Feel the beep: This album is played entirely on a PC motherboard speaker

If you’re craving a truly different sound with which to slay the crew this weekend, look no further than System Beeps, a new album by shiru8bit — though you may have to drag your old 486 out of storage to play it. Yes, this album runs in MS-DOS and its music is produced entirely through the PC speaker — you know, the one that can only beep.

Now, chiptunes aren’t anything new. But the more popular ones tend to imitate the sounds found in classic computers and consoles like the Amiga and SNES. It’s just limiting enough to make it fun, and of course many of us have a lot of nostalgia for the music from that period. (The Final Fantasy VI opening theme still gives me chills.)

But fewer among us look back fondly on the days before sample-based digital music, before even decent sound cards let games have meaningful polyphony and such. The days when the only thing your computer could do was beep, and when it did, you were scared.

Shiru, a programmer and musician who’s been doing “retro” sound since before it was retro, took it upon himself to make some music for this extremely limited audio platform. Originally he was just planning on making a couple of tunes for a game project, but in this interesting breakdown of how he made the music, he explains that it ended up ballooning as he got into the tech.

“A few songs became a few dozens, collection of random songs evolved into conceptualized album, plans has been changing, deadlines postponing. It ended up to be almost 1.5 years to finish the project,” he writes (I’ve left his English as I found it, because I like it).

Obviously the speaker can do more than just “beep,” though indeed it was originally meant as the most elementary auditory feedback for early PCs. In fact, the tiny loudspeaker is capable of a range of sounds and can be updated 120 times per second, but in true monophonic style can only produce a single tone at a time between 100 and 2,000 Hz, and that in a square wave.

Inspired by games of the era that employed a variety of tricks to create the illusion of multiple instruments and drums that in fact never actually overlap one another, he produced a whole album of tracks; I think “Pixel Rain” is my favorite, but “Head Step” is pretty dope too.

You can of course listen to it online or as MP3s or whatever, but the entire thing fits into a 42 kilobyte MS-DOS program you can download here. You’ll need an actual DOS machine or emulator to run it, naturally.

How was he able to do this with such limited tools? Again I direct you to his lengthy write-up, where he describes, for instance, how to create the impression of different kinds of drums when the hardware is incapable of the white noise usually used to create them (and if it could, it would be unable to layer it over a tone). It’s a fun read and the music is… well, it’s an acquired taste, but it’s original and weird. And it’s Friday.

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Peeqo is a robot that responds entirely in GIFs

screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-2-45-40-pm Abhishek Singh graduated from NYU’s ITP program and clearly he learned a lot about the future of computing. During his tenure there he quickly fell in love with hardware startups and, with a little grit and programming work, he created Peeqo, a robot that responds only in GIFs. That’s right: this is a robot that replies only in animated video clips. God help us.… Read More

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Meet The Entirely E-Ink 3G Smartphone That Could Cost As Little As A Dumbphone

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It takes a lot to stand out at a trade show the size of Mobile World Congress. But here’s one device that caught my eye today: an e-ink smartphone. Unlike Yota Phone, the Russian startup that’s using e-ink as a second screen to augment the back of a powerful high end smartphone in a bid to stand out in the uber crowded Android space, this prototype device has just the one screen. A single e-ink screen on the front of the device — so it’s a true e-ink phone.

It’s also a true smartphone. There were two prototypes on show at Eink‘s stand, both with a 1GHz chip inside and one (the white one) with a 3G chip in it. The other had Edge connectivity. The phones run Android but, as you’d expect, the OS has been simplified with a custom UI that strips back the functionality to focus on the applications that make sense for a fully e-ink smartphone — such as a reader app, a dialer and email. The UI also includes a web browser since certain types of webpages can be viewed on an e-ink screen. It won’t support video of course but text-based sites can still be read.

The black prototype device (pictured below) also includes a backlight for reading in the dark. Both screens are capacitive, but as you’d expect with e-ink the refresh rate can be a little slow. Ghosting on the screen from past renders can be removed by shaking the device. The technology can support both portrait and landscape orientation so the e-ink smartphone could be turned on its side to switch the orientation to more of an e-reader sized width. Both devices felt incredibly lightweight.

Why do you want an only e-ink phone? Price for one thing. Battery life for another. Not to mention visibility in bright sunlight. Put all those factors together and this could be the perfect device for some emerging markets where electricity is at a premium. The prototypes are proof of concept at this point but Giovanni Mancini, director of product management for E-ink — the company which makes the screen — said the Chinese OEM which has made the prototypes, Fndroid, is talking to telcos and could launch a device this year.

So how much would this e-ink smartphone cost? Mancini said the device maker would set the price but in his view it would be comparable with a feature phone price tag. A big theme of this year’s MWC has been smaller mobile players — from open source OSes like Firefox that are seeking to drive openness and accessibility and drive down the cost of devices, to mobile veterans like Nokia focusing afresh on building smarter feature phones to target cost-conscious users in emerging markets. So it’s interesting to see companies toying with the idea of an entirely e-ink smartphone to cut device costs while preserving key smartphone functions such as access to the internet and email.

Click to view slideshow.

TechCrunch » Gadgets