Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Let the public vote on science funding?

The hare-brained ideas have started even before the new batch of Congress-critters have entered office.

They are calling on the public to vote on which science projects should be funded by the NSF.  How about we save some time and just attach some pushbuttons to monkey cages?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Larson Scanner for Unicycle

How to make a unicycle more menacing? Add a Larson Scanner from Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories. I modified a Minoura Swing Grip by removing the crossbar and replacing with a piece of vinyl tubing to enclose the Larson scanner.

Here's the YouTube video.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Visited Durham Ukelele Jam last night

Attended the Durham Ukulele Jam at High Strung Music last night. Everyone was very friendly -- I played a loaner Denim Flea (Concert) and my jamming neighbor kindly let me play her tenor for a few songs.

My mind was pretty much set on a tenor until I played the concert. While the tenor was a bit easier to play, the concert had the more traditional uke sound. The Flea played well, but they run about $200. I'd like to find something a bit less expensive. The Fluke has a larger body and would probably be easier to hold and play. The Flea and Fluke have a reputation for being very consistent from the factory, which is a consideration if I'm ordering online.

I was able to pick up chords pretty quickly, though during phrases that required rapid chord changes, I often reverted to guitar fingerings. Oops!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Vacation experiences with Windows Vista

Our villa in Jamaica is equipped with 2 computers on which I dare not enter any personal information. I just spent about an hour working on clearing some disgusting spyware from a system running Windows Vista Basic. Even after updating Firefox, the same windows keep popping up. First thing I tries was to uninstall Firefox. Which solved the problem in an unsatisfactory way.

Since the infection was limited to the Guest account, I thought "I'll just delete the Guest account".

Apparently, that is not possible. Seems pretty dumb. Thankfully, it can be disabled. So I disabled the built in Guest account, reinstalled Firefox and and created another regular account, which can be deleted and recreated as needed. Problem solved.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Deconstruction : Mini Arcade on eBay

Just saw this slick little cocktail arcade system on eBay. With a few minor mods, it would be much more usable as a desktop computer. If the LCD were attached to the lid, so that when it is opened, it would be oriented for desktop use. External USB ports would allow for easier use of peripherals.

Very nice build, though and gives me ideas. I have an LCD display with no stand that would make a nice tabletop game system along with the headless e1505 laptop.

Project : Mister for recumbent bike

My friend Eric wants to build a water mister for his recumbent bike. He would like to be able to vary the speed of misting. Manual triggering may be an issue as he has limited use of his hands. I suggested that we want to keep the system relatively compact, to make it easier to refill and take on and off the bike.

We brainstormed some ideas and came up with the following :
  • Triggering : use a windshield wiper control - it already does variable speeds and allows for arbitrary delays. Most of these systems require 12V, which may be more than the motor for the mister needs, so regulation would be required. I suggested perhaps an optical sensor, but that requires extra circuitry. I suggested we start off with a simple switch and work up from there.
  • Power : I suggested a rechargeable battery pack. Eric's SO Jenny suggested a generator which would require attachment to the bike. Perhaps solar? Again, I'm thinking start with a battery (like for a portable DVD player)
  • Mounting : probably attach to the handlebars. If we used a bike water bottle, perhaps any existing water bottle holders could be used.
  • Spray nozzle : I suggested a tube connected to a flexible stalk. If the water bottle holder was close enough to the handlebar, then everything could be attached to the water bottle

The Evolution of Air Travel

Flew U.S. Airways from Charlotte to Jamaica yesterday.

Two new revenue generators :
  • Drop the temperature on the plane and sell blankets 
  • Advertise credit card offers during landing announcements

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Replacing a GPS : New maps or new GPS?

I have a Garmin Nuvi 200W which I like, but I'm finding more and more mistakes in the maps. Turns out map updates are $69. A newer model, the Nuvi 255W is available for $99. It has a faster processor and locks onto satellites faster. The old Nuvi 200w becomes the backup GPS/photo frame and the 255W takes its' place.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Keeping visitors away from the beach

Found this blog post in my Drafts. This happened about 3 years ago, but it really happened. The parking pass system rebooted while I was trying to buy a pass. The clock was 30 minutes off. I saw a car being towed through gridlocked traffic.

Here goes ......

Just came back from a whirlwind trip to the beach. My son Liam was having his pictures taken for promotional materials. I arrived the day before, and decided to spend some time at the beach. It didn't take long for things to go wrong. I appreciate their attention to safety. They just need to rethink customer relations.

Keeping Visitors Away From The Beach

- Establish onerous parking rates. At least $1.50/hour
- Don't maintain the machines that generate the parking receipts. Have them periodically reboot while the customer is attempting to purchase parking time.
- Set the clocks in the parking machines 30 minutes in the past. This way, you can sell 30 minutes of parking for the price of an hour of parking. This also creates a prime opportunity for towing cars in expired spaces.
- Configure the systems so that they only generate 1 hour parking passes, requiring the customer to return hourly to add more parking time.
- Tow the cars of violators during prime beach hours, causing traffic gridlock
- Establish rules for proper conduct at the beach, but don't post them anywhere
- If you choose to document rules, do so in an extremely cryptic manner. For example, to demark a zone in which swimmers should not enter the water, like near a pier, stick a red flag in the sand. Everyone knows people don't read signs with words :-)
- When the rules are transgressed, use a bullhorn to inform the offender, assuring public humiliation. Toss in phrases like "you need to watch your are not at Disney World"
- Don't enforce rules uniformly. This keep your visitors on their toes.

Saved from the dump - Dell Inspiron e1505

My sister gave me a Dell Inspiron e1505 that she found laying on the curb after the BGSU students moved out. Physically, it appeared to be in decent shape. I plugged it in and powered it on. I would get a one second visual of the Dell boot screen, then nothing. I plugged in an external monitor, and it appears to be working normally (other than the display). A little research indicates that screen failures were common on these laptops.

Otherwise, a decent laptop : Vista compatible, Express Card slot, SD card slot, 4 USB ports, external S-video/composite out.

As I recall, the LCD did not look so great, so "Off With Its' Head!" I removed the screen completely and powered it up again. System booted normally. Everything looks good. If I decide to add a touch screen to use with the virtual pipe organ project, I don't need to worry about integrating a touch panel onto the existing laptop LCD.

Just for grins, I started poking around on the laptop to see if it had any problems. It had 3 different anti-virus programs running simultaneously : Symantec, McAfee and AVG. Once I uninstalled those, performance improved dramatically.

Postscript : Finally figured out the part number of the inverter (note to manufacturers : don't use the letter I in part numbers). Ordered a unit from eBay for $9.

PostPostscript : Replacement inverter did not fix the problem. Found a $25 LCD display at the flea market. Using it headless. To get better wireless range, I pulled the antennas out of the lid and attached them to a wooden stand

I think I'll call him Mike :

Friday, May 14, 2010

New keyboard for organ project

I had been working on soldering the wires to the Schober 61 note keyboards, but was not happy with the wire management. I had been keeping my eye out for controllers and found an Edirol PC-50 keyboard controller for $10 on Craigslist. Only $10? It had a bad key which I fixed with a pencil eraser. Planning to work more on the software, foot pedals and expression pedals and save the bulk of the soldering work for later.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Learning economics on the long drive

Spent almost 12 hours yesterday getting home from Bowling Green, Ohio where I spent the weekend "junking" with my sister. Spent most of the trip home listening to the EconTalk podcast out of George Mason University.

Especially interesting were :

I always recommend Roberts' discussions with Nassim Nicholas Taleb :

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

C64 Muse ... almost done

C64 Muse
Originally uploaded by tom karches
Almost done. Need to add pots and figure out what to do with dead space with missing keys. Getting ready for maker Faire Sunday

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Loudest Musical Instrument Ever Constructed

Part of my current pipe organ obsession. Found this amusing. In Guinness as the the "Loudest Musical Instrument Ever Constructed"

A quote from the page :

The Guinness Book also recognizes the Grand Ophicleide 16′ in the Pedal Right division to be the loudest organ stop in the world.

The Grand Ophicleide produces 130 dB at 1 metre distance

Check out the picture of the console. Largest in the world. Captain Kirk would be envious.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

C-64 Muse assembled

C-64 Muse assembled
Originally uploaded by tom karches
Finally, everything is attached. Next test to make sure I didn't break anything in the process.

Maker Faire Projects

Maker Faire is coming up at the end of April and I'm busily working on the projects I want to show there.

- VPO built from Schober keyboards, Gulbransen pedalboard, Dell Mini 9
- Arduino pocket piano with full size 2 octave keyboard
- Home built Etherwave Theremin
- C64 Muse - C64 with full size 2 octave keyboard

I don't think the MidiBox SID is going to happen any time soon.

Last night I finally finished bolting all the C64 Muse parts together. It's not pretty, but it's movable.

The VPO keyboards are mounted to the keydeck. I purchased the heavy duty rubber feet yesterday. There is an amazing selection of samples of different pipe organs to use. I'm also thinking of using some of littl-scale's sample libraries. This would give me a VPO with chiptune voices.

Parts orders have arrived from Smash TV (Midibox DIN and CORE boards), Mouser (VPO, Arduino pocket piano, Theremin coils)

The Midibox stuff should go together nicely. The DIN boards only have about 15 components, thanks to the resistor networks. I will likely buy more DIN and CORE boards and retrofit parts from the old boards.

The Arduino Pocket Piano keyboard is wired. These have been a bear to get working right. I mounted the micro switches on coat hanger wire that run through the end blocks. If I do this again, I'll likely premount smaller endblocks to the wire and create an assembly that can easily be adjusted. I going to attach the switches to a DB-25 connector and use a DB-25 straight through cable to connect the keyboard to the CPU. I'm planning to either put the parts in a piece of PVC, or just have everything out in the open. I could build the PP as a standalone piece of gear, but I believe I'll just use the BBB Arduino and build the APP as a Arduino shield.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Acquired a Gulbransen Premiere Theatre Organ

After an arduous pickup operation on friday night, I am now the owner of a broken Gulbransen Premiere Theater Organ.

David came over Sunday and pulled the parts that he wanted from the
organ. Leaving me with a hulk containing 2 61 note keyboards, a bunch of transistorized electronics and a Leslie speaker.

David was a super nice guy. We both graduated from Cary High in 1978. He
has grandchildren. I have an 8 year old and a 13 year old. Different life paths.

The keyboards on the organ may be too complicated for my purposes, but
I'll hang on to them for now. Hoping to get rid of as much of the rest
as possible. The mechanics inside the organ are pretty
"I would never want to fix this" amazing. There is a huge speaker in
there, hidden behind a bunch of filter boards. Will check the
condition as soon as I get in there. The amp is transistorized, with
paper capacitors which are probably shot.

What is most interesting is the stuff that David brought me in exchange for the parts he wanted :

Two 61 note keyboards with replacement tone generators from a Schoeber
Recital Organ :

Schoeber Organs were built from kits. The original tone generators
were transistorized and kind of unreliable. Along with these keyboards
I got are the original tone generators PLUS replacement tone
generators built by Devtronix (Model 243-3).

Mentioned here :

They both use top octave chip technology like the Paia OZ Organ :

These replacement tone generator boards were also built from kits.

So, assuming they work (David said they did), I have the guts of two
61 note organs. They boards are not that big. I could build a super
compact, standalone organ. I was thinking of something that I could
mount to the wall in Aidan's room, and he could fold up out of the

He also brought in a bunch of filter boards for the original stops.
And full documentation for everything, including an article on how to
design your own organ stops. I have all those stop buttons from the
Baldwin. Perhaps they would work with this.

Perhaps you can scan these docs for me...they are double sided and I'm
not sure how I would reassemble them after scanning on the Epson you
gave me.

I believe there is also another tone generator for the pedalboard,
which may work well with the Baldwin pedals.

Interesting stuff.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Antibiotics can cause insomnia

I learned something new yesterday. Antibiotics can cause insomnia. Specifically Levaquin. Scary stuff.