Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Breaking Radio Silence, and Embedded Control Motivation Speech.

I haven't posted in a long time. Apologies all around. But I have a relatively good excuse set for all of my readers.

1. I've been busy creating some really cool electronics projects that I'm gonna release soon.
2. I've been busy cycling, and practicing Kung Fu.
3. I've been spending too many late nights at yo mom's house. OHH!

Anyway, here's some content:

I've been working a lot lately with the Atmega168 microcontroller. This, if you didn't already know, is the heart of the famous embedded control development platform Arduino.

The Atmega168 microcontroller.

The World Famous Arduino Prototyping Platform.

This chip has the ability to run code from the user, and interface with a multitude of sensors, systems, and other components. Basically, with the right insight, someone could design almost anything to run from chips like these.

I've been using the Atmega168 for a while now as my go-to chip for embedded control applications in the field. It comes in a surface mount package as well as a through-hole DIP chip that allows for breadboarding and prototyping with standard perfboard circuitry. The Atmega168 makes a great embedded chip for devices as it is cheap (~$4 US), and consumes very little power. With the DIY embedded control movement focused around the Arduino in full swing, interested people everywhere are discovering how easily and quickly they can create full functional automated systems in just a number of hours.

However, the idea of putting an entire Arduino in a box forever is a little unnecessary, as the core functionality of this unit for a permanent application can be replaced with just the chip, and a power regulation circuit. The user-friendly nature of the Arduino has attracted many newcomers to feel comfortable with creating their first embedded control projects. However, if people realized that creating an embedded control system from scratch was as easy as it is, I think more people would use the chip by itself to create their own inexpensive inventions! All it takes is to power the chip properly and add a programming header. The chip can then be programmed in the circuit using this header and an AVR programmer. I use the AVR ISP MKII.

The AVR ISP (In Service Programmer) MKII. My weapon of choice for programming Atmegas.

This method of creating embedded control systems takes some of the mystery out of using Arduino libraries, as you can program the chip directly in C. I use AVR Studio to program my atmegas. There are plenty of tutorials out there for beginners. I highly recommend the Sparkfun Beginning Embedded Electronics Tutorials. With these tools and resources, you will find that with a little bit of perseverance you too can create awesome inventions!

Now, an embedded control circuit is only as good as what you interface it with. For some circuits, you may simply want to monitor some sensor and display the value. For this, it is relatively easy to integrate your computer with the microcontroller via serial communication. The sparkfun tutorials will guide you through this if you are interested. None of the computers I use have serial ports, so I use a Keyspan USB to Serial Adapter. The chip that runs the Keyspan device is the FTDI FT232RL Serial to USB chip, and Sparkfun also sells a barebones breakout of this chip that can interface directly to the microcontroller, allowing fast and cheap USB connectivity. For other circuits however, you may not want to have to have a computer interfacing with it whenever you want to get data from your system. For times like these, I have turned to a visual indication system via LCD readout. For the LCD, I have used the standard HD44780 or equivalent. These can be found on sparkfun, and are relatively cheap (~$15 US).

A 2 x 16 Character HD44780 equivalent LCD Display

I have used this combination of Atmega168 and HD44780 so often in fact, that I have recently put together a prototype for a board that does power regulation, pin routing, and LCD integration with the Atmega168. I call it The LCDuino, and I look to have this board for sale in the future if I get enough interest. The board comes with a row of holes at the bottom that can be soldered to. If a header is soldered into one of the rows, the unit can be pressed into a breadboard for rapid prototyping, and then soldered with flying wires for a more permanent installation.

The Electromagics LCDuino V1.0!

Back of the LCDuino!

LCDuino at Night!

This board will be released in more detail very soon on my website, including PCB layouts, Schematics, source code, and more photos. Solder one of these units up though, and you have a fully functional embedded control system with back lit LCD readout for under 20 dollars of components!

Alright, I'm out, but there's more to come soon!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Casper Electronics Echo Bender

Hey readers! I've been hard at work on the website and products I'm selling! I've got a new DIY page up on the site that will give free tutorials on how to make everything I sell as well as general production techniques and knowledge base I've picked up in the past and future months. One of things I've been really excited about today is that the first orders of headphone / preamps from the site shipped! I'll update all of this soon (tomorrow) with some more details. For now, please check out my friends over at casperelectronics and check out the hot new enclosure we cooked up for you with the Echo Bender V2!

Doesn't that look sick!?

These pedals are incredible. I love range of sounds you can get from them. These should go on pre-order soon for $300. Details at Casperelectronics.

Thursday, July 30, 2009


Oh man, collaboration is awesome. Hard at work these days with many a project and task on hand. Some "Liquid Tin" came in today, and let me just say, I'm extremely impressed. I'll post pictures as progress develops. I need to get in the habit of documenting everything, as I'm finding now it is insanely helpful whenever I do.

Headline: Ghost Train gives Electromagics "The Hook-Up" with this installment of absolutely sick enclosure art:

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Impression Felt

Oh it's such a beautiful day
And all the stars will be coming out tonight
And there's so much I want to say to you
But I know that it won't come out right
But you and I are tied in some way
In fact, we might be one in the same
Instead of individuals maybe we're just tentacles
In some fifth-dimensional squid or something...

But when I'm sitting across from you
I can feel it spinning, can you feel it too?
It's nice to know that we were born to die
I can't explain it, but you know I'll try
Wait, hold on, I'll try
Look at the sky we agree it's blue!
But what I see as blue might be red to you
We call it the same because we talk
Do we think the same because we talk?
Or maybe we think in similar ways
Because of whats in our DNA
But either way it don't explain
why our families think we're strange

I think it strange to say that we're alone
When we're so many different people everyday
In your head I bet there's a whole town's worth of folk
Please listen to what they each have to say
I hope that tomorrow's better than today.
And I hope the best is saved for the day after that.
But the day after that day I hope that it rains.
Because the good aint good unless you get the bad.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Website Skeletons

It's official, Electromagics has sold out. Or rather, will be selling out fast its future-supply of handmade pocket-sized electric guitar / bass / mic preamp / headphone amps! It's a mad dash to see who will be the lucky ones to be able to get the very first product from Electromagics, and who will be left with the bitter taste of regret on their lips! Pre-Order incentives include reduced price, and a mystery gift! All headphone amps come with custom art ON THE BOX, which will vary from amp to amp. The flavor of awesome may vary from piece to piece, but the potency will be uniformly deadly for the whole batch! Manifest Destiny already, and make your cubicle mates super jealous when you start busting facemelting solos or hip-slithering basslines with business casual consideration.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Grind Time

Alright! I have been away loving readers, for far too long! Been on my grind in a very real sense, working with Pete Edwards of Casperelectronics, designing some circuitry for some very cool and ridiculous sounding electronic effects. Pete is a custom electronics designer, with over 10 years of experience, mainly dealing with circuit bending. The stuff we're making is really awesome, and will be on sale through his website. I've been working hard on the headphone amp project as well, completing a production model prototype! I am currently taking orders for these sweet devices, which I will be creating full documentation and advertisement for in the near term, with online sales becoming available by the end of the week. In the meantime, you can order one by emailing me. Here's a bit of a teaser shot of an unlabeled completed model. It sounds sweet!

Yeaaaah Boyeee

Short post for now, but with more updates coming soon!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Business As Unusual

Success and Adventures! The last week has been so eventful, that I couldn't even find the time to blog about it. I know! Finished up a long overdue project for Ecovative Design, rode my bike a lot, and even got a break from the rain enough to get a bit of a sunburn. I had excellent visitors over the week, who made delicious food, touching music, and enjoyable conversation. Life's real good.


The 4th passed with a great many explosions which I viewed from an incredibly short distance in Albany, where the crowd was treated to some up-close-and-personal fireworks in Empire State Plaza. (The fireworks were actually going off within the space enclosed by the surrounding buildings.) Bike Polo was a blast, and the consecutive rides to and from Albany have reminded me that I need to start training more for distance cycling.

Bike Polo: As Fun As It Is Difficult

I put together an order for the headphone amp project, and the production components should be arriving tomorrow, so I'll be able to see very soon if my CAD model predictions are really up to snuff. I also want to figure out the details behind creating a photo-etching station for the mass manufacturing of the headphone amp PCB's (Printed Circuit Boards). This will surely prove to be an interesting and potentially caustic / carcinogenic endeavor, as the station will expose treated copper-plated silicon boards with intense UV light, and then I will be submersing these boards in acid. More Updates on this to come! Here's a PCB I've laid out, but haven't made or tested yet:



Monday, June 29, 2009

Next Song!

Back from a great vacation in Worcester, MA! I had a great time, and it was entirely due to all of my great friends there and the sick events and activities that everyone was so continually engaged in! This is because the weather completely sucked! Rain every single day without fail, usually for the majority of the day. Insanity. Anyway, back on my grind in Troy, getting work done at Ecovative, and in my spare time finishing up a partslist for the beta prototype of the productioin model of my pocket amp. I want to get all the controls and inputs on one side, as well as allow for parallel linking to the headphone outputs. This is interesting because when audio lines are tied in parallel, they act as both inputs, outputs, and mixers! This is really cool because it can allow for a number of really awesome situations if the impedances of the devices attached don't affect one another adversely. A few examples of why this is a great addition to my design:
  • Two users can listen to one guitar through seperate headphones
  • A user can listen to the amp, while simultaneously using it as a preamp for laptop recording.
  • Two pocket amps can be linked to eachother so that two performers can hear eachother.
  • A performer can play electric guitar over their favorite songs from an iPod, tape deck, or cd player.
Radical! All this value is added by simply attaching 3 jumper wires and another headphone jack! Here's a teaser of a few dimensionally accurate modeled components in the enclosure I'm plannin on using. (I had to model it to be sure everything would fit before I wasted a precious $10, and believe me it was worth it! Many of my first choice components just wouldn't fit.) More details as details arise!


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Worcester Rules.

I've been in Worcester for almost a week now, and it's been intense! Basement shows, punk events, and a whole lot of good times! I've constructed a few electronics projects as well down at the FYC, including a regulated 8 V DC power supply, and a pocket headphone amplifier. Here's some pictures!

Fuck Yeah Center
420 Pleasant St.
Worcester, MA
Come get hyped!

Tye Die Day!
June 24th, 2009
$3 Dollar custom die jobs, No foolin around!

Front Desk: Candy, Sodas, Skateboards

Tapes, Records, and Mixtape Making / Listening Station


Fuck Yeah Center is pretty awesome. It's coming along, with tons of events for the Summer of Worcester, great attitudes, and great junk! As for my headphone amp, it sounds splendid! I've been working with the power supply for the design, but I was pleasantly surprised when I tried it off of battery power and it sounded even better! I got the whole thing to fit into this tiny little enclosure, with some bending of the capacitors and some tight squeezing, but I love the form factor! I'll update this entry or maybe another soon enough with some details, schematics, and labeling of the pictures. For now, I'm just gonna get back to vacationing as hard as I can!


The amp, stuffed tightly into my little enclosure. It runs off of a 9V battery or a DC power supply! The switch on the left controls which power supply to use, when switched to the DC input, if no supply is present, it is off, and disconnects the battery. The amplifier is custom designed for the sound I wanted, and based off a similar design that I built and didn't like the sound of. The amp's heart is the LM386 audio amplifier 8 pin DIP IC chip, and is quite nice! The amp take in a 1/4" mono phone input, and outputs in mono mix to stereo headphones via a 1/8" stereo jack. When the circuit is on, a green LED runs to let the user know that they're turning battery power into rock music. The 100K Ohm Log tapered stereo potentiometer will be cut and knobbed in the short term future. I forget how much all the components cost, but I am considering making a run of 10-20 of these in the short term based on the response of my friends at the sound they created. Custom electronic music effects for guitar, bass, and vocals are next up on my agenda!

Schematic for all you DIYers out there!

Sunday, June 21, 2009


I've been back in Worcester for a day and already I'm exhausted! Yesterday I cleaned the gutters for my parents, and went down to the Fuck Yea Center (FYC for short), a punk rock skateboard junk store in Worcester run by my brother, Pat Scully. I set up shop in the back with a table for doing soldering and all my tools and components. I'm looking to create a regulated 8V power supply for a series of effects pedals, and headphone amps. As prototyping will probably take forever, I don't want to have to buy a billion 9V batteries, so I decided an AC adapter of 8 V should do me fine. After that, there was a show at the Collective-a-Go-Go, where a number of amazing bands played amazing sets. White Crime and Best Friends Forever were truly remarkable! Then I went skinny-dipping in a pond with a bunch of my friends.
Today is Maura Curtin's birthday! Maura was a good friend of mine who passed away last March. She was the most charismatic and beautiful person I've ever met, and is missed more than anything. So in memory and celebration of her excellence, Worcester is throwing a party at Ralph's Diner and Bar tonight, where my friends and I will play music, drink, and be merry. There was also a bicycle ride planned for today, but it seems that it has been canceled, or rather postponed until next Sunday, due to wetness. Happy Birthday Maura! I miss you so much!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Surface Mount Soldering

Success is inevitable if one is willing to travel the path of successive failure. At least I hope that's the case! First attempt at surface mount soldering:

Only two lifted pads and one bent-in pin! My only commentary is "thank god for solder wick!" The purpose of this board is to make useful the only Serial to USB IC chip via this breakout board designed and manufactured by the loving hands of one Sean Michnowski, a truly remarkably sharp, disciplined, and skilled individual. Only now entering his sophmore year at RPI, he designed and built by hand a set of beautiful PCBs for the RPI Formula Hybrid racecar last semester. Basically, a microcontroller such as a PIC or Atmega chip can interface directly to this board to USB for computer and USB peripheral integration. This board will have a USB B female plug soldered on when I can find it, and can be mounted into an enclosure for one-step microcontroller to computer connection! Sparkfun makes a version of this for about 14 dollars, but DIY is more punk for sure.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Nite Rides

Just got back from a nite ride with the TBR crew. For those who don't know, TBR stands for Troy Bike Rescue, a community bike shop in downtown Troy, NY. Meandered around through a cemetary in the dark. Talked with some interesting people, and generally had a great time. I met someone who works down at the local food coop who may be able to hook me up w/ bulk discount tea leaves and herbs from local farmers. I've been meaning to create a small side business where I'd make 30 gallons or so of Iced Tea from local products and sell it at the farmers markets in town. To do this, I'll need to do a few things. The first is to build sterile equiptment to boil large quantities of water. This will probably be done with a 35 gallon drum and brick wood stove that I'll build on my back patio. The second is to build a bike trailer so that I can get my product to market. The third is to get some igloo esq coolers that I can transport my iced tea batches in my trailer. Perhaps I could make these out of Ecovative Design's revolutionary material greensulate?! (I will post about how awesome Ecovative is later).

Ecovative's revolutionary material Greensulate might make for a perfect organic iced tea cooler!

I also went to my favorite local pub Brown's, where they brew their own award winning beer. I purchased a growler of oatmeal stout, which I am about to enjoy a glass of. I also bought a used BC Rich Beast Guitar for cheap from my neighbor. I'm going to be working on creating custom electric guitar effects for some musicians I know, so I needed an electric guitar with decent pickups to experiment with. I'm also looking for a small clean amp for the same purpose. I'mma get to that stout now. Life is good!

This guitar is ridiculous, and sorta uncomfortable to play, I might reshape the body. Man I need more hours in the day.

Wireless USB Cable System

Inspired by the work of Pete (, I decided to try and hack apart a Cables Unlimited Wireless USB Dongle set, mount the device dongle innards in an enclosure, and run it off of batteries instead of a wall-wart. The intended use of this device, like pete's, was originally for wireless tethering of the camera to my computer for various purposes. However, I now can use this little black box to make nearly any of my USB powered peripherals wireless! Let's take a look at whats inside:

So the device was designed to be able to be run off of the internal battery supply (4 AAA's in Series ~6 V which will drop to about 4.5 V at the end of their life), or a 5V Wall Wart regulated supply, for uses where longer power life is required. I also wanted the female USB-A adapter to be accessible so that it could be used for multiple purposes. The device can mount to the bottom of my Nikon D40 with the 1/4-20 bolt and nut set that I have supplied the unit, and the opposite mating set is replicated at the bottom so that a tripod could be used.

A tripod can mount to this side. The device plugs into this port.

This side mounts to the bottom of the camera. The barrel connector was left in place so that it could be powered by an AC adapter!

The device works, my camera is now free of wires but not free of control / communication with my computer! The form factor is nice, doesn't get in the way at all, but the range is a bit limited (maybe about 25 feet). I have a few ideas about how to make them better, and will probably update this project when and if I come around to making them.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Wisconsin Death Trip The Childrens Choir

Really weird album. Had to bump the hype bubble.

Monday, June 15, 2009

First Posting

I've been considering creating a blog for a while now, and today I decided to just break down and do it. One of the things that kept me from creating this long ago was that I could not decide how I would use it, for personal reflections, or to show people what I've been up to or thinking about. From reading a few friends blogs, I guess in general these are used for a bit of both, which is good enough for me.

I've been very busy as of late. Some of the things that I've been working on / up to are a bit on the confidential side, but I think this weblog will be a good place to display some of the other projects and activities I'm engaged and interested in.

Let's start with the basics:
  • I am living in Troy, NY.
I graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in December with a BS in Mechanical Engineering. I'm still here working on some projects. Troy's a nice quiet post-industrial cafe. It's a great place to get work done. I grew up in Worcester, MA - the punkest city on the planet, and I miss it on a daily basis. However, I think I will be making a move in the coming year to someplace new.

  • I am teaching myself electrical engineering.
I probably should have studied to be an electrical engineer, as a solid understanding of how electromagnetism and circuitry works is truly powerful. Living in a society that is dominated by electronics, every day I find myself using devices and systems that are at least immediately beyond my comprehension. The internet, television, radio, and microwave ovens are truly amazing. Humanity has used electronic technology to enable exactly what it wanted, namely instantaneous entertainment, communication, and convenience. However, I am sure the practical advantages of manipulating electricity and magnetism have not yet been exhausted, in fact I don't believe the surface has been more than scratched! I imagine what might have been discovered or developed if our efforts in these fields were focused on problems of necessity or societal improvement instead of luxury, for instance. Regardless, being able to understand and manipulate today's technology allows for some real innovation, and is a whole lot of fun!

  • I ride a bicycle.
Having a car is a needless and unreasonable option for me at my current place in life. I actually don't understand how this isn't the case for most Americans. I learned to ride a bike relatively late in life (13, 14?), but once I started, I was hooked. I ride fast, but I don't race very often. I am absolutely in love with cycling, and I cannot suggest to anyone enough to make the switch from city driving to getting around by bicycle. I'm sure I will post more about this later.

I hope that was a decent introduction.
You'll be hearing from me again real soon.