I’m no musician, but lately I’ve been experimenting with MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) in my projects. MIDI is a standard for controlling instruments that works by passing messages between pieces of connected equipment. The messages aren’t actual music in the same way as, say, an MP3 is. Instead, they are commands for making music—“Play middle C on an electric piano,” for example.
Recently I converted my old Ford pickup to diesel, and I needed to make a bracket to hold a throttle position sensor, which helps to control the new transmission. Often I wing this sort of thing, working from notebook drawings or cardboard models. But this time I decided to use 3-D CAD modeling, CNC manufacturing and 3-D printing to design and fabricate the part to the exact specifications I wanted.
When I’m building something weird—my pedal-powered Panzer, for instance—I have to pull together all sorts of obscure parts. Over the years I’ve noticed that I continually reuse some of them in project after project. here are the five that I can’t live (or work) without.
My projects tend to live rough lives. To make it easier to safely house their delicate parts in the future, I devised a torture test to determine which project enclosures best stand up to extreme conditions—and to my abuse.
I built a simple circuit and placed it inside a plastic project enclosure, a PVC electrical junction box, and a Pelican case. Then I subjected all three to torture by water, impact and fire.
Check out the gallery below to see the results of our tests:
The options for streaming music over the Internet have increased so dramatically lately that I’ve found my FM radio has become totally irrelevant. Still, I like to be able to listen to a lot of different types of music throughout the day, and I love radios too much to give up on them completely. Now that several music services, such as Last.fm, have released their programming interfaces to the public, I decided to build a custom Wi-Fi radio that can stream my favorite stations and ensure that I’ll always hear music I like.
Half a century ago, vacuum tubes were very common in audio amplifiers. A small voltage applied to the grid of a vacuum tube controls a relatively large current that drives the electromagnet in a speaker, creating movement and thereby sound. Modern solid-state amps are superior in cost, size and reliability, but many people still prefer the warm sound and mesmerizing orange-yellow glow of a tube amp.
I love surplus stores. They’re basically the tech version of a yard sale, with tons of stuff that would be nearly impossible to find or afford new. These are three of my favorites. Between them, you should be able to find just about anything you need, no matter how crazy the project.
If you’re looking to gin up a project that can interface with the world--say, a device that tells the weather using sensors--you’re probably going to need a microcontroller, a simple computer system on a circuit board that consists of a processor, memory and an input/output system. They are the centerpiece of many of my past PopSci projects, such as a desk clock that keeps superaccurate time by pulling in a signal broadcast from an atomic clock.
I’ve accidentally dropped an engine on my foot, set myself on fire, fallen off all sorts of things—and now I’m here to tell you about safety. Four of the biggest risks to DIYers are ones that often don’t get taken seriously, but they all can be mitigated with some easy-to-find gear.
Fire enthusiasts have long used propane “poofers" to shoot huge fireballs for oddball art projects and theatrical special effects. As someone who has always been, as my grandfather puts it, “interested in exothermic reactions,” I’ve seen and built my share of them, too. But this time around, I decided to try a new approach that incorporates some striking visual elements as well as a bit of science.
You may associate remote control with the urge to jump little R/C cars through walls of fire in your backyard, but that’s just the beginning of what you can do with the technology. Once you’ve mastered the basic concepts, the same parts and techniques used in toys can be used to control machines big and small, practical and absurd.
The vast amount of information at our fingertips these days can be as distracting as it is useful. Tracking something like the movement of an index on the stock market by feverishly checking a ticker all day is often more than you want to deal with. So this cube lets you display data it receives wirelessly from the Internet—trends in the market, the weather, your Twitter traffic—in the simplest form possible, as light that subtly changes in color and intensity. Say the skies are expected to clear up: Per your programming instructions, the cube will just turn a pleasant blue.
I’ve always loved taking pictures from the road when I travel, but on returning home I often had no idea where I had shot many of them. The only way to figure it out was by placing them on a timeline and working backward through my route. Recently I found a way to make it easier. I mounted a Canon digital camera on the dashboard of my car, installed software on it that enables it to automatically shoot pictures every few seconds or minutes, and set up a GPS unit to record the location of each shot.
Some form of jig is a practical necessity for fabrication in volume, or when dealing with tight tolerances, or both. While it can seem like a lot of extra work, making a jig is within the grasp of the average home builder and can actually save significant time.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.