MIDI Project: First Success! Throwing an Electrical Switch

Last night I spent my evening hacking at Pumping Station: One, Chicago's premiere hacker/makerspace. It was my first time really getting down to work there after joining a few weeks ago. What I love about working there vs. at home is the community. A couple members, Steve and Patrick, who much more experienced in electronics than me were incredibly helpful, teaching along the way. I wouldn't have had this first success without their help.

So what am I making at PS:One? Well, in short it is a MIDI-controlled channel selector for my guitar amp. Anyone who's ever seen my guitar rig will usually comment on my pedal board first. For all the complexities you see at first glance, it's actually rather simple and elegant. A few years back, I bought a box that plugs into the amp that selects between its clean and distortion channels. Then I started it on fire. I've since replaced the fried diode inside it and it works again (also thanks to the guys at PS:One), but in the process realized just how simple it would be to build one of these boxes myself. My guitar amp has three quarter-inch mono phone plugs, one for each channel. When the tip of a cable is connected to its ground (i.e., shorting the cable with a SPST switch), the amp switches to the corresponding channel.

Thus, the goal for my project is simple: Build a box that will receive MIDI program change (PC) messages and select the desired channel on my guitar amp (clean, rhythm, or lead). For example, MIDI PC 11 would be the clean channel, 12 would be rhythm and 13 would be lead.

Hacking My Mac's Keyboard to Control Pandora

In this how-to, I’ll explain how I hacked my MacBook Pro’s built-in media keys to control the Pandora One desktop app. We’ll use AppleScript, Keyboard Maestro, Growl and, of course, an obscure utility posted to a French language forum. It took me a bit of hunting to piece together the essential bits, so I think you’ll find this how-to useful. 

Important Note: This hack is designed for how Snow Leopard (Mac OS X 10.6) handles the interaction between the media keys and iTunes. It goes without saying that I take no responsibility for however you may break your computer :)

How I helped researchers show that rectal exams aren't always necessary

This week I experienced perhaps the culmination of my life's nerdiness.

It started last year when I helped one of my company's clients, University of Colorado Hospital, collect some data for a clinical study. At the time, I wasn't fully aware of the scope or even the hypothesis of the study. I only knew it involved something to do with getting information pertaining to feces out of our system. Literally pulling, well, you know what, out of the system, if you will.

Drs. Cleveland and Yaron were great to work with throughout the process. (I did not work with the third co-author, Dr. Ginde.) They recently published their paper in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

The reason this is duly notable is because of the conclusion of the results findings:
Removal of point-of-care fecal occult blood test from our ED was associated with a reduction in digital rectal examinations -Actual Research Finding

Or, translated into laymen terms:
Doctors don't have to stick their fingers up as many you-know-whats because they found something else that works good -Me

So yes, I was the nerd that wrote a Perl script and a bunch of SQL queries that provided them the data to demonstrate that. Thanks, technology!

Special characters be damned! Upside down text is ǝbɐɹ ǝɥʇ 11ɐ

Flipping your text upside down seems to be all the rage these days.

First, I saw this on pop up on Facebook:

ǝƃɐd ɹnoʎ oʇuo sIɥʇ ǝʇsɐd puɐ ʎdoɔ 'sʎɐs sɥʇ ʇɐɥʍ ʇno ǝɹnƃIɟ oʇ ɥƃnouǝ ʇɹɐɯs ǝɹɐ noʎ ɟI

Then today I was browsing my usual news sites and saw this on Engadget:

(Updated 2016: The screenshots has been lost to time.)

I mean, come on. Yeah, it's kind of cool, I'll give you that. It's a fun little trick to send around, kind of like when your family sends you e-mail chain letters with pictures of people whose bare asses look like pumpkins. Not that that's ever actually happened to me. Twice. But I digress...