General posts about art and culture topics.

Happy Morning!

In honor of this Monday morning, here's a little pick-me-up:

Now have nightmares all week...

Cylon Pumpkin Results

My coworker Rick Petty and I put together our own version of the cylon pumpkin I mentioned earlier. I had intended on following the instructions from, but Rick intervened. "That's really old school," he opined... and convinced me to instead use a AT Mega 8 microcontroller.

The circuit was much simpler... far fewer wires. And then I could program the controller in C code with AVR GCC. And these chips only cost a buck! Much easier than the original plan.

Yes, for Halloween this year, I programmed a pumpkin.

The circuit is much simpler because all we need is LEDs with the positive end connected to the chip, and the negative end bussed through a resistor to ground. Then we can turn the pins on and off at will with the microcontroller. We used some super bright LEDs, and a 10 ohm resistor.

On the chip, we connected pins PD0 through PD7, and PC0 through PC6 to the LEDs. All microcontrollers also need a voltage regulator to supply the correct amount of voltage to the chip. We used 9V AC input, but needed 5V DC for the chip, so we used a
LM7805 voltage regulator, and a 100 microfarad capacitor.

I whipped up a prototype on a bread board, but the chip was busted. So I relied on Rick's inventory, and superior soldering skills to make the final version last weekend. He also gave me a crash course in microcontroller programming so I could write the code to run the dang thing. The final version lit up one pin brightly, dimly lights its immediate neighbors, and slowly panned from side to side.

To get the code on to the chip, we had to use what's called an AVR In-System Programmer. Plug the USB end into your computer, and the other end to power, ground, and the MISO / MOSI pins on the chip. It communicates over a serial bus, so you can even program you chip to output "Hello World!" if you are so inclined...

I really enjoyed this project, and I think Rick has got me hooked on microcontrollers. However, I would need a much better soldering iron to do this project alone... mine makes buzzing sounds and smells of ozone.

You don't gotta be Mr Wizard to know that ain't right...

How Many Yous Are There?

Apparently, I am one of about 265 Brian Huffs in the country, according to how do you rank?

Brian is the 29th most popular first name. Not surprising. Huff is the 465th most popular last name... which did seem a bit odd. Surprisingly, there are only 50,000 John Smiths in the country...

Well, although the world is lousy with Brian Huffs, I can take heart in the fact that in a Google search for Brian Huff, three of the top 10 are about me :)

Make A Cylon Pumpkin

The folks over at Make Magazine have a weekend project for pumpkin carving hackers... the Cylon Jack-o-Lantern.

It even lights the LEDs in sequence, just like a good Cylon Raider... or a Cylon Centurion... or KITT from Knight Rider.

Its surprisingly not that complicated... the instructions cover a few microchips, some capacitors, a 9-volt battery, and some wires. Probably around $10 at Radio Shack.

I wonder which of my Battlestar Galactica fanboy friends will be the first to make this.

UPDATE: I did create one of these last weekend for halloween... but slightly different. Go see the results.

An Open Letter To Penn & Teller

For those of you who don't know Penn & Teller, they are a pair of hilarious magicians who have a program on Showtime called... well... Bullshit. It's similar to Mythbusters, in that Penn & Teller inject a healthy amount of skepticism into commonly held social myths: bottled water, feng shui, profanity, etc. Just like The Amazing Randi, they show that sometimes it takes an illusionist to expose how people who want money or power frequently deceive us. However, sometimes they themselves are guilty of bullshit.

Dear Penn & Teller,

I do enjoy your show, Bullshit. I like how you aren't afraid to tackle some pretty controversial topics, and you have made me rethink a few of my own beliefs.

However, on the episode Eat This, where you bashed organic foods and praised genetically modified organisms (GMOs), I believe you have made some serious factual errors. I feel you were blinded by your notorious hatred of hippies, and admiration for Norman Borlaug, and have forgotten some basic concepts of economics and biology.

[ more beneath the fold ]

YouTube is Down for the Moment...

One of my new favorite sites, YouTube, is currently down. But I love their description of how it works:

As you can see... YouTube is full of tubes, just like the internet. So clearly, Senator Ted Stevens is correct.

These guys are probably adding some really cool new features to try to stay ahead of the many imitators out there.

Hurry up, guys! I have to get my ask a ninja fix...

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