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Mind provokations.

The ideas and concepts in these pages are collected for the purpose of stimulating your imagination and creativity.They are not intended as real projects, and are best suited for educational purposes, as they show how to look at everyday technologies from a different perspective. Tought-provoking concepts that come from e-mail I receive, my professional experiences, what I read, or simply what I like most.
The Internet gives everyone the unprecedented experience of effectively sharing ideas, thus removing the redundancy of reinventing the wheel, and increasing the information content of your own work through a world-wide brainstorming.

Alternative uses for your sound card:
1) Check you power bills with an AC power meter

click here to know more (1869 byte) Are you energy hungry? Want to monitor your power consumption? A cheap but effective way to monitor your kilowatt/hour appetite is using a couple of transformers in conjunction with your PC. The sound card here works as a dual channel RMS analog acquisition board.

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Alternative uses for your sound card:
2) Internet Heartcare - a remote ECG tracer

Is a sound card capable to record biologic signals, as ECG signals? Sound card are now cheap,but they often bring a respectable 16 bit A/D and D/A converters!

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These days, most of the interest derives from the capacity of computers of being connected to the internet. With the appropriate choice of software tools, an expert thousand of miles away can monitor the experiment almost real time


Alternative uses for your sound card:
3) Computer GYM: "net surfing = real surfing" finally true

In some sense, this idea is the reverse of the ECG one. Instead of picking electric signals from the moving muscles, passive gym stimulators inject electric potentials to the muscle to make it move.  The ads on TV say these "stationary gym exercises" are as effective as the real ones. Commercial's hype apart, at least the basic concept must work, as professional stimulators based on the very same concept are in use in so many hospitals.
I have seen once a design of one of these TV-shopping stimulators. It was very simple: a microcontroller based waveform generator, a power amplifier, and a voltage elevator (ferrite transformer). Sounds familiar? Your PC can do the same, the only missing part is the transformer... and obviously the software.

Feedback from Alexander Nickolsky: The idea is to record muscle waveforms during real movements, in order to reproduce them. Usually muscle stimulators cause pain or discomfort due to unnatural waveforms.
   Great idea! As regards as the PC implementation, the most difficult part is avoiding that Windows take control of the sound card when it is used for muscle stimulation. Some time ago I used a Sound Blaster for generating 500Vac for testing purpose. Everything worked fine until Windows decide to "bleep" a sound for itself, that blowed up immediately any attached device !

DISCLAIMER:  This information is provided as an idea only. Use it at your own risk. Components involved can damage your equipements, cause injury to people and even be lethal. Always keep safety first.


From the X-files: the mystery relative position encoder

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click here for more details on the x-y encoder

X-Sensors has recently released a new extra-low cost cartesian incremental encoder. It is capable to precisely measure two axis movements (X and Ydisplacements) with good repeatability and a resolution of up to 300 counts per inch. The sensor is based upon a well-proven contact roller technology. Despite of its low price (models starting as low as $ 3.99 are available), it comes fully cased and features a 1200 baud standard serial interface and cable. The encoder doesn't require any external power and, for your convenience, provides an extra two switches that can be sampled using the same serial protocol.
Last minute: A wireless version of the encoder is now available.


A CD-ROM based complex signal generator

Some 7 years ago I started building my first Meteosat receiver. The biggest problem was how to get a stable, repeatable signal source. I ended up recording a real weather satellite signal (noise included) on a .WAV file, playing it again and again according to our needs. Now that CD-recorders are cheap and widespread, you can get a much more compact, portable signal generator recording test files on a CD-R and playing it back on any (audio) CD player.
Selecting the desired waveform is as simple as selecting a track number. Operation is easy and convenient, and quality is usually high.
Battery powered CD players are most convenient as they are small and portable. You can get pulses, complex signal as the weather satellite ones, sine or arbitrary waves,   comparable and repeatable noise bursts, and even low speed serial packets. As a bonus, you can record the test signal on one channel and a sync signal on another, an useful feature for sweep signals.

Homebrew telemetry

What is the simplest, quickest way to play with telemetry? My answer is: take an FM radio. Build one of those 007 bugs (a simple single transistor Colpitts oscillator) and, instead of driving it with a microphone, connect a simple 555-based VCO (voltage controlled oscillator) whose frequency is changed by means of an NTC (temperature dependent resistor). You can ear the tone on your FM radio, right? OK, connect it to the computer and measure the frequency of the incoming signal to complete your temperature telemetry system. You can check the greenhouse temperature from home. Great toy.
Another easy, more modern way to do the same experiment is to use a wireless headphone or microphone. The mic is easier to connect to the PC, while phones are easier to drive with the oscillator signal. This solution requires less knowledge of electronics and is more in the whitebox-component style. The choice is up to you.


Choose four: what's your pick of technologies for the near future?

Nobody can tell you what technology will be successful or not in the future. And even if you have access to such a prediction, it is almost useless to get rich. Bill Gates made a fortune on operating systems, while other industry giants lost billion of dollars trying to do the same. And then came Linux...
Personally speaking, l make my choice according to how stimulating, interesting, elegant, open minded and fun (yes, fun) a technology is. In the worst case, I won't be bored.

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Add your provokations.

I will be happy to see your provoations. If you have a nice idea, a tought provoking concept, a way to reinvent everyday objects, don't hesitate to write me. The best ideas will be added here.

An IDE logger, provokation from Alexander Nickolsky: Novadays it is possible to buy a cheap used notebook IDE HDD that needs only 5v and consumes not so much energy. It is possible to make the simple IDE interface with the ability to write sectors on HDD. Add ADC to it and here is a simple battery powered recorder for you. You can pre-create one large file on the HDD and then write data there without complexity of the file system. You can place this thing in some remote location to constantly record temperature, humidity or whatever you like at specified time intervals. Then you'll disconnect HDD, connect it to your PC and read the data.

   Your IDE provokation, I think it's very actual nowadays (1999). Not only are HDD cheap, but with the advent of MP3 lots of music player are blossoming around (they consist of and IDE interface, a microcontroller driving the data traffic and housekeeping a LCD display, keypad, etc, an hardware MP3-serial decoder, and a serial-to-analog converter). The project is feasible. I talked about this with Claudio Lanconelli, it has some experience in the field and he judged the thing manageable by a little controller. Now Zip drives are available with IDE/ATAPI interface. This make them as an ideal data-collection hardware, because the Zip disk can be removed leaving the acquisition device in place. The data can then be easily examinated on a PC without even removing the cover lid. And 100 MB are a respectable amount of information. If you have any URL or PDF describing technical aspects in greater detail please let me know.



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