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Archive for June, 2014


Gibson Robot Guitar Battery Replacement

A few years ago, a local music store was blowing out the Gibson SG Robot Guitar. The robot part being the part that allows the guitar to tune itself. The technology was from Tronical and Gibson used it.

For a rather short period of time. I got mine in 2009.

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Of course I’d heard some of the horror stories about the guitar, all electronics being somewhat unreliable and so on. Not to mention a $3500 USD price tag. Which put it out of reach for all but the rather well heeled clientele.

However, the store was blowing these out for less than 30% of their list price. Thus for under $1,000 CDN I could buy a real Gibson SG. At the time, a standard SG without the electronic tuning sold for more. After some investigation, I found that the electronics was used for one thing. Tuning. If somehow that should fail, you could simply unlatch the tuning pegs from their mini-motors and tune it the same old way we all do and press in the pegs to relatch them.

As I saw it, a chance to own a top quality USA made guitar and it didn’t matter a fig if the electronics last two weeks or twenty years. The guitar was still a USA made premium guitar.

As of lately, the tuning has been sort of hit and miss so I started to become somewhat concerned about the electronics. Turns out, the electronics are fine, but Gibson (Tronical) decided in their not so infinite wisdom to use a NiMH battery to power the motorized tuners. Having been dealing with radio controlled models for years, I know about the lifespan of NiMH batteries.

According to Gibson, the batteries are supposed to be good for 200 tunings. Maybe. I doubt that I ever tuned it that much. Probably closer to half of that. I found the battery would never reach a full charge and it dropped pretty fast.

All the ear marks of a NiMH battery that is on its way to the recycle depot. This is what the original battery looks like. When you find it on Gibson’s web store, you’ll also find that it says, “Out Of Stock”. The only remaining source is Tronical and that’s going to cost upwards of a $100 or possibly more with shipping from Germany.


Tronical, bless them for this, listed the battery as 2.4V 2200maH. A single NiMH cell is 1.2V. It was sort of obvious they are using a pair of 1.2V AA sized batteries wired in series. I have a number of 1.2V 1300mAH cells in the shop here so I planned to make my own pack.

First, the back of the guitar.

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You can see the Tronical battery and the big red and black power wires clearly under the plastic. There’s a Velcro button on the back of the pack to hold it in place. After you take out the five screws holding the plastic cover on of course…

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The connectors used are press fit, remind me of RC connectors. Try not to short them out when you get them apart.

While I was in there, I checked out the wiring as well. While Gibson makes high quality guitars, their wiring and soldering ability leaves a lot to be worked on. One capacitor had broken away because the leads had been nipped by a wire stripper. Very brittle. Wires were jammed through the solder lugs on the pots and slobbered on. When you pour that much solder on something to hold it; I call it slobbering. So I cleaned up the connections.

I decided to test out my NiMH pack to make sure it was going to work. Hooked up my pack through a couple of 12″ alligator test leads. And got my first surprise when I turned on the MCK. Nothing. No LED’s, no flash. Nothing. I assumed the batteries were dead, but they still had more than half a charge in them.

I disconnected the NiMH pack and plugged in my bench power supply. Set it to 2.4V. It managed to light some of the LED’s. Which tells me that at the lower end of 2.4V you don’t have much life left in the batteries. Closer to 3.12V for a full charge. I decided to see if I could charge my NiMH pack. And got my second surprise.

With the pack connected with 12″ alligator test leads, there was no way it would charge. I immediately thought that there must be some “electronics” in the battery pack. I unwrapped the Tronical battery, and wasn’t surprised to find no markings of any kind of the batteries. And no electronics of any kind.

My conclusion is that the length of those battery wires is crucial for the onboard electronics to not only detect the battery but also to charge it. Note that if you’re doing this yourself. At any rate I figured that the worst case was I’d have to order a replacement battery from Tronical. Best case is my pack would work.

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Now who ever soldered on the battery wires was very good at their job. I used a soldering gun to remove them (could have with a low wattage iron, but easier with a gun).

I soldered the wires on to the tabs of my own battery pack. Then bound the pack in electrical tape.

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Put the battery in, replaced the plastic covering, tested it, connected the charger and..presto. Working like a champ. Cost of replacement? $4 from eBay. And yes, while my batteries might say 1300maH, well, that may or may not be the case. But certainly cheap enough I can throw them out every year and still be ahead of the game.

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MIDI Mate – Arduino

After writing iFCB, iVamp and a number of other MIDI programs, I came to the conclusion that I needed something to assist me in debugging MIDI commands.

Granted a lot of that can be done on a computer, but when you need to do it where the computer isn’t, you either need a laptop or you can pretty much forget it.

I started searching for stand alone MIDI tools and found references to tools like this a Studiomaster MA 36.


But it was the more elaborate Elm Video Technologies version that tweaked me to pressing an Arduino into the job.


While I could have purchased a whole kit from MIDI Kits, I already have enough Arduino boards around to use. Plus just knowing that a CC, PC or NOTE was transferred really isn’t enough information. I need to know the values. Thus, LED’s don’t work. A display of some kind is required.

Ultimately I decided that I didn’t want a two line LCD display. True they work, but they are kind of limited as to how much information they can display. I’d recently purchased some 1.8″ TFT displays off eBay that used Adafruit’s 7735 library. These displays use SPI and work great.

I built the MIDI interface using the schematic I found on MIDI Kits.

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The TFT display shows the received portion on the top and the “send” portion that I can edit on the bottom:

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The display is in HEX or decimal and I use a lowly Arduino UNO for the whole project. The sketch is roughly 27K so there’s a little bit left for expansion. I use a rotary encoder for editing and it’s the most finicky portion of the project. I have to use the software polling for the rotary because of the Software Serial library I use for the MIDI interface. It works, but definitely not as smooth as using interrupts to decode it.

I’d ordered some plastic cases, water proof as it turned out so I used one for my MIDI Mate:

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I supply power to the board via the external DC power jack or the USB jack if I’m using it by a computer. Works well in either case.

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Since I deal with SYSEX a good amount of the time, I always wanted a SYSEX display. MIDI Mate automatically changes the display to SYSEX when a message is received.

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If you notice the bottom of the display you can see “Sonarcana LLC”. I included all the current MIDI manufacturer ID’s so I know who the SYSEX message belongs to. Unless it’s a universal message, in which case:

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Obviously the TFT display doesn’t allow me to display the full name of some of the companies so I had to abbreviate where required. Still, it does provide some useful information (as well as the hex offset of the data for debugging messages).

Presently there are some design limits. First, the SYSEX for the Arduino library is limited to 255 bytes, unless you change the buffer size. The UNO only has 2K of ram so changing it probably isn’t a good thing to do. If I was using a MEGA then it would be different as they have 8K of RAM.

Secondly, I only display first 64 bytes of the SYSEX message. I was going to allow a “page” through the SYSEX in 64 byte blocks but noticed that the majority of my messages were fairly small. This I can still change though if required.

Lastly, I’m toying with the idea of adding an EEPROM to the I2C bus so I can save the SYSEX coming in, and then send it out after I look at it. I don’t have a specific requirement for that at the moment, but it’s an option I might put in.

In closing, I have built tools in the past that have been useful but I discarded shortly after their intended use. I find the more I use my MIDI Mate, the more I want to use it. It’s just a very nice, portable, MIDI debugging tool. I can emulate an FCB1010 easily, or whatever I need. Where it’s something that MIDI Mate doesn’t do, it’s just a matter of adding to the Arduino sketch.


Garmin Approach G6 – Golf GPS

Since Callaway is dropping all support for their GPS systems in September 2014, my original uPro is destined to go the way of the Dodo bird.

If you only play local courses and have less than 50 of them, the uPro will still work fine. However, no new courses will be added and support will be gone. Not that there was any significant measureable level of support to begin with. And Callaway even thanked me for supporting them in the same email they informed me that I was about to own an orphan product and suggested I should check out their club offerings.

So maybe it’s just me, but I don’t get any of the warm fuzzies from a company that treats me thusly. Therefore, thanks Callaway, but not a chance.

I’ve been shopping around for a replacement golf GPS and wow. Does that take some concentration. A good site for some information is over at Critical Golf. Obviously I have specific criteria when it comes to a golf GPS.

  1. Unlimited Courses
  2. Unlimited Updates
  3. Mac friendly
  4. Ability to keep score
  5. Accurate
  6. Good customer support

Previously I’d owned a Golf Buddy. Bit of a nightmare to use on a Mac. I’d tried a SkyCaddie but I’m not big on the annual subscription but now I may not see that as a bad thing like I once did. Maybe it encourages fixes and updates.

In the end I settled on a Garmin G6. My feeling is that Garmin should know GPS, mapping, software and fit my prior list requirements. They get a good solid 4 out of 6. I was worried about the touch screen, there was no need. The only drawback to it is that you need to keep it away from stuff, like tees in your pocket, that will touch it’s screen. I keep mine in the netting on my ClicGear cart. But I can’t toss in a golf ball or it bumps the screen.


True, I could lock the screen, but nah. Couldn’t be bothered. I got used to the rather cartoonish looking graphics quite quickly. I have yet to find a local course, even new ones, that are not on the GPS. Even the executive Par 3’s are there.

Connecting it up to my Mac with a USB cable and it mounts as an external drive. Theres a Micro SD slot on the bottom of the GPS but the only reason it’s there is because Garmin repurposed the case from another GPS product. So it does nothing.

Pressing the buttons to get a green view, or score card is easy. Touch screen areas are easy to use and the GPS has been rock solid for GPS signal.

All, a very nice GPS. But it falls flat on its butt when it comes to the scorecard and customer support. First off, I keep score without handicapping, so it’s strictly a stroke score for me. If, some how you forget to enter in a score for a hole, the GPS adds one in for you. Now you’d think it would make the mistake of say, oh, giving you a par. Yeah, well it doesn’t. It gives you 255. That’s right. 255 strokes on a hole. BUT that 255 doesn’t show in your total score.

You figure that one out. I gave up. Here we have this nice GPS, when we advance to the next hole, if the score is 255, it should have the brain to prompt you for the proper score. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’d like it.

So…fail #1.

Due to the fact that I’m a Mac software developer, I get more into things than a lot of people do. Actually probably more than most do. So what follows is what I found by looking under the hood. That’s the kind of guy I am.

The GPS comes with Mac software that serves two purposes. It updates the maps, it updates any firmware. There is no software that gives you a score card, stats or anything else. There’s some 3rd party stat software from Approach Stats. If stats are where you need to go, check them out.

I’m not much on stats, more on score cards. So I modified my uScoreCard app to read the files from the Garmin G6. If you have a Mac, Garmin G6 and you want an app, email me and ask. No charge.

So lets look a little more under the hood.

Inside a subdirectory on the GPS (it’s just a flash drive to the computer) there are your score cards as XML files. If you examine this file, there’s some interesting stuff in it.

First off: Distance Walked: 3.93 Miles – Elapsed Time – 4.14. That’s right. It tells you how far you walked (in yards, I just converted it to miles) and you get the elapsed time of the round. For the round time, keep in mind that it starts when you hit the PLAY and select a course. So it you set up the GPS for the course before getting to the first tee, that time will be in there.

Secondly, “Mel – 10 out of 13 fairways hit – 10 greens hit in regulation – 34 total putts“. Thats right. Fairways hit, GIR. However the GIR is CALCULATED. There is no where you can actually enter in that you got a GIR. If you are playing a par 3, hit onto the green, then proceed to putt off the green, have a bad chip, then finally chip back onto the green and finally two putt in. You didn’t get a GIR for that 6 stokes.

Is that right? Or not. I did some research and read that in the prior situation, the first hit was a stroke, once the ball is on the green, every stroke after that is a putt. Even if you knock it off and chip back on. The chip is a putt. I have no idea if that’s buried in a rule book or not, I found the info on a forum. So, take it for what it’s worth.

For accuracy, the GPS, for the most part is right on with the yardage markers (1-2 yards at maximum). One of the nice features is that you can move the pin for the hole to the rough location on the course to get the real yardage. I do this once in a while and I match it with a friends laser range finder. Works nicely as it remembers the new location until you advance to the next hole.

But hold on, let’s step back to the XML file…we have a local course here that has two different par’s depending on the tees your playing. The mid tees make the hole a par 4, the forward tees call it a par 5. There are THREE of these dual par holes on the course (Surrey Golf Club). The G6 gets one of them correctly. The two on the back nine show as par fives, with a back nine total of 38.

The frustrating part is you can not change it. Your strokes will be correct, but your pars and GIR’s just went out the window on two holes.

The finishing hole on Surrey Golf Club is a par 5, 559 yards. Yea, it’s long. I’m a senior and it seems forever. No amount of anything can get me to a wedge into the green. Always at least a mid-iron. Ugh.

When I examine the XML file for that last hole, this is what I find:

G6 18

Now if you’re anything like me, you’d LOVE to see a par five at just over 92 yards. It would make an Eagle look doable!

But no, it’s wrong. 100% wrong. And. Not. Even. Close.

Which leads me to the conclusion that the reason Garmin doesn’t have any software to show these “stats” is because the XML file generation is a mess. They DO have a “scorecard html” file on the G6 itself that you can run from a browser. So long as the browser is not Safari on the Mac.

G6 No Safari

But you can use Firefox:

G6 Firefox

Notice the 255 on the 15th. Yea. I forgot to put in the score. I can go back on the G6 and edit it I think. But I usually just do it right on the G6 once it mounts on the Mac.

Then notice the 10th and 15th are Par 5’s? From the mid-tees they are par fours. I found no way to change this.

Lastly, if you add up the strokes, notice I got a 79? But there’s a 255 on the 15th? Really want to trust your stats with a company who has seemingly bad math? No? So what the G6 does for a 255 is gives you par. If you want pars, just don’t enter in any score. You’ll be a scratch golfer in, oh, 4 hours…

So what does my software do, for one it fixes the par’s, and adds correctly. It will also tell if you have a 255 in there so you can edit it.

Surrey Golf Club ~ Main Course 2014 06 17

I admit that I use the same sort of calculation that Garmin does for GIR’s. My preference would be a box to actually enter that.

This information has been emailed Garmin. They are noticeably unresponsive. I think they’d just prefer that I go away and stop trying to hold them accountable for their blunder. As surprising as it might seem, Callaway had better support than Garmin does. But Callaway is getting out of the GPS business so that doesn’t say very much for Garmin. Does it.

So, Garmin, guess what? You get a fail for this half baked product. Now, scurry back to the oven and finish it properly.