Saturday, 3 November 2012

New in the Maker Shed: Arduino Mini R05

Arduino recently updated their small form-factor Arduino Mini and it’s now shipping from the Maker Shed. The Arduino Mini R05 is based on the same ATmega 328 processor as the Arduino Uno, but measures a scant 1.25″x0.73″ making it perfect for breadboards and embedded applications. The R05 update includes a new, smaller chip package and a revised PCB making it possible to fit all the components on the top of the board. It also features a reset button which was lacking in previous versions. Like the earlier models, the Mini R05 requires the use of an FTDI breakout such as the FTDI Friend for programming.

Technical Specifications

  • Microcontroller -  ATmega328
  • Operating Voltage – 5V
  • Input Voltage – 7-9 V
  • Digital I/O Pins – 14 (of which 6 provide PWM output)
  • Analog Input Pins – 8 (of which 4 are broken out onto pins)
  • DC Current per I/O Pin – 40 mA
  • Flash Memory – 32 KB (of which 2 KB used by bootloader)
  • SRAM – 2 KB
  • EEPROM – 1 KB
  • Clock Speed – 16 MHz
Price $33.99

Make: Mark Crosbie’s Lego Drum Sequencer

 Another Lego project from Make to bring a smile to your face.

"SoundMachine is an interactive music tool to collaboratively develop music. SoundMachine scans 2×2 colour LEGO bricks arranged in 4 tracks of 8 beats. The colour information is converted to MIDI messages by a Processing sketch, which sends MIDI to Ableton Live to play the instruments"

More details from

A month in space: quantum teleportation, a shuttle's final flight and mysterious Martian spheres – in pictures

Amazing article on the guardian website showing some fantastic pictures from space.

"On 7 September, Nasa astronaut Joe Acaba (left) and Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin (centre and right) conducted a 'suit leak check' in the Soyuz spacecraft in preparation for their return to Earth on 16 September"

More details from

Adafruit: Voiceberry Pi #piday #raspberrypi @Raspberry_Pi

Well the Americans seem to have really taken to our, British, Raspberry PI but then we always were their first with all the good stuff :-)
I ma not completely sure what he is planning to do here as he is referring to a service called Magic Jack, which apparently we have all heard of, well not outside the US we haven't, but with a project that sounds as interesting as this could be then I will definitely be checking back next week for the final installment.
Full details from

6 top uses of a Raspberry Pi

Not a completely original list here from 123-reg, at least three of them we have already shown, but worth another look never the less
  • Create a voice-controlled robot
  • Create a high-altitude Weather droid
  • Create a KindleBerry Pi
  • Create an arcade machine
  • Create a drinks vending machine
  • Build a Supercomputer

More details from

New in the Maker Shed – ELEV-8 Quadcopter Kit

I really want one of these to experiment with but I would agree with 'er indoors that this one at $599 is a lot of money.

It seems to come with all the necessary bits to get it flying, motors, propellers, speed controller, main control board and frame but  not the radio control gear or battery which is going to push this well on towards $700 or £450 in the Queens own currency. Not sure about P&P, if I was looking for one I would probably start by looking in the UK first.

Surely you could make one out of Lego Technic, I mean to say, how hard can it be:?

If however the ELEV-9 floats your boat then find out more from

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Mr Rainsbury's Physics

Hummingbird: Arts, Crafts, Robots!

"The Hummingbird robotics kit is a spin-off product of Carnegie Mellon's CREATE lab.
Hummingbird is designed to enable engineering and robotics activities for ages 10 and up that involve the making of robots, kinetic sculptures, and animatronics built out of a combination of kit parts and crafting materials.
Combined with a cross-platform, very easy-to-use visual programming environment, Hummingbird provides a great way to introduce kids to robotics and engineering with construction materials that they are already familiar with"
Don't get too excited though until you see the price, this one will set you back $199

The AFRON "10 Dollar Robot" Design Challenge

"The goal of the AFRON "10 Dollar Robot" Design Challenge, which ran from 15 June to 15 September 2012, was to design a new class of affordable robots for learning (especially in primary and secondary schools)"
The results were fantastic, and there were some truly clever and detailed designs and I can thoroughly recommend checking out the details of contestants here

Make: Pi Crust Breakout Board for Raspberry Pi

Copied from Make. "Got a Raspberry Pi and want to explore i/o options while maintaining the overall footprint of your project? If the answer is yes, then checkout maker Joe WalnesPi Crust breakout board. With convenient headers and clear labels, the Pi Crust is the a great choice when you want to cram as much as you can into a tight enclosure. But don’t expect to buy one off-the-shelf. If you want a Pi Crust, you’ll have to order the parts and assemble it yourself."

Raspberry Pi and Lego again

Not the prettiest of all Pi enclosures, but getting on for one of the most interesting.
It has space for four Pis in Adafruit cases and a netgear router all held together in one case. 
I am planning o cluster mine, in which case (pun!) I am going to have to think about something similar, but I don't want to use up my precious lego!
I will probably end up using an old 19" rack that I have spare, and mounting each Pi on a piece of 6" x 4" perspex along with a cheap USB hub and a 9V Regulator so that I can power them both from a single 9V DC supply.
But that's a long way away after I have finished the modular synthesizer, the drone etc....

For full details of this superb project go to  Modular rack for four Raspberry Pis in PCSL/Adafruit case + USB hdd + switch

In the Maker Shed: Getting Started with Arduino Kit

From Maker Shed
Are you interested in learning more about Arduino but don’t know where to begin? Check out the Getting Started with Arduino Kit available in the Maker Shed! This popular kit includes everything you need to form a solid foundation with the Arduino microcontroller. The components in the kit match perfectly with Massimo Banzi’s latest Getting Started with Arduino, 2nd Edition book (not included, but discounted when purchased with the kit) or with the tutorials available online.

Kit Includes:
  • (1) Arduino UNO Revision 3
  • (1) USB Cable
  • (1) 9V Battery Pack w/DC Plug (requires soldering)
  • (1) 9V Battery
  • (1) Clear Breadboard
  • (1) Deluxe Jumper Wire Kit
  • (2) Red LEDs
  • (2) Green LEDs
  • (2) Blue LEDs
  • (1) RGB LED
  • (10) 10K Ohm Resistors
  • (10) 220 Ohm Resistors
  • (10) 270 Ohm Resistors
  • (2) Photo Resistors
  • (1) Momentary Button 
  • Price $64.99

Use your Wii Remote as a MIDI controller! (Tutorial)

I found this fun project over on the Make blog.

"Use your Wii Remote as a MIDI controller!  Controlling your favorite music software with a Wii Remote is actually much easier than you might imagine.  You don't have to hack your Wii Remote or buy expensive software.  In fact, the software is free and you most likely already have the hardware.  This tutorial covers basic instructions for use with a PC.  It is possible to do this with a Mac but it will require different software."

Full details of the tutorial can be found at

If you liked this you might also be interested in their Tennis Ball & Lego Ableton Controller

Raspberry PI: Model B now ships with 512MB of RAM

Interesting news from Pi Central
"One of the most common suggestions we’ve heard since launch is that we should produce a more expensive “Model C” version of Raspberry Pi with extra RAM. This would be useful for people who want to use the Pi as a general-purpose computer, with multiple large applications running concurrently, and would enable some interesting embedded use cases (particularly using Java) which are slightly too heavyweight to fit comfortably in 256MB.
The downside of this suggestion for us is that we’re very attached to $35 as our highest price point. With this in mind, we’re pleased to announce that from today all Model B Raspberry Pis will ship with 512MB of RAM as standard. If you have an outstanding order with either distributor, you will receive the upgraded device in place of the 256MB version you ordered. Units should start arriving in customers’ hands today, and we will be making a firmware upgrade available in the next couple of days to enable access to the additional memory.
I’d like to thank our partners, RS Components and element14/Premier Farnell, and the suppliers, particularly Samsung, Sony and Broadcom, for all their help in delivering a smooth transition to the 512MB. I’m looking forward to seeing what you all get up to with your shiny new Pis."
Which ever way you look at it this is excellent news, however will my two existing Pis now suffer from RAM envy? :-)

Its a good time to be an embedded systems programmer.

In the words of TV's Harry Hill, "The Arduino revolutionized hobby electronics, but the raspberry Pi has shaken up the world of home computing, so which is best? There is only one way to find out...."
The Arduino has been around for years, it has excellent hard ware support, its easy to use and quite cheap. The PI on the other hand is about the same price and technically offers so much more but the hardware support is limited and programming it as a stand alone unit is quite a bit more fiddly. So which is the best for your next project?

System Specifications

PI (Model B Sep 2012) Arduino Uno Arduino Mega2560
CPU 700MHz ARM11 Atmega 328P ATmega2560
GPU Broadcom HD none none
Flash none 32Kb 256Kb
EEPROM none 1Kb 4Kb
SRAM 256MB 2Kb 8Kb
Digital IO Pins See GPIO 14 54
PWM See GPIO 6 14
Analog pins See GPIO 6 16
GPIO 21 0 0
SPI 1 1 1
USB 2 1 1
Video 1 HDMI none none
Audio 1 HDMI stereo via shield via shield
Onboard storage SD Card slot via shield via shield
Other Ethernet  via shield via shield
Host Not required PC via USB PC via USB
Size 86mmx54mm 67mm x 54mm 102mm x 54mm
Price £25 £20 £35

Raspberry PI (Model B Sep 2012)

At first glance this is the clear winner, its faster, has far more flexible I/O and you don't need external PC which is great, but i practice there are draw backs.
The hardware support is still poor, and still requires you to get the soldering iron out ion most cases, bu I am sure that will change. I even have a PI board in the pipeline myself.
What is more of an issue to me though is the software. This machine was designed to use the Python Interpreter (That's why its called PI) and if that does what you want then you are quids in.
Programming the directly pins, however, is far more complicated, it is doable, but you need to concentrate. If you want to boot the system without Linux then you either have to keep swapping the SD card, which I makes me nervous as I find it a bit too fragile, or fiddle about with partitions and Grub. I don't know how to do that, it looks scary.
There are plenty of forums about to help you with these issues, but so far I have not found one at my level, for me the level is either too high or too low, but again I am sure that will come soon.
The final point is that if you develop the software on the PI itself you will be using a 700MHz machine, when you may well have a faster PC, which is frustrating unless you go for the SD-Card swap between two systems option.
I haven't found it yet, but what I really want is a boot-loader that sits in an SD card and allows me to boot from an image on the network. That really would be the best of both words and I am sure it won't be long.


Its slower, smaller and needs a host, so why would you want one? Because you can develop your project so much faster.
It seemed that a few months ago Arduino hardware shields were coming out faster than Apple could start law suits, and still they are coming. I can't think of a micro controller project that I have been involved in recently that can't be done with a shield or two.
The forum support is some of the best I have seen, somebody out there will have had your problem before and will be able to tell you haw to fix it.
Development could not be easier, plug your hardware together, connect it to a PC via a USB cable and you are away, it really is that simple. Its one of those things that just works, and that is a rare thing nowadays.

So which one?

Today, if you are new to embedded programming and want a project that does not need to be particularly fast or needs to connect to the outside world, then go for an Arduino, it won't let you down.
If on the other hand you need speed go for the PI but be prepared for a longer design cycle.
Next year it will be different, hardware support for the PI will have caught up and you can have the best of both systems. Mind you there is a chance of  a new faster Arduino just round the corner.
Its a good time to be an embedded systems programmer.

Getting Started with Raspberry Pi

Makezine have made available an ebook early release of the "Getting Started with Raspberry Pi".
As an early release eBook you get a copy straight away plus updates as they are made available, and finally a copy of the completed book.
The ebook is available now for $11.99 in epub, pdf and Kindle Mobi formats. The dead tree version will be out around December for $14.99 plus postage from the US.
It is published through O'Reilly, so its going to be good, and can be found here.

Goyte - "Sombody that I used to know" as I had never heard it before.

I was never a big fan of fair ground organs, somehow they seemed a bit too limited and the tunes all sounded the same. A bit like home keyboards in the 1990s really.
Having said that this video reminds me of the very things I didn't like and in many ways it is even more limited, but I absolutely love it.
The instruments are an ingenious combination of mechanical devices and old Amiga computer. It is easy to see how this stuff was put together, but it must have been several weeks, if not months of work. I would have probably ended up going over the top and making everything midi controlled so I could trigger it from a keyboard, or going right over the top, sampling it and missing the whole point. My hat goes of to him, I would drift of track long before completing it. Perhaps I should have another look at those fairground organs after all, I mean a few servos, a PIC, and a midi interface. I mean how hard can it be?

And on that bombshell, over to somebody who knows how hard it can be : "HP Scanjet 3C as the vocals. It lags a bit due to the fast paced vocals. In order for the stepper motor to play a note it has to be moving and with that large carriage it takes a few milli seconds before it can play a note. It doesn't sound like a lot of time but stretch that over a 4 minute song and voila...out of sync. Programming does help to compensate but it is not perfect.
Amiga 600 Bass on left audio output and Guitar on right audio output
Each audio channel was feed into an oscilloscope
2 Harddrives as the drums and cymbal
Xylophone as the Xylophone (duh) my apologies glockenspiel
Both the Harddrive and Xylophone are controlled by one PIC16F84A mircocontroller"

Thanks to Makezine for pointing me to this one.

Slashdot : Why One Person Thinks Raspberry Pi Is Unsuitable For Education

I just found an article on Slashdot knocking the wonderful Raspberry PI

"Raspberry Pi was designed for education. As any popular product is bound to, Raspberry Pi has been criticized a lot for things like lack of a box, absence of supplied charger or even WiFi. Raspberry Pi has a much more fundamental flaw, which directly conflicts with its original goal: it is a black box tightly sealed with patents and protected by corporations. It isn't even remotely an open platform."

To be honest I don't really care if its full open source or not. It runs Linux, you can get to the source, modify it and to that's probably as far as I am ever going to want to go. I can't see that I will ever want to write a device driver or spend hours tracing a fault, and I suspect that 99% of Pi users will be the same.
To say that you would not buy one because it isn't open source is just like saying that you wouldn't but a new car, no matter how good the price, if the Haynes manual wasn't available.
Quibbling about details like that is missing the point, the Pi is cheap, very cheap, it does exactly what it claims, its fun to use and yes, kids are buying them and learning how to programme them. But come to that so are thousands of adults. And that's a good thing.

If you have never visited Slashdot then do your self a favor and have a look. It's a forum/blog/news site dealing with IT/Science/Technology issues from the everyday to the bizarre and is definitely worth a look every few days.

Raspberry Pi - Introducing turbo mode: up to 50% more performance for free

I have to admit that I didn't see this coming, my personal rule with embedded systems is that they are designed for a job and if you try to bend it then don't be surprised if it breaks. However it's happy days for P users, it seems that you CAN make yours got 50% faster, all through changes to the software, who would have thought it?

"We’ve been doing a lot of work to understand the impact of voltage and temperature on lifetime, and are now able to offer a “turbo mode”, which dynamically enables overclock and overvolt under the control of a cpufreq driver, without affecting your warranty. We are happy that the combination of only applying turbo when busy, and limiting turbo when the BCM2835′s internal temperature reaches 85°C, means there will be no measurable reduction in the lifetime of your Raspberry Pi."

For full article see

Rascal - $175 rival to the Raspberry Pi?

A year ago, "The Rascal is a small, open-source computer designed for connecting sensors, motors, and whatever else you can build to the internet. It's about 5 cm x 10 cm (2 inches by 4 inches)" would have seemed like a brilliant idea, and it was, but what about now?
My first reaction was they are screwed, this costs $175 and doesn't include Ethernet or video hardware, so whey would anybody in their right mind buy one, when the Pi seems to offer so much more for less cash?
It does, however, have one really, really, powerful ace up its sleeve. It supports the hundreds of Arduino hardware shields that are out there, and that takes it into a completely different arena.
Arduino shields are available for robotics, music, lego, GPS, network, hundreds of applications but the Rascal has considerably more computing power. The Pi won't be able to access this range of hardware for some time yet unless you are prepared to spend time developing the interfaces yourself.
Software wise both the Rascal and the Pi are designed to work with Python,but t he rascal will need a host computer to develop it.
The lower prices of the Pi and Arduino mean a far larger market for hobbyists, the very people who develop open software for free, so the Rascal is going to lag behind, and in some cases you might end up on you own.
For professionals though it will come into its own on projects that need significant processing power to control hardware, maybe robotics, art installations, and other one off projects.
18 months ago I might have been tempted, but now its no contest, I have just ordered a third Pi as my first two have proved so useful that they both have full times jobs.

For full details of the Rascal go to

Linux User: Raspberry Pi Media Centre Tutorial

"One of the great things about the Raspberry Pi is that it not only has plenty of power to play back high definition video, but it also has the HDMI output to allow you to do so. This would naturally lead the media enthusiasts among you to think of the possibilities for using the RasPi as a media centre, but the list of advantages don’t stop there. It has network support to stream video, has a ridiculously small form factor so you can tuck it out the way, and of course the low price doesn’t hurt."
See Linux User for the full article

Raspberry Pi and Lego Supercomputer

Need a super computer? Just buy 64 Raspberry PIs, a bucket of lego and link to this page to see how to set it up. Another PI project that is either genius or madness. I like lego so this time I vote genius.

PS Americans Lego components are called "bricks" not "Legos"

KindleBerry Pi

I just saw this on the Make Blog, but am not sure if this guy is a genius of a nutter.
He has hacked his kindle into a USB connected display for his PI, which is an interesting technical challenge, but can easily turn e-book reader into scrap.
Kindles run a variation of Linux, so in theory hacking them is quite possible, however there is no "reset to factory" options, so if you lock it up you are royally stuffed.
This one is not for me, I love my kindle and would not risk it for anything so if I wanted a small, portable PI I would buy one of the displays I was talking about last week. Its cheaper, doesn't tie up a USB port, but most of all it won't wreck you kindle.
Full details at

Paraorchestra to close Paralympics

Only last week I heard of the Paraorchestra, an orchestra made up entirely of musicians with a physical disabilty, and bang there they are tonight on the TV at the closing of the Paralympics.
I really enjoyed that so scanned the web for more details and found the article below, it seems I missed a documentary earlier this evening. I hope that its on E4 catchup.
From Royal College of Music website: "We are delighted to announce that three RCM alumni are performing in the Closing Ceremony of the Paralympics on Sunday 9 September.
Nicholas McCarthy, Abi Baker and Clarence Adoo will be playing under British maestro Charles Hazlewood with the British Paraorchestra. The orchestra will be backing Brit-pop sensation Coldplay and their performance marks a great achievement for the 19-strong ensemble.
Left-handed pianist Nicholas, who graduated in July this year, said “as a classical pianist, I'd never thought I'd be playing alongside Coldplay at the Paralympics, it's a bit mad to be honest, it's wonderful. I can't wait to meet them."
The musicians will be playing specially adapted electronic and conventional instruments. One of the founding members of the orchestra Clarence Adoo performs on the instrument ‘Headspace’, which was designed for him by German conductor and composer Rolf Gehlaar.
Tune in to Channel 4 from 7pm on Sunday 9 September to watch these talented musicians at the Closing Ceremony of the Paralympic Games. The British Paraorchestra will also be featured in an hour long documentary just before the ceremony at 5.25pm."

Noise Toaster - Music from Outer Space's new Lo-Fi wonder unit.

New from Music From Outer Space, is the Noise Toaster, the second device in their Lo-Fi series.
The complete kit of electronic parts, not including faceplate or cabinet is £125 plus P&P from the US, which might sound a Tad expensive, but its from MFOS so the kits will be good quality and relatively easy to put together.

Would I buy one?

At first this seemed like a slight odd unit, the VCOs are not stable enough to play tunes and th VCA is extremely limited, however it can produce a vast majority of the "Spacerock" effects that I really love.

There are no fiddly patch leads so I could re-program it much faster than my modular, if fact I wouldn't mind betting that two of them, with my SH-101, could replace the modular that I use for most live work.
If I were to do this, and if you are reading this dearest I am not planning to spend any money, I would probably rack them on a single 4U 19" panel with a few modifications:
  • The LFO would need to have Ramp and Sawtooth wave forms.
  • I would add a joystick for one of the toasters. The Y-Axis would control the VCO frequency, and X-Xis would be switchable from either the VCF cuttoff of the LFO rate.
The output from these two would be mixable on the panel and fed through a delay device capable of flanging or reverb, in fact the more I think about it ... :-)

Made in the UK!

Pop over the Raspberry Pi website for some rather good news about the next revision of the Raspberry Pi. Have a look at the short side on the right of the board and there you are, made in the UK. That's got to be good news :-)

Cubieboard, another $49 Linux board, but could this be the best one yet?

Fantastic little computer systems are like buses, nothing for years an then three come past my desk at once.  First the Raspberry PI, then the Android based APC and now introducing the cubieboard which has one major advantage over the others, a SATA port.
Any of these boards could be used to build a decent desktop computer, but which should you choose? For me the key will be in the mass storage.
Both the PI and APC boot from an SD Card, which is slow and will have relatively small storage, but with a bit of Linux tweaking they could quite quickly handover to a USB connected device which will be faster and have considerably more storage space. For most applications this will be more then enough.The SATA port on the cubieboard however, elevates this system to the next level, as it can boot from a high speed device, store terrabytes of data and access them considerably faster than a USB device, and for me this makes the cubieboard an extremely exciting prospect.
And there is one final feature that makes this the most attractive to me yet, it claims to run Ubuntu.

Full spec

  • 1G ARM cortex-A8 processor, NEON, VFPv3, 512KB L2 cache
  • Mali400, OpenGL ES GPU
  • 1GB DDR3 @400MHz
  • HDMI 1080p Output
  • 100M Ethernet
  • 2 USB Host, 1 USB otg, 2 MMC slot, 1 ir
  • 96 extend pin including i2c, spi, lvds 
For more details goto

Baking Pi - Operating Systems Development

From University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory

"Welcome to Baking Pi: Operating Systems Development! Course by Alex Chadwick.
This website is here to guide you through the process of developing very basic operating systems on the Raspberry Pi! This website is aimed at people aged 16 and upwards, although younger readers may still find some of it accessible, particularly with assistance. More lessons may be added to this course in time.
This course takes you through the basics of operating systems development in assembly code. I have tried not to assume any prior knowledge of operating systems development or assembly code. It may be helpful to have some programming experience, but the course should be accessible without. This course is divided into a series of 'lessons' designed to be taken in order as below. Each 'lesson' includes some theory, and also a practical exercise, complete with a full answer.
Rather than leading the reader through the full details of creating an Operating System, these tutorials focus on achieving a few common tasks separately. Hopefully, by the end, the reader should know enough about Operating Systems that they could try to put together everything they've learned and make one. Although the lessons are generally focused on creating very specific things, there is plenty of room to play with what you learn. Perhaps, after reading the lesson on functions, you imagine a better style of assembly code. Perhaps after the lessons on graphics you imagine a 3D operating system. Since this is an Operating Systems course, you will have the power to design things how you like. If you have an idea, try it! Computer Science is still a young subject, and so there is plenty left to discover"

Click here to access the course

Rainsbury.Net: Micro Modular

I have spent the past few months resurrecting a project I first started back in 1973(ish), my Micro modular synthesizer. I plan to release the plans as an e-Book next year, but wanted to get some feedback about what people would expect to see from the project.

Design spec

  • Every module must cost less than £10, including all components, connectors and the front panel, but not the knobs.
  • Every module will be the same size, around 6"x3", more about that later.
  • No specialist parts, indeed many can be recycled from old projects.
  • All connections will be via 4mm banana plugs
  • A 10 Unit rack will cost less than £20 including power supply.
  • No direct connection to the mains
  • All external connections through 1/4" jacks.


  • The VCOs will not be stable, or linear enough to play tunes, this is an effects and treatment device only. However this doesn't mean it isn't musical a later extension will allow you to use a cheap home keyboard as a sound source.
  • Power supply will be external, +/- 9Volts
  • All modules will be built on veroboard, there will not be a pre-made PCB. But then that's how the Synthi-100 was made.
  • There will be printable front panels which you will have to cut out and stick yourself, so it will be as good looking as you want to make it.
  • You will need to be able to solder, cut 3mm plastic sheet or thin plywood accurately and have a bit of patience.

Basic design

The basic design will be for a frame that can take up to 10 of the modules listed below. Plans for this, the power supply and output module will be listed here before the book is published.
I am planning to publish designs for all of the modules listed below, but so I don't delay publication they won't all make the first edition, however once you have purchased a copy the updates will be free.

Complete or partially complete

  • Power supply module (mandatory)
  • Output module (mandatory)
  • VCO, exponential, almost 1V/Oct but unstable, 1 V/C input with attenuator,  one without, ramp only out. (Might include sync if I can do it for under £10)
  • LFO, manual frequency, square, ramp or saw output. 3 ranges.
  • Joystick, provides +/- 9V on each axis. Might include trigger button if I can fit it on the panel under budget, this one is going to be hard to do.
  • Ramp to square + PWM module
  • Voltage controlled filter (Moog ladder) approx 1V/Oct
  • Voltage Controlled Amplifier. No idea yet
  • AR generator, with repeat so can be used as second LFO.

Planned but work not started 

  • 7 stage sub octave module
  • Noise generator
  • Input amplifier
  • Envelope follower
  • Ring modulator
  • Sample and hold
  • 8 stage trigger sequencer
  • Tap pad and trigger
  • Speaker/headphone amp
  • MIDI interface for control voltages. This one is quite complex, and will probably need a PCB to be made so it can't be done for under £10.
Yo can include any number of modules, in any configuration so long as the rack is large enough and the power supply can provide enough current.
I will publish photographs and the initial designs here early 2013.

4.3 Inch TFT-LCD Monitor for under £23

A few months ago an article on the Element14 blog showed a small display that could be used with Pi, making an extremely compact unit. An update posted today shows it in action, and I want one, but I don't actually know what I would use it for.

These displays were intended as rear view monitors in cars,  go to and search for "LCD TFT CAR". The one from the original article  sells for £22.99 + £4.59 for delivery, but there is also a 7" one which sells for under £33 including delivery.
Only 113 days to Christmas.

The Molecule Synth

From :"The MOLECULE SYNTH is a unique musical instrument.  It is like a traditional keyboard synthesizer that has been broken into its elements:  speaker/amp, sound generator, and pitch control.  With the MOLECULE SYNTH SET you decide how to put those elements back together using simple, color-coded, interchangeable hexagons.  The MOLECULE SYNTH combines LEGO-like interchangeability with Synthesizers with Physical Electronics."
I can see the nerd appeal, and would love to play with one, but is it actually any more flexible than a reasonably well appointed mini-synth like the Sound Lab by  Music From Outer Space? I would love to find out.
This is a very interesting project, but I hope that nobody thinks it inspired the Micro-Modular system that I am working on and will be publishing as an e-book next year.


Its funny how things come round, earlier this week I commented about how the technology in a recent Viral Old Spice advert could be used to help disabled people play musical instruments, and there in the  Sunday Time is an article about a whole orchestra.
"Founded by British conductor Charles Hazlewood, the British Paraorchestra is pioneering a global movement to recognise and showcase disabled musicians with extraordinary abilities. Its mission is to end the limitations placed on them, not by their physical ability but by lack of opportunity."
See for more details

Clarence Adoo

Clarence is a trumpet player was paralyzed from the shoulders down in 1995 and was told he would never play again. However since 2005  He has been using headspace controller to select notes and a breath controller to actually play them, which is probably the closest to hat I was suggesting for Robert Wyatt.
See this BBC article for more details about Clarence.

Nutjob attempts to extort $35 computer from non-profit foundation

Some electronics companies will, occasionally, send free samples of their products to legitimate customers and help them develop their own products. Most recently Microchip sent me samples of an updated PIC to try in a data logger project I am developing for magazine, it worked and as a result I have been able to increase the sampling rate without having to redesign my PCB.
Microchip know me, they know the magazine and they know that if the project is published it will probably lead to around 250 sales. This is small beer to a large company like that, but each of those 250 sales is potentially a new customer, and more importantly it is probably one less sale to a competitor.
This system has worked well for years, but some people will always try to abuse it, take for example this Muppet who was trying to blag a free Raspberry Pi. He had no credentials, no business plan, and would not take no for an answer.
His pitch is unbelievable, he starts off as an obvious chancer trying to save a few quid, and doesn't like being politely told no. He gets more and more irritating, to the point where if it were a face to face conversation you would be looking for a cricket bat to re-adjust his sense of reality.
But he doesn't stop there, the next card he plays is being Jewish, which reminded me of the Ali-G phrase "Is it because I is black".
Go to the Raspberry Pi blog for the details of the on-line conversation he had with Eben Upton the director of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, but be prepared to get annoyed with him very fast.

The MagPi

The MagPi (MAGazine for PI) is a free monthly magazine written by members of the PI foundation, and enthusiasts, for other enthusiasts. 
I really like the Raspberry PI articles in commercial magazines such as Linux User and Developer, but these are just as good, with the added benefit of the price, I would pay money for this.
Issue 5 is now available from
This issue includes
  • 04 STEADY HANDS -Are your hands steady enough to beat the Pi? by Mike Cook
  • 07 ENVIRONMENTAL MONITORINGTrack temperature fluctuations. by Duncan Rowland.
  • 10 WHAT'S ON GUIDE & COMPETITION -Find out where Raspberry Jams' are happening and win a starter kit
  • 12 XBMC: Raspbmc and OpenELEC - Get to grips with your media centre setup. by Colin Deady
  • 16 SQUEEZE VS WHEEZY - Improvements and changes. by Jaseman
  • 18 COMMAND LINE CLINIC - Learn how to backup important data. by Bobby (bredman) Redmond
  • 20 C CAVE - Functions, pointer and text file encryption. by W. H. Bel l & D. Shepley
  • 24 THE SCRATCH PATCH - Program your own Simon says game. by Anti loquax
  • 26 48HR RASPITHON - Ben, Luke, Ryan and Edward recount their python chal lenge.
  • 27 THE PYTHON PIT - Gradient fills, and using maths to plot points of a circle, by Jaseman
Note: Issue one contains explains how the Pi came by its name, the original design was much simpler, a simple microcontroller which would boot straight into a Python Interpreter, thus PI. It was only after the project was already underway and system on a chip devices became available, that the design changed to a fully fledged Linux system

Raspberry Pi as a synthesizer

Over on the Raspberry Pi blog we have this intriguing hack that turns the PI into a Synthesizer.
This is quite a clever idea and I am sure that hours of fun will be had, however the in the attached audio clip the sounds seem a bit too clean, there is none of the analogue uncertainty which can make a synth come alive. However it uses a system called Phase Distortion, which changes in timbre of a note as it plays, a very clever approach which first reached popularity on the Casio CZ-101, one of my all time favorite small synthesizers, so I am quite looking forward to testing it out in depth.

Dropping the Science: Wish I Was There

I am probably preaching to the choir, but I love the science entries on, they help me put things back in perspective, just like this one :-)

Robonaut - The first humanoid robot in space

What could be better than a real human looking robot in space with the initials R2!!  I am sure that there was a genuine technical reason for the name, but if you had the chance then you know that you would too! Although it does look a bit more like C-3PO :-)
From NASA: "Robonaut not only looks like a human, but it also is designed to work like one. With human-like hands and arms, Robonaut is able to use the same tools station crew members use. In the future, the greatest benefits of humanoid robots in space may be as assistants for astronauts during spacewalks".
Click here to see Robonaut 2 in action
For more details see the NASA website

The Federation of International Robot-soccer Association (FIRA)

FIRA: The Federation of International Robot-soccer Association (FIRA)
In August 2012, just after the Olympic Games, the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, a joint undertaking of the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England, will host the Robot-Olympics, the FIRA RoboWorld Cup, founded in 1996.

It is the first and premier event where roboticists internationally gather and challenge each other to test their newest technology in Olympic style robotic contests, such as football, weight lifting, running and marathon.

Its main drivers have been for more than fourteen years two prime roboticists, Professors Jong-Hwan Kim, KAIST (Korea) and Prahlad Vadakkepat, National University of Singapore. This event has found annually strong interest world-wide from Korea, Taiwan, China, Slovakia, Germany, Canada, Malaysia, India, UK etc.

Technology developed for the FIRA-RoboWorld Cup requires a holistic view, involving mechanical, electronics and digital control and image processing technology.

The event has been taking place in India, Korea, China, USA, Germany, Singapore, Australia, France and Brasil, together with the FIRA RoboWorld Congress, a scientific robotics conference.

$49 Android PC System

This caught my attention  a few months ago, a whole PC, including Android OS all one one PCB for $49.  Adding a case, monitor, keyboard and mouse will give you a complete PC, with no installation costs or time. Just connect it up, turn it on and there you are, ready to surf the web, play Angry Birds, or thousands of other android apps, just like on a phone or tablet, but bigger.

My first reaction was that this was going to be competing for the same audience as the wonderful Raspberry Pi, but I was wrong. The Pi is about people getting their hands dirty with a computer, getting inside the guts and having a good rummage around until something breaks, and then fixing it.

The APC is about turning on a computer, and connecting straight to the internet with a minimum of fuss, no chance of a virus (allegedly), no tedious constant stream of updates, and no license fees, because Android is based on Linux, which is free to use.

It doesn't come with any of the hard ware that you would expect with a portable device such as an actual phone, GPS, or camera, so apps that expect them will be in for a bit of a shock and might decide to sulk for a bit, but in practice would you really want to use them on a desktop machine?
Early reports are favorable, apparently most of your office requirements are easily dealt with by the google office tools, but you would expect that really, as they are responsible for Android too. Games play well, but there are issues with some that can't deal with the large screen sizes without pixelating, but its early days, as Pads get larger I am sure that developers will get these sort of problems sorted.

To me this is a very appealing package, however there are still a few things to be wary of. Firstly it is only supplied with Android 2.3, which is positively ancient, if I were to buy one now I would expect at least Android 3 if not 4. Secondly Mini-ITX cases are not cheap, in fact the cheapest decent case I could find was £30 which is almost as much as the board itself.

So why is this not an in depth review, well to be brutally honest as much as I might want one, I don't actually need it.  I already have plenty of ways of connecting to the internet and I can use Android apps on my phone or a tablet. I think that after a few weeks it would be like the Christmas puppy that nobody wanted to play with, especially if it was only running an old version of Android.

Now if I was buying one for my wife, who gets confused when there are more than two buttons on a gadget, this would be my first stop, because she is exactly the sort of person that is going to love it.

But then, the pure simplicity and elegance really appeal to me so much that one day, when it is running the current Android, I might just get one anyway.

For more details of the board see

Technical spec (from the APC website) 

APC runs a custom Android system, built for keyboard and mouse input. A basic selection of applications is preinstalled. Also included is a full set of consumer I/O ports, enabling APC to connect to your PC monitor or TV.

Model     APC 8750

Software: Android 2.3 (PC System)

Chip: VIA 800MHz Processor

Memory: DDR3 512MB Memory 2GB NAND Flash

Graphics:Built-in 2D/3D Graphic Resolution up to 720p

Input and Output: HDMI, VGA, USB 2.0 (x4),  Audio out / Mic in, microSD Slot

Network: 10/100 Ethernet

Size: 170 x 85mm (W x H) Neo-ITX Standard

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Welcome to, the online world of Stephen Rainsbury

Welcome to, a seemingly random collection of technological curiosities and trinkets, gathered over many years through my jobs, hobbies and interests.
I have worked as an Electronic Systems Design Engineer, Software Engineer, Embedded Systems Design Engineer, IT Support Technician and Physics Teacher
Through out all of this I have been a Scout Leader and still somehow had time to be married for over 33 years and managed to contribute in some small part to raising three kids to adult hood.
My interests have included building electronic devices, including synthesizers, space, rocketry, Sci-Fi (Love StarWars), astronomy, archery, robots (was in a Robot Wars team), and underlining all of these computers.
Over the years I have created and maintained a number of websites  to support these interests and produced countless documents and books, which until now only existed together on my hard drive
This site brings the best bits into one place, partially for you, and partially to make me organize them into some kind of order