Will Lindsay at Stray Technologies has figured out how to hack a Bliptronic, and has created a marvelous kit that contains all of the components you need to change this bleeping box of buttons into a fully functional Monome one-off. The primary advantage here of course is that it costs somewhat less than building one of the official Monome, or Arduinome kits. If you know how to operate wire cutters and a soldering iron, you're in business. Well I guess that makes me barely qualified.
I acquired a Bliptronome and a Bliptronic kit a few months ago, and haven't assembled it yet. Today is the day! So first I shall get into a suitably blippy mood with the help of some coffee, and some delicous tunes from the Subvariant record label. They have some awesome free compilations available to download so it's well worth your time to check out if you are into the electronica. Which I decidedly am.
Let us begin the operation. I am using the provided instructions, which are so good it makes me wonder why am I even writing about this? I don't know. At the very least someone might find this useful, and if it sends a little business back Will's way so much the better!
1. Lay parts and tools out.
Before I started I was a good boy and laid out all of the stuff on my little work table. Yes, I am crazy for using such a small work table.
2. Open Bliptronic case.
First I removed the knobs, using my Swiss Army knife to pry them loose a bit first. This only took a gentle effort. Next, I removed the screws which are under the rubber feet. I saved the rubber feet by sticking them to the plastic bag that the included USB cable came in. I plan to re-stick them later.
Now it's time to pry the thing open. My unit seemed to be easier to open from the side opposite the jacks. This took a bit of wiggling, but I managed not to break anything. I carefully separated the halves, trimmed the speaker wire, and set the top of the case aside. The button pad stays attached to the top of the case. I trimmed the battery wires, which I won't need again, and also the ribbon cable which will be used for the potentiometers later.
Now to heat up the soldering iron. I got to try out my new Hakko tip cleaner, too. Nice. I am very concerned about getting the best quality soldering, and NOT messing up anything. The soldering was relatively uneventful.
Soldering is done, connections are shiny and decent. I think it's okay, although I can almost hear the voice of my 11th-grade electronics teacher, Mr. Post, who may as well have been looking over my shoulder just now because I just discovered that I soldered the 6-pin FTDI header to the wrong 6 holes. Crap. That means I'm done for today. If you are doing this be absolutely sure that you are connecting the components in the proper orientation. Check EVERYTHING before you commit it to solder. There is a photo on page 4 of the instructions that clearly shows which side of the board it attaches to. Also be sure to heed the following: "The 6 pins should bend at a 90 degree angle from the bottom of the board". That means the angled part is actually the side that connects to the board. Take a look at the photos in the instructions for an idea of how all of the parts are oriented together.
I quickly discovered that there is no way I am going to be able to desolder the headers with my soldering iron. I don't have a hot air gun or even a toaster oven. Instead I go online to order another right-angle 6-pin header to put into the right holes. I ordered the parts from Modern Device an online store with everything you might need if you start tinkering with the world of open source hardware.
Five days later...
YAY! My bag-o-headers just arrived in the mail, and now I can continue. Such a tiny thing, yet so vital. Stock up on stuff like this, because you sure the heck aren't going to find it at Radio Shack (not that I would be lame enough to...oh nevermind). A nice benefit is that since I ordered the pack of male + female headers, I was able to use one of the nice right-angle female headers to attach the USB-BUB board. It came with straight connectors which I could have bent, but hey, these came already bent. Time savings: 0:34 seconds.
I made the remaining solder connections, and then assembled the boards for testing. Then I plugged it in and crossed my fingers. And I was indeed greeted with a Shangri-La of scrolling red LEDs. A successful powerup!! Not only that, but Windows 7 automatically installed the drivers. Cool. However there is one other critical software program that needs to be installed: ArduinomeSerial. This is the software that translates native serial protocol to OSC, enabling the device to communicate with your OSC-compatible software. When you go to the download site, note that this isn't the firmware source. Find your way to the "Files" area and get the ArduinomeSerial and you're good to go. I installed ArduinomeSerial, launched it, fired up MaxMSP, and opened monome_test. It works! I am so happy! And judging from the photo, my Blip is happy, too. As it should be. Happy birthday, Blippy. Note that the grids in monome_test are set up for a 256. Alas, Blippy is a 64, so only the upper left quadrant of the grid in monome_test affects it. Also, the proper orientation is with the USB-BUB connection facing away from you (I got a bit disoriented for a moment). You can adjust the orientation of the unit through ArduinomeSerial. More on that in my next post.
This is what the test software looks like. Monome provides a whole raft of great Max patches along with the test software so you can start coding your brains out immediately. However I am going to wait until the rest of it is finished.
Now that it's all tested, time for me to take a little break. Stay tuned for the breathtaking conclusion, in which I will:
- Cut a little slot in the case to expose the header pins.
- Mount and connect the potentiometers.
- Stuff everything back into the enclosure and screw it back together.
- Re-stick those little rubber feet.
- Download some Monome apps and stuff.
Until next time, cheers!