Launching a ship is exciting! Maybe that ship is a rocket ship, or maybe it’s a traditional ship which floats in the water. When launching a ship there’s often a ceremony involving some champagne and pageantry and a party and it’s quite an event. (I’ve been to at least one boat launch, so I know what I’m talking about!)
When you launch a new version of your software, it’s not quite as exciting. I mean, it is, but in a different way. Sure, twenty years ago there was probably a lot of excitement around master discs and packaging and all that, but in 2019 with most software delivered as a service, it’s not much more than someone typing a few commands, clicking a mouse, and pressing the enter key. Not as exciting.
But! Some software company decided to make it exciting, and they asked me to help. They’ve now got a “Software Release Device” that they can connect to a computer, then turn the key to enable the device (which turns on a lamp letting them know it’s ready) and then they can switch between mouse and keyboard and hit the big read button to launch the latest version of their software to the world. Exciting!
They made it pretty easy for me, as they specified most of the parts for the build. The lamp was meant to run on 24VDC but luckily it was just a matter of cutting open the housing, replacing some resistors, and gluing it all back together to get it to run on 3.3VDC, and it looks really nice.
If you’re interested in some sort of custom USB device, let me know… I’d love to build something for you.
I should have known this project was doomed from the start. When I laser cut a piece of paper to test the fit of the components, I somehow managed to flip around the holes for the LED displays, so I ended up building it flipped from what I designed. If that was the only issue, things might have been okay…
Hey, things fit! This was all good (though as mentioned, flipped) and as a front panel it looks fine. Let’s move on to the back of things…
Still good! A few laser cut spacers to get the LED panels flush. The rotary encoders and the outlet are all good. Of course we still need to add wires to get it all connected.
Wires in place. Not bad. I added an Arduino Nano with one of my breakout boards and screw terminals, and there’s a relay module to be controlled by the Arduino. All good.
The idea was that the first encoder would control how many seconds/minutes the outlet was on and receiving power, while the second encoder would control how long the outlet was off or not receiving power. This would allow me to control a 120 VAC device turning it on and off for set amounts of time. (I know, I probably could have used a timer relay, but I wanted to build something.)
Somehow, I never quite got the code to work. Maybe there were some weird issues with the encoder library, or using two encoders, along with the LED panels, I don’t know… but I tried for a few hours to get it to do what I wanted, and it never did. Typically with code issues I bang at it until it works, but for this I just sort of gave up.
In the end it didn’t matter much because I ended up using a variac to lower the voltage instead of togging the full 120 VAC on and off. I also ended up stealing the LED panels and the Nano for another project that had to be done in a hurry. I’ve still got the other parts in place, so who knows? Maybe I’ll return to it in the future…
For this year’s WMSE Art & Music event, I created a new board I call OctoNoise. It’s an eight note piano featuring capacitive touch pads, LEDs, a Teensy LC microcontroller, and some fine woodworking. This is somewhat similar to last year’s piece.
You may know me for my work with decagons, but I also work with octagons, and this pattern is known as a 16 cell and it worked well for my design which utilizes 8 touch pads and 8 LEDs.
I’m not an amazing woodworker, but after laser cutting wood I can typically sand it, stain it, and add some polyurethane. At least it looks (somewhat) nice. I didn’t alter the bottom piece, and I just left it as a square, the way I received it from WMSE. My original design for this piece (over a year ago) was a bit different, but I wanted this to match the style of last year’s WMSE piece (and I was a bit rushed getting this done.)
The OctoNoise features and on/off switch, which is handy because it runs on batteries. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made electronic things for myself and not included and on/off switch. It’s nice to have one! When you turn it on the touch pads calibrate for about 5 seconds. There’s a startup sound that happens during calibration. (I added a note about that on the back of the piece.)
There’s a “somewhat” hidden control knob on the side that ajusts the delay between notes. The way the code is written, it plays one note at a time, but you can alter that to very quickly (or slowly) oscillate between multiple notes. You can get some interesting variances in sound by turning the knob.
Note that it is difficult to turn the knob while also touching the pads to make sound. This is by design, as it’s also difficult (if not damn near impossible without using various parts of your body) to play all the notes at once. This was done to encourage collaboration and playfulness.
Here’s a side view. The height was determined by the speaker that was chosen. Once again we’ve put the electronics on display as part of the piece rather than hide them inside an enclosure. They are mean to be celebrated! (Each wire has a label showing what it connects to, if needed.)
Here’s the Teensy LC, which runs the code. The board has built it capacitive touch pins, which make writing the code fairly easy. The notes used are C5, D5, E5, F5, G5, A5, B5, C6. This is real piano, and you can play actual songs. I based the code on a project I did for Brown Dog Gadgets a while back. You can check out their Touch Piano on Github.
This device also contains an built-in amp with a volume control. Again, a sometimes rare feature in the things I build. Often amps require 12 volts and that’s not always fun to deal with, but I’ve found some that work on variable voltages from 3 to 12 volts, so running them at the same voltage as a microcontroller becomes very easy.
Besides all the wood and electronics, there are some 3D printed parts that pull it all together. The on/off switch, delay control, amp, and battery holder all have their own 3D printed part that they attach to and then easily attach to the wood with some #4 screws. Once again, things are left “open” to celebrate rather than hide the electronics.
The other 3D printed pieces are the custom standoffs that raise the top piece above the bottom piece to (partially) enclose the electronics. I created a 2D profile from the original artwork used to laser etch & cut the piece to create the correct angle. I then extruded that design to make the tall standoffs and printed 8 of them.
When I heard WMSE was doing a fundraising event called Art & Music and was looking for artists to contribute, I wanted in. I got in touch with them and got a blank 12″x12″ board. I’ve done some of these art boards before, once for The Eisner American Museum of Advertising & Design and once for a friend of mine. (And while it’s not a board, I also made this NoiseBowl last year.) Besides myself, I also managed to get most of the people I work with at Brinn Labs to make boards, and a few people at Milwaukee Makerspace also made them.
This one is a litte more special to me though… WMSE went on the air in 1981, and while I don’t remember when I actually started listening to it (though I do have my brother to thank) I grew up with WMSE. They played the music I wanted to hear (at least on Wednesday nights when I was in high school.) They introduced me to weird and crazy stuff, and I even got to be a guest on air a few times (and they’ve managed to play a few songs from bands I was in.)
If it wasn’t for the stain and attention to fit and finish in creating this piece, it might look like some of my work you’d find inside a museum exhibit. We tend to make a lot of devices that produce sound. (We typically don’t go to great lengths to make them “pretty” though, since they always live inside cabinets and are not seen by the public.
Here’s the design for the one cut piece I made. It’s the control panel/user interface, which holds the power switch, potentiometers, and the LEDs. I actually used the CNC router instead of the laser cutter to make it. (Don’t ask why!) It also took some careful drill press operations to get things just right. There was also a lot of sanding involved. (Again, don’t ask.)
There are some 3D printed pieces as well. The standoffs used for the speaker, and to hold the control panel in place. They are similar to ones I’ve used before and before, but of course the beauty of 3D printing is that I can change the design each time to match the speaker and hardware used. (Parametric, FTW!)
Here’s a short video that demonstrates the noise that this thing makes. The first four knobs adjust the pitch for the four steps, with the fifth knob used to adjust tempo, and the top right knob as a volume control. The LEDs light up showing each step of the sequencer.
I also decided when I started to build this that I really wanted one for myself. While I love seeing my artwork go out into the world, sometimes I miss it. Since I was building one, I thought it would be easy to build a second one. Well, it was (fairly) easy, but it was also time consuming. I also had this idea that if anything went wrong, I’d have a backup. Nothing really went wrong, but I did finish the one for WMSE about week before I finished the one for me.
If you’re ever curious about the process I go through when building these sorts of things, you might want to head over to Instagram and follow me there. For instance, I posted a photo there… and another, and another, and a video…
And then I posted more, and then I probably posted even more. So yeah, Instagram tends to be my “in process” photo & video place.
And if you’re not hip to Instagram you might find a photo or two (or three) over on Facebook. Not as much shows up there, but we’re still friends, right?
Just a few more of these noisemakers… I swear! Yes, if you are not aware, I made a lot of them. I also brought them all to Maker Faire Milwaukee in 2017 so people could play with them. That’s the sort of thing I tend to do. On with the show!
The speaker for this one is from an old stereo that Dana told me to get rid of because parts of it broke. I did actually get rid of the receiver by dropping it off on the Hack Rack at Milwaukee Makerspace, but I kept the speakers. ;)
The enclosure this time consists of some offset pieces of wood stained two different colors. The electronics are again somewhat exposed. On top are two controls that allow for user input.
The controls consist of a button to enable the sound, and a potentiometer to alter the sound. The knob for the potentiometer is 3D printed, and it’s a knob from this thing. I’ve used these knobs before, many years ago, thanks to the old RepRap. Luckily the new printer did a much better job this time around.
There’s also a ring beneath the button. This ring is 100% there to cover up a mistake I made by drilling the hole too large. I’m more than happy to honestly admit I screwed up, but I also found a way to fix things, and I think it worked.
One other interesting thing abut this one is the pencil lines that are clearly visible on the wood. I realized that I could draw on the wood and still have it show up fine after staining it. Now I’m tempted to explore this method more and see what else I can do with it. Hooray for weird experiments! (Oh, I also totally screwed up with the assembly and mismatched the sides, but again, I made it work and you probably wouldn’t know if I didn’t admit it.)
As for the electronics, I once again went with an Arduino Nano, a super-cheap microcontroller with plenty of inputs & outputs (especially since I only used a few.) It’s also easy to power with a MiniUSB cable and a 5 volt USB power supply.
Here’s a bit more on the knob. The bottom hole is sized to fit the shaft of the potentiometer, and it’s a tight fit (by design) so that it wouldn’t be easy to remove.
The side of the knob features a small hole that accepts a 3mm set screw. It’s a “headless” screw so using an hex wrench to tighten it up hides it inside the little slot. Extra insurance against the knob twisting or coming off.
And here’s the 3D model of the small plate that goes under the button to hide the spot where I drilled the hole too wide. All good. Ready to go!
This is just one post in a series about noisemakers. Check out the other posts as well: