Toy House with Sound Effects

About a month ago, my youngest daughter borrowed a really neat toy called “Talkative Chick’s House Ppiyak-e House Bird Toy Mimiworld”, who’d brought the toy back with her on a trip from Korea.

Talkative Chick's House Ppiyak-e House Bird Toy Mimiworld
Talkative Chick’s House Ppiyak-e House Bird Toy Mimiworld

The toy consists of a little bird, and a little bird house. The bird house has four activities for the chick. When the chick is placed over one of the play areas, a sound effect is played – the coolest of which was a washroom. You can kind of get the idea from this YouTube video (skip to 7 minute mark).

In any case, this was inspiration for a project I thought would be fun for she and I to work on together. Although I knew this wouldn’t be slick, I thought the quickest and easiest way to do this would be:

  1. Use a hall effect (magnet) sensor as a contactless sensor
  2. Install a magnet in a stuffed toy (not suitable for small children!)
  3. Take readings from the sensor with an Arduino
  4. Interpret the readings and play a selection of sound effects on a PC

We took a shoebox, and she built a home for a small stuffed toy, a “Teany Ty” she named Jelly. I cut open the the stuffed toy, and installed a couple of magnets, and sewed it back up. I picked up some hall effect (magnet) sensors from Creatron, and wired it up to an Arduino nano, and installed the sensors in key areas of the home.

Toy House – Outside View
Toy House - Inside View
Toy House – Inside View

I wrote a few lines of Python to read the data from the Arduino, and play back the samples. I’d never used Python before, and had heard about the PyGame libraries for years – I thought it would be rock solid, but even within a minute of play, with my setup, I had issues with MP3 sound effects that others had encountered as well. I converted them to WAV files and that went away.

We had fun picking and recording samples, eating and slurping water into the microphone. Freesound was a great place to look for sounds, though it didn’t quite have the breadth that my daughter was looking for (“I want a recording of a tiger walking on dry leaves”).

The sensor/magnet combination I chose wasn’t quite sensitive enough – the tiny magnet in the stuffed toy had to be really close to the sensor to trigger the sound.  It does work, and it was a fun build.

Source Code: ProjectBird.zip

 

Toy House Renovation

A while ago, my daughter and I built an outhouse out of Popsicle sticks and a cereal box.  I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but she held on to it and kept it alongside her toys.  She even brought it to school one day when she had to present a craft she had made.

Toy Outhouse

I didn’t think of it again until one day I was reading How Lego clicked: the super brand that reinvented itself in the Guardian:

Lego Friends sets (bakery, amusement park, riding camp, etc) tend to feature something else missing from boys’ sets: a loo. The boys don’t care, the girls’ pragmatism demanded it.

I realized that her Lego Friends sets had washrooms, but her Little Critters house did not.  I asked her about it – and what I saw as a fun project was actually addressing a critical need for her Little Critters.

This weekend, we set about modernizing the facilities.  We printed out a toilet we found on Thingiverse, and now her Little Critters have a modern toilet.

Little Critter Toilet

Copyright extension and NAFTA

I wrote previously about James Bond entering the public domain in Canada.

I love the idea of work in the public domain – I’ve actually read a number of Ian Flemming’s books since they’ve come out of copyright, I’ve read more of George Orwell, and I’m currently reading a book about the history of rocket fuel.

In Canada, a work enters the public domain 50 years after the author’s death – the MPAA is looking to get this extended to 70 years according to a recent article by Michael Geist:

“The MPAA also wants Canada to extend the term of copyright to life of the author plus 70 years from the current standard found in the Berne Convention of life of the author plus 50 years. It argues that the “extension of the term of protection for copyrighted works has a direct benefit to the creators of these works, as well as consumers.” It does not mention that the creators are long since dead, that consumers face higher prices with term extension, and that the change would lock-down the Canadian public domain for two decades.”

The Government of Canada is soliciting views from Canadians by email at NAFTA-Consultations-ALENA@international.gc.ca or on the web.

Here’s what I submitted:

I am opposed to extending copyright to life + 70 years.

At 50 years protection is already ample – a creator’s children, and their children, already directly benefit from royalties collected from a copyrighted work.

The public benefits immensely from work entering the public domain:

  • Consider the works of Shakespeare and Moliere, and their derivative works, that make up so much of the language programs in Canadian schools and our pop culture
  • Consider how our culture benefits from derivative works, and how characters like Sherlock Holmes continue to be adapted for modern audiences
  • When my grandmother spoke of reading the works of Thornton Burgess when she was a child to my children (her great-grandchildren), I can load up their e-readers with all his books. At life+70, there is no way my children could do this with the authors of their generation, like J K Rowling, Melanie Watt, or Mo Willems.

Works locked up in copyright, particularly out of print, remain trapped and inaccessible.

Life +70 will not promote the creation of work – if anything, it will delay the creation of derivative works.

 

Light Up Earrings

My daughter has been making some really impressive earrings using Sculpey clay and earring hooks and studs sourced from Michael’s.  Lighting them up, like these studs, would take it to the next level.  Light up earrings present an interesting challenge, as size and aesthetics constraints conflict with a battery holder, light, and wiring.

We built a simple design we found on YouTube which uses painted googly eyes to hold the battery and a small container with sparkles to diffuse the light.  There is room for improvement, but they turned out OK – they look great in a darker room or from a distance, but crude up-close.  We may refine them further.

LED Earring
LED Earrings

2017 Balcony Crop

We have harvested our 2017 crop.

This is an interesting year, as we had a late start to the season, and less sun than normal.  We’ll have even less sun in future years, as a new condo building is going up in front of us and will certainly reduce the amount of sun received by our balcony.

  • I’m not sure what happened to our corn, but we only had a couple of very sad looking cobs.
  • As the corn didn’t grow very well, the pole beans didn’t have anything to climb, so they didn’t do very well either.
  • The tomato plants did well
  • We grew more carrots this year – they were amazing
  • All the flowers did well
Urban Sunflower
Tomatoes
Pole Beans and Genuine Baby Carrots
Lone Cob
Loads Of Carrots

Finding Neighbors With Niche Interests

On the Internet, it’s quite easy to find people with similar interests.   When I first started thinking about building out a mesh network in my neighborhood, a quick search led me to the Toronto Mesh, a very active group which actively contributes to the global mesh building community.  But no active members live near me.

In a smaller area, you might know all of your neighbors, but it would be unlikely that you would find someone with the same interest.

My neighborhood is densely populated – how do I find people who might be interested in dabbling around with a WiFi mesh?  First, I reached out to someone that I knew might be interested.  This is the best way – we immediately connected our networks, and our mesh grew to two nodes.

Next, I posted to Facebook.  Unfortunately, the subset of my Facebook connections in my neighborhood don’t overlap with my technology connections.

I printed a few signs and posted them on some community bulletin boards, which did not generate any response.  I decided I would try a small mailing, targeting the apartment and condo units within WiFi range of my unit.

Invitation to Build Mesh Network

I’ve sent out 47 postcards over the past week – I mailed some to a neighboring building, and hand delivered others, hoping I might get a response from one or two.  So far, no such luck.  Given the lack of a compelling application, and the attention I pay to all the material we receive in our mailbox, the limited response is not a complete surprise.

I’m not sure what I’ll try next.

Willowdale Mesh

I’ve always wanted to experiment with building out a mesh network.  Over the last few months, I have been reading about various technologies, and after stumbling on the Toronto Mesh, decided to experiment with their prototype CJDNS Raspberry Pi image.  After successfully testing this with several Pies and VMs, I’m going to start looking for others in the neighbourhood to see if we can build out a mesh network in Willowdale.

The current state of our network is documented here: here: http://www.hotelexistence.ca/willowdalemesh/

Dempsey Park, Willowdale, Ontario

Easy Music Everywhere. Audio Amplifier – Part 1

While in high school, I bought a really cool rack mount amplifier at a garage sale.  It was branded Queon, and had lots of inputs – it was great.  It was supplemented during my university years with an 8-track player/amp combo, acquired from Value Village.  The Queon met its end when a roommates’ cat knocked over a vessel of water that had been rested on top of the amp.  The 8-track player/amp combo met its end in a post-university move.

I’m not an audiophile, and have been using PC speakers ever since.  They sound OK, but:

  • The volume control always seems to fail
  • The permanently wired connections seem to fail
  • Sometimes, it is nice to listen to the radio
  • The bluetooth connectivity of little portable speakers is pretty handy
  • DLNA / Airplay / Google Casting functionality is also pretty neat

So what I want is an amp for some bookshelf speakers that have been sitting unused.  My ideal amp:

  • has a volume control
  • has a minimum of 4 inputs (PC, radio, Bluetooth, DLNA or alternative)
  • has a remote
  • is smaller rather than bigger

As most people are looking for home theater systems, there’s not much around that meets this criteria.  I have looked at inexpensive amplifiers from Amazon, such as the Lepai LP-2020, but it only has a single input.  I came across a place called Shenzen Audio, which had all sorts of neat audio products, but it’s hard for me to order something >$100 from completely unknown brands.  The Teac AI-301DA is what I want, but more than I’m willing to pay – I can sacrifice on audio quality and power.

So, I’m going to put together my own.  I’m going to pick an off-the-shelf amplifier module, and connect it to an audio switch, add a micro-controller to control the inputs and volume.  I’m even thinking of adding an “auto-input” switch, which tries to auto-switch to the intended input (there must be a reason amps don’t do this – I’ll find out when I try).

I’m sure I just don’t know how to search, but I’m surprised how little I could find about such circuits.  The best article I read was “How-To: Make a solid-state A/V switcher” on Engadget, but I wanted to avoid soldering surface mount components.  There are many switching chips out there, I found it challenging to pick out a basic one.  I also considered just using a mechanical switch, but decided I wanted the option of using a remote.

Finally, I decided to use an older design using a chip called a 4066.  A number of forums indicate that the audio quality of designs using this chip is poor, but I tried it out – it sounded fine to my ears.  It will be hard to tell for sure until it’s done, but there’s always an opportunity to replace it in future revisions.

Update – Weather Station

I finally moved my weather station from a solder-less breadboard to a prototype board.  I’m actually surprised the breadboard survived last winter.

Until I get around to adding an anemometer and rain gauge, this is probably as far as this project is going to go.

Weather Station Circuit Board
Weather Station Circuit Board

Designing A Mobile Phone Mount

In the car, I like to use my phone for playing podcasts and directions.  My work phone was recently upgraded, and I was looking for a practical way to mount it.

As cars are kept for years, and phones change regularly, I didn’t want:

  • anything permanent
  • anything that used adhesives (they never come off!)
  • suction cups
  • anything that blocks vents

The neatest design I’ve seen so far is a steering column mount on Thingiverse, which I had been thinking of modifying for my phone.  As my car has a two-tiered dashboard, I thought I would just create a dock that fit my phone in the lower tier.

I prototyped the dock with pink insulation foam, intending to model  and then 3D print the finalized design.

Foam Prototype of Mobile Phone Mount
Foam Prototype of Mobile Phone Mount

After using the prototype for a week, I realized a 3D printed dock was overkill.  The phone pretty much stood up by itself on the dashboard, without the dock, so long as I wasn’t driving on ramps well over the speed limit.

I just needed something to provide a little friction, to stop the phone from slipping around.  I ended up sacrificing a beloved mouse pad.

Slot cut in Mouse Pad for Mobile Phone
Slot cut in Mouse Pad for Mobile Phone

It works great!

Final Mobile Phone Car Mount
Final Mobile Phone Car Mount