Monday, February 18, 2008

Links To Cool Stuff!

So, I decided I'm not going to weekly post cool things, because that's kind of a little bit lame. I'll just post a bunch of cool stuff when I build up a big list. I won't try to set myself to a time schedule or anything. I have quite a list right now, because I've found lots of cool things since last time. Here goes:

-The Landlord: This is a clip about Will Ferrell and troubles with his landlord. Watch out for language. This clip would be rated PG-13 if it were a movie (for language and alcohol abuse by a minor), but it's still really funny.

-My music page: I've been working on composing some music for quite a while, and I've just finished getting a music website up for them. I plan on filling an Indie album with about fourteen songs (right now I have music for four) and releasing it for free on iTunes, but until then I'll upload demos, samples, and "singles" to my website for sampling before the final project is finished. Right now, you can listen to my first finished song from the album, as well as an early demo of another song I'm working on. You can also listen to covers and other garbage that I didn't compose, but that I did originally record. Watch out for my music on iTunes in the next few months (it'll be under the artist name poojalooba_cow).

-Anti-Phishing Phil: This little game is actually almost fun, but it's more aimed at being educational. It's about a fish named Phil, and his dad is teaching him about phishing websites. Created by professors at Carnegie-Mellon University, it was designed to teach people about how to recognize a phishing site based on its URL and several other factors. It's an effective tool, because people are much more likely to want to play a game (even if it is a game that's trying to teach them things) than read a bunch of text on a website. Studies reported that after playing Anti-Phishing Phil for fifteen minutes, people were much better able to recognize phishing websites. It's a really clever way to educate people, and it really does work, too. A few days ago I encountered a phishing website and I would have had no clue that it was one if I hadn't played Anti-Phishing Phil before. Thanks to Phil the Phish (ha), I wasn't scammed into giving out personal information or money! Give it a try, it just might save you a lot of grief in the future.

-Pandora: This is a music site that lets you listen to artists and songs similar to songs or artists you give it. It bills itself as the "Music Genome Project" because it categorizes songs into an immense number of sub-categories (such as "Major Key Tonality" or "Dynamic Male Vocalist" or "Subtle Vocal Harmonies") and creates a listening experience entirely catered to your likes. The more artists and songs you feed it, the more accurate it'll be at choosing other songs and artists that are similar to that. It's great for finding new songs and artists, as well as rediscovering old favorites.

-Desktop Tower Defense: An incredibly addicting little game. Swarms of "creeps" come crawling across your desktop, so what do you do? Create little towers to destroy them, of course! It's a mix of strategy, speed, creativity, and trial-and-error. Try it. You won't be able to stop.

-Dwarf Fortress: This game is a real-time strategy game where you make and manage a fortress filled with dwarfs (hence the name...). It's really hard to learn (I've just barely started getting the hang of things after a week), but it's hilarious and has a really detailed engine behind it. The game art is less-than-commendable (it's an entirely ASCII-art game, so it looks like your screen barfed out a bunch of punctuation marks), but it's still really fun.

-N: "N" is an incredibly cool game about a ninja and his thirst for gold. You have ninety seconds to complete five levels within an "episode". In order to be able to advance to the next episode, you have to complete the five levels in the previous episode. It's got a totally sweet physics engine, so when you die, you'll bounce all over the place and your limbs flop independently. It comes with a built-in custom level generator, so you can create your own awesome levels. It's coming to the XBox Live Arcade and the DS and the PSP, also. I'll most definitely be getting it for my DS.

-Orbiter: This is a flight simulator with a little extra to it: Besides just flying around on Earth, you can take to the stars and fly to virtually any planet (and any of that planet's moons) in our solar system. It features real physics equations (you can't just take off and fly straight up into the sky), so the learning curve is steep because there are all kinds of weird forces acting on you that you've never even heard of before (especially when you're in outer space), but it's strangely addictive, and it's even got some educational value to it!

Yeah, that should keep anyone busy for a while. I'll be back whenever with more.

Monday, February 11, 2008

poojalooba_cow: 1 Electronics: 0

On Friday, I built a wireless microphone and interfaced it with my computer. I haven't had a chance to blog about it until now, though. I'm quite proud of my success, even though it's essentially just shorting out a wireless phone base and hooking the short into the computer input port. My other, smaller projects include a wired computer microphone and a sustain pedal for my digital piano keyboard, but this is the first semi-difficult electronics project that I've succeeded with, and I'll be keeping score from now on.

I had to pull apart the phone and the base station, first off. Then I had to find a power cord that would put out 9VDC (Volts Direct Current) of power and close to 350 mA (milliAmps). I finally found one that gave off 9VDC and 210 mA, which was close enough to get it to run (800 mA at 9VDC just made sparks and smelled like things burning...) Sorry if this sounds complicated or confusing to you, but it's the only way I can adequately explain my project.

Since I'm way too cheap to go buy a wireless computer microphone ($100), I then proceeded to find the audio output on the base station using the scientific method Trial and Error. I short-circuited across random solder beads on the base station with a screwdriver until I heard a click come from the speaker on the phone unit. I got the first group on my first try. I then tested it by feeding audio from a CD player into the two beads I found. Ta-da! Weezer's Beverly Hills came out loud and clear from the speaker of the phone. Now my microphone could be two-way. I could play audio through my computer into the base unit, which would then transmit it to wherever the phone unit happened to be, and I would eventually be able to record what the phone unit was hearing as well.

Next I had to play music into the microphone of the phone unit and touch leads from an old pair of headphones to random solder beads until I could hear the audio coming into my headphones. This part took me considerably longer to get right, but I eventually could hear Weezer's We Are All On Drugs coming through from the phone to the base station.

Then came the tricky part. I had to find a reliable way to keep my short circuit wires in contact with the solder beads, while being able to plug in an audio source or an input jack or whatever into them so as to receive or send audio using whatever I wanted. Not having a soldering iron handy, I used the next best thing: A hot-glue gun. Hot-glue dries almost as fast as solder, and is safer if you get it on yourself. Once the wires had been hot-glued to their leads, I was ready to hook it into my computer. I used my normal wired microphone's wires, and I just changed the attachment on the end from the wired microphone to the base station (alligator clips are great that way).

Now, the moment of truth. I loaded up Audacity and started recording, then went to another room with the phone unit, turned it on, and started talking. It worked! I recorded a clip so that everyone can have proof of my accomplishment:

Here are some pictures of the microphone and the base station. They're kinda fuzzy, but I tried my best to sharpen them up in Photoshop (for the most part, I failed):

Both units together:

The base unit:

The wireless unit. Note the stylish lack of plastic casing, even though it is just a normal cordless phone (plastic casings are
sooo last year):