Tags: arduino

4

sparkline

The Session trad tune machine

Most pundits call it “the Internet of Things” but there’s another phrase from Andy Huntington that I first heard from Russell Davies: “the Geocities of Things.” I like that.

I’ve never had much exposure to this world of hacking electronics. I remember getting excited about the possibilities at a Brighton BarCamp back in 2008:

I now have my own little arduino kit, a bread board and a lucky bag of LEDs. Alas, know next to nothing about basic electronics so I’m really going to have to brush up on this stuff.

I never did do any brushing up. But that all changed last week.

Seb is doing a new two-day workshop. He doesn’t call it Internet Of Things. He doesn’t call it Geocities Of Things. He calls it Stuff That Talks To The Interwebs, or STTTTI, or ST4I. He needed some guinea pigs to test his workshop material on, so Clearleft volunteered as tribute.

In short, it was great! And this time, I didn’t stop hacking when I got home.

First off, every workshop attendee gets a hand-picked box of goodies to play with and keep: an arduino mega, a wifi shield, sensors, screens, motors, lights, you name it. That’s the hardware side of things. There are also code samples and libraries that Seb has prepared in advance.

Getting ready to workshop with @Seb_ly. Unwrapping some Christmas goodies from Santa @Seb_ly.

Now, remember, I lack even the most basic knowledge of electronics, but after two days of fiddling with this stuff, it started to click.

Blinkenlights. Hello, little fella.

On the first workshop day, we all did the same exercises, connected things up, getting them to talk to the internet, that kind of thing. For the second workshop day, Seb encouraged us to think about what we might each like to build.

I was quite taken with the ability of the piezo buzzer to play rudimentary music. I started to wonder if there was a way to hook it up to The Session and have it play the latest jigs, reels, and hornpipes that have been submitted to the site in ABC notation. A little bit of googling revealed that someone had already taken a stab at writing an ABC parser for arduino. I didn’t end up using that code, but it convinced me that what I was trying to do wasn’t crazy.

So I built a machine that plays Irish traditional music from the internet.

Playing with hardware and software, making things that go beep in the night.

The hardware has a piezo buzzer, an “on” button, an “off” button, a knob for controlling the speed of the tune, and an obligatory LED.

The software has a countdown timer that polls a URL every minute or so. The URL is http://tune.adactio.com/. That in turn uses The Session’s read-only API to grab the latest tune activity and then get the ABC notation for whichever tune is at the top of that list. Then it does some cleaning up—removing some of the more advanced ABC stuff—and outputs a single line of notes to be played. I’m fudging things a bit: the device has the range of a tin whistle, and expects tunes to be in the key of D or G, but seeing as that’s at least 90% of Irish traditional music, it’s good enough.

Whenever there’s a new tune, it plays it. Or you can hit the satisfying “on” button to manually play back the latest tune (and yes, you can hit the equally satisfying “off” button to stop it). Being able to adjust the playback speed with a twiddly knob turns out to be particularly handy if you decide to learn the tune.

I added one more lo-fi modification. I rolled up a piece of paper and placed it over the piezo buzzer to amplify the sound. It works surprisingly well. It’s loud!

Rolling my own speaker cone, quite literally.

I’ll keep tinkering with it. It’s fun. I realise I’m coming to this whole hardware-hacking thing very late, but I get it now: it really does feel similar to that feeling you would get when you first figured out how to make a web page back in the days of Geocities. I’ve built something that’s completely pointless for most people, but has special meaning for me. It’s ugly, and it’s inefficient, but it works. And that’s a great feeling.

(P.S. Seb will be running his workshop again on the 3rd and 4th of February, and there will a limited amount of early-bird tickets available for one hour, between 11am and midday this Thursday. I highly recommend you grab one.)

Microprinter has a posse

One of the coolest things I saw when I was at PaperCamp was Tom’s microprinter:

…an experiment in physical activity streams and notification, using a repurposed receipt printer connected to the web.

Now there’s a wiki where people—like Roo Reynolds—can come together and share their experiments in microprinting:

Hackers across the country are buying up old old receipt printers and imaginatively repurposing them into something new.

It’s such a great little step on the way to a Web of Things. Here’s another such step, from Fluid Interfaces, built for less than $350 using a webcam, a 3M projector, a mirror and a mobile phone:

Students at the MIT Media Lab have developed a wearable computing system that turns any surface into an interactive display screen. The wearer can summon virtual gadgets and internet data at will, then dispel them like smoke when they’re done.

Sounds like a way of levelling up in the game of being Matt Jones:

He sees mobile as something of a super power device and described something he calls “bionic noticing” - obsessively recording curious things he sees around him, driven by this multi-capable device in his pocket.

Hardware

While I had to travel quite for to attend the geek Summer camp that is South by Southwest, the next geek event I went to was a lot closer to home. BarCamp Brighton 2 was the perfect way to come down after SXSW without going cold turkey on passionate geekery.

My hat is off to everyone who helped put the event together and to the University of Sussex for agreeing to host such an unusual gathering. This was the fifth Barcamp I’ve attended and, as usual, it was simply fantastic. There were some excellent talks ranging from primatology to data visualisation. I did my bit by contributing to a panel discussion on portable social networks with Aral, Tom, Colin, Christian and Aleks, who covered the implications of social network portability for virtual worlds.

There was also plenty of hands-on hacking to be done thanks to a heavy arduino presence. I sat in on one session, managed to get an LED to blink and I was hooked. I now have my own little arduino kit, a bread board and a lucky bag of LEDs. Alas, know next to nothing about basic electronics so I’m really going to have to brush up on this stuff. It will certainly be a long time before I’ll be performing the kind of arduino/wiimote hacking that Nigel Crawley was doing.

There was more arduino/wiimote hacking to be seen at the Flash Brighton meetup a few days later. We were treated to a behind-the-scenes look at the exhibit by Rachel Beth Egenhoefer that’s currently running in the Lighthouse gallery in Brighton—in the same building that houses the Clearleft HQ. The show runs until April 5th. Be sure to check it out if you want to see the knitting equivalent of Guitar Hero.

XTech 2007, day three

The last day of Xtech rolled around and… whaddya mean “what happened to day two?” They can’t have a conference in Paris and not expect me to take at least one day off to explore the city.

So I skipped the second day of XTech and I’m sure I missed some good presentations but I spent a lovely day with Jessica exploring the streets and brasseries of Paris.

Ah, Paris! (uttering this phrase must always be accompanied by the gesture of flinging one arm into the air with abandon)

The conference closed today with a keynote from Matt Webb. It was great: thought-provoking and funny. It really drove home the big take-away message from XTech for me this year which is that hacking on hardware now is as easy as software.

I can has Arduino?