Building the SpectraPiano for the 2013 Red Bull Challenge

Last night we debuted Team Duct Tape's SpectraPiano at the Land O'Lakes Library's Teen Night. The SpectraPiano was created for the Red Bull Challenge. It uses the midi signal from a digital piano to control a ribbon of RGB LEDs. The midi signal goes through a RaspberryPi micro computer to convert the midi signal to a digital signal. This is then fed to the custom 'Bullduino' LED controller board. We fabricated an acrylic tank and pumped air through a perforated tube to create bubbles. We filled the tank 1/3 full of water and added dry ice. The LEDs make the water and fog glow for a really cool effect.
It was awesome working with Team Duct Tape and I look forward to our next project.
Here's a short video clip of the SpectraPiano in action-

Red Bull Challenge SpectraPiano from chuck stephens on Vimeo.

I couldn't resist

Remember Sid and Marty Kroft's Far Out Space Nuts? Maybe junior just ordered lunch?

Manual correction update
I went through the manual and decided that it really needed an overhaul. I spent the last few days rewriting and reformatting it. I've clarified some stuff and added a little more info. I also went with a larger font size and increased the size of the illustrations. It is available now as a Word document that I'll email to anyone who wants it. I'm trying to figure out how to convert it to a PDF and how to make that PDF available here. I'm new to all this blogging stuff so please bear with me.
In the mean time here's the updated LED flasher diagram with the component values-
I will also make the kits available on Etsy as soon as the next batch is done. Get noisy y'all!

Soooo... the other side of being in the kit business
OK I messed up in the manual I distributed with the Noise Circus kits. I forgot to include component values for the LED flasher circuit and the Atari punk console circuit is on the page before the description starts. I will update this immediately and post an updated version of the booklet as a PDF. If you want I'll send you a copy of the new manual via snail mail. If you decided to go ahead and play with the circuit anyway and you blew an LED I'll send you a new one at my expense. Sorry for any inconvenience.
So here's the back story/sorry excuse- I designed this kit over the last six months or so. In order to keep the price as low as possible I sourced parts from several different overseas vendors. One parcel never arrived. I was assured that it was in route and eagerly awaited it's delivery but it was not to be. Last Monday I decided to redesign the kit to utilize the parts I had. I still had to buy a few things from Radio Shack, which I hate, but at least I had the makings of a decent kit. The only thing left to do was re-write the booklet. After one mad 24 hour dash of writing, I had it redone and ready to print. Several formatting errors and layout corrections later I finished the printing just in time to get 45 minutes of sleep and then go set up for Maker Faire.
I'm sorry, but thankfully we live in an age where I can have it corrected and posted by tomorrow. Thanks for your patience and watch this space for new circuits, ideas and kits. Coming soon- the 4017 sequencer kit!

Tampa Bay Mini Maker Faire was a success!
After much preparation and anticipation the Tampa Bay Mini Maker Faire was a smashing success. We had robots, games, music, electronics, dancers, crafts, food, taxidermy, DIY satellites, innovative hardware, 3D printers and CNC technology, kits, education displays and a bunch of other stuff my tired brain can't recall right now.
Our deconstruction zone was packed with kids taking apart old electronics and appliances with adult volunteers to answer questions and guide them. It was awesome to see the enthusiasm the kids (and a few adults, too) had for exploring old electronics. We will definitely be doing more of this sort of thing and we are seeking partners in the business and tech world to help us bring this experience to the kids through school visits and community programs.
I got to pick up one of Gabotronics xprotolab, which is basically an 'oscilloscope on a chip'. I can't wait to get to work building this into my next synth project. Check them out at .
I was also impressed with Jaycon Systems, a local distributor of Arduinoand other microcontroller pruducts. They seem like really helpful folks and I look forward to doing business with them. Go buy an Arduino already!
The folks from Orlando's Familab were on hand with a Makerbot and plenty of good will for the maker community. Their mini faire is coming up in the fall. Check them out at .
The always awesome Team Duct Tape was on hand with their robots and creative spirit.
Gordy of Gordy's Glass Creations was on hand to do a demo of his craft. Gordy makes stained glass and slumped glass pieces from recycled bottle glass. He did a stained glass demo and answered glass craft related questions. Gordy doesn't have a web presence but interested parties can contact me and I'll pass along his info.
Willingham's Fur and Taxidermy did a taxidermy demo. It was really cool to see this in person. She brought some examples of her work and preserved a squirrel while we watched.
Mentagy brain games brought us their puzzles. It was so cool to see someone bring their passion to fruition and pursue a dream. Check them out .
Let me tell you- the best thing about a maker faire is that you'll meet folks who speak your language. Whether it's a high school robotics enthusiast or a wizened HAM radio operator, you'll find other folks with a passion for making and doing. It's really nice to say something like 'I used a 4017 decade counter chip to sequence a voltage controlled oscillator using a 555 timer.' not have to explain it, and if you do have to explain it, the person you're explaining it to is actually interested and not just being polite. I spend a lot of time sitting at my workbench making stuff and it's really nice to stick my head out of my cave once in a while and meet other makers.
I would also like to thank our venue, The Concourse. What a great place to have an event and their staff was very helpful. With nature trails, indoor classrooms, a huge covered pavilion, catering facilities, plenty of parking and tons of room it's an awesome place. It's really a community effort too, with much of the labor and materials for the facility being donated by local businesses. Kudos to The Concourse and the community that made it possible.
Now to start planning next year's faire...

I'm officially in the kit business!
I launched the Noise Circuit analog synthesizer exploration kit at the Tampa Bay Mini Maker Faire yesterday.
It was a smashing success! The kit features all the components you need to get started making simple synthesizers and sound circuits. Learn about the building blocks of sound synthesis like the basic square wave oscillator, low frequency oscillator, voltage controlled oscillator, frequency modulation and more. Build a stepped tone generator, aka the Atari Punk Console, and learn how to control your circuits in various ways. Geared towards the student or electronics novice, this kit focuses on results over theory and formulae. Sit down for a half hour, wire up a circuit and make some noise.
I also launched the Noise Circus experiment board kit which features a custom pvc enclosure, full sized pots, switches, LED/photoresistor holders, a larger speaker, 1/8" audio jack, extra breadboards, and a few more goodies to help you get the most out of your Noise Circus synth kit.
The response at the TBMMF was awesome and I'm really excited to get more of these kits out. I'm setting up an etsy store this week and I'm also seeking local outlets to sell kits so fingers crossed!
If you want a kit hit me with a message here and I'll get back to you. Let's get noisy!

If the good teachers are leaving what are we left with?
OK I've tried to embed this video but it's not working. Just click it already-
How do we make it better? What are you doing to make it better?

Dreams Come True!
Sometimes dreams come true and we don't even realize it.
Like most bored suburban kids I grew up watching TV. That glowing cathode ray nipple fed me the adventure my environment sorely lacked. One of my favorite shows was a short lived series called Tales of the Gold Monkey. It portrayed the adventures of a pilot living in the South Pacific in the late thirties. Imagine Raiders of the Lost Ark set in Polynesia.
I remember watching this show and wanting to live there so bad. Something about living on an island sparked my young imagination. Islands meant mystery and adventure- a safe place in the chaos of the sea. The younger me was convinced that if I could just get to that island, life would be fun and exciting.
That idea never faded. I read Tom Neale with relish. I read about islands from the Caribbean to the Pacific and everywhere else. Eventually I got the opportunity to move to Hawaii. It was awesome- jungles, reefs, whales, dolphins, mountains, cliffs, caves, and real honest to god volcanoes! I spent five years there climbing, swimming, caving and generally exploring. I lived in a jungle valley with few neighbors. Wild pigs and beautiful exotic birds were everywhere. At the mouth of my valley was a small bay and a cone shaped little island sat off shore just in paddling distance. It was heaven, albeit a very expensive heaven.
A few days ago I was wasting time on Fark and someone in a comment thread mentioned Tales of the Gold Monkey. Oh yeah! I hadn't thought about that show in years. I was off to Pirate's Bay in a flash. An hour later I was watching the first episode.
I was surprised to still remember the theme music. The show started and they were off on their first adventure. As they were flying home they had engine trouble and had to jettison some cargo to stay airborne. Tense music played as they struggled to get home, skimming the surface of the waves. As they neared the island I caught a flash of something vaguely familiar. When the float plane finally splashed down in the lagoon of their home island the camera showed an unmistakable cone shaped island just off shore. Was that... holy cow! It was the small bay at the mouth of the valley where I used to live!
In hind sight this shouldn't be surprising. Oahu is one huge movie and television set. One day I was driving out to a secluded beach to pick opihi. As I topped a rise I saw a jumbo jet crashed on the beach. I was momentarily shocked until I saw the guys with IATSE stagehand's union t-shirts. They were setting up to shoot the pilot for Lost. The Big Bounce, 50 First Dates, North Shore, the new Hawaii 5-0, Tears of the Sun, and numerous other shows and films were shot just in the time I lived there. You got used to seeing production crews and actors all the time. I've even seen that familiar bay pop up on screen from time to time. It was where the Other's docked their sub. It was also where 'De Plane' landed in the recent Fantasy Island remake.
The thing is, I saw this scene as a kid before I had any idea where it was, and dreamed of living there. That show and it's setting inspired a lifetime fascination with tropical islands and a desire to live on one. One day, years later, a real estate rental agent showed me a one room cabin in the jungle near the beach and it was a dream come true. It just took a few years to realize how real a dream could become.
Now I'm starting to remember another cool show called Salvage 1 where Andy Griffith played a junk man who kludged together a spaceship out of recycled parts. It had a huge influence on my passion for the creative reuse of trash. I wonder how long until that one comes true?
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Recent video

The Medusatron Dual FM synth with Optical Sequencer from chuck stephens on Vimeo.

Behold the mighty Medusatron!

The Watcher from chuck stephens on Vimeo.

It watches TV and makes strange noises just like my dad!

Boat motor overload!
One of my partner's contacts recently lost her father who was a boat mechanic. She needed someone to go clean up his property and handle the scrap. We ended up with well over 100 disassembled old boat motors and various other marine junk. Most of it is going straight to the scrap yard but there is a bounty of great stuff for the scroungy hacker.
One of the first things I saw was an old microfiche machine. For you youngsters out there a microfiche was a small square of film with tiny photo transfers of newspapers and magazines. If you needed to find an old article you had to check a catalogue, get the right microfiche and put it in the reader which consisted of a light source, a lens arrangement and a large projection screen. The light shines through the film and is enlarged by the lens and projected on the back of a screen so you could read it. It was bulky, temperamental and really cool. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it but I can't pass it up.
I also found an old paper plotter depth finder. I'm hoping I can hack the plotter to record 'long duration rhythmic events' like traffic patterns, tides or internet use cycles and an optical reader that can turn the plotted rolls into sound- a machine that turns rush hour into a beat or kids changing classes throughout the day into a musical arrangement.
Of course we are saving some of the clean aluminum for casting. I don't know why but I have a huge jones to do some sand casting. There's never enough time to learn what you want to learn!
I'm saving a lot of steel drive shafts from the motors to make chimes and tuned rods for a xylophone. There are enough trailer parts laying around that my trailer project is much closer to becoming a reality. There are tons of switches and electronic doodads. I found tons of super thin stainless steel valve reeds that make me think of a miniature plate reverb-like effect. And.... oh and what about....there's also some...
The point is I'm crazy for old men's garages and junk piles. Old rubbish almost dares me to make something out of it. To pass up a trash heap without stopping is to fail on some primal creative level. To build a project with all new materials is unthinkable.
Nothing gets my creative juices flowing like garbage.


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