to mount the Rode wireless mic hardware on an bendy Energizer LED torch. The torch even comes with a clamp allowing it to be easily attached to the instrument, making fitment a cinch.

[Henry] estimates the solution saved him up to $800 SGD. The final result is cost effective, and gives quality easily good enough for amateur and community performances. As a bonus, the hack is non-destructive, meaning you can repurpose the lavalier mic for other work as needed.

We love a good hack on the cheap, and it’s something we see all the time in the music scene. This guitar build is a great example of the form.

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Two Saxophone Synthesizer Builds For The Price Of One

[Bruce Land] has been sending in student projects from the electronic design course he taught at Cornell last semester. By a curious coincidence, two groups build saxophone synthesizers with the same key arrangement as a real sax.

First up is [Brian Wang]’s digital sax. There’s a small microphone in the mouthpiece and a series of buttons down the body of the sax telling the ATMega664 what note to play. The data for the saxophone synthesis was created by looking at a frequency plot of a sax, bassoon, harp, and pipe organ. [Brian] has the synthesis part down pat; there’s definitely a baritone sax in that little microcontroller.

Next up is [Suryansh] and [Chris]’s PVC pipe saxophone. It’s the same general principle as [Brian]’s project – the musician blows into the sax (we really like the kazoo mouthpiece) and a small mic picks up the sound of the wind. If the microphone output is above a certain threshold, the buttons are read and a note come out of the sax. We’re picking up a whiff of alto sax here; shame there wasn’t a duet with the two teams.

After the break you can see both saxophone projects in all their glory.

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