Secret Santa List Generator And Mailer

The Problem

This Christmas season I found myself running a secret santa, completely over the internet. I want to keep everyones secret santa information secret, without even me knowing it. I also wanted to automate the emailing process, which was required to keep the information for who had who, away from me. A log file also needed to be produced (and promised not to be looked at... or encrypted), to help fix disputes. So I ended up with the following requirements:

  • Takes a list of participants and generates secret santa pairs.
  • Create a message from a template
  • Send the email
  • Create a log file

The Solution

I am not going to lie, this piece of kit was not particularly difficult to write, but I believe is a good argument for why everyone should know how to write scripts; and why public API's and libraries are awesome.

To write the script I chose Python, which has a built in JSON parser library, and support for SendGrid's API. I chose SendGrid to send the emails because it required the least setup, I just needed to set up an account and I could send emails. Their API was simple and all of the code I used for interacting with it was ripped directly out of their examples. Quick and easy, just what I wanted.

I then came up with a quick JSON structure for containing all of the information I needed, an example of which can be found below:

The python script parses the JSON file, shuffles the participants, links them together into partners and then sends each of the participants an email populating the template sotred in "message". I will admit this script has a lot of short comings, but it successfully helped me send out my secret santa emails and everyone is happy!

You can access the code on Github.

Water LED Art: Making LEDs Light Up With Water

Water Light Graffiti by Antonin Fourneau, created in the Digitalarti Artlab from Digitalarti on Vimeo.

Overview

When art and electronics meet some very beautiful things can be born. Here Antonin Fourneau made this wonderful piece, basically a wall of circuit boards with LEDS, when exposed to water the LEDs light up. A friend of mine came to me immediately after he saw it and asked me how it worked, so I took the time to do some experiments of my own and am currently working on making my own Water LED Graffiti display with the BUILDS hackerspace at Boston University.

I gave a basic explanation to Kawandeep Virdee with New American Public Works over The Sprouts mailing list, another space in Boston, to explain some of the engineering behind Antonin Fourneau's amazing art piece. His writeup can be found here:

Basically there are two exposed pieces of metal around each LED (that correspond to each LED). Water is all pretty much conductive, due to the fact that water ionizes things, and as water is splashed onto these metal contacts you will have an decrease in resistance and allow current to flow through the LED. All said and done, taking some measurements you generally wont get much lower than 100k, but it is geometry dependent. However, for many LEDs, especially super efficient super bright ones, this is enough current to get a pretty bright light coming out of them (we attempted with a small pad 1206 pad on a PCB we had around and a super bright 3mm blue LED).

Read on for more.
Continue reading Water LED Art: Making LEDs Light Up With Water

Artemis Synthesizer: A Music Synthesizer Kit




Overview

For Boston University's Artemis Project, a STEM education summer program for female rising high school freshmen, the BU Electronics Design Facility designed a synthesizer kit and ran a two day soldering workshop for the students. The whole kit was put together over about a 1 month period.

The Artemis Synthesizer is a basic 12-bit resolution synthesizer which has an output sample rate of 22kHz. The output audio is filtered at 11kHz to satisfy Nyquist and prevent weird aliasing and reflections in the output audio. Internally the synthesizer generates sound using a predetermined wave table, which can be changed and recalculated if desired. By default, the wave table contains a sine wave with 256 steps, but harmonic sound data can be programmed into the synth kit using our web interface.

The synthesizer contains two interactive modes and one mode for the optical communication link. These modes are: a keyboard mode, which contains 4 scales (C major, C pentatonic, C blues and C minor) and has 8 available keys; and a sequencer mode, which can hold eight 8-step by 8-note sequences. In sequencer mode, new sequences can be entered from the web interface.

The optical link, which is kindly called the "Optoloader" has its own separate mode and detects timed transitions between black and white from a computer monitor. The light levels are taken in on a photo-transistor and transitions detected using an analogue comparator interrupt with the comparison set at V_bat/2. The data is encoded using BiPhase Mark Code which encodes the clock with the data. The link is generally reliable when the monitor is set to a high brightness and a low speed is used. Mostly it allows for us to have a kit which is interactive with minimal programming experience and can still be changed and played with long after they leave. Thus the web interface which was developed by Sam Damask becomes very important for the end goal of our project.

The development team contained:

  • Christopher Woodall [Me] who designed the kits and wrote the firmware
  • Eric Hazen who reviewed my designs, advised my decisions and wrote the assembly instructions and parts list
  • Sam Damask who wrote the web interface code.

Along the way I documented the process, explaining a few design decisions and experiments. I will go over vital information and reference the posts which contain relevant information as I go along:

  1. Artemis Synthesizer 1: Testing the TDA2822 Audio Amplifier
  2. Artemis Synthesizer 2: Interfacing with the MCP4921 SPI DAC
  3. Artemis Synthesizer 3: Basic I/O with Buttons and LEDs
  4. Artemis Synthesizer 4: Post-Mortem
  5. The Optoloader: Transmitting Data With a Blinky Box (Coming Soon)
  6. Fixed-Point Arithmetic: Fast Fractions using Integer Arithmetic (Coming Soon)

Read on!
Continue reading Artemis Synthesizer: A Music Synthesizer Kit

Artemis Synthesizer 4: Post-Mortem

Overview

Previously, I was prototyping the Artemis Synthesizer and documenting some early design decisions: "Artemis Synthesizer 1 - Testing the TDA2822 Audio Amplifier", "Artemis Synthesizer 2: Interfacing with the MCP4921 DAC" and "Artemis Synthesizer 3: Basic I/O with Buttons and LEDs". All of this prototyping was being done for the production of a kit for the Artemis Project. Now the kits were made and built up by 24 rising high-school freshmen involved in the Artemis Project, a women in technology initiative at Boston University. So how did it go? Well, after the jump you will find out, as I inspect the timeline of the project and the two days we had with the students!

Continue reading Artemis Synthesizer 4: Post-Mortem

Artemis Synthesizer 3: Basic I/O with Buttons and LEDs

Overview

In my previous two posts "Artemis Synthesizer 1 - Testing the TDA2822 Audio Amplifier" and "Artemis Synthesizer 2: Interfacing with the MCP4921 DAC" I talked about the Artemis Project and my involvement in making a synthesizer kit for them. At this point the schematic is done, PCB layout is complete and I am almost done writing the firmware. Before doing a full write up of the final version, I figured I would write up some of the basic design decisions for the Buttons, LEDs and how I chose the volume control resistor and potentiometer values.

There are 6 I/O interfaces on this board:

  1. Buttons
  2. LEDs
  3. Volume Control
  4. Speaker (Already Covered)
  5. Light Dependent Resistor for "Optoloader" (In a future post)
  6. USB-B for USBasp bootloader (In a future post)

Continue reading Artemis Synthesizer 3: Basic I/O with Buttons and LEDs

Artemis Synthesizer 2: Interfacing with the MCP4921 SPI DAC

Overview

In my previous post "Artemis Synthesizer 1 - Testing the TDA2822 Audio Amplifier" I introduced the Artemis Project and that the Boston University EDF is putting together a music synthesizer/sequencer kit for the program. Now that we can driver 8 Ohm speakers effectively lets try to interface the digital world with the analog world.

To interface between the digital and the analog we normally use something called a DAC (Digital to Analog Converter). There are a variety of different DACs. For example, there is the R-2R type DAC which is a ladder of resistors with digital inputs at different points. R-2R DACs are cheap, but are pin expensive; however, they can be extremely useful for reading off multiple switches or other such setup using the minimal number of microcontroller pins. For more on R-2R DACs see my write up on NOMIS, my Simon Clone.

For this application an R-2R DAC would be noisy and very difficult to get accurate readings off of. Instead I will be using a digital DAC IC from Microchip called the MCP4921, which has an SPI (Serial Peripheral Interface) bus.

Continue reading Artemis Synthesizer 2: Interfacing with the MCP4921 SPI DAC

Artemis Synthesizer 1: Testing the TDA2822 Audio Amplifier

Overview

For Boston University's Artemis Project the BU Electronic Design Facility (EDF) offers a two day session where we teach the students how to solder, solder up a kit and then do some embedded programming, traditionally on 8-bit AVR microcontrollers. Usually the project is a variation on the POV toy, which you see around online all of the time as a beginner electronics project. However, we decided to deviate from our traditional path this year and create our own synthesizer kit, with an SPI DAC, Audio Amplifier, Microcontroller and some buttons. There is also a possibility for programming in new wave forms via an optical link with a computer (post coming soon). To give a good overview of the whole project I plan on doing a write up on each part of the project as I go along.

First up lets check the constraints of our Audio Amplifier and see if we can get it working in an appropriate way. The amplifier we are using is a TDA2822M and is a dual audio amplifier. We are not driving a stereo channel, so we will be using the TDA2822M in a bridge configuration inorder to both push and pull on the speaker dramatically increasing the amount of power we can drive through the speaker.

Continue reading Artemis Synthesizer 1: Testing the TDA2822 Audio Amplifier