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Handheld 5 Button MIDI Controller

Here’s another recent build. A five button handheld MIDI controller. This one is not USB MIDI but has a 5 pin DIN MIDI connector to go directly to an instrument. (This one will control a BOSS RC-505 Looper.) A musician got in touch with me about this, asking for a “small detonator style device” and that’s what we designed and built.

I’ll do a quick walk-through of the process for this project with some notes and illustrations.

This was the sketch the client sent, so I could get some idea of what they had in mind. My first question was about the dimensions of the unit, since finding an enclosure would probably be the largest challenge for the project.

Here’s the second client sketch showing dimensions. (You’ll also notice six buttons, though we knocked it down to just five for this iteration.) With the dimensions in hand I started looking for enclosures. Metal would have been preferable, but plastic would be acceptable.

Sadly I did not find any good enclosures the desired size, so I suggested using a 3D printed enclosure so we could make it custom and the exact size we needed. The client agreed to that and I started designing.

Here’s my first design sketch. It’s got some transparency because I often want to see how things fit inside the enclosure to ensure we’ve got enough space for everything. This one shows a rocker style power switch on the top.

A quick change moving the power switch to the side of the unit instead of the top, per the client’s request. This increased the length of the unit a bit.

Here’s the final sketch for the device. We switched to a power button with a built-in LED so it could also serve as a power indicator since this is battery powered. This sketch got final approval which meant I could start designing the 3D model and putting together the electronics.

Since durability was important the walls for this enclosure are 4mm wide and the infill is at 30%. The print came out great. I printed it on an upgraded Creality Ender 3 with black Hatchbox filament.

I was really pleased with how this came out. Rather than design a battery compartment I used an off-the-shelf battery holder for an electric guitar, which I think worked well.

This project took a lot of time, but it was a fun challenge, and it feels good to be able to help a musician expand their performance capabilities.

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1/2/3 USB Controller

Here’s the story on this one. A local tradeshow company bought some of my controllers about six years ago. Since that time I’ve worked with them on other projects where I was the client, and I’ve worked for them (in various capacities) on other occasions.

Back in December the owner got in touch with me to purchase a few controllers and I got them built and programmed that night, and delivered the next day. Tradeshow exhibits can change on a dime, so he then texted a day after that with a more custom request. We texted around 5pm and by 9pm I had a device built and programmed and ready to be dropped off the next morning so they could get it installed over the weekend.

It’s not the prettiest thing I’ve built lately, but speed of delivery was the primary goal with this one. I also took some photos and wrote up a small manual to describe the operation and installation of it. Below are some of the notes from the docs.

The 1/2/3 USB Input Device consists of three buttons (with wires) and one controller box with a USB cable connected to it.

Each button connects with wires to the solderless snap connectors on the box. All of the black wires go into the large connector, and then the yellow wire(s) from buttons 1, 2, and 3 each go into the corresponding numbered connector.

The snap connectors have orange levers that open to insert the wire, and then close to lock the wire in place. Make sure the wire is inserted all the way. Once you lock the lever in place give the wire a light tug. If it comes out it was not inserted all the way. Open the lever and try again.

If longer wires are needed just strip the ends so you have bare wire, and twist them securely onto the ends of the wires connected to the buttons and wrap with tape. Then strip the other end and insert into the solderless connectors.

Note: The wires connected to the buttons do not have polarity, but one is black and one is yellow to simplify making the connections to the box. As long as one wire from a button goes to ground, and the other goes to a numbered connection, it will work. Color coding was implemented so that making the connections is easier.

If a longer (or shorter) USB cable is desired, the enclosure can be opened and a new Micro USB cable can be swapped for the existing one. Note that strain relief was added to the USB cable to prevent damage to the controller board.

A few more notes: I just happened to have this plastic enclosure in the shop which was handy. It’s been sitting on a shelf for years and it saved me the trouble of building a custom enclosure. (I often 3D print or laser cut an enclosure, but this was enough of a rush job I didn’t want to spend time doing that.)

The connectors I used are not Wago connectors but “Glutoad” connectors. They are cheaper and not as good, but I had a bunch in the shop so I used them. I know the tradeshow company has used Wago connectors before so I figured this would be familiar to them.

I tend to write documentation like this not just for the client, but for myself. Chances are they might want another one in the future and the docs help me remember exactly what I built. In a previous life I built exhibits that needed to be supported for five years or more, so some documentation was always required. Reading the docs now I realize they are not great, but again, this was a rush project so I figures something was better than nothing.

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Ornament 69

I’m way behind on my ornament game this year because work has been insane lately. Here’s one I made two weeks ago for a neighbors small holiday open house. They provided a heavy blank paperboard ornament and Dana came up with the concept for this.

Here’s the illustration I created. (The final piece consists of layered felt that is laser cut and then spray glued together on the blank ornament.)

Here are the individual pieces of felt. I did illustrate the stars in gold/yellow but I found a silver backed felt and used that. I ended up stacking a few layers of the white snow to give it some depth, though I should have done a boolean difference of the top of the trees for the stars, or better yet, layered the stars a bit better. (I have another project in the works that is an improvement in this.)

Oh, it’s “Ornament 69” because we live on 69th Street. Happy Holidays!

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Korg NTS-1 Preventative Maintenance

The Korg NTS-1 is a $99 digital synthesizer and effects box that is just straight-up awesome. It’s cheap, but packed with features, including the ability to load custom oscillators and effects, and there are a bunch of them out there for free and for a price. I’ve had a blast making noise with this thing, and there are a few groups online for discussion of the NTS-1.

The NTS-1 is a kit you build yourself. Don’t worry, it just requires a screwdriver (which is included) and it’s really just assembling the enclosure around two circuit boards. Takes about 15 minutes if you go slow. Where the NTS-1 does not shine is in its durability. This is not a device you just toss into your bag, or that can easily travel to a gig. It is… fragile. The main fragility (as many will attest to) is in the connectors. So I’ve tried to strengthen them a bit.

I started by taking the unit apart. Well, just removing the top panel and top PCB. The rest of the pieces of the enclosure can stay put together.

The 1/8″ jacks are soldered on as surface mount components. This is pretty terrible, as they really should be through hole components to help provide a solid mechanical connection to the PCB. I’m sure it was done this way to keep things cheap. The problem is that if the jack pulls off the board it will probably pull off the solder pad as well, so you can’t really replace it. Sigh. I added a bunch of hot glue around the headphone jack. Some have questioned if this will do anything. I figure it’s better than nothing.

Here’s the same treatment to the other jacks. (MIDI in, sync in & out, and audio in.) Just lots of hot glue. Basically the more you plug and unplug things with these jacks the more stress they’ll be under. I’ve seen at least one person build a larger case around their NTS-1 and then use panel mount plugs so they aren’t repeatedly plugging and unplugging from the jacks on the unit. It’s a good solution but does increase the size of the unit.

I also added a laser cut overlay panel to mine. (Mostly cosmetic, though it does keep the top surface a bit cleaner.) I did have to grab some longer screws to hold it in place. If I remember correctly they were 2.5mm machine screws about 8mm long. (The stock ones were a bit too short to catch enough of the threads due to the increase is height due to the overlay.)

The file I used was just a slightly modified version of one that Korg provided. Since black and green are two of my favorite colors this looks great in my opinion.

Oh, one thing I forgot to do was put hot glue all over the Micro USB jack! I will need to open it up and add more glue to that.

Here’s a little sound demo of the Korg NTS-1 which has a built-in arpeggiator.

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November 2021 Walking Stats

All these stats and graphs are provided by a Fitbit Charge 3 that I wear every day. I just grabbed screen shots from the Fitbit web site.

As mentioned last month I’ve started walking more every day in order to get fit, stay healthy, and lose a bit of weight. For November 2021 I got up to 441,795 steps! That is 32,736 more steps than the previous month. I don’t expect that it will increase each month, but October was my first month, and I think I got much better at walking in month two. (I definitely started slow in October.)

The stat known as “Floors” are measured using an altimeter and for November it was 1098. Just 10 more than October. I really don’t take that many flights of “stairs” but I do walk up and down hills, so I think that’s part of it. (On a busy day of working at home I will easily go up and down two sets of stairs multiple times per day. At the office there are… zero stairs.)

Mileage! Yeah, 208.51 miles in November. Which is crazy. That’s up 15.81 miles from October. Again, the slow start in October probably accounts for the lower number. I definitely try to get more distance in on the weekends. Typically Saturday and Sunday morning I try to do an hour long walk in the morning. If I can do an evening walk that really helps, and if not, I at least still get in my minimum goal each day.

How about them calories? 108,967 for November. Only about a thousand more than the previous month which is seems like it should be more, but I guess I had more to burn off the first month. I lost about 10 pounds in October but only about 6 pounds in November. I suppose this makes sense, and I’m fine with it. I still have more pounds I’d like to lose, so I’ll keep trying to get my numbers up there as far as steps per day.

I did some traveling during November and it was difficult to get in the steps I wanted during travel days. I’ve got a few similar things happening in December, so we’ll see how that goes.