Cheap USB MIDI cable: some self assembly may be required


I had recently bought a Rock Band 3 Wii keyboard which has come down in price to around £10 with an intention to connect it to a cheap Chinese USB to MIDI interface cable for around £3 pictured above to do some MIDI experiments on my computer. Videos online demonstrated that connecting the IN connector to the keyboard and USB cable to the PC was all that was needed to use it, but I just couldn’t get it working. The Rock Band keyboard detected a MIDI cable and switched to MIDI mode, PC properly detected USB MIDI device, but there were no messages in the MIDI-OX application. That’s when I decided to open up the plastic casing to find a few surprises…

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Problems with Samsung Series 5 Ultrabook and USBTinyISP

Well, this is somewhat disappointing… I recently acquired a Samsung Series 5 530U3B Ultrabook which is really nice and was going to make my main laptop for on the work on the go. Unfortunately it supplies insufficient power to my USBTinyISP programmer. The effect is that when I try to program ATTiny45, I get this error:

Binary sketch size: 2,752 bytes (of a 4,096 byte maximum)
avrdude: verification error, first mismatch at byte 0x0040
 0x02 != 0x36
avrdude: verification error; content mismatch

The verification fails on random memory addresses. This means that I will need to add an external power supply to my custom programmer or find a USB hub with external power supply. I think that the latter will be the easiest.

Repairing Alba CR305IP FM clock radio alarm

I bought this Alba FM clock radio a very long time ago at a car boot sale for £2. Seller was selling a bunch of them. It had everything in the box: power supply, cables, various iPod dock plastic bits and even AV cable. Took it home, plugged it in and… it was working, but no audio at all. I could control the iPod, set the clock and etc, but it just did not make any sound. Well, you know… it was just £2 :) So it was left in a cupboard for a very long time until today I decided to take it out and have a look at what’s inside.

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Using USBTinyISP to program ATTiny45 and ATTiny85

There are a few different ways how to program ATTiny microcontrollers – lovely little chip with so much potential. I tried programming with Arduino Uno, but the solution was too clumsy with lots of wires connected to the breadboard from Arduino. Then I remembered that I have USBTinyISP and apparently it is one of the best ways to program these chips.

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Arduino touch sensor ky036

I received a few Arduino touch sensors from DealExtreme just because they were dirty cheap and I have a few ideas where I could use them as device power switches. There is probably an easier way to build a touch sensor for Arduino without that many additional components, but let’s see what we can do with this cheap sensor for just $2.6 or less than £1.7.

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APC.IO – a $49 all in one PC by VIA: a bicycle for your mind or a big disappointment?

There was a lot of excitement in the hardware hacker community back in May 2012 when VIA announced APC.IO – a $49 all in one Android PC. I was excited too, but my excitement quickly faded away when I received my two APC’s a few weeks ago and booted them up…

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Fixing a Seagate 7200.11 hard drive with Arduino

I received a Seagate 7200.11 hard disk in a BSY (busy) state. The hard disk drive spins, but it’s completely invisible to the BIOS. Apparently all these models are affected by a bug in the drive’s firmware: ST31000340AS, ST3500320AS, ST3750330AS and others too.

I found this very well written guide on how to fix the BSY state on Seagate 7200.11 drive. I needed some sort of serial TTL adapter to hook up to the drive’s serial port, but didn’t have one at hand. Then I remembered that I have an Arduino clone Freeduino lying around and I knew that it already has a FTDI chip that does the USB to serial conversion for the Atmega chip. Ok, so it’s not technically Arduino AVR chip used to fix the drive, just the board.

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Going beyond just a hobby


So I finally decided to take a plunge to make an electronics hobby into something more, maybe a full-time job. As one of the first things to getting there I bought the Rigol DS1052E digital oscilloscope. Decided to buy this one because it’s hackable: with a small firmware update it should be possible to make this 50MHz scope into a 100MHz one. Apparently this is the same hardware as DS1152E, just firmware needs to be updated to transform it into a twice more expensive instrument! More about this in another post.

A bunch of electronic parts are coming from China in the next couple of weeks (hopefully). Very exciting times indeed!

Hacking a toy car @ fizzPOP Howduino


This Saturday I had a chance to attend a fantastic Howduino event in Birmingham – a one day hackers workshop. This was my first experience in this type of event, so I came without any expectations. :) Once the the welcoming announcements were made everybody started hacking either by going to beginners workshops or working on their own projects. Steward from Kre8 joined me at my desk and we had a lot of fun working together.

The task

My task for the day was to transform this R/C toy car from ELC into an obstacle avoiding robot.


I chose this cute little toy, because each side of the wheels is controlled by a separate motor. This allows the car to turn around 360 degrees in one spot. There was one big challenge involved in hacking this toy car: I had to be able to assemble it back again, because my son had already announced the ownership. :) Continue reading “Hacking a toy car @ fizzPOP Howduino”