Last summer I came across a collection of car parts at a garage sale; instrument clusters, lights, gauges, and some digital clock displays. For $5, I became the proud owner of a JECO Japan, vacuum fluorescent clock display. The plastic housing held all the clock electronics, membrane buttons for setting the time, and a four-pin connector. After powering it up, I realized one of the pins could be used to dim the display, which is a pretty nice feature to have.
I’ve worked on it off and on for a few months, but finally decided to finish it this weekend. On Saturday, I tweaked some dimensions and laser-cut the final enclosure. I wasn’t happy with the button holes and text I had on the front of the first iteration, so I got rid of them for the final. You can adjust the time by slipping a jeweler’s screwdriver or a paper clip through a gap in between the plexiglass sides and pressing the buttons to add hours or minutes.
I added a small single-pole, double-throw toggle to switch between bright and dim, then soldered the connections before closing it up. The whole thing is clamped together by a single #10-32 machine screw and a wingnut. The final result doesn’t look half bad.
Today is the first day the 2014 RPM Challenge, which is the National Novel Writing Month of music! The goal of the RPM challenge is to compose and record an entire album during the month of February! I accepted the challenge by dusting off my Cacophonator and Mohogonator, and got to work making music after dinner today. As today also marks the 50th anniversary of the Beatles invasion, this project drew inspiration from the Beatles’ back catalog!
I used the dynamic duo of Cacophonator and Mohogonator with Auditionator (i.e. Adobe Audition) to record a session for about 12 minutes at a blazing fast 192kHz sample rate. After chopping the recording into individual tracks, I digitally slowed them down to the customary rate of 44.1kHz, thereby expanding the work to its final ~45 minute length. For inspiration while I was recording, I listened to Beatles songs sped up to 435% (which is 192/44.1) of their customary speed. My tracks needed a bit of post-processing: on some of them I chose to bump the pitch back up an octave or two and add “Beatle Fades” to the beginning and end. Anyway, within twenty minutes after the recording was made, I had edited the songs and uploaded them. You’ve read that correctly, in less time than it takes to listen to the pieces, they were composed, recorded, processed, mastered, named and uploaded.
Today is also the 50th anniversary of the first Beatles song hitting #1 on the US pop charts: “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” This whole project was inspired by this apparent coincidence in timing, and each track was directly inspired by listening to the sped-up Beatles original. I hope you enjoy each of the 11 tracks I created!
It may be more convenient to listen to the entire album: “Cacophonator 2: Electric Boogaloo; A Love Tragedy in 11 Parts” on the RPM Challenge site’s Cacophonator page. Just scroll down to “My Player.” There is plenty of February left: I encourage everyone to participate!
I have a cordless drill with rechargeable batteries. The batteries charge completely in about 20 minutes. They are not supposed to stay on the charger for longer than that. However, unless I am standing right there after the charging time, I forget to take the batteries off of the charger.
To fix this problem, I made a timed duplex power outlet out of a countdown timer and a duplex outlet. I plug the timed outlet into a 120v outlet. Then, plug the battery charger into the duplex outlet attached to the timer. Finally, I set the timer to 20 minutes and walk away. (There are more details about the parts and assembly on the Instructable.)
One problem I had is that the faceplate that came with the timer was too wide. It covered the timer and a bit of the duplex outlet. I found a Thing on Thingiverse that uses the Customizer to custom build faceplates that cover from one to five outlets with any configuration. I used it to make a custom faceplate for two outlets with a single hole for the timer on the left-hand side and holes for a duplex outlet on the right-hand side. I printed it on the Makerbot 3D printer using black PLA filament. I used 100% infill to make it solid and durable.
One problem I had with the print was that the raft stuck to the surface in some spots and would not come off. So, there are a few rough looking spots. Another problem is that the hole for the timer knob was a bit too small. I had to drill it out slightly bigger.
After attaching the new faceplate, I used my label maker to print the numbers for the dial.
That’s it. No more ruined batteries due to overcharging. And, it’s portable!
After six months of working on this on-and-off, I installed my home environmental sensor array (HESA) in my basement. Basically, it looks for water in the basement. If it detects water, it shuts off power to my water softener (assuming that the softener is or will, dump more water into the basement), and sends me an email. The HESA has a Raspberry Pi to detect water and control the PowerSwitch Tail relay. It also connects to the internet via my home network.
This is phase one of my HESA project. The device I built in this phase will only detect water. Future phases will add the capability to detect more things and be more interactive.
This is basically, my first real Maker project. I learned or practiced many Maker skills like soldering, basic electronics, and CNC routing. I made my own PCB (that I did not end up using). I did some basic metal work with a jig saw. I learned how to use several software tools for CAD and design. I learned to program in Python. And I had a lot of fun doing it.
Several Makers at the Milwaukee Makerspace helped me with this project. There is no way I could have built this without them. Thanks to anyone who took time to help me move this project forward.
I’ve really struggled with the Raspberry Pi Project. As I posted earlier, the Raspberry Pi kept killing the file system on the SD card. Pete traded me for a different Pi, which behaved much better, making the card last at least long enough to get the operating system and other software installed. Yet the Raspberry Pi continued to corrupt the file system if left running for longer periods. The latest time it totally killed the SD card; I couldn’t even reformat it on my computer.
If I include the Pi in the traveling mascot, I’m convinced it will not survive the inevitable rough treatment. The only other use I can think of for a Raspberry Pi in a travelling mascot is as a home base server for the mascot, publishing the travelogues. Yet it’s too unstable for even that task.
I still like the idea of a traveling mascot that can track it’s own travels, but I’m convinced that building it around a Raspberry Pi is not the proper foundation. I really like the little GPS unit that came in this kit, and will try to build a scaled down version of the traveling mascot with a USB interface to hook up with any computer for collecting data.
Thanks again Adafruit Industries, we really appreciate the kit, and we’ll continue to work with the parts on other projects. Like vultures, some other members have already picked off some pieces of the kit for their projects.
Join us for The Greatest Show (& Tell) on Earth at Wisconsin State Fair Park September 23rd & 24th, 2017. Admission is free. A joint presentation by Milwaukee Makerspace and the Betty Brinn Children's Museum.
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