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A Real USB Knob and Virtual Knobs

Back in 2021 I built this USB controller featuring a rotary encoder that can turn endlessly in both directions. I sell the S1 Controller on Etsy.

If it’s programmed as a USB device it can act like a mouse scroll wheel, which I discovered some people love for controlling analog-style knobs on-screen. Typically someone will have a DAW with a bunch of dial in the interface where they can adjust them by putting their mouse pointer over one and then using the mouse scroll wheel. But some people really like the feel of turning an actual know… So we can do that!

With the S1 Controller you just put your mouse over a control and then turn the knob on the S1 Controller and the knob on-screen changes value. Along the way people would ask if the S1 Controller would work with their software, so I made this for people to test things: raster.github.io/knob

Basically if you can control that knob with your mouse scroll wheel, we can program the S1 Controller to work for you. It’s that simple. (I’m a huge fan of simple devices.)

The S1 Controller can also be programmed as a USB MIDI device. Some people use it to control specific parameters in their DAW. Typically we set the knob to output MIDI CC3 (from 0 to 127), and the button to send 127 on CC9. (But we can use any CC number, or noteOn/noteOff, etc. Anything MIDI really.)

I’ve been pleased that so many people have wanted a physical control for an on-screen UI element. As much as we love what computers can do for us and the capabilities they provide, it’s still nice that the analog world (or the desire to emulate it) hasn’t completely disappeared.

(Oh, the code for the virtual knob can be found here: github.com/raster/knob. It uses the JavaScript pure-knob from Andre Plötze)

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Trader Joe’s Chunky Salsa

A few people seemed to enjoy my Kroger Private Selection Salsa review so I’m back again with another salsa. I picked up this “Trader José’s” salsa for $1.99 USD, so expect another cheap salsa. It’s mild, and… well, it is mild. If you want plain, cheap, dare I say boring salsa, this is it!

While the Kroger Private Selection Salsa was probably going for an upscale/artisan look with the label, this Trader Joe item is full on “Mexican Restaurant in America” style. It’s fine. Say “fine” to the salsa. It’s 10 calories per serving but I eat half a jar at a time so whatever.

I had to spice it up a bit, and instead of the Sriracha I grabbed the Old Bay hot sauce for a bit more flavor. That helped.

So yeah, boring salsa, but cheap. Not too much liquid like the Kroger Private Selection Salsa so at least you get your two dollars worth. Chips Ahoy!

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2022 2018 Mac Update

Up until February I was using a 2010 Mac Pro as my main desktop machine at home. (MacPro5,1 Quad-Core Intel Xeon 2.4 GHz with 36GB of RAM) I had all the drive bays filled and upgraded the video card to a SAPPHIRE Radeon 580 a few years ago. It actually worked pretty well, but was definitely showing its age, and with me doing more video work the slowness was starting to get noticeable.

About two years ago at work we upgraded a few machines and I ended up with a Mac mini (3.2 Ghz 6-Core Intel Core i7 with 32GB of RAM) I’ve actually still got a 2007 Mac mini at home in my shop that mainly runs as a music player, but it’s been years (obviously!) since it’s been a useful desktop machine.

Anyway, I was pleased with the Mac mini at work so I figured I’d get one for home. I’m still not quite ready to shell out for an M1 machine, so I grabbed a 2018 Mac mini. It’s only an i3 but I did stick 32GB of RAM into it, and while it’s got a small 256GB internal SSD I picked up an external 1TB SSD which the system boots from. (There’s also a 4TB external backup drive connected for Time Machine backups.)

The Mac mini isn’t screaming fast, but it’s way faster than an old 2010 Mac Pro, and was about $700 USD, which is not a bad price for a “new” Mac. I know the base model M1 Mac mini starts around $600 but I wasn’t quite ready to jump to the M1 architecture and the older Mac Minis have a few features I really like.

So I’ve been using the Mac mini for a few months now, and it’s been great. Exporting videos and rendering 3D models is faster than the old Mac Pro, and I was easily able to upgrade to Monterey macOS 12 without issue (which the Mac Pro could not do). All in all I consider it a solid upgrade. And since it was about $700 even if I only get a few years of use out of it, that’ll be fine with me.

Oh, worth mentioning! I got the Mac mini from Other World Computing. I’ve been a customer for… I don’t even know, maybe 20 years? They’ve always been great to deal with and have good products.

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Printing versus… Not Printing?

After I posted about my Fan Shelf Brackets I shared it on Facebook, and got the following comment from a friend:

I’ve done that with blocks of wood. I’m not sure the 3D printer adds any value over that.

I didn’t try to add value by using my method (3D printing) over another method (cutting blocks of wood) but I wanted to explain my approach, so I did. you can read my response below:

Great comment! So here’s the deal… Sometimes printing is easier for these things, at least for me. I would need blocks of wood, and I would also need to cut the wood. Now, those things should not be too difficult, but they can be. I have a miter saw in the garage, and to use it I need to open the garage door and move my car back partway into the alley, then use the saw, then move my car back. The miter saw is okay for cutting small pieces of wood, but I don’t always feel comfortable doing that. (I don’t have a real table saw, so that’s not an option for me.)

Once I make the needed cuts I probably have to glue and clamp things, or nail/screw them together. Again, not a huge pain, but it is work. Also, I do need to have wood on hand. (Who am I kidding, I always have scrap around!)

With the printed version, I printed a small test part quickly to see if it would fit, then I printed the larger versions overnight, confident they would fit right based on my test. Since the groove is 6mm wide I would either need to cut a groove that width or stack multiple cuts/pieces and glue them together to get what I needed.

There’s always multiple ways to do things, and honestly, with two 3D printers on hand and plenty of filament, this was the easiest way for me to make this thing.

I’ve been 3D printing things for over a decade now. Have I printed things that might seem silly to print? Sure, and I’m one of those people who mostly does practical printing, not fun decorative things. I once print a shim because it was the easiest way for me to get exactly what I needed. As long as I have a 3D printer I am going to use it for all sorts of things that other people might not. If you’ve got metalworking or woodworking tools and raw materials and feel comfortable and skilled working with those, you might choose to do so. For me personally, modeling and printing a thing makes good sense, and luckily, I still enjoy it.

Note: I think it’s important to pull conversations like this out of the walled garden that is Facebook, so I may do this more often if valuable insight (!?!) warrants it.

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A Little Bolt Cutter

I’ve mentioned this before, but I tend to get all my metric hardware from Bolt Depot. I’ve got a good collection of bolts, mainly 3mm, 2.5mm, and 2mm, that I use for electronics projects. I tend to get a bunch of different lengths and go for higher quantities on the more common sizes I use. This means I often don’t have a ton of really short bolts. 10mm or 12mm in length, I’ve got… 4mm to 6mm, not so much.

So last year while planning for a project that needed less than 40 really short 2mm bolts I thought about placing an order for more hardware, but realized that getting what I needed (which I probably wouldn’t use for anything else) was quite expensive when shipping was factored into the cost, so instead I got a bolt cutter!

I grabbed this TEKTON 8 Inch Bolt Cutter and it’s been super handy for making shorter bolts out of the 20mm bolts I rarely use. The description says “Cuts bolts, chain, threaded rod, and heavy gauge wire up to 3/16 in. diameter”. Conversion maths says that 3/16″ equals 4.7625mm. I’ve only used this to cut bolts 3mm or smaller in diameter and honestly even the 3mm is a little tough. But 2mm/2.5mm is just right.

Right now the 8″ cutter is $13 and the 12″ cutter is $32. I’d suggest getting the 12″ if you are okay spending that much and want to cut bolts larger than 3mm in diameter, but for the smaller stuff these 8″ cutter works well. If I’m screwing the bolt into a 3D printed part I don’t even bother fixing up the threads, as they just need to bite into the plastic. If you’re attaching a nut you’ll want to thread one one or more nuts up to the head of the bolt before you cut so you can unscrew them and clean up the threads a bit. (I’m pretty sure I learned that trick from Frankie Flood.)