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Arduino Sensor Sucess

September 18th, 2010 No comments

Do-it-yourself culture is moving from the area of home renovations and bike repairs to making your own computer controlled gadget.

Makerspaces and Hackspaces are proliferating around the world as more individuals realize they can create a small machine to do the exact tasks that they want.

One of the most popular small brains that are used to control these gadgets are Arduino Boards, The brain on the board is not as smart as your phone but, there are a lot of things it can do.  A good place to start finding out what other ingenious inventors are up to is the Make Magazine on-line. Yes, some of the projects are awesome and complete instructions can usually be found to duplicate the results.

Inspired by the cool projects other people were making, I decided to use the Arduino board to make a sensor that would control my computer when I am using it for music or video performance.  There are several places that Arduino boards are available on-line, and the SmartProjects company that makes them has a listing of distributors and retail outlets.

I was planning to go to an educational workshop in Troy, New York where I would have an opportunity to work on using this technology. I did not know if anyone else would be trying out Arduino boards, but I was confident that I could get it to work.

I live in Vancouver, Canada and I could buy a lot of Arduino products from Lee’s Electronics on Main St. but, I was worried about taking the boards through US customs. Since the homeland security staff are checking Canadians very closely, I decided to order the boards in New York and have them shipped to the university where the workshop was held. I could imagine trying to explain to a suspicious customs agent that I was using these computer parts for a multi-media project. Why bother to risk missing my plane, when Adafruit is one of the largest dealers of do-it-yourself Arduino goodies in the USA and they have a lot of helpful information on their site. They are located in NYC, so I ordered from them.

I had investigated Arduino boards by attending an evening at the local Vancouver Hackspace. The denizens of the place were mostly drawn from a pool of programmers who wanted to do something more fun with their skills than making sure the heating system in your office building works. They were very used to working with this type of code and they moved very fast. However, I was convinced that I could do this if I had the time to research. Trial and lots of error usually works in the end.

I went off to the workshop and the boards were delivered as planned.

I had done quite a bit of research and I knew there were different types of Arduino boards. I ordered two: the Duemilanove (pictured above) and a Boarduino clone kit. The Duemilanove is the basic Arduino, so I thought the most information would be available and It would be the default for the program to upload the code. I bought the Boardino because I liked the idea of the breadboard being a part of the unit and I thought it would help me understand the system if I actually built one. Unfortunately, the kit did not cme with a breadboard, so I have not tried to make it yet.

Adafruit Boarduino clone

Adafruit Boarduino clone

With the boards, I also purchased two types of power supplies, one that plugs in the wall and one that uses batteries. This was because I didn’t know how I was going to be using the unit and I thought it might be good to have the battery power available. I also bought a selection of sensors: Infra-red distance sensor, motion sensor and some small sensors that measure tilt and heat. I also bought a few LED lights and some connector wires (male and female). The total bill was $150 USD – my budget for this project.

When I go to Lee’s and buy the breadboard I will do a post on making the Boarduino.

It might have been more economical to buy the starter pack, but I did not need another USB cable – the wires did seem important, so I bought male and female connectors. Read more…

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Yamaha FJ1200 throttle stuck open

September 11th, 2009 No comments

Today I took the bus with my Pelican case full of tools and motorcycle apparel to where I left my motorcycle after it took me on a very wild ride.

I had some difficulty early Wednesday morning after I finished editing a draft CD for a client at Waterlou Studio, it was 3 am. I went out to ride my Yamaha motorcycle home, but I found the choke was stuck closed and the bike would not start. Not wanting to annoy the neighbours with repeated attempts I got off the bike and pulled on the choke knob as hard as I could, until I finally felt it slide out.

This was not the first time I had this problem, so I felt confident enough that once I started the bike, I could slide the choke in and out a few times and the choke would return to normal operation. This time the ride did not go so well. The choke was stuck on and no amount of sliding in and out was going to change that fact. The revs kept climbing until the gas was wide open no matter what I did with the throttle. An FJ 1200 with the choke stuck wide open gains speed rapidly. A few moments of excessive speed followed — as the throttle had no effect on the full on feed of gasoline into the carburetors. I killed the engine.

I managed to get the bike into neutral after a few very quick minutes. I could coast down the hill with the revs climbing out of control and me frantically pumping the choke lever and snapping the throttle. When it got so bad that I feared for my engine, I used the kill switch and cut the power to the motor. I tried all of the controls I had and started the bike again. The revs climbed to a dangerous level so I killed the engine again. After a few of these sessions, I decided that the bike must be parked, so I found an out-of-the-way spot with no signage and carefully backed and pushed the bike to a stop.

0158-FJ-parkedI was lucky to get a ride home as it was raining and cold and my friend, who had kindly given me a ride, took my waterproof  cover back and carefully covered the bike to keep off the pounding rain . . .0160-case+tools

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Categories: Inspiration, Uncategorized

Bringing the World Together

November 16th, 2008 No comments

I attended a workshop on grant writing yesterday and I realized I have to be able to convey the idea behind my whole project more clearly. So I am going to post some other projects that I have been paying attention to that have had some impact on the world.

Where the Hell is Matt?”

When my daughter told me about Matt, I didn’t get it. She invited me to come down to the beach and dance with this young man who was traveling all over the world dancing with people. No, he is not a great dancer. I didn’t get it — I didn’t go. That’s my daughter in the red skirt, front left, on the beach in Vancouver.

Where the Hell is Matt 2008

Matt brought the world together with his little dance. There is such joy in the act of Matt doing his dance from the heart that it refreshes my belief in humanity. I believe that behind the power struggles and the greed — we are all one people. When I saw the video — I got the message.

Playing for Change

Here is another group that is doing video of pop songs, like “Stand By Me” (Ben E. King) and “One Love” (Bob Marley) performed by musicians all over the world playing together through the wonders of technology. They all appear in their own country playing their instrument on the same song playing with the musicians that have already been recorded.

They have a great site and the passion to show that music can cross borders that have been created by the power structure to connect us.

Live More Lightly

The completed Live More Lightly song 6 minute video will show me singing, joined by one person, then by another, then by all the workshop participants that want to be in the video. As each workshop will be different, it probably won’t be as smooth in transition as the Playing for Change videos, but if I get some funding I can make better video. The first one will be a do-it -yourself demo, but I hope to have it ready for the start of the tour in 2009.

The documentary movie will be about the journey across the continent in 2009 to bring the diverse age groups, cultures, ethnic backgrounds and others (basically everybody I can get) together to Live More Lightly on the land one small action at a time. I want to show lots of great environmental footage of natural scenes so everyone will know why we should save the planet. I anticipate that 90 minutes of singing, workshop events, beautiful scenery and on-bike motorcycle riding should be about right.

The motorcycle tour is a small portion of this project, but it has been taking a lot to coordinate. I could just go in my van to do the workshops, but the motorcycle is much more environmentally friendly.

I also hope to be able to be the first person to stream live video from a moving motorcycle to a satellite without a truck. The Grand Prix racers have on-bike cameras that stream to a nearby truck that carries a satellite dish, like the one pictured below. This huge dish with signal amplification allows them to send a broadcast quality signal to the satellite. From the satellite the signal can be received at the television station for editing or routed into the broadcast signal as live coverage. A higher quality signal (broadcast television) takes more power, so a larger amplifier and more microwaves, than a low quality signal (webcam).

Closed satellite dish on top of truck

Due to microwave radiation from this type of dish, it is against Canadian law to mount it lower than 4ft off the ground. This dish, when fully extended is well above the heads of any concert goers and is considered safe. I don’t even like to carry my cell phone in my pocket, but for the sale of art, I plan to innundate myself with microwaves from a portable modem. Basic outline of streaming requirements here.

Many motorcyclists have mounted cameras on their bike and there are a lot of videos on the internet of intense riding. Depending on your area of interest there are many to choose from. One other Vancouver rider, Jeff has captured a lot of scenic footage from his Harley on VRide TV. I love the smoothness of his ride as it makes for great video as I already described here. I am on a more limited budget with my old Yamaha FJ1200, but I hope to be able to get some great nature footage for the documetary. Still working on the streaming aspect. I will keep you posted.

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SLR Camera – Image Capture

September 14th, 2008 No comments

Now I have had the opportunity to look through two examples of excellent camera technology, I find myself increasingly attracted to continuing the experience. The first time I held such a camera was at the Madu Sari gamelan performance, “New Javanese Shadows“when a friend of mine asked me to hold his camera. My first impression can only be described by referring to a Hindu myth often told about the young Krishna. For those not familiar with Hindu mythology, the incarnations of the god Vishnu are many, but this story is about his time as the human Krishna.

On one occasion, when Krishna was still a child, he revealed his true god-self to his mother by asking her to look in his mouth. When she complied, she was astonished to see the entire universe inside the mouth of her child. When I looked into that camera, I saw a glimpse of the infinite — I was astonished. The photographer who owned the magic box enthusiastically started informing me of the technical details in a language full of numbers that I did not understand. This machine may be described by numbers, as the universe can be modeled mathematically, but the impact of the revelation I had experienced created a bookmark in my mind that I return to in wonder.

My next reaction was more practical, as the Virgo reasserted her presence. If everyone had a camera like that, my opportunities for employment as a graphic artist would be seriously reduced. There was no noise in the image, it was balanced and in sharp focus. If the capture mechanism was as pristine as the view, the images would reflect a hyper-realism that would need few adjustments. My daughter later comforted me by pointing out that many of these cameras are owned by individuals who can cause them to malfunction and that composition skills are still required. Even the best images can benefit from layout, design and story, so my production skills will still be needed.

The term “multi-media artist” has often been applied to my skill sets in production. I know that if I am not being paid, I do music, music technology and saving the world. Some practical part of me knows that my time will not allow any more addictions. I am already being drawn away from my “Live More Lightly Project” too much by other musical entanglements. I have to complete a book prototype this month. Move on. Read more…

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Watch the Watcher

August 20th, 2008 No comments

I have been fascinated by the idea that I am being watched by surveillance cameras since they started to become more common in the 1980s. In 1989 I wrote a play that explored a vision of the future. It was rejected for a Canada Council Grant because it was too much like the novel 1984 by George Orwell. The play contained an act that featured a lonely young man and opened with him watching television alone because his roommate had gone on a date. Read the play excerpt here.

Many of the technologies I envisioned in the play have become ubiquitous in our lives. I wrote about ATM machines, the internet and e-books, but the focus was surveillance and government control. Now I read articles that confirm my fears that every moment we are in a public place, we are on camera (example). Is this something to fear or does it contribute to public security? The example article quotes Norman Siegel, who recommends that everyone carry their own camera with them so they can record their version of any event they witness. This is good advice, but sometimes events happen so fast or unexpectedly that the video camera is still in the case when the action occurs.

The idea of mounting a video camera on my motorcycle did not arise from the idea of documenting civil rights violations, or even motor vehicle traffic law breakers, although that’s not a bad idea . . . my idea came from wanting to share the experience of riding a motorcycle. When I am riding, I am part of the environment in a way that never occurs when I am sealed in the box of a car or van. With only two small patches of rubber on the road — it’s as close as I can get to flying.

Even though I know each time I go to the bank, shop, drive or even walk down the street, I may be on  video and might be on the internet. I know that there is not enough manpower to monitor every video stream; so there must be years of video stored on hard drives that has never been viewed. There are very intelligent software filters and programs that match facial features or license plates to database records, used by large organizations and governments, so humans only become involved if there is an alert. Video is often used after the fact to try to identify perpetrators or get-away vehicles. I try to be nondescript in public and pass under the radar by looking completely non-threatening. Invisible = average height, middle-aged woman.

As part of my camera research I have been looking at the possibility of using a surveillance camera for the always-on option on my bike. The cameras are small, high-quality, durable and stream directly through an ethernet cable to a computer or the internet. There is a lot of money spent on the development of these cameras and so they come in many shapes and sizes. Some manufacturers even make ones with a built-in windshield wiper, de-mister and/or heater! Some are really high quality and I will do another post on camera choices soon.  I already plan to bring a computer and I wanted to stream on to the internet, so this could give the process a jump start. This system example I got from Gary looks like it is used by plumbers to examine pipe insides. The notebook runs on Vista, but I will try to make it work in Linux too.

Notebook Inspection Cam

Carrying my notebook with me everywhere I go would be a good thing as I really do use it, when I bring it along. I need bags on my bike so I can carry it securely and not have to strip everything off every time I stop. I am working on it.

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Another connection with surveillance technology is my interest in highway-cams. On my tour, I plan to identify hiway cams and video them as they are capturing me. I talk about the artistic influences that inspired me to do this here. The ideal outcome will be if I can have a collaborator saving the highway-cam stream on their computer so that I can use the video record in a documentary.

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There are also threats to privacy in the proliferation of spyware. A description of what these programs can do is found here on a site that sells software designed to assist network administrators to monitor computer use. Downloaded spyware can track every keystroke you make, where you go on the internet, what pages are viewed, for how long and what you are clicking on. Then, the program will send all of this information back to over your internet connection to the company or individual who invaded your computer. Computers running Windows are most vulnerable to this type of background program and regular use of Spybot and Ad-Aware are recommended to all of my Windows computer clients. Just to demonstrate how devious these programs can be, a recent invasion of spyware was caused by a company masquerading as Ad-Aware. Please ignore all other sites and download only from Lavasoft.

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Life-Cycle Responsibility

August 9th, 2008 No comments

Time is slipping away so fast with so many details to take care of to realize the Live More Lightly Project. One of the reasons this project is so complex is that I have taken life-cycle responsibility for the product that I am producing. The product in this case is a multi-media book, but the principals apply to anything produced. In this post, I will refer to the concept of the universal product as a “widget”. The recent rush to re-cycle widgets properly is to be applauded, but the idea of considering the environmental impact of every aspect of producing and maintaining the product is often overlooked.

My particular widget, the “Live More Lightly Songbook and Workshop Guide” will be printed using the most environmentally friendly processes available. The included disk will have to be made from virgin plastic, so the choice will be based on price, although I plan to choose a company that uses environmentally sound practices when they can. This is the point where many producers believe they have done enough, but I continue to examine my practices: can I live more lightly?

euphorogenic-jun15-sm.png

I am writing the book using a computer that I built from mostly re-cycled parts and the notebook I bought to take on the tour was manufactured by AsusTek, a leader in re-use and re-cycling of its products. I am using Ubuntu Linux on both computers (the notebook came with Vista, so it is dual-boot) because I believe that open source software is more efficient and uses less resources. This is a statement I can’t provide academic proof for, but I know it saves my resources. With Windows and Mac computers I have to spend time working to be able to afford the product, then after spending considerable sums of money, I usually have to spend hours troubleshooting. With Linux, if you can get it to work — it is yours. I want to have good karma on this project and use legitimate software only. The software I am using in Ubuntu would take me months of work to afford because I do not want to be a software pirate.

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Portrait by Drockleberry

August 6th, 2008 No comments

Thanks for the great portrait of me — in a helmet!

I really am pleased.

Click to view drawing of Victoria.

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Vancouver Folk Music Festival and the Canon A80

August 2nd, 2008 No comments

It has been raining in Vancouver now for a couple of days and I have been riding, because I put my van in the shop just as the clouds were gathering. As the rain pours down in a foreshadowing of the winter that will arrive all too soon, I think back to the clear skies and endless sun we enjoyed July 19 + 20th for the 31st annual Vancouver Folk Music Festival.

Despite my frustration with how slow everything is progressing with my project, I still dropped everything to go to the Folk Music Festival with my daughter and her friends. It is really hard for me to concentrate on spreadsheets when I know there is some fine music out on Jericho Beach.

This is also a story about cameras because I was left with my venerable aged Canon A80 to take to the Folk Fest and to the Javanese Shadow play. This is because I invested in the Canon S series as a suitable camera for my daughter and it is really too fragile. I ended up with her old S2 after the power supply blew out and I bought her an S3. I had my Canon A80 and had just bought some lenses for it when I got the S2 repaired and have been using it instead of the older A80. Alas, the S3 blew out it’s power supply and I returned the S2 to my daughter while it was in the shop. So, I was left with the A80, but I had lenses to try out.

My daughter was armed with the newly repaired Canon S3 and her friends are also photographers with very impressive looking cameras, the usual digital SLRs and even a medium format antique. There were a lot of really expensive cameras at the Festival and good photographers as can be viewed on flikr.

Medium format camera Digital SLR

My daughter looked at me quizzically as I started screwing plastic bits on to my camera. It’s not like my old Pentax K1000, bayonet mount, this is a procedure where parts have to be manipulated. “What’s that?”, she asked. Quick witted as ever, I looked at the part in my hand and carefully read the neat white letters printed on the side, “It’s a wide-angle lens, dear, I’m trying it out.” She replied definitively that I should take crowd shots.

Daughter photo

There was great music at the festival and it was an opportunity to spend time with my daughter and her friends. I had never spent so much time with non-musicians at a festival. Some of them went shopping, so I joined them, as I had never considered shopping at a festival. The wares were very unique, like the small fairy wings some of the girls were wearing. A lot of time was spent talking and enjoying the sun and fine food. Relaxing, socializing and hearing the music like a lounge band at a fine restaurant, this was a very enjoyable and perfectly valid festival experience … but, I was panicking inside because I was missing everything! I had to go and listen to some music without having to talk to anyone. We coordinated cell phones, so we could meet up again, and I went off by myself.

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Gamelan Madu Sari: New Javanese Shadows

July 20th, 2008 1 comment

Even though I am very busy with everything else in my life, I could not refuse an invitation to join a week-long workshop with five of the most innovative masters of the Arts of Java.

Gamelan Madu Sari, Vancouver’s gamelan that uses Javanese instruments, was producing a show called “Semar in Lila Maya” and they had worked very hard to bring four performers from Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Students could study with one or all of these instructors who specialize in dance, shadow puppetry and music instruction. It was tempting to sample a bit of everything from the rich cultural buffet. The group picture, taken at the end of class, was a bit of an afterthought and I had already changed into my motorcycle riding clothes so I couldn’t sit cross-legged anymore.

Madu Sari workshop with Javanese guests

On the far left back row and below, is my friend Mas Sutrisno Hartana, who has moved to Vancouver and teaches Javanese music at Simon Fraser University. It is because of Sutrisno, that I say five Masters of Javanese Arts, although there are only four visitors. I have taken better photos of him, but he is really concentrating and serious in this image below. He introduced me to the subtle beauty of Javanese gamelan when I was still playing with Gong Gita Asmara, the ensemble using Balinese instruments based at UBC. I did rehearse with Madu Sari and play one concert, and I look forward to having more time to play with them in future. Read more…

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Categories: Inspiration, VIX at Work

Canada Day on Granville Island 2008

July 4th, 2008 1 comment

The first day of July started with a plan to ride my motorcycle down to the Canada Day celebrations hosted by Coastal Jazz on Granville Island. This event featured some of Vancouver’s finest jazz talent on three different stages throughout the day, including Chris Gestrin, Jillian LeBeck. Brad Muirhead +Pepe Danza (Koan), Paul Plimley and Tony Wilson. As I was getting ready to go, my phone rang and my daughter requested my help to finish clearing out her godmother’s apartment. The jazz would have to wait, but it didn’t sound like there was that much to do and I would certainly be able to catch some of the shows. Read more…

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Categories: Inspiration, VIX at Work