Thanks For Visiting

March 16th, 2011

Thanks for visiting my blog, however spammers have ruined the experience for me, so for now I’ll be sticking with Twitter, Youtube and Facebook for future updates.

Set Phasers to Fun

August 2nd, 2010

Last weekend the annual Slabtown Showdown pinball tournament was held here in Portland and for fun I modified several machines for use as casual side tournament. Time Machine pinball was modified, so the left and right flipper buttons were swapped, Bad Cats lower playfield glass was covered with tape to block the view of the flippers and Star Trek 25th had light gun controlled flippers.

In the following video I show how I modified Star Trek to flip when shot with a light gun.

Light Gun Controlled Pinball - Set Phasers to Fun

Danny B. won $50 on the reversed flipper game and Mike S. won $30 each for the blocked flippers and light gun game.

Giant Williams Joystick - Long Live Memories of the 80’s

July 21st, 2010

Several years ago I was chatting with a friend at a retro computer convention about 80’s B-movies and “Joysticks the Movie” came up.  The simplified plot of the movie is a bunch of mischievous kids save their arcade hangout from being shut down by the city.  They do this by playing video games against the cities player with two giant joysticks.

As a kid I vividly remember staying up past my bed time during the weekends and watching bad movies on USA networks “Up All Night with Gilbert Gottfried”.   I always enjoyed when they played Joysticks, although at the time I’d never been in a real arcade, since most were long gone by the time I was old enough to ride my bike across town.

A few months after returning from the retro event I received VHS tape of  Joysticks that said friend found at a swap meet and boy was I surprised by the nudity I hadn’t  seen in the USA Networks edited for television version.  I was also curious if this movie had ended the careers of the actors, so I started looking around and found many of them were still working today.  I even found Jim Greenleaf (Andrew McDorfus) was on Facebook and he even accepted my friend request.

A few months ago I was chatting with Tanio and other involved with the California Extreme Arcade show ( and we decided to contacting Greydon Clark the producer and Jim and see if they’d visit the show.  To our surprise they were very approachable, happy to spend a weekend with us and willing to screen the movie with Q&A at the end.

To celebrate the visit I built a likeness of the joystick they used in the movie, but unlike the the prop it would functional enough to play Satan’s Hollow, which was played by King Vidiot and Dorfus.  It took a little more time than I expected, but after 5 evenings and a 10hr push at the end I had a working joystick that somehow lasted entire weekend of kids hanging off of it.

USB Memory Stick Bird Hack

April 30th, 2009

A few years ago I was looking for a gift for my friend Karen. She had mentioned that she liked the USB memory sticks that looked like sushi, but I couldn’t find one in time for her birthday, so I decided to make a silly memory stick myself.
I found a small animatronic bird that was light activated and modified it’s photo detector circuit to trigger from the activity on the USB stick. I powered the bird from the 5v usb supply that was a little bit more than it originally was designed for. The result was a very hyper bird!

Floppy Drive Analog Audio Recorder

April 30th, 2009

I’ve received several emails asking me to help modify specific types of floppy drives to record analog audio, but since all drives and taped decks are different the best I can do is explain the basic things to look for.

Enable the drive: Ground the motor pin, both select/enable pins to start the spindle motor.

Stepping the head: Tie the index pin on the connectors to the step pin.

Head direction control: Attach a switch between ground and the direction pin. This allows you to step the drive in or out.

Erasing the disk: While the spindle is turning move a strong magnet over the surface to erase the data on the disk.

Attaching the head: Try to trace the flex cable wires to one of the heads and check continuity on the pins. Attach the tape deck head wires to a pair of pins with continuity and try it out. If it doesn’t seem to work try another set of pins. I’ve also recorded audio to the disk by hooking an audio amplifier to the head.

Questions About The Ninetendo/C64 Purse

April 30th, 2009

I’ve been receiving many questions about the purse, so I thought I’d answer some of the popular ones here.

Produce: At the moment I don’t have plans to produce the purse, although being a toy designer I’m not apposed to designing this for mass production if a toy company approaches me about it.

Sell: FMCG has decided that most of the prototypes will be sold for charity. We’re not sure when this will happen exactly.

The Idea: I’ve always liked mobile computing and wearable computing, so ideas like this are always on my mind. I actually acquired the purse while at a second hand store when a creepy acting guy came up to me and handed it to me. I politely took it and moved away from him. While I continued to shop I realized that it was the perfect dimensions for a screen and controller.

Room inside: I have enough room in it for small items like credit cards, lipstick, etc.

IRC Controlled Robots on FM&CG Episode 16

March 24th, 2009

For episode 15 Ken, Monty and I showed a primitive IRC controlled motor controller and text to speech. Ken and I prototyped the motor controller with the DLP-IO9-G USB 8 channel IO module and several motorized toys. The controller is pretty easy to integrate, because it uses serial characters to configure the IO pins for input, output or analog input and toggle the output pins when in output mode.  Monty improved his Perl scripts to parse the IRC text, output authorized users text to the Macs say command and sending the users motor controls to the DLP modules.

FPGA Bridged Dual C64 SID Shown During FM&CG15

March 24th, 2009

For the 15th episode of Fat Man and Circuit Girl I build a C64 with a secondary SID with a FPGA bridge between the on board SID and the secondary SID.  This allowed me to intercept writes and add or subtract a constant from the secondary SIDs notes being played.  The result was a very nice sounding stereo output with slightly different sound from each channel.

Ferrofluid From VCR Tapes

March 23rd, 2009

Chris who hacks with us on Saturday ordered 4 ounces of ferrofluid to experiment with today and then the chat room found a link to making a crude version from old magnetic tape.  I’m trying my hand at making some with the worst VHS tapes in my collection. Tonight Total Recall gets melted in acetone nail polish remover.


I soaked the tape in polish remover for 24hrs and did not see much oxide disolved, so I added straight acetone from the paint store and after 4 days had not disolved.   I’ll try other solvents later.

Finished Filming FM&CG Episode 14

March 9th, 2009

I had a great time this weekend hacking with friends and then filming The Fat Man and Circuit Girl show.  George presented a hack of his Miko keyboard where he bravely sawed it in half, twisted wires around, flipped screens and moved the control surfaces around.  He also showed the follow up to his giant metal re-verb and how it’s now permanently wired in that bathroom of his studio.

Monty, Ionn and I spent all weekend trying to cut record grooves into the front surface of CDs using my table top lathe.  The first attempt was with a 3 ft arm attached to a speaker on one end, pivoting 2 inches from the other end at the tool post and then attached to an exacto knife held in the tool holder, so it will flex with the audio.  We could see the blade moving with the music, but it wandered badly when we tried cutting the spiral grooves.  Next we tried attaching a exacto blade and feeding the audio into a chart recorder galvanometer that Monty had brought with him for a laser projection project.  This seemed promising, but again the blade wandered too much.  Finally we attached a carbide lathe tool insert, so it rotated near the axis of the galvanometer and got some audio recorded, but the chatter and rough cut in the groove made the quality about 80% white noise.   Lesson learned here is that we thought records would be easy to make, but turns out to be very difficult.

I’ve been interested in high energy particles/radiation, since I was a kid and used to spend a lot of time reading about the subject, but never considered experimenting with it until recently.  Six months ago a good friend gave me a Geiger counter and said that every nerd needed at least one around and that this was one of his spares.  ( Woz and him would pull it out on planes to show passengers how much radiation they were getting)  Then last week I stumbled onto this great site with historical experiments and the spinthariscope caught my attention  In the article they said you could make one from the americium in a smoke detector and ZnS:Cu (glow powder).  I figured it would be fairly safe to make one after reading that americium in smoke detectors emit low level alpha particle and I had several sources of ZnS around.

We picked up several smoke detectors Saturday and when we got back tested them with the geiger counter which didn’t tick much more than normal background radiation.  Ionn cut the lid off of the sensor that contained the americium, which consisted of two thin metal straps holding a steel lid down and a vented plastic cylinder .  Holding the geiger counter over this didn’t tick much until we got within 1 inch, which was a good sign that it really was only emitting alpha radiation.  When the counter was close enough to be vigorously ticking we could block almost all of the alpha radiation by slipping a sheet of paper between the sample and the counter.

I grabbed a small CRT from a camcorder viewfinder, busted the face off, placed it over the sample, placed it on a microscope and then we moved into a dark room in hope to see the phosphors light up when struck by radiation, but even after letting our eyes adjust we didn’t see anything.   Next I pulled some ZnS:CU glow power from the Discovery Crystals kit and sprinkled it on the sample, when back to the dark area and fairly quickly we could see what looked like a mini lightning storm in the pile of phosphor.  We then put a drop of alcohol on the phosphor, which flattened it out and gave a bit better result.  Under lower magnification the excited phosphor looked like the snow you see on the now outdated analog TV and under higher magnification it looks like little sparks jumping around.

We tried to place the sample and phosphor directly on the glass of a web cameras image sensor and make a contact microscope, but the intensity of the excited phosphor is too low for the sensor to pick up.  This was a very fun and exciting project for me and I hope I can find a more sensitive CCD camera to finish it later.

This week I continued my short FPGA tutorial series with switch de-bouncing and edge detection.  It’s not the most exciting project, but both are essential and used all over designs.  I’m looking forward to finishing the little Arduino compatible pin out FPGA board this week and when we can start getting into higher level designs.

George had to leave a bit early, so impromtuously talked about my plans for a c64 for Seth of 8bit Weapon.  I plan on putting a small FPGA board in between a secondary SID sound chip and the c64.  This will allow me to control the clocking of the secondary SID, so it can be de-tuned slightly, but can handle the clock crossing between the 1.02mhz of the NTSC C64.   By sending the same commands to both the primary and de-tuned SID I believe this will generate some nice sounds.

Monty hit a home run on this weeks show with his text2speech and the talking parrot hack.  He extracted text from an IRC client(this is where our live chat happens during the show), parsed it with perl to select certain users, assign them voices, directed it to the Macintosh speech synthesizer and then fed the audio into an animatronic parrot.  The parrot got old after a little while, but the chat room spent hours talking back and forth in they’re funny voices.  At one point I was laughing so hard I started to cry!  Thanks Monty.

Thanks to everyone who helped out at the NW Nerd Lair this weekend (Trish,Ionn, Monty, Steve) and all the viewers that tuned in for the pre and post show.

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