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Audio Files and Photos from my Midwest Furfest Speaking Panels!

Posted by: The Mad Scientist

Ahoy to all of you Foxee fans out there! While I am a few weeks late with getting this information up onto my blog, I have finally sifted through the many hours of audio that I recorded during the Midwest Furfest furry convention, and I have separated and MP3-encoded some sound clips of my best speaking parts during the panels that I was a panelist on for you to listen to! In case you don't remember, last November at the Midwest Furfest furry convention in Schaumburg, Illinois I was a panelist on three speaking panels that had to do with both animatronics and fursuit (animal mascot) costume construction. I was asked to be on the panels to answer questions about animatronics and electronics and their uses in fursuit costumes. While I have never built a fursuit personally, my Foxee animatronic robot project involves many of the same building skills and techniques that an animatronic fursuit does, so I was still very useful as a panelist despite my relative inexperience with the panels' topics.!

I spoke on three panels at the convention, the Fursuit Mega Construction Panels 1 and 2, and the Fursuit Head Construction Panel. For the two Fursuit Mega Construction Panels I was teamed up with Michael "Aeto" Sawyer who has been speaking on this panel for the last 5 years and did most of the talking, and Jason "Ocicat" Williams, a commercial artist and a fursuiter for the last 5 years. On the Fursuit Head Construction Panel both Aeto and Ocicat returned as panelists and this time were joined by Kitt Foxx, a former Disney Animator and Hollywood Special Effects Technician. Kitt Foxx is the extremely talented person who designed the animatronic Georgia Belle fursuit that utterly amazed me at last year's Midwest Furfest convention and inspired me to do my own animatronics project. He has been a fantastic help to me with getting my own project off of the ground to the point of being my mentor, and I was very honored to be speaking on a panel with him!

Since my experience on these topics paled in comparison to that of the other panelists, my plan for my speaking part of the panel was to give the audience a very basic introduction to what servo motors were and how they worked, how to build some basic servo driver boards using a variable width pulse modulator to control them, and what information was available for beginners on the Internet to help you get started. I brought is several props for my presentation, including a working servo driver board hooked up to a Futaba servo motor and a nickel cadmium battery, a homebrew servo tester board that could hook up a servo motor to a Commodore 64 microcomputer to test its range of motion, and several books on robotics, animatronics, and microcontrollers.

I also brought in some photographs of what the output signal of a servo driver board looked like displayed on an oscilloscope so that people could see first-hand what the signals that controlled servo motors looked like. Some of the topics covered by the other panelists on these panels included using fiberglass to construct fursuit heads, how to choose the right fur for your costume and sew it together, how to airbrush patterns onto fur using leather dyes, how to use foam for sculpting fursuit body parts, how to use electric fans in fursuit heads, how to choose the right fursuit eyes and teeth, how to make fursuit tails that keep their shape using a Delrin rod for support, how to give a convincing performance while wearing a fursuit, and much much more!

The Audio Files

I originally wanted to post my audio recordings of the three fursuit construction panels in their entirety to my animatronics blog because of how interesting and informative they were, but unfortunately that was against the Midwest Furfest audio and video recording policies and I was unable to get permission from the convention staff to do so. So the very best that I can do is post some short audio clips of some of the better things that I talked about and explained during the three panels.

Please judge my speaking performances kindly if you decide to listen to my audio clips from my Midwest Furfest panels. As the sole representative of my company, Project Destiny Studios, at the convention, I found myself spending long hours working on setting up and tearing down my artwork at the art show and auction, staying out late selling artwork as a dealer in the "Artists' Alley," and pulling near all-nighters to prepare my panel presentations for the next day. I far overstretched myself and pushed myself past my limits by trying to do so much on my own at the convention, and ended up only getting 2 hours of sleep before my Saturday 10:00AM panel and only 45-minutes of sleep before my Sunday 9:00AM panel because of it. So if I sound like I am half out of my mind while I am giving my presentations in these recordings, thatis because I probably am! Luckily, since I am a mad scientist, I am supposed to sound half out of my mind most of the time, so it all worked out!

Me Introducing Myself to the Audience During Saturday's Fursuit Construction Mega Panel 1

This short audio clip features me introducing myself as "Hoagiebot" to the panel's audience. At furry conventions it is standard practice to have a nickname on your convention badge, and that is what everyone addresses you by. For most furry convention attendees their nickname is the name of their furry "fursona" that they enjoy dressing up as at the convention, much like how someone who enjoys dressing up as a Klingon at a Science Fiction convention would have a Klingon name on their convention badge. In my case, Hoagiebot is just my user name on several online auction sites and Internet services and has no real significance after that. At the same time however it is the nickname that most people in the furry community would recognize me by, which is why I used it at the convention. I also tell about myself and my Foxee animatronic robot project during this introduction, and crack a few sleep-deprivation inspired jokes while I'm at it!

Listen to the Audio Clip

(File Format: MP3, Running Time: 1:49, File Size: 216KB )

Me Giving my Presentation on Using Servo Motors for Beginners during Sunday's Fursuit Head Construction Panel

In this audio clip I start off by reflecting on my own experiences while trying to learn how to build animatronics on my own during the dark days before I had met Kitt Foxx and had only myself to rely on to figure things out. I explain how you can use general purpose "Battlebots" style robotics books to learn how to create animatronics because the same methods used to make hexapod walking battlebot robots move are also employed in making animatronic robots move their various parts.

I then go on to talk about two websites that I found to be extremely helpful when I first started out learning about servo motors and how that worked. Two websites provided schematics for different simple variable width pulse modulator servo motor driver boards, and I ended up constructing both designs for comparison. The first website that gives a good overview on servo motors and there use in fursuits is the Fursuit FAQ at www.fursuit.org. You can find their schematic for a servo motor driver board here:

http://www.fursuit.org/faq/28elect.htm

The second website mentioned in my presentation is Fox's Electronics, which has a better servo driver board schematic and photos of what the finished driver board looks like. The servo driver board that I demonstrate during the presentation is modified version of his design. You can see the Fox's Electronics website here: http://soli.inav.net/~fox/fursuit/electronics.html

The pulse output of a 555 Timer IC based Servo Motor Driver Board shown on an Oscilloscope.
This photo shows the pulsed output of a 555 Timer IC based Servo Motor Driver Board shown on my Hewlett Packard Model 130BR Oscilloscope. Most servo motors respond to pulsed signals that are between 1KHz and 2KHz. As the oscilloscope shows, this servo driver board is currently sending out a pulse at 2.050KHz, which is causing the Futaba servo motor that is hooked up to it to turn all the way to the right and hold there. You can find the schematics for this servo driver board at Fox's Electronics.

Here is a triangle wave signal from a function generator that is being outputted on an oscilloscope for comparison.
This photo shows a triangle wave signal at 4.005KHz that is being output from my Exact Electronics Type 240 Function Generator into my Hewlett Packard Model 130BR Oscilloscope. This photo is shown as a general comparison to the servo driver signal. (Hey, I know that this is not the greatest of comparisons, but I had to have some excuse to try out my new function generator!)

Listen to the Audio Clip

(File Format: MP3, Running Time: 2:44, File Size: 323KB )

Me Answering an Audience Member's Question About Powering Battery-Powered Fans During Sunday's Fursuit Head Construction Panel

This audio clip starts out with an audience member asking about how he can find a more reliable power source than a 9-Volt battery to power the battery powered fans that ventilate his fursuit costume's headpiece. The question is started to be answered by Aeto who recommends using a RC battery to power the fans, but cautions about the overheating dangers caused by this. Having solved this kind of problem before, I then add in that you can readily build a simple regulated power supply out of a 78XX series voltage regulator IC and 3 capacitors that can be used to step down the voltage from the battery to the fan and prevent the fan from overheating. The "XX" in the voltage regulator IC's model number is the desired voltage that you want to regulate the battery's voltage at. For example, if you want to take the current from a 12-Volt battery and regulate it down to 9-Volts, you would use a 7809 voltage regulator IC. You can find the schematics to build such a regulated power supply at this website here: http://www.epanorama.net/circuits/psu_5v.html.

Kitt Foxx then talks about the advantages of using 12-Volt personal computer case fans in fursuit heads and then either running them at voltage with a 12-volt battery pack or running them under voltage with a typical 9.2-Volt RC battery pack. 9.2-Volt RC battery packs are advantageous because they are extremely common and can be found at nearly any local hobby shop or Radio Shack store. Since it is then discussed that battery voltages can drop over time, I once again add in that you can use a simple regulated power supply board to keep the voltage level going to your fans constant.

Listen to the Audio Clip

(File Format: MP3, Running Time: 4:21, File Size: 512KB )

While I did do a lot more speaking on the panels than just the three audio clips presented here, these were the things that I said that are the most interesting on their own and out of the context of the panel presentations in their entirety. Being a rookie panelist among several experts in the field that had each done several of these kinds of panels before, I wasn't able to contribute quite as much to the presentations as I originally thought I would be, but then again I was brought on as an extra knowledgeable person to support the others and not to be a primary presenter at the panels. Because of this, I feel that I fulfilled my role on the panels with flying colors, especially when I was able to help answer that one audience member's question about powering fans by explaining how he could easily build a regulated power supply from parts that can be bought for a few bucks at any neighborhood Radio Shack store.

I am sure that eventually down the road once I finally get my little animatronic arctic blue fox completed and performing shows that will eventually get an animatronics panel of my own at conventions, and then I will be able to show people how much fun it can be to be able to create your own robotic creations. These Midwest Furfest panels were just getting my feet wet for a bigger and brighter things to come, and I was more than happy to be a part of them!

In any case, I very much hope that you enjoyed all of these audio clips that I recorded and encoded for you, and that you found them to be helpful and informative! As always, comments are welcomed and encouraged and I would absolutely love to hear what you think!

I Will Be Speaking On Three Midwest Furfest Panels!

Posted by: The Mad Scientist

I will be a panelist speaking on three fursuit construction panels at the Midwest Furfest Furry Convention! The convention takes at the Hyatt Regency Woodfield Hotel in Schaumburg, Illinois, from November 18-20. If you are attending the convention, you can see me speak on the following panels at the following rooms and times:

Fursuit Construction MEGA-Panel 1
Saturday, November 19th, Arlington Heights Room, 10:00AM - 12:00PM

Fursuits, those wild and zany animated fuzzy critters no furry can resist! So how do they come to life, and what does it REALLY take to make one? Here you can learn, from some of the best builders in the fandom, about designing, constructing, and caring for fursuits. Whether it's your first suit or your tenth, you're sure to learn some valuable tips and techniques! This first session of two MEGA-panels will cover basic fursuit construction and design.

Basic Fursuit Head Construction
Sunday, November 20th, Schaumburg Room, 9:00AM - 10:00AM

Ok, so you've almost built that fantastic fursuit, but something just doesn't seem right! Join Ocicat as he discusses basic fursuit head construction and materials that will help you top off that perfect suit, and bring your critter to life!

Fursuit Construction MEGA-Panel 2
Sunday, November 20th, Schaumburg Room, 10:00AM - 12:00PM

As if we haven't had enough fun, already! Stop on by for more furry construction mayhem as fursuit builders discuss advanced fursuit building techniques, materials, special effects, and basic care and maintenance.

(Midwest Furfest panel descriptions were taken from the Midwest Furfest website.)

To explain how I became a panelist on these panels, some time ago I mentioned my Foxee Animatronics Project and my experience with servo motors and electronics to the Programming Director for the Midwest Furfest furry convention. I knew that the convention often had an animatronics for fursuits panel each year, and I offered to help speak on the panel if I was needed. For those of you that are unfamiliar with the furry fandom, a "fursuit" is a sports mascot-style animal costume with a full body suit and an animal head that you put on over your own. Just like how Star Trek fans dress up like Klingons and Fantasy Fans will dress up like a mage, furry fans like to dress up as "furries," which are upright walking animals with human personalities like Bugs Bunny or the characters from the Walt Disney animated feature film "Robin Hood." Dressing up into character is just a fun way to "role play" as something that you always wished you could be.

Getting back to the story, while I was told by the Midwest Furfest Programming Director that I wasn't needed to speak on the animatronics panel, the programming director did ask me to speak on three other fursuit construction panels at the convention to answer any electronics questions that the audience may have. These panels include the two fursuit construction mega panels, and the Basic Fursuit Head Construction panel. At first I was a little intimidated by the fact that I was going to be on a fursuit head construction panel considering that I have yet to construct any fursuit heads myself. I expressed my concerns to the Programming Director, but she reassured me and told me that I was placed on the panel to field any electronics or animatronics questions that the audience would come up with and to back up the other panelists if I had something to add to what they were talking about.

With that concern out of the way, now all I have to figure out is how I am going to get up at 9:00AM on Sunday morning-- Considering the fact that this Mad Scientist is nocturnal and plans to be dancing the night away with all of the cute ladyfurs during the Saturday night dance, it is going to take at least three-quarters of the caffeine in the northern hemisphere injected straight into my heart to get me up by then! A Mad Scientist's work is never done! Despite the fact that I will probably be resembling one of my undead zombie experiments when I am at these panels that early in the morning, it should still be a lot of fun! And while I don't know the possibility of this yet, I might just be able to bring in an oscilloscope and hook up some servo motor controller boards to it to give a demonstration about how servo motors work. We'll just have to wait and see!

My Life In Stereo!

Posted by: The Mad Scientist

The song 'Life in Stereo' being played through my Heathkit OS-01 Laboratory Oscilloscope

The Just Add Water song "Life In Stereo" being played through my Heathkit OS-01 Laboratory Oscilloscope

You're looking at one of my insanely great new toys, the Heathkit OS-01 Laboratory Oscilloscope that I purchased from my scientist friend from Fermilab! While I suppose that I should be something useful with this particular piece of sophisticated testing equipment such as troubleshooting electronic circuitry or checking my amateur radio equipment for good transmit signal quality, like any good mad scientist I opted to do something that was cool and completely useless with this oscilloscope instead-- I hooked it up to my stereo system! I am sure you are saying, "But oh smart, wise, and incredibly dashing mad scientist sir, shouldn't you be doing more useful things with this piece of equipment that you worked so hard to get?" Well, as of right now, no. I purchased two oscilloscopes from my Fermilab scientist friend, and my other oscilloscope is a much more powerful and sensitive Hewlett-Packard Model 130BR oscilloscope. I will be using the Hewlett-Packard oscilloscope for all of my electronics and robotics work. In fact, I intend on using the Hewlett-Packard scope to start looking at the output signals created by my homebrew servo controller boards that I built back in January very soon! If I come up with something more important that my Heathkit oscilloscope could be doing, I will take it off of stereo duty and use it for real work.

My Heathkit OS-01 Laboratory Oscilloscope hooked up to my stereo system
At first I was very nervous about hooking my Heathkit oscilloscope up to my stereo system. I wasn't sure what the impedance of the electromagnets in my stereo's speakers and my oscilloscope's electron gun were, so I was afraid that an impedance imbalance between the two devices could damage one or both pieces of electronics. I later found out that I didn't really have anything to worry about and that I was being very over cautious, and once my fears were set aside it took longer for me to move the stereo away from the wall to get to the speaker outputs on the back of the unit than it did to actually hook up the stereo to the oscilloscope. Two simple 12-gauge wires from my electronics toolbox attached to each device and I was in business!

What I did to hook up my stereo to my oscilloscope was to shove my two 12-gauge wires into the back of the right stereo speaker's output along with the right speaker's wires. This insured that I will still get sound going out of my right speaker even though that speaker's output would also be hooked up to the oscilloscope. I then ran the two 12-gauge wires from the right speaker output and hooked it up to the vertical input on my oscilloscope. I then set the base sweep speed to 10Hz and adjusted it until I got some very good looking signal waveforms on the oscilloscope's display. I could have additionally hook the left stereo speaker's output to the horizontal input on my oscilloscope to get some funky circular patterns on the display, but I thought that this looked much cooler!

While I don't know too much about the history of my Heathkit OS-01 Laboratory Oscilloscope, I am assuming that it dates back to around the late 1960's or so. It is filled with glowing vacuum tubes, and the oscilloscope gets fairly warm when it is turned on and fills my room with a wonderful musty electronics smell. I suppose that most mundane people wouldn't consider the smell of ozone coming from a vintage electronic device to be the most delightful of aromas, but to a mad scientist it's heaven! While I could probably be accused of being over-easily entertained, I never get tired of watching the oscilloscope when I am playing music, and I mess around with it nearly every day! I have wanted my very own oscilloscope for more than half a decade now, so for me this thing is the absolute coolest toy I have gotten in a long time and a dream come true! Now if I could only find a way to impress the single women at the bars with it....

My Heathkit oscilloscope during an intense part of a song

To give you an idea of what you are looking at in the photos above, the dark rectangular object with the circular screen in the middle of the photo is my Heathkit OS-01 Laboratory Oscilloscope, and underneath it is my stereo system, which as you can see is 27-seconds into a track that it is playing. Directly to the right of the oscilloscope is a tower of music CD's. The glass jar with the radiation symbol on it that is sitting on top of the stack of CD's actually has radioactive material in it-- it is filled with vaseline glass marbles which contain a little bit of Uranium in them to give them their yellow-green color. They have so little radioactivity in them that the glass marbles are completely safe to own in any amount and are unregulated by the government. I have some of these marbles because the Uranium makes them glow in the dark underneath a blacklight, which is really cool looking, and because they give me something to test my Russian Military Surplus DRSB-01 handheld Geiger Counter with. (Yes, Russian Military Surplus Geiger Counters are legal for people to own too!) The blue light in the photo is coming from a blue cold-cathode decorative lamp that I own, and the framed picture in the upper-right portion of the background is a limited edition Disney Aristocats pencil drawing from Walt Disney World. Yes, even though it is a bizarre combination, I have a love for Duchess from the Aristocats just like I have a love for high voltage electronics! That's why I am a mad scientist that builds cute animatronic robot foxes instead of death rays and giant peace-keeping robots of mass destruction like all of the other mad scientists that I know in the Mad Scientist's Union! Consider yourselves fortunate that I am not the death ray type and that I like cute fuzzy cartoon characters instead! As always, comments about my projects are welcome!

I've Been Promoted to General!

Posted by: The Mad Scientist

A General Class FCC Amateur Radio License that is! Tonight I took my Element 3 written exam for the license at the DuPage Amateur Radio Club volunteer examination meeting, and I was able to pass the exam on my first try despite the fact that I had only covered about two-thirds of the study material in my Gordon West General Class examination preparation book! I held a Technician Plus class amateur radio license before, which gave me transmitting privileges on many VHF, UHF, and microwave radio frequency bands and some low-power transmitting privileges on some tiny portions of the shortwave radio bands, but now with my new General Class license I can transmit on the vast majority of the shortwave bands at a peak envelope power of 1500 Watts! That is more than enough power to talk to other amateur radio operators across the globe, and even bounce radio signals off the moon and back to earth! Now if I could only afford an HF radio transceiver that could take advantage of my new license privileges.... In any case, for the next week over the air instead of identifying myself as just my normal radio call sign "KB9MFT," I can identify myself as "KB9MFT Temporary AG," which will let others know that I recently upgraded my license!

While I am not a very active amateur radio operator these days because I am so busy working on my artwork, animation, animatronics, and electronics, if you are interested in hearing me on the air I occasionally pop onto "The Night Patrol Net" run by the Argonne Amateur Radio Club every night at 10:30PM. The Night Patrol Net is run on the W9ANL Repeater Station, which is located on the grounds of Argonne National Laboratory just north of Lemont, IL with a output frequency of 145.19 MHz and a input frequency of 144.59 MHz.

Press Any Key to Continue....

Posted by: The Mad Scientist

In my Foxee™ Animatronic Character 2005 Midwest Furfest Variety Show Act Proposal post to this blog I mentioned that one of my preliminary projects that I was going to do that was designed to help teach me the skills I would need to have in order to build my Foxee animatronic robot was to learn woodworking by building an authentic Apple I wood case for my Replica I clone microcomputer. The internal frame of Foxee is going to be made largely of plywood, and as a result I need to have some skill with a power jigsaw in order to construct this. Since a simple Apple I-style computer case is a lot easier to construct out of wood than a robot fox skeleton, I decided that constructing the wood computer case wood be excellent jigsaw practice before I tackled the more daring project. Unfortunately, there was one major thing that was keeping me from constructing my Apple I computer case-- the lack of an Apple-I compatible keyboard to mount into the case!

Steve Wozniak's 1976 Apple I Microcomputer used an ASCII-encoded keyboard with a STROBE line. Such keyboards were relatively inexpensive to find parts for and build in 1976, but in 2005 trying to find the parts to build such a keyboard became nearly impossible unless you were willing to shell out some serious money to a cutthroat obsolete electronics components dealer. There were two other easy ways to get an authentic looking ASCII Keyboard that was Apple I compatible and would as a result work with my Replica I kit computer. The first route is to be lucky enough to find an ASCII keyboard that was pulled out of either an original Apple II or Apple II+ computer, but these keyboards are scarce at best because the Apple II's and Apple II+'s are in themselves collector items now. Keyboards from an Apple IIe, which are as common as stink, will not work unmodified with a Apple I because Apple IIe computers use binary matrix encoded keyboards instead of ASCII-encoded keyboards.

Another solution is to take a matrix keyboard, like the one from the Apple IIe, and either hook it up to a custom hand-built ASCII encoder circuit board or hook it up to a microcontroller that would translate the values from the keyboard to their ASCII code equivalents. I decided to go with this seemingly easier second option. I thought that finding some new old stock keyboards from 1970's and 80's microcomputers would be the hardest components to find, but as it turns out they were fairly easy to come across and I very quickly acquired a keyboard from a Texas Instruments TI-99/4 microcomputer and a keyboard from an Apple IIe "Platinum Edition" microcomputer. Then the devastating truth hit me: I found out that the parts needed to build your own ASCII keyboard encoder board cost tons-- far more than I could afford-- because of all of the rare components that it used. In addition, using a microcontroller chip to translate keyboard values would also cost me quite a bit for parts and for purchasing a microcontroller programmer, and then I would have to figure out how to program the darn things. That would be completely time consuming, and I was very short on time.

Everything looked glum for my Apple I case project after that until I ran across a classified ad of all things for a rare Apple II ASCII keyboard! The rare keyboard cost me an arm an a leg, but it should be directly compatible with an Apple I more or less, however it looks like I may have to do a little bit of wiring to hook the keyboard and the computer together. The keyboard is from fairly early in the original Apple II computer's production run and has "Apple Computer Incorporated, ASSY NO 01-0341-01, MADE IN USA" silk-screened on the front of the PCB, "P C BD 02-2239-01 REV B" silk-screened on the back of the PCB, and "INSP. JUL 6 1977" stamped on the back of the PCB in black ink. You can see a photo of the Apple II keyboard here:

The Apple II keyboard that I purchased

As much as I wished that my ASCII keyboard troubles were over, I still have one more hurdle to go. The schematics I have that show how to hook an ASCII keyboard up to my Replica I kit computer show hooking an Apple II+ keyboard up to it. The Apple II and Apple II+ keyboards are noticeably different with different wiring going to their output connector, which means that I will have to find some schematics for my Apple II keyboard so that I can determine how to wire the two devices together. Hopefully such information will be easy to find, but if my past experiences hold true, it won't be. In any case, I will keep you posted on my progress, and if worse comes to worse there are always those two matrix keyboards that I now have laying around that I can mess with in a pinch!

I Love the Smell of Ozone in the Morning!

Posted by: The Mad Scientist

Here it is, 5:30AM in the morning, and I have just pulled an all-nighter. What could I have possibly been doing all night you ask? Soldering elctronics and listening to this week's Off The Hook and Off The Wall 2600 Hacker radio talk shows in WinAMP! In yesterday's Foxee Project Blog entry I mentioned that I had purchased an Exact Electronics Type 240 Function Generator from a scientist who worked at Fermilab, and that the function generator needed a little bit of soldering work to get it into workable condition. The problem with the function generator was that it had no wall plug on the end of its electrical cord, and that I had to solder a new one on. That would have been as easy as matching wire colors and soldering the like wires between the plug and the function generator together if the wires on the cheap three-prong power cord that I bought from American Science and Surplus used the standard wire color-coding scheme for alternating current wires, but the cord didn't so I had to look the information up online. I have never really worked much with household 120V alternating current before, so I wanted to make really sure that I had my wiring right, that I had no bear wires showing at my splice point between the two cords, and that I wasn't going to screw up by crossing some wires and as a result blow up my fancy piece of equipment.

After some searching online I found a website that told me what I needed to know. Alternating electrical current is a completely different animal when compared to direct electrical current, and because of that I found out that the wiring colors of each of the leads is of an AC power cord is different from its DC counterpart. Instead of the wires being red and black for positive and ground, AC plugs have a black lead that is the "hot" lead, a white lead that is a neutral lead, and a green lead that goes to ground. To find out which lead was which on my non-color coded plug I checked the resistance of each lead to each prong in the plug with a multimeter until the reading given by the multimeter read near zero. A near zero reading indicated that I had closed a circuit, and that I had found the lead that matched the prong that I was testing.

After soldering the power cord together and insulating it with electrical tape, I decided to hold my breath and plug the function generator into the wall power outlet, hoping that the vacuum tube-filled device wouldn't explode, catch on fire, or smoke due to some technical error on my part! Instead, the power light on the unit turned on, and all of the vacuum tubes inside the function generator began to glow and get very warm. While I haven't been able to test the function generator with an oscilloscope yet to see if it is really working since I lack the hook-up wires to do so, I will take the glowing tubes and the heat as a positive sign that it is, and that I soldered the power cord on correctly. Pretty soon I will be looking into getting some probes and hook-up wires to use with my new function generator and oscilloscopes, and then reading some tutorials on the operating my new instruments so that I can use them effectively to troubleshoot my electronic circuitry!

Bringing Out the Heavy Equipment!

Posted by: The Mad Scientist

Nothing makes you feel more like a mad scientist than buying several enormous pieces of electronic test equipment out of the back of a guy's car trunk, and that's exactly what I did today!!! The man I bought the equipment from was a scientist from Fermilab who I met at the DucKon 14 Science Fictiion convention way back in June. At the convention he was one of the people running the "Build-a-Blinkie" workshops where you soldered together little blinking LED pins that you could wear, and he also gave a demonstration of his 400,000-volt Tesla coil that could throw 12-foot bolts of lightning in the Science Fiction convention's parking lot.

Being that it happened to be close to Fermilab, we decided to meet and do our exchange at of all places the American Science & Surplus store, which is like a mad scientists' paradise in and of itself! The pieces of heavy duty equipment that I bought from him for my robotics, radio, and electronics work were as follows:

  • Heathkit Laboratory Oscilloscope Model OS-01 from The Heath Company
  • Hewlett Packard Model 130BR Oscilloscope
  • Type 240 Function Generator from Exact Electronics Inc.

The function generator could use a little bit of soldering work in the form of soldering a new three-prong plug onto it so that it can be plugged into a wall outlet, but other than that the equipment I bought was said to be in working order. All three of these electronic devices are large, heavy, and use vacuum tubes, and two of them were designed to be rack-mounted. These tools have many uses in the field of electronics including many troubleshooting applications, and if worse comes to worse and I can't find a use for one of the two oscilloscopes, I could always hook it up to my stereo and watch the waveform of the music! In the meantime it has been a very long time since I used an oscilloscope, so I am going to have to hit the Internet to see if I can find the manuals for these puppies. Giving myself a refresher course on the operation of oscilloscopes and signal generators by reading through their manuals will get myself up to speed a lot quicker than the "Ooh! What does this button do?" approach!

While I was at the American Science & Surplus store I also picked up a few odds and ends for the electronics work that I have been doing these days or plan to be doing very soon. Unlike the last few visits to that tore that I have made, I didn't purchase very much this time. The big item that I picked up was a bicycle electroluminescent wire kit, which contained a small 2 "AAA" sized battery powered power-inverter and two foot-long blue electroluminescent strips that could be stuck to something with adhesive. I bought this as a cheap example of electroluminescent material technology that I can play with before I start moving onto building things with the more expensive professional-grade electroluminescent wire, which I plan to use with future robotics projects.

I also picked up a cheap laser pointer to use with some electronic schematics that I found on the Internet. These schematics showed how to send an audio signal through the laser with amplitude modulation from the headphone output of a sound source to the microphone input of a stereo system or computer sound card! While I don't plan to be building such a device anytime soon, I figured that I might as well buy a cheap laser pointer while I was at the American Science & Surplus store. Another thing that I bought was another mono-headphone because tons of my electronics projects call for wiring a device up to a mono-headphone jack, such as the above mentioned laser pointer data transmission device, my audio-pickup inductor coil, and my magnetic stripe card reader. What I do is just lob the headphone part off, toss that aside, and use the wires and the 3.5mm jack for my projects. It's always useful to have a few of these on hand since I seem to use them all of the time. Some other things that I picked up at American Science and Surplus were some battery holders that I can use to power my electronic projects, and plenty of cheap Alkaline batteries to put into them.

Along with the things related to my electronics and robotics work that I purchased today, I also received my brand new DIY Electronics K149 Version E USB Serial PIC Programmer kit in the mail yesterday! In an earlier blog entry I mentioned how the company Electronics123.com had originally sent me an older version of the kit than the one that they advertised on their website, and I wanted to make sure that I had the absolute newest version of the kit available so I made them exchange it. To their credit, the people at Electronics123.com did send me the correct kit after I asked for it, and reimbursed me for the shipping that I had to pay to send the older kit back to them. So at the very least this company showed that it valued customer satisfaction!

As far as my Replica I microcomputer wood case "practice project" goes, I will be purchasing my Apple II ASCII keyboard and encoder board a little later this week, and as soon as I get paid for some PC repair work and some artwork commissions that I am doing, I will start buying the wood and the power jigsaw that I need to start building the case with and teach myself the art of woodworking (and hopefully not chopping my fingers off in the process)! As always, I very much appreciate to hear any comments that you have about my projects, and thanks for reading!

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