(The Making of) The Sonic Titan

The Sonic Titan

You probably remember The Sonic Titan, which had its debut at Bay View Gallery Night. The details concerning the construction of The Sonic Titan were shrouded in mystery, just a hazy cloud of unknowns, but no more! Here is the story of The Making of The Sonic Titan!

The concept for The Sonic Titan was kicking around in my head for a long time. When Neil Gershenfeld talks about making, there’s this idea of personalization, and producing products for a market of one person. The Sonic Titan may have a market of one person, myself, and I’m fine with that.


The physical manifestation of The Sonic Titan started with this speaker cabinet I saw in the alley on my way home one night. One of my neighbors was throwing it away. I always like to build upon the detritus and waste of society, so I grabbed it.


As an electronics nerd, I loved the giant capacitor bank circuit thingies on the back. I considered using them, but it didn’t fit the aesthetics of the piece.


I grabbed a screwdriver, hammer, and pry bar and got to work tearing the speaker cabinet apart.


Mmmmmm, delicious fiberglass insulation! People really knew how to DIY speaker cabinets in the olden days!


Why not add some roofing shingles to your speaker cabinet? Glue then down with some weird industrial adhesive to keep them in place, because acoustical properties.


I got the speaker out in one piece. I didn’t end up using this speaker, but I’ve still got it on the scrap pile for a future project.


A fully formed cabinet emerges! I must have forgotten to take photos of the construction process. Basically after I broke apart the cabinet I rebuilt it into the size and shape I wanted with the help of the table saw, drill, and a bunch of screws. (Oh, and there was a fun adventure with the jig saw for the speaker holes.) I also grabbed some old scrap wood my brother dropped off at my garage about two years ago. The wood had all sorts of weird slots cut into it. (Thanks, Brother!)

Anyway, the above photos shows how everything is lovingly stuffed into the cabinet. There was no careful thought or long consideration about putting things in there. It was basically “jam it in and make it fit” the whole way. Mostly.


Spade terminals come in handy for this sort of thing, and I had some handy, so I used them. The speakers came from Milwaukee Makerspace, which is always full of all sorts of weird old junk. The large fender washers are actually the scrap pieces from when I drill out Aluminum boxes to make USB controllers. Reuse!


Hey look, it’s a Raspberry Pi! Yes the “Doom Box” is Linux-powered, which seems appropriate for so many reasons. But seriously, folks… I love Linux. It allows me to do things like this quickly, easily, and at a low cost. Open source is a wonderful thing.

The Raspberry Pi is secured in place by… gravity? Yeah, it’s just sitting there. It’s got a Micro USB cable for power, and a 1/8″ cable for audio out.


There’s a 12 volt power supply, this provides power to the audio amp, and to the Raspberry Pi. Wait, the Raspberry Pi needs 5 volts, not 12 volts… what!?


Oh look, there’s a buck converter which takes the 12 volts and knocks it down to 5 volts. These are handy when you don’t want to have two power supplies. Just split the 12 volt power and run to the converter and you get your 5 volts. Sweet!


There’s a few of these screw terminal blocks. This one feeds the 5 volts from the converter to the Micro USB cable that had one end cut off. Just use the red and black wires from the USB cable for power… no signal wires needed!


Here’s the audio amp. It’s got spade connectors all over. Two for the 12 volt power, and 4 for the two speakers. I’m pretty sure I screwed this down to the board. Oh yeah, I did, we’ll get to that later…


It’s a Pyle cheapie audio amplifier. Nothing fancy or super-loud, but I had it in the shop so I used it. The cover was removed because I had an idea to mount it right up to the front and use the integrated volume potentiometer and add my own wooden knob. That worked until I broke things…


…so there’s a potentiometer that got added in to replace the one I broke. And it’s not a dual pot, just a single, and probably not the right resistance. When things break and you’ve got a deadline you grab whatever you’ve got available and get things done. (At least I do, or I try to.) Wires are delicately soldered because deadline.


Some of the greebles were put into place to cover the gaps that were created when the cabinet was built because I didn’t have quite enough wood to do it right. I call the greebles a “feature”.


This little greeble works well to stuff the extra cables into. See, “features”!


And this greeble closes up the gap at the bottom… (Note: hard drive magnets are great for keeping random screws in one place!)


And over here there’s a lovely gap for the power cord to exit. Mind the gap! Use the gap! Love the gap!

Is it mere coincidence the photo above and the Dopesmoker art below share a similar color palette? Probably… or… maybe not!?!?


Check out that stoner caravan! I hope they are enjoying their journey! They should have a Doom Box to listen to!


I used Bauhaus 93 as the typeface that came close to matching the Sleep logo I liked, and made a few pieces of vinyl which were put on the wood so I could use them as stencils and spray paint on the name and labels. I like vinyl and stencils and paint. They work well together!

Wait, wasn’t there something about Linux? Of course there was! After I had the Raspberry Pi up and running with Raspbian I added mpg123 for playing the audio:

sudo apt-get install mpg123

I then wrote a long and complex script to start the audio playing and keep it playing forever by using a loop. Here’s the long and complex script:

mpg123 --loop -1 /home/pi/Dopesmoker.mp3

I saved that script and then set it to run after bootup by adding a call to it in the /etc/rc.local file, right before the exit line.

/bin/bash /boot/
exit 0

And that’s how I built The Sonic Titan. I hope you enjoyed the journey.


The Sonic Titan

The Sonic Titan

The Sonic Titan was created for Bay View Gallery Night in June 2016 and was displayed at Milwaukee Makerspace.

The Sonic Titan

Similar to the piece I created last year, The Sonic Titan has a musical connection, which is fitting for Bay View Gallery Night which is “A celebration of local art, music, business and community.”

The Sonic Titan

You can find out more about this device/object/thing by checking out the project page for The Sonic Titan.


CPAP Progress


Back in November of last year I did a sleep study, as and expected, I’ve got sleep apnea, so I ended up getting a CPAP machine at the beginning of December. Since it’s been a little over a month of using it, I thought I’d write up the experience so far…

The first week or so was a bit rough… besides getting used to the mask, I was experiencing terrible dry mouth. The dry mouth issue was due to the fact that we keep it pretty cold in our bedroom (we use a heated blanket) and the nurse I met with told me they would ship me a special heated hose which would help with the dryness. Getting the hose took over a week due to a few mix-ups, but once I got it, things were much better.

Let me just say right now… I never knew I could sleep so good.

For pretty much my entire adult life, I got terrible sleep. When I was younger, it didn’t bother me that much, but it’s gotten worse and worse in recent years. Besides not getting enough sleep myself, I’ve annoyed the crap out of my wife with my snoring. So while I wasn’t sleeping well, neither was she. In the past year both of us have taken turns on the couch just so we’d both be able to get some sleep.

So… the good sleep. Finally, some good, solid sleep. Before the CPAP, I could have “slept” for 8+ hours, and still gotten out of bed completely exhausted, but as it is now, I can sleep 6 hours, and wake up knowing that I can get through the day without falling asleep or even getting drowsy. I’m awake, alert, and more engaged. I even dream now! For years I didn’t dream much, due to the fact that I never got into REM sleep. That’s changed as well, and I’m dreaming quite a bit now.

But it’s not all sleepy dreams and happiness. Even though I’m getting good sleep, my wife is still struggling with my amazing new ability to sleep. Here’s where I get into the bad parts of the CPAP.

You might thing that the CPAP machine itself is noisy, but it’s really very quiet, so that noise isn’t an issue, but what is an issue is the mask I wear. To put it on requires two snaps. “Click! Click!” goes the mask when I put it on. So if I get in bed later than her, I’m making noise. If I go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, I need to remove the mask, and then put it back on, so I’m making noise. Alternately, I can keep the mask on, but remove the hose, and that goes “Snap!” when it attaches. More noise… But wait! There’s also the Velcro adjustment straps. “Rip! Rip! Rip! Rip!” if I need to adjust for air leaks. As for the machine, well, the power button makes a “Click!” though not as loud as the mask, and the LED display is bright enough to light up the room, so I keep it covered with a piece of fabric.

All in all, I’d love to see some improvements in the silencing of the whole process… but ignoring all that, it’s still pretty damn sweet.

Wearing the mask can be annoying, but when I think of the alternative, I’d prefer to wear the mask and actually get some sleep.

Oh, I also talked to one person who said it freaked them out, and they were worried that the power might go out and they wouldn’t be able to breathe and… It doesn’t work that way. CPAP is “continuous positive airway pressure” not a respirator. You can keep breathing (and stay alive!) even if it shuts off.

And yeah, the mask isn’t fun like a Halloween mask, but like I said, it’s worth it for the change its made in my life.

Thanks Mr. CPAP!


Sleep Study

Sleep Study

Well, I finally did it. After years decades of not sleeping well, and snoring away the time I do spend sleeping, I did a sleep study. I’ve been wanting to do it for a few years, but you either need insurance or money to do one, and in the past, I’ve had neither…

Yeah, I’ve got sleep apnea. If you don’t know what that is, it basically means you stop breathing while you are sleeping. You don’t have to be a medical doctor to know that’s probably a bad thing. In fact, its believed that sleep apnea may have contributed to Reggie White’s death.

I’ve got friends with sleep apnea who got tested, and ended up with CPAP machines. One told me it changed his life, and urged me to get tested. (Hey Les, I finally did it!)

The test itself was a lot of fun for a nerd like me. They connected 27 sensors to my body to capture data. This included 15 on the head, one on each ankle, some on the chest, back, and stomach to monitor breathing, and a pulse sensor on the finger. (Interestingly enough, I’ll be getting my own pulse sensor very soon.)

They wire you up and let you sleep a few hours to monitor things, and then (if needed) put a CPAP mask on you, and it helps you breathe. It was a little weird, but I’m sure I’ll get used to the mask, especially if it means better sleep and better health. (The machines are also much quieter than they used to be.)

I was also told that surgery can be an option rather than a CPAP machine, but they do not recommend it, and it doesn’t always work. I’m cool with the technology instead.

I did do a little probing about the data that got collected from the study. I asked it if was just numerical data from the sensors, perhaps in a CSV file. The technician said that was “basically” correct. (It was hard to gauge how technical the technician was.) I asked about getting a copy of my data. They told me I’d need to ask the doctor, as it was for him. I personally think it should be available to me. I’m the patient, right? Isn’t the data about me? Shouldn’t they be required to share it with me?

Anyway, I was told that I slept good with the mask on. I didn’t feel like I did, but I think “medically” I probably slept good. I should find out in a few weeks when I get my own machine for home use. (The mask probably wasn’t optimal either, as they spend some of the time adjusting the pressure and monitoring the sensor data. Hopefully they’ve got it all dialed in at the end.)

Oh, I was also told that the home machine logs data and the doctor takes a look at that data as well. Anyone know how to get that data from the machine? :)