THAT Corporation

No, not the pronoun.

Just want to give a shout out to a local company which makes audio ICs for the professional equipment market: THAT Corporation of Milford, MA. They manufacture a line of integrated circuits including:

  • Balanced Line Receivers
  • Preamplifiers
  • Digital Microphone Preamplifier Sets
  • Digitally Programmable Gain Controllers
  • OutSmarts┬« Balanced Line Drivers
  • Analog Engine┬« Dynamics Processors
  • Blackmer┬« Voltage Controlled Amplifiers

ICs are available through Mouser Electronics.

Sparkfun has just announced balanced line input and output breakout boards using THAT ICs: balanced audio input and balanced audio output. Gotta keep these in mind for future projects!

If you’re a pedal DIY’er, be sure to check out THAT’s Pedal Page, too.

Livings computers indeed

Just back from a long trip to Seattle. I had a great time seeing family, friends, old and new. Of course, there are always a few nerd-stops along the way.

I had the pleasure of visiting the Living Computers: Museum + Labs on the south side of Seattle. Just take the Sound Transit Link light rail system to the SODO station, walk a few blocks west along South Lander Street to First Avenue, and walk a few blocks north from there.

Seattle area public transportation is excellent. Be sure to pick up an ORCA transit card. Senior citizens can ride pretty much anywhere for $1!

Living Computers is both a hand-on museum and educational lab space. It’s another Paul Allen venture like the Museum of Pop Culture (once known as “EMP,” now “MoPOP”). The goal is hands-on experience with current and vintage computing technology, not static displays.

The first floor exhibit space is relatively new — about one year old. (The museum itself is about five years old.) The space is open and very nicely appointed. The first floor has many interesting interactive exhibits including self-driving car, telepresence robot, programmable robots, neural nets, Cubelets, and more. (Cubelets are super high tech processing blocks that plug together.) The staff is very friendly and knowledgeable.

The first floor also has teaching labs which are nicely equipped. The museum sponsors one day courses and events to help people get started and to work on projects of their own. (Watch out for code.org events, too.) The staff hold open office hours on Thursday afternoons between 3PM and 5PM. I dropped in during office hours and had a fun chat with the teaching staff. The museum has established and is building a close relationship with local school systems and educators.

On to the second floor! Half-way up the stairs, is a mini Internet of Things (IoT) lab where you can quickly assemble a demo IoT system. I put together an Alexa-controlled buzzer. The hardware consisted of an Amazon Echo Dot, a handful of littleBits modules, and a Samsung tablet running the littleBits app. Once assembled, Alexa starts a ping-pong of network messages that eventually turn on the buzzer. Cute.

The second floor began life as Paul Allen’s computer collection. Paul Allen is a preservationist who wants people to experience vintage computing, not just look at old stuff. The second floor is filled with vintage personal computers, mini computers and mainframes. (Please see the museum site for a detailed list.) The PDP-10s, -20s, -8s, 029 card punch, etc. are old familiar tech from my youth. There were a few pieces that I had not touched before such as a PLATO terminal. The micros and minis are in a large exhibit space while the mainframes are running in an air conditioned cold room. You can get an on-line account to the mainframes, BTW.

It was a kick to see SYSTAT, again. Ah, many cold nights spent in the machine room at C-MU as a computer operator. Now there’s an obsolete job title for you! I got in a few rounds of Missile Command on the Atari 400, inspiring me to drag out my old 400 at home.

I would have pictures of the museum and labs, except it was raining cats and dogs when I visited and I didn’t want to drag my iPad into the weather. My day pack is not exactly waterproof. (Ironically, I have since trashed by 1st gen iPod by throwing it into the washing machine with the laundry.)

After taking it easy for a day, I dropped into the 2017 ACM SIGCSE computer science education conference at the Seattle Convention Center. The highlight of my day was Erik Brunvand’s presentation about his course Making Noise: Sound Art and Digital Media.

Erik is an old friend of ours from grad school days at the University of Utah, where he is now a professor of computer science. Erik’s course is like a trip through my own psyche and his lab is indistinguishable from our dining room which serves as my electronics shop. He has quite successfully melded electronic music, computing and electronics into a one semester, project-oriented course. Students slam into art/music and technology from all directions. Students get a taste of everything including circuit bending. Hats off to Erik!

Welcome CS teachers and students!

[Be sure to visit Living Computers in Seattle. SIGCSE 2017 attendees are admitted free during the conference. I visited the museum today and it was a lot of fun! K-12 teachers will enjoy the hands on exhibits.]

The annual ACM Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education (SIGCSE 2017) Technical Symposium is next week (March 8 – 11) in Seattle, Washington. The symposium brings together educators at all levels (K-12 and higher ed) to exchange and discuss the latest methods, practices and results in computer science education.

I don’t often advertise it, but the Sand, Software, Sound site has many resources for educators and students alike. You can browse these resources by clicking on one of the WordPress topic buttons (Raspberry Pi, PERF, Courseware, etc.) above. You can also search for a topic or choose from one of the categories listed in the right sidebar.

Here are a few highlights.

I taught many computer-related subjects during my career and have posted course notes, slides and old projects. The four main sections are:

  • CS2 data structures: Undergraduate data structures course suitable for advanced placement students.
  • Computer design: Undergraduate computer architecture and design which uses a multi-level modeling approach.
  • VLSI systems: Graduate course on VLSI architecture, design and circuits which is suitable for undergraduate seniors.
  • Topics in computer architecture: Material for a special topics seminar about computer architecture (somewhat historical).

Please feel free to dig through these materials and make use of them.

Software and hardware performance analysis formed a major thread throughout my professional life. I recommend reading my series of tutorials on the Linux PERF tool set for software performance analysis:

The ARM11 microarchitecture summary is background material for the PERF tutorial. Program profiling is a good way to bring computer architecture to life and to teach students how to analyze and assess the execution speed of their programs.

There are two additional tutorials and getting started guides for teachers and students working on Raspberry Pi:

Music technology and computer-based music-making have been two of my chief interests over the years. The Arduino section of the site has several of my past projects using the Arduino for music-making. You should also check out my recent blog posts about the littleBits synth modules and littleBits Arduino. Please click on the tags and links at the bottom of each post in order to chase down material.

You might also enjoy my tutorial on software synthesizers for Linux and Raspberry Pi. The tutorial is a getting started guide for musicians of all stripes — music teachers and students are certainly welcome, too!