Bit Board & micro:bit Powered Step Sequencer

The first guide I published for Brown Dog Gadgets was a step sequencer using their Arduino-compatible Robotics Board back in April 2020. You may also remember my WMSE sculpture that was a step sequencer, and I never did a write-up on it, but I also built a step sequencer for an interactive museum exhibit years ago, which was kid-tough and focused on sequencing as a form of programming.

Anyway, since it was nearly a year from the first Crazy Circuits step sequencer I think I should revisit it as a micro:bit project. So here’s a guide to building a Bit Board & micro:bit Powered Step Sequencer.

The code was written using Microsoft MakeCode for micro:bit, a block-based programming environment, which also supports Javascript and Python in text modes. It’s been interesting working in a block-based programming system, and I’ve gotten used to it in the past six months. I do really like the fact that you can toggle between block view and text view.

I’ve got a lot more micro:bit projects I’ve worked on in recent months, which you can check out in the Brown Dog Gadgets Project Database.


Garage Fix (Again 2!)

I’ve got a new garage door fix. Again. I forgot to explain the last fix, which sort of worked, well… worked fine for years I guess, but now it doesn’t. Oh, start at Garage Fix (At Last!) if you want the back story… The short version is, with a combination of sunlight, snow, and a specific time of day, the garage door will not close due to the electric eye being affected by light from outside the garage.

After the first repair (mentioned in the blog post linked above) it didn’t quite do it so I ended up moving the electric eye sensors to the top of the garage. The illustration above is a view from inside the garage looking out, with the door open. The red sensors are the old location, and the green sensors are where I moved them to. I also ended up making a flag below the sensor because this solution also did not always work. Arrrgghhhh. Oh, I should mention that the sensors where they are will never detect a child running under the door, but the alley kids are all six years older now, so they should know better. ;p

So these fixes worked pretty well (for years actually) until last week, so on to another.

I realized that if you pressed the garage door button (which I replaced years ago with a green arcade button) the door would start to close, then when light bounced off the door and hit the sensor it would stop and reopen. I also realized that if I pressed and held the button, it would close!

Well that’s easy! All we need is a way to press and hold the button for as long as it takes to close the door. While it was -0 degrees out I prepared an Arduino and a relay, a pink arcade button, a chunk of wood, found a 12 volt power supply, and hot glued it all together. I wrote some code that would close the relay 5 seconds after the button was pressed and then open the relay 30 seconds later.

So here’s what happens now. When I leave in the morning I pull out of the garage and use my remote to close the door. If it does not close I get out of my car, go into the garage, press the pink button, and then walk briskly out of the garage before the door closes and crushes me. The door closes as I get in my car, and we’re all good.

This is one of the ugliest builds I’ve done it a while! As mentioned, I literally threw this together as quickly as possible. I did not design anything, did not build an enclosure, didn’t make labels… nothing. I drilled a hole in the wood and screwed it into the drywall and wired it in parallel with the existing button which usually works to close the door.

So now it’s, press the green button to open and close the door, and press the pink one if the green one doesn’t work. If you drive out of the garage and your remote won’t close the door, get out and use the pink button. Yup. Sigh.

Obviously the next step is to design an enclosure, add proper labels, rewrite the code, add status and indicator lights, probably a 7 segment display with a countdown… and then hey, might as well use an ESP32 so I can add remote control via WiFi. Oh, I should probably also add a sensor to check if the door is opened or closed. And also a status web page I can then check with a service running locally on the network, tied into Pushover to send me alerts. Ah, plus a real time clock module so I know when things happen in case I need to correlate times with the security camera.

I expect to have the new version done within 18 to 24 months.


Slide Advance Alert System (with MIDI)

Here’s a project I did a while ago, but never documented here… At Brown Dog Gadgets we do a lot of video streaming for workshops, and our setup includes one person on camera and another person as the producer who runs the software, monitors the chat window, and does the camera switching and advances the slides.

We started talking about an easy way for the person on camera to let the producer know when to advance to the next slide without having to say “Next slide, please” 20 times each session. Our video software can easily control the slides by using the left and right arrow keys, so we thought about just making a small USB controller the presenter could use to send those key commands, but that only works if the video streaming software has focus as the frontmost application, and since we’re running multiple pieces of presenting software as well as a browser we can’t rely on key commands to work.

So what I came up with is a simple controller that sends MIDI signals to a custom application that plays a sound which the producer can hear through their headphones, and know that it’s time to change the slide. (The application also has a small window that displays “Waiting…”, “Forward”, or “Back” depending on the state of the controls.)

The great thing about MIDI is that it doesn’t rely on a specific application being frontmost… Yes, we could have used serial communications, but we’d need to then select the correct serial port, which changes depending on which USB port you use, hubs, computer, etc.

We’ve got a guide in the Brown Dog Gadgets Project system, and we also dropped it onto Instructables if you want your own Slide Advancement Alerting Device.

This is a niche solution to a niche problem, but that seems to be what I’m good at, so I’m just gonna go with it.


Valentine’s Day Cards

I cranked out a bunch of paper circuit Valentine’s Day Cards for Brown Dog Gadgets. These can all be made with the Paper Circuits Kit which features conductive Maker Tape, tons of LEDs, batteries, and other supplies. Add all the free templates and resources and you’ve got yourself a good time.

Heart Friend Valentine’s Card

I LOVE U Valentine’s Card

Picture You and Me Together Valentine’s Card

The Cake is a Lie Valentine’s Card

You’ve Got Mail Valentine’s Card

Human Heart Valentine’s Card

You’re Aces Valentine’s Card


House Illustration & Print

Right before Christmas Dana mentioned that she still needed one more gift for her sister, and told me she tried to get a house illustration done because she had seen some through a local company. (I think it was Bay View Printing Co. but I am not sure.) She asked if I could figure something out, so I volunteered.

She got me a nice photo of her sister’s house, which I then used as the basis for a line drawing. After a few rounds of revisions with the client (ha ha) she was satisfied. I originally wanted to try an intaglio print for this, so I attempted to etch an acrylic plate with the laser cutter and did some test prints. (Oh, an amazing printmaker friend of mine who lives about a mile away offered to loan me her small press.) I tried my intaglio, which I’ve not done before, and just wasn’t satisfied with the results, so I resorted to a quick ‘n dirty laser cut wood plate, which I’ve made plenty of before…

This was just one of the first test prints, and I had planned to make a better plate and print more, but ran out of time, and Dana thought this one looked good. (Sidenote: I’ve been having these issues where I feel like my work could be better, which I guess is the opposite of just settling, but it’s been sort of annoying to my process lately.)

Anyway, in the end I did an illustration, and I made some prints, and I did try a few new techniques, and I guess it’s all good.