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Moment of Weakness

Posted 2012.10.03 14.38 in Computers/Internet/Technology

My handy little 4GB SD card that I use for occasional backups and to ferry files here and there accidentally let its guard down. But just for a moment!

In that brief moment I saw its weakness, and instinct took over. I pounced, and just like that, the SD card had been skinned, its inside-y bits laid out for all to see.

Interesting stuff. I assumed there’d be just a single chip in there, or more likely, one of those blobs-on-a-board. Except – damn it, now I need to get a new SD card.

Actually a few weeks ago I had dropped the card in my office then run it over with my chair – quite by accident – and was surprised to find it still functional. The chair had cracked the outer shell though, and I’ve been trying to pretend not to notice ever since… today I couldn’t resist any longer. Had to see what was inside.

Camera Hack

Posted 2012.07.22 12.46 in Hobbies, Photography

Some long while ago I picked up a Lomography Action Sampler camera – a little multi-lens plastic ‘toy’ camera that takes four pictures in sequence when you press the shutter release. The four images all fit on a single frame of 35mm film, and are taken about 1/4 second apart.

It’s supposed to capture ‘action’ but the shutter speed isn’t very fast so if the subject is moving fast enough to capture the action, they’re probably going to come out blurry. And if they are moving slow enough not to be blurry, then there isn’t enough ‘action’ to capture.

Anyhow, I got the idea to modify it. I’d black out two of the lenses and remove the internal frame mask so that a) there was only two images instead of four, and b) they would bleed into each other.

It was a super simple modification, the frame mask was a plastic insert that just popped out when I tugged on it with pliers. To block out two lenses I just used some black electrical tape – so neither change is permanent.

I was hoping that the two lenses would have enough coverage to expose the whole negative, but it turns out they do not. I think there might be some more plastic inside that I could try and remove, to see if that does it. Or not. It’s not bad as-is.

The film was an OEM Fuji colour negative (store brand), ISO 400. Processed myself with my stale old C41 chemistry, 20 minutes at 76°F then scanned on my flatbed Epson.

The Fun of It

Posted 2012.06.04 22.25 in Computers/Internet/Technology, Pointless Blather

So last week I did a write-up about my ISEB6, parts of which ended up making the rounds on various maker / tech blogs. I noticed a lot of people were wondering why someone would bother doing this? Why ‘waste’ so much time, money, energy, and effort making something like this?

The simplest answer is, for the fun of it.

Sure, there’s a level of enjoyment to be had from simply having the finished product, from using it. There’s the utility of it – it was designed to do a thing, and it does that thing. There’s the sense of novelty, that one might get from any new toy, be it a cellphone, computer, tv, or whatever. In this case all that is augmented or magnified by the fact that I built it myself.

When you build something yourself, you have the sense of achievement, in seeing something through from initial concept to final build. You have the knowledge and experience gained, from learning the hows and whys and whats. And you have the pride of knowing that you made something – you set a goal for yourself, and you accomplished it.

And there’s the sheer fun of solving problems and challenges. Physical computing projects like these give you the opportunity (or the challenge) to work with very limited resources. How many functions can you include, how many features can you code, when you are limited to 32kB in which to fit your entire program? And when you have only 2.5kB of RAM in which to execute that code?

Wearable projects add two more dimensions of limitations: Size and Power. How many features / peripherals can you add without making the whole thing too big / heavy / unwieldy? And how much power does everything draw? How long will it run before you need to recharge, or do you need bigger batteries?

I’ve seen a few comments that basically asked, why not just strap a smartphone to your wrist? The simplest answer there is, that’s not what I wanted. That might work for some people, of course. Find something that someone else has built that’s close enough, or good enough, buy it, settle for it.

Why settle though? I live in a world where if you want a specific product to do something the way you want it, if noone else has built exactly what you want, you build it yourself. Build it yourself and you have exactly what you want, the way you want it. And if it ever breaks, you have the know-how to fix it.

(A close runner-up is, buy something that’s mostly there, then hack it to make it perfect. Add those features, fix those functions, and get exactly what you want that way.)

Stuff does break of course. Especially when you’re building and experimenting and learning, all at the same time. Sometimes it’s part of the fun of the challenge, sometimes it’s less fun but you still roll with it. Last week the OLED screen died, I never figured out why but luckily I had a spare so I just replaced it.

Two days ago the Micro-USB port snapped off the LiPo charger. I consider that a component failure since it’s supposed to withstand plugging and unplugging. I didn’t have a spare charger board, so I’ve contacted the manufacturer to ask about a replacement, and in the meantime I did some delicate solder-surgery to enable me to keep using the broken one, for now. (That was less-fun.)

And since that write-up last week, I’ve made a dozen revisions and upgrades to the software, changed / improved some of the leather work, switched out the dull dark hardware for shiney brass, and added brass snap closures to keep it on my wrist instead of the elastic string I had started with. I still plan to redo the top leather layer to make it more attractive.

That’s part of the fun too – projects like these are never really finished. You can go on improving them, enhancing them, upgrading them, until the next big idea comes along.

Tinkerers’ Rules

Posted 2011.05.15 10.34 in Computers/Internet/Technology

Brought to us by

Quoth the Maker: If you can’t open it, you don’t own it.

Chronodot Library for Arduino

Posted 2011.04.09 22.44 in Computers/Internet/Technology

When I was working on my Thermostat project, I came across the Chronodot RTC (real time clock) and decided it would be the perfect choice. Not just because it’s incredibly accurate, but because it provided both time and temperature readings in a single package. I could have used another RTC such as the DS1307 which is less expensive, but then I would have had to use something else for reading the temperature.

The only thing about using the Chronodot to get temperature readings was that there wasn’t an Arduino library that could get me that information. The Chronodot communicates using the i2c protocol, and as I hadn’t used it before I was hoping to find some examples and a usable library. Fortunately it’s compatible with the DS1307, but of course that library has no reference to temperature as the ‘1307 doesn’t read the temp.

So using the ‘1307 library as a starting point, I expanded it by adding two new readings to it: temperature, in both farenheit and celcius.

The library includes an example sketch. If you’re familiar with using the DS1307 with an Arduino then the Chronodot library will be an easy drop-in replacement. The time features are unchanged, I’ve just added the two temperature readings so they’re available within your sketch.

Click here to download the library:

Hacking My Brain

Posted 2011.04.03 21.19 in Computers/Internet/Technology

I just built a Brain Machine kit from Adafruit. Originally designed by Mitch Altman, it reminded me of a bio-feedback brain device I had built some 20-25 years ago, after reading about it in a issue of Radio Electronics magazine.

The basic premise in both cases is that you can guide the brain to synchronize with external stimuli oscillating at a rate that matches one of the brain’s normal wave patterns – Beta (awake / consious), Alpha (dreamy / trancy), Theta (subconsious), Delta (creative), Gamma (intense thought, problem solving).

The Brain Machine is designed so that you can program it with an entire sequence of patterns, changing the waves and durations as desired for a given program purpose. The kit comes with a 14 minute meditation program already written to the microcontroller.

The stimulus given to the brain is in the visual and auditory areas, by way of two red LEDs (one per eye) and a set of standard stereo headphones. The LEDs alternate-pulse at the desired brain-wave frequency while the left and right speakers of the headphones each play a different tone; the offset between the tones (binaural beats) is also the desired brain-wave frequency.

Personally, I found the headphones a bit distracting so I won’t use them as much. Maybe it’s just me but I only experienced the ‘binaural beat’ thing a couple isolated moments, otherwise I just heard two different (slightly annoying) tones. Useful for blocking out external noises, but my home is already a quiet environment, usually.

Using the brain machine is… trippy. I would love to be able to share images of what I saw, but in lieu of that, here are some attempts at describing a few moments.

  • Predominantly I experienced a lot of geometric patterns that were repeated infinitely across my field of view; waves of triangles, squares, pentagonal and hexagonal forms. Sometimes superimposed, eg. my left eye was seeing hexagons while my right was seeing pentagons.
  • Then it was like floating through outer space, surrounded by stars. While flying through a meteor shower. With TRON special-effects. As viewed through a kaliedescope.
  • I became able to see the individual cells of my own eyelids.
  • Then I could see the electrons travelling through my optic nerves, all buzzing about in frantic bio-feedback.
  • Then everything fell away and I could see the entire Milky Way galaxy above me, moving in accelerated time.

It’s amazing just how many colours you can actually experience, given that the only colour used is red. I was seeing blue, green, purple, red, and white, and to a lesser degree, yellow and orange.

After taking a couple trips with the default meditation program, I am thinking it would be cool to create a bunch of different programs. The ATTiny25 chips are inexpensive so you could actually burn a number of them, each with a different program. Then just pop in the one you want at the moment, and let it run.

You could have a chip/program to get your mind stimulated and ready to work; a program for relaxing at the end of the day; a program to get the creative juices flowing; a program to just bounce from one waveform to the next to give your brain a slamming roller-coaster ride. Feed your brain various programs, and see what happens.


Updated Already

Posted 2011.03.20 22.10 in Computers/Internet/Technology

I couldn’t leave it alone, of course. Had to take it apart again today and make an update.

That thing with the WizNet module hanging sometimes, I had applied a very makeshift fix to yesterday. See, the WizNet doesn’t have its own power-on reset, but it needs it. They suggest you use a digital pin from your uC but I was out of pins. So I used a 10uF capacitor, which was enough to ground the reset line on power-up or manual reboot.

The problem was, I had my WizNet reset tied to my Arduino / ATMega reset, and the capacitor meant I couldn’t update the programming. At least, not without temporarily removing that capacitor.

So it turned out, I did have a spare pin. I had been holding A3 in reserve. Just incase the temperature readings from the Chronodot remained inaccurate due to the heat from the WizNet, I was prepared to add a TMP-36 analog temperature sensor, and dangle that a few inches below the enclosure. Luckily, with the thermostat mounted vertically on the wall, and the Chronodot a good 1″ out with open air around it, the temperature readings are accurate.

So I pulled it open, removed the capacitor, and unhooked the WizNet reset line from the Arduino / ATMega reset line, and tied it instead to A3. A few quick changes to the software, and presto, no more hang-on-powerup and it can be reprogrammed without any soldering. Yay!

Also, I decided to go ahead and show off the guts. Why not? Just be warned, if you’re easily upset by ugly wiring hacks and poorly-planned soldering and random wires and tapes and dead-bug construction… well just don’t look.

And finally, here’s a link to the updated software. The zip file also contains a text file that outlines the pinout & functions for the ATMega chip, the WizNet module, and the function of the HVAC lines — or at least, how they function in my house.