Category Archives: Blog

Goldfish 4 UI board pictures

After some major drama in the workshop (leakages, iron dust cloud, broken floor, rainwater coming in, etc) I finally have some time to share a few progress pictures.

First and foremost: IT WORKS! The Goldfish R4 UI board can be used as a stand alone USB-MIDI controller! I had to do some workarounds, but it all seems to work now and I’ve used it together with a few DAWs. The current version has two modes: “control” mode and “xy” mode. In control mode you can use the encoders to control 6 MIDI-CC values at the same time, and press the encoders to select midichannels or different sets of CCs. The Goldfish keeps 36 controllers in memory, so you can see their value on the LED rings as soon as you switch between pages of CCs.
In xy mode you can control two MIDI-CC values at the same time by using the touchscreen. The left and rightmost encoders control which midi-CC is being sent by X or Y. This mode will get some “auto-LFO” options to spice things up.  

Here it is, showing the LED rings lighting up for the first time:
Ui in the dark

To save some board space, I’ve added mounting holes to re-use the Connector board from the Goldfish R3. This board provides MIDI plugs and stereo jacks. (the red PCB):
Backside fits a midiboard from fish R3


Development is easy: a standard Arduino-serial module plugs in to the board at the back:
Easy to program

Historic moment: First Fish! The hello-world of Goldfish development!
FIrst Fish

Lacking the time to lasercut a nice enclosure (see “major trouble” earlier 🙁 ) I just took 1 of the leftover PCBs and sandwiched the thing with some hex-standoffs to protect the insides:
Stacked with a second fish board - still needs a plexi casing
Up next – an extra Arpeggiator mode, one more revision of the PCB and some fluo-yellow lasercutting work for the casing!

To be continued!

LED Badges

Festival season is here!

And since we like glowsticks, but don’t like their nonrecyclable nature – we decided to go all out on a bunch of LED toys!


Each smiley features 20 LEDs in a Charlieplexed setup running on an Atmel Attiny85.

The smiley PCBs were done by They arrived VERY fast compared to the usual Chinese boardhouses. One week after ordering – with DHL shipping. The quality is exactly as advertised: Dirty, but good enough where it matters. The silkscreen drifted a bit here and there and the soldermask is not very strong (the copper shines through after some soldering) – BUT – they managed to do 150dpi bitmap silkscreen with no errors.

DirtyPCB smileys Smileys and Dirtystickers and Badge 1

Original design for comparison:

Smiley Design

Eagle Board and Schematic files, together with the code for the firmware will be uploaded shortly!



Kezboards, umlauts and USB


While searching for some easy-to-add USB options for the new Goldfish development, I revisisted the V-USB package. This package allows you to add USB to any small microcontroller that can add an interrupt to a pinchange. Link:

While digging through earlier projects using this library, I found this amazing piece of “lets just fix this”ism:


This particular German got so upset about the lack of umlauts across the border that he made his own personal umlaut-device. A great reminder that while technology would be nowhere without imagination, it would not even exist without frustration.

Drafting the new Goldfish v4 boards

After playing with the FPGA boards for a while, I decided to completely overhaul the Goldfish board.

Spending a bit more time and money will make this box much more useful for the coming years of audiovisual experiments!

The current preliminary hardware feature set:

Spartan 6 LX9 FPGA
Freescale MK20 (or MK22) ARM Cortex M4 MCU
2 small 320×240 tft screens with AVR for touch handling (1 screen for the FPGA, 1 for the MK20)
4 to 6 encoders (no more buttons, the encoders also have a button if I need something pressed down 🙂 )
2 microsd slots (again one for each)
Wolfson audio codec with headphone, lineout and linein connected
VGA and HDMI output for the FPGA
MIDI ports
USB Host port
USB Client port

This all shall fit nicely sandwiched between 2 15x10cm PCBs

Progress so far:

goldfish 4 rough draft

Notes on FPGA board design

The happy Australian is at it again!

This time, he talks about designing boards with FPGAs and explains various things about using tiny BGA (ball grid array) chips. These 3x3mm FPGAs have 36 connector-balls underneath, spaced only 0.4mm apart. Making circuit boards for these chips is still a bit too intricate for most cheap factories, but when you consider how much smaller the final boards can be – maybe using a more expensive factory evens out after all!

Making the Fletcher Capstan Table

This particular table has been all over the internet for years, but I had never found any details on the mechanics that make it work. This video provides some details about the parts that allow all the table segments to move fluidly from the small to the large shape and back.

For the more adventurous DIY freak – pausing the video at the screenshots should give enough details to construct your own! Linear stages available in Makeblocks webstore 😉

New PCB order – small DIP protoboards

Krzysztof Foltman writes: “Another PCB sent to manufacturing. This time, it’s a universal 5x5cm protoboard. If you’re a beginner at electronics and want to try making a simple electronic circuit using standard through-the-hole components, it’s probably going to save you a lot of time. It’s compatible with DIL chips but also supports double-row pin headers quite nicely – something I missed in the cheap protoboards from ebay!”

fsm 5x5 protoboard

Download GERBER files.

Fun with FPGA chips: VHDL for VGA and WS2812b RGB LEDs

In the past few weeks, Stijn and Krzysztof have been playing with FPGA chips.

Progress has been made!

Stijn has created a servicable text-mode VGA setup:


Eventually, a component like this will be used for quick debugging of FPGA internals and/or GUI’s for the upcoming FPGA-hosting Goldfish device. For now it provides some fancy glitch visuals by twiddling with some on-board switches.

Krzysztof has added support for the WS2812b RGB LEDs to the FPGA code repository:
FSM-fpga ws2812b - less bright FSM-fpga ws2812b


WS2812b RGB LEDs are extremely convenient to add some colour to your projects. Each LED comes with a built in controller and you can chain any number of them together.

You can find the WS2812b VHDL code at the github repo here. The VGA code will be added once it is a bit more complete.

Progress on new protoboards

After using our V1 prototyping boards for a while we decided to design some improved versions to make future experiments easier.

This new board is focussed on mostly analog setups:

It features a switchable supply between USB and external power and an area for SOIC MCU’s and CODECs.

This board is an upgrade from the v1 protoboard:


– The connector placement has been improved.
– There is a new hole pattern and connector which makes it fit the Goldfish platform (giving instant access to graphical user interfaces to control experiments – or an FPGA daughterboard with HDMI for heavy lifting)
– There is dedicated space for an Atmel Attiny85 beside the TQFP area which can give a quick and dirty USB interface to whatever TQFP is on the protoboard. (using the VUSB library). It can also be used to generate reference signals or bootloader portknocking.

As soon as the new Goldfish mainboard + extension header has been finalized we will add these protoboards to the next batch to be sent to the PCB factory.

China the difficult #2 Transport: subway

China is usually perceived as difficult by Europeans: communication is impossible, constant daily hassle, unyielding culture and far too many people. We are here to experience the truth of it. If there is any prejudice in particular you would like us to check out – let us know.

1511736_10152299218080600_344335097892555352_oThe metro or subway in Shenzhen is awesome! We love it, we need  it, we use it a lot. If you ever find yourself travelling around Shenzhen for more than two days,  buy a “Shen Zhen Tong” card. The Tong is a top-op card that works like the Oyster in London or the Octopus in Hong Kong. You buy it for ¥70 with ¥50 already on it and you can beep your merry way through the gates. On the back of the card is a map of the entire subway network – in Chinese, but colour coded for your convenience.

During rush hour the speeding indoor spacecraft is packed like a sardine tin. At other times the subway is hardly empty but usually you can find a seat if you dont enter the carriage near the main escalator.  While you are comfortably being whizzed around the city you can do some unashamed people watching. Rest assured that you will be watched too but not uncomfortably so. Also, 6 out of 10* people are looking at their cell phones or tablets and could be sitting next to the Zohlitar the demon Queen of the 8th dimension without noticing much.

Should the people be of disappointing interest, there is an entertainment system on board. It is meant as an advertising platform and to a foreigner Chinese advertisements are intriguing. The visual style is very different for the Western one and the emotional expressions are framed and overdone. Most advertisements feel like high quality TellSell snippets. Sometimes the feed has audio for the entire subway to enjoy.

One of the most appreciated features is a LED-board indicating all the stops on route – where we’ve been (red lights) and were we are still going (green lights). The road between two stops flows from red to green dots like a progress bar.  When you are about to arrive at a stop, the corresponding LED starts blinking orange and the audio message starts. The audio starts with fast and high-pitched Mandarin and Cantonese (we think) and ends in slow American English – even pronouncing the place names in their American English interpretation.

Please mind your head as the handholds dangling in the middle of the carriage are at head height for us (average 1.78m). Definitely mind the basic life advice that scrolls by every so often on the LED ticker “Please take good care of children!”.

*This number is the average of 12 counts I did based on proximity groupings of 10, on three different lines at three different times of the day.

Back home!

10259873_10151917466246572_7627578894474393408_n After an exhilarating and exhausting time in China – we’ve made it back home. Now all that is left to do is to go through all the pictures, recordings, sketches, business cards and memories and share our adventure!

And the parts… and the tools… and the suits from the tailor… Our suitcases were nearly bursting!

On a different note: the site-design has been recovered (and backed up).

China the Difficult #1 Toilets

China is usually perceived as difficult by Europeans: communication is impossible, constant daily hassles, unyielding culture and far too many people. We are here to experience the truth of it. If there is any prejudice in particular you would like us to check out – let us know.

Squat toilets – not just in China – are often disturbing to LaoWai. However, next time you want to scream ‘backward idiots’ and ‘underdeveloped’ at the smell of a public Chinese toilet consider the other perspective. On a squat toilet your ass hangs out in the air while you do your business – on a Western toilet your bare butt is comfortably seated where everybody else’s bare butt has sat down as well. Now how disgusting must that seem to a Chinese person?


From the smell and the maintenance of the average toilet it seems that in China the toilet is a dirty place and this is not a problem. You remain clean – the place is dirty – no problems. Meaning the toilet is a place where you do your thing and get out as fast as you can (maintaining cleanliness). LaoWais have made our toilets into little ‘quiet places’ that are usually heavily decorated – we spend some quality time with our excrements. Weird, huh?

Old Chinese wisdom and research agree that squatting is preferred over sitting as a pooping posture. The smelly hole in the ground is actually better for the health of your bowels.

Now the only question I have left is Paper or Water? The drainage system is not made for large wads of paper. Every stall – if you are lucky enough to have a stall around you – has a waste basket for your dirty toilet paper. Which might be one of the main causes for the horrible smell. In other countries where they have squat toilets everywhere they usually don’t have toilet paper but cleanse themselves with water. Is the paper usage some sort of halfway station? Are the Chinese secretly cleaning themselves with water? The research continues…

Hello World!

Rocket_LaunchTonight we will start Twittering like crazy to get the engines going.  The stars are out over Amsterdam, spring is in the air and it is a good day for a launch!

On This Is Not Rocket Science you can already find descriptions of several projects we have already started; the Goldfish synthesizer, a design for a prototyping board, how to make a PCB CNC mill with Makeblock and our first crack at an FPGA board.  We will be adding more as time goes by and we and The Lab progress. If you have any hints or questions, please sing to us on Twitter @rocket_not .

Our first mission will be a trip to Shenzhen, China – where all things are made.  Our bags are packed to fly out in two days. We are curious to see how hard or easy it is to go from inspiration to reality in this environment. We are planning to go to the Shenzhen Maker Faire, meet the guys from the Dangerous Prototypes Hackercamp, visit MakeBlock and talk to Seeed Studio among many other things.

We are undertaking this trip without the burden of funding and will be updating you often and at impromptu times.

FPGA repository started on GitHub

2100838-40Krzysztof Foltman has posted his FPGA efforts so far on GitHub!

Currently the codebase contains modules to deal with:

– key-matrix input
– LED output with brightness control
– Serial port input and output
– SPI flash
– Quad-SPI flash (4 times as fast as regular SPI)

No doubt this will grow fast.

See here:

The code has been tested on a Cyclone IV FPGA.