Friday, November 18, 2011

Success : Auto update of Ubuntu 11.04 to 11.10

Did the "click the button" update from Ubuntu 11.04 to 11.10. Zero problems. I did have to ask Mr. Google how to get the old Gnome desktop back. This is the 2nd time I have done a hands off (mostly) Ubuntu upgrade...previously from 10.10 to 11.04. That upgrade was also flawless, but I did have to answer a few questions about keeping files that were to be replaced. I have been using Ubuntu as my primary desktop for the last 3 months, and have been very impressed. The biggest problem with using Ubuntu at NCSU is the problem with configuring the VPN. Which is totally a Cisco problem....their client assumes that Firefox is installed and tries to save the certificate in a .firefox directory. If that directory does not exist, the VPN client fails with a generic message. Why this dependency even exists is puzzling.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Roland - Why such cheap connectors on expensive gear?

I just finished repairing the 2nd piece of Roland music gear in the past two months. Earlier, I removed the audio output jacks from a Roland SPD-S Sampling Pad and replaced them with a cable to an external breakout box. The 1/4 in output jacks are used more than any other connector on the device, but the parts are of poor quality, and mounted in such a way that guarantees their failure. No strain relief is provided -- all the stress of plugging and unplugging audio connectors is absorbed by the connector and its' solder joints. While the connectors are threaded for a mounting nut, the design does not allow them to be added. Original retail on this device was between $500 and $800. Earlier this week, I repaired a Roland RD-700SX Stage Piano. Original retail was likely between $1000 and $2000. The contacts of the power connector were totally mangled. Rather than use a replacement part that would likely fail again, I used a connector from an old piece of test gear.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Open letter to HP


I know you are having a hard time right now (and by the way, my HP stock is way down), but this is not the time to be running from the hardware business. My opinions vary on your consumer products, but my ongoing good experiences with your server class hardware tells me that you should keep doing that. Your background in instrumentation and testing gives you a good perspective on how to develop systems that can be monitored and maintained effectively. Keep it up.


Hammond T-595

From Hammond T-595
My new, old Hammond T-595. The previous owner got as far as painting the organ to match the room. Has a built in Leslie. From the symptoms (hum, very low sound), I'm guessing bad capacitors or a bad output transistor.

The Hammond T-500's were the last of the tonewheel organs that Hammond produced. Tonewheels generate sound via spinning metal discs and electromagnets. The drawbar controls allow a specific mix of harmonics in the output.

Amusingly, the T-500 Hammond incorporates circuitry to eliminate the uniqueness, classic, Hammond B3 sound. Forutunately, The modifications to reverse these "improvements" are well documented.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Project KOW : Console design

The jOrgan software uses "dispositions" as configurations for how a virtual organ will look and sound. When these dispositions are very complex, the control scheme is also complex. Generally, the player will choose combinations of stops and apply them to "pistons" which are basically presets. These pistons are physical controls and are generally located below the manuals, though pistons can be displayed on the computer screen and selected with the mouse, or via a touch screen.

During the performance, the pistons allow rapid changes of stop combinations that could not be achieved by manually changing the stop tabs. My first "proof of concept" organ used a ELO touchscreen, which allowed me to tap the screen to make changes.

So, now to console design. A touchscreen allows access to many stop tabs and pistons, but lacks the tactile feel of real switches. One can glance at physical switches to check and change configurations, but this is much more difficult with touchscreens.

I did extensive research online to help me decide on a design for my console. I have narrowed this down to Schlicker and Holtkamp consoles, as they often used a very minimalist design (some call it ugly) The console that most approximates what I am planning is this Schlicker practice organ :

Reducing the number of controls allows all controls to be "real" and eliminates the need for a computer display. This will allow me to concentrate more on playing, and less time fiddling. There will be likely fewer than 30 physical control elements, which also makes the console project much more "doable". The thought of wiring even 100 different controls is daunting.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Hardman Wurlitzer in Virginia

The theatre organ that Cameron Carpenter uses on his "Cameron Live!" DVD/CD is located in Great Falls, Virginia near Washington, DC :

The reconstruction story is very detailed.

An entire building was built for the organ console and pipes. My understanding is that the local zoning board would not allow the owner to build a new structure that was bigger than his house, so the organ "barn" was built as an addition (connected by an enclosed corridor) to his existing house.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Project KOW : The portable organ project

For my current musical project I thought it would be fun to bring a virtual pipe organ to the recent North Carolina Maker Faire, but a traditional organ console was not very practical. I would need something more portable. Portability was necessary for my situation. But what if portability were a design goal rather than an inconvenience?

This requires a rethinking of the organ console, which has remained relatively unchanged for hundreds of years. Since I have only recently started piano lessons, I have no preconceptions of how an organ console should work.

The computer side is relatively easy if your goals are modest.

The organ that I displayed at MakerFaire was rather minimal -- a touchscreen, a laptop and a 61 note MIDI keyboard. I ran the jOrgan software under Windows XP.

My goals for the console design are :
AGO standard manual (keyboard) spacing - An organist can play it
Self-contained - No separate computer
Reduced size and weight - I can carry it
Appliance philosophy - The computer is there, but hidden
Don't reinvent the wheel - Use commercially available parts when practical
Flexibility - Be able to experiment with different interfaces without having to start the project over
Modularity - Be able to expand without having to start over

Next : Design

Saturday, June 18, 2011

KOW (Karches Organ Works) at MakerFaire NC

The response to my VPO project at MakerFaire was tremendous. Thanks to everyone that came out. I will be adding more information shortly.

Building a VPO console

For those of you that saw my VPO setup at MakerFaire North Carolina, I have added some links in the sidebar to VPO related sites and resources.

VPO software
If you want to try out VPO software without having to install software to your hard drive, I would try the jOrganPup distribution which boots from a USB key and runs on most PC hardware. It runs very well on older hardware.

The MidiTizer software is an emulation of a theater pipe organ. It is more complex than jOrgan Pup and is intended to run under Microsoft Windows. There is a version that runs in the WINE Windows emulator under Puppy Linux.

The Hauptwerk software is a commercial product that run on Mac OSX or Windows. There is substantial documentation on line. It will run in a limited "free mode" or with a license key. The free and purchased versions are the same...the USB license key activates the additional functionality.

VPO Hardware
M-Audio Keystation 61es - this is a semi-weighted keyboard which is often used in DIY organ consoles. I have been buying my 61es keyboards from Unique Squared, an eBay vendor that sells B-Stock keyboards that have minor blemishes (usually on the case and are fully guaranteed) for $124. Since I am removing them from the case, the blemishes are usually irrelevant. Brand new are about $170, so this saves about $50/keyboard. I have ordered 2 and they are both fine.

Friday, June 17, 2011

MakerFaire tomorrow : KOW Opus 1.0 and Flag-O-Matic

Just about ready for MakerFaire tomorrow. Will have my VPO project (KOW Opus 1.0) and Dad's Flag-O-Matic prototype on display.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

MacBook Pro : Post Mortem

I was recently given a 17 inch MacBook Pro by an acquaintance. A very DEAD MacBook Pro. His son had spilled a drink into the keyboard. Its' demise soon followed. I had the opportunity to tear it down completely, looking for usable parts.

If you own a unibody MacBook Pro, the most extensive repair I can imagine would be to replace the keyboard. Everything must be removed from the unibody to access the keyboard, which is held down by about 20 very small screws. There is an interesting variety of cable latches (standardization, anyone?) that must be undone. Some cables are connected via a friction fit.

So, if you own one of these Macbooks, and insist on keeping a drink close by, I suggest you invest in a good quality no-spill cup and use it (I personally like the Contigo, available at Target). The Contigo remains sealed unless the flow button is pressed.

If you do have a spill and mess up the keyboard, I would buy an external Bluetooth keyboard before I would do a keyboard replacement repair.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Project : Low cost organ (VPO) console

I've been on a pipe organ kick lately, more specifically Virtual Pipe Organs (VPO) and I'm thinking of building an inexpensive organ console for the upcoming Maker Faire to show what a VPO can do, and encourage people to build their own.

I've decided to combine inexpensive piano keyboards, a pedal board and preset switches --- materials I already have, and do it as simply as possible. I will be gutting the sound generating parts of the keyboards and using a Highly Liquid MIDI CPU to do the required interfacing. If one already has the keyboards, this project can easily cost less than $100. The MIDI CPU is only $44.

To work within the limitations of one MIDI CPU, I've decided to use 49 note keyboards. 61 note keyboards are the norm for organs, but they are much harder to find cheap or free. Using 49 note keyboards should allow me to interface everything with one MIDI CPU.

More details as I work them out.

Here is the Picasa album :

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dumb story on LED bulbs

Another crap study finds :

LED bulbs not as eco-friendly as some might think

Considering that :

- These lights will probably be burning after I am dead
(there is one in my ceiling fan)

- I don't plan to put them anywhere but a light bulb socket

Also, since LEDs last longer, there will be fewer in the landfill.

I'm not the least bit concerned. If the bulb burns out, I don't plan to pulverize it as they did in the story. What a worthless piece of journalism.

And quoting from the (stupid) story :

Incandescent bulbs, incidentally, contain very high levels of lead and mercury, while compact fluorescents are also high in mercury.

So what do they propose? We replace all our light bulbs with candles? Wait...lets do another study first...

Project : Clavinova - Ready for testing

Leaky capacitors have been replaced. I'll be replacing the main board this evening for the smoke test.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Flea Market find : HP Presario V6000

Picked up a laptop at a flea market this weekend....a HP Presario V6000. Powered up to a blank screen. This model had a lot of problems..specifically with the onboard nVidia graphics. The drive image was trashed, so I installed xubuntu, my current favorite distribution. Only problem seems to be a flaky Broadcom network card, soon to be replaced with an Intel W3945AWG ($3.99 shipped from eBay.) I have not been impressed with the state of Broadcom support under Linux.

Used my D-Link WUA-1340 USB wireless adapter to help complete the install. Linux works great with this adapter. This laptop will likely be used for video editing (OpenShot) and Puppy Studio 3.5 (with Rackarack guitar effects). The battery is toast, so this is effectively a portable workstation.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Dell e1505 in the media

I've been using my headless Dell e1505 for various projects. In the last two weeks, I have seen this laptop (with screen) in the media two different times : a Monk episode and a DelSym online commercial. What's the deal with this laptop?

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Dent popping vs conventional body work

Had a big dent removed from my 1999 Quest van by the Dent Dominator today. GEICO pays me $775, I pay DD $200. Epic win, no bondo.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Alternative music keyboards : real or virtual

Came across a web site on alternative music keyboards. The Axis-49 keyboard from C-Thru is $439. An iPad running Musix is 99 cents plus the cost of the iPad (a refurb 16G is selling for $429). I understand that these are not the same, but this makes the virtual version quite attractive.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

VPO Project : Success

Discovered the problem with running "jorgan-pup"on zombie (Dell Inspiron e1505 without a screen) -- needed more memory. Replaced the 512MB dimms with 1GB dimms. Works with LPK25 keyboard.

Plans now are to build a modern "portative organ", basically a portable pipe organ

  • 2 manuals - 2 octaves each - staggered - I have spacer plates from the Baldwin and Gulbransen.
  • Stop tablets from Baldwin
  • Piston buttons from Gulbransen (or use switches)
  • Dell e1505 as processor
  • Internal audio
  • 15 inch dell display
  • external connections for keyboard and mouse (USB hub)
More details coming soon. Hope to have something working for FOSS faire next month.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Problem with Jack

I have been working on two related projects : a virtual pipe organ (vpo) and a guitar effects processor. What they have in common is a PC running Linux. Most audio applications use a program called Jack, which is an "audio connection kit". Jack provides the connections between audio sources (like a virtual synth) and outputs (like the sound card in a computer).

I have been trying for the past two weeks (on and off) to get my computer to make a sound. Any sound. I read the online tutorials. They just didn't click with me. Something was missing. I was using some Sound Blaster Live! cards because they had been recommended for use with the VPO software. I could never get the VPO software (jOrgan) to generate any sound.

I decided to try a different tact with software called Rackarack. I decided to remove all the Sound Blaster cards and used the internal audio. I loaded Ubuntu Studio but could never get the Jack server to run. It would always fail with an error. Via Google, I discovered that Jack didn't work with Ubuntu versions after 10.4 (I was using 10.10).

I loaded a distribution called Puppy Studio, a custom distribution with audio multimedia packages. I booted from the CD. The Jack server started running.

I was reading an article about how to configure the Jack Patchbay and I realized what I had been missing. The Jack Patchbay has "outputs" which come from applications, and "inputs" which interface with hardware. Which seems backwards to me. The audio hardware is managed in Linux by a system called ALSA, which normalizes hardware so Jack can connect to it via the patchbay. The sound hardware was recognized by a system called Pulse Audio, which is used by ALSA to provide the connection to Jack.

I launched Jack, configured the patchbay based on the tutorial, plugged in my guitar and finally....sound.

If you want to use Linux to build an audio appliance, find a distribution with Jack bundled to avoid incompatibility problems.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

unexpected error?

My work mail is dead. The new GroupWise server is giving me an "An unexpected error has occurred".

So, would an "expected error" be any better?

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Project : Clavinova

I was recently given a Yamaha Clavinova CVP-87A.

It is a digital electronic piano with 88 weighted keys, rhythm section and recording/playback features. What you would buy if you did not have room for a real piano, but wanted the "feel" of a real piano. Beautiful rosewood cabinet. The piano is non-functional due to a number of defective components on the main sound board that have failed. The solution from Yamaha is to purchase a $500 replacement main board. Apparently, these failures were common, but not common enough to be recognized as a factory defect. Most people make the financial decision to buy a new piano rather than spend $500 to repair a 12 year old piano.

Upon inspecting the main board, the component failures are fortunately obvious, but unfortunately numerous. All are surface mount electrolytic capacitors....which are in some ways easier than replacing through hole parts.

The service manual has been ordered from Yamaha ($16, on CD) and soon another project will begin.

If the piano turns out to be unrepairable, it will serve as an excellent chassis (and keyboard) for a future VPO (Virtual Pipe Organ) project.

Update - 1/6 -: Received confirmation from Yamaha that manual has shipped

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Battery upgrade for 30G iPod - the patient lives

I was getting about 20 minutes on a charge, so the battery obviously needed replacing. Ordered a kit from OWC. Got around to installing it tonight. If I hadn't forgotten to re-install a (non-critical) insulator, it would have been totally done in about 10 minutes. You can see the piece I originally left out in the upper right hand corner.  Doh!

The online video warned about the problems with removing adhesive, but it was no big deal (2 small pieces of double stick tape). Here is the patient on the operating table, about to close up :

Musical electronics @ MakerFaire : NC 2011

I'm working on some other musical projects, mostly involving parts recycled from old electronic organs and vintage computers. Current plans include a MIDI pedalboard as part of a virtual pipe organ, and C-64 related projects.

Flag-O-Matic @ MakerFaire : NC

My dad developed a product called "Flag-O-Matic" in the 1950's. It was a portable traffic light controller for construction sites. He built a working prototype, but it was never produced commercially. I'm planning to open it up and check for potential problems, then have it operating at MakerFaire : NC 2011.

The timing circuits in the Flag-O-Matic are all electromechanical -- mechanical timers and relays. What could be built today with an Arduino and a shield board required much more complex circuitry.

More updates as I progress.