Tag: Trash


In many drugstores and bookstores here in Montreal (AFAIK), we find the Solitudes CDs. These are CDs containing music mainly based on nature sounds (elevator music really). The interesting thing about this CDs is that they are displayed on a shelf with an interactive player that the customer can use to get a glimpse of the content of the CDs being offered. In other words, the customer touches on a CD icon, and the shelf starts to play (what seems to be) the contents of that CD.

Oddly enough, I found the guts of one of those shelves in the garbage and I will expose my findings here. Also, the system I found is in perfect working condition except for the power button which was broken.

How the system works

One might think that the shelf contains a CD library that plays the selected CD on command (that is what I thought anyways). But it is much simpler than that. The system consists of a computer CD drive connected to a small computer power supply and a sort of IDE controller (run by a microcontroller). The IDE controller is told what to do by the user interface, a sort of large keypad hooked up to a(nother) microcontroller. The sound is taken from the CD drive by using the standard audio port.

But, how come it can play all the CDs if there is a single drive? Simple, it doesn’t. It plays a special CD, with tracks corresponding to each one of the displayed CD. The tracks contain a mix featuring short samples of the CDs’ songs. One can have the illusion the entire CD is playing since nobody stays near those shelves for long enough.

Some Pictures

(BTW, I thing the pictures are much more enlightening than my explanation. They show the naked keypad, the back of the keypad with the microcontroller and dip switch position guide, the inside of the black box, and the IDE controller.)

Breadboard Bench

I found a nice breadboard in McGill’s garbage a while ago and decided to convert it into an electronics bench. My main goal was to have a powerful power supply with regulated outputs combined with a breadboard and some useful connectors so I can build circuit prototypes easily. Also, I needed a new bench power supply since mine was lost in the Lunar Excavator shipment.


  • A nice breadboard found in the garbage
  • A computer power supply
  • An ATX motherboard power connector
  • Two LEDs with resistors for current limiting
  • A switch
  • Some cables

Putting it Together

I wanted to build a modular system so I can replace the pieces easily, especially the power supply (since it comes from an old computer and may not work for very long).

I connected a switch and two LEDs (actually, my switch comes with an integrated light so I used only one LED) to the PS ON, 5V SB, and PWR OK pins so I can have an indicator of the power supply (PS) being plugged-in (D1) and another for the PS being turned ON (D2). The diagram below illustrates the connections.

I also connected the 12, 5, 3.3, 0, -5, and -12 V lines to the bottom-left banana connectors in order to have easy access to the power lines. Now, I can connect any ATX power supply to the box and it will work, which makes replacing a defective power supply very easy.

After making the electrical connections, the switch and LED(s) have to be mounted to the box by drilling appropriate holes.

This was a fairly easy build, with the only difficult part being to find the appropriate materials in the garbage.

I may add a USB hub or some USB connectors as well in order to have more ways of connecting things to the box.

Big Pot

I found a big potentiometer in McGill‘s garbage (universities’ garbage is pretty good). When I found it, it was very dirty and its body was badly bent. Fortunately, I managed to put it back together and now it is shiny and fully functional (as shiny and functional as a pot can be).

Some Specs:
It is a 400 Ohms potentiometer made out of an array of thin metal hexagons and a contact point that moves along them. The number of hexagons in between one end of the array and the moving contact is proportional to the potentiometer’s resistance. It is roughly 50 cm long and I bet it can handle lots of current.