Up, not North

Check out my hot rod!

March 21st, 2011 § 0

After literally months of bugging her, I finally wrangled my Site 3 co-director, the inimitable Alex Leitch, into giving my soldering iron a custom paint job. I swear, I didn’t even notice the delightful “hot rod” wordplay opportunities until she was halfway through.
I did the Nigel Tufnel-inspired dial modification myself (you might need to enlarge the image to see). Yes, I’m aware that this amuses me much more than it should.

A Clockwork Pac-Man: introducing Pac Machina and the Pactuator

February 9th, 2011 § 0

Playing with old typewriters for the Automatypewriter left me enamoured of their amazing mechanical viscera. It inspired me to leave my comfort zone of digital bits and try playing with physical bits for a while. It’s been loads of fun, and I highly recommend it! Why restrict yourself to electrons, when you could be playing with the whole atom?

The experience has inspired me make to my next major project that much more ambitious: I’m working on a playable, mechanical Pac-Man cabinet, which I’m calling “Pac Machina.” My dream, if I can pull it off, is to auction the finished product to raise money for Child’s Play. I was initially planning on waiting to reveal it until it was done, but I’ve decided it’s much more fun to share. Consequently, I’m going to blog my work-in-progress. If you’re interested, be sure to check back for updates (or, better yet, subscribe to my RSS feed).
Obviously, Pac Machina will require a chomping Pac Man figure, hence this mechanism. I call it The Pactuator. It was only meant to be a prototype, but I liked it so much that I wanted a nice way to display and play with it on its own (perhaps to keep me motivated during the inevitably-long build process for the full game). So, I whipped up a little case for it, and here it is! For a brief description of how it works, along with a detailed description of the prototyping process, please read the project page!
(Incidentally, when I was working on the Automatypewriter, people started giving me their old typewriters, which was kind of cool. If people now want to give me Pac-Man merchandise, that would be awesome!)

Happy Halloween!

October 31st, 2010 § 0

I suppose that if one has a ghost typewriter, and it happens to be Halloween, there is an obligation to make some pop cultural references that make use of it.

For movie lovers:

And for the Zork fans who felt the previous post was missing something important:

Happy Halloween, everyone!

A new way to interact with fiction

October 29th, 2010 § 25

Introducing the Automatypewriter, a new way to experience interactive fiction! It’s still a little rough around the edges (in particular, you can see that the spacebar sticks a little, and the whole thing needs to be tidied up), but you get the idea: the Automatypewriter is a typewriter that can type on its own, as well as detect what you type on it. By reading what it types to you and responding, it can be used interactively to play a game or participate in a story (in this case, Zork).

Though the medium may be the message, a games platform is only as good as its content. To that end I’m collaborating with novelist, graphic novelist, filmmaker, community organizer, and award-winning interactive fiction developer Jim Munroe, who is creating custom software specifically tailored to the Automatypewriter. » Read the rest of this entry «


September 20th, 2010 § 0

I’ve alluded before to some of the new projects I’m working on, and one if them is finally ready to start showing off, at least a little bit. I only wish I was allowed to tell more details, because the best part is still under wraps!

The electronics are pretty simple: each key mechanism is connected by fishing line to a solenoid; the multi-story solenoid bank is visible in the background. Each solenoid is connected to a MOSFET, which is in turn connected to the output of a 74HC595 shift register (with the exception of the shift key, which is controlled directly by the Arduino for timing reasons). The 595 is controlled by an Arduino that translates the serial data from USB to trigger the proper key.

It still needs some work: as you can see in that video, the return key doesn’t always activate when “pressed,” because it has a different mechanism than the other keys. In the bigger picture, right now it is output only, but eventually, it will also send input to the computer using a scheme very similar to that described in this Instructable. On the aesthetic side, the solenoid bank will be hidden in the final project.

Others have done some pretty cool hacks with typewriters: the Instructable is one, and the same creator has done something similar for iPads, all available at www.usbtypewriter.com. There’s also this typewriter-to-teletype hack, which uses an electronic typewriter and has both input and output. As far as I know, though, this is the first project where the typewriter keys move “by themselves” while typing.

That’s the what; of course, the remaining question is why. Unfortunately, my collaborator has sworn me to semi-secrecy. So, if you want to find out where this is all going, you’ll either have to come back for a later post, or, if you’re in Toronto, come visit me at one of the Site 3 open house nights (Thursdays from 6-10). You can see it in action, and maybe even try it yourself!

Site 3 is up and running!

August 18th, 2010 § 0

Wow, has it really been three months since I last posted? Well, I have a good excuse: I’ve been busy helping get Site 3, Toronto’s newest makerspace, up and running. Now it is! We’ve had a lovely writeup on BlogTO (which exaggerates somewhat by calling me the “main man,” whereas Site 3 is very much a collaboration); we’ve had very good attendance at our workshops; my chiptunes workshop was featured on Torontoist and will be on an upcoming episode of Electric Playground; Seth’s pyrokinesis won an editor’s choice ribbon at Maker Faire Detroit; and, in general, it’s been a very busy time. So what are you waiting for? You should come visit us — perhaps on one of our weekly open house nights.

Of course, Site 3 is the only thing I’ve been working on. Keep watching this space in the next few weeks (or perhaps subscribe to the RSS feed) for two new projects I’m working on, and, once those are done, my very first electronics kit!

Site 3 T-shirts!

March 30th, 2010 Comments Off on Site 3 T-shirts!

I’ll be honest: one of the things I like best about Site 3 coLaboratory is the stupendously awesome logo, which I’ve unilaterally decided to name “Trixie.” So, it is with no small measure of glee that I link to the pre-order for the first t-shirts featuring the logo, which are being sold as a fundraiser. I mean, just look at that design. While I’m on the subject, and because more than one person has ended up on this blog because they were searching for it, I’d like to say a word or two comparing Site 3 to Hacklab.to. (I’m not really going to say much about InterAccess, because I don’t really have experience there.) » Read the rest of this entry «

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