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Building String Instruments with No Strings?

Cliff posted more than 12 years ago | from the didn't-they-have-these-on-star-trek-once dept.

Hardware 42

sansglitch asks: "Well, as the end of the academic year rolls around, I come before the Slashdot community to ask for a little help on a research project thats hopefully going to allow me to leave my sleepy suburban high school with a bang. Inspired by a 6th grader's science textbook, I have undergone construction on a Laser Harp (that is, a harp of sorts in which I've replaced the strings w/ beams of light). For the brain of this small midi-producing gadget, I've opted for a PIC micro-controller. I was hoping that someone with experience in dealing with this kind of chip setup might help with the finer points of integrating it into this monster. Do people still code for PIC's these days?" Now that is actually a cool idea for a project. Good luck with it, sansglitch!

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Dear Jamie, (-1, Troll)

TheReverand (95620) | more than 12 years ago | (#3501613)

Dear Jamie,

Please fix the page widening bug. I am prepared to
sacrifice this account to protest against your "it's
not my fault" attitude. You're happy enough to include
workarounds to fix bugs in Mozilla, why not IE?

See, it was fine so long as only -1 accounts widened
pages. Unfortunately, the behaviour of your co-editor
Michael Simms means we have to browse at -1 to see the
truth, as opposed to what you want us to see.

Just think what would happen if everyone had your
attitude... No workarounds, no interoperability... The
Internet would cease to function. Now grow up. Thankyou.

I am waiting to be modslapped. Those in favour who dare,
mod this up as a protest against Jamie's childish behaviour.

Oh, and to the people that think that I am the
cause of wide pages, go on a logic course.
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Thankyou for your time.

Re:Dear Jamie, (0, Offtopic)

cookd (72933) | more than 12 years ago | (#3501741)

Although this comment may not have been couched in the gentlest of terms, I wouldn't have modded it as a troll. He's not looking to tempt people into a fake argument -- this is an actual issue. And apparently other forums haven't worked well.

It *was* probably offtopic, except that now the page is actually widened, making it an actual issue for this discussion.

I, for one, am somewhat annoyed by the page widening bug. It has been a known issue for a long time, and it really screws up the forum for a lot of readers.

So what if it is a bug in IE? There are much more significant rendering flaws in Netscape 4.x, yet I have to work around them when I design web pages to make sure that the pages are readable. This is exactly what gets decried daily about Microsoft -- I see everybody ripping on them because their products don't always interoperate properly with other products. But Microsoft fixed its websites to work with non-IE browsers once the issue was raised. Slashdot, on the other hand, doesn't seem to care about interoperating with the evil browser that accounts for most web surfing done nowadays.

I guess you have to decide: do you support IE or not? If not, that's fine -- everybody who uses IE will either find another browser just to read Slashdot, or more likely just go away. At that point, the breadth of discussion will probably drop dramatically, and the Slashdot community will fit the one-sided elitist Linux zealot stereotype even better (diversity of opinion is the lifeblood of any forum). So I think it is wise to support IE.

So if you support IE, please work around the known issues that cause significant problems. You know what they are. They can be fixed. So fix them!

Thanks. I look forward to a fix soon. Slashdot is (usually) awesome. And there is nothing wrong with Linux zealots -- Linux is a great OS, it deserves to have zealots standing up for it, and I run it on my personal laptop. (I still hold the opinion that Microsoft is not inherently evil, but that is a discussion for another time...)

Think of it as a screening step... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3507455)

Slashdot is supposed to be a site for intelligent comment on technology news. Potential posters who can't figure out how to download a real browser probably aren't the ones that contribute quality posting anyway, so this can be seen as a screening step. But, if you guys really have such a problem with it, you could just stop posting the PWPs. There's like, what, 3 or 4 of you that just keep posting it over and over, if you quit, even poor stupid IE users could read the comments without problem anyway. So, yes, I do think it counts as a troll, since obviously the sentiment professed is not sincere, and you're just trying to be argumentive.

Posted from windows using a real browser.

Re:Think of it as a screening step... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3509060)

Some people browse from work, and are on "locked down" PCs on which they cannot install new software.

Re:Think of it as a screening step... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3509116)

Those 'locked down' PCs are so easy to unlock it's hilarious. But it's not worth it, if you need the job, to take such a risk. If you need the job bad enough to deal with that kind of bullshit, then surely you need it bad enough not to be cruising slashdot from work, however.

Re:Think of it as a screening step... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3515421)

Actually there are workplaces that allow employees to take breaks to surf occasionally during normal hours, but will still get pissed if they catch them making changes to the machines. Users in places like that can be affected by a refusal on a site administrator's part to fix IE-specific bugs.

Of course, calling it "IE-specific" is a little unfair, as it's also slash-specific. Slashdot is pretty much the only site that allows the widening trick to work. Even Sourceforge prevents it from happening.

Re:Dear Jamie, (0, Offtopic)

Kraft (253059) | more than 12 years ago | (#3501744)

I'll risk a point of two on this one,
because this bug really annoys me.

However, Reverand, I have no idea whos
fault this is, what Jamie has said and
who is responsible for fixing such a bug.

So I will mod you up in the future, but you
will have to add some quotes (with links) to convince that someone is actually refusing to
fix the bug.

Re:Dear Jamie, (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3501895)

Your point would have been much more valid had you not added the page widening yourself!

Interesting side effect (-1, Offtopic)

trollbot (542020) | more than 12 years ago | (#3504801)

Dear friends,

Here at the Page Widening Research Institute (PWRI), we have found a rather startling side effect of the well-known Page Widening Post (PWP) first documented by C Flounderson et al and made popular by Klerck. As is understood by all, the PWP is only known to affect the industry standard Microsoft Internet Explorer line of internet browsers. On current versions PC versions, the effect is to stretch the text in a horizontal manner, thus making comments difficult to read, but still possible.

Under older Mac versions of IE (v 4.01 specifically) however, the PWP will black out all text (excluding links and comment headers) on the page.

As we understand it, the bug only occurs when the article summary is visible at the top of the page (ie For example, this page [] suffers, but not this one [] .

Unfortunately, IE 4 for Mac is unlikely to be used by many any more, but I hope that this information will be useful for others interested in information widening/blackening.

Is our beloved editor Cowboy Neal a hypocrite? (-1)

hettb (569863) | more than 12 years ago | (#3501615)

Pater [mailto] and the other editors of, a website owned by OSDN (the largest corporate provider of open source news which is in turn owned by VA Software/Linux/Research; a company built around a flawed business model), expect their users, as we all know, to support their for-profit site (which is unable to make a profit) by taking subscriptions, which allows one to view the (often sensationalist and factually incorrect) articles without the advertisements (there you may also take part in the hysterical, often anti-corporate discussions with other users (mainly naive teenagers)).

Users who do not want to take a subscription, or demand that certain changes be made to the website or the editorial policy before they would consider doing so, are often called "whiners"; practices like using software such as the Internet Junkbuster [] to view ad-free pages without paying are scorned upon by the editors.

Now, let's look at Pater's (aka "Cowboi Kneel" [] ) record when it comes to compensating websites for services rendered.
Over at [] , said slashdot editor keeps a diary. [] But before I come to the heart of the matter: What is exactly? Let me quote from their website: is a volunteer-run website where you can keep your journal online. We're constantly adding new features and trying to improve the user experience. We cater to all levels of users, from the most technically incompetent to programmers and system administrators. Nearly all development and "business" decisions are discussed in public.

You do not have to pay any money to use this service. You can buy a paid account to show your support and to help us afford better hardware and bring you new features, but you don't have to.

(Emphasis mine.)

You also get some additional features by paying for an account, similar to Slashdot ("feature" there: no ads)

Now, on there are 4 categories of membership:

"Free account" -- this is the default account type, with which you can do almost everything. The most notable exception is that users with free accounts cannot create new styles (editing the HTML for their journal).

"Early Adopter" -- All users before mid-September 2000 are considered early adopters, and have access to a subset of the paid account functionality. They have access to create styles, and view their journal at

"Paid account" -- The user has access to all paid account functionality.

"Permanent Account" -- the user has all paid functionality with no expiration date. The user is either a LiveJournal developer or has contributed a significant amount of time or money to the project.

We would of course expect Neal to support this volunteer-run, non-profit. ad-free website by getting a paid account? Isn't this the Linux, the open source spirit of the new millenium?
After all, he's been keeping his journal there since at least the beginning of April 2002, so he should have had ample time to see if's service is worth the money.

If we now look at Cowboi Kneel's user info [] , what do we see?

Account type: Free User

Oh no! My assumption was wrong; what, for Christ's sake, happened? Why would Pater not want to support such an excellent site as

Could it be that Cowboy Neal is a freeloader, that he doesn't what to help a site which does offer some value to him (obviously, as he's been posting there for more than a month)? That he doesn't have any problem whatsoever using up their bandwidth, disk space and volunteer time without giving something in return, all the while (together with the other editors) expecting us, the users of, to donate ( "we regard this as a tip jar" [] ) to their corporate, profit-driven site?

Could it be that Cowboy Neal is a hypocrite?

Re:Is our beloved editor Cowboy Neal a hypocrite? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3501721)

In mozilla, you can block images from certain servers.

Ad-free since nearly '03.

Strings suck (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3501621)

Use char* instead

char* sucks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3501667)

char s[] = "My string";
strcat( s, "I've decided I want to add more characters" );

/* BOOM */

Re:char* sucks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3501883)

He clearly said use char *, not char [];

char *s;

s = (char *) malloc(10 * sizeof(char));
strcpy(s, "My String");

realloc((char *)s, 55 * sizeof(char));
strcat(s, "I've decided I want to add more characters");


Re:char* sucks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3509268)

that's the kind of unnecessary complexity that's responsible for buffer overflows and other security bugs that are omnipresent in C programs

library (1)

yerricde (125198) | more than 12 years ago | (#3520645)

that's the kind of unnecessary complexity

Which is why you wrap string operations in a library. In C++'s case, this library is called STL.

wow! (2)

skotte (262100) | more than 12 years ago | (#3501634)

fFrankly, this is fFantastic! i hope you would be so kind as to post some design specs somewhere! i would love to build one!

how many 'strings' do you have? where did you get the parts? heck i'm not even sure what a PIC micro-controller is :)

string s="hello"; char* p; p = s.c_str() (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3501685)

Fate, chance, karma, whatever you wanna call it -- when Miss Fortune spreads her legs for you, you're already in over your head. Believe me, I know.

Bunny LaFever looked like a dame with more curves and venom than Reggie Peeler's Land O' Snakes. But she wasn't a real dame. She was a she-devil. That golden bush of hers was nothing but a welcome mat to hell.

But now I'm getting way ahead of myself. Bunny had a way of doing that to jerks like me. She twisted us inside out and turned our heads around so we couldn't think straight anymore. So lemme begin at the beginning ...

Carnies got a word for a crooked game operator like me. They call me "Flattie" cuz I'll flat-out rob you and make you like it.

My name's Randy Everhard and I've got a million ways to take your money. One of my personal favorites is the "hopper shot." It's tossing softballs into toilet seats, which you've seen on every midway in your life. I could gaff the joint to make it impossible to win.

But where's the fun in that? I work it so any chucklehead can win all night long. Cuz once I've hooked a live one into thinking he can take me for a ride, that's when I nail him with the "build-up." Caught up in the excitement of winning game after game, the rube's built up to play twenty games at two bucks a pop. And the only prize he's going home with is a teddy bear that cost me three shekels per, wholesale. You do the math, Einstein.

The problem with selling three-dollar plush for forty scoots is that the build-up only pays off if you've got a steady string of suckers. And that night was turning out to be a real larry. The Laff Riot carnival was a flattie's wet dream. The grab joints and flashy rides were a front for the real action: flat stories, alibi and percentage joints, crap tables, slot machines, fortune wheels.

The show was running wide open. Everybody crooked and every joint gaffed and nobody doing a damn thing to stop it. I figured the cops were greased slicker 'n Liberace's asshole. It should've been like shooting trout in a barrel. Too bad nobody was taking my bait. I was up shit creek without a paddle to piss on.

My first goddamn night with the show, and already I was itchy for a new angle.

I can't remember which one of them I saw first: the blonde come-on dressed like she had an exhibitionist streak a mile wide or the square in the coke bottle glasses who was eyeballing her like she was nothing but something to look at. Of course, that Coppertone beauty really was something to look at. She was turning heads and raising dicks all over the place. But I didn't like him getting his eyes all over this piece of 100 percent corn-fed cocktease.

She was stacked like a double-decker Ferris wheel with nipples that could cut glass. The red double-O's stenciled on her football jersey were stretched over humongous hooters. She looked like a shooting gallery, bursting at the seams. You couldn't miss those twin titty targets. I'm talking knockers so big you could still see them when she turned around. And believe you me, she was one woman who looked as good going as she did coming.

She wore a pair of daring Daisy Dukes that were so short and tight her crotch sucked them in. The denim over her ass was thread-bare, blown out like a retread. And if that wasn't enough, she was doing a number on a grape Popsicle to make your peter wish it was frozen on a stick. That girl was one carnival ride I wanted to jump on quick, and I didn't care how many tickets it cost.

In my racket, though, business comes before pleasure. And this looked like a golden opportunity to work the key scam. It's the oldest con in the carny book.

I jumped the counter and made my way over to the chump with the steamed-up glasses. I was like, "Hot enough for ya? And I ain't talking about the weather, fella." At first he didn't buy it when I told him I was the "manager" of this fine talent. He just stood there mopping his brow with a hanky.

"I don't fuck chickens and I don't shit feathers," I said, "and I wouldn't lie about a piece of ass like that, neither." I gave myself a hard-on feeding him the fast talk: screwing her would make a man think he died and gone to heaven, where the streets are paved with solid gold snatch.

"She's a sight for sore eyes, ain't she? And if you think I'm giving you lip, you oughta see her go to town on a dick. Life-transforming, friend. Life-transforming." I pulled out an old key I kept for just such an occasion. Dangling it before his bug eyes, I spieled how it was the key to her room at some motel outside of town. "I'm talking once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, pal. She's the reason hard-ons were made."

He swallowed it all -- hook, line and sinker.

Chuckling over what he was going to tell his wife when he came home minus his paycheck, I made my way over to the sultry sex kitten. She was throwing heat like a furnace. Melting chocolate bars at twenty paces. It was too hot to fuck, but next to her, that scorcher felt like a cool, seaside breeze.

"I just made you twenty bucks, and all you had to do was stand here looking gorgeous, Gorgeous." She didn't say anything, just looked me up and down and blinked those big baby blues. The sheen of sweat on her face glowed under the neon lights. She'd sucked all the flavor out of the end of the Popsicle, so the tip was white.

I fished out a crisp, new bill and passed it over. She let it rest in the palm of her hand as she stared at it, confused. She tried giving it back to me, but I stopped her. "See that guy over there?" I asked, stepping aside to give her a glimpse. "He just paid me a lot of money to sleep with you."

He what?" she goes, insulted. She threw down what was left of her Popsicle and took a step closer. Her eyes burned like a butane flame. Like most women, she looked better when she was steamed. But I didn't want her making a scene. She was liable to blow the act.

"Don't get yer panties in a bunch," I said, shutting her cakehole with my hand. I told her about the con and then nervously took my hand away. I was sure she was gonna blow up again. But she kept quiet. I told her we had to scram and didn't give her a chance to say no. I just put my arm around her waist and steered her toward the exit gates. I gave Pops a back-handed wave as we booked outta there double-time.

My dick is long and my cons are short. Cop and blow, that's my motto -- take the money and run. Otherwise things got a way of getting ugly.

Two minutes later, we were hauling ass down the highway in my supercharged Chevy Menace. It was an acid green two-door with cheetah seat covers, four on the floor and dual exhaust. Twin cams and 440 horses under the hood.

"Say," I said, "what's your name, anyway?"

I was hoping to get to know every inch of her better. She smelled like coconut oil. Her tanned skin gave off heat like asphalt that'd been baking in the sun all day.

"Bunny," she goes. "Bunny LaFever." She was a real piece, too. I couldn't wait to do all sorts of dirty things to her. "How much you take him for?" she asked. "Two-fifty." In actuality I scored three-fifty. But if there's one thing I know about women, it's never tell them exactly how much money you've got.

Back at my room at the God bless America Truckstop Motel, she showed me that that sweet and innocent show was just a put-on. I was glad, though. I prefer a girl with some experience under her belt.

Before I knew it, she was all over me like stink on shit. Purple from the Popsicle, her tongue sprung to the back of my throat and then snaked all over the inside of my mouth like she was mining the gold fillings out of my teeth. Despite all the tongue wrasslin,' her hands were nowhere near where I wanted them to be.

My dick had been so hard for so long I thought it would blast off like a rocket, but she kept her distance. The teasing was cute at first but enough was enough. I grabbed her hands and planted them on the tent pole in my pants.

She pulled away and took a few steps back.

"You trying to insult me? You think you can have this body for free?" Bunny squeezed her 'lopes together, serving them up for my hungry eyes: "These tits alone cost five bucks to look at."

I chuckled nervously. "C'mon," I go, "quit screwing around."

"I'm totally serious. Five bucks or I'm gone."

I started laughing for real, digging the little swindler. What else could I do but pay up? She had me right were she wanted me.

This was one of those times in a man's life when he knows his dick's doing the brainwork but he doesn't care. Whatever the dick wants, the dick gets. That right there's the whole story of my life.

I plucked a five-spot from my wallet and waved it like a flag of surrender. She just looked at it. "I don't want your money now," she goes. "Pay me later."

"Whatever you say." And I just eased back on the bed to enjoy the show.

She peeled off her T-shirt and out bounced those giant, all-natural juggs. She had razor sharp tan lines from the sling of a skimpy bikini top. You could tell from her nips that the air-conditioning was on full-blast.

Bunny danced around the room, wiggling and shaking everything her momma gave her. I looked her up and down until I could've guessed her weight. She had all the right parts in all the right places and then some.

She neared the bed and leaned over me to let those massive, all-American melons swing inches above my face. "Wanna taste them?" she goes. As if she had to ask.

I lifted my head to suck the tantalizing titties into my mouth, but she snatched them away.

"Five bucks," she goes.

"All right, five bucks."

"Five bucks each, big spender."

"You got it."

"Pay me later," she cooed, and moved closer to bury me beneath her treasure chest. "Mmm," she purred, "you suck real good."

"Damn straight," I mumbled. "You're getting my money's worth."

She only laughed as her fingers spider-walked down to my crotch and unzipped my fly. "You'd like a tit-fuck, wouldn't you?"

It wasn't a question. It was a statement of fact. Some girls are mind readers, but Bunny LaFever was the first dick reader I ever had the pleasure to meet.

"Twenty bucks," she barked.

I was like, "A bargain at twice the price. Pay you later?"

"That's right, bright boy."

We switched places on the bed so that she was on her back. I kicked off my shoes and pulled down my pants and underwear. This dick of mine's got its own zip code and time zone.

When she gripped the shaft, her fingers didn't reach all the way around. She was like, "Lucky for you I'm still in my size-is-everything phase."

"Me, too," I said, dropping to my knees to straddle her. My hard-on slipped between her cleavage like a hot dog in its steamed bun. She pressed them together to make the sandwich good and tight as I began my strokes.

I humped her hooters harder to push my dick closer to her succulent mouth. She stuck out her pink tongue and tickled the tip. Back and forth it fluttered over the head.

"There's a freebie," she giggled. "But I won't take one in the mouth for less than twenty."

"How much to swallow?"

She had to think that one over. "Thirty," she answered. "And that's only cuz I like you."

I dismounted and stood beside the bed. She sat on the edge of the mattress to let her mouth get better acquainted with my cock. Her tongue twirled over my shaft until it looked like a monument of polished marble.

She blew me good and slow, repeatedly bringing me to the edge of orgasm and then stopping until the urge melted away.

The build-up felt so good it hurt. I never begged anyone for anything before. But tortured by her talented tongue, I was actually begging for mercy.

After some more tongue lashing, she finally let me fill her mouth. She swallowed, too, and it felt like my whole body was sliding down with it.

www.klerck...yourfaulta (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3501718)

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PIC Ácontrollers... (2)

Papineau (527159) | more than 12 years ago | (#3501781)

Yes, some people are still using them in their designs. Last summer, I worked in a fiber-optics card company, and they had one on each card, doing some small work I think wrt control communication between the cards, but I was in manufacturing, not in a desing/test departement, so I might be wrong.

Not so long before, I had chosen a PIC for a project of mine (controlling a small DC motor wrt a couple inputs, both A&D), and I was actually a bit surprised to see some in a production environment. Although the Microchip site doesn't hint to only "tinkerers"...

Oh, another use: it seems there's a lot of satellite boxen which use a certain PIC (I think it's a PIC16F84) for authentication (either in the box, or on a ???-card). I found quite some software programmers for that chip, but only 2 for the PIC16C71 that I chose.

Re:PIC Ácontrollers... (2)

morcheeba (260908) | more than 12 years ago | (#3504748)

The Xbox has a PIC 16LC63A [] microcontroller... people are still figuring out what it does.

AFAIK, the satellite boxen don't necessarily use a PIC for authentication -- they would probably use a more cryprographically secure/hacker-proof device. It's been the cloners that use PIC chips because they are versatile and cheap enough to get the job done.

Think of it (2, Informative)

Ratso Baggins (516757) | more than 12 years ago | (#3501800)

... as a matrix keyboard (a buffered, addressable latch). You will find plenty of ready to run kernels and environs about the traps. They have MIDI, TCP/IP, serial of course and much more, RT if you want. When I played with the PIC years ago all the info either came with the cheap dev system or was on their bbs.

Plenty of people are using PICs (5, Informative)

Matt_Bennett (79107) | more than 12 years ago | (#3501848)

Plenty of people are using PICs, even putting them in new designs (like me- I use them both for play and professionally)- not everything needs the power of a 32 or 64 bit OS. You can get a 12C508 (an 8 pin microcontroller with 0.5K of program space) in quantity for about $0.50USD each! You can make something with a PIC that is extremely reliable- which is exactly what an embedded system is- it's not about being a computer, it's about doing some function. A PIC is maybe a *bit* low powered for doing heavy duty MIDI, since you don't have a lot of time between bits, but people have done it.- check out this site [] for a bunch of MIDI/PIC related resources.

For general PIC support, there are a couple active mailing lists, the big one is the piclist, and there is a website [] that will give you plenty of (3rd party) info on the PIC and the mailing list. There is even some GNU/Linux work being done with Linux, try out Gnupic [] . Of course, you can always go to the manufacturer [] .

I wish I had this two years ago- (1)

Discoflamingo13 (90009) | more than 12 years ago | (#3502048)

I was doing an independent study with two other guys from my digital electronics class, on programming microcontrollers. Our teacher for DigElec did mostly thin-film and semiconductor physics, and encouraged us to find out- and I quote- "how hard it would be to teach physics students how write a program for all those PIC 16c55x's I have lying around." I was a sophomore math/cs student, John was English/Geography , and Will was Physics/Math. It was one of the coolest classes I ever had.

If nothing else, there's something magical about programming in assembly for a chip, with nothing more than the giant language reference manuals and whatever we could scrounge on the web. That, and you have to put the PIC under UV light for a few hours if you make a mistake. I love the microcontrollers- I just wish we'd gotten our idiot tic-tac-toe playing system to work!

What an innovative idea....but (1)

littlerubberfeet (453565) | more than 12 years ago | (#3501957)

now as both a pianist and a flautist, I have some experiance both playing and repairing musical instruments. When I get inside a piano to adjust things, I am used to a certain amount of resistance when I pluck the strings. How will you privide the resistance in a harp? Also, many people use the strings to "feel" their way to the next chord. Lasers make for invisible strings.....I am curious how this will be done.

Re:What an innovative idea....but (2)

cei (107343) | more than 12 years ago | (#3502249)

In the mid-80's, Jean-Michel Jarre played a laser harp for his Rendez-vous concert in Houston, and later Lyon. Around the same time, the geek TV show Beyond 2000 ran a segment on another guy who built and played laser harps.

The interesting thing, Jarre's lasers went off into the clouds, but he did seem to be wearing a particular glove with a wire hanging from the wrist. I'm not sure what kind of sensors he was using. The harp on Beyond 2000 was a closed system and thus could detect if the beam had been broken or not, and if so, where. Once again, Jarre's system would have had to identify that his hand was interrupting a beam, and which beam it was, without having a second fixed endpoint for the laser beams.

I never did work out exactly how he managed to use it as a trigger. (and half debated that it was just a stage effect and another keyboardist on the stage was really covering his parts...)

Re:What an innovative idea....but (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3511973)

Not only that, but how would it know how hard you plucked the string? How about finger barring a string to attenuate or mute it?

As a musician, I don't think that anything like this could ever replace real strings.

Re:What an innovative idea....but (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3515034)

I was thinking about this, also.
I know very little about laser technology, but was thinking a laser with enough power to be warm to the touch might provide a sort of tactile feedback. I guess you would really want a surge protector!

I suppose one could learn with enough practice. Clara Rockmore played the theramin beautifully.

Cowering Anonym

Aww c'mon (1)

Spaceman Spiff II (552149) | more than 12 years ago | (#3519823)

That's not really the point, I don't think. He's just thought of a spiffy new idea and is trying to implement it - not create a whole new type of instrument. I actually got to play a laser harp once at a "believe it or not" store or something like that, and it was cool.

That's a little vague, isn't it? (4, Informative)

bedessen (411686) | more than 12 years ago | (#3501982)

Well, first let's assume that this is not another of those "Dear Slashdot: Will You Please Do My Homework For Me?" submissions. I realize you were trying to be brief and concise, but in order to proceed with this design you will have to nail down some details first.

For instance, how many strings? I would assume it's more than one octave and less than five or so. Also, how many polyphonics do you want to support? That is, how many strings can be "played" (i.e. beam interrupted) at once? You can make the hardware really simple if you only support one string at once. But it wouldn't be very useful. A design in which you support full polyphony, where any possible combination can be played, will be more complex but it will also be more realistic. The whole idea here is that you can vastly reduce the number of i/o lines required if you do some encoding or grouping of the strings, at the price of not allowing certain combinations of strings to be simultaneously addressed. If you want this instrument to be practical, you must think hard about the multiplexing (if you go this route.)

Another thing to decide early on is whether you want to deal with velocity data. A decent midi keyboard will sense how hard you press the keys, and include this data in the midi stream. It would be really neat to detect how fast your photodetectors are covered by the fingers (to simulate plucking the string violently vs. gently strumming it), but this would add greatly to complexity, so I suggest avoiding it.

Don't be afraid to use multiple PICs. If I were doing this design I would consider a two-tier design. Perhaps a three dollar 16F627 [] for each octave, with one i/o line per string (this gets around the multiplex issue.) Unfortunately I don't think you will be able to use interrupt-on-change for every string, so these first tier chips would periodically scan their 12 strings for an event. You can do the debouncing in software, but it's probably easier to buffer the photodetectors with Schmitt triggers. Each of the first tier chips would talk to a central second tier chip which aggregates the events and encodes them as a midi stream. Those 16f627's have up to 15 i/o lines, so that leaves 3 for communication with the master. You could use something standard like I2C, or just invent your own protocol. You might be able to do something as simple as one data line and one handshake line (if you have a common clock for the whole unit) from each slave to the master. The idea here is that rather than a single chip constantly trying to keep track of the state of a number of strings, the master simply receives a few bits of data from one of the slaves whenever there's an event.

Anyway, those are my initial thoughts. The first thing you design should be the general architecture stuff, don't get bogged down in details. Have a general block-diagram sketch of the whole thing before you start building anything. Keep a notebook, and record all your design ideas, sketches, schematics, specs, etc. in one place. It will make your life much easier.


Jarre had this... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3502158)

I dont know if you are familiar with Jean Michel Jarre (speling?),
some french musician who was quite famous in the late 70s and 80s
for doing electronic music, rather symphonic stuf, "Concerts
in China" maybe being his most famous and popular album. On pictures and
videos, he often was display playing such a Laser Harp which really
worked and was not just a fancy fake.a He was into other other prgressive
(or bizarre) electronic instruments as well... Maybe you can ask Google
to help find you some of those pics, and maybe he'll sell you a used one,
even? :)


Re:Jarre had this... (3, Informative)

Sixyphe (313087) | more than 12 years ago | (#3502319)

Your spelling is right... Jean-Michel Jarre used this laser harp that was custom-built for him (by a british engineer, if I remember correctly) in many live concerts. Those were fairly strong beams, and with a lot of smoke, you could see them shooting very high. Jarre being the quintessential showman, he played with white gloves, officially because the rays burned his hands (yeah, right, of course, Jean-Michel), practically because the rays were reflected and dispersed on the glove surface and his hands seemed to light up.

Musically speaking, the instrument was very limited; it was the equivalent of your run-of-the-mill-Casio-cheapo no velocity, no aftertouch keyboard. Beam free or beam cut, that's it. Very easy to implement in MIDI. What would be *very* cool would be to use the vertical position of the hand (the height at which the beam is cut) to modify factors such as signal amplitude (volume/tremolo), slight pitch alterations (vibrato), wave shape, etc. A hell of a lot harder to implement, but very interesting.

For examples of the harp in action, see Jarre in Houston, mega-concert event recorded in 86, in which one of the Challenger astronauts, Ron McNair, was supposed to play sax from the shuttle. There is also a short documentary before the concert itself where Jarre talks about the harp. For audio examples, the album "Houston/Lyon: cities in concert" includes those parts.

More info on Jean-Michel Jarre at

Re:Jarre had this... (1)

Rural (136225) | more than 12 years ago | (#3505158)

Musically speaking, the instrument was very limited; it was the equivalent of your run-of-the-mill-Casio-cheapo no velocity, no aftertouch keyboard. Beam free or beam cut, that's it. Very easy to implement in MIDI. What would be *very* cool would be to use the vertical position of the hand (the height at which the beam is cut) to modify factors such as signal amplitude (volume/tremolo), slight pitch alterations (vibrato), wave shape, etc. A hell of a lot harder to implement, but very interesting.

If you put two lasers and sensors almost together (with maybe 1mm distance), then you could determine how fast the player's hand plucks the string. You can then use this data to modify amplitute.

Re:Jarre had this... (1)

wugmump (6611) | more than 12 years ago | (#3518528)

maybe each photosensor could have a proximity sensor next to it as well. you could test for distance at the moment of the beam cut.

Interesting, but is it useful? (1)

Hemi Rodner (570284) | more than 12 years ago | (#3503443)

When you play a string instruments, you need to feel where the strings are. So if your strings are virtual, wouldn't it be harder for you to know where to place your hands (or the arc[1])?

[1] I couldn't find the name of the object that you pass on the string in order to produce sounds. I wonder - nobody sells those?

Re:Interesting, but is it useful? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3503799)

I would be cool and might be possible to hook up a tiny smoke machine or something that would make the lasers visible - would look amazing playing something like this on stage in a nearly dark room with smoke coming out of it!

Re:Interesting, but is it useful? (2)

armb (5151) | more than 12 years ago | (#3515970)

> (or the arc[1])?
> [1] I couldn't find the name of the object that you pass on the string in order to produce sounds

Bow. (Same word as the thing used for shooting arrows (tir à l'arc in French, if that's where you got arc) (I mean it's the same word in English, I don't actually know if the French for the instrument bow is the same as for an archery bow)).

And yes, I imagine a bowed instrument with virtual strings would be _really_ hard to play even if you could see the strings.

Haiku. (2)

NoMoreNicksLeft (516230) | more than 12 years ago | (#3505417)

Stringed instrument
has no strings for you to pluck:
how incredibly Zen.

rough sketch (3, Informative)

onjay (27282) | more than 12 years ago | (#3506110)

I saw one of these out at Burning Man, and the dust there (too much, really) obviated dry ice for seeing the strings. I noodle with MIDI and PICs, so I'll tell you what I saw and how I'd do it.


lasers - grab a passle of pointers off ebay, watching for sneaky shipping/handling charges. Since you have to mount them, the short-profile "bullet" ones would be nicer than the longer ones. One pointer per string. If you have time, hack the power supply and switch so they all work together and don't eat 600 batteries.

laser detector - a phototransistor, although a photodiode would also work. Photoresistors might be a little slow, but could also work, maybe with a comparator to give it some snap. They also are at every Radio Shack, and their bigger target size may ease alignment.

If you want to do it another way, just have an high-mounted IR emitter that multiple high-looking IR detectors can see, then detect the shadow.

PIC or Basic Stamp - My preference (since I have the programmer already) would be to go with one of the new, larger PICs that has 28/40 pins and built in serial. 33 I/O lines is more than enough for a decent harp. Anything else (small PIC or Stamp) and you will need more external hardware to decode lines; you will have to bit-bang serial as well, potentially losing some notes. At $5 for the right chip, why suffer?

Detect change, spoot MIDI, repeat.

frame: stable alignment for lasers and detectors is key. If a laser turns off or gets misaligned, the detector thinks you are trying to play the note. Depending on the sound patch and your program, you may end up with either a stuck note or a missing note.

random thoughts: Work the one string method out (duh) before you commit it to solder. Use sockets. Have an all-notes-off button.

MIDI: Three bytes, 31250 baud; details everywhere. The velocity byte is going to be fixed unless you decide to do something clever with it; that may not be a problem if the patch/samples you are triggering are not that responsive to velocity. You could subtly vary the velocity plus or minus five or so just for kicks. With the built-in A/D you could read a volume pedal or pressure sensor easily. Note off messages are usually optional, but checking that the string has had some reset time (unshadowed) will have to be done.

Some pointers: for cheap PICs/parts and for PIC protoboards (and compilers). Melabs stuff rocks. and john kerr on Ebay also have nice protos which I have used

Have fun!

PICs are cheap enough you might consider kludging (2)

ColGraff (454761) | more than 12 years ago | (#3506773)

Why not use one PIC and one speaker for each and every laser "string"? Yes, it sounds kludgy - and it is - but there are some real advantages. First of all, it greatly simplifies both programming and circuit design - just have a bunch of mostly independent laser-sensor-PIC-speaker units that just share a power source. This also gives you a much more modular design - once you teach yourself to play this well, you can scale it up relatively easily. Also, using seperate speakers for each string will make it behave more like a string intsrument - the sound in a violin comes in part from the resonance chamber, but originates with a single string, not one central speaker for all the strings.

Finally, using one cheap speaker for each string could give you a greater tone range - use cheaper, smaller speakers for the higher registers, and some "more expensive" (maybe $5) ones to get a more satisfying bass on your lower strings.

As I've said, I realize this is not elegant, but it will be quicker and easier to build and debug than a "one-PIC-to-bind-them" approach. Important, since you've got maybe a month until graduation.

Paul McAvinney's Video Harp (1)

ebusinessmedia1 (561777) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507247)

This instrument built in the early 90's - check out the following: ru mX.html

from the above site:
"Other noncontact optical tracking devices have been built, such as the "Videoharp", introduced in 1990 by Dean Rubine and Paul McAvinney at Carnegie-Mellon. This is a flat, hollow, rectangular frame, which senses the presence and position of fingers inside the frame boundary as they block the backlighting emanating from the frame edges, thereby casting a corresponding shadow onto a linear photosensor array. Appropriate MIDI events are generated as fingers are introduced and moved about the sensitive volume inside the frame, allowing many interesting mappings"

Also check out rle/Gestes/Externe/
for trends of gestural control in music

Frankly, I would like to see more alternate music controllers built and supported by manufacturers. This is a potential gold mine if done well, not to mention the benefit to those who want alternatives to traditional musical instruments - whether electronic, or acoustic.

PICs and other microcontrollers (2)

Andy Dodd (701) | more than 12 years ago | (#3510539)

Yes, people most definately still use PICs and their relatives (Motorola 68HC11, Intel 8051 (or is it 8052???) Atmel AVR, etc.)

They just aren't as visible to the end-user - I think I saw once that Intel makes as much money from their microcontrollers as from big CPUs - They only cost $2-$10 apiece, but are sold in INCREDIBLE volume. Microcontrollers are EVERYWHERE, and the ability to program them is a useful and fun skill. It's amazing what you can do with 1k of flash and 128 bytes of RAM. (I've seen Tetris in 16k flash/2 or 4k RAM). Heck, one of the most popular AVRs is the AT90S1200 - which has NO RAM - just flash and 32 registers.

You might want to check out Atmel AVR chips - They tend to be MUCH more powerful than PICs of the same price. The subject of which is easier to program is much more of a debate, but with C compilers like CodeVision AVR (or GNU GCC), AVR programming is EASY. - LOTS of neat AVR-based projects there. Once I get around to tweaking our webpages, you'll see my group's project there. :)
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