Digital Clock Project Part I: The Brain


I somehow developed an obsession with clocks over the last few years. I don't know if the idea for this project started it, or if this project was just an early manifestation of it. I guess the seed may have been planted when I started using the name "Clockbroke" over a decade ago, even though it's inception had noting to do with clocks. I love any project that tells time, and nixie tubes make me drool. This is a project that I tinker with from time to time, then put away for months. I'll finish it before I die... probably.

Winter Break Projects 3: Portable Infrared Switch (Arduino powered)

I have a set of under cabinet lights procured from IKEA many years ago. I have them installed under a shelf above my bed, where they are perfect for reading. They are great in most respects, but the switch was one of those cheap plastic rotary lamp switches that's integral to the lamp cord. After several months of daily use, the switch began to crumble. Every day a new piece would fall off until there were no more pieces.

At first, I alligator clipped a switch onto the cord and figured I'd devise some clever switch for it someday. That day has come.


Winter Break Projects 2: Arduino sunTracker

My dad has had a solar panel at a semi remote camp for years. And for years, I've been thinking of building a sun tracking or device to move the panel with the sun. The panel was sitting in a tree, mostly stationary unless you wanted to move it manually. I wasn't smart enough then to tackle the idea, but I figured I had the skills now to at least attempt it.

The problem is that a stationary panel only receives maximum light for a potion of the day. To increase it's efficiency, it needs to receive direct sun for as long as the sun is visible. This can be achieved by moving the light, or by moving the panel. A heliostat is a system that moves a mirror to reflect the sun to a target. This can get tricky. It can take an array of mirrors to spread the light across a large panel. I find heliostats more useful for when the light needs to be concentrated to a smaller point, such as heating applications (solar ovens, steam generator, etc…). Heliostats also seem to be pretty complex as far as control software goes.

I wanted to be as simple as possible. I decided to devise a panel moving system. As with most of my ideas, I like to do my first prototype without reviewing other peoples designs. I could save myself a lot of time by reading about other peoples mistakes before I make them myself. However, I enjoy the brain exercise of the initial problem solving and concept development more than anything. Therefore, I like to see where I end up on my own first, warts and all.

Winter Break Projects 1: PC to Bench Power Supply

Every electronics tinkerer needs to do this. A bench power supply is an absolute necessity, and can be quite expensive. Building your own supply from scratch is possible, but time consuming and prone to errors for even one with experience. Even a small PC supply has more wattage than you'll need. If you're building something larger and more complex than a complete computer, you're probably sitting in a clean lab with a white coat, anti static booties, and a million $$ power supply. This project is not for you.


There are plenty of excellent full how-tos on the web for this project (check instructibles), so I won't go too crazy with steps and photos here.. I will simply point out some key issues you'll probably face, and mention a few specifics of my build. If you're savvy, you really don't need a how-to, It's a very simple project that is relatively universal, regardless of your actual PSU model.

"Fixing" The Ubuntu 10.10 Unity Interface

For the record, Unity is not "broken," it works just fine. Actually, I quite like it for the most part - but only after some tinkering. Naturally, any new interface takes a bit of getting used to, however, there are a few glaring omissions which need addressing. Some of these are rectified by a few clicks and tweaks (which I will explain), and some by simply getting used to the interface. But some are just default behaviors of the window manager, requiring developer intervention. Unity uses a window manager from GNOME 3 called Mutter. According to the Ubuntu manuals, mutter "is a minimal X window manager aimed at nontechnical users and is designed to integrate well with the GNOME desktop." This means that some of the omissions are intentional, to make a minimal and simple interface.

One of the first things you'll notice is the left hand application launcher. The app launcher is reminiscent of the Apple dock. You can launch apps with a single click, and you can add to it by right clicking the icon of an open app and selecting "Keep In Launcher".

Missing are the familiar top menu items; Applications, Places, and System. There is an "Applications" icon in the launcher. It's intuitive to click there to launch apps, but it's also where user preferences, utilities and system settings are located. That's less intuitive, but easily figured out. Just think of all of those settings windows as applications.


If you love pens like I do...

As my all time favorite comedian, Mitch Hedberg, once said:
“I bought a seven dollar pen because I always lose pens and I got sick of not caring.”

I have always been on the lookout for a great pen. I used to have one that I wrote scripts with (Remember the silky ink on "Karmacorp" Anne?). I even painted it to "make it my own." That company started producing shit ink replacements after a few years, so it's now rotting away. I used to love the Pilot G2, but then I found gel inks to be very inconsistent. Recently I heard about Mont Blanc pens. Supposedly they're the best ever, but cost $200. I've since seen models costing $350 and $1000!!!!

The trick is the refill, which is more like $8 (or $13 for a 2 pack). Check out this Instructable on how to alter the refill to fit the shell of a Pilot G2. A quick snip off the end, and you're G2 is a Mont Blanc.

Do it now, because they'll likely catch wind and make an impossibly weird refill cartridge.

If you love a pen, circumcise it. If it writes better, it's your forever. If it doesn't, it was never meant to be.

Power Supply Instructable

Two Birds, One Stone.
I have been meaning (for LONG time) to write a Power Supply tutorial for this site. I've also been meaning to start writing for Instructables. I decided to suppress both needs in one shot. Here is the result:

Hobby Electronics Power Supplies Part 1: Wall Warts - More DIY How To Projects

GPS Cell Phone Data Logging

I recently took an interest in tracking/logging GPS data. Ultimately, I want to track where the hell my cat goes when he is out ALL night EVERY night. The devices I found were either too expensive, or required a monthly service fee to operate. My means for building such a device are very limited. I could build something basic, but it would be clunky and not very useful. Until I'm smarter/more capable, I can still have GPS fun with a free service offered by

Designed for GPS enabled phones, you're a quick app install and a free account away from some light James Bond action.

Read after the break for more...

Fixing my old iPod Nano

I got caught in a rainstorm many moons ago, during which my 1st Gen. iPod Nano started acting up. I figured it would be fine after it dried out. It turned out not to matter, because the very next day I got lucky. A generous friend, who had originally bought me the iPod as a birthday gift, got an iPhone. She offered me an extended loan of her 3rd Gen Nano, and my iPod sat on the desk for a while. The next time I picked up my old Nano, I realized the rain had done some permanent damage. It would not hold a charge, and it took several minutes after plugging it in before it had enough life for iTunes to even recognize it. I didn't care too much. I was rocking a new 8 gig. A few months ago, I moved out of Boston, and my extended loan ended. I was iPodless.

NEW TruckeR record!

We just finished our second record!

John and I spent the morning at Sound Mirror with Mark Donahue (Multi-Grammy nominated Mastering Engineer). As the photos show, this room is GORGEOUS! Lots of API limiters and channel strips, tons of Weiss EQ's, a pair of golden ears, and several hours later... we're done! I just need to layout the artwork and send it off to the presses.

Stay tuned.

master 1master 1
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