Tiree Tech Wave Day 2

Again, late update as it is now day 3!

Day 2 was all about wiring, wiring and more wiring! I spent the first half of the day and then some wiring all the panel components to the slot in prototyping board I bought for the Arduino Due for a couple of quid. The prototyping board has plenty of space in the centre for building basic circuits:

Tiree Day 2 - 1

The near complete box from the outside:

Tiree Day 2 - 4

And the shear hell on the inside:

Tiree Day 2 - 5

In the meantime, the crew did some serious project planning around the table for a larger group project:

Tiree Day 2 - 3

Once the panel wiring was done I spent some time testing each component worked. Perhaps inevitably, the bit of veroboard I used as a structure for the 16 LEDs was riddled with problems and some time was eaten up bug fixing that. I hadn’t made any particular mistakes but a good number of the points that I had added breaks to the board didn’t actually break the copper traces effectively so there were short circuits everywhere. Anyway, once fixed the sequence worked perfectly:

I then continued by adding the MIDI buffer circuit to the prototype board, this was a slightly fiddly job but again, it was great to fit it on here and not have to cut another bit of veroboard:

Tiree Day 2 - 7Tiree Day 2 - 8

At this point I was out of time again, but I had pretty much completed the hardware. Back at our accomodation though I plugged in and tried sending some basic MIDI data to the Reface DX keyboard I brought, but no luck! Upon some investigation I found that I had missed a key wire – which is noticeable on the picture above – which connects one of the NPN transistors in the MIDI buffer to ground. So that is a job for day 3!

We spent some quality time on one of the beautiful Tiree  beaches in the evening with some hilarious games of frisbee and probably the most disorganised games of rounders I will ever have in my life!!

Tiree Day 1

It’s actually day 2 now but I had some trouble getting images off my camera – so slightly late update…


After a 9 and a half hour drive from Cardiff we arrived in Oban at around 5.30am. I had stayed up for a good portion of the night as a driving buddy. As the sun was just about to start creeping up over the horizon in Scotland, the views were breathtaking, and unfortunately I didn’t have access to my camera (though it was still very dark). We had to wait a good while to board our ferry in Oban, and the sun rose for a beautiful sunny (albeit a little chilly) day.

The ferry departed around 6.30am and the trip was long – I think we arrived around 11am in Tiree. My comrades slept through it but I was wired from drinking coffee at 3am, again the views were breathtaking on the ferry as we cruised up the straight between the mainland and the Isle of Mull – I will be sure to keep my camera close on the return.

Tiree is absolutely stunning and we are lucky to have amazing weather for day 1. I took these pictures in the evening, here are some pics of our beachside accomodation (click to enlarge):

Once we had dropped off our personal items we headed over to Tiree Rural Centre which is a multi-purpose space on the island, and where the Tech Wave is taking place. And I mean multi-purpose, it is a cafe, a multi media meeting place, and a cattle market! We unloaded all the fabrication gear from Cardiff Fab Lab and whereever else, and after a short meet and greet we got stuck into building…

I had hoped to complete all wiring today in order to get stuck into code on day 2, but I didn’t make it by a long shot. I managed to cut holes in the plastic case to accomodate a MIDI socket which will be the main output I focus on, and also a barrel jack input so the unit can eventually be externally powered:






I then proceeded to wire up all power rail connections on the top board, being a ground plane and a 3V3 line for the pots:











Finally I needed to test the RGB LEDs I stuck onto the front panel as I couldn’t remember if they were common anode or common cathode. Common anode means you have one anode (+) pin and three cathode (-) pins, pulling the pins low means that current can flow and the associated colour is lit, common cathode means you reverse those rules. It turns out I have common anode, so I know how to wire up from here:






I was out of time at this point so we all headed back to camp for some extreme beach frisbee, a massive meal and wine to wash it down. Having not slept overnight, I put my head down early and slept like a log!






Next I need to draw up some basic schematics so I know exactly which pins I am going to use on the Arduino Due.

Tiree Tech Wave Primer

On Wednesday next week I will be departing from Cardiff on a minibus full of creative and nerdy people on a mission to the island of Tiree, to attend the March 2017 Tiree Tech Wave event. There is no real agenda other than to create a micro industrial tech complex for a week, and to see where that leads.

I know little about the event, and I have never been to Scotland! But some of the peoples I am travelling with have past experience from previous Tech Waves, and so far I have gathered that the main event takes place in a cattle shed and the entire islands internet connection runs down a single orange coloured cable. The group I am travelling with are all students or staff at Cardiff Metropolitan University, and the University has kindly sponsored our trip.

I hope to get involved in as much as possible, but I am heading to Tiree with a project plan in mind. The project is something I have wanted to do for a while and in some respects it is something I have already been working on, a hardware sequencer for music making. I could write plenty about the ideas and work I have done to date, but I will try and work that into blog posts over the next week. Here is a run down of my plan:

I recently picked up an Arduino Due which is a supercharged Arduino built around the SAM3X8E. The Due is very interesting because it is very fast compared to a standard ATmega328 based Arduino, it has more IO pins of every type, the Analog and PWM pins are capable of sampling at 12bits of resolution (that is 4x more resolution than an Uno) and the board also has built in DACs which can generate a waveform with 12bits of resolution. These features are all great for the project I have in mind.

The basic idea is to create a 2 channel multi function sequencer around the Due core. For Tiree I am focussing on having a MIDI output from the Due which I am going to use to control a miniature synth, but I would later like to add in analogue sequencing as well (I don’t want to take this on at Tiree as it will involve some degree of voltage scaling, which isn’t complicated but will probably require obscure resistor values and a more complicated power supply). The different modes are not totally defined just yet, but I would like a nice mixture of traditional and esoteric ways of generating musical notes. Over the last week I have been doing a little preparation with the hardware for the project, as I’m not sure what tools will be available (as it turns out, the group I am going with are taking some pretty extensive fabrication hardware). I laser cut the front panel at Fab Lab Cardiff, and put it together at home. The panel layout is fairly traditional, it will work well as an 8-step sequencer, but that’s boring so the challenge is to find interesting ways to rethink this traditional setup:

Truth Serum - 1

Truth Serum - 2

Truth Serum - 3

It is so damn impossible to work with acrylic and not get finger prints all over it! The panel hardware is made up by 8 potentiometers, 2 encoders (left), 4 buttons, 16 3mm yellow LEDs, 2 5mm RGB leds and 8 switches to play with. Two buttons are designated as “mode” buttons to change the function of other controls, and the main sequence algorithm. As you can see I built a little jig for the 3mm LEDs which will make wiring a little less painful. I also have a MIDI DIN socket and power jack to tack on to the plastic body somewhere.

This post is getting long so I am going to bring it to an end now and say that I will be posting daily blogs of what’s going on at Tiree Tech Wave, and I would like to write about this project in plenty of detail within that. If you read this far I guess you are interested so please, watch this space! 🙂

Conductive Rubber Band Game Controller

Now come on, this is too damn cool: http://aipanic.com/doku.php?id=projects:rubberarms an experimental physics video game controlled by a conductive rubber cord from Adafruit – absolutely need one of these for modular synth expression control – maybe it’s a good opportunity to get stuck into some DAC programming!

If like me you are in the UK, a quick search shows that Cool Components stocks these as well, stay tuned for some elasticated wrongness music 🙂

Sam Aaron: Teaching Computer Science with Music


This video is a couple of years old, but I came across it today as I have been reading up on Sonic Pi – my immediate reaction to Sonic Pi was “what a brilliant way to teach about coding”. In the presentation, Sam Aaron discusses his motives behind developing Sonic Pi and experiences in using it as a teaching tool. Take some time to check it out as it is an engaging and inspiring talk: