1. Steal This Thought: NES Cart to MIDI Pan Flute

    NES wind controller

    So. In the course of getting hopelessly lost on wikipedia’s Esotericism category, I got thinking about what superstitious beliefs I hold or held when I was younger. Specifically, what suburban folk wisdom got chucked around before the advent of the internet and we all became part of the same hive mind of captioned photos and bad advice. That is, what was my natural religious practice before I started worshipping the Intertubes?

    Like you, I spent a lot of time blowing into Nintendo cartridges when the damn things stopped working. We weren’t sure exactly why (invisible dust?) but somehow if you blew on the cart right or you blew in the slot right, you fixed the game and got to play. There’s an obvious sexual metaphor here but that’s not where my mind wandered to. Instead I started thinking about how cool it would be if all that blowing actually did something.

    Hence, why not tear the guts out of an old NES cart and make it into some sort of screwed up digital pan flute? Conceptually, it seems like it’d work. 3-5 mics or piezos installed in the bottom of the cart, each one routed to a threshold gate that only sends a signal on if it is strong enough (ie: mic directly blown on). This signal would go on to trigger a sample or send a MIDI signal determined by which button is pushed.

    Breath -> Mic -> Gate +Button Input -> Signal to Tone Generator/Sample Player -> Amp

    To keep it simple, maybe the notes would not be a simple progression (A, B, C, etc) but would be notes in a desired scale or chords, thereby reducing the pan-flutish tendencies of such an instrument. What the world truly does not need is an electrified pan flute. Eff that.

    A more ambitious build would split off the original mic input, amp it and mix it back in to the resulting audio to give it presence/distortion. But I have no clear idea how to do this simply, let alone ambitiously.

    What’s up top is the 5 minute Photoshop mockup. I sketched it out on a post-it and on half an index card in a pub after work but I’m too lazy to scan it in right now.

    Any idea what a threshold gate would correspond to in actual electronic parts? I figure it’d be some kind of capacitor that would only send on a current if it reached a certain value. If you’re reading this and you’re smarter than me, feel free to build it and hog all the sweaty geek admiration for yourself.  Just tell me how you did it.

    Edit: Now I’m thinking Arduino in the middle to send MIDI from data gathered by a breath sensor (piezo).  Stay tuned.


  2. I therefore pronounce him a Coward and a Scoundrel

    This photo made my day when it arrived in my inbox. I don’t know who snapped it but I figured there had to be a story.

    And there is.

    William Tradewell, the man who declared General Leigh Read a “Coward and Scoundrel” was a member of the America conservative Whig party and slave owner in the Old South. General Leigh Read was a rising star in the Democrat party whose political naivety  cost him.

    Tradewell requested a duel with Read because of Read’s refusal to “apologise for the insult offered” and the feud between Tradewell and Read’s respective political parties. Read, being a poor shot turned him down.

    Another guy by the name of Augustus Alston also offered Read a duel (but no public notice on his ’scoundrelness.’)

    Read accepted knowing he was going up against a man who was a good shot, wealthy, from a nepotistic family, and vehemently opposed the Democrat party’s bank reform bills. Read stood by his position knowing if he was going to go down, it had to be someone who was a “bulldog” of the dying Whig party.

    In Alston’s arrogance, he misfired and Read killed him with one shot. Alston– and pretty much everybody– planned on a “victory banquet” but Alston’s itchy trigger finger and cockiness caused him a critical delay and certain death.

    Even though this was a duel, that Alston initiated, his sisters deemed it “murder.” Alston’s sisters had the bullet removed and recast. They instructed their brother Willis Alston– then in Texas– to kill General Read with the same bullet that killed Augustus Alston. Willis Alston approached Read at a public speaking event a few weeks later dressed in a cloak and hat to disguise himself. He threw off his disguise and the crowd immediately recognized him. He attempted to stab Read with a knife but was foiled when Read grabbed his gun and grazed Willis Alston’s hand.

    A few years later after keeping a low profile Willis Alston caught up to Read and shot him in the back. Willis Alston was arrested but through family connections and $30,000 in bribes managed to escape to Texas.

    Dr. Stewart a Tallahassee native son and friend of Read living in Texas became enraged that Read’s killer lived nearby– and said several insults about Willis Alston. Rather than post a public notice to apologize, Willis Alston approached Dr. Stewart on horseback demanding he apologize for those ill remarks.

    Stewart refused and shot Willis Alston in the stomach. Though injured, Willis Alston fired back and killed Dr. Stewart.

    Again in jail, Willis Alston hatched an escape plan with his family connections. That night though, friends of Dr. Stewart formed a lynch mob and fired endlessly at Willis Alston until he laid dead.

    Just goes to show you America was– and probably always will be– pretty fucked up.

    Update: @ColinPeters found this wonderful painting by Christopher M. Still check out “18? for more on Tradewell-Read-Alston.