Chaos NAND

Due to the non-linearity of blog time, I suspect (like I don’t control it) this will go up only one week after my Atari Punk Console post, but I wanna say that these events actually happened several weeks later. That makes me less embarrassed to say that chasing the high of that previous project, after which I told myself I wasn’t going to like, get “into” synthesizers or whatever, I decided to build the Synthrotek Chaos NAND.

I guess I still don’t need to worry about being “into” synthesizers. If I were, I would have added the control voltage plugs to both these things and not used the lame-o 3.5mm headphone jack. Both these projects produce things that make silly sounds, so now I have at least doubled my silly-sound producing capability, though to what end no one knows (I mean I know, the end is that I make my super amazing girlfriend twist some knobs for a few moments while she humors me). But it was fun! The main draw of the project for me the second time around was designing and 3D-printing another case for it. I had some ideas after the Atari Punk Case and wanted to implement them here.

The above image is some of the prototypes I made for this one. One of the big things I figured out in this project was how to make letters in FreeCAD, so instead of sharpie like on the Atari Punk Console I could just print out labels. Unfortunately I still don’t actually know what most of the knobs and switches actually do, but I put “POWER” on the top and I did figure out the volume knob. I also got to print out “CHAOS NAND” on the front with the headphone jack going through the O, which thanks for agreeing with me that it’s pretty fancy. The left side of the picture wasn’t actually meant to be a prototype, but was instead just a failed print, but it let me test out if the switches and everything fit. The ones on the right are more prototype-y, and I was mostly trying to figure out a way to keep the board in place. I didn’t actually super like my rail system from last time, and this board came with mounting holes, so I designed a little system where you slide in pegs and they twist into place that works pretty well. The circular part was me trying to figure out some way that the board itself could still just slide in, but I think that would have only been a mediocre system in the end.

I also decided to add a hinge to this one, instead of having the back just slide on. I just thought it would be better. That did necessitate two iterations though to figure out how to get the hinge in a good spot and also to make sure it printed well on my printer, which tends to just obliterate the first few layers. The other major design change is that I put the battery on the outside. On the Atari Punk Console case, the battery was hard to squeeze in there, and also since I don’t want to leave the battery connected all the time, having the battery outside makes it easier to connect and disconnect. I tried to come up for more elegant system for the battery wires, but they just lead out a divot in the back. I tried to come up with a more elegant version of a lot of the fiddly bits, but the simpler ones seem to have won out. In the above photo too, the little piece of yellow filament is a “lock” that keeps the back in place.
Those are the big design differences with the case. When it comes to the Chaos NAND itself, the big difference between it and the Atari Punk is that this one has a lot more components. Three times as many switches, anyways, and a whole additional knob, which meant for a good chunk of soldering. I actually made a total botch job of it (as you can see at the top), and uh actually some of the functions I think don’t work, but whatever, I had fun! I tried to get fancy with the shrink wrap because I was worried about some of the components jostling against each other, but that too I kinda botched because I didn’t have a heat gun and probably held the lighter I was using too close. Oh well.

Once I had everything soldered up, it was time to stuff it into the case. I didn’t test it before stuffing it into the case beforehand, because I did that with the Atari Punk and then when it didn’t work post-case-stuffing I knew I had broken it instead of being able to blame some other exogenous force. I was also more careful this time with measuring the length of wire needed, which meant it all fit it a lot better (plus I wasn’t also trying to stuff in the battery). The hatch or case or back or whatever doesn’t actually open all the way now because the wires are actually a bit too short, but you shouldn’t need to open the case that often anyways.

And after all that I had a finished Chaos NAND module, and I am pretty happy with it! Like I said before I don’t actually think all of it works, but it still makes funny noises, and I had fun building it, so it was the journey that counts. Now it will sit on my shelf to be admired until it is time to annoy my super amazing girlfriend once more (like most of my projects). Thanks for reading!

Atari Punk Console

Reading this week:

  • The Tragedy of the Stupid Nation by Max-Landry Kassaï

So lately, I have been watching a lot of Look Mum No Computer videos. I like him a lot. I’m not actually all that into his music or performances or what have you, but I like his energy and I like his enthusiasm for making all sorts of wacky stuff. He always ends his videos by saying “don’t be afraid to try it,” which is a nice and inspiring and uplifting message. Like I just said, I’m not actually all that into his particular brand of music, but on one of his videos he suggested that anyone who was just starting to get into doing the sorts of stuff he was doing should start with the Atari Punk Console Atari Punk Console.

I didn’t actually bother to read the ad copy all that closely, but I think it is called that because it uses the same chip or something as the Atari did, or at the very least is designed to make kinda low-fi 8-bit sorta sounds. It seemed like a simple little project to make, and looked like a fun opportunity to test out my soldering skills. Although I bought a soldering iron last fall in anticipation of building a boat with my 3D printer, I hadn’t actually had a reason to use it until I put this little project together. I learned to solder way back when I was but a wee little lad as part of a I think 7th grade science fair project which didn’t actually go all that well, but since then I think the only time I have put my soldering skills to the test was in 2016 when I added a battleshort switch to a toaster. So I bought a kit from Synthrotek, and away I went.

The picture at the very top is my little desktop soldering setup along with some of the parts from the project. The kit gave you all the parts you need, and in fact some extra. I clicked the option for 3.5mm jacks on the website, but they also sent along the 1/4″ jacks as well. I only wound up using one 3.5mm jack, because the other two jacks they provide are for control voltages, but I have nothing else to control this thing with and nothing else to control. So I skipped those, along with the 9V DC jack they provide, opting to rely entirely on battery power. The whole point of this thing was mostly the fun of putting it together (and writing this blog post I suppose), so I wound up doing a pretty simple version.

It’s times like these I like having a jeweler’s eye loupe, which is pictured above and which I got years ago for Christmas after asking for one. It is handy for looking at tiny things, like the writing on capacitors, and throws people off when you manage to time things right and bust it out when looking at jewelry. When putting it together, I started with the IC chip holder, which went stunningly smooth and probably unfairly bolstered my confidence in this project. At the bottom of this post you can see the bottom of the board and judge my soldering for yourself. I assembled it over two sessions, because the other part of this project is that I wanted to design and print up a little case for it, and I needed to partially assemble it to figure out what that case was going to look like and then figure out how I was going to attach the rest of the components.

You can see the case above, mid-assembly. I’m pretty happy with it, because it works pretty much as designed, though I have already thought of a lot of improvements to it. I wound up needing to enlarge some of the holes and also sanding down the PCB to fit where I wanted it. I designed it to be held by two rails, into which you see it slotted in the above photos. Then a separate holder bar gets inserted which the PCB slides down into a bit, locking the whole thing in place. The LED leads I had to bend just right so that it stuck out the top of the board when the whole thing was assembled. Because I was worried about maneuverability of the board holder bit, I cut the wires longer than I think the kit intended (they just gave you a single long piece of wire and you had to cut it down yourself), which meant I ran out of wire. I was going to use some thick automotive wire for the on/off switch and the headphone jack until I remembered I had some smaller pieces from an electronics part kit I had previously purchased, again for that boat I gotta get back around to.

After installing the switches and knobs into my case and fitting the whole thing up, I installed the back part of the case which held the PCB, put in the battery, turned it on, and… it didn’t work. This was obviously somewhat frustrating. It had worked when I first soldered everything together, before stuffing it into my little case (by the way, next time I’ll figure out how to do labels better), so something must have gone wrong in the assembly. I pulled it back out but nothing was obviously wrong. I bought another 9V hoping that the one I was using had just died suddenly or something, but the new 9V didn’t help. Having an additional 9V battery did allow me to use my multimeter to try to see what was going wrong with it, but the multimeter also didn’t help me do any diagnostics.

In the great diagnostic tradition, I spent some time just fiddling with it, after having removed the PCB from it’s holder slot thingy. At one point, it suddenly worked again, and I realized what had done it was my finger on the back bridging one of the connections. I figured that I must have damaged the PCB somehow (bad soldering job I guess), and so I took a small piece of one strand of that automotive wire I mentioned earlier and using some dodgy early morning soldering bridged the gap so I could take my finger off duty:

After that it worked great! I reassembled my little case and played with it a bit and then forced my super amazing girlfriend, who was clearly busy doing other things, to give it a go so I could show that I Made Something and that I was Very Proud of it. She gamely twisted the knobs a bit and acted impressed. I was quite happy!

Just to show off one other little project I was working on recently, I have also been enjoying videos by Unnecessary Inventions. One project of his I particularly liked was the Candle Cannon. I liked it because it was based off the AirZooka, which I had as a kid and thoroughly enjoyed, and because it looked doable on my little 3D printer. Like my Atari Punk Console case above, as soon as I printed one off I immediately thought of a bunch of improvements, but this time I actually did print off the second version, seen below. The balloon that Unnecessary Inventions uses is the far better way to implement this project, but I didn’t have any balloons, so I had to pursue a different design closer to the AirZooka using rubber bands and plastic sheeting from a shopping bag. I am particularly proud of the locking ring that holds the bag in place, because it works way better than I thought it would. This inappropriately named finger blaster is not very powerful at all, but like the version it was inspired by it managed to blow out my roommate’s candle in an op-test. So without further ado, here ya go:

3D Printing

My printer.

Reading this week:

  • No Time to Lose by Peter Piot
  • The Innocent Anthropologist by Nigel Barley

Look, this was inevitable. I expertly foreshadowed it at the end of my DeLorean Upgrades post, but I bought a 3D printer. Having successfully (“successfully”) produced one thing from a 3D model, it would simply be the thing that I would just keep on doing. I had been admiring various 3D printers online for weeks, and watching YouTube videos, and eventually decided to get a Monoprice Select Mini 2 off of ebay. The one I got was already modded with a variety of what seem to be the “standard” upgrades, like re-running the wiring for the build plate, installing a glass print bed, and some other tweaks around the edges. It arrived pretty quickly and I quickly got to work figuring out how to use it.

I wouldn’t say there was a learning curve, because I managed to print something off quickly after setting up, but the past few weeks have been a learning experience figuring out the capabilities of the printer, how to troubleshoot problems, how to prevent problems, and how to get the best prints considering the printer’s limitations. It’s been a lot of fun and no it totally hasn’t been distracting me from all the real work I need to do for grad school here, like studying or writing papers or whatever. Nope not at all.

The first big project I tackled was getting a switch cover for the DeLorean that actually worked. The thing that is really useful about 3D printing I think is not so much that you can print off random stuff at home, but that you can do iterative prototyping. You can print something and see what needs to be changed and then just print off the next version. I documented how I mangled the switch cover I paid $37 to get printed (leftmost in the picture), and I wound up printing off three more versions until I got the one that worked (mostly). You can see in the above photo some of that process, where I tried a two different hinge designs and had to modify the switch holder until I arrived at the below version, which mostly works. There are still tweaks to be done to it, though at some point I started eyeballing the design of the center console itself and frankly I live in a tiny apartment and don’t have the space or budget for the tools I am tempted to buy. But I think it looks pretty neat!

I guess that is a useful uh, use of 3D printing, but I also like the brand of YouTube videos that start with “is 3D printing actually useful?????” and then have a dude (I realized all the makers I watched on YouTube were dudes and made an effort to add some female makers; Simone Giertz I think is the one “everyone” knows, I have enjoyed April Wilkerson’s videos, and Laura Kampf I have to make more time for) show off like, the little organizer thing he printed. In that vein I am delighted to show off the stand that I designed for the soldering iron I still haven’t used, along with some clamps which I didn’t design and work surprisingly well. I imagine I might use them to clamp down the soldering iron stand when I eventually solder something:

That concludes the useful portion of 3D printing, and I will now move onto the random plastic things I have printed off for both myself and all my friends. Below on the left is a little cello for my roommate who loves to play the cello but doesn’t currently have access to one (she asked if I could print her a cello; she meant it as a joke and full-sized, bit I did my best here), and some parrots for my friend who loves birds and who wanted to get dinner on the night I got my 3D printer causing me to ditch him so I could play with my new toy. The one on the left is actually the second thing I ever printed, and the one on the right is a larger version as I got more familiar with the printer’s capabilities.

Below is a sheep for my super amazing girlfriend. She was the recipient of the very first print I did, which was a much tinier sheep and in yellow, and since she has been very supportive of my 3D printing and at least once was forced to try to fall asleep against the gentle tones of my 3D printer whining in the background, I made her a slightly bigger sheep and this time in black, which is a more realistic color. The smaller yellow sheep rests on top of it, belying the notion that it’s turtles all the way down.

I have also printed decorative items for myself! I printed the pumpkin because I thought my room needed some Halloween decor; it now rests on top of my webcam so when I am chatting with people I am really staring into the triangular eyes of my nearly-the-right-color pumpkin. The turtle is a somewhat failed attempt, in that it had some neat internal mechanics that my printer couldn’t handle and also I almost instantly snapped off two of its legs, the poor thing. At the bottom is my various failed attempts at printing off the Falcon. I forget what went wrong the first time, but then the printer jammed, and then the print fell over, and finally I decided to print it horizontally, which worked I guess but doesn’t look great.

I got a request to print off a boob planter (like, a thing for plants in the shape of boobs, not a thing in which to plant boobs). I swear this is true and I am not just using my printer to print smut, which I have unfortunately (via this project) discovered exists in bounds on the 3D printing website. Due to various problems with the printer, learning how to use it, and the fact that it is pretty slow anyways, this occupied days of my time and brainspace. The below picture is actually a failed print due to a clogged nozzle, causing it to be very weak. Eventually I got it (mostly) right and it was sent off to the recipient, who is using it in her boob-themed bathroom. The ship I printed for my own benefit because I like ships.

Having done all that, I am trying to branch out with my skillz. My lunchtime YouTube viewing now mostly consists of Ivan Miranda, and I admire the many things he builds that don’t really work, because it inspires me to try to build things that don’t really work. This is why I bought the soldering iron. Below is a stab at a paddle wheel boat which will require a massive redesign. And below that is various iterations of a holder for a motor for a propeller-powered device. These are what I design when I am supposed to be paying attention in class. One of the advantage of Zoom classes is that I am no longer forced to merely doodle in class when I don’t want to pay attention.

I hope you have enjoyed the various pictures of the random plastic things I have now had the opportunity to print. I specifically hope you enjoy it because at this rate my blog will now consist entirely of 3D printing projects, so stick around for that I guess. I am avoiding googling even more expensive printers, because I live in a tiny apartment and just don’t have the room.

DeLorean Upgrades

Reading this week:

  • Politics in Africa: A New Introduction by Nana K. Poku and Anna Mdee

So as I have mentioned before, I own a DeLorean. DeLoreans are the most amazing car ever made, but also they have some design flaws. Plus, they’re all about 40 years old now, so they’re bound to have some quirks. A common one is a voltage leakage somewhere in the car, which means that if you leave the car alone long enough, you’ll come back to a drained battery, which sucks. Since I only ever drive the thing about once a week, I have long had installed a battery disconnect, so that when I park it I disconnect the battery.

This is pretty straightforward and easy. The battery compartment in the DeLorean is actually in the interior, behind the passenger seat. So the usual thing I do is sit down in the driver’s seat, reach over, move the passenger seat forward, reach into the battery compartment, and connect or disconnect the battery. It is a perfectly fine solution. Except that, you know, it probably takes a solid five seconds or something to do, and you wind up putting your arm at a weird angle, which, like, come on. So I decided there was a better solution. I started poking around for different battery disconnect solenoids I could find in the internet, before discovering that DeLorean Parts Northwest already had a kit put together. So I bought that.

The center console with one of the dummy switches removed. The two switches on the driver’s side are for the windows, though the switch for the passenger window is actually supposed to be right next to the passenger’s seat. It got moved by a shop I hired to install a new radio but who subsequently wound up breaking the gear shifter. That’s just how DeLorean repair typically goes, but the switch position has been bothering me for years now and the other thing I wanted to do today was put it back.

What they sent me is what is pictured up top. You got the solenoid, a chunk of battery wire, a toggle switch that’s already wired up, another thing for continual 12V power I didn’t wind up using, and some connectors and stuff. The kit is advertised in part as a security device – the toggle switch is supposed to be hidden somewhere, so a would-be thief wouldn’t actually know how to get the car started. I decided against that. The center console of the DeLorean, you see, has five switches… or so it appears. Two of the switches are for the windows, one is for the rear window defroster, and two of the buttons are just fake. They’re “dummy switches,” just for decoration. They do, however, just scream to be used, so I wanted to put the toggle switch in place of one of those. My initial idea was to get like a super cool red toggle switch thingy, but then I got a better idea to try to 3D print a switch cover that looks like the other DeLorean switches, but housed the toggle switch for the kit. So I learned how to do 3D cad for the first time and bashed this together:

Getting it printed was a whole different adventure. The number of 3D printers I don’t have access to right now is frankly astounding. I bought my dad one years ago, but my parents are moving and his is in storage. Yale has a center with 3D printers, but it is currently closed for COVID. New Haven Free Public Library also has 3D printers, and they are also closed. There are all the online services, but they were more expensive than I thought they would be, so turns out our local print shop in fact has 3D printer services, but the 3D printing guy was on vacation when I called, and when he showed back up, they were out of black filament, so I had to wait another week. Really frankly astounding.

Anyways. It was almost time to rip the car apart. But first, shopping! It was pretty impressive, if I say so myself, the level of stereotypical manliness that went into the Saturday morning when I did this. First I climbed into my 80’s sports car and drove to the hardware store, where I bought some connectors and some tools. Then I drove to the autoparts store, where I bought more parts for my sports car. Then I drove home, and started working on my sports car.

Stuff I bought so I could do this install. Buying small amounts of wire is annoying and expensive.

I actually approached the process with a large amount of trepidation. I am very good at taking the car apart, and not so good at putting it back together. Some things I have gotten good at via repetition, such as replacing the thermostat, and one time I did an alternator belt change in the nuke school parking lot while wearing my uniform. Of course, there was that time back in high school that I would up shattering the window and then drove to my girlfriend’s place just so I could cry on her shoulder. True story. But today went pretty well!

The first step (after taking out the battery) was to install the new solenoid in the battery compartment. For that I had to drill some holes in the fiberglass of the battery compartment. I was worried about that both because drilling random holes in the car feels dangerous, especially around electrical stuff, and also didn’t have a drill, which made it harder, lemme tell ya. But I got it installed with the provided bolts, so that worked. Then I had to take off the center console, made significantly simpler by following the instructions in the official DeLorean repair manual I purchased. I could have been smarter about where I put my bolts and screws, but in the end I got them all back in the right spot (pretty sure). The parts on my DeLorean don’t fit the greatest after 40 years of amateur repairs, but the people in the Lowe’s parking lot today thought it looked pristine, so I guess it’s fine.

Tools, phone for listening to podcasts, and repair manual.

The next step was measuring out the wire and then attaching the connection hardware. I repurposed the engine cover as a workbench. Hopefully I didn’t lose any little parts into the engine or anything. This all went perfectly fine which was nice, and then I really just had to attach everything up after running the wires into the right spot. I took the opportunity to clean some dust out so that was good. I didn’t do anything fancy with the wire runs; they just wound up snaking into the battery compartment through the normal battery compartment opening, and are hidden by the interior fabric that just flaps down in that spot. So you can’t see anything unless you dig and I didn’t have to fret about putting more holes in the car.

At this point I did a test by connecting the battery back up, and it worked great! You flip a switch, the solenoid gives a satisfying “thunk,” and then the car can operate or it can’t. Very neat! I disconnected the battery wire again, and managed to get the center console back together, only temporarily putting the gear shifter through the tear in the leather caused by the gear shifter getting pushed through the leather last time the center console was reassembled. I cleaned everything up, put my now very scattered tools away, and the day was complete, with no crying! This is a feat for me!

And now, before and after shots!

Battery compartment before:

Battery compartment after:

Center console before (you already saw it but here it is again):

And center console after:

Ain’t it a beauty????

Postscript:

Okay when I wrote the rest of the above I didn’t actually have my little button cover yet. I just got it today and installed the sucker, and um, well I’m happy with it, but it could be a lot better. So turns out I messed a few things up. First off I had planned on just ramming through a piece of a paperclip as the hinge, figuring the PLA of the print would be easy to melt through. And it was! But what was not easy was getting anything resembling an actual hinge to work, and I quit before I completely melted the thing. I also didn’t actually measure the hole it was supposed to be mounted into, and just measured one of the dummy switches, which was a mistake because turns out the dummy switch is designed the way it is because the hole was smaller than I thought it was, not because they were cheap on plastic, so I wound up having to chop off a chunk of it using a kitchen knife heated up with a grill lighter. This is the detritus of all those efforts:

After all that, turns out I chopped off the bits not quite center (because like, I was using a kitchen knife heated with a grill lighter) and so when I installed it into the center console it didn’t quite fit center, so the actual button itself is no longer flush with the level of the button housing. At this point, I was just happy the button itself went into the button cover rather nicely:

These pictures taken before I had chopped off all the necessary bits; doesn’t it look nice though?!

Overall I am pretty happy with the project. It is functional and it looks pretty nice actually. I mean, clearly it was printed out of PLA and boshed in there, but I think the power symbol on top of the button housing turned out really well. And it mostly sticks on there, despite the lack of hinge. The advantage of 3D printing is of course rapid prototyping, and I have all sorts of ideas of how to make it better, but printing this one cost me $37 because I don’t own my own printer. I am considering changing that. We shall see.